Will the Metro Board Overload “30 in 10” with Highway Projects

Screen_shot_2010_04_19_at_9.55.40_PM.pngPhoto of last week’s Meaure R rally via the Mayor’s website.  Highways weren’t mentioned.

This Thursday, the Metro Board of Directors will debate and vote-on whether or not to formally support Mayor Villaraigosa’s "30 in 10" program that would use federal loans to move the twelve largest transit projects contained in the 30 year Measure R sale tax program in the next decade.  "30 in 10" has proven wildly popular with transit riders and is being touted as a national model for transit agencies, yet all of the advance debate on the program from the Board can be summarized as "how can we make sure to build more wasteful and expensive highway projects quicker?" You can read the full agenda for this Thursday’s meeting, here.

The Source reported last week that the Finance Committee of the Metro Board approved a motion from the personally car-free Santa Monica Council Woman Pam O’Conner and Lakewood Council Woman Diane Dubois requesting that highway projects be added to the project mix.  Following their lead, the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments started waving their arms demanding "30 in 10" money for the I-710 Tunnel Project, an option to "improve" the I-710 which isn’t even the locally preferred alternative and faces fierce opposition from some local municipalities and every environmentalist in Southern California.

Meanwhile, in the Santa Clarita Signal, Supervisor Mike Antonovich makes the case that "30 in 10" doesn’t work for all of L.A. County mainly because of the lack of highway projects in the transit plan.  In addition to repeating the tired arguments against Measure R, which were roundly rejected by voters in the Santa Clarita area, Antonovich makes an economics pitch for accelerated highway construction:

The county Economic Development Corp. last
week released a report stating that 67 percent of the jobs, economic
output and earnings generated by Measure R come from highway projects,
with the remaining 33 percent from transit projects. Without
incorporating highway projects, the 30/10 plan will leave behind
341,500 jobs, $46.3 billion in economic output and $15.1 billion in
earnings. We cannot afford to leave the benefits of highways out of

While it may be true that the EDC did predict more jobs to be created from the freeway projects than the transit ones; it failed to analyze all of the money that will be wasted when the highways lead to more pollution, worse air quality, higher asthma rates, and all of the other curses that have rained down on L.A. County because of our car addiction.

Via email, Alexander Friedman, a Streetsblog contributor and member of transit groups, writes

For too many years Southern California has favored the automobiles over
everything else, which is pathetic. As a result, the autos ultimately
destroyed Mass Transit, took away Pedestrian space and landscaping, and
didn’t focus much on Bicycle conditions… So, it is now time to catch
up, and create a vast network of Public Transportation, thanks to
Measure R, along with 30/10 plan.

At least one County Supervisor is backing the mayor  In the Los Angeles Business Journal, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas writes that it’s time to re-assemble to coalition that passed Measure R.  While I appreciate his sentiment, most of that coalition is already re-assembled.

While Thursday is going to be a real test for the Metro Board, it’s a real testament to the power of Southern California’s car culture that this is even an issue.  Consider the rallies and coalitions that were needed to get Measure R passed.  After that, transit advocates at Move L.A. had to devise the "30 in 10" plan themselves, before Villaraigosa emerged as a champion.  Then, rallies were held by the advocates, and eventually the mayor did too.  And yet, before the Board of Directors for the local transit agency can get on board, we first have to have a debate about how much of those front loaded funds are spent on highways, and perhaps which projects have to be sacrificed to satiate our elected leaders car addiction.

  • Jack Stephonovic

    Only conclusion: Metro are idiots.

  • Of course North County wants roads, it’s got a suburban/rural design that is utterly enslaved to the private motorcar. Maybe the way to make them happy is to accelerate the local return part of Measure R instead of accelerating the highway projects.

    I’m still hoping for Measure R2 that cancels the highway parts of Measure R :)

  • Ah, we may have to hold our noses and accept this car mania to avoid undermining regional consensus. Which is much like the process that produced Measure R. We can’t allow the perfect be the enemy of the good. An anti-road jihad still isn’t a winning strategy for the overall cultural/policy dialogue on transportation priorities.

    Anyway we have bigger fish to fry–getting the ideological/fiscal logjam in D.C. fixed. Even Amtrak is imperiled by the currents swirling back there. Thankfully the Mayor is doing his part with a sales pitch to the Commander in Chief. That, the recent labor rally and the buzz 30 in 10 is generating gives me hope…


  • apparently Measure R’s earliest starts have been with bandwagon infrastructure. Politicians who opposed the measure not only demand more money when it gets passed, but now demand that it’s not happening quick enough for their liking. Antonovich and SGV naysayers expended political capital opposing Measure R and 30/10 each step of the way, only to draw from the political capital of supporters when it looks like the project will actually happen. Unlike the Republican Principle of “NO” these groups are exercising the principle of NO until it looks like YES, apparently with minimal foresight.

