First, on behalf of everyone at Metro, a big thank you to Los Angeles County taxpayers and our riders. If you voted for Measure M, we hope you get what you expect from it. If you didn’t, we hope you’ll eventually find that the investment of your sales tax dollars was worth it. Here’s a list of projects and here’s a project timeline.
About that photo: I snapped it last year in the 7th/Metro Station in downtown L.A. during the evening rush. The point I wanted to make: forget what you think you know about the Los Angeles region. We have transit and underground trains. A lot of people use those trains. We’re not all imprisoned in our cars. People here walk and bike.
The vote counting is not over, but M has a very substantial lead and more than 1.45 million county residents voted in favor of it. I don’t want to presume why, as that’s a lot of people with probably a lot of different reasons. I do, however, want to contemplate what I think it means that 69.8 percent of voters (thus far) in 2016 went for M, 66.1 percent in 2012 for Measure J (which was shy of the two-thirds threshold needed) and 67.9 percent in 2008 voted for Measure R, the sales tax that provided initial funding for many M projects.
Let’s go back to the 1990s. In quick succession our region had a riot, an earthquake and then the O.J. Simpson trial, all on the heels of years of serious gang violence and violent crime. Decades of sprawl had led to more traffic. Downtown L.A. was a snooze and none of our pro sports teams even played in DTLA proper. Strip malls had sucked the life out of too many commercial districts. L.A. was portrayed miserably in film after film; perhaps the worst being the hippies dancing atop our tallest building (at the time) and dumbly welcoming the aliens who had come to kill them in “Independence Day.” Maybe it was a parable for our heavy-handed embrace of the automobile (okay, probably not).
Not everyone remembers now…but that decade ended with a countywide transit ballot measure in 1998 in which a majority of voters decided to end local sales tax funding of the Red/Purple Line subway after serious construction issues on the project. As a region we didn’t exactly seem to be leaping into a new century, at least mobility-wise. At best, we entered the 2000s with a piecemeal plan.
So what happened? A decade later, in 2008, I think enough people around our county — both the natives and the newcomers — realized that putting all our eggs into the car basket was never going to work. And that every other city around the planet that was great almost always had a big, vast transit system — with rail playing a big role. Those systems served as an alternative to traffic and gave people a chance to live in denser, walkable and pleasant urban places where having a car wasn’t an absolute requirement.
And thus work began to build that modern transit network. It was a wise decision. Because it came at a time when many people looked at L.A. and saw nothing but opportunity. It wasn’t that long ago that there were so many parking lots that contributed too little to our shared wellbeing. Too many under-used buildings. So many old rail routes abandoned and that could be used again. Too few biking opportunities in a place with great climate. So many chances to try things that had worked well in other places.
And, then, boom — the changes started happening. Many were organic, the result of entrepreneurs and artists and students and urban pioneers who wanted to resuscitate a city and who weren’t going to let local politics or politicians get in their way (and the smart pols got out of the way). Some changes were probably the result of our size: a 4,751-square mile county with a very diverse, always churning population of 10.1 million people from across the globe — from China, Armenia, Korea, Vietnam, Mexico and Central America, Gotham (to name only a few) — living side-by-side and looking for an opportunity in their version of the promised land.
Look. L.A. can still be a maddening place. By the numbers, not much has changed in recent years in terms of the percentage of folks who commute by car vs transit vs foot/bike. Metro’s ridership has dipped in recent times. The car is still king in many ways and many of us — including yours truly — enjoy having a car and rely on it for some of our mobility in an urbanized area that is ridiculously large (Measure M certainly invests in roads, btw). We have an array of other sticky social ills ranging from homelessness to lack of affordable housing to problematic schools to poverty.
With funding from M, we now have the opportunity to keep tackling the mobility issue and maybe influence some of the other issues. When the Regional Connector is completed in DTLA and the Gold Line is built to Claremont, there will literally be light rail running for 55 miles from downtown Santa Monica to the eastern boundary of our county. A similar north-south arrangement will eventually be in place from the top of Van Nuys Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, through the Sepulveda Pass, to Westwood and to LAX and down to Redondo Beach and Torrance.
It’s one thing to say it. It’s another to show it, as did local designer and Metro enthusiast Adam Linder in a map he made during the campaign. It comes with a caveat: the environmental studies for some of these projects have not yet begun, so the type of transit, station locations, routes and operating plans are to be determined. But the map shows the gist of what’s possible:
That’s a significant difference between the ‘before’ and ‘after.’ Obviously it will take a lot of work to make it happen, plus federal funding, maybe even private funding and a willingness to endure some bumps in the road along the way.
As I’ve written before, Los Angeles and most other cities can be whatever they want to be. It just takes a populace willing to lean into the wind and perhaps try new ideas or ideas that have worked well elsewhere. And we have to be willing to pay for it because most good things in life are not free. As transportation planner Jarrett Walker wrote on his blog about the success on Election Day of so many transit ballot measures around the U.S.:
This is becoming a common pattern. There is a strong urban consensus about what it takes to make a great city, and the will is there, among urban populations, to do what needs to be done.
Thank you very much for your interest in Metro, whether you voted for M or not and whatever your mode(s) of travel may be. We’ll do our best in the coming weeks, months and years to use all the digital tools at our disposal to inform you — the taxpayer and our ultimate bosses — of what your government is doing. We’re excited for the work ahead.
Categories: Transportation News