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 have a hard time getting excited about the annual congestion ratings released today by the Texas Transportation Institute. As expected, the usual suspects sit atop the list – Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington D.C., Houston and New York, to name a few. Does anyone really expect traffic to simply vanish in any of these cities? Bottom line: big cities have big traffic and the average commute time in Los Angeles County is 29 minutes, which is pretty much the same or less than it is in other large metro areas.
1b. In another list that leaves me feeling nothing, Los Angeles was ranked 35th in terms of public transit, quality of life and visitor experience, according to Travel and Leisure. Sorry, I’d rather be living here instead of Salt Lake City (#4), Las Vegas (#23) and Kansas City (#30). You couldn’t pay me to live in Vegas.
2. That said, the statistic that always does impress me from the TTI annual ratings: congestion resulted in the waste of 3.9 billion gallons of gasoline in the U.S. in 2009. The U.S. consumed about 138 billion gallons of gasoline in 2009, according to the Energy Information Administration, and more than 60 percent of our crude oil had to be imported. Those three stats = very depressing. More transit, please!
3. Like many of our readers, I was very pleased to hear some ticket vending machines in Metro Rail stations are being converted to allow customers to add stored value to their TAP cards – as well as buy TAP cards. I think this is one of those things that is a major incentive for casual riders to take transit. Fumbling with change and ticket machines can be a hassle that results in many of those riders missing their trains, meaning they have longer commutes. TAP cards greatly speed the boarding process and anything that shaves minutes off mass transit trips makes transit more competitive with cars.
4. Very good point made by Rich Connell in the L.A. Times in his story on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s interest in buying Union Station with Metro as a partner: The Authority, having endured criticism for starting construction of the line in the San Joaquin Valley, is partially interested in Union Station because wants to show it’s serious about getting the train to L.A. and not building a “train to nowhere” in the Valley, as some critics have alleged.
5. On a lighter note, I thought it was interesting to read that “The Dark Knight Rises” — the third Christopher Nolan “Batman” film — will be partially filmed in Los Angeles, although it’s hard to know exactly what that means. Still, it’s kind of interesting because Chicago served largely as the stand-in for Gotham in “The Dark Knight” and Gotham was Manhattan-like in “Batman Begins.” It will be fun to see if Gotham takes on a more L.A.-look in the new movie and whether transit has any role in the plot. One of the climatic scenes of “Batman Begins” took place on a futuristic elevated train streaking through Gotham. I also think that if Catwoman/Anne Hathaway has to film any scenes on Metro buses or trains, The Source definitely needs to be on the set to report any such activities. We’re here for you, dear readers.