The 710 Game: Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $780 million

It seems suggestive that Metro and Caltran’s just launched SR-710 Conversations public outreach process features a timeline of transportation milestones printed as a board game. It remains to be seen whether it will be a game that the public plays: a creative rethinking of mobility needs in the San Gabriel Valley and Northeast Los Angeles, or a game that plays the public: going through the motions of input on environmental studies for  a 710 ‘gap closure’ tunnel that agencies intend to pursue regardless of any alternative proposals.

Photo: Mark Vallianatos

Metro is holding three sets of pubic meetings. The first, scheduled for the rest of February, is advertised as opportunity to converse on transportation concerns and suggestions. A second set of meetings during early March will provide information on CEQA and NEPA. The third set of meetings in late March will be the opportunity to provide input on scoping for environmental review of the project. (A schedule is available at http://www.metro.net/projects/sr-710-conversations/ – click the upcoming meetings tab.)

I attended the first meeting Tuesday night in San Gabriel. Present were a mix of agency staff and consultants, veterans of the no on 710 campaign, and interested members of the public. I appreciate that Spanish and Chinese translators were present to lead break out groups, but the absence of attendees needing translation implies that outreach in immigrant communities should be stepped up.

Metro officials and public outreach consultants pitched the process as a ‘fresh start’ on a proposed freeway extension project that, according to the handy timeline included in the info packet, has been planned to link Long Beach and Pasadena since 1933.  Attendees were divided into three breakout groups to discuss and report back on commons (what we like about our communities), concerns (about transportation in neighborhoods and the region), and considerations (ideas to improve transportation).

People in my breakout group were concerned about heavy traffic on surface streets (on Fremont Ave in particular). No one jumped to the conclusion that we need to increase capacity via an extension of SR-710.  Our considerations list was heavy of ways to encourage people to use transit, improve and expand transit, and make streets safe to walk and bike. Meeting organizers have helpfully posted word clouds from breakout group notes on facebook, showing that across all breakout groups, the most discussed solutions were ‘better planning and development,’ ‘better and more accessible public transportation’ and ‘consider alternative modes of transportation.’

This word cloud was entitled "concerns."

I’m skeptical that this consensus in favor of expanded transit and living streets, if it is maintained as public meeting and online engagement continues, will sway the responsible agencies to divert Measure R funds to better projects. But Metro’s description of the ongoing conversation claims that they are open to multi-modal alternatives:

To address this longstanding issue, we are beginning with a fresh perspective to initiate an environmental review process that will focus on a range of solutions to specifically evaluate the effects of the SR 710 gap… These solutions from you can come in any possible form – from maintaining the status quo to considering new infrastructure, from single-modal to multi-modal approaches.

It can’t hurt to tell them what they may not really want to hear: that the era of urban freeways is (or should be) over and that their nearly 70 year old plan for a completed highway should give way to demand for complete streets.

8 thoughts on The 710 Game: Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $780 million

  1. I’m a huge transit proponent and ride Metro & my bike almost exclusively right now. But I disagree that the era of freeways is necessarily over. We absolutely need a fully built out transit system. But we also need a better working freeway system. We still need to invest in roads, and I think we need to go into these “Conversations” with an open mind. I encourage Streetsblog to take a less confrontational approach.

  2. Our freeway system in an expensive handout, hiding its true cost from its users, and ensuring that private motor cars dominate our rights-of-way over the access and interests of local business, playing children, the elderly, cyclists, and the everyman on the street.

  3. Not only is Metro’s transportation timeline depicted as a board game, its layout just happens to be an exact copy of the classic kid’s game “Candyland”, which takes place in a fantasy world of gumdrop mountains and candy cane forests. Tellingly, the players move either forward or backward based on arbitrary draws from a deck of cards.

  4. Regarding the freeway system as an “expensive handout”: to many motorists it’s a useful way to travel. For non-motorists, it encourages drivers away from streets where children are likely to be playing, bicyclists are cycling, etc. One wonders how many people view their cars as an unavoidable necessity in most parts of Southern California, who would welcome a fast and convenient alternative, and how many would say, “I will give up my car when they pry my cold, dead hands from the steering wheel.” Yes, one can get around without a car, but it isn’t easy, and most people prefer “easy” over “challenging”.

  5. I’m torn on this. I don’t think this freeway extension will do anything to move us to a more environmentally-friendly transportation system, or even reduce traffic congestion in the long run. On the other hand, some people want it, and 65% of Measure R money goes to transit.

    It’s a compromise. As a result of this compromise there’s money to build the Subway extension and a bunch of other transit capital projects, as well as transit operating funds.

    Hence, even though it doesn’t really solve any problems, it isn’t without its own kind of logic. This road money is the price of getting 2/3 of LA County voters to tax themselves for transportation.

    The public input seems to be mainly a formality.

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