Can Shared Mobility Make L.A. Cleaner, Greener, and More Connected?

mike-wooHead.jpgGuest Blogger: Michael Woo, Dean of the College of Environmental Design at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

It is a great week for the City of L.A.

Today, Mayor Garcetti unveiled L.A.'s first Sustainability pLAn. It sets ambitious targets for water and energy efficiency, housing affordability, and increased ridership on public transportation. I'm particularly excited by the goal of getting two percent of all trips onto bike, car and ride-sharing by 2025 and five percent by 2035. It also calls for reducing overall vehicle miles traveled by five percent by 2025 and 10 percent by 2035.

We can meet and surpass these goals. Why am I so confident?

This past February, I emceed Live.Ride.Share, the first conference on shared-use mobility in Southern California. It brought together 400 professionals from government, transportation, academia and business, as well as community advocates.

They gathered in Little Tokyo to discuss strategies for lowering greenhouse gases from transportation, making city centers vibrant, connecting communities, and helping disadvantaged communities access economic opportunities.

Leslie Ito of the Japanese American Cultural Center kicked things off with a discussion about "mottainai," Japanese for "regret from waste." She spoke about conservation for the sake of future generations. Amanda Eaken of NRDC talked about not owning a car. David Bragdon of TransitCenter talked about L.A.'s bold moves in transit.

Hasan Ikhrata, Executive Director of the Southern California Association of Governments, stressed that "...we're not building any more freeways." He said with 15 million people coming to the region, transportation will be about shared mobility, public transit and technology.

Technology, in the form of smart phones and efficient cars, coupled with the sharing economy, will help make L.A. sustainable. As Hasan pointed out, studies suggest that Millennials don't value car ownership as much as previous generations. I see this in my students at Cal Poly Pomona. This new paradigm means we can be just as mobile with fewer cars.

When I first tried to bring Flexcar to L.A., the city wasn't ready. People needed to learn that not every adult must own an automobile. Now people understand. Maybe someday in the near future, we will have racks of small, foldable, two-seater electric-powered rental cars at Metro rail stations, along with bike sharing kiosks, so people can solve the last-mile problem - that final bit of travel not addressed by transit.

New smart phone maps won't just tell you the fastest way to get from "A" to "B" by car or transit, but rather the best way to combine modes. Maybe it will tell which train or bus station to ride your bike to, and then, when you finish your ride on transit, whether or not you'll do better calling an Uber, using a bike share or walking from the station to your destination.

We've seen the success of Uber and Lyft. We're going to see car-sharing augmented by self-driving cars. Innovations are coming that we can't even imagine, just as a smart phone would have seemed like magic when I was in school.

Many parts of L.A. epitomize the American Dream of home ownership: a detached single-family home with a yard and a garage. It was assumed there will always be cheap land, cheap gas, "freeways," and free parking. Sprawling suburbs and car-oriented urban villages--from Sherman Oaks to Westchester to Pacoima to Hermon--grew without a unifying citywide identity. The riots of 1992 taught us that when communities live in isolation--and don't see citywide problems as their own--they do so at their peril.

When I was a boy, pollution in Los Angeles gave us headaches and stinging eyes. Today, as a result of leadership at the national, state, and local levels, the air is much cleaner. Government can make a difference. And so can innovation.

Southern Californians ought to feel some obligation to address climate change. Individuals need to look at their own communities and behaviors to see what they can do. Small businesses that oppose bike improvements need to learn that wallets travel on two wheels as easily as four.

I look forward to a future when L.A.'s transit system reaches farther and serves more needs. I look forward to more car and bike sharing, protected bike lanes, and the fruits of 30 years of transit-oriented development. There will still be challenges. As we've seen in other regions, if we redevelop urban centers without providing affordable housing and good jobs, we'll simply transfer inequity and disadvantage to the suburbs.

We can solve these problems together. People are starting to understand that they don't live in isolated communities. And reducing CO2 isn't just about saving polar bears. After the hurricanes in New York and New Orleans and years of drought in California, this is about saving ourselves. And everyone, from the president down to the individual deciding what travel modes to use on a next errand, has a part to play. We're all in this together.

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