Having grown up in a household that neither owned nor drove cars, riding public transit provided me with many opportunities to survey my surroundings and envision ideas to make our communities more transit-friendly and walkable. Throughout those numerous bus rides, I was able to identify key aspects that transit riders encounter. It is of the utmost importance to ensure that people who rely on transit to get around have sufficient resources — which I will refer to as the four cornerstones of transit riders’ experiences.
Sidewalks play a vital role in transportation — they are conduits for pedestrian mobility and provide connectivity. However, not all sidewalks are in pristine condition. Poor sidewalk conditions such as uneven sidewalks create a tripping hazard and thus, pose a challenge for people with disabilities to navigate the streets. Willits vs. City of Los Angeles (2010) was a class action lawsuit that addressed Los Angeles’ failure to make the public pedestrian right-of-way accessible to people with mobility impairments. In 2015, the City of Los Angeles settled the aforementioned lawsuit and determined that L.A. 's crumbling sidewalk infrastructure was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The settlement requires that the City invest $1.4 billion in sidewalk repair, which will be stretched over 30 years.
An uneven sidewalk on Opp St. in Wilmington.
Fast forward six years after the Willits Settlement, Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin recently released an audit of the city’s sidewalk repair program. The program is “broken” just like many of the sidewalks are throughout the city. Decades of neglect are leading to a backlog of sidewalk repair requests and hundreds of people continue to get hurt on these sidewalks. Sounds familiar? The same message has been echoed for years: LA’s sidewalks remain dangerous for people who use them. Our sidewalks need to be funded and repaired so that people can have the ability to use the sidewalks with ease. As part of the first-mile/last-mile connections, transit riders deserve safer sidewalk conditions to ensure that they have better access to transit.
In general, the streets in Los Angeles are designed for cars instead of people. Speeding and street racing is becoming prevalent. There are impatient and inconsiderate drivers who don’t even yield to pedestrians when they cross the street. Wide thoroughfares make it harder for pedestrians to cross. The signals might also not take into consideration that certain individuals may not have the capability to cross the street in the given amount of time that a particular signal provides. Our streets should be redesigned so that it prioritizes safety over speed.
Crosswalk at Venice Bl. and La Brea Ave. in Mid-City.
As a pedestrian in Glendale, a city infamously known for their drivers, I walked a mile home from school each day during middle and high school years. Many of the drivers didn’t yield to me when they made right turns. Under California law, pedestrians always have the right-of-way at intersections and designated crosswalks. In reality, I’ve experienced the opposite — drivers honking at crosswalk users to speed up their walking and occasionally using obscene language and hand gestures when altercations intensify. In addition, wide thoroughfares like six-lane wide Glenoaks Boulevard are ripe for street racing. The sound of revving engines and blaring horns don't lull me to sleep. Instead, they make me concerned about how they are posing a grave danger to pedestrians, especially at night.
Similar to sidewalks, safe streets are part of the first-mile/last-mile connections. At some point during their journey, transit riders would have to cross a street or intersection, such as when transferring between lines. In addition to implementing safety elements such as pedestrian safety islands and curb cuts, political will is also needed in order to make streets safer for everyone.
Shade and Seating
All bus stops should have a shelter or shade structure as well as seating for riders. These two elements go hand in hand. The process of getting a bus stop shelter installed may be complex but shelters safeguard riders from extreme weather. Not only do shelters benefit transit riders but they also would provide a place where pedestrians can take a break. This interconnects with sidewalks, the first cornerstone, since there may not be enough space on the sidewalks to add a bus stop shelter.
Bus stop with the basic elements (a shelter and benches) at Roscoe Bl. & Woodman Ave. in Panorama City.
With regards to seating, there are transit lines that may not operate frequently and it would be cruel to make riders stand and wait for the next bus. On Sundays, my family would travel from Glendale to Chinatown on Metro Line 94 to shop for groceries. We hauled home a shopping cart often weighed down by a 50-pound bag of rice, bags of noodles, and bottles of sauces. I remember as a little boy waiting at a bus stop on a hot summer day with my parents and older sister. The heat was unbearable; a shade structure would’ve been so helpful.
Growing up riding buses to get groceries in Chinatown, to Downtown Glendale for the malls, or to Catechism class on Saturdays in Burbank, my mom would constantly remind my sister and me in Vietnamese: “Mình chờ xe, chứ không phải xe chờ mình,” which roughly translates to “We wait for the vehicle, the vehicle doesn’t wait for us.” Many times we would hastily run to the bus stop, thinking that the bus that’s already there would wait for us. To our dismay, the operator closed the doors and departed. Sometimes, we only had to wait for another 15 minutes but the most we waited for a bus was actually an hour.
A real-time bus arrival screen at a bus stop in Chinatown (2019)
Riders shouldn’t have to wait for 30 minutes or more for a bus or train. Fewer than 10% of Americans currently live within walking distance of frequent transit service - every 15 minutes or less. Service should be frequent, especially on lines that connect multiple communities and provide a vital link to jobs and places for errands. Not only would adding more bus service be helpful, implementing dedicated bus lanes and transit signal priority would also speed up the trips. The more we invest in public transit to make it better, the higher the ridership would be. When more people use transit to travel in a particular region, the less automobiles there are on the roads. In turn, this helps reduce our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.
As a lifelong public transit rider, I realized how the built environment and transit service plays an interconnected role in transit riders’ lives. I experienced firsthand how unreliable transit service, as well as how the current state of pedestrian infrastructure and street furniture discourages people from riding transit. I am now at the crossroads of either pursuing a career in transit service planning or transportation advocacy.
For the past three and half months as an Undergraduate Fellow at Los Angeles Walks, I am truly grateful for all the guidance and support that the team has provided. Engaging with community members regarding the Los Angeles School Streets Pilot Project in East Hollywood and the 87th Street safety improvements project in South Los Angeles has further emphasized the importance of including the community throughout the planning process.
Kenny riding Metro’s 76 Valley line in 2010.
Kenny riding Metro’s 204 Vermont line in 2021.
Kenny Uong is a former intern of Los Angeles Walks and a relentless advocate for public transportation. You can find him on Twitter @_KennyUong_.