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!

Traffic: it kind of stinks in many places. Photo by Texas Transportation Institute.

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.

7 replies

  1. I really hope Union Station is a stop on high speed rail. That would be a surprisingly smart decision.

  2. I completely agree with Alex! When I visited San Francisco last year, I was amazed at all the transportation options and how late they ran!

    LA is getting to a point that you can go out and take the train/bus, but we’re not there yet.

  3. I visited LA in 2005 from Australia and found the rail system itself excellent for me as a visitor. Many of the rail lines have a good view, much better than viewing sound walls when driving along the freeways. However, what was missing was services in pedestrian areas. Downtown LA had virtually no eating shops open after dark, and neither did Hollywood. There were few other pedestrians, which creates an unsafe feeling for visitors. Businesses probably think that the wealthy people come by car, so they don’t attempt locate their services for those who come by transit.

    Compare that with downtown Melbourne, where the sidewalks are crowded after dark, lots of food shops are open, and the trams are often full to bursting.

    Let’s hope LA business sees the potential market that can come by transit. The “transit-dependent” aren’t all poor, but can include jet-lagged overseas visitors who’re not ready to hire a car.

    • Malcom,

      I think on your next visit you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the changes that have occurred in Downtown and Hollywood in that past five years – they’ve still got a lot of room to improve but the evolution is pretty impressive.

      Fred Camino
      Contributor, The Source

  4. Regarding the ranking of Los Angeles as 35th in quality of life and visitor experience: I do think they have a point. As much as we might prefer to live in LA than in some of the cities higher on the list, LA is an extremely unfriendly city for visitors. The transportation logistics are particularly challenging. Venues and attractions are not centralized, and as frustrating as it is for a resident to navigate the streets and freeways, it can be maddeningly difficult for a visitor. Perhaps partly for this reason, most people who enjoy traveling would rank cities like New York, Chicago, or SF as more attractive destinations than LA, in spite of all there is to see and do in LA. Hopefully the transit investments LA is now making — much needed for many other reasons — will eventually change this, but I feel it’s true that LA performs poorly in the quality of the experience it offers visitors.

  5. Based on TTI’s rankings, Batman might want to consider taking the subway instead of the batmobile.

    LA could eliminate congestion through massive road and highway expansions. Since congestion is caused by economic activity, if these expansions successfully paved over businesses and residences, literally driving people away, congestion could be cured. Thanks for the insight, TTI.

  6. Steve, look at

    Table 7. Congestion Trends – Wasted Hours (Yearly Delay per Auto Commuter, 1982 to 2009)

    This is the most revealing statistic: of the very large metropolitan areas, LA had the third-least – that’s 13th of 15 – long-term increase in yearly hours of delay per auto commuter. In fact, LA is 37th of 101 urban areas covered in the report, meaning lots of smaller cities had much worse deteriorations in traffic conditions.

    Could the Red Line and the Blue Line be playing a role? Even if they’re not reducing existing traffic, they may be reducing the increase in future congestion.