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Is Los Angeles The Next Great Walkable City?

A new report on urban walkability finds hope in L.A.’s recent rail investments.

Los Angeles, city of bumper-to-bumper freeway traffic, could be an up-and-coming city for pedestrian-oriented development, according to a new report ranking walkable urban areas in the U.S.

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The report was done by LOCUS, a coalition of developers and investors who partner with Smart Growth America, and researchers at George Washington University. They surveyed walkability in the 30 top metropolitan areas in the country. Car-friendly L.A., it turns out, ranked 18th on measures of walkable urbanism. Only 16% of its office and retail space is in an areas that’s considered “walkable.” Yet 45% of that pedestrian-friendly space exists in the suburbs–so despite its sprawl, L.A. has potential to become a hub for walkable development.

Walk of Fame via Filipe Frazao / Shutterstock

In the early 20th century, L.A. boasted the longest rail system in the world. It was dismantled in the highway heyday of the ’60s, but plans are again in place to revive it. Los Angeles is currently investing more into rail transit than any other metro in the country, the researchers write:

With committed funding of more than $40 billion over the next decade, five new rail lines were under construction in 2014, adding to the eight new commuter, light, and heavy rail lines already open. Los Angeles even has a subway line from downtown to the San Fernando Valley. The former rail system that Los Angeles developed around is essentially being re-built from scratch.

Suburban cities, including Pasadena and Santa Monica (both founded before the widespread adoption of cars), are also developing pedestrian-friendly initiatives, making new rail investment a viable long-term plan. (It’s hard to take a train to the ‘burbs if you still need a car to leave the station.)

That said, retrofitting suburban cities for walkability is easier proposed than accomplished. (How exactly do you make a dull, sprawling city like San Jose more community-oriented and more desirable?) But if L.A. and its suburbs continue to pour resources into new trains and pedestrian initiatives, the subway-streamlined city of Spike Jonze’s imagination may just be in our future.

[H/T: The Los Angeles Times]

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About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.

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