No Car Left Behind

Today’s article in the LA Times: “History, density are uneasy neighbors in Pasadena” reveals the fuzzy thinking behind development in Pasadena.

Westgate, an “urban village” of 820 residences and 22,000 square feet of commerical space at the eastern end of the old Ambassador College campus, will be the largest housing development in the city’s history. Referring to Westgate and the neighboring Ambassador West development, the article says:

“Those projects will complement Old Town’s commercial space, placing consumers within walking distance of Colorado Boulevard’s shops and restaurants, and giving them less reason to drive, said Mike Winter, a senior vice president of Sares-Regis, the developer of Westgate.”

If we build it, they will get out of their cars and walk.

Riiiiight.

Southern Californians will offer you a limb before they will part with their four-wheeled appendage.

There is a Ralph’s grocery store with a medium-sized parking lot situated between Old Town and the Ambassador West development. Here’s my question: Does that Ralph’s have to patrol its lot because visitors to Old Town try to get away with parking there for free? Or is the Ralph’s on West Colorado perceived as a little too far from Old Town, so no one even bothers to try and sneak parking there?

I’m guessing they don’t have much of a problem with sneaky parkers. I shop there from time to time and never have trouble finding a space.

There is a big bridge over the freeway that makes Old Town seem far from Ralph’s. The Ambassador West development is even farther from Old Town than the Ralph’s store is. What are the chances that residents will really walk to Old Town?

Mayor Bogaard is quoted in the article as saying that Pasadena’s General Plan, which encourages mixed-use, high-density development, is intended “to reduce dependence on the automobile. The hope is that our downtown will be vital and exciting.”

High-density development alone will not shake that steering wheel loose from the hands of a typical Southern Californian. Especially if one has to schlep kids around. Or haul a bunch of stuff back from the store. I know people who live within walking distance of Target, but they don’t walk there. Who wants to heave-ho 300 fluid ounces of laundry detergent all the way home?

The perceived safety and utility of the polluting metal bubble on rubber wheels outweighs the perceived pleasure of a stroll to the shops and restaurants. Changing that perception, changing a car-based lifestyle that is integral to SoCal culture–those kinds of lifestyle changes are the hardest to come by. Developers need to quit pretending otherwise.

Want to rent a nice two-bedroom apartment in a historic building at the Ambassador site? Here’s an ad from Craigslist–only $2,300 per month!

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10 Responses to “No Car Left Behind”

  1. Kim Perez Says:

    LOVE this sentence: “Southern Californians will offer you a limb before they will part with their four-wheeled appendage.”

    And this: “polluting metal bubble on rubber wheels”

    !!

    And I couldn’t agree more with your views here. I’m one of the few who actually likes to walk as much as possible. Just yesterday I walked from my apartment on Del Mar near Euclid to Target (yes, SOME people do that), and I usually walk to Trader Joe’s to buy groceries. There is no better way to save money and buy less junk food than knowing that everything you toss into your cart you’ll have to haul several blocks home. I do still have a car, though, so I know I’m lucky to have the wheels when it’s time to buy more laundry soap.

    I feel a certain kinship with the other folks I see on the street with grocery bags. And I have to give a shout-out to the girl I saw yesterday near the Paseo with brand new curtain rods (from Target?) sticking straight up out of her backpack.

    Thanks again Kelly for making me think about my neighborhood! Excellent post! (and great writing!!)

  2. Kelly L.C. Russell Says:

    Thanks for the encouraging feedback. In addition to this post, I also sent a letter to the LA Times. (Now I’d better get on with some work that results in actual income!)

    Hats off to you for walking when you can–I love the perspective that if you have to haul it, it makes you think twice about whether you really need it or not.

    I was in Target yesterday too! If I’d seen you, I could have given you a ride home!
    ; )

  3. RM Says:

    Kelly – I am going to have to disagree with the spirit of your post. Yes it is true that Southern Californians prefer to drive, however, consider Kim’s reply as an alternative…how great is it that a person has the ability to NOT have to drive. I too live and work in Pasadena, and really don’t drive at all during the week – one weekends I only drive to visit friends, family or run errands out of town. As I leave my office, I can stop and the Groc, pick up what I need, and either walk home or hop on the ARTS Bus. Restaurants, Bars, Theatres, Bookstores, music stores, shoe repair…Walk. I think that if other people gave a real chance, they would find it very easy…of course, this will only occur in areas that are pedestrian friendly, have a high level of services for residents within the area, and for that I am thankful that the City of Pasadena is thinking this way. Population is not going to stop growing, so how are we all going to deal with it? Building a more urban environment; one with places to live work and play within a short walking distance. I say try it!

  4. Kelly L.C. Russell Says:

    RM,

    It is great that some Pasadena residents can walk to the places they need to go. My point is that people tend to drive rather than walk, even when walking is a viable option. It sounds like you have a great “walking life” – I commend you for that.

    A related issue is that the vast majority of the housing being built in the downtown Pasadena area is not affordable to the average-income person. And higher income people tend to have nice cars, and to drive them.

    -Kelly

  5. RM Says:

    Kelly – you are correct that people tend to drive when walking is a viable options, but my point is that if people were to give walking a chance, INSTEAD of opting for the car, they would find it very easy. Trying the short trips every once in a while is the best way to get poeple suited to walking over driving – out for coffee, grab the paper, post office, library, the next thing you know people are walking more a little longer distances.

    New housing downtown is exspensive, but there are MANY MANY options to live in housing downtown that is not that expensive. My old place was less than $1,000 per month, in a great historic building. My current place is not in downtown, is over $1,000 per month, is ugly, but still allowing us to aggresively save to purchase.

  6. Aaron Proctor Says:

    “Southern Californians will offer you a limb before they will part with their four-wheeled appendage.”

    I grew up in Philly and this is so true. People stare at me strangely when I tell them I have a license but no car.

    I get the last laugh at the end of the month, though 🙂 (When the bills come)

  7. Jill Says:

    I went without a car here in Pasadena for about a year. It was great and I would do it again in a minute. I’m driving some super and much beloved kids around these days. Getting kids around without a car looks close to impossible to me. When it’s just me, though, riding my bike, walking and/or taking public transportation works pretty well and is pretty fun.

  8. Aaron Proctor Says:

    That extra $3/whatever I’m saving per gallon of gas makes up for itself at the various dark, seedy corners of Hollywood I hang out in (in alcohol, I mean).

  9. I'm Walkin' Here « West Coast Grrlie Blather Says:

    […] I’m not thrilled about the high density-ness of it all, but I could stomach it if middle-income and low-income people could afford it. But since none of this new housing stock is affordable to those folks anyway, it’s a bad thing happening for no good reason. So here’s a letter I wrote to the Los Angeles Times, which is based on my previous post No Car Left Behind: […]

  10. PUSD Still in Dire Straits | The Foothill Cities Blog Says:

    […] rafts of important news in Pasadena, but it is Friday and to do it all justice, we’ll tackle it over the weekend. Stay […]

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