Traffic snarl: If money weren’t an issue

Today, Reed and Balaker abandon the real-world constraint of money and present their financially unencumbered views of transportation in L.A. Yesterday, they weighed options for reducing traffic. Previously they debated road-building, subway extension, and how to reduce congestion.

Rail as far as the eye can seeBy Bart Reed

It's been a pleasure brawling against your esteemed institution and your version of logic. Now, back to reality: Given the the generous contribution, the most ambitious item on the list is indeed the most obvious one: $10 billion to extend the Wilshire Boulevard subway to Santa Monica, with stops at Century City and UCLA. Another $7 billion would be used to create either a subway spur or a separate light rail line to connect the San Fernando Valley with LAX and Westwood. This line would tunnel between UCLA and Sherman Oaks and continue north on Van Nuys Boulevard above ground.

Another $3 billion would be spent on establishing a light rail network that involved a completed Expo Line to the beach, a Gold Line to Montclair and a downtown light rail subway to connect them, establishing a continuous inland-to-ocean light rail network. Another $3 to $5 billion would establish Metrolink regional rail on the Harbor Subdivision right-of-way that links LAX and the South Bay to Union Station, and a Green Line that goes to LAX and the Westside to Santa Monica

Light rail should replace the Orange Line Busway and extend through Burbank and Glendale to the Gold Line in Pasadena. Perhaps $1 billion could be used to extend the Green Line via a tunnel to the Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs Metrolink station.

Another $10 billion would expand the Metrolink commuter rail system to other areas of Southern California, convert it from diesel to electrical power, and establish 30-minute service along most lines, including the Chatsworth-Laguna Niguel rail corridor. This system would feed into a $20 billion high-speed rail network that links to the rest of the state. With that kind of money, you could also bring weekend, reverse commute and late-night service to several lines, in particular the Antelope Valley line.

The funds would also pay for grade separations for commuter and freight trains where they intersect with roadways. Cars would then not have to wait at railroad crossings, nor would railroads need to worry about collisions, which would reduce delays for both cars and trains.

You could also spend billions to purchase additional buses to run more frequent service in areas that are not suited for rail. Express buses could serve particular niches using our growing carpool lane network. The problem with this is that the cost of operating said services would be quite high and would require increased fares, quite unlike current practice at L.A. Metro, where fares are preserved at the expense of even basic service. Also, you must continue replacing buses because of their shorter life cycles, so billions more would have to be spent over time.

The rest could be spent on freeway upgrades and bicycle and pedestrian corridors. For example, extending the Harbor Transitway into downtown L.A. could make the facility far more useful for buses and carpools than it is now. Funds would also be allotted for a region-wide signal synchronization program that would aid both cars and buses where Rapid Bus service (which instead employs signal preemption) may not be practical.

So long as the spending for automobile-based transportation remains lopsidedly greater than rail spending, we'll continue to promote the idea that California is one big suburb when, in fact, much of our state is urban. We cannot continue to pretend it is 1950, so we must explore a balanced and aggressive approach to ending this gridlock that has become the hallmark ofmodern-day Los Angeles.

Bart Reed is the Executive Director of The Transit Coalition, a Sylmar based non-profit dealing with issues of transportation, mobility and land use planning.

We're starved for reform, not funds By Ted Balaker
It's a testament to boosters' Lanleyesque powers of persuasion that rail transit proposals aren't laughed out of Los Angeles.

Here's some of what I might do with the dough:

Reduce transit bus fares to recreate the 40% increase in ridership from the 50-cent fare of the early 1980s—except, this time, I would also increase bus service and make it last.

Fund a ballot initiative to require every member of a transit agency board to take transit at least four times a week—no exceptions.

Install some queue-jumpers so motorists could hurdle over intersections, expand roadway capacity where it makes sense, unclog some of the worst bottlenecks (101/405), and build some tunnels. The first tunnel would fill in the missing link in the 710. Apart from the improving traffic flow, the project would provide a Euro chic vibe, as it would be very similar to the tunnel project on the A86 in Paris.

Speaking of Paris, American tourists often return from there and other European cities eager to tell friends that they've experienced an enlightened alternative: Unlike American knuckle-draggers who live in suburbs and drive cars everywhere, Europeans live in high density urban centers and get around by transit. So why, they ask, can't we be more European?

I would sponsor European tours (priority goes to politicians) in which participants experience European cities, not like American tourists who enthuse about getting to the Eiffel Tower by Metro, but like the typical resident, who lives in the suburbs and drives to work.

Bart, across the pond, you'll find the kind of population density, transit service intensity, and sky-high gas taxes you yearn for. Yet transit is still slipping (market share fell 35 percent from 1970 to 2000), and auto use is still growing (per capita driving has been increasing much faster there than here). Lesson learned: Suburbanization and driving increase most anywhere wealth increases, and there's little public policy can do about it.

What else would I do?

I'd buy a bunch of fancy buses, the ones that look just like rail cars, and tell rail fans they are rail cars. That'll be much cheaper than buying real rail cars, and those buses would also be allowed on my region-wide network of congestion-free lanes. Motorists could pay a toll to escape congestion and transit vehicles would get free access. How would I do it? By converting L.A.'s HOV lanes (which just aren't good at reducing congestion) into HOT lanes (see yesterday's post) and adding the necessary connectors to create a seamless network of speedy lanes.

It sure seems like a sum as huge as $100 billion could give us a free-flow future, but remember, the region will spend about $115 billion over the next 25 years and congestion is expected to get significantly worse.

What LA really needs is better priorities (see my Monday post), and innovation-friendly public polices. Recently, former US Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta noted that investors regard SoCal as "the most attractive [road] investment opportunity in America, if not the world." But under current law, tapping that dough is nearly impossible. Our transportation network isn't starved for public funds so much as it's starved for reform.

That's not to say I'm going to be squeaky-clean and ignore the pork-packed tradition of transportation funding. As a gesture of thanks for the spirited exchange, I'll fund the Bart Reed Museum of Trains and Other Anachronisms.

Ted Balaker is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation and co-author of the book The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think and What We Can Do About It (Rowman & Littlefield 2006).

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