PERSPECTIVE - After eight years as the mayor of Los Angeles, during the worst national recession of our lifetimes, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s accomplishments for LA County’s transportation system clearly stand out as his most significant legacy. Below Move LA takes a crack at what we think the Top 10 transportation accomplishments were, most of which he was clearly responsible for, and a couple where his strong support was essential to their success.
1) LA’s got new mojo! The success of Measure R and nationwide interest in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s 30-10 Plan has yielded more than money for transportation and jobs for LA workers. It has given Los Angeles real momentum, and the confidence to think big and to expect to succeed.
This could be LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s most important legacy, and the world has taken notice.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s efforts to expand LA’s transit system have been applauded far and wide, pushing Los Angeles into the national spotlight as an innovator after a few decades as the poster child for urban dystopia.
The mayor’s “30-10 plan” has played in newspapers and on blog sites across the nation, with photos of the mayor and President Obama striding together across the tarmac to Air Force One, of the mayor at press conferences with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and with Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders in Washington DC.
The mayor’s renown in transportation circles eventually earned him a top spot on of the list of favorites to succeed the extremely popular LaHood – in Governing magazine as well as on Streetsblog – though he declined consideration. “Los Angeles is the future . . . NYC watch your back,” enthused the New York Post in a story that raved about downtown LA, the city’s many walkable neighborhoods, “a decade of building real transit,” and a subway stop in Beverly Hills.
Matthew Yglesias wrote — in a post on Slate entitled “How a Ballot Initiative, Visionary Mayor and a Quest for Growth are Turning LA Into America’s Next Great Transit City” — that “The usual response to too much traffic in the U.S. is to strangle growth. LA has chosen the bolder path of investing in the kind of infrastructure than can support continued population growth.”
Author Taras Gresco wrote in an LA Times op-ed that “Many people are surprised to learn that their city’s reputation is at an all-time high among international transit scholars.” And international transit consultant Jarrett Walker noted, on his Human Transit blog, that “When I talk about public transit I don’t talk much about New York or Boston . . . When I really want to shift [the audience’s] thinking I talk about Los Angeles.”
2) Measure R doubles the size of LA County’s transit network. It all began with the mayor talking about an iconic “subway to the sea” and then working with Congressman Henry Waxman to lift the ban on the use of federal funding for tunneling along the Wilshire Corridor so work on extending the subway could begin.
A coalition of community leaders and Move LA saw the opportunity and joined the mayor in the effort. When the Measure R half cent sales tax for transportation was placed on the ballot in 2008, the mayor campaigned and fundraised vigorously to win the landslide support of 67.8% of LA County voters.
Measure R helps fund a total of 12 transit projects over 30 years, ranging from the Westside Subway to the downtown LA Regional Connector to — finally! — a connection to LAX and a down payment on a real solution for the impossibly congested 405. Here’s the list with completion dates that assume no acceleration from the 30-10 plan.
- ● Extension of the Orange Line Busway from Canoga Park to Chatsworth (opened last summer).
- ● Extension of the Expo Line from Culver City to 4th and Colorado in downtown Santa Monica in 2016.
- ● Extension of the Gold Line through the San Gabriel Valley foothills from East Pasadena/Sierra Madre to Azusa (opening 2015).
- ● A new Crenshaw/LAX corridor from Exposition Boulevard to the Green Line (to be completed in 2018).
- ● The Regional Connector, a 1.9-mile underground light rail line in downtown LA that will link the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines via a central corridor from Little Tokyo to 7th Street (by 2019).
- ● The Westside Subway (erstwhile the subway to the sea) extension of the Purple Line from Wilshire/Western to La Cienega (2023), Century City (2029), Westwood and the VA Hospital (2036 or sooner if 30-10 works!).
- ● A Metrorail connection with LAX airport terminals — alternatives being considered include bus rapid transit, light rail, and a people mover (by 2028).
- ● Extension of the Eastside Gold Line to either South El Monte or Whittier (2035).
- ●An extension of the Green Line into Torrance (2035).
