The Los Angeles City Council will vote Tuesday on a new 20-year transportation vision that no longer treats the car as king of the road. Under the proposed Mobility Plan 2035, city planners and engineers would have a new mandate to design and build streets that make it safer and easier for people to bike, walk and take public transit. It’s time for L.A. to shed its traditional automobile-centric approach and evolve into a modern, multimodal city.
The new plan would replace the one the city adopted in 1999, which was focused on relieving congestion and moving cars as fast as possible through city streets. But a lot has changed in the last 16 years. Los Angeles is in the middle of a public transit building boom, bicycle ridership is growing and more people are choosing to live without a car. California has committed to dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which means cutting the amount of driving people do in fossil-fuel-powered cars, and state law now demands that cities develop so-called Complete Streets that are designed to safely accommodate all users, including cyclists, transit riders, pedestrians and the disabled — as well as motorists. The old vision of widening streets and accelerating car traffic isn’t possible or practical anymore.
The new vision laid out in Mobility Plan 2035 prioritizes safety and alternatives to driving. The plan includes a goal to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2025 — the idea being that more people would be willing to walk or bike if they felt safer on city streets. It also proposes hundreds of miles of new bus-only lanes and protected bike lanes, as well as sidewalk and streetscape improvements in neighborhoods with a lot of pedestrians. Although the plan sets the stage for safer, multimodal streets, the routes and road changes are just lines on a map so far. The city would still need to conduct public outreach and study the potential impact of each project.
Yes, the city may need to remove a car lane here and there to make space for protected bike or bus-only routes. And even though the plan targets only about 10% of the city’s major streets for lane reductions, that could result in more traffic congestion and slower driving speeds. But these are small sacrifices that must be made if Los Angeles is going to offer residents real transportation choices beyond the car.