How We Roll, April 11: required reading on America’s infrastructure woes

Things to listen to whilst transiting: Fun episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour on four movies so bad that they’re good. I won’t give away the list, other than to praise the selection of a certain film about a weather phenomenon closely identified with the Midwest. #cow

System overload (New Yorker) 

The Oakland Bay Bridge in 2011 -- while work continued on a replacement for part of the span. Photo by Thomas Hawk, via Flickr creative commons.

The Oakland Bay Bridge in 2011 — while work continued on a replacement for part of the span. Photo by Thomas Hawk, via Flickr creative commons.

Essential reading for anyone interested who drives, flies or takes public transit or long-distance trains in the United States, not to mention those who like to find store shelves stocked with goods of all sorts. The three takeaways:

•”Today, we spend significantly less, as a share of G.D.P., on infrastructure than we did fifty years ago—less, even, than fifteen years ago. As the economist Larry Summers has pointed out, once you adjust for depreciation, the U.S. makes no net investment in public infrastructure.”

•As the op-ed notes, infrastructure spending has historically enjoyed bipartisan support and it continues to poll well with voters.

•”Again, there are political reasons that maintenance gets scanted. It’s handled mainly by state and local communities, which, because many of them can’t run fiscal deficits, operate under budgetary pressures.”

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of that last bullet point. This is why transit agencies such as Metro pursue local funding through sales taxes — the money literally is not coming from anywhere else.

The piece by economic writer James Surowiecki looks at infrastructure though the lens of Washington Metro, which is facing prolonged closures on some of its rail lines for maintenance. When the Metro opened in the nation’s capitol in 1976, it was held up as a sign of progress and modernity.

If you don’t feel like reading, here (again) is John Oliver’s awesome segment on infrastructure from his HBO show “Last Week Tonight.” Warning: adult language of the R-rated variety. Examples of other infrastructure in our region:

How Metro is campaigning for the next half-cent sales tax for transportation (SGV Tribune)

A look at the public meeting held by Metro in El Monte on Thursday to discuss the agency’s potential ballot measure and the draft spending plan. About 40 people attended and Metro CEO Phil Washington was there to discuss the plan and ask that

Community members at the El Monte meeting last week. Photo by Luis Inzunza/Metro.

Community members at the El Monte meeting last week. Photo by Luis Inzunza/Metro.

voters consider it as a long-term investment in the region. Excerpt:

In a straw poll conducted among attendees Thursday using handheld clickers, 77 percent said they would support the tax if the election were held today, while 89 percent supported a 50-year tax if more projects would be built and completed sooner.

If the Metro Board puts the issue to voters (the Board will decide in June), two-thirds approval would be needed for it to pass.

Two clarifications: the Sepulveda Pass project would connect the Westside to the San Fernando Valley and the High Desert Corridor is a project to build a new freeway between Lancaster/Palmdale and SR-18 in San Bernardino County. The project is being designed to include a high-speed rail corridor if the Las Vegas to Antelope Valley bullet train ever materializes.

Op-Ed: four easy fixes for L.A. traffic (LAT) 

Smart piece although I’m quibble with the “easy” part about implementing congestion pricing across all lanes of major highways at peak times to better distribute traffic throughout the day. The other three fixes: converting carpool lanes to truck lanes (again, not easy), getting more kids to walk to school (less bus traffic) and persuading employers to allow more employees to work at home and/or change their work hours so there’s less overall eight-to-fivers.

As for that last one, good luck. Managers like to see their employees too much. Besides, if people worked at home and turned off email, productivity across the United States would reach new all-time highs and managers would have little to do, other than take credit for it 🙂

Metro’s plans to make Union Station into an urban destination (LAT)

It's going to be a great gastropub! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

It’s going to be a great gastropub! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

A look at the Union Station Master Plan and efforts to bring more people into the station outside rush hours. Most notably, there will be a concert series coming soon to the courtyard next to the station and Laura Nelson reports that Metro says the retaurant/bar planned for the old Fred Harvey space could open within a year.

A lease for the gastropub was approved by the Metro Board in the fall of 2014. It’s a big task — an entirely new kitchen needs to be installed along with other important upgrades. Still, can’t wait. Should be a great Happy Hour and evening space that will be very easy to reach.




7 replies

  1. In case you missed it Metro just released the first ridership counts since the Gold Line extension to Azusa opened in March. Average weekday ridership on the Gold Line is up by ten percent from February, to an all-time record of 52,672 daily riders.

    • Important to note that the Gold Line was still closed at Little Tokyo for part of the month and the Gold Line Extension also didn’t occur until the 8th, so April would be the first good read of ridership, but it is encouraging.

  2. Very interesting the straw poll results you discuss and their high level of support. If I understood that correctly- that was a straw poll from El Monte residents, those who supported (overwhelmingly) the tax would get very little in terms of transit- the fact that they support it is, I think, very telling.

    Concerning the “easy” fixes in the op-ed piece: why just kids walking? Why no mention of bicycling, or of adults? If 49% of all trips are less than 3 miles, using a bike is a great solution if only we had a real network of bike lanes to help those who are concerned for safety.

    • Hi Matt;

      I think the straw poll is interesting but obviously it’s from people who are inclined to come to a public meeting about this in the first place. So it’s one of those nuggets of interestingness. Nothing more, nothing less.

      Completely agree on the bike lanes. I think if they were there and they were protected from traffic, a lot of people would use them.

      Steve Hymon
      Edidtor, The Source

      • I was at the meeting and definitely, the “bicycle lobby” got their folks to show up and tilt the scales towards those kind of projects. It was also interesting that one of the questions from the audience was a complaint about parking for Metro Rail stations, or the lack thereof. Overall, as everyone knows, things have to go perfectly for a tax increase to pass on a 2/3 vote.

  3. Crazy idea here. The LA Times article says that the 405 widening made Sepulveda Pass traffic slower through induced demand. If true, then would removing a couple lanes speed it back up? The author suggests using carpool lanes for bus or light rail (I say forget the big rigs). If possible, this would solve a transit problem you’re already working on, and be a helluva lot cheaper than building a tunnel and more realistic than passing a $120 billion ballot measure.

    • Let us not forget that the economy has improved and population has grown since the 405 widening began and was completed. Did the article account for those factors? Traffic may have gone up anyway, with no induced demand.