    The induced effects of transit investment will be much higher than highway investment, if only because there is presently relatively little transit infrastructure and this infrastructure will be built in areas with higher land values. Adding a lane to a highway which already has 4 won’t produce nearly the same peak hour capacity, travel time, or trip time variability benefits any one of the light rail projects. If the goal is inducing investment and reducing the monetary and nonmonetary costs of travel, urban transit, bike, and ped infrastructure will win out every time.

    Politicians like Antonovich love talking about the expenditure effects, focusing on the jobs and firm revenues to be created by the simple act of spending money. If that’s their primary concern, they should pursue the expansion of transfer payments, which have one of the highest multipliers of any public expenditure.

    If the goal is preparing Los Angeles for the reality that in a service economy, goods movement is secondary to the movement of people, then these politicians need to work on housing people closer to jobs and making it easier and cheaper for them to get there, lest the Los Angeles service economy go the way of manufacturing – to Asia.

  • Jeff Spicoli

    Fact Check!!!!! I am an environmentalist living in Los Angeles and I want the 710 tunnel to be completed. So there is at least one. I’m just sayin……

  • LAMosca

    Fact check: Diane Dubois is a councilmember for the City of LAKEWOOD, not “Lakerwood.” Way to go on reporting on LA County.

  • @ Jeff

    Which part of the 710 tunnel is good for the environment?

    The electric vents, the induced driving, or the induced sprawl?

    I thought it was just so we could more profitably cram more imported goods from east Asia through our already congested county to stock the country’s WalMart shelves.

  • Fact check: Diane Dubois is a councilmember for the City of LAKEWOOD, not “Lakerwood.” Way to go on reporting on LA County.
    Ugh, never work on a piece while having basketball on in the background again.


    @Chewie: “Which part of the 710 tunnel is good for the environment?

    The electric vents, the induced driving, or the induced sprawl?

    I thought it was just so we could more profitably cram more imported goods from east Asia through our already congested county to stock the country’s WalMart shelves.”

    Completeing a freeway in an already urbanized and transit-oriented city like Pasadena is very different from building and extending a freeway into empty, car-oriented suburb in the Inland Empire.

    Besides, much of the traffic on the 2 and 134 is from freight trucks trying to get around the “gap”, and we can’t solve this particular kind of traffic by building mass transit.

  • @ JD

    I don’t think it’s as different as you think. When you create new car capacity in one part of the freeway system it has ripple effects throughout the entire system. Suddenly delay is reduced so developers have an excuse to put up more detached houses on the fringes somewhere and the freeway clogs up again. A freeway expansion anywhere in the region affects the whole region.

    With regard to freight, we need to demand that more of it be carried by rail, it’s simply too costly in both dollars and environmental damage to spend billions on this tunnel so the ports of LA and LB can have another growth spurt without having to change the way they operate.

    Seriously, we need people laying down in front of the bulldozers (or boring machines) on this one.

  • Numan Parada

    I’m a transit advocate and I too side with Jeff and JD on the need of completing the 710 as originally intended. The 210 north of it was designed to handle its traffic and is currently underused. Instead, the 5 must bear the full brunt of it. It’s a missing and glaring hole in the freeway system, and it beats the alternative of sloshing through Fremont Avenue, which acts as a de facto connection even though it shouldn’t.

    Indeed, there may only be two other highway projects that I can think of that must be built with expediency: The I-5 rebuild through southeast LA County, and anything to upgrade Route 138 between Palmdale and the Cajon Pass. These three would provide real, tangible improvements in the highway system and an improved quality of life that people will appreciate.

    Having said that, anything beyond those three projects will provide little improvement over existing traffic and can wait.

  • Jack Stephonovic

    I voted for R2 cause it was marketed to me as a tax to fund public transportation. Did I miss some fine print that allows it to include highway?

  • Spokker

    What’s R2? Measure R? Measure R did include highway projects.

  • Jack, 40% (and more if standard operating procedures are followed) was set aside for highway projects like freeway widening.

    I have no counter argument to convince pro-710’s to change their minds, but I completely disagree with you guys and hope you’ll reconsider your positions. East/North East L.A. has more than enough car traffic blasting through it, more than enough noxious air killing its residents.

    You’re on the wrong side of history on this one. It’s not 1960 anymore. More cars does not equal progress.

  • According to its expenditure plan (available here: http://www.metro.net/measurer/images/expenditure_plan.pdf) 20% of Measure R money is dedicated to, and I quote, “Highway Projects: Capital Projects – Carpool Lanes, Highways, Goods Movement, Grade Separations, and Soundwalls”.