- ● North-south transit improvements in the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor between Ventura Boulevard and the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink station — either bus rapid transit or light rail (by 2018).
- ● A study of transit and highway “concepts” connecting the San Fernando Valley (at the Sylmar Metrolink station) to the Westside of Los Angeles (the LAX station) via the Sepulveda pass. The concept generating the most excitement is a public-private partnership that would use toll lanes to fund a rail tunnel under the pass (by 2039).
- ● A new bus rapid transit or light rail corridor connecting downtown LA and the Gateway Cities, and eventually Orange County.
3) Business, labor and environmentalists are standing together for infrastructure investment.
The mayor is a consummate coalition builder who helped create a bipartisan business-labor-environmental coalition of leaders willing to stand together — even though they’re usually at odds —on the need for job-creating business-boosting transportation infrastructure investment.
He did it in Los Angeles around passage of Measure R, and then did it again around the America Fast Forward proposal in Washington DC. Amidst the bipartisan strife there was a remarkable kumbaya moment caught on video, with the mayor, Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer — the Congressional champion of LA’s cause — as well as Republican John Mica, then chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, U.S Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue, and Republican leaders including Mayor Scott Smith of Mesa, Arizona, who told the press: “We have Democrats, Republicans, House, Senate, Labor, business, lambs, lions, cats and dogs lying down together. But there’s no apocalypse on the horizon. There’s a new dawn.”
The mayor’s coalition-building skills were earlier evidenced when he helped broker unanimous agreement at LA Metro on the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan, which was based on the Measure R project list. And he worked with Assemblyman Mike Feuer and the state Legislature to get both Measure R and Measure J, which would have extended the Measure R sales tax to leverage additional financing, authorized to be placed on the ballots in 2008 and 2012.
4) The federal government has become a smart lender and not just a big spender. The mayor has been widely acknowledged for his visionary “30-10 Plan,” now termed the “America Fast Forward” program, to build out 30 years of transit projects in just 10 years.
Mayor Villaraigosa is still working with Congress to find new ways to leverage investment for transportation infrastructure by adding financing strategies to the federal government’s portfolio of grant programs.
No less august a think tank than the Washington DC-based Brookings Institution has cited the mayor’s “bottoms up federalist approach” as one of the “Top 10 Metropolitan Innovations to Watch.”
It’s “bottoms up” because it encourages the federal government to provide incentives for local governments, voters, corporate, civic, labor and environmental leaders to step up and help themselves — as LA County voters did in 2008 by voting for the Measure R sales tax, which can be used to secure financing from the private sector as well as the federal government.
The mayor’s “America Fast Forward” proposal to provide flexible, low-cost credit assistance consisted of 1) a low-interest loan program, which was adopted by the federal government in 2012, and 2) a bond program, that provides tax credits to investors in lieu of interest payments, which the mayor is urging Congress to adopt now.
Together these programs would enable the accelerated construction of all Measure R projects.
“Policymakers in DC didn’t know how to respond to a local politician who came asking for money that would be paid back, as opposed to the other kind,” wrote Jake Blumgart on the Next American City Blog. As Villaraigosa told Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson in 2010, “They laughed. They said they didn’t have a program that could do this.”
5) LA’s port is going green, reducing toxic emissions by half: The neighboring ports of LA and Long Beach make up the world’s fifth busiest port complex, handle 44% of all container goods entering the U.S., and together employ more than 400,000 people.
These ports are also responsible for more than 20% of toxic air emissions in the South Coast Air Basin — contributing more smog and particulate-forming emissions than all of the region’s 6 million cars combined.
In order to address this enormous problem the mayor championed a Clean Trucks Program that required operators to replace or retrofit all 16,000 dirty diesel trucks that serve the port so that they meet US EPA emissions standards, and included a $35 fee on every container entering or leaving the port to help pay for the retrofitting. The mayor’s Clean Air Action Plan also requires ships to turn off their diesel engines when in port and use onshore electricity for at least half the time they are docked.
