Downtown: Urban Life vs. the Automobile

Thursday, December 30, 2004, at 01:54PM

By Eric Richardson

My normal routine each day is to read the California, Business, and Sports sections of the LA Times. Leaving some sections out means I sometimes miss stories like the one that ran Monday titled "Give Up the Suburb? Yes. Give Up the Car? No Way".

People are moving downtown, all right. But this is L.A. So they're bringing their cars with them.

And now local officials, who just a few years ago stopped requiring developers to build parking spaces in most loft buildings, are scrambling to accommodate automobiles — and their owners — downtown.

The article's interesting, though not necessarily all that informative for those who are already downtown and deal with these sorts of problems everyday...

I moved downtown in May, seven months or so ago. I'm one of those people who would love to get rid of their cars. But yet I haven't, for largely the reasons the article deals with. I never drive to USC, either getting there via bus or bike, but I haven't quite crossed that big hurdle that is getting to work. A couple days a week I walk across the street, take the elevator down to my car, and drive up the 110 north to Pasadena (at least technically... it might as well be La Canada). It's not that bad of a drive, since -- as the article points out -- downtown is well positioned to allow reverse commutes, but the non-driving options simply take too much time. Sure, I've done it on my bike before, but I don't have an extra hour plus to put into my commute. I'd love to find a way to not have that trip, but I've got to work to pay the bills, and JPL's who's paying me.

As a percentage, though, I would say my public transit trips are equal to or higher than my auto trips. I've made good use of the Red Line to get to Hollywood for shows at the Knitting Factory and the Hotel Cafe, and to beat the parking fees at Citywalk. A couple weeks ago I walked over to 7th/Metro and took the Blue Line down to Long Beach to meet up with Kathy and watch volleyball. A rail line to the westside would be key, as would a faster Gold Line. Imperative is a revamped Downtown DASH system, as the article mentions.

But the bottom line: I like the direction we're moving. For all the challenges facing downtown as it remakes itself, it seems like there are answers. Not easy answers, and not quick answers, but I think they're things we can solve. It'll be a fun next couple of years.