Advocates Make the Case for More Federal Funding for Southern California Transit and Bikeways

2_19_10_zane.jpgFlanked by advocates, Denny Zane of Move L.A. leads this morning's rally. For more photos, visit LA Streetsblog/Flickr

Before the kickoff of the "Transportation Reauthorization Outreach Tour," this morning at the Metro Board Room in Downtown Los Angeles, a diverse collection of advocates made the case that the federal dollars that have recently alluded clean transportation projects in Southern California should start flowing here now.

The press conference was hosted by Denny Zane, the longtime transit advocate and the architect of the successful campaign to pass Measure R, the half cent sales tax for transit projects that passed in November of 2008.  Joining Zane at the podium were the leaders of two labor groups, with nearly a dozen more represented in the audience, the Clean Air Coalition, Smart Growth America, the American Lung Association, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and CALPIRG.  Despite the visible presence of cyclists, the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition wasn't included at the podium.  At least the needs of cyclists were mentioned by most of the speakers.

At one point, Zane rhetorically asked when was the last time "you saw labor, business and environmental interests working together," referencing the coalition that managed to secure a two-thirds vote of support for Measure R in 2008.  More important than Zane's ability to bring his friends from a year and a half ago back together was the presence of the BRU, who opposed Measure R, and Bike Coalition,  who did not take an official position on supporting or opposing Measure R, but have been active in efforts in getting bicycle and pedestrian set-aside funding for Los Angeles from Measure R.

The bulk of the statements focused on the "30 in 10" plan, that would see the construction of all thirty years worth of Measure R transit projects in the next decade.  To see this plan to fruition, there would need to be changes to federal law and new federal programs, such as the creation of an infrastructure bank, that would allow Metro to borrow against future tax revenues to fund rail and Bus Rapid Transit projects in the short term.

Richard Slawson, of the LA/OC Building and Trades Council, referenced a map, prepared by Metro, showing that the agency is receiving $0 in the 2011 federal budget.   "We need to turn this trend around!...With Washington's help, we can build thirty years of projects in ten."  Zane added, "We have the people, we have the plan, and we have forty billion in sales tax dollars in the next thirty years."

Of course, other groups brought different interests.  Speaking on behalf of CALPIRG, Erin Steva made the pitch for better funding for California's High Speed Rail, a position that makes sense not just for Californians, but for all Americans."High Speed Rail is critical to California's future...We need commitment from our leaders to get this project on track after years of falling behind other countries in developing working High Speed Rail."

Francisca Porchas, of the Bus Rider's Union made the case that the federal government needs to step up as state's step back when it comes to funding transit operations.  Porchas pointed not just to local problems, but deficits in Chicago and New York that are leading to cuts and hikes across the country.  Porchas' presence and testimony was interesting because for too long the battle between advocates seeking a more robust rail network and those seeking a more affordable bus network have been at odds in Los Angeles; and the BRU's presence at what was billed as a "30 in 10" event could be a major moment in local transportation history.  I filmed Porchas' comments and when YouTube is done downloading the video, we'll link to it here and at the twitter feed.

Now that the advocacy community has stated its case, it's up to the elected leaders and VIP's at the meeting to state there's in the meeting.  Also, Senator Boxer and Secretary LaHood will be holding their own press conference in fifteen minutes, and it will be interesting to see how they respond to the advocates concerns expressed earlier.