The Clean Trucks program is estimated to have reduced harmful emissions from trucks entering the port by 98%. The clean air plan requires ships to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2020.
6) LA Metro’s bus fleet has expanded faster than any other in the U.S., is the cleanest in the world, and Metro’s fares are the lowest: LA Metro’s bus fleet, this country’s second-largest, is the largest “clean air fleet” in the world, with every one of the agency’s 2,227 buses running on alternative fuels, all but a few of them on CNG.
The mayor, working with the Coalition for Clean Air, started the clean bus program in 1994 while representing LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina on Metro committees. And while Speaker of the California State Assembly he convinced Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte, a Republican, to co-author legislation creating the Carl Moyer Program, which still provides grants for replacing dirty diesel fleets with clean alternative fueled vehicles.
The mayor also, during his tenure on the Metro board, worked under the Consent Decree with the Bus Riders Union to add 500 buses during peak service hours, and he championed, with other board members, the addition of nine Metro Rapid lines — which speed riders to their destinations in 23% less time than local bus service (because traffic signals hold green lights longer or shorten red lights).
The mayor has also helped keep transit fares low by using the 20% of Measure R revenues that are dedicated to bus operations to subsidize fares at a time when other agencies across the U.S. have raised fares and cut back service due to economic difficulties.
Metro’s fares are the lowest when compared to big city transit systems in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland and Atlanta. (It’s hard to make comparisons to all cities since some, such as Washington DC, calculate fares depending on the distance traveled.)
Both LA Metro’s base $1.50/trip transit fares and discounted fares for seniors and the disabled (55 cents) are the lowest. Metro also has one of the largest discounted student transit pass programs, and among the lowest daily, weekly and monthly passes.
7) Metro’s Project Labor Agreement and Construction Careers Policy make tens of thousands of good jobs available in low-income communities. Last year LA Metro became the first transit agency in the nation to adopt both a Project Labor Agreement as well as a Construction Careers Policy applicable to all Measure R projects — policies that ensure there will be a union workforce and union working conditions as well as employment and training opportunities for people who live in local low-income communities.
While Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas deserves credit for taking the lead on this issue, Mayor Villaraigosa’s strong support was essential to its success. These remarkable victories by the Los Angeles-Orange Counties Building Trades Council, which championed the PLA, and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) and the LA County Federation of Labor, which championed the CCP — both were championed by the mayor — won a unanimous vote by the Metro board across political lines as hundreds of workers looked on.
The upshot is that all Measure R projects costing more than $2.5 million will be built using skilled labor trained in joint labor-management apprenticeship programs, and the contracts will be subject to all the protections and benefits associated with a middle-class livelihood.
Forty percent of the work hours must be completed by workers living in neighborhoods where the annual median income is less than $40,000. Ten percent of the 40 percent must be struggling with poverty, chronic unemployment, homelessness or other challenges, and 20 percent must be apprentices.
The PLA could cover contracts totaling as much as $70 billion if Metro fully implements its long-range transportation plan, which would translate into an estimated 270,000 union jobs. Projects that include federal funding must be open to economically disadvantaged communities nationwide.
The PLA includes a no-strike provision and bars Metro contractors from locking employees out.
8) LA is becoming a better city for walking and biking: The mayor began seriously campaigning to make streets safer for bicyclists after a taxi cut him off while he was riding his bike in 2010, and he fell and shattered his elbow.
It prompted him to convene a bike summit and begin talking about the need for a 3-foot safe passing law, and he championed CicLAvia and helped fund it, meanwhile accelerating passage of the city’s long-awaited bike plan to build 1680 lane miles over 30 years.
He’s remained committed, building 123 miles of bike lanes in 2 years for a total of 431 miles citywide, and he fought for the funding to increase CicLAvia to thrice annually, also extending the route 15 miles to the beach. He reached agreement with the company named Bike Nation to install 400 bike-sharing kiosks in downtown LA, Hollywood, Westwood, and Venice Beach that will be stocked with 4,000 bikes – and requiring no subsidy from the city -- which would make LA’s bike-sharing program the nation’s largest.
