Tag Archives: Metro

Battle Brews Over Subway to the Sea

One of the most important transportation projects in California, aside from my beloved high speed rail project of course, is the Subway to the Sea. A long-planned effort to build passenger rail to Santa Monica via the Wilshire corridor, it has become a primary goal of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Few areas in North America are as congested as LA’s Westside, and a subway through this region would be a godsend, creating thousands of jobs and reducing dependence on oil while untangling the traffic mess.

But LA County also has several other passenger rail projects they’re considering, and with the passage of Measure R (a tax approved by 2/3rds of voters in the state’s most populous county last November) along with a transit-friendly White House, Metro can actually reasonably expect them to get built.

The question is what gets built and when – and with what federal funds. As with most other transportation projects around the country, Metro’s projects will need federal “new starts” funding. Villaraigosa wants Metro’s board to prioritize the Subway to the Sea and another related project, the “Downtown Connector” (finally linking the Blue and Gold lines, as originally intended).

Villaraigosa’s plans are getting some pushback from local members of Congress. 14 members of Congress, including Adam Schiff, Jane Harman, David Dreier, and Maxine Waters, wrote a letter telling the Metro board that if they follow Villaraigosa’s plan, they risk losing out on federal funding:

The 14 members of Congress who signed a letter released Tuesday said those two programs [Subway to the Sea and Downtown Connector] don’t have a good shot at immediate federal funding.

Further, they said the county risks not getting much from the federal New Starts program for several years unless it adds other regional transit proposals to the application, including the Gold Line extension east from Pasadena, a rail line down Crenshaw Boulevard and the Gold Line Eastside extension Phase 2 from East L.A. to South El Monte or Whittier.

“We are very concerned that Los Angeles County is not positioning itself well to receive its fair share of New Starts funding in the near- and long-term,” the delegation wrote.

The background is that there are three other projects that some Metro board members and legislators want funded: a light rail line down Crenshaw, connecting the Red and Purple lines to the Expo and Green lines; and two extensions of the Gold Line into the suburban San Gabriel Valley.

The battle reflects typical political debates in LA County, with the Subway to the Sea and the Downtown Connector seen as benefiting the wealthy Westside at the expense of the less prosperous and more diverse South LA and San Gabriel Valley communities. And as the legislators’ letter makes clear, it’s inconceivable that Metro could get new starts funding for all 5 projects.

Yonah Freemark, who runs The Transport Politic, one of the best transportation blogs out there, points out that the other 3 projects would serve far fewer riders than the Subway to the Sea and the Downtown Connector, and that from a transportation need perspective, those should be prioritized.

Of course, the US Congress isn’t a place where such sensible considerations rule the day. David Dreier, whose district includes the I-210 corridor along which one of the Gold Line extensions would run, has been particularly adamant about ensuring that project gets support from the Metro board. And South LA representatives understandably want to ensure that their communities get served by transit – as residents there have the greatest dependence on transit, their case is strong.

If it were up to me, I’d back the Subway to the Sea, the Downtown Connector, and the Crenshaw line and tell Dreier to shove it. As the LA Subway Blog notes, the Subway to the Sea will have enormous regional benefits. Just because it is located on the Westside doesn’t mean that’s the only place it will assist – just as the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach doesn’t just benefit people living in San Pedro and Wilmington.

But the real issue here isn’t picking which of the 5 worthy projects gets supported and which doesn’t. Metro would be in better shape if the state of California wasn’t in the process of abandoning its support for mass transit. The state ought to be able to help fund construction of one or two of these projects, leaving the feds more able to support the other three. For example, the state should be able to help start the Crenshaw line and one of the Gold Line extensions, enabling the feds to fund the Subway to the Sea, the Downtown Connector, and the other Gold Line extension.

Southern California was the poster child for the 20th century sprawlconomy, and is now suffering greatly for having clung to that model for too long. Voters there now recognize it is time to change, and have put their money behind the kind of mass transit solutions the region desperately needs. It’s up to the state and federal governments to deliver their share. We’ll see what happens at today’s Metro board meeting.

UPDATE by Robert: The Metro board voted today to recommend the Subway to the Sea and the Downtown Connector for federal new starts funding. The board also passed an amendment by Mark Ridley-Thomas directing Metro to seek all other possible funding (aside from new starts) to build the Crenshaw and Gold Line extension LRT projects.

Who’s Slowing Who Down? Who’s Making Who Look Bad?

