By Ken Alpern, December 9, 2014
GETTING THERE FROM HERE-Well, the future is here, and the future is now ... almost. Nearly 15 years after the Metro Board and Staff wisely teamed up with transit advocates to kill the idea of an Expo Busway and agreed to a light rail line, the die was cast for a new alternative to the horrifically-congested I-10 freeway. Now it's time to focus not only the "sustainability" but the "accountability" of the once-and-future Expo Line:
1) The Expo Line is the perennial example of what will be the countywide rail network for Los Angeles, with a new timetable as to when it will be completed: 2024 (as in the LA City Olympic bid)
The success, anticipation and excitement of a new 21st Century mass transit system during the construction of the Expo Line is what led to a successful Measure R, and might lead to a successful Measure R-2 (although there's plenty of soured feelings on mass transit and overdevelopment/overdensification, so the latter measure might not happen).
Still, wanna know when the MetroRail network will reach the airport? Wanna know when we'll finish the Westside/Mid-City/Downtown rail network? 2020-22 will be the rough date that our current batch of light rail line projects (Expo, Crenshaw/LAX and Downtown Connector) will be completed, with a LAX People Mover to boot.
Not to disrespect the Wilshire Subway effort, but it'll hopefully be built out to Century City by 2022...yet it will be a herculean effort indeed to get it to the 405 freeway. The big links for a L.A. City Olympic bid, however, will be incumbent on both a completion of the current batch of projects (which includes the Foothill Gold Line, by the way, for both geographic and political balance) and political will.
It's hoped that Olympic bid fever would stimulate both construction project completion and economic development--the Olympics don't always help a city's finances, but in the case of L.A. it just might.
2) Both courage and moral integrity are needed to ensure that the Expo Line, and other rail lines, are good neighbors.
While it's understood that the recent era of LA City government is a morass of cowardice and corruption--let's not kid ourselves, because the Era of Villaraigosa that started with such hoopla has left us all with a fiscal hangover that to this day dogs the efforts of Downtown/City Hall to motivate Angelenos.
Yet Mayor Garcetti's successful Kinkisharyo effort in Palmdale is a welcome alternative to the failed AnsaldoBreda effort of former Mayor Villaraigosa which was previously toted to bring rail car construction jobs to the City of LA.
Antonio Villaraigosa appears to have been both a positive and negative role model of "lessons learned" for our current Mayor (including relations with other regions of the county to promote regional mass transit initiatives), and the "Silicon Beach" concept championed by Westside Councilmember Mike Bonin also deservedly generates excitement.
However, the optimism of Expo Line fans of an alternative way to get around is more than counterbalanced by a pessimism (or at least sense of dread) of overdevelopment and traffic worsening that has been associated with the Casden/Sepulveda project and other "transit-oriented development" which betrayed the trust of many (most?) former Expo Line cheerleaders.
The credibility of Angelenos in their City government has been slightly restored with the election of Ron Galperin as City Controller (kinda makes one wonder how on earth Dennis Zine ever was considered for that post), but the need for LA City government to limit-set with the DWP and restore both City services and the City budget process is still years behind.
Despite the perennial haters, Garcetti and Galperin and Bonin deserve the credit for what they've done, but filling in the hole that Downtown/City Hall left at their election is a job nowhere near completion.
3) Transportation is great, but the accountability and credibility of the Expo Line Authority and Metro are the targets of showing the Expo Line was worth the effort needed to build it.
Some in the transportation/planning world get it, and others don't (and some never will), but IS the Expo Line something that will be a positive alternative to Westside traffic and environmental issues?
That's a hard question coming from yours truly, who gave up untold time, energy and funds to create an Expo Line--but it's a fair question that many are also asking.
Those who fought (and still do fight) the Casden/Sepulveda, JMB and Hines/Papermate projects were also those who (for the most part) fought for the Expo Line...and who are still paying for it with respect to sales taxes.
Therefore, the concerns about sufficient parking, sufficient pedestrian bridges, sufficient bicycle and bus amenities, and sufficient limits on transit-oriented development are all reasonable. Spare us all the concerns about cost and economic viability--we KNOW that costs money and involves sacrifice, but political will can and always does the job...as well as a public sector that listens to the electorate who pays their salaries.
Much of the recent debate over the potential transit-oriented development adjacent to the future Bundy/Olympic Expo Line station (the Martin Cadillac project) has very little to do with those developers (who, unlike Casden Associates really wants to play ball and make it work both financially and environmentally) but more with City Planning and the LADOT.
Shall "affordable housing" be focused on students, seniors and low-wage workers living/working/studying near a transit station with the intentions of reducing car trips, or will it be feel-good nonsense?
Shall densification near transit stations be balanced with a sharp "hands off!" to single-family and other neighborhoods and adjacent commercial corridors with respect to REDUCING densification in those areas? As in open space for parks? As in small parking lots to obviate the need for streetside parking and create a more open atmosphere, and to preserve the parking rights of residential homeowners?
Shall traffic counts be appropriately applied to make sure that "transit-oriented development" doesn't WORSEN pollution, traffic and water/energy usage?
●●●All good questions, and all awaiting reasonable and credible answers.
I know that I am not the only transit/Expo Line advocate who has second thoughts at times about whether the Expo Line fight was worth it--the Casden/Sepulveda fight brought out more than a few of us who still have these lingering doubts, and I heard more than a few admissions as to whether we were viewed as helpful visionaries or useful idiots.
No one wanted the Expo Line to ruin any neighborhood--it's supposed to make things better for those communities who fought to make it a reality. As the completion date of 2015, and the operational startup date (planned for early 2016 after testing is completed) draws ever closer, it will be up to our new leadership to show that...after all the effort that went into it...the Expo Line was worth everything that was put into its creation.