Five things I'm thinking about transportation

In this relatively new feature for The Source,  I express actual opinions while working for government. Members of the media: please take any of these ideas and run with them — we could use the coverage!

1. I think it’s good news to hear that Caltrans is beginning scoping work on how to improve the rail corridor between Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo, much of which is single track. The fact that it takes 2.5 hours to travel 95 miles by train from Union Station to Santa Barbara says a lot about — and not much good — about the state of our passenger rail system in California.

2. One of the most interesting points I’ve read in the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of President Obama’s first term was in the New York Time’s profile of new Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who was previously Denver’s mayor. Hickenlooper’s main point was that Obama should have focused first on infrastructure. Excerpt:

But he did go on to question one aspect of the Obama presidency — in order, tellingly, to make clear that he values consensus over a crusade. “Rather than going to health care first, I would have gone, I think, to transportation infrastructure,” Hickenlooper said, explaining that he noticed through his work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors that the issue had moved from a Democratic preoccupation to a more bipartisan one. “Here’s something everybody cares about. Maybe we focus on that to build bridges.” Was the double entendre deliberate?

“I think the Obama administration,” he added, “saw a higher need to make history.”

3. Of course, it’s hard to say that the Obama Administration is ignoring infrastructure, although a lot of their efforts are on high-speed rail. And it’s worth noting that the Obama Administration through the Federal Transit Administration seems interested in the L.A. area’s transit infrastructure. The FTA last year approved a half-billion dollar loan to jump-start the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line and last week the FTA gave a strong indication that they’re willing to help fund the Westside Subway Extension and Regional Connector by allowing both projects to enter their engineering phase. And, to boot, the FTA is also backing Metro’s efforts to speed construction of the subway project by using other federal loans and financing that will need Congressional approval as part of the 30/10 Initiative.

4. But I still think it’s a wide open question whether Congress enshrines 30/10 as law as part of the next multiyear federal transportation bill. One big question involves whether Congress is willing to spend some money on 30/10 at the same time that botht sides of the aisle are vowing to cut federal spending. The other question is more intensely political: Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives, California usually votes Democratic in federal elections and we’re less than two years from a presidential election. A national 30/10 program could be a victory for metro areas in red, blue and purples states — but will the House allow California a victory before 2012? Beats me.

5. And, finally, a note on a pet peeve: people driving well below the speed limit in the left lane of freeways — i.e. the passing lane. Last week I was driving on the Santa Monica Freeway and couldn’t help but notice some bloke crawling along in the left lane at 40 mph, resulting in a backup behind him and a lot of passing to the right. But then get this: A Highway Patrolman drove behind the motorist, flipped on his lights and signalled for him to vacate the lane. Simply awesome. And I’d love to see more of that because the folks sitting in the left-hand lane and barely driving are making the freeway unsafe for all users, including carpoolers and buses.

10 replies

  1. Hi steve. The title of this section sounds odd. I don’ t think you really need to include the word transportation. It should be clear to your readers that your addressing the transportation issues of Los Angeles from the official Metro blog as you have since your days at the LA Times. So why not just call it “Five Things I’m Thinking About”.

  2. “And, finally, a note on a pet peeve: people driving well below the speed limit in the left lane of freeways — i.e. the passing lane.”

    I understand that this gentleman was driving at 40 MPH, but how do you feel about drivers who drive 65 MPH in the number 1 lane?

  3. What gets me even more is drivers in the carpool lane that are going slower than the flow of traffic in the regular lanes.

  4. “What gets me even more is drivers in the carpool lane that are going slower than the flow of traffic in the regular lanes.”

    How fast were they going? 65 MPH is the speed limit on most highways in California.

  5. Slower traffic should be on the right. Faster traffic should be on the left. It really is that simple.

    Pass on the left, but don’t stay on the left unless you intend to maintain the speed for that lane. And please, don’t pass on the right.

    If everybody would follow these simple rules, life would be much easier, since everybody would be able to find the lane that suits their driving style.

    The whole thing is up-ended by (a) people who think it is their job to enforce the speed limit by driving 61 MPH in the fast lane, and (b) people who like to pretend they’re on a NASCAR speedway, weaving in and out and driving 80 in the slow lane.

  6. “If everybody would follow these simple rules”

    Those aren’t the rules, though. The law is a 65 MPH speed limit on most highways. And slower if conditions warrant it.

    The maximum speed for the left lane is 65 MPH.

  7. i don’t understand how 30/10 is being put forth as a national model. anyone else get the connection?
    steve, could you pls clarify?

    • Hi Alex;

      Although the name “30/10” is particular to L.A. County, the idea behind the program is to allow transit agencies to borrow federal money and then repay it. The easiest way to repay: use voter-approved sales tax increases or bonds. The advantage of the federal money is that it would flow into local coffers quicker than sales taxes such as Measure R (which accumulate over time) and allow agencies to begin building projects sooner rather than later. That, in turn, should also lessen their cost because a project built now will likely cost less than one built in 10 or 15 years. This is the reason that 30/10 has received support from other regions, as well as the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Whether it gets traction in Congress, of course, remains to be seen.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source