By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The chicken-and-egg problem makes it unclear when either commuters or bus riders will find relief under smart growth. It looks unlikely in 2009, when the Metro Gold Line reaches East Los Angeles. Or 2014, when the rail line along Exposition Boulevard finally reaches Santa Monica.
Perhaps it will be 2016, the earliest realistic date for the subway to the sea. “This is about an evolution, not a revolution,” says Ohland, the communications vp with Reconnecting America. “It’s taking a really long time to go from car-oriented to transit-oriented, and in between there’s a lot of uncomfortable places.”
The Hollywood Problem
The MTA’s 156 bus crawls up Highland Avenue on a Monday afternoon in April, fighting through evening rush-hour traffic as it passes streets known around the world — Melrose Avenue, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard. An exhausted-looking jogger, running inexplicably in the right lane of traffic, easily passes the bus.
It’s not hard to do, since the bus has traveled four blocks in 10 minutes.
From Hollywood south to Sunset, 36 vehicles have stacked up single-file in the right-hand lane. In the one-block stretch from Sunset to De Longpre Avenue, another 25 cars stack up. From De Longpre to Fountain Avenue, there are 23 cars. On the next block, there are 19. After that, 16. The bus drops off a few passengers across from the Metro Red Line Station at the Hollywood & Highland shopping mall before heading up Cahuenga Pass into the San Fernando Valley.
Because it is a bus route, Highland Avenue is what the planning department calls a “transit corridor,” a place where smart-growth advocates want the greatest amount of housing built. And so far, they are doing a good job of it.
Last month, the planning commission approved the Jefferson at Hollywood, a 270-unit apartment building across from Hollywood & Highland. The project is classic smart growth: shopping on the sidewalk and housing above, across from a subway station. Not far away, construction workers are building the Hollywood, a complex of 54 condos on Franklin Avenue selling for $800,000 and up. And across from it is the future McCadden Place — 218 condos in two eight-story buildings.
If smart-growth theories work as envisioned, many of those new residents will get out of their cars and hop on public transit. Yet the developers of the Jefferson and McCadden Place are hedging their bets: Together, the two projects will offer 1,381 parking spaces — some for residents, some for tourists. Each new car will have to fight the traffic choking Highland Avenue, which is in turn making it impossible for buses to get anywhere.
Highland isn’t the only north-south route in Hollywood jammed with traffic. Other bus routes, like La Brea and Vine Street, are getting worse. On Vine, the Los Angeles City Council voted to lift the height limits to build a luxury W Hotel, along with 500 apartments and condos. Next door, an 11-story residential building is going in, with a Whole Foods Market on the ground floor.
Blumenfeld, the city planner, insists that many of the new Vine Street residents who move into these buildings will live differently, owning only one car or taking transit each day. “I don’t think people will have no cars. But the fewer the cars, the better the transit gets,” she says.
Hollywood is represented by Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, the 36-year-old former Rhodes scholar who has aggressively pursued smart-growth policies, particularly multistory housing. He argues that 95 percent of the traffic in Hollywood is passing through to somewhere else. “Traffic gets 5 percent worse a year in all parts of Los Angeles,” Garcetti says. “And the places that get the worst are the places that have built the least housing. West L.A. is the worst.”
As he strolls down Western Avenue on a rainy afternoon in March, Garcetti points enthusiastically to a trio of smart-growth projects that brought affordable housing near the Hollywood and Western subway station. One project has a Mondrian design — dozens of squares in red, yellow, orange and blue. A second has 100 apartments for senior citizens and shops on the ground — Jamba Juice, Blockbuster Video, Ross Dress for Less. A third, Garcetti eagerly points out, was featured in the ultimate arbiter of eco-friendly design chic, Dwell magazine.
Smart growth, in theory, is supposed to promote the pedestrian. But the Jamba Juice apartment building has in its center a big parking lot, not a courtyard. A mixed-use Walgreens on Western Avenue has so much parking it looks like a mini-mall with four floors of housing on top.
Standing in the Walgreens parking lot, Garcetti promises that L.A. will get better at smart growth, by making good design a higher priority. And he says smart growth serves an important social need, by creating housing at all income levels. “If you have all the poor living in one place and all the rich people living in another place,” he warns, “you get the Westside.”
The Bus Problem
The Bonaventure Hotel on Flower Street is the last place you’d expect a gathering on smart growth. The place is a bunker, catering to the car like few places in Los Angeles. If you’re not paying attention, you can miss the hotel entirely and drive from Fifth Street onto the northbound 110 freeway. Even the walkways in and out of the hotel look like tiny freeway overpasses.
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