06 July 2016

LA Bike Share Launches: Will It Save The Metro?

New York, my home town, is known as the City That Never Sleeps.

Los Angeles, on the other hand, has been called The Place Where Nobody Walks.

Like most labels, neither is completely true, though there is at least a kernel of truth to both.  About the Big Apple:  I know that at least one person sleeps because, well, at my age, it's harder to stay up at all hours than it was in my youth.  It's been a while since I've been to the City of Angels, but as I recall, it's not as conducive to pedestrians as, say, Paris. (Then again, how many cities are?)  And I don't recall seeing other cyclists when I rode there.  For that matter, I don't recall seeing anyone else walking on the Walk of Fame when I walked it. (OK, now you know another one of my dim, dark secrets! ;-))

Now, if any of you are reading this blog from Southern California, please don't hate on me.  I'll admit that I preferred San Francisco (and, hey, how can you not prefer the Central Coast to almost any other coastal area?), but I found things to like about the LA area, even though family members I didn't want to see were living there the last time I stayed.

Anyway...Something interesting is happening in one of the first metropolises to be developed for and around the automobile. (According to at least one history I've read, the motel was invented there.)  Could it really be that Angelenos are giving up their automobiles?  Might people go motorless in Santa Monica?

Well, perhaps things won't go that way just yet.  However, an idea that's taken hold in other cities around the world is about to come LA's way.

Tomorrow, the City of Los Angeles and Metro, its mass-transit authority, are launching a bike-share program.  About 1000 bikes will be available in 65 locations around the downtown area, including Union Station, City Hall, the Convention Center, Chinatown, the Arts District, Little Tokyo and the Fashion District. 

 Many of the bike ports will be close to Metro rail and bus stations.  This is not surprising when one considers that in other places, like Manhattan, people ride share bikes to subway and bus stations or from suburban commuter lines.  However, the reason why LA Metro bikes will be so placed is one I have never heard before:  Officials want to use the bike share program to not only reduce the number of automobile trips, but also to increase Metro ridership.

According to at least one report, the number of people who ride the buses (which comprise about 75 percent of the Metro system) and trains has been declining.  A number of factors have been cited, including fare hikes.  Interestingly, one reason given for the decline has been gentrification.  Working-class families are being priced out some neighborhoods that offer convenient mass transportation.  So, they have to move further away from their jobs, often to areas that don't have mass transportation.  They may also have to take on an additional job. Getting to either or both on time via mass transit--even if it is available--is often difficult, if not impossible.  Thus, another car is part of the next jam on the 10 Freeway.

This scenario contrasts with what has happened in other cities, like New York, where gentrification has actually contributed to increases in mass-transit ridership and may have saved previously-moribund lines from shutting down.

If the bike share system actually increases Metro ridership, it will create another contrast between Los Angeles and other cities with bike share programs.  In Washington DC, as an example, commuters are using the bike share program instead of the rail and bus lines.  In one way, that is not necessarily a negative development, as the rail lines are congested and there is neither the space nor the money to build new ones.  But is it a harbinger for what could happen in Los Angeles?

Whatever the case, I am glad that the Los Angeles bike share program is set to launch tomorrow.  If it gets more people on bikes, it's a success.  And if it can get people out of their cars, so much the better.

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