Now, Fix the Damn Sidewalks

TRANSIT TALK-We can, without any hesitation, claim that Los Angeles County has "given its all" with respect to spending on its own transportation and infrastructure.  In addition to a host of water/sewage tax and bond proposals, LA County has over the years raised its sales tax FOUR times to pay for projects that should have been done decades ago. 

To its credit, Metro (or the MTA, if you wish to call it that) has worked with elected officials to focus on efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and operational soundness in its operations.  As much as many have raised a concern with Measure M (the most recent sales tax just passed) not going far enough, or being too expensive, it DID devote a lot of money towards ensuring operational costs. 

In other words, the risks of "build, build, build" without wondering how we were going to keep our roads and rails in good working order has been addressed--if not entirely, then at least a solid step forward.  And for those complaining about not having enough rail cars ... well, Metro and the manufacturers are going the fastest they can. 

And for those of you STILL reporting that no one will use these rail lines, perhaps you should ride the Expo Line to a Rams game or on a Sunday evening. 

But there are immediate and long-term gaps for us to fill in--in our cities, and in our counties, and in our state: 

1) Pass the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative! 

Isn't it only reasonable and pragmatic to consider Transportation Funding to be the equivalent of "income" and Planning/Development to be the equivalent of "spending"? 

Infrastructure, be it roads/rail, or electrical grid, or cell phone grid, or sewage pipes, etc. is the component on which we can all live in our city, county, and/or state.  Infrastructure is the critical lifeblood of our Economy, our Environment, and our Quality of Life.   

And Planning is the spending aspect of its Transportation counterpart. 

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which we will vote on this spring, allows us to "live within our means" with respect to honoring legal Community Plans, prevents big developers from using their pet consultants to shimmy and lie their way through the Planning process, and focuses on what makes new housing both affordable and livable. 

Here's a hint, for all those who want Affordable Housing, Urban Infill, Smart Development, Mixed-Use Development, etc.:  unless they're luxury apartments/condos, a 2-3 story project creates homes, but a 5-20+ story project is just that...a "project" where people will live only if they've nowhere else cheaper to go to. 

2) Fix the Damned Sidewalks! 

Even with the passage of Measure M, we STILL don't have the funds to fix the City of LA's sidewalks in a timely fashion.  If anyone reading this is okey-dokey with a 20-30 year timeframe, then they must be as pleased as punch. 

But for the rest of us, a 5-7 year timeframe is more appropriate, and why developers, City budget planners and the rest of us all don't work together to expedite the resolution of this nightmare defies belief.   

Here's a hint, though, for all those who want to fix our sidewalks just like we did the 405 HOV Lanes and other major freeway projects:  our pension nightmare is eating up 20%--and going higher--of our City's budget.  Fix and confront that painful problem, and we can better assure that our sidewalks will be built and fixed in our lifetime. 

And don't elect anyone this spring to the City Council unless they promise to fix our sidewalks in a 5-7 year timeframe.  This problem is NOT resolved! 

3) Fill the gaps in our freeways! 

Like it or not, our freeways will be a critical part of our mobility for decades to come.  Part of Measure M includes widening the I-5 to the I-710 freeway, and a host of other freeway fixes from the ports to the borders of our county. 

And that's a good thing, as well as the need to enhance and improve our freeway intersections. 

But the big fixes are yet to come--and they involve getting out of the cult of "rail only". 

One big fix includes the establishment of a freeway along the La Cienega corridor from LAX to the 10 freeway--this would enhance north-south mobility and traffic in the Westside. 

The other big fix:  L.A. own Big Dig.  An upgrade of the east-west chokepoint of the I-10 between the I-110 and East Los Angeles.  Some of it might be underground, and some of it might be on the surface or elevated.   

But mark my words:  someday, somehow, and some time in the future, the freeway infrastructure of Downtown LA will need an upgrade from the 1950's...particularly because Downtown LA is no longer an economic sinkhole but an increasingly vibrant part of the economic powerhouse of LA City and County. 

4) Fill the gaps in our rail systems! 

Considering how much rail planning and building and spending we're doing, this may seem pretty strange to bring up.  But there ARE going to be glaring gaps in our rail systems, and we can either confront them now or face a lot of angry voters in the future. 

a) The Harbor Subdivision Rail Right of Way should be more than a cute bikeway.  It should be extended from the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line from Inglewood to the Blue Line to the Eastside Gold Line and Union Station.  It will be the critical LAX-to-Downtown that will relieve both freeway pressure and rail congestion on the Blue, Crenshaw and Expo Lines, and will be one of the most heavily-ridden lines in LA County. 

b) Connect the Norwalk Metrolink station to MetroRail via an eastern extension of the Green Line. And consider having Orange and Riverside Counties help share the costs, because commuters from those counties will almost certainly benefit. 

c) Coordinate the Metrolink and Eastside Gold Line Extension projects.  What the heck is Metrolink and Metro Rail doing not ensuring easy and convenient access from one system to the other? 

d) Build the Anaheim to Las Vegas rail line.  This might be a fix that is done directly, or via the High Speed Rail Line and Desert XPress projects that connect at Victorville, but it's needed. 

e) Build the doggone South Bay Green Line Extension and connect it to the Blue Line--must commuters have to use the 405 South Bay curve for everything? 

f) Work with Orange County to create 2-3 commuter line alternatives to allow access from LA to/from Orange County--again...must we use the 405 freeway for everything? 

So here we are--we're spending, and we're building, and we're planning. 

And now that we've put our money where our collective mouth is, we have every right to demand that our Sacramento and Washington representatives come through for us.  Or they're gone, to be replaced with those who WILL come through for us. 

We've got to control our planning and development, and we've got to raise our expectations of what our state and nation can do for us with our trusted taxpayer dollars/investments. 

To do no less makes no sense.  Certainly, no Common Sense.


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.  He is also a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at The views expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Alpern.)