As Los Angeles County reopens, it’s a good time to talk about a topic we’ve been able to avoid for the past year: traffic.
Traffic is a complicated subject and there’s no one easy solution. Metro is working on a variety of projects that span all aspects of our transportation system, the idea being to make it easier for everyone to get around. One of these projects is the Traffic Reduction Study, which is exploring reducing traffic through congestion pricing (i.e. tolls) while providing more high-quality alternatives to driving.
Back in February, Metro unveiled four early concept areas where a potential pilot program might work. Over the last several months, the project team has been analyzing each concepts and we now have initial data that indicating that a pilot program in each of the four concept areas could substantially reduce traffic.
An important point: this is early, high-level data and we still have much work to do. That said, early results indicate that overall people would spend significantly less time stuck in traffic as a result of all four concepts. The amount people would drive would also go down in all areas except Concept Area 1B, where a slight increase could occur.
Here’s a table that spells out what the early data shows in terms of reduced delays in traffic and reduced miles traveled:
Our data also shows that in each concept area people would get around more via transit, carpooling, walking and biking. In addition to reducing traffic, the pilot program would also improve air quality.
We reiterate that this is early data. We still have further analysis and dialogue to do that will dive into the details of these high-level findings.
It’s also critical to understand how such a pilot program would contribute to equitable improvements in public health and safety, economic and environmental justice, and the economy. For example, while we’re seeing the potential for reduced air pollution regionally, we’re working to understand how much relief long-suffering, marginalized communities near our major roads and freeways could see. The data tells us that transit ridership would likely increase, but we don’t yet know how much faster and more reliable buses would be with the reduction in traffic estimated in each concept.
Other key issues we’re studying include to what extent a pilot program could improve access to jobs, where spillover traffic could occur (i.e. people driving other routes to avoid tolls) and how significant it could be, how local businesses might be impacted, and the affordability of tolls — especially for low-income populations. We are studying low-income assistance and program design to improve equity outcomes.
While revenue generation is not one of the main goals of this project, we’re also working to understand the amount of toll revenues that would be available for reinvestment in high-quality travel options and strategies mentioned above to improve equity outcomes — i.e. low-income assistance and program design.
From the very beginning of this study we have heard clearly and frequently from stakeholders that improving equity must be a core part of any potential pilot. Specifically, the process must be transparent and communities must be heard, reflected, and respected. Any decisions must be informed by both technical analysis and engagement.
Metro is committed to such a process. When the early concepts were unveiled in February, Metro had intended to bring a preferred concept forward for consideration this summer. That decision will now happen later so that we can better engage stakeholders to identify the transportation investments, policies, and strategies needed for a pilot program to improve equity.
We envision that this phase of collaboration will occur this summer and fall. We anticipate that the completion of the study will still occur in spring of 2022, when the recommended concept(s) and implementation plan will be brought to the Metro Board of Directors in partnership with one or more cities and other agencies. If a pilot program is approved by the Board, Metro and our partners would begin the multi-year process leading to an operational program by 2025.
Across our region, state, and country we’re seeing a rapid return of traffic. In many areas traffic is near or exceeds pre-pandemic levels — and schools have yet to reopen and many workplaces are still relying heavily on telecommuting. Our new normal could look a lot like our old normal where traffic is a relentless drag on our time, health, pocketbooks, and overall quality of life, and the burdens and barriers fall heaviest on those who can least afford to bear it.
We view the pilot program as a chance to get ahead of traffic and do something about it. Please join us for this conversation.
Over the next several months we have an opportunity to have robust and meaningful conversations about what a traffic reduction pilot program could look like. We will engage with stakeholders in ways that will result in fruitful conversations. This next phase will culminate with another round of public meetings in the fall when we will share what we have learned from the continued analysis and engagement in addition to seeking additional input, and discussing the process to get to the recommended concept(s) and implementation plan.