- Written by Phil Brown
16 Oct 2012
TRANSPORTATION POLITICS - Acceleration of an inadequate list of rail projects is harmful to the LA Basin and to LA County. Without protection from traffic residential communities in the Basin get overrun. On the other hand, LA County needs transportation and land use improvement that rail can’t provide. The County is where planning for growth and great savings in transportation use and resources can be made.
The new realization is by developing the use of shorter and quicker trips while consolidating growth in LA County. Not only are transportation problems solved but a new productivity and economic development can be established that leads to LA becoming competitive in the global economy and be sustainable environmentally.
Measure J wastes resources where growth is not wanted and does not plan for growth where it should occur. So don’t accelerate Measure R projects (with J) by buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have while ignoring the problems you do have and not creating the opportunities for problem solving you should develop.
Metro has not developed an adequate County plan because of the political pull of Downtown LA and by the willing maneuvers of Mayor Villaraigosa who set up Measure J to accelerate Measure R projects. They have not thought about the present and future needs of the County or maybe they don’t care and prefer a quick payoff to insider interests.
Many of the projects to be accelerated with Measure J are premature by not being needed for decades and others have the wrong concept of what is needed and are not needed at all. Other needed improvements are completely left out of the plan. Measure R projects need to be reworked, not accelerated.
To get this structuring of County infrastructure set up right let’s talk about needs and make comparisons of planning concepts. With Measure J and R, Metro has their commuter rail proposal as the major concept for transportation improvement. In a previous CityWatch article (published Oct. 2) with costs being the same, an alternative was proposed that swapped 5 miles of light rail for 100 miles of Flow Boulevard (a transportation and land use concept that features BRT transit on exclusive lanes).
And it also swapped 1 mile of subway for 30 miles of Flow Boulevard in the LA Basin to eliminate congestion and protect existing communities from cut through traffic.
Now let’s compare performances between the two concepts. The total Metro commuter rail system when completed would serve less than 3% of the total travel in LA County. The Flow Boulevard with BRT (FB/BRT) would serve and affect around 23% of the total travel in LA County when completed.
This translates into the FB/BRT system saving 32 times as much gasoline and vehicular miles traveled. It also translates into 12 times less CO2 emissions than the rail system saves. And the Flow Boulevard system would have 4.6 times the number of transit boardings.
Why does the vehicular oriented FB/BRT system perform so much better that the rail system? In that the FB/BRT system also has land use improvement as a part of its concept, it radically reduces miles traveled. This lets the County structure efficient growth and to accommodate jobs and communities for the additional two million more people to become a part of LA County over the next 25 years.
In the consolidation of LA County half of the increased population goes into the FB/BRT growth corridors, the other half dispersed in existing cities and communities.
The FB/BRT corridors soak up travel miles like a sponge with shorter and quicker trips and the adjacent existing land uses would also have shorter trips to land use attractions in the distributed corridors throughout LA County.
The bottom line is that 2 million more people can be added to LA County and not add any additional miles traveled; no additional traffic or expenditure of energy resources and pollution.
The growth corridors also provide for the low cost expansion of housing and communities including places of work. Compare the FB vision and performance that brings the suburbs and urban areas into being efficient and productive with that of the rail vision having rail and “elegant density”. A little bit more of expensive high rise buildings and a few more miles of rail will not serve the needs of growth in LA County. Not only is elegant density not generally affordable it is generally rejected in favor of competing forms of housing.
TIMES and TRANSPORTATION NEEDS HAVE CHANGED. For sixty years Caltrans with its freeways facilitated sprawl allowing it to spread thinly across the landscape encompassing hundreds of square miles. Then the idea of rail to get past congestion gave us a ride to Downtown. It is now time for Flow Boulevards to help LA County to consolidate growth, protect and serve existing communities and to get desired land uses close by to make trips shorter and quicker.
Reliance on rail is too expensive and the amount of it insufficient. This means Measure J is not needed and in fact harms LA County by diminishing chances for a better future with more efficient transportation and land use.