The mayor is also credited with presiding over a paradigm shift at the city’s Department of Transportation, which has taken new interest in non-motorized transportation. He oversaw the hiring of two LADOT pedestrian coordinators, spearheaded the adoption of “continental crosswalks” that are much more visible than conventional striped crosswalks, and launched a Safe Routes to School master plan.
It should also be noted that while Speaker of the Assembly, Villaraigosa co-authored a Safe Routes to School bill that became the model for the national program that funds projects that make it easier and safer for kids to walk and bike to school.
9) The synchronization of 4,398 traffic signals together with two congestion pricing demonstration projects promise to help relieve traffic: One of Mayor Villaraigosa’s first campaign promises was to finish synchronizing all the city's traffic signals — making LA the first city in the world to do so — in an effort to make traffic run more smoothly.
The LA Department of Transportation, which developed the software to do this (and is selling it to other cities), says synchronization has increased traffic speeds by 16%, decreased travel times by 12%, and reduced carbon emissions by 1 metric ton per year. And it raises, The New York Times speculated, “the almost fantastical prospect, in theory, of driving Western Avenue from the Hollywood Hills to the San Pedro waterfront without stopping once.”
The system uses magnetic sensors in the road to detect the flow of vehicles, extending green lights, for example, for buses running behind schedule. It’s harder for the system to sense bikes and pedestrians, but it does allow extending walk lights near the Staples Center during events, for example, or on Saturdays in Jewish neighborhoods.
The mayor negotiated with the state legislature to get $150 million from the Proposition 1B bond measure in 2006 to complete synchronization. Mayor Villaraigosa also succeeded where both New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome failed: Bloomberg and Newsome won congestion pricing demonstration project funding from the federal government but couldn’t win the political support they needed to implement their proposed programs.
So Villaraigosa asked then US Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to give the funding to LA instead, and he was able to open the Express Lanes Congestion Reduction project on 25 miles of the I-110 Harbor Freeway and the I-10 San Bernardino Freeway.
10) The Transit Corridors Cabinet is reorienting the city around public transportation, with a revamped Union Station at the transit system’s epicenter: If LA’s freeway system divided communities with wide roads and fast-moving traffic, the mayor and the Transit Corridors Cabinet intend to knit them back together again.
The city's new 6th Street Bridge, for example, will cross the 5 freeway and the LA River to reunite downtown LA with the East Side, and can be traveled by transit, bicycle, car, or on foot — providing neighbors with the best Stairmaster in the city (check out the multiple staircases on the bridge supports!) and greening the river with paths and parks.
The mayor created the Transit Corridors Cabinet partnership to facilitate projects like this by improving communication and cooperation among eight key city departments that have authority over planning, policy, design and infrastructure investment around LA's expanding transit system.
The goal is to help ensure high transit ridership by providing people with more transportation and housing choices, by making it easier and more pleasant to walk or bike to stations, by ensuring there is housing for people of all incomes, and by enlivening local business districts — and in the meantime preserving nearby single-family neighborhoods.
A revamped Union Station will be at the epicenter of LA’s expanded transit system, improving the passenger concourse, consolidating bus activity, incorporating the future high-speed rail line, improving bike and pedestrian connections, and possibly replacing the parking lots in front of the station with open space.
These are significant transportation accomplishments by any measure. The impact of Measure R and the 30-10 plan alone may end up being as important to our city’s future as William Mulholland’s water project – only this time the initiative was democratic because the voters had their say!
JOIN THE LEGACY PARTY: Move LA is celebrating the transportation legacy of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at Union Station Wed., June 12, with music, food and drink. Join us! Tickets at: http://www.movela.org.
(Denny Zane is the Executive Director and Gloria Ohland Policy and Communications Director of Move LA … a nonprofit organization that has helped build a broad constituency to advocate for development of a comprehensive, diverse, robust, clean, and financially sound public transportation system for Los Angeles County, and has championed strategies to accelerate its implementation.)
Vol 11 Issue 45
Pub: June 4, 2013