    Interestingly, one of the projects listed in this section is grade separations on the Alameda Corridor freight railroad. I’d say this is a better kind of thing to focus on than ramming the 710 farther north. Technically that is “goods movement”.

    I held my nose and voted for Measure R because it’s a better deal for transit than it is for roads, but I rationalized it to myself by saying that I would complain about the roads afterwards, and that’s just what I’m doing :)

  • Miguel Diez

    Guys the real reason Highway funds needed to be included in 30/10 was due to pressure from the Gateway Cities CoG (cities along the southern 710)which put pressure on their County Supervisors which all are Metro Board members to get the need widening from the ports north to the 60 frwy. They (cities and port officials) feel that the sooner those hwy improvements were completed the evironmental and congestion relieve would benifit their communities and businesses. As for overall need of the LA Basin, no single mode of transportation will solve our problems which took 100 years to screw up… you can reminiss and daydream all you want about the demise of the Red Cars but there gone and the network grid they had will never return. As for rail solving all the truck traffic… our current commuter rail system and some light rail systems share or cross many already at capacity heavy rail corridors… you think widening a freeway is tough try adding a second or third rail track through the communities they pass through… all the bridges and under passes will have to be widenend and rows of either businesses and homes will have to be purchased demolished to make way for new capacity… then you’ll have to pay to build replacement housing for all the people and families you displaced which adds to the cost… now trucks semis and smaller will not be eliminated from local traffic either… how you going to get that high efficiency washer home on the bus or on top of your Prius? how are fresh vegetables and fruit going to get to your local markets quickly and efficiently by a fleet of Prius’s or Prii?.. technology will advance and reduce the polution from vehicles and trucks,,, but traffic jams will still be the same whether in hydrogen or hybrids… and pedestrians get hurt just as bad from Prius’s as a Hummer H3….its going to need to be a combination of all modes of transportation to solve our problems… but its hard for the people of LA to think about improving the environment and life when almost one in four is under or un employed…. those who have financial stability can and will make the right choices.. as you can see the City of LA and the LAUSD can screw up any short or long term plan.. over sell over build and of course over pay any project… 30/10 will at least get the funds to build voter approved projects here now while costs are lower and get them finished before we all die and at least something will get done… because the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena has been planned since the 1940’s.. its time to do something tangible before Villaraigosa takes all the money and builds some Green Leads Platinum City Employee Retirement Resort for all the early retirement lottery winners that will be leaving this year……

  • political_incorrectness

    Los Angeles already has more than enough freeway miles, there is no need for more. Why ram a 3.4 billion dollar tunnel when a subway of that cost can transport more people over further distances. Subway to the Sea needs to happen sooner, it might just unclog the Santa Monica.

  • Miguel Diez

    The Subway to the Sea was the Banner Project of Measure R…
    the westside is getting the Purple Expo Line USC to Culver City…
    A new Crenshaw Line north south from the Green to the Red Line extension… dont forget the Hollywood to Century City spur of the Red Line…. and a possible Green line south spur to the beach cities south of the 1O5 and maybe just maybe finally a LAX connection…. the Westside is getting the Lion’s share of the transit dollars…. the 710 gap is only 4.5 miles..

  • Miguel Diez

    One question.. why doesn’t the Westside have carpool lanes on the Santa Monica just like every other freeway in the Southland? Why did they fight so hard to get them removed back in the 70’s? Those who commute on the 10 fwy in from West Covina Ontario have to have THREE people in a car to qualify for car pooling… the only THREE requirement in the STATE… talk about equity and fairness.. lets put a THREE carpool lane down the Santa Monica Fwy … lets get in the game, give up some skin, be patriotic and push for car pool lanes in from the Westside……

  • I might be less opposed to the 710 tunnel if there were some way to put a train line in the middle…

  • Alek F

    Please, no more highway projects!!
    The 30/10 initiative should focus exclusively on developing our Rail system in LA County, as our public transportation has been in neglect for decades. Highways are already heavily subsidized (it’s the largest federal subsidy among all modes), so finally – now that Mass Transit is gaining momentum, the 30/10 plan should pay EXCLUSIVELY for Metro-Rail, especially the Westside Subway extension.

