By Kristin Eberhard
Forty two percent of Californians, and 47% of those living in the Los Angeles region, correctly believe air pollution is due largely to personal or commercial vehicles.  Due to increases in gas prices, most Californians (59%) report cutting back significantly on driving.  Non etheless, a solid majority of Californians (70%) who work part- or full-time say they commute by driving alone. 

That is largely the same across all regions.  Of the remaining 30% or so who do not drive alone, there is a slight difference (within the sampling error of the survey, but still potentially interesting) between Los Angeles and San Francisco or the rest of California:  people in Los Angeles are slightly more likely to take public transit than to carpool. 

This might come as a surprise to those who complain about the LA transit system and look to the Bay Area as the public transit mecca of California.  The Los Angeles metropolitan area has a much more daunting task than San Francisco in mobilizing its population outside of individual cars because in Los Angeles, it is 16 miles from downtown to the beach, whereas in San Francisco, it is only six miles from the Financial District to the ocean.

I can say from personal experience commuting to work without a car in both San Francisco and Los Angeles that Los Angeles has tackled this challenge admirably and I can reliably commute from West LA to downtown on the bus more easily than I could from the Sunset district of San Francisco to downtown.

Still, even though so many are concerned about air pollution for health and environmental reasons, and want to cut back on driving for economic reasons, only 12% of LA residents take public transit to work.  A tiny minority walk (4%) or bike (2%) to work and only 3% avoid the commute altogether and work from home.  In the graph below I took out the huge columns for driving alone to get a better look at the other categories (with the “driving alone” in, the others are just tiny blips along the bottom of the graph).

If we are going to solve the air pollution problems that plague many in this region and also increase the mobility that is necessary for a thriving economy, we have to find a way to reduce that huge “drive alone” column and focus on the alternatives.  Making public transit, walking, and biking realistic options for more people will require an investment in planning and infrastructure.

The survey shows that Californians trust their local government (35%) more than state (24%) or federal (20%) to deal with environmental problems.

These results indicate that local and regional government entities should pursue policies that increase options for getting around in ways other than by driving alone.  This will help people living in LA to save money and reduce air pollution.

Mayor Villairagosa’s 30/10 program (to accomplish 30 years of transit projects in 10 years) is a great example of such a strategy that enjoys broad support because it will reduce air pollution, spur job growth, and increase mobility for people living in LA.

The recently released Vision LA sets out recommendations for improving transit.  Southern California Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) have also set out a vision in Powering the Future.  On another front, the SCAQMD did not include sufficient plans for transportation strategies such as public transit, carpooling, bicycling infrastructure to help it reduce air pollution and meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act, and the Ninth Circuit ordered it to do more to solve its transportation problems and reduce pollution.

If we can continue to develop and execute plans that will give more options to those living and working in Los Angeles, we can take a step towards a cleaner, brighter future.


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