OK, I just saw this latest piece of folly from every one’s favorite Republican Insider, Jubal/Matt Cunningham of Red County/OC Blog:

The Los Angeles Times published a truly remarkable article today: “MTA Fears A Bottleneck At OC Line.”

Basically, Metropolitan Transportation Authority is complaining the Orange County Transportation Authority‘s ongoing program of freeway widening is making MTA look bad. OCTA’s freeway-centered investment collides with MTA’s lightrail-centered priorities at the LA-OC county line in the form of traffic bottlenecks. It’s a vivid illustration of the different outcomes of the two agencies priorities.

OCTA has funneled its money into transportation modes the vast majority of people actually use: freeway and roads. As a result, our freeways move faster than those in Los Angeles. The MTA, by contrast, has prioritized its money into modes of public transit that far fewer people use, i.e. light rail. Or as OCTA Director Jerry Amante put it:

“We build lanes, not trains.”

And we’re supposed to be proud of that? OK, so widened freeways may be useful in relieving traffic in the short-term. As long as we have all these cars on the road, we have to have something for them to drive on. But really, wouldn’t some long-term solutions also help here?

Follow me after the flip for more as I explain why OCTA shouldn’t exactly be gloating over this…

So why should LA County MTA not feel so bad about not keeping up with the freeway expansion happening across the county line in Orange County? Perhaps because MTA has surpassed all the other transportation agencies in Southern California in mass transit? After all, MTA was named “America’s Best Public Transportation System” due to record high ridership, very high commuter satisfaction, and the amazing success of the Orange Line rapid bus service in the San Fernando Valley. MTA should really be proud of the high quality of transit service that they offer to Los Angeles County.

But what do I know about this? What does some “crazy environazi, anti-car zealot” from Orange County know about how successful MTA has been with its transit lines in Los Angeles? Well, I actually use the subway and the bus whenever I’m in Los Angeles, and boy is it great! I can take the Red Line from Downtown LA to Hollywood, and I never have to wait too long for a train as there’s one about every 10 minutes. I can take the 720 Rapid Bus down Wilshire Blvd. from Koreatown to Santa Monica, and I can be at the pier in about 45 minutes. That actually isn’t bad when compared to the nasty congestion often seen on the freeways (with OR without widening). And even late at night, I’m never stranded as there are now 24-hour bus routes throughout LA. Just look at the MTA system map, and try to tell me that Los Angeles County’s transit agency isn’t doing a terrific job of moving people.

Obviously, LA County has figured out the secret to success in not just relieving traffic, but also reducing air pollution and doing something to stop the climate catastrophe. We all know that our vehicles emit much of the carbon dioxide that’s causing climate change. So what can we do about it? Well, how about riding the clean, efficient local mass transit service?! And with all these people riding Metro buses and trains, LA County MTA really is doing its part to fight climate change. But of course, pollutions isn’t the only thing that’s reduced by all this mass transit service. We have to realize that more people using these buses and trains also means FEWER CARS ON THE STREETS AND FREEWAYS. And fewer cars on the streets and freeways means LESS TRAFFIC! If anything, LA County is really

Now compare and contrast what Los Angeles County is doing to Orange County’s preferred “traffic relief” plan. Now yes, we do have buses. And yes, there is Metrolink rail service to Los Angeles and the Inland Empire. However, our transit network in Orange County doesn’t really cover the whole region like what MTA is trying to do in LA County. Perhaps this is because our transportation “solutions” have been centered on expanding freeways and streets. And oh yes, let’s not forget the toll roads. Now don’t get me wrong, roads are important. And so long as we have all these cars on the road, we have to improve our roads to help people with their commutes. However, this is only a short-term solution.

Over the long term, we can’t sustain all these cars on all these roads. So long as we continue developing farther and farther away from urban cores, and all we do about this is build more roads that only spark more development, we’ll never see long-term traffic relief. This is why we need smarter development and smarter transportation planning. And when it comes to smarter transportation planning, Los Angeles County is doing this. If we want long-term traffic relief, environmental health, and an overall better community, we need to figure out how to take these cars off the road and get people moving in a more efficient manner.

This is why Jubal/Matt shouldn’t be gloating about temporary bottlenecks in South LA County. LA County MTA might have a temporary problem that they will have to solve by improving the 5 and 405, but they are implementing a long-term solution to their overall traffic problem by expanding bus and commuter rail options. Hopefully one day soon, more people here in Orange County will push OCTA to do the same.