Urban Planning

Los Angeles Is Actually Pretty Good : urbanplanning

The term “Los Angelization” has been used to describe bad urban design, either by opponents of Urban Sprawl or by people who oppose densification. Los Angeles has long had the reputation for being the capital of car culture and for being car crazy, though other cities have taken this banner from Los Angeles. That reputation still remains though. I believe this picture of Los Angeles is inaccurate and Los Angeles is actually quite unique.

First we can look at the residential densities of Los Angeles. It’s residential densities are much higher than most places in the US.

The City of Los Angeles proper has a residential density of 8,300 people per SQ mile. Not an ultra high residential density, but much higher than most places in the United States. Some people have pointed out to me, that it’s residential densities are lowered by the presence of undevelopable mountains inside the boundaries of LA. Both the city and county of LA have a fair amount of strip malls, but they don’t define LA and there is plenty of older denser development and newer dense and mixed use development.


The cities that surround Los Angeles such as Santa Ana, Long Beach, and Santa Monica and function as extensions of LA have even greater residential densities.

The City of Long Beach has a residential density of 9,200 people per square mile


Santa Ana has a population density of 11,000 people per square mile


Santa Monica has a population density of 11,000 people per square mile


For most of the History of Los Angeles, it and its surrounding cities have been rapidly densifying, while other cities de-densified.


According to the US Census, the Los Angeles Urbanized Area is the densest urbanized area in the United States at 7000 people per square mile


By comparison the average urbanized area in the United States is roughly 2,500 people per square mile.


Many Los Angeles neighborhoods are quite dense such as Koreatown having over 40,000 people per square mile

Parts of Los Angeles have higher population densities than New York: Over 200,000 people live in informal housing pushing population densities to levels that surpass Queens, The Bronx, and Brooklyn.

The densest neighborhood in Houston, Gulfton, has 14,000 people per square mile


The densest neighborhood in Dallas, Victory Meadow has 8,000 people per square mile


Alon Levy makes the case that Los Angeles is car centric because of a lack of employment centralization and low Transit ridership,

Meme Weeding: Los Angeles Density

While downtown Los Angeles might be weak, the west side of LA County is quite strong, Wilshire boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard both have substantial Job Concentrations. The portion of land stretching from Central Los Angeles to the coast is quite densely packed in terms of job densities. There is also strong job concentrations in South Los Angeles county. These job concentrations are why I believe the purple Line extension is a crucial investment and should have been done ages ago, and possibly a subway along Santa Monica BLVD. Alweg offered to build a monorail along wilshire and other parts of the city with private money and honestly the city should have taken the offer.




As times goes on job concentrations should increase in LA


Alon Levy bemoans Los Angeles having “no transit”, not rigidly literally of course, but having a very weak transit system.

The Transit System in Los Angeles used to have a 9 percent modal share. So while this modal share has declined, it shows that there is potential for more transit ridership in LA. LA’s built environment isn’t the main obstacle. The main obstacle is the quality and amount of service LA Metro is able to provide.

Los Angeles: 1985 and Today

LA Metro and its predecessors SOCAL RTD, used to carry some 500 million riders.


While 9 percent would be lower than Chicago modal share, Los Angeles numeric ridership was at one time similar to Chicago


Alon Levy claims that ridership is only increased in LA by lower fares, but this is incorrect. The Metro Expo line, despite its flaws, was able to generate a net increase in ridership. Contrary to what people like Randal O’toole would say, they didn’t merely redistribute riders from buses to trains. 70 percent of the riders were new riders. They didn’t redistribute riders or lower fares to attract riders to the Expo Line.


The the Rail system alone covers quite a large area and is growing all the time


The bus, rail and bus rapid transit together even more extensive


Plus there are municipal agencies like big blue bus in the mix. LA Metro rail, BRT and buses plus local buses adds up to a very comprehensive transit system.

Is LA’s Transit system flawed, yes, but it would be wrong to say that is has “no transit”, obviously not literally, but not in the sense Alon Levy says it does.

Los Angeles freeways have become part of the city’s image, but surprisingly the city has a small amount of freeways per capita. If Los Angeles was truly “car crazy” then it would have a lot more freeways then it does. It’s freeways per capita are actually lower ghan Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston. Boston has roughly twice the freeways per capita of Los Angeles.


That said I would like to see either freeway removal or freeway capping in LA.



Los Angeles also has lower per capita vehicle miles than other socal cities

Fun Facts on How Much People Drive In Different Parts of Southern California and L.A.

Los Angeles urbanized area has lower per capita vmt than the Atlanta urbanized area and many other urbanized areas


The LA Metro area has slightly higher per capita VMT than the Chicago Metro area and suprisingly a lower VMT than the Bay Area


In terms of residential densities, job concentrations, transit coverage, modal share, and ridership, freeways per capita and per capita VMT, Los Angeles really isn’t auto oriented or auto centric. By all those metrics it is actually much less car centric and much less car crazy than most American cities. Things exist in degrees, so while LA is more car centric than New York or Chicago or European and Asian cities, it is much less car centric than other American cities. Beyond things like per capita vmt or transit ridership the city is quite vibrant with lots of things to do, amenities and culture.

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