Why Boulevards? Why BRT? Why Now?

We’ve told you about our program to re-imagine stretches of commercial property along some of LA County’s underutilized boulevards—we call them “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity”—with the addition of high-quality transit, especially bus rapid transit (BRT), and new moderate-density neighborhoods comprised of mixed-use, mixed-income, multifamily development.

Why boulevards? Because they offer significant opportunities for affordable housing without the displacement of current residents or businesses. Displacement is a major challenge when housing is built in existing neighborhoods, but most boulevards aren’t zoned for much housing. We believe that wherever there are homes or businesses, however, they must be protected.

Protecting against displacement and building robust affordable housing will help ensure that this development helps remedy rather than exacerbate historic racial injustices and concerns about equity. Building these neighborhoods near transit also addresses the problem that the people who ride transit the most are often priced out of neighborhoods with high-quality transit.

Join our online Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity Zoomposium JULY 16 at 3 p.m. to talk with an impressive line-up of transportation & affordable housing experts re: if, how, why & where Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity are feasible. REGISTER HERE. Speakers include Metro CEO Phil Washington & UrbanFootprint co-founders Peter Calthorpe & Joe DiStefano. All speakers are on the registration page.

If the density of this development is moderate, with 4-5 story buildings, for example, even nearby residents and businesses (if there are any) may see this make-over not as a problem but as an opportunity—with more amenities for residents and more customers for business. Moreover, moderate-density development could provide enough new residents to justify enhancing transit service with BRT.

We also focus on boulevards because LA County has so many, including some that are 15-20 miles or more in length. Many were served by LA County’s 1,000-mile streetcar system, which helped make them prosperous centers of local commerce.

But these boulevards have been in transition because freeways, then shopping centers, and now the internet have taken away business over several decades, with the result that many properties are or may become underutilized, and are therefore less expensive to purchase and develop.

Why BRT?  Because BRT typically operates in dedicated lanes along major streets and gets signal priority when crossing intersections, making it significantly faster and more predictable and with greater capacity for passengers than bus service (the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley is a good example). It’s not as fast as a rail line but neither is it as expensive.

If streets as long as some of LA’s boulevards were served by BRT, the easy access to jobs and destinations would make transit-oriented mixed-income neighborhoods along the BRT route desirable. Success could be virtually guaranteed if, as we envision, we also provided significant urban greening, street trees, and pocket parks; made streets and sidewalks safer for walking and biking; improved bus stops with real-time arrival/departure information, shade and benches; and added neighborhood services.

We believe the high quality of BRT service together with the other improvements we’ve listed would make these boulevards very attractive places in which to live and therefore attractive for investment in community development.

BRT might also help with long-term economic recovery from the coronavirus. One recent study for the National Institute for Transportation and Communities found strong evidence that BRT systems in the U.S. generate economic development, attract jobs, retail and affordable housing—at a cost that’s within reach of most transit agencies.

The study also found that after the 2008 recession more higher-wage job growth occurred near BRT stations than in other locations. Study author Dr. Arthur Nelson told the national nonprofit Transportation for America that “Bus rapid transit systems have important effects on development patterns. At substantially lower costs, BRT generates important and sometimes impressive development outcomes.”

Why now? The need for affordable housing in Los Angeles County, especially now as we recover from the coronavirus, has never been greater and the land to build it on has never been more expensive. Repurposing underutilized commercially zoned land along these boulevards creates new opportunities for the development of both the market-rate and the affordable housing that our communities need.

This is the reason we are eager to encourage cities in LA County to investigate Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity and are working on legislation to help make it happen.

Please join our online Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity Zoomposium to talk about the possibilities! JULY 16 at 3 p.m. REGISTER HERE. All speakers are listed on the registration page.

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