  • Tom Rubin

    A few statistics (road stats from FHWA Highway Statistics 2009, for 2007 reporting year):
    1. The Los Angeles Urbanized Area (which I will refer to as “LA”) is the nation’s highest in density, with more people per square mile than any other UZA — 54% higher than greater NYC.
    2. Of the 74 UZA’s over 500,000 population, greater LA is 71 — fourth to last — in both freeway centerline miles and total road miles per capita.
    3. LA is 47th in working weekday vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita, well under the median and mean.
    4. LA is number one on VMT per freeway lane mile, 11% above number two Riverside-San Bernardino.
    5. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, together, are by far the largest in the U.S. While rail carries a major share of the goods out of and into them, and there have been and are major rail upgrade projects of many types (Alameda Corridor, Alameda Corridor East, improvements at the ports themselves, etc.), even with the existing traffic conditions, it is STILL often far faster to move containers from the ports to the rail yards by truck.
    6. Currently, transit trips in LA are under 2% of total trips, and approximately 5% of job commute trips and, of course, virtually none of the good movements.
    7. Transit trip per capita in LA have been on a long-term downward trend for decades — and the downturn was most marked in the period 1985-1996, when MTA was spending over 60% of its subsidies for its transit services on rail, prior to the Consent Decree kicking in and increasing ridership by about the same amount over the next ten years that was lost over the prior period of rail priority.
    8. LA has, by far, the smallest central business district of any major U.S. UZA — and CBD’s are, by far, the easiest and most productive to serve by transit.
    9. Any plan for transportation in Los Angeles that begins with an assumption that transit funding should be given priority over road funding would appear to present difficulties in addressing the concerns. Any transit plan that overemphasizes rail transit would appear to have similar problems.
    Tom Rubin

  • @ Tom

    Of course our transit commuting share is low, for decades we’ve gluttonously chugged the Kool Aid of more freeway expansions and sprawl. What were we doing from 1950 to 1970? Building massive amounts of freeways and sprawl with massive federal subsidies while letting transit die.

    When you look at neighborhoods that are WELL PLANNED the non-car-commuting share is much higher. Look at places like Westwood, Koreatown, Downtown LA. These places show that a better future is possible. The average density of the region doesn’t matter compared to localized densities along corridors. A typical part of Manhattan is MUCH DENSER than a typical part of LA, that’s why transit works much better in Manhattan than it does in a typical LA neighborhood.

    If you have no problem with more unchecked sprawl, keep building freeways. If you want to fight back and demand an urban design that actually gives people a fighting chance to walk, use transit and ride a bike, fight for zoning reform and more money invested in transit.

    Seriously, greater LA has done everything in its power to encourage people to drive as much as possible: massive car infrastructure free at the point of use, free parking, and prohibiting meaningful amounts of density and mixed land uses.

  • Tom Rubin

    Actually, LA’s transit mode split is a bit higher than the national average, although it is lower than most other large UZA’s.
    You state, “Of course our transit commuting share is low, for decades we’ve gluttonously chugged the Kool Aid of more freeway expansions and sprawl. What were we doing from 1950 to 1970? Building massive amounts of freeways and sprawl with massive federal subsidies while letting transit die.” However, as I point out, LA is almost dead last among U.S. UZA’s in freeway and road miles per capita.
    As to “Letting transit die,” this was something that has gone on all over the U.S. and, to a great extent, much of the Western world. Most major European cities now have extensive U.S.-style suburbs, where transit usage, particularly local transit usage, is very low.
    What is your suggestion for transit as a real component of improving transportation? If, somehow, transit trips were to increase three-fold in market share, it would still be 6% — and, if you examine MTA’s long-range transportation plans carefully, it appears that the plan is barely going to maintain the current transit modal split.
    Yes, there are many parts of Manhattan that are far denser than any place in the City of Los Angeles — BUT, the City of LA’s overall density is very comparable to other major, older Eastern cities, such as Boston and Philadelphia. Are you suggesting that we should be trying to transform Los Angeles to Manhattan-style densities? Keep in mind that, for decades, the growth in the greater NYC UZA has been in the suburbs — which, by the way, are far less dense than LA suburbs.

  • Yuri

    I agree with Chewie. The most straightforward way to improve transportation of *people* across the region is to remove free parking for automobiles, reduce street space for automobiles in favor of bus-only/bike lanes and light rail, change zoning so that jobs and people are clustered in regional centers, and build rail transit between those regional centers. If you notice, the majority of those changes require little capital, other than a drastic change of perspective on what matters more in transportation, people or cars.

  • @ Tom

    I don’t think freeway miles per capita is an adequate basis for deciding which types of transportation infrastructure to build. If your concern is reducing delay on roads, you should support a vehicle miles traveled tax or other forms of road tolling to manage demand. That reduces congestion without the expense or environmental damage of new road construction.

    With regard to Manhattan-style density. I don’t think it’s necessary everywhere in LA, but I am certainly not opposed to it in some places. I’d actually much rather see Philadelphia-style density, which is based on a lot of two and three story rowhouses and still supports transit and walkability pretty well.

