LA Sustainability Plan aims too low

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Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced the city’s first Sustainable City Plan two weeks ago. According to a press release from the mayor’s office, the Sustainable City Plan, orpLAn,” will set targets in 14 economic and environmental categories. It is set to meet some short-term goals, like nearly quadrupling the city’s solar energy capabilities by 2017, and long-term goals, such as increasing locally sourced water from 15.1 percent to 50 percent by 2035 (a complete list of target areas and numbers can be found here.) The pLAn’s targets would make Los Angeles the national leader in solar, electric vehicle infrastructure, water conservation and green jobs.

I am excited at least about what the pLAn saysthat the city government is committed to improving its historically mediocre environmental track record. However, there was one part of the plan that I thought was not as ambitious as it could be, increasing biking, walking and use of public transportation. This is particularly surprising because I feel that increasing transit networks and bike lanes could potentially have a considerable impact on green house gas emissions.

The pLAn aims to increase walking, biking and transit use by nine percent over the next ten years. That number is nothing to scoff at, but considering the city also plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent in that same time frame, I am not sure that nine percent is high enough.

Having fewer cars on the road will reduce pollution, but if the remaining cars on the road are moving faster, this will reduce emissions even more. According to a 2009 “ACCESS Magazine” article, the traffic on the Northbound downtown L.A. segment of California State Highway 110 from 4–5 p.m. makes it one of the most congested roads in Los Angeles at that time of day, producing 166 metric tons of carbon dioxide total. If the speed of traffic increased 20 miles per hour, CO2 emissions would drop 12 percent.

There are a number of ways to achieve this from a traffic standpoint, but one of the most direct solutions could be to increase the coverage of light rail lines and busways (bus lines that run along selective toll roads) to the outer regions of the city and increase their presence in areas that are heavily congested, such as downtown and Westwood. By better connecting the suburbs and commercial areas, rush hour congestion would decrease, traffic speeds would increase and CO2 emissions would fall.

To its credit, the city has taken steps to improve transit. Currently, the LA County Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro) has expansive plans, including extensions to the Expo and Purple lines and a new line running through the Crenshaw district (all now under construction). These projects are scheduled to be completed by the time the pLAn is set to reach its long-term goals, though the city is working on a proposal that would speed up construction.

These new transit infrastructure projects could also have a more intangible effect on CO2 emissions—they could, over time, help weaken the “car culture” in the L.A. area. I understand that the Greater L.A. Area is too expansive to be totally walkable/bikeable with any immediate transit solutions and that people will inevitably have to drive. However, if at least the most trafficked areas are covered by train lines and better bike lanes, you might drive to the train station instead of a $20 parking lot or bike to get groceries without the fear of being hit by a car. Even small changes like this could, in addition to reducing CO2 emissions, greatly improve the quality of daily life for Angelenos in all parts of the city.