The activist group Move LA held a conference this morning in downtown Los Angeles to discuss the region’s transit future. By my somewhat under-caffeinated reckoning, optimism prevailed over pessimism.
The event was a looooong conversation with many participants. Many of the points made have been made many times in the past. Some, however, caught my ear:
•Many advocates and officials say securing private money is the key to getting transit built now – given that public funds are increasingly scarce. However, there is skepticism in the finance markets that investing private money in transit will ever pay off, said Scott Bernstein, the president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology. In particular, he said, it’s unclear that enough people will ride transit to generate revenues to make the investment worthwhile and the U.S. doesn’t have much of a track record on this front.
•Another good point by Bernstein: When Alexander Bell invented the telephone, the first phone was useless until the second was built. The same applies to transit: networks bring exponential gains in those who use them.
•The longer it takes to persuade Congress to make America Fast Forward (AFF) federal law, the more challenging it will be to build the Westside Subway Extension in one big chunk to Westwood.
AFF is the change in federal law being sought by Metro — it would use federal loans and financing to accelerate the construction of 12 Measure R transit projects, including the subway.
The problem, said Metro deputy executive officer David Yale, is that at some point contracts to build the project will have to be issued. If AFF hasn’t happened, then Metro will have to revert to the original Measure R plan to build the line in three phases between now and the year 2036 — and therefore contract for each phase.
•How to federally fund the America Fast Forward plan remains uncertain, said Jaime de la Vega, incoming chief of the city of Los Angeles’ transportation agency. One bond program that’s part of AFF is getting support from both sides of the aisle, but support for the other bond program is uncertain. Both bond programs are needed to get the 12 Measure R projects built in the next decade or so.
•Sunyoung Yang, a lead organizer with the Bus Riders Union, said that despite the passage of Measure R, Metro ridership has dipped in the past three years and she blames fare increases and bus service cuts. Her main point: it’s hard to get money to expand transit if less people are taking it.
•”Are you going to have a new love affair with something other than the automobile?,” asked keynote speaker G.B. Arrington, the vice president of PB Placemaking, a planning firm. (Here’s his blog).
He was talking about remaking the Los Angeles metro area into a city that’s a lot more livable, with more transit, more amenities closer to people’s homes and a quality of life enjoyed in places such as Vancouver and Portland.
He also said that when transit-oriented development is done right, it can reduce the total number of vehicle trips near a station.
As for L.A., he thinks that TOD has been done in a piecemeal fashion and near many stations is not possibly under zoning laws. How to reverse that trend? Better planning before transit is built, fewer discussions focusing only on density and building streets for people and not just their cars.
One other point that he made that I liked: He said that the more parking that is built in a region, the more likely that traffic and auto use was going to increase. Ironically, many communities who complain about traffic — he used the Westside as an example — only make the problem worse by requiring more parking in any kind of new development.
Move LA, by the way, was a key backer of the Measure R sales tax approved by L.A. County voters in 2008 and they’ve been pushing America Fast Forward, the plan to use federal loans and financing to accelerate the construction of Measure R projects. The group is partially funded by Metro.