As Transit Is Gutted in Orange County, Freeways Set to Expand

Communities around the country are bracing for the impact of fare hikes
and transit cuts, as jury-rigged funding mechanisms for vital local
transportation systems crumble under the strain of the weakening
economy. You already know about the MTA’s woes in New York City; today, the Times had a report about the 75 percent fare increase that’s going to be hitting Long Island bus riders. In Orange County, CA, Streetsblog Network member Orange County Transit Blog
reports on a similarly devastating situation. The local transit
authority there, OCTA, has voted to decrease service by 25 percent and
lay off 400 employees:

blog_octa_carshavewon.jpgCars are set to triumph in Orange County. Photo by Steven Chan.

What
no one is getting is that a LOT of people ride transit. They’re too
busy driving 60 mph and crashing their Ferraris into lamp-posts along
Jamboree to notice. Commuters, families, workers, Vietnamese, students,
the disabled, and the elderly (which, I should point out, the AARP has just announced they’re lobbying for complete streets and better transit)
— all kinds of people ride transit. Line 79 is standing-room-only with
UC Irvine students in the morning. Line 175, too, is standing-room-only
with University High School students. And the senior inhabitants of
Leisure World take Line 60 to many places. Do the trolls in Orange
County have something against old people and (gasp) privileged Irvine
students?

What do you think? Any way to get out of this funding mess? As
I said in a previous post, OCTA’s "doomsday scenario" is that 50% of
all bus service will be cut within a few short years.

The
blog’s author, Steven Chan, is a UC Irvine medical student who depends
on the bus himself. He’s outraged about the way transit is being gutted
while money is set to flow into highway expansion:

I
wouldn’t have a problem with less service if Orange County weren’t also
studying a $3.8-billion tunnel to lengthen the 57 freeway under the
Santa Ana River. Oh, and the 91 freeway expansion. And the proposal to
double-decker the 55 freeway through Newport Blvd. And the freeway
expansion along the 405-22 junction. The imbalance in transportation
makes me pissed beyond belief.

Elsewhere around the network: Bike Jax
links to the documentary "Taken for a Ride," which documents the
systematic destruction of mass transit by automobile interests in the
mid-20th-century; the WashCycle has the latest IRS guidelines on the bike-commuter tax benefits; and Transit Miami has an anti-sprawl action alert.

  • Watched “Taken for a Ride” last night. It’s 55 minutes, but worth your time, because it provides a comprehensive historical look at why L.A. went from having one of the best electrified surface train systems in the country to being the capital of the urban freeway gridlock, thanks to economic forces but also to some conspiratorial activity from good old General Motors. (made me regret that we bailed them out.)

  • This is precisely what keeps me angry.

    Somehow, automobile entitlement programs are sacrosanct, untouchable, and the holy of holies.

    In California, it is the same situation with our prisons: too many scum bags make a living off of this state-run program.

    There has to be a way to make the removal of capital-intensive infrastructure (like highways) politically unpopular. I mean, they are politically unpopular to those living next to them, and those who don’t use them – but in the halls of power building freeways is priority number one with transportation.

  • Spokker

    The buses that serve my school are already on 30 minute headways. I guess I’ll get more studying done in the library. Haha.

    Oh well.

  • The problem here is political.

    There just isn’t the advocacy in Orange County there is elsewhere.

    Despite the fact that Obama almost carried Orange County, and despite the fact that the middle areas of Orange County (Santa Ana and adjacent areas) have moved leftward to the political center, Orange County is still very much controlled by hardline conservatives.

    Many of these conservatives support not the McCain wing of the party, but the Limbaugh wing of the party.

    There is a reason why people refer to being “behind the Orange Curtain”. The light may be breaking through the opening for the first time in decades, but the curtain is not pulled back by any means.

    There are no shortage of anti-transit, anti-immigrant people in Orange County who are vocal. Many of the areas most sympatheic to transit are the least organized.

    The best hope for Orange County transit would involve increasing Metrolink service. People interested in better service getting to/from Metrolink stops may lobby for service improvements that have a knock off effect on non-Metrolink riders.

    High Speed Rail may ultimately have similar effects.

    In the meantime, demographic changes might help. It will be the toughest nut to crack.

    Are there Orange County transit advocacy organizations specific to Orange County? If there isn’t, perhaps these kinds of cuts might spur the creation of one.

  • Spokker

    But it’s not like the OCTA is making these cuts of their own accord. This is a state funding issue. Rallying in front of the OCTA won’t accomplish anything other than the board telling us, “We don’t have money for buses. Sorry.” It sounds more like we have to come together as a whole and lobby Sacramento to restore state transit funding.

    How are the OC freeway projects funded anway? Is it a case of, if we don’t spend that money on highways, the money is lost? Could the funds being used on those projects be diverted to buses?

  • Spokker

    Haha, holy Christ, OC residents even express classism toward other drivers! Here’s an incredible comment I read on the OC Register while looking for information on OC freeway projects.

    “Why does the OCR write articles about the 91 freeway? Everyone knows that anyone with class does not use that freeway. They fly to Vegas, Palm Springs, and all places east – but never drive.”

    Hahahaha my God, what is wrong with this county?

  • cph

    To be fair, the freeway money is most likely designated Measure M funds, or “pass-thru” state/federal money; it cannot legally be diverted to buses or anything else.