    I live in a neigborhood in LA with excellent walkability and transit service and I grew up in LA’s “denser than other suburbs” suburbs. You’re right that they are denser than other suburbs in the U.S., but they’re still not dense enough to support much in the way of walkability and frequent transit service for the most part, particularly as you get out into the stuff that’s been built since World War II.

  • Eric B

    Re: density needed for transit, we probably need denser than Philadelphia-style for the frequency to be high enough for mode-shift.

    @Chewie, I agree with many of the points you make about freeway externalities, but the 710 really is an exception to our general no-more-freeways rule. In fact, if we can build it with somewhat close to full-mitigation for impacts, then we can show how truly expensive freeways are (compared to alternatives)!

    The winning argument against 710 extension isn’t going to be arguing against its effectiveness at gap closure. The network effects we transit advocates talk about also apply to freeways, and there is a glaring gap in the network. The winning argument is going to be its sheer cost, and more importantly, the opportunity cost. As you pointed out, Subway to the Sea or an expensive freight rail project may sketch out to have better cost-benefit calculations. Let’s help Metro make those calculations and decide that the $$ is better spent elsewhere.

    Summary: it’s not that highways don’t improve “the transportation system,” it’s that they do so at a much higher cost than many alternatives when a full accounting is done.

  • @ Eric B

    I guess it depends how much mode shift you want. The City of Philadelphia is at 26.2% transit to work, and 8.2% walking to work, which blows LA City out of the water. The city is about 60.7% rowhouses and only 7.5% detached single family houses. I don’t understand why LA has virtually no rowhouses. They’re such a good compromise!

    There aren’t many places in America that beat those numbers.

  • Tom Rubin

    As to transit mode split, home-to-work, doing apples to apples, from ACS 2006-08:
    City of LA 11.2%
    City of Philly: 26.1%
    LA UZA 6.4%
    Philly UZA 10.0%
    Note that the above stat’s are for the area of residence.
    The City of obs and people are clustered in regional centersNew York exceeds 50%, Boston is 32.4%, Chicago 26.3%, SF 31.8%.
    To try for this type of transit, even in the core cities, we would have to totally transform the entire face of the city in many areas, including large portions of the existing structures. Just not very realistic.
    As to the “full cost” of transportation, I’ve done quite a bit of research on this topic, and, when the benefits of the various urban transportation modes are properly considered along with the costs, the private automobile does very well — plus, in reality, there are no real alternatives.
    As to “jobs and people are clustered in regional centers,” guess what? LA is very close to the top in the U.S. in home-jobs balance. The lack of a huge downtown means that there are more jobs in regional centers, closer to where people live, from Long Beach to Century City to Warner Center to Pasadena, etc., etc.
    The average home-to-work trip in LA is shorter than the national average. Building rail to connect such centers is not really very productive, as it does nothing for the “last mile” problem, getting people to and from the rail stations. When you factor in this, and the slower speed of transit vs. roads, what you find is transit and drive to work times are very close in the LA and NYC UZA’s (Auto: NY 27.9 minutes, LA 27.3 minutes; Transit: NY 51.0 minutes, LA 47.0 minutes), but that transit takes a lot longer to travel a shorter distance.
    Go ahead and advocate for more compact development and I hope that those who like to live that way can find what they want (I have, and liked it very much for what I was doing at the time) — but, it will simply not be the preference of the majority, nor will it result in major reductions in road use.
    Yes, reducing delays on roads is one of my concerns, but this is part of the larger picture of providing for adequate mobility. Anyone who thinks that transit expansion or changes in urban form will have significant impact on these, even over a period of decades, well, I’m afraid, is not being very realistic — and many of the elements of such plans can actually have significant negative impacts.
    Chief among these is the unfortunately very common condition of over-emphasis on rail construction resulting in reductions of existing bus transit service and large fare increases, which has had a terrible impact on the ability of transit in many areas to serve as the means of transportation for those who have limited options due to age, physical condition, economic condition, or other reasons. Transit does a reasonably good job of the latter; as far as shaping cities and like, hard to make a case that transit (separated from taxpayer subsidies to developers and owner/tenants) has done much.

  • @Tom Rubin’s “in reality, there are no real alternatives” – I guess I will have to keep pedaling my unreal alternative around town – sometimes putting it on a rack on the front of the another unreal alternative – or boarding other unreal alternatives with it in tow.

  • Ypres

    @Tom Rubin:

    Let’s say for a moment that I accept the validity of your arguments. That L.A. depends for the most part on its roads and highways while having the lowest road mileage per capita of American metropolitan areas is well-known. The natural conclusion to draw would be that building more roads would be beneficial. But here’s my question – how are you going to do it? You yourself pointed out that the L.A. metropolitan area is the most densely populated, on average, in the country; that means that in the built-up urban area, which suffers most from traffic, there’s nowhere to put new roads.

