By Ken Alpern, December 31, 2013
GETTING THERE FROM HERE-The year of 2013 was a year of transition for transportation (say THAT three times fast!), and city, state and county transportation officials alike had to regroup after losing 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 2014:
1) Keep the promise of Measure R alive, despite the near-passage of Measure J.
Whether it's a reduction of the threshold from 67% to 55%, and/or a better definition and inclusion of all countywide transportation projects, a desire to improve transportation remains strong in our county, as it probably does throughout the nation. Transportation promotes mobility, mobility implies economic strength and mobility, and mobility implies freedom...and what's more American than freedom?
Yet as the first phase of the Expo Line enjoys ridership goals well in advance of prior predictions, and as the second phase of the Expo Line and the Foothill Gold Line move forward, the desire to have other regional rail projects--and, yes, of course, freeway and road projects--will only increase in years to come...and will need funding.
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.
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.
Yet more taxes won't get the job done with voters, who are still hurting with other taxes, personal bills and (now) required health care insurance. As with the California High Speed Rail (CAHSR) Initiative, which is so frighteningly underfunded and afoul of the law, the credibility issue is one that MUST be confronted.
(Ditto, by the way, for education advocates who have to confront the implications of the expensive, inappropriate $1 billion iPad purchase of the LAUSD from facility-assigned funds. Credibility problems in education spending? Sure!)
3) We need a new Measure J with more clearly-defined goals than merely expediting those projects already approved by passage of Measure R.
Despite the constant focus on rail projects, we need freeway and road expansions and repairs aplenty. We are overdue 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.
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.
Yet the BIG ONE for promoting a new sales tax project, such as that now being considered by Metro, is the aforementioned LAX Metro Airport Connector.
Regional differences and priorities separate the City of LA from outlying areas such as the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys and the South Bay, but virtually all parties will agree on the need to connect LAX with Metro's rail system. Probably the other Metro project needing more expedited funding is the Downtown Light Rail Connector that is also a project that would affect virtually the entire county.
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.
Anyone on the e-mail lists for the Expo Line or I-405 improvement projects know how first-rate the communications are for road closures and other impacts. Furthermore, these projects are proceeding fairly well, despite the daunting utility, engineering and legal challenges that must be overcome.
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 promise and/or reconfiguration of the federal and state budgets to ensure proper funding of transportation and infrastructure, 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 LA County to do it all on its own.
LA County residents' taxes to Sacramento and Washington are NOT being spent well!
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.
And despite the problems with the CAHSR Project, the associated improvements to Union Station, as well as to Amtrak, Caltrain and Metrolink have proponents throughout the political spectrum. If the CAHSR is altered, cut or dramatically redesigned, those improvements do NOT have to be lost altogether--the CAHSR experience has taught Californians a lot, and it is not a bad idea to build projects that DO have universal political support.
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 still an ongoing 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 LA County to emulate.
Connections and parking (for cars, bicycles and buses) are needed to make transit work, and there's just not enough of it being created. The Downtown Projects, the Westside Casden Sepulveda Project and the Century City JMB Project are all too heavy on legal headfakes and cheating, and all too light on actual mitigation with respect to transportation and other infrastructure obligations.
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.
This is a repeat from last year's list: 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…and you can kiss taxpayer support for a L.A. City road repair project GOODBYE unless you start demanding developers pay their fair share to repair our streets and sidewalks.
(Note Bene: Paying off LA City Councilmembers' political expenses is NOT the same as transportation mitigation funding!)
And while we’re at it, let’s expedite the fixing of our City sidewalk and alleyway network, and create a DASH/vanpool network like many other cities in California. This isn't rocket science, folks...just common sense.
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:
1) Senior affordable housing,
2) Student affordable housing, and
3) 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?
Telecommuting has its problems, but it's something more and more individuals are doing, and it's something that is both environmentally-friendly and family-friendly, to say nothing of consistent with our burgeoning global economy. 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 2014.
There is NO DOUBT IN MY MIND that Mayor Garcetti, Controller Galperin and City Attorney Mike Feuer (who wrote Measure R) are smarter and are the beneficiaries of "lessons learned" from their predecessors...who had a few victories deserving of praise but also promoted an atmosphere of corruption and incompetence at City Hall.
While I have some very strong concerns about some of the City Council, I've no doubt that individuals such as Mike Bonin and Paul Krekorian will lead the City Council and Metro to do amazing and overdue makeovers and political successes to benefit the City.
There will be NO L.A. City Sales Tax, Parcel Tax (or other tax) For Roads unless we have enhanced credibility and efficiency from City Hall...and it's uncertain as to what sort of tax, or if a tax is needed at all, at this immediate time.
Angelenos are NOT anti-tax, but they ARE anti-waste, anti-fraud, and anti-incompetence. We've got an infrastructure and economy to repair, folks, and that can't occur without wise, savvy, bold and empathetic leadership.
I wish all of Los Angeles a happier commute, and a Healthy and Happy New Year in 2014!