The Sydney Morning Herald
by Andrew West
For most Australians, the image of Los Angeles - if it's not Hollywood or Disneyland - is of eight-lane freeways and traffic jams.
But one of the Obama administration's top transport officials suggests the city could be the ideal model for Sydney.
Despite its portrayal in movies such as Speed as a place where cars crowd out humanity, the US assistant secretary for transportation, Polly Trottenberg, says the sprawling city is a place where densities are increasing and public transport is expanding.
''Let's look at a great example, which is Los Angeles,'' Ms Trottenberg told the Herald. ''Traditionally, people have viewed it as an incredibly auto-intensive place, but it is becoming one of the densest cities in the US.
''They have made tremendous investments in all kinds of mass transit - light rail, bus rapid transit, sometimes using the existing street grid, and they're doing some heavy rail.''
Ms Trottenberg, who was an executive of the New York Port Authority before joining the Obama administration, arrives in Australia today to address a conference in Brisbane on the ''City of The Future'', organised by the US Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.
While Los Angeles might be an unlikely poster child for urban renewal, it has many common features with Sydney. Its metropolitan area stretches from the mountains to the coast; it is decentralised, with centres such as Santa Monica and Pasadena, where Sydney has Parramatta and Chatswood; and, like Sydney, it once had an extensive tram network. ''It is a city that, to some degree, was an original streetcar city but they're also doing retro-fitting and ... using different approaches,'' she said.
The New York Times reported that the urbanised area of Los Angeles county, with a population of about 10.2 million, ''had the highest population density in the nation'', with 7068 people per square mile. It was ''considerably denser than the New York-Newark'' region, with 5309 people per square mile. Over the past 20 years, Los Angeles has spent $US11 billion on five new railway lines.
Ms Trottenberg cited a sales tax measure, which the citizens voted to support in 2008, that imposes a half-cent levy to fund new light rail, heavy rail and rapid bus systems.
''Los Angeles is now a pretty interesting case study of [a city of] people who will always love their cars but is taking the next step and providing people with a whole range of transportation choices,'' Ms Trottenberg said. ''It's getting more dense in the process, making mass transit a more viable option.''
The Gillard government has begun a $20 million study, backed by the opposition, into the viability of high-speed trains between Newcastle and Melbourne (via Sydney and Canberra), but Ms Trottenberg urged governments not to ignore the potential to upgrade existing long-distance passenger rail.
In January, the US President, Barack Obama, announced $US8 billion to begin work on nine corridors across the US for high-speed rail, running at speeds of up to 320 km/h.
Ms Trottenberg said the administration was also looking to upgrade Amtrak lines to reach speeds of 110 km/h to 140 km/h.