Los Angeles and Charlotte Chart a New Course

From Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate

The Metropolitan Council has launched the process for creating a new long range regional plan, called Thrive MSP. Transit for Livable Communities recently testified (pdf) before the Council with recommendations for the long-range vision. We’re also keeping an eye on transit, bicycling, and walking in other cities. Los Angeles and Charlotte are two regions charting a new course.

Los Angeles. A recent blog post from Barb Thoman described the exciting additions to the transit system in Los Angeles. LA is rapidly moving from the land of freeways to the land of transit options, including rapid bus, light rail and commuter rail. While Barb looked primarily at Metro, the main transit provider in Los Angeles, equivalent to our Metro Transit, this piece shifts the focus to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the equivalent of our region’s Metropolitan Council.


Major transit projects coming in Southern California. Credit: http://scagrtp.net/

The recent 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan/ Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS) adopted by SCAG further documents the historic shift in transportation priorities underway in Los Angeles. Highlights of the 30-year plan include:

  • Nearly HALF of the $525 billion transportation plan is directed to public transit.
  • Funding for bicycling and walking increases by over 350% from $1.8 to $6.7 billion.
  • Nearly 90% of all jobs will be ½ mile or less from public transit.
  • 60% more housing near transit than is currently available.
  • Achieves a 24% reduction in pollution-caused respiratory problems, resulting in $1.5 billion per year in health care savings.

Southern California bicycle network. Credit: http://scagrtp.net/

The Sustainable Communities Strategy was motivated by California’s groundbreaking SB 375 legislation, which requires local governments to plan for reduction in greenhouse gas emissions via transportation and land use strategies. The transportation plan shows the way forward to sustainable economic development, improved public health, more equitable access to opportunity, reduced traffic congestion, and open space preservation. In adopting this plan, LA political leaders are following the call of more than 18 million residents who, according to poll results described in Amada Eaken’s Switchboard blog,want more public transportation, more money to go toward making walking and biking safer, and more opportunities to live near their jobs and daily needs” and who see “building new roads as the least effective way to solve traffic congestion.”

Charlotte.  Charlotte, N.C., has gained a new reputation as a city that embraces light rail, commuter rail, and enhanced walkability and bicycle friendliness. Charlotte, over the past decade, was the fastest growing city in the country with over 1 million residents. During that time, Charlotte decidedly moved away from low density single use development and made consistent strides to create a more vibrant downtown, rejuvenate urban neighborhoods, and expand housing along transit lines. This recent post from The Atlantic Cities describes Charlotte’s transformation.


Transit-oriented development in Charlotte. Credit: Charlotte Area Transit System

City leaders credit much of the transformation to the changing preferences of the thousands of young workers flocking to the city. These workers, for the most part, don’t want suburban office locations with limited transportation and housing options. Tom Flynn, Charlotte’s former Economic Development Director, notes that “the city’s business community led the effort to transform the city in order to retrain talent.”

Back to the Minneapolis Saint Paul region.  Clearly, our metropolitan region’s ability to grow the economy will depend largely upon attracting and retaining employers and workers. The various components of a high-level of quality of life are increasingly important, including transit and walkable, bikable neighborhoods. A look at the intriguing new video of the Southwest LRT alignment captures the possibilities for transforming streets, cities, and region to increase transportation choices and livability.