RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Los Angeles has notoriously awful traffic. I know. I live here, and it seems to have gotten worse, as the city tries to fix it with a massive transportation development project aimed at getting commuters to choose the train over jammed freeways.
As Alex Schmidt reports that a change on that level needs to involve more than just laying down tracks.
ALEX SCHMIDT, BYLINE: It's the end of the workday at the La Cienega station on the new Expo Light Rail Line. This route runs half way across the city from downtown, and in the next couple of years, it'll go all the way to the beach.
Mariko Dawson-Zare is proving the L.A. stereotype wrong. She takes the Expo Line to get to and from work. But there's just one catch - to get from the train to her house, she drives.
MARIKO DAWSON-ZARE: I live near here. But first thing in the morning, to walk here, it's a little tricky. So I leave my car here during the day.
SCHMIDT: Dawson-Zare's house is about a mile away from the station, and, with two kids, the time it would take to walk is just too much to spare.
DAWSON-ZARE: I know 15 minutes isn't much, but in my life 15 minutes is a lot - in the mornings anyway.
SCHMIDT: It's that last leg of the trip, between trains and home that city planners are focusing on. How?
PATRICIA DIEFENDERFER: The development around the transit stations, if all goes according to plan, would be very mixed use.
SCHMIDT: Patricia Diefenderfer is one of the planners working on the project to rezone land around several transit stations. Mixed use development is all about fitting more things into a smaller space - apartments, stores, restaurants, people.
DIEFENDERFER: More and more people could walk around the city to basic services, like restaurant, retail, shopping.
SCHMIDT: The magic number planners are looking at around transit stations is 10 minutes - that's the amount of time people will walk to trains or buses before they decide the car is a better option. But if you live in a single family home in the path of that rezoning project, real estate developers may have an eye on your home.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)
SCHMIDT: One of those neighborhoods is full of quiet streets and small homes, just around the corner from a future Expo Line stop.
DIANE LAMONT: It is kind of a nice place to live. It's easy access to the freeway, to the beach.
SCHMIDT: Diane Lamont's neat house is right in the target area for potential rezoning, and that has her worried.
LAMONT: But if it's going to be encroaching where you can't see around you, big tall buildings, that could be a problem.
SCHMIDT: Lots of people live in L.A. because they can have a single family home lifestyle in a city. Gen Giuliano is a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California. She says some people may move to preserve that lifestyle, rather than adapt to density.
GEN GIULIANO: People have options. We don't have borders around metropolitan areas to keep people here.
SCHMIDT: L.A. covers a sprawling area, and there's still a lot more space to expand.
But sprawl and long commutes drive other people to dense living. Above this restaurant in the downtown Culver City neighborhood is a stylish, mixed use apartment building. It's about a half mile from an Expo Line stop, and there's a strip of shops just outside the building's front door. This is precisely what city planners hope to create more of in L.A. Jennifer Yee lives here, and enjoys taking the Expo Line.
JENNIFER YEE: Yeah. It's definitely something L.A. is lacking is mass transit that's convenient. So it would be great if, you know, things develop around the Expo Line as it goes farther west.
SCHMIDT: It could take a generation or more for single family home neighborhoods to transform into something like this mixed use area. But the long view is exactly what L.A. planners are taking. Transit constructions projects here could stretch into the middle of the century.
For NPR News, I'm Alex Schmidt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.