LA Transit Planners Ignore 100-Year-Old Lesson

CORRUPTION WATCH-UCLA’s Institute for Transportation Studies issued its January 2018 report, “Falling Transit Ridership: California and Southern California.”  Here are some observations: 

1) 120% of ridership loss was in Southern California 

“During this time (2012-2016) annual transit boardings statewide fell by 62.2 million. The SCAG region, however, lost 72 million annual rides, or 120 percent of the state’s total losses.” (Page 20.) 

If high school students wrote the report, one could overlook the fact that it is mathematically impossible for Southern California to lose more than 100% of the State’s total ridership decline. We assume UCLA means that the ridership loss in Southern California was so large that it overcome ridership gains elsewhere in the state so that overall the State had a net loss of transit riders. 

However, the report’s inability to articulate a simple idea is not its greatest error. It misses the entire reason why transit ridership increases in the Bay Area and decreases in the LA area. Transit cannot be divorced from topography. 

The Link between Transit and Topography 

Topography is the arrangement of the natural and artificial physical features of an area. In other words, are there mountains or broad plains or a proliferation of islands? Mass transit promoters never talk about topography because then people might wake up and realize that Los Angeles is not Manhattan. 

Manhattan is 2.5 miles wide by 11 miles long with a river on each side.  In the Bay area, there is similar topography because of the Bay. On either side of the Bay, people live between the water and hills. Long narrow areas have dramatically different mathematical relationship to mass transit than flat circular areas like Southern California. 

For decades developers have been conning Angelenos into thinking that because Manhattan has subways, LA too should have subways. If San Francisco has BART, LA should have METRO. UCLA is concealing the truth which has been known about Southern California for over one hundred years.  Fixed rail mass transit is not mathematically possible in a huge circular area. The fact that LA’s transit ridership decreased so much that it swamped the increase in ridership in the rest of the state is an example of reality asserting itself over propaganda. 

2)  People Buying Cars Caused the Decline in Mass Transit 

UCLA gives us yet another big lie why transit ridership is dropping. People are buying cars! No!  UCLA has it backwards. People are buying cars and using Uber because they hate transit. The inherent nightmare of mass transit is causing people to switch to cars.   

Fixed-Rail Mass Transit is not Mathematically Possible in LA 

Since 1915, we have known that fixed-rail mass transit would be non-functional in Los Angeles. All a person has to do is take out a large piece of paper. Put a tiny circle in the middle and then draw spokes from the core. Since people will not walk more than ½ mile to mass transit, put a subway stop every ½ mile. Remember it is about 20 miles from DTLA to the ocean. 

Now notice that at mile five, the spokes are so far apart that people are living more than ½ mile from a subway station. Solve that problem as the spokes get farther and farther apart. 

When you realize that rail stops every ½ miles are impossible, try stops every mile. Oops, that too is not feasible; so, try every two miles. Then look at the mess you have. 

Now one sees the difference between BART’s running on the narrow stretch between the Bay and the hills into tiny San Francisco and fixed-rail lines in Southern California. 

Why Did the Red Cars Work? 

Few people lived here back then everyone lived within ½ mile of the train or trolley line. The rest of the area was either orange groves or brush. The Red Cars never served all of Southern California. They were essentially INTER-Urban transit between decentralized areas and communities grew up within a few blocks of the tracks. The Red Cars went from little clusters of people to little clusters of people. They never served the entire area. 

Topography and Density 

Once the automobile was invented, LA’s topography that included a several thousand square mile area allowed homes to be virtually anywhere. Within a short period of time, most people lived beyond the reach of any Red Car line. 

Cars have a unique feature. They are large – only so many can fit on one street at a time. Thus, there can be no concentration of offices making DTLA a huge liability. 

(1) No fixed-rail line mass transit can serve the entire area; 

(2) The size of cars limits the number of people who can reach core areas without creating nightmare traffic congestion. 

For years, LA has been trying to do the two things we know are mathematically impossible. As a result, LA is in decline. The only people who get wealthy are the developers and the crooks at City Hall. 

Los Angeles’ Traffic is the Worst in the Entire World 

INRIX’s traffic congestion study is out and it ranks Los Angeles as worst out of 1,360 cities worldwide – for the sixth year in a row. And what does the city propose? That we do more of the very same things that are already destroying the city – more subways, more high rises, higher housing costs, worse pollution, more crime.  

How Many Times Does INRIX Have to Tell Us? 

Six years ago, INRIX told us that LA is dying of arsenic poisoning, so our doctors prescribed more arsenic. Five years ago, INRIX told us that LA is still dying of arsenic, so our doctors prescribed more arsenic. Then, the same thing four years ago. Then, three years ago, INRIX told us that no city in the world is sicker than LA so we voted to pay $200 billion to buy more arsenic. LA is not simply dying; it is being murdered. 

Densify or Die   

Math does not change over time and we knew the solution over 100 years ago. Never super-size The Basin. Instead, let all business, offices, etc. follow people as they disperse outward. Decentralization means no traffic congestion, and it means we do not give hundreds of billions of dollars to developers to destroy LA. 

(Richard Lee Abrams is a Los Angeles attorney and a CityWatch contributor. He can be reached at: Abrams views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.