Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Get Big Blue Bus on Google Transit!

Big Blue Bus has raised fares and changed schedules, but they're still not on Google Transit. They've consistently promised to go on Google Transit but this promise has been consistently delayed. Pressure Big Blue Bus to join Google Transit by signing the petition below and getting your friends to do the same:

In two weeks, we will present them with the petition, and work to get them on Google Transit. If they fail to respond with a date and plan to get on Google Transit, we will raise the issue with the City Council and major customers of Big Blue Bus, such as UCLA and Santa Monica College.

As we saw with Metro, there is strength in numbers. Let's get the Big Blue Bus to realize how many of their frequent, occasional, and potential riders value Google Transit.

Petition wording:
To:  Santa Monica Big Blue Bus

Whereas, we ride transit regularly and would benefit from better schedule information or would ride transit more often if schedule information were easier to access.

Whereas, many of us use Google Maps to locate businesses, and find driving, biking, walking, or transit directions, and we find this interface familiar and easy to use.

Whereas, Google Maps for Mobile is available for or included with the four leading smart phone operating systems: Android, Blackberry OS, iOS, and WebOS.

Whereas, the unavailability of Big Blue Bus directions on Google Transit creates unnecessary confusion for transit riders who use Big Blue Bus.

We hereby request the following:

1) That by 10/30/10, Santa Monica Big Blue Bus commit to and publicize a date by which its scheduling data will be available on Google Maps (Google Transit); and,
2) The Santa Monica Big Blue Bus publicize its progression through the steps needed to migrate its data to the GTFS format, reach a licensing agreement with Google, upload the data to Google, test the data, and make the data available to users of Google Maps for Mobile or the Google Maps Web Site.

Monday, September 13, 2010

11024 Strathmore will help meet many community goals, but will it be built?

A new development project proposed in Westwood's North Village would help meet many community goals:  improving housing affordability, reducing traffic congestion, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  However, the project may never get built because members of the Westwood Design Review Board, which has oversight on design matters, thinks it's "too bulky" and the units are "not great places to live."  

The Design Review Board considers the project on Wednesday, September 15th at 4:30 PM at the 11214 Exposition Blvd at Sepulveda in the LA DOT's Henry Medina Building.  I will be there to speak about the regional greenhouse gas reduction benefits of this project.  I encourage you to come and speak as well.  Pay the meter (this is parking enforcement's district headquarters) or take Culver City Bus Line #6.

The 11024 Strathmore project has received approval from the Planning Commission, is consistent with the Specific Plan, and provides more parking than required by code.  The developer has made numerous concessions over the past 18 months including:

a)      breaking-up the monolithic building mass into two distinct buildings,
b)      adding an elevator to eliminate bridges between the two buildings,
c)      eliminating a project entrance along Strathmore Drive,
d)     decreasing Project height at the corner of the site,
e)      tapering the building height to mirror the natural grade change along Strathmore Drive,
f)       setting back the top floor of the building to improve site lines 
(the developer lists over 20)

I'm not going to judge whether or not the Design Review Board's disapproval is in fact based in design elements under their purview, or a move to restrict new development which could affect properties they own.  I do want to express some of the benefits of the project from a local and regional perspective:

While many students would love to live in a palatial estate, such as the nearby Playboy Mansion, none can afford it.  Instead, students pack into on-campus dorms, near campus apartments, and a variety of neighborhoods in West Los Angeles and Palms.  Many prefer North Westwood Village because of its proximity to campus and fellow students.  However, because there are far more UCLA students who want (demand) to live near campus than there are available apartments (supply), apartment prices are very high.  A failure to build sufficient apartment units to meet this demand has also led to efficient parking problems.  Prices are so high that many students choose to double up in bedrooms (considering triple-occupancy dorm rooms are more expensive), or convert dens and other living areas into sleeping areas.  Any additional supply of housing units to the neighborhood will help ease affordability issues. Construction costs rise with square footage and space-efficient apartment units allow students and young professionals, who haven't accumulated a household of furniture, to pay less rent.  While it is likely that a new construction project will be priced higher than existing apartment units, the new supply will create a cascading effect which will improve affordability at the lower end of the market.

Increasing unit occupancy has increased the effective density of North Westwood Village, but has also led to issues with parking. Students, faculty, and employees living in the area will walk, bike, or skateboard into campus.  However, transit service through the area is poor, given its density, and many residents who commute to campus also maintain a car for trips outside of Westwood.  In a letter supporting the project, UCLA Professor and parking expert Donald Shoup noted that the last Census showed that more residents of North Westwood Village walk rather than drive to work, but that the neighborhood has the second-highest density of cars in all census tracks in large cities in the United States.  It's no wonder that cars are parked anywhere and everywhere in North Westwood Village.

The 11024 Strathmore Drive addresses this issue by unbundling the cost of parking from the cost of housing.  Those who wish to live near UCLA without a car will pay less for rent. They'll be able to park bikes for free in the 94 bike stalls.  Those who want to bring a car will have to pay to park it.  If not enough people in the building are willing to pay to park, the developer can sell to nearby residents, alleviating some existing parking hassles.  

The project will reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.  How so?  Too often in the past, the solution to traffic congestion has been to restrict densities in areas where people want to be.  Instead of promoting pedestrian in bike traffic in places where people want to be, such density restrictions lead to more traffic congestion everywhere.  The collective effect of neighborhoods rejecting new development has been that new development locates at the fringes of regions - where there are no established neighborhoods to reject developments.  However, this also means that people who would rather live within 5 miles of the places they want to be now live 50 miles from the places they want to be.  This hasn't done anything to alleviate vehicle traffic in the places people want to be: they're still going there.  If anything, it has exacerbated traffic congestion in areas where people want to be by making it more difficult to access these areas without a car.  By adding 90 miles to the daily trip, it also causes significant traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.  

People want to be at UCLA.  The proposed project is two blocks from the UCLA campus.  By unbundling the cost of parking from units and providing free bike parking, the developer has taken measures to reduce the impact this development will have on the neighborhood.  The existing lot has been a scar on the neighborhood since the prior building was demolished in 2005.