    The 710 is a perfect example: a missing link in the transportation network that logically should be completed (much as I hate to admit it someone born and raised in South Pasadena), but you can’t build it without severely disrupting the 25,000 or so residents of the city, not to mention everyone living from the north city limits to the 710 stub in Pasadena, the residents of El Sereno, and various others. The most traffic-choked areas of the Westside could use a modern version of the planned Beverly Hills Freeway, according to your metric, but the prospects of tearing down valuable property and smashing through well-heeled neighborhoods are slim to none. The only roads you’ll be able to build are out in the middle of nowhere like the eastern 210 extension, which has merely induced more sprawl out in Fontana and moved the traffic on the older section from Azusa to downtown Pasadena further towards unmitigated misery.

    The real problem here is that the size of roads that you would need to carry everyone who wants to go to and from regional destinations in L.A. is so enormous that they will a) never be built, and b) sacrifice much of what made the destinations valuable in the first place to unproductive asphalt. If only for this reason, mass transit is vital to the Los Angeles region, because it can carry people efficiently in a small footprint when roads can’t. I’d argue that it also has vast environmental and social benefits as well, but you don’t need to believe those arguments to realize the necessity of transit.

  • Yuri

    @JoeLinton: My thoughts exactly, but couldn’t have said it any better!

    It’s kind of interesting in these debates how the status quo is ‘realistic’ and all the alternatives are ‘unrealistic’. If the majority of the people are happy with the status quo of 60+ years of overemphasis on freeways, how did Measure R even manage to pass? It should have gotten only 3% of the vote from a few crazy transit advocates.

    It’s a common fallacy that increasing rail construction will necessarily lead to less money for bus operations. Sure, that’s what the MTA did in the 1990s, but they also promote widening freeways. If they were serious about moving people and preparing for a more congested future, they would be shifting money away from freeway construction to all forms of transit, including those unrealistic bikes.

  • I don’t think sprawl and cars are a very realistic way to organize human settlements. What are we going to do about climate change? What are we going to do about oil scarcity? What are we going to do about the roughly 40,000 people who die every year so that we can glide around effortlessly in our little cocoons? What are we going to do about the loss of habitat as the human population expands? What are we going to do about America’s obesity epidemic if we don’t live in places where walking, cycling and transit are viable modes? Hell, what are we going to do when the baby boomers retire and get too old to drive safely?

    Cost-benefit analysis is very tricky and very susceptible to mis-quantification and non-quantification of things. This is a struggle about conflicting values and conflicting goals.

  • Spokker

    “Chief among these is the unfortunately very common condition of over-emphasis on rail construction resulting in reductions of existing bus transit service and large fare increases”

    How have you determined that an emphasis on rail construction has resulted in large fare increase (increases that aren’t even that large, and remember, frozen fares for seniors)?

    When you consider something like Measure R, remember that it was something LA County voted on for the sole purpose of funding rail construction. If Measure R was voted down, that money would not be going to bus operations, it would have stayed in taxpayer’s pockets.

    Taxpayers have voted loud and clear that they support rail construction.

  • Spokker

    Let me add that those voters include drivers too. If 66% of voters in LA County voted yes on Measure R, and only 11% of workers commute to work via transit (less by rail), you have to conclude that a significant amount of drivers chose to fund rail construction (as well as bus improvements and freeway improvements, but mostly rail), with an increased sales tax.

    Whether drivers are right or wrong, we’ll see, but this was an issue that voters have made their preference clear on.

  • Tom Rubin

    Joe, if you are getting around by bike, and it works for you, hey great! Not only that, but I have been a strong supporter of increasing emphasis on cycling for many years; when you compare the cycling modal split in LA to that in places like Germany and the Low Counties — WHICH HAVE SOME RATHER SIGNIFICANT WINTERS — you have to wonder what is going on here.

    However, there are some real limits to how many people can actually use this as one of their primary means of people transportation — and, if we are talking about goods movement, well, besides bringing a a bag or two of groceries home, there ain’t gonna be much.

    Spokker, you ask, “How have you determined that an emphasis on rail construction has resulted in large fare increase (increases that aren’t even that large, and remember, frozen fares for seniors)?” Well, I have done so by being in the transit biz for over 35 years, serving over 100 transit operators all over North America, and being the chief financial officer of the old SCRTD and the chief transportation expert for the plaintiffs in Labor/Community Strategy Center v MTA, which stopped MTA from doubling fares — and not only stopped an eleven-year history of losing 12 million riders a year while MTA was fixated on rail expansion, but turned it around to a 12 million a year GAIN for the next decade. Unfortuately, this result was not at all limited to LA. Also, you may wish to reread Measure R — while rail transit is the biggest portion of the proposed spending, there are significant funds in it for both buses … and highways.

