By Ken Alpern, August 6, 2013
ALPERN ON TRANSIT - Yes, we can build another generation of transportation projects, with both federal, state, county and even city support in our lifetimes, if only we can acknowledge and learn from the horrible mistakes we've recently seen in the Transportation world...and in the Planning world, to boot, if we dare to end the decades-old debacle of treating Transportation/Infrastructure from Planning.
Not only does Main Street live in a different world than Wall Street, but Main Street lives in a different world than Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill, where one major political party favors airline/road subsidization and wants to end transit subsidization altogether, and the other major political party too often treats the automobile (and fossil fuels altogether) like the work of the Devil.
Which leaves the average American virtually shut out of planning, budgeting and construction of a 21st Century America.
After having vacationed with my family to the southwest U.S. National Parks with my family (including Zion, Bryce, the Grand Canyon, Arches, Carlsbad Caverns and Mesa Verde), as well as the Native American geological and ancestral treasures that are adjacent to them, it's pretty clear to me or anyone else that cherishes these wonders that we still need the automobile--yet such a vacationing endeavor is increasingly becoming less affordable to the average American.
And after having eaten in delis and other restaurants both at home and abroad with my family, it's also evident that the cost of food (in large part predicated on federal law and artificial elevation of transportation/gasoline costs that forces food prices to go up to ridiculously high levels) is becoming less affordable to the average American and his/her family...particularly for healthy food.
So when we talk about the need to reduce carbon emissions and save the environment (a no-brainer) and the need to keep fuel costs low to allow BOTH automobile, airline, bus and rail costs to go down to keep things affordable for the average American (another no-brainer), those politicians and celebrities screaming how rail/transit or automobiles bespeak the end of the world not only disenfranchises that average American, but convinces him/her that we need more level-headed, and less politically-minded, leaders.
There is good news, however, with the 100-0 (and, of course, unanimous) Senate vote confirming former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx on June 27th. The more one learns from Foxx, his history and his beliefs, the more one can believe that our nation does, indeed have a level-headed, inclusive and capable future.
My own experience as a pro-transit (and pro-transportation) Republican, married to a radiant and brilliant Democrat, is a small but relevant "proof positive" that the Republican/Democratic urban/rural conundrum of "rural equals Republican and urban equals Democrat" isn't always true and need not ever be true.
There are rural Democrats and urban Republicans who came to the conclusions of their political beliefs for very good reasons, and when it comes to federal, state and local Transportation/Infrastructure endeavors (and the Planning these endeavors generate) everyone benefits if we stop splitting urban and rural constituencies, and no one who's serious about improving our economy believes in the battles currently created and manufactured in Washington or anywhere else.
Transportation Secretary Foxx (can any of us who know of this exemplary man ever believe we once thought Antonio Villaraigosa was the right man for this job?) always saw, and still does see, the need to build rails where rails are needed, and roads where roads are needed. Foxx also believes that high-speed rail is a part of our nation's future, but they have to be the RIGHT high-speed rail that carries freight transportation (and related private sector support) to ensure profitability (or at least a minimum of fiscal loss).
Part of why the Desert Xpress high-speed train from Victorville to Las Vegas lost its support from Foxx's predecessor, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (a Republican), is because it failed to fulfill the "Buy American" requirements and ensure American jobs in its construction and operations. Also part of the reason it lost support, of course, is that Las Vegas wasn't being connected to major transportation/rail hubs like Downtown Los Angeles or Anaheim.
Closer to home, Foxx's support of BOTH road and rail, and of BOTH rural and urban transportation funding, must force us to revisit the efforts of former CD11 Councilmember Bill Rosendahl to create a Southern Californian airport/rail network. Rosendahl is affable by nature, and cooperative by nature, but he ran into roadblocks with Orange County and Inland Empire politicians and other leaders who had agendas opposed to his "big picture" vision.
And frankly, it's not like Villaraigosa was sufficiently supported by former L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa, who ignored Rosendahl's pleas to be appointed to the Metro Board, and who unnecessarily slapped down Inland Empire and South Bay politicians' own transportation efforts in their regions (the Foothill Gold Line and the South Bay Green Line extensions, in particular).
Add to this a horrible opportunity lost to create a quality transit-oriented development at Exposition/Sepulveda/Pico, with a Casden project enabled by the Expo Construction Authority that was as UN-transit-oriented as they came, as well as the outrageously-oversized Hollywood Millennium project (next to the Metro Red Line, an already-congested 101 freeway, AND a dangerous earthquake fault), and we've got huge pro-transit/transportation swaths of our City in virtual complete distrust of Metro and the City of Los Angeles.
And it's not like the Westside and Hollywood are anti-transit--they voted for Measures R and J, so the need to have the neighborhood councils and homeowner associations pay their money and sweat equity to be FOR transportation/transit projects is more necessary than ever.
But right now, their money, efforts and sympathies are directed towards fighting City Hall (and those developers City Hall enables) because the subways and light rails that were supposed to help mobility are now being eclipsed in their purported purposing to "build affordable housing" and to "promote smart growth".
...even if the affordable housing and smart growth that results from the Casden Sepulveda and Hollywood Millennium projects are neither affordable nor smart.
...even if those who fought Metro and the City (and their neighbors) to build the Expo Line were accused face-to-face of being racist by Alan Casden, one of the most repugnant individuals who's ever lived, because they had the temerity to question the benefits of his money-grab, land-grab, car-oriented residential development where a transit-oriented development should have been.
So as we move forward, and try to get past these horrible debacles, it's doubtful that we can count on a collective amnesia to ask the taxpayers to revisit the almost-passed Measure J and get the Metrorail into LAX, and a Valley-Westside rail project, unless both Metro and the City of LA coughs up a few apologies and policy changes to acknowledge that voters--both rural and urban--deserve to be treated like intelligent human beings who deserve to have their taxes spent appropriately.
And whose taxes don't result in improper planning that both LIMITS mobility and HURTS our collective Economy, Environment and Quality of Life.