In short, the story reported — correctly — that according to the study, the subway would barely reduce traffic in Los Angeles County or on the Westside. Thus the reason for the above poll.
My two cents: I thought the story was fair. When four billion dollars are about to head out government’s door for a big transit project, the local media is going to kick the proverbial steel wheels hard.
That said, I also thought the story was completely obvious. As numerous comments left on the Times’ website and Metro’s Facebook pages pointed out, other cities with big transit systems still have big-time traffic. I suspect most people know this. Problem is, officials sometimes slip into sound-bite mode and suggest traffic can be fixed. In doing so, they give the media a reason to pounce.
Of course, there are also very real reasons to build mass transit that can be touted:
•Transit can be a great alternative to sitting in traffic. How bad is Westside traffic? See this post on Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website that explains the Westside is the most congested part of the region.
•Trains and buses can save commuters time and money.
•Trains and buses usually are less polluting than private vehicles because of the number of people they can carry.
•A good transit system can keep traffic from getting worse and possibly take the edge off existing traffic.
•Transit is good for creating more walkable, livable neighborhoods — unless you’re idea of a great neighborhood is one filled with parking lots and garages.
As for the Times’ story, the information largely came from the three charts on this page. The first two charts are from the first part of chapter three of the draft study — click here to download. (After the jump you’ll find the two pages with the chart and the accompanying text.) The third chart is from the first part of chapter four — click here to download.
It is important to note that alternatives one and two are the two subway routes that have a funding commitment; alternative one is the route largely down Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood/UCLA. Alternative two extends that route to the VA Hospital, just west of the 405 freeway.
The first chart projects traffic speeds and vehicle miles driven in 2035 both by the enormous six-county region and the much smaller 38-square-mile study area on the Westside. In the region, the impact of the subway on traffic is very small — it’s a huge region. There is more of an impact, as expected, in the Westside study area where the project will be built.
The second chart projects that the subway’s alternate routes have the potential to pull at least some vehicles off county roads during peak rush hours. It’s not a huge number when considering how many vehicles are on the road across the county. But it’s something.
The third chart projects how commuter trips will be taken in 2035. The conclusion is that the subway will mostly pick up its riders from those who were previously taking the bus or driving.
Another point I would like you to consider. The existing subway in Los Angeles has more than 150,000 boardings on an average weekday. If the subway didn’t exist, those boardings would be on other modes of transit. Maybe buses, maybe private cars. During rush hour, do you really want any more cars or buses on the roads between downtown L.A., Koreatown, Hollywood and North Hollywood?
Finally, and for those really into transit policy, I’ll point you to study released last month by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute titled “Evaluating Rail Transit Criticism.” The study’s author, Todd Litman, cites one of his own studies, from 2008. Key excerpt:
The actual number of motorists who shift to transit may be relatively small, but is enough to reduce delays. Congestion does not disappear, but it never gets as bad as would occur if grade-separated transit service did not exist.
Here are two pages from the subway draft study that contain the first chart: