Voters Must Say NO to Measure J … and Here’s Why

POLITICS - Infrastructure spending;  The economy has a structural problem not a cyclical business cycle problem; so says the Harvard Business School.   Stimulus spending in such a situation can not revive the business cycle.  The problem is deeper than that.  It is structural meaning the problems reach deeply into not only business but into education, methods of productivity, developmental opportunities and more.  It is also that the economy has changed; in this case we now have a global economy to compete within.

With the LA County unemployment average being higher than the national average it indicates structural problems apply even more so here.  The Harvard Business School says that solving the structural problems and updating to global competitiveness involves making a better “platform”.  In the case of an infrastructure platform for LA County it is to develop the needed transportation facilities for mobility and the associated land uses that establish jobs and productive communities.

LA County should now consolidate additional population in the low density, low productivity suburbs with needed growth corridors and to also relieve the high density and productive urban areas of corrosive congestion.  It will, or should do this by consolidating the expected additional two million more people in the next 25 to 30 years with improved transportation mobility and land use productivity in both the suburban and urban areas of LA County.  This would be the “HBS platform” approach for LA County.

A Platform versus some Projects:  Immediately the cost and effectiveness in creating the platform becomes of issue.  Do a few more miles of commuter rail and some highway gap and intersection improvements make the platform; or are the scope and development bigger than that?  When Measure R commuter rail projects are complete they will serve less that 3% of total movement in LA County each day.  The Measure R projects do not adequately serve the growing needs of LA County and to accelerate these projects is misleading.  Metro does not address congestion in any realistic way in the urban context nor does it address the growing travel demand of the already majority of trips found in the suburban areas of LA County.

A platform; A hundred miles of growth corridor in the suburban areas of LA County that protects the single family dwelling communities but adds the proximity of land uses that makes suburbia efficient.  In the LA Basin add thirty miles of corridor improvement that allows necessary vehicular circulation, residential community protection from cut through traffic, and necessary multi-modal corridor development as rail is added over time.  This supports land use needs and the transportation needs for the additional two million people, the more than 400,000 new dwelling units and the communities where the work, shopping, schooling and other social needs can be met.

The affordable platform that puts in place the communities that are productive, profitable and desirable in the globally competitive economy are the following.  First of all they are corridors that address the areas where the majority of travel miles in LA County are made.  They feature exclusive lanes for BRT transit as well as lanes for increased vehicular capacity typically in one way street pairs but in some cases single street two way configurations.  Increasing vehicular capacity acknowledges that 99% of all LA land use is accessed by vehicles and that will not change substantially and therefore vehicular travel must be improved upon in the growth scenario.  Imbedded in this concept is the answer to that growth; additional land use and transportation need as well the elimination of congestion and the making of desirable places to be.  That answer is shorter and quicker trips that structure better urban design and transportation.

The Transportation Secret Revealed:  The simple statement of the transportation secret is to make  trips shorter and quicker; example, trips made one half the length make half the amount of traffic.     

The transportation improvement concept that is being led up to in description here is called a Flow Boulevard.  It is an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) technique that is being developed for Los Angeles on a website at  The design concept simply uses existing street rights of way to better function without widening.  A typical Flow Boulevard would cost one twentieth the cost of light rail per mile and one fiftieth the cost of a subway per mile. That would include the natural gas articulated busses on 10 minute headways in each direction.  The Pico/Olympic one way pair study revealed that the corridor physical improvement cost and the synchronization of signals was about one third of a million dollars per mile.  The cost comparison with rail uses a $14 million dollar/mile average to cover the buses ($8 million/mile), physical costs and contingencies.

Conceptually;  With a corridor increased capacity of 66,000 person trips/mile times the 130 miles of Flow Boulevard, as proposed in the website study, that equals 8.5 million travel miles of capacity within those corridors.  By acknowledging that the accompanying land uses will have the additional dwelling units, work, shopping, schools and others community needs, these trips will be one half the length that is the 15.5 mile average length in LA County.  Considering that adjacent land uses to the corridors will now have closer proximity to the land uses they need to access lets us assume another 8.5 million miles of reduced travel mileage making a total of 17 million miles reduced.

LA County has 10 million people and 2 million more people is an increase of 20%.  Today LA County typically has 80 million miles of travel each day and an increase of 20% of that would produce 17 million miles of travel.  So instead of the two million more people adding 17 million miles of travel to the total mileage in LA County we have saved 17 million miles of travel by the introduction of 130 miles of Flow Boulevard.  Bottom line; two million people have been added to LA County without adding any additional mileage traveled in the County.

In the Dense Urban Context:   Many cities in LA County have similarities with the LA Basin.  Traffic circulation and the amount of future growth are the relevant issues.  Adding rail to serve growth means adding vehicular access as well for multi-modal corridors to avoid gridlock.  Flow Boulevards can provide the additional vehicular capacity and protection of residential communities that is needed now even without additional growth with related rail development.

The canary in the transportation coal mine is West LA where it has out grown its infrastructure and has a terrible bottleneck condition which involves both the freeways and the arterial grid. It can be solved with mainly a Flow Boulevard used as a frontage road to the 405.  More rail beyond that of Expo II would bring more traffic with regional commercial land use attractions.  West LA has to make the decision as to whether it wants to be a congestion free residential community or a commercially dominated community still with too much traffic.               

Metro can be Mislead and Metro can be Misleading:  There are no existing Federal funds for Measure J.  Measure J assumes that the Federal Government will provide a new kind of “subsidy bond” for the acceleration of construction, but no such Federal legislation exists.  Measure J is a bet by the Board of Supervisors that a big spending administration will come through with “cheap money” printing to pay for the accelerated spending spree.  Measure J would obligate the citizens of LA County to unknown outcomes since nothing has really been worked out.  An attempt to get money from Wall Street would be futile because LA is basically a subprime borrower.  

Many bad things about Measure J are clear:  The plans, processes, participation from various cities and funding are not worked out.  A few more miles of commuter rail that is always a tax burden is not a serious plan for the future of the County.  

Whereas the low cost Flow Boulevard/BRT with extensive needed land use development provides the model for the necessary return of profits and revenues that makes the entire County economy stronger.  And it would be more able to grow and adapt to the future through productivity, innovation and in a manner that is consistent with what LA living is about.

Put aside the extension of another 30 years of taxes, restrictive planning, the Generational Theft and the risky “moral hazard” and dependence on “cheap money”.  Don’t accelerate inadequate projects; Vote NO on Measure J.                                        

( Phil Brown AIA, an architect since 1973 has been developing his Flow Boulevard concept while practicing residential architecture through his own small firm since 1973. There have been attempts by the City of LA to adapt Flow Boulevard features but no concrete applications as yet. Phil recently spent 5 years as the Mobility Chair with WLANC while studying WLA traffic. Presently his efforts are in further developing the Flow Boulevard concept and placing his findings on the website at and all such ideas are of his own making including this article)

Vol 10 Issue 79
Pub: Oct 2, 2012