    Chewie, you appear to be blaming most of the ills of the world on the auto. I don’t have the time to reply to all here, so I’ll just say that you are making a lot of claims without much foundation and, IMHO, the automobile is one of the greatest human inventions of all time and has provided more benefits to more people than almost any other technical advancement you can name.

    (I have a feeling that we may not be able to come to consensus on this and other elements of our world views.)

    Ypres, you make excellent points re our current inability to do much to add road capacity through paving. We got about half-way through the freeway construction plan by the early 1970’s — and there have been only a few significant additions since. (Of course, when you look at the map, and particularly ones like the Malibu Freeway and the Topanga Canyon Feeway, the only thing that goes through your mind is, “what they heck were they thinking?”) We have already widened our freeways to about the maximum (our average freeway is 8.33 lanes, compared with 7.51 for number two — wait for it — Salt Lake City).

    There ARE things that can be done to increase road capacity. One is to max out on traffic signal timing improvements — which will require that many of the small cities stop trying to do everything themselves. I’m in favor of congestion pricing, but many of the specific plans I’ve heard do not impress me — particularly turning HOV lanes into HOT lanes, which will REDUCE road capacity. Double-decking existing freeways is a possibility in some places, but, this must be done with extreme care for a number of reasons I won’t bother pointing out to this group.

    On-street parking can be significantly improved. Prof. Shoup’s “85%” policy — price on-street parking so that 15% of the spots are always open –seems to be well worth trying on a demo basis in a few places, and, if it works, can be quickly expanded.

    Keep this in mind: When it comes to trying to improve transportation in LA, there are no silver bullets. What we are going to need is a whole bunch of little things, which, commulatively can have a noticably positive impact. In particular, spending billions and billions more on more rail is going to take away both financial resources and attention from a lot of things that CAN be practical and have an impact that is not extremely minor compared to the cost.

  • Tom, I wasn’t asking for your resume. Preferably, I’d like to see a causal explanation for why rail construction leads to higher fares.

    Are you saying that if we never started to build light rail starting with the Blue Line, we would not be seeing a push to raise the fare to $1.50? What would the fare be? $1? $.75?

    And if it is true, why is it a bad thing when the county has been voting to fund rail construction? Again, Measure R was mostly about rail. That’s what it was marketed on. If the majority of voters want trains, is it wrong to expect them to pay more to pay for it all?

    A balanced approach to transportation is needed, and that balance also includes rail. If rail is seeing more investment right now, I imagine that’s a side effect of reconstructing all the rail we ripped out!

  • “Double-decking existing freeways is a possibility in some places, but, this must be done with extreme care for a number of reasons I won’t bother pointing out to this group.”

    This is a non-starter in LA County no matter how careful you are.

  • “Chewie, you appear to be blaming most of the ills of the world on the auto.”

    Cars are a contributing factor to every problem I listed: climate change, oil scarcity, the 40,000 annual dead, habitat loss, and obesity. There are good things about cars. I own a car. But I think we’re altogether too reliant on them in general. I think cars make a lot more sense in rural areas than they do in sustainable cities. America has excellent car infrastructure (albeit poorly maintained). Now it’s time to build infrastructure for the other modes of transportation.

    “(I have a feeling that we may not be able to come to consensus on this and other elements of our world views.)”

    Now that’s something I can agree with!

    I’ll tip my hat to you for arguing this on Streetsblog. That takes some guts.

  • MU

    @Tom Rubin – If your goal is to increase road capacity I would just point out that increasing rail, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian facilities generally has this effect. By removing cars from the road, effective capacity is increased for all remaining drivers. The cost/benefit calculation for rail specifically for this benefit may be questionable, but only if you look only at this single effect. And if you want real bang for your buck, look at improved bicycle infrastructure. For a ‘minimal’ investment (<$100 million), Los Angeles could have a top notch, city wide system of bike lanes and other facilities. It is not unreasonable to think that this could shift transit mode to bikes by 1-2%. Show me the freeway construction project that would increase road capacity city wide by 1-2% for this kind of money. This is the equivalent cost of 1 single mile of the 405 project.

    The arguments against mass transit and bicycle infrastructure specifically often come down to the "not everyone can get around this way" concept. True, but still a meaningless argument. Not everyone needs to ride a bike. But everyone, drivers included, get the benefits of mode shift to bikes and transit. We have a transportation system, not a series of separate systems trying to replace the others.

