Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Almost All of Los Angeles' Growth Is in Low-car Households

Portland, eat your heart out. Between 2005 and 2011, ninety percent of Los Angeles' growth was in low-car households, defined as households with fewer vehicles than working adults*. You read that right: Los Angeles, low-car. Even more incredibly, of the 20,000 households the city added over this six-year period, over 8,000 of them own zero cars. That's over forty percent.

This is amazing news for the city, and a testament to its efforts to provide more mobility options for its residents. Fewer people are dependent on expensive vehicles and gasoline to get around, which means they've got more money to spend locally. It also means a greater number of people are getting around in healthier ways, like walking, biking, and transit, and fewer cars polluting the city and adding to congestion.

With the right policies in place, we can reap even greater benefits. Right now much of the city still requires tons of parking for new apartments, often far more than developers think is necessary. And you can see why—when nearly half of the city's new residents don't even own cars, building a bunch of super-expensive parking for them doesn't make a lot of sense. Relaxing parking mandates would be nice for apartment-builders, but it'd really be nice for the people who live in them: as Michael Manville of UCLA found a while back, when you relax parking requirements you get more housing, and at lower prices. It's also good for business, as Santa Monica found recently.

Keep it up, LA!

(Hat tip to Michael Andersen at BikePortland, who showed me how to find this demographic data and whose article inspired me to write one for Los Angeles. And whose design for the above chart I blatantly stole.)

*This is a conservative estimate. The numbers exclude households with adults who aren't working and don't own cars (presumably including the elderly and retired), as well as households with one working adult and one car, even though many of these households are likely to be couples with one working parent and one stay-at-home parent. Unfortunately, the survey data didn't differentiate between these households and those with only one adult. Because of this, the actual share of growth attributable to low-car households is almost certainly greater than 90%.


  1. Even though I gave up my car in 1999, I fear the biggest driving force behind this statistic is flight of business and good paying jobs from California and Los Angeles in particular. Granted, some of it is driven by all the new households in places such as Downtown where I live, but I suspect it is even more driven by lower income households having to temporarily be low car households.

    1. When writing this I researched a lot of demographic data that I left out of this post to keep on topic, but I'm not sure your opinion holds up to scrutiny.

      Looking at economic data for the same time period, what I found was that the share of households earning $35k or less dropped from 42.3% to 39.7% between 2005 and 2011. Breaking those numbers down a bit, I found that households making <$10k a year declined by nearly 22k, $10-15k households increased by 5k, $15-25k dropped by 4k, and the $25k-35k households decreased by 4k. Average income increased by $6k, and median increased by $8k. That's not to say that many people weren't potentially forced out of their cars, but the numbers are mostly encouraging on household income.

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