Metro has to make Flow Boulevards part of the County plans by incorporating the plans of the many cities and municipalities in LA County. LA should be a great place to attract new business and low development costs are a necessity to make that happen. LA has a strategic location and has social, technological and lifestyle advantages; it does not have to make big give-a-ways to attract new businesses. It does have to get a coordinated strategy and low cost land and transportation that can make the right infrastructure to build upon.
The electorate by voting for the acceleration of inadequate Measure R projects would be where a self destruction of opportunities comes into the process. As an example of urban destruction, car companies in Detroit faltered and brought a downward spiral in Detroit losing half of its population between 1980 and 2010.
The lesson is economic. A city must be productive or the city will shrink to the level of goods and services that it can provide for its citizens. In the case of Detroit half the people were not willing to take the reduction in living standards and they moved elsewhere. The threat to LA is that it may not be able to compete well enough in the global economy to sustain population.
If measure J were passed and somehow funded, then ten years of being slammed by construction projects that attracted more traffic to urban areas and would also leave suburban areas even more isolated. These events do not prepare LA County for a workable future. There will be little if any opportunity to effect plans because by passage of Measure J bureaucratic control takes over because citizens would have given up their chance to participate. Their vote will have turned decision making over to Metro.
On the other hand if Measure J is defeated then there are the opportunities to get effective plans to build communities that are able to deal with the changing future and the competitiveness of the global economy.
Quite frankly the chance is to catch up to the reality that we now live in and thereby problem solve in effective democratic planning processes with representatives to build a future that works.
As it stands the Measure R projects and the Measure J acceleration take care of Downtown commercial interests but subordinate and exclude the interests of the large majority.
All social and economic strata have to be included along with commercial and residential interests to shape LA County for the future. Revised plans for Measure R projects are necessary and it would be found that acceleration and accumulation of debt is not needed and actually harms economic growth as proposed in Measure J.
Lingering debt exists in abundance. Cheap money unleashed with Measure J would create similar real estate games as in the housing bubble but mainly in the commercial realm.
Here as well the middle and working classes would be the primary losers in that they are targeted with paying the majority of the debt of the measures yet more importantly they are not getting the opportunities of transportation and land use improvement for the many communities in which they live and all of LA does not get the resource savings, the cleaner air and the boost from a broadly productive economy.
Instead a complex quagmire of bad economics, inferior transportation, continued congestion, community impacts, less clean air, debt to pay back, fewer opportunities to advance our work force, unstructured communities without better plans to grow upon and a probable transportation bubble.
This transportation bubble fueled with accelerated “cheap money” would drive construction costs up, create turmoil in its path and adjacent residential communities, and make a real estate speculative frenzy until the last “greater fool” buys the top and the banks who by this time know a bubble when they see one shuts down the flow of loans. Then the crash on real estate prices and business, if you call flipping real estate business, would subside.
With the Federal “stimulus” spent, the transportation bubble burst and the crash to business inactivity; then we would wonder why we had been so foolish and still had cities that do not work and a work force without enough good jobs.
Supposed “stimulation” does not work and especially with inadequate plans. It is simply adding to debts with more debts and a terrible waste of time and resources.
Affordable comprehensive transportation and land use improvement plans involving all social and economic strata must be made to work for all of the people involved to make the County work.
If that does not take place a self destruction like condition could very well be inflicted upon LA County as it has been on Detroit.
( Phil Brown AIA, an architect since 1973 has been developing his Flow Boulevard concept while practicing residential architecture through his own small firm since 1973. There have been attempts by the City of LA to adapt Flow Boulevard features but no concrete applications as yet. Phil recently spent 5 years as the Mobility Chair with WLANC while studying WLA traffic. Presently his efforts are in further developing the Flow Boulevard concept and placing his findings on the website at www.flowblvd.com and all such ideas are of his own making including this article).
Vol 10 Issue 83
Pub: Oct 16, 2012