By Ken Alpern, August 11, 2015
GETTING THERE FROM HERE--As mentioned in the Times, Daily News, and just about everywhere else in print and via cyberspace, as well as in my last CityWatch piece, LA World Airports (LAWA) just made a deal with Ontario to sell the Inland Empire Airport and achieve operational independence.
That's big news.
What's also news is that Ontario Airport needs a big lift, as described well by the Times .
The city of Ontario, located in San Bernardino County but with profound links to both that county and Riverside County, will need all the help it can get from the entire Inland Empire to get this underutilized airport up and running as the perfect alternative for all those Southland residents trying NOT to use traffic-plagued LAX.
Specifically, Ontario Airport (with the support of Orange County, too, after they limited and/or prevented air travel expansion at John Wayne and El Toro) will need to:
1) Make an airport that is passenger-friendly, with a host of small businesses and operational amenities to create a powerful job center and business hub for the region; this is an ideal airport for freight travel for all businesses wanting to avoid LAX and traffic-plagued LA County.
2) Court the various airlines and figure out ways to make the prices competitive with LAX and other airports, in order to increase its flight options and air capacity, and to establish it as "Southern California's other international airport" to serve Orange County and Inland Empire commuters' needs.
3) Create a long-range rail access program that includes extending the Metro Gold Line, eastern Metro Green Line, and both adjacent Metrolink lines to achieve convenient and frequent long-distance, car-free access; similarly, a link to the nation's freight rail system is critical for this airport to thrive.
4) Create a long-range shuttle service that allows long-distance, affordable passenger travel to/from Ontario Airport.
But while it's no secret that Ontario and the eastern half of the Southland needs to get its act together to "give itself a lift", there's another entity that needs a big, big lift: MetroRail.
By and large, MetroRail is amazingly better than it was during the 1990's, when it virtually ran itself into the ground. Not one but three excellent CEO's later, and after a host of staff and Metro Board procedural changes, MetroRail is one of the best-run governmental entities in the state of California, if not the nation--and has been recognized as such by the Federal Transit Administration in Washington.
Measure R has proven to be quite the boon for long-overdue projects, and has allowed a "lift" in many ways such as that seen at the critical Century/Aviation station for the under-construction Crenshaw/LAX line.
Similarly, the underground Leimert Park station and the adjacent tunnel for this line is also beginning its construction.
But there is a more subtle "lift" that MetroRail needs--in some lines more than others--whereby unwanted sexual behavior, physical contract, groping and indecent exposure were reported in very high numbers. Unwanted sexual behavior was observed in up to about 14% of bus riders and 17% of rail riders.
Is this a problem? You bet--particularly since most transit advocates are either young, single males or older individuals (again, usually men) with grown children. If women--be they white, black, brown or Asian--don't feel safe and comfortable, they will be particularly prone to forsaking mass transit and choose a car to commute if they can afford it.
And for those who presume that an increased Sheriff's Department presence on MetroRail trains (and, to be honest, the greatest number of complaints that I've heard about are on the Green Line, the one that is supposed to bring us all to the airport) means harassment of minority males, then those doing the presuming need to get their act together.
We are a county, state, and nation that despises racist and/or bullying police officers as well as racist and/or bullying thugs of all colors--with the exception of a strange and bigoted few, we are all pretty much pro-police and anti-racism. Kindness and decency and enforcement are all reasonable and expected by our Sheriff's Department, and greater patrolling will allow all using the train to feel safe and comfortable.
On another note, the issue of station-adjacent businesses, affordable housing, restrooms, and bicycle/pedestrian amenities are also part of the "big lift" that MetroRail needs. And dont' forget parking--if those paying the taxes to fund Measure R aren't convinced they're able to use the rail lines they've paid for, they just won't vote for the "Measure R-2" planned for next fall.
Deal with it, Metro.
As the Expo Line and Foothill Gold Line extensions allow greater MetroRail access to the Westside and San Gabriel Valley by next spring, either those regions will like or NOT like what they get access to. And if there are complaints, and those complaints are not addressed or dealt with, then more MetroRail will NOT be voted in a favorable manner by the taxpayers.
By and large, Mayor Eric Garcetti has been much kinder (infinitely much kinder!) to the San Gabriel Valley than his predecessor. Westside Councilmember Mike Bonin has been an excellent supporter and transportation leader to the City (and County) of Los Angeles, to boot. Metro's leadership really is exemplary.
However, despite the current victories and short-term progress we now see with a regional air and rail traffic grid to serve the Southland, these hard-earned kudos will turn to jeers if the problems that are out there remain ignored and censored by those fighting hard to create a 21st-century transportation network for Southern California.
So let's give credit where credit is due...but there is a LOT of heavy lifting yet to be done by our regions airports and budding rail network.