News
01.28.2009
Editorial: Game Change
AN's new competition offers a chance to think big for transit infrastructure in Los Angeles.

In our last issue I noted The Architect’s Newspaper and SCI-Arc’s plan to launch a competition promoting creative ideas for LA’s transit system. Now it’s official. The contest, called A New Infrastructure: Innovative Transit Solutions For Los Angeles, is open for entries, due by March 13. (Participants can find information and an entry form here.) The jury will include architects Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, Neil Denari; Gail Goldberg, LA planning director; Aspet Davidian, director of project engineering facilities at the LA Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Cecilia estolano, CEO of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles; and other design experts and civic leaders.

The contest is designed to encourage solutions outside the normal parameters of LA’s—and the country’s—existing transportation-related schemes. We hope that entrants, including architects, engineers, planners, or (hopefully) a combination of the three, will explore new transit systems and technologies, new transit-related buildings and neighborhoods, and a new thinking about the relationship between transit, architecture, open space, and urban redevelopment. Competitors will be asked to focus on specific rail extension projects and also take a look at larger-scale, interrelated transit planning challenges.

The competition coincides with the passage of LA County Ballot Measure R, which will give the city up to $40 billion in transportation funding over the next 30 years, and with President Obama’s pledge to make the largest investment in infrastructure since the 1950s.

Here’s our opportunity to think big; to break the outmoded boundaries between transit and its surroundings; between design and infrastructure; and between the professions of architecture, engineering, and planning. And to think innovative about existing new technologies such as light rail, zip cars, biofuels, as well as even newer technologies

Fifty years ago our new highways increased our city’s mobility and its efficiency. But they subsequently destroyed many of our neighborhoods and now they cannot even handle the city’s voluminous traffic. Meanwhile, as many of the nation’s mass transit systems continue to age, LA’s transit remains stalled with limited ridership and a limited reach. Sure, there are subways, and our bus routes are certainly extensive, but who do you know that takes mass transit? I know a few, but everyone else spends their days stuck in traffic. 

It’s the rare Angeleno who believes that the age of the automobile will soon end. And I’m not one of them. People will always relish the opportunity to set out on their own, and cars will continue to become more efficient and ecologically sound. But we still need new transit systems to supplement them, and to insure that our city doesn’t grind to a halt. These systems need to be designed to encourage riders to want to take them, and in ways that nourish and improve our neighborhoods.

Hopefully these ideas will encourage our transit planners, city planners, and civic leaders, some of whom will have a seat on our jury, to be inspired and to think fresher. Maybe a plan will become reality. We also hope this competition will draw attention to an issue that could make or break the prototypical freeway city. If no one is paying attention, we will get more of the same. Or nothing at all. Already the MTA has announced in a report that because of budget shortfalls the Red Line “Subway to the Sea” wouldn’t even reach Westwood until 2032, and that the Green Line extension to LAX would take until 2018. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has sharply criticized these dates, and we must too. If we are active in this process, imagining schemes and pressuring our government to move swiftly and innovatively, there’s no telling what we can accomplish and how far we can travel. 

Sam Lubell