    The problem with buses in OC (or any mostly suburban area) is that most people living there drive, so it’s easy for them to marginalize the bus network and its riders. Metrolink is helpful, but OCTA (or a private operator) could do so much more with buses on the existing freeway/HOV system, to attract people who don’t like local buses to transit.

    As for OC transit advocacy: a few years ago, the Southern California Transit Advocates had an “Orange County Committee”, which eventually became Transit Advocates of Orange County (TAOC) The main point of this group was to promote the Centerline light-rail project. After Centerline was killed, TAOC became dormant. But with these bus cuts on the horizon, there is talk of reviving TAOC. Stay tuned….

  • Spokker

    I would join an Orange County transit group. I don’t know what I’d do but I’d donate my time if I could help.

  • When I visited the OCTA a few years back their legislative liaison described how screwed they were due to their land-use patterns and Americans with Disabilities compliance.

    Every bus line in the OCTA had to offer a free or discounted shuttle service for people too infirm to make it to the bus stop. These para-transit services built in nearly a 2x increase in cost to have a bus line, and there was no way around them because the OC had no alternative means for people to get to bus stops (i.e. several miles walk, no sidewalks to bus stops).

    Their liaison described how in an aging population of home owners were going to be trapped in their McMansions. I don’t know how true this has become, but I would hate to have to deal with that expense when running a bus service.

    Despite some good intentions in Sacramento, these sorts of long term costs aren’t taken into account when developers throw up new tract home subdivisions.

  • I dunno. . . fighting for more transit development in the OC seems like a futile, uphill battle to me. Certain neighborhoods, like immediately around UC Irvine and the Irvine spectrum mall and so forth, would probably be ideal for fast bus service, and that should be pursued. But if we’re worrying about an aging population that will become “trapped in their McMansion”, I’d say: don’t. If the people are rich enough to have a McMansion, they will likely buy a hybrid car and keep driving until it’s unsafe, at which point they’ll buy a condo on the beach or move somwhere else that will suit their lifestyle. (I know I’m generalizing here, but the OC just doesn’t have the population density to be comparable to L.A. county, so pushing for lots of transit development doesn’t seem the right solution there.) I think Dan’s probably right here: increased metrolink/surfliner service is likely the best we can expect for the OC in the forseeable future. When CA-HSR gets to Irvine, that will be great. Other than that, it will still be paradise for the richer members of our society.

  • Spokker

    David, don’t let the television show The OC give you a false impression of this county. North Orange County has plenty of people who depend on the bus. Santa Ana, Anaheim, Fullerton, and Garden Grove to name a few aren’t exactly Beverly Hills. Buses in these areas are packed during rush hour (Like the 43 on Harbor Blvd. with 15 minute headways) and have steady ridership the rest of the day, depending on where you are.

    Rapid bus services can do wonders for North Orange County. I already take two buses to get to school. It would be an incredible improvement to transfer to a rapid bus instead of another slow local. I think it’s something worth fighting for, even here.

  • Interurbans

    Orange County kind of deserves what it has. They destroyed their chance at an alternative to driving when they killed the “Center Light Rail Line” piece by piece. There is still an opportunity with the former Pacific Electric Los Angeles Santa Ana and SP/UP Huntington Beach corridor right of way still in place for a starter Light Rail System.

    The OCTD and Caltrans recent spent billions on recent freeway interchanges and widening and within weeks the traffic levels were back to pre project congestion. This is not the answer to congestion. Now they want to spend billions more for boondoggles like the 605/405/22 interchange which has little congestion even at rush hours. Hasn’t enough money been spent on highways and freeways in Orange County and put that money into moving people efficiently rather than more roads.

  • Spokker

    “They destroyed their chance at an alternative to driving when they killed the “Center Light Rail Line” piece by piece.”

    To be honest though, from looking at past proposals for Centerline it was probably going to end up being a piece of shit anyway. I cannot predict the future, or what would’ve happened in the past, obviously, but I was envisioning a debacle that would make the Sprinter look like high speed rail.

    I don’t know, just a gut feeling.

  • cph

    Don’t be fooled; OC is the second densest county in California, right after
    San Francisco! (LA is the 3rd)…
    http://www.csac.counties.org/images/public/CA_Counties/Pop%20density%20by%20county.pdf

    The Centerline: The big problem with it was there was never a real consensus as to where it should go. Even Santa Ana, the most transit dependent city in OC, was batting it from one street to another. Also, was it supposed to be elevated light rail (a deal-killer in may places) or surface (less visually intrusive, but slower)? That was never made clear, at least to me.

    Of course the nimbys, from Fullerton through South Coast to Irvine were up in arms and OCTA, with no strong plan, let them have their way.

    Better, at least for now, to invest in Metrolink and build up the HOV/express bus network, as was done in the past….

  • I’m so confused. There’s an express bus network in the OC? From what I’ve seen, the HOV lanes really don’t do much in this respect. The only real, quality service I see is line 83 (which runs along the 5 and hits a lot of major destinations).

    I wish OCTA would be more innovative and put bus-boarding islands along the carpool lanes like Caltrans did along the 110. I really do think Metro’s new Silver Line should be a model: dedicate part of the freeway for a real BRT network.

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