Wed, Jul

Do We Want to Improve LA Transportation, Or Just Spend Money On It?


TRANSIT WATCH--Money is best spent well, and to its credit, LA Metro has overall earned the bragging rights to money well spent, and to not taking the taxpayers' money for granted.  But we've seen lots of interesting data, and we've not always had the best partners in Sacramento and Washington...so how do we best proceed? 


First, the ridership data:  there are many factors that contribute to ridership--location, trip-generators (a.k.a., key locations that people want to go to), the cost of gasoline, and employment trends, to name just a few.  So let's not get caught up with any "guru" who claims to know it all (and that includes yours truly or any other person with a strong interest in transportation. 

The data in LA county, which was wonderfully summarized by Lisa Schweitzer, an associate professor of urban planning at USC, notes that as gas prices have gone down, and with the advent of Uber, rail ridership has overall gone up while bus ridership has gone down.  

The Expo Line and Gold Line has gone up in ridership, while the Red Line and Green Line has gone down.  Ditto for the Orange Line Busway and 720 Rapid Busway--down.  This is NOT a promotion or attack on any form of transportation, but it does suggest that rail lines do serve as "supplementary lanes" for freeways, slower bus lines turn people off, and that the need for cars isn't over. 

Second, where does Metrolink and High-Speed Rail fit in?  And how about those traffic-laden things called freeways?  Well--it looks like the car, or "car-supplement" is still important, but people do want options, and that rail is nice to have when it's convenient and it works and it gets you to go where one wants to go. 

Hence the need to NOT ignore critical central links like the Downtown Light Rail Connector Project (which finally creates a coherent LA County rail network), the Union Station Run-Through Track Project, and the LAX/Metro Rail link with the Crenshaw/Green Lines via a LAX People Mover. 

And if you don't know about the first two projects, and barely know of the third, you don't know all there is to know about L.A. County/regional transportation.  And there is the need for freeway/rail connectivity with stations and parking, just as there is for bus/rail connectivity, and for Metrolink/Metro Rail connectivity. 

People need freeways to get to work, and they want Metrolink, Metro Rail, or any other option that just makes sense.  Some care about the environment, some have financial issues to address, but overall people just want transportation which makes sense to their quality of life.   

Third, the suburbs want IN to mass transit: As a proud veteran of the fight to create an Expo Light Rail Line to link the Downtown, Mid-City and Westside portions of L.A. County, I assure you that suburban Angelenos have a desire to access the City via rail. 

Ditto for the San Gabriel Valley, which can't get its Foothill Gold Line extended to the San Bernardino border and Ontario Airport fast enough to please its constituents. 

And if you go to the South Bay and Southeast L.A. County Cities, they want IN as well, because commuting to our urban core (where so many jobs and other trip generators are) has become a nightmare. 

Finally, people want rail, but they want it right-sized and right-priced.  And they also want freeways, and bikeways, and their roads fixed/repaired, etc...but for the right price. 

Sacramento truly pulled a bait and switch for its California High-Speed Rail Project, and the question of whether or not this will be worth the money is still on the table--because, in the end, the promoters of high-speed rail lied when they claimed it would be comparable to the airplane...but going faster than the car by 2-3 times the speed is still pretty awesome. 

Hence we have so many rail advocates who want more local rail, even expensive local rail like the Wilshire Subway and a rail line under the Sepulveda Pass...but are still ambivalent or even sour on the California High-Speed Rail.  

And the whoop-di-do about spending money on central California and other regions isn't going to muster a lot of taxpayer and voter support after Jerry Brown is termed-out as governor of California.  

Because we could similarly spend money on widening the I-5 freeway, and I assure you that people would love that, and use that, widened freeway. 

Similarly, inasmuch as we could build a freeway from LAX to Union Station and Downtown, people would love that and use that freeway...but the cost and teardown and disruption of urban neighborhoods argues for a rail line along the Harbor Subdivision Rail Right of Way that is more cost-effective than a freeway...and also more cost-effective than the bikeway now planned on that rail right of way. 

There's a reason or three why my neighborhood council, the Mar Vista Community Council, which is as pro-rail and pro-environment as they come, unanimously passed a motion encouraging the rail right of way between LAX and Union Station be a rail line.  And much of it has to do with getting the best bang for our taxpayer buck. 

We're a generous city, county, and state ... but won't be suckered forever.  Good things have been built, and we have used those good things. 

LA Metro has done a pretty good job of spending its money well--and its credibility is well-earned! Yet it can only go as far as its political leaders, and its partners in Sacramento and Washington, will let it.


(Kenneth S. Alpern, M.D. is a dermatologist who has served in clinics in Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties, and is a proud father and husband to two cherished children and a wonderful wife.  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 was co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chaired the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]. 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 Dr. Alpern.)


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