GETTING THERE FROM HERE - 2012 was a year of progress and disappointments for transportation—the 2012 election year had negative campaigning on both sides of the political aisle, and kept (and still keeps) the country hopelessly divided, and we lost Measure J by a tantalizing hairbreadth. Yet in LA County we’ve seen an extraordinary explosion of progress on current and future rail and road projects that bode well for an exciting new year.
Here are my Top Ten Hopes for Transportation in 2013:
1) Keep the promise of Measure R alive, despite the near-passage of Measure J. The planning, approval, funding and construction of freeway and rail projects from Santa Monica to the Inland Empire (and everywhere in-between) are still moving forward at historically fast speeds (even if our traffic isn’t).
Both the benefits and shortcomings of Measure R need to be highlighted if Measure J is to be re-introduced (and it probably will be, in some shape or form). We’ve got an Expo and Crenshaw Light Rail Line, as well as an I-405 and other freeway projects, being built years or even decades ahead of time, yet many other key projects now only have seed money (see below).
2) Promoting the narrative of Measure J that it nearly passed, and not that it failed, is the correct narrative for our cities and county to promote.
Measure J failed despite getting 66% of the popular vote—that’s 12% higher than the state tax hike/budget-balancing Proposition 30 received for passage, and 15% higher than what President Obama needed to achieve re-election.
We need to pass a constitutional amendment to allow transportation measures the benefit of a more reasonable voter threshold needed to pass by a will of the majority—if a supermajority of the voters at either 55% or 60% was necessary, Measure J would still have passed.
3) We need a new Measure J with more clearly-defined goals than merely expediting those projects already approved by passage of Measure R.
Measure R only provided seed money for a north-south Westside/San Fernando Valley transit project and the LAX Metro Airport Connector. A rail project (ideally underground) for Westside/Valley commuters to cross the Sepulveda Pass in less than 10 minutes, a MetroRail project connected to the LAX central terminals, and a connection of the Green Line to Metrolink at or near Norwalk, are as long overdue as the Wilshire Subway.
Ditto for a widening of the I-5 between the 710 and 605 freeways, and a host of improvements to those freeways in the eastern, northern and southern periphery of our county, and ditto for a major renovation of the major roads throughout the City and County of LA.
4) Promotion of those “best practices” in communication and operations by the contractors building Phase 2 of the Expo Line and the Sepulveda Pass I-405 Widening project are necessary to show that the taxpayers’ money actually CAN be spent well.
Whether it’s fixing the screw-ups of previous contractors for either the Expo Line or past freeway projects, Metro has demonstrated it can do a great job building important projects with quality contractors. Voters have always wanted that good government, and Metro’s credibility, needs to be enhanced whenever possible.
5) Washington, DC and Sacramento need to be better and more reliable partners with LA City and County for transportation than in the past.
Maybe it’s a new stimulus package, maybe it’s a reconfiguration of the federal and state budgets to ensure proper funding of transportation, and maybe it’s our federal and state governments learning what cities and counties really need for transportation and other infrastructure, but it’s not fair for L.A. County to do it all on its own.
There are certain key freeways (like the I-5), certain rail projects (like the Wilshire Subway, the Downtown Light Rail Connector and the LAX/MetroRail Connector) and certain freight rail betterments (like the Alameda Corridor East) that, if funded by the state or federal governments, would restore a great deal of local voter/taxpayer confidence as well as beef up both the local and national economies.
6) Expedite the Downtown Light Rail Connector and other major rail projects with an array of new initiatives to unite Metro with the business community as major urban/economic renewal projects.
There is quite a bit of controversy between Metro and the Downtown LA business community as to whether or not this Downtown rail subway project can entirely be performed with a deep boring machine. The possibility that it can it be excavated manually, as was done with certain portions of the Pasadena Gold Line, needs to be explored as well. The rewards are too great to ignore.
Linking MetroRail stations with businesses creates both a “sense of place” and economic empowerment which most still don’t yet appreciate. Universal Studios paid a huge price for not linking with the Red Line Subway, but North Hollywood has benefited
from its association with the Red Line, and provides a model for the rest of L.A. County to emulate.
7) Building all bus/rail stations with appropriate transit, carpool, bicycle and pedestrian amenities, and not "cheaping out" on the parking or sidewalk repairs, remains elusive.
Naïve or dogmatic City and County planners and politicians must stop shortchanging those taxpaying commuters who need a car or bike to commute to transit stations, and must start demanding government and developers cough up the dough to fund the parking structures, bike lanes, bus/rail connectors and sidewalks.
Repeat after me, my theologically-obsessed anti-parking friends: parking structures and lots get cars off the street, parking structures and lots get cars off the street, parking structures and lots get cars off the street … (those transportation and urban planners without small children need not bother confronting this reality).
And while we’re at it, let’s expedite the fixing of our City sidewalk network and create a bicycle network like many other cities in California.
8) Can we finally achieve an appropriate and pragmatic definition of "affordable housing" and "transit-oriented development" to avoid promoting overdevelopment that isn’t helpful for either Endeavour?
Will planned transit-adjacent projects be truly “transit-oriented” to benefit their neighborhoods, or will they transform these neighborhoods into car-laden, traffic-jammed hellholes? Where are the freeway, road, transit and pedestrian mitigations…and if they’re not there, then why are transit-adjacent-but-not-truly-oriented projects moving through the City Planning process at all?
Can we finally acknowledge that housing endeavors that appeal specifically to transit users are truly limited to senior affordable housing, student affordable housing, and commercial affordable housing (workers who are verified to work and live near a transit station?)
9) For those of us not living next to a transit station, can we start rewarding telecommuting in the City and County of Los Angeles with tax and other incentives? This behavior really helps keep cars off the roads while strengthening our modern economy.
10) We need a Mayor, City Council, City Controller and City Attorney who will actually do the job that they were elected to do. Since transportation-related and urban planning-related issues remain high priorities in the minds of voting Angelenos, the right leadership to fight for the planning, funding, budgeting and legal implementation of these priorities is the most important transportation-related hope of all in 2013.
I wish all of Los Angeles a happier commute, and a Healthy and Happy New Year in 2013!
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember 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 CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)
Vol 10 Issue 104
Pub: Dec 28, 2012