Whoever thinks of Los Angeles as a car-only city hasn't been there since gas prices started their stratospheric ascent last year.
Yesterday I visited LA's Century City and West Hollywood for meetings, and was shocked to see pedestrians everywhere, dozens of buses (the Big Blue Bus on the Westside and the red and orange Metro Bus Rapid Transit lines), as well as cyclists in bike lanes zipping up and down Santa Monica Boulevard.
The numbers from my old pals at the Bureau of Census American Community Survey support what I experienced: from 2004 to 2006 LA commuter use of public transit increased from 9.5 percent of city residents to 11 percent, which is a 14 percent total increase! Walking increased from 3.1 percent of the city's resident commuters in 2004 to 3.4 percent in 2006. The upshot: only 67 percent drove alone to work in 2006 compared to 70 percent that did so in 2004.
Mayor Antonio Vaillaraigosa urged LA residents this week to ride public transit at least once a week to help clear up the city's notorious traffic gridlock. Meanhwile, the head of the Sacramento-based California Bicycle Coalition estimated this week that bike ridership in Los Angeles County has increased 25 percent from 2007 to this year.
I was meeting separately with the Los Angeles Business Council and the City of West Hollywood to explore ways in which the LA area can get greener. We discussed many initiatives the city started or is planning, including its city-wide green building ordinance and a major solar power bond for business and residents backed by the behemoth Department of Water and Power, as well as a city sustainability summit at UCLA in November.
But I'm most excited about the visible change in LA that I witnessed and eavesdropped on: Hollywood business types were talking next to me at cafes about cycling and how the city needs more bike lanes, on Santa Monica Boulevard cyberkids were texting about where they were walking next, and for once no one ever asked me if I needed a ride down the block.
Blue sky, nice ocean breeze and people are getting out of their cars in Los Angeles, even editorials in the Los Angeles Times about the importance of eating local food:
The times they are a changin'.