  • Tom Rubin

    I’ve got several items to respond to, and I’ll have to fit them in as I have time.
    Spokker, you were first, so, here are the details of, “How have you determined that an emphasis on rail construction has resulted in large fare increase (increases that aren’t even that large, and remember, frozen fares for seniors)?”
    Let’s look at the history of SCRTD/MTA fares over the past three decades. Back in 1979-80, the full adult cash fare on SCRTD was $.55, and that went to $.65 at the beginning of the FY81 year on July 1, 1980. In the fall of 1980, Prop A was passed, which promised a three-year roll-back of fares to $.50. This didn’t go into effect until July 1, 1982, because LACTC was so sure it was going to lose the legal action challenging the half cent sales tax (it passed at the polls, but not with the “Prop 13” two-thirds majority) that it didn’t begin collecting the tax until the California Supreme Court ruled it was OK (in the mid-1990’s, the non-Rose Bird Supreme Court reversed itself and said that two-thirds WAS the requirement, but this was too late for anyone who wanted to challenge Proposition A or 1990’s Proposition C, the second LA Co. half-center — and was why Measure R needed two-thirds).
    On July 1, 1981, the fares went to $.85.
    Then, on July 1, 1982, they went down to $.50, and stayed there for three years.
    During this time, SCRTD ridership went up over 40%, the most remarkable ridership increase in U.S. post-WWII transit history. For decades, the standard rule of thumb for fare elasticity in transit was -.33, for every three percent increase in fares, there will be a one percent decrease in ridership. This will vary significantly for individual situations, but, as an overall average, it has held up extremely well since it was first postulated in the late 1940’s by Simpson-Curtin when NYC was looking at a fare hike. For SCRTD over this three year period, the elasticity was a bit over -.9 — for every 10% reduction in fares, ridership went up over 9%. There has never been anything like this in recent U.S. transit history.
    This ridership increase was done almost entirely by cramming them in like had not seen since WWII, because the vehicle revenue miles only went up 1.5% over this period.
    OK, we’re the transit decision-makers in LA, we’ve just seen one of the most successful transit ridership increases that anyone has ever seen, so, what do we do now?
    Of course, we cancel that and try something else — let’s build RAIL LINES!!!
    In fairness to the LACTC Board, that’s what Proposition A said would happen and, without going back to the voters, LACTC didn’t have the power to change that. It is also fair to say that there wasn’t anyone at LACTC who had the slightest interest in trying to make such a change.
    The cost of the fare reduction was a bit under 20% of the total sales tax collections during this period, which came out of the 35% of Propositon A that was dedicated to rail construction and operations.
    Now, here is where things started to go downhill.
    LACTC had been receiving, and banking, the “other” 15+% of the 35%, and was using this for the preliminary work on rail construciton, planning, design, environmental clearance, and buying up some land. At that time, there were two priorities, what we now know as the Blue Line and the Red Line. SCRTD was responsible for the Red Line, but LACTC itself was doing the Blue Line, as well as the long-term planning for the entire “11-line” system that was on the Proposition A map.
    July 1, 1985, the SCRTD fare went back up to $.85. SCRTD tried everything it could think of to get funding to continue the reduced fares, but the emphasis was on building rail. While I strongly argue that keeping the fares low would have been the better use of these funds if the objective was to increase transit utilization, I have to conceed that this would have only been possible through going back to the voters — although there were some other funds that could have been shifted so the increase didn’t have to be so much, so fast.
    Unfortunately, LACTC had been planning on using not only the prop A 35% rail money for rail construciton, but also the vast majority of the 40% discretionary. Didn’t happen, these funds were needed to continue to operate the county’s bus systems and to expand the demand-responsive service for transit-disadvantaged. Also, LACTC had greatly underestimated the cost of the Blue Line, which it originally throught would only run about $125 million to build.
    So, LACTC decided that it would NOT go after any Federal or State funds for the Blue Line, allowing the Red Line to go after those (with good success), and would fund the Blue Line 100% in-house.
    Unfortunately, by the time that the Blue Line was completed, the total cost, including the interest payments to finance this project far more expensive than had been believed, had reached about a billion dollars.
    Which meant that every dollar that could go to rail — and for LACTC’s own, in-house, Blue Line — had to go for rail.
    July 1, 1988, the SCRTD fare went to $1.10. Again, SCRTD tried everything it could think of to not have to do this, but this was the lowest fare increase, coupled with service reductions, that could be managed.
    During this first period, ridership dropped by well over 10%.
    By the Summer of 1990, it was very obvious to the good people at LACTC that they were in trouble. The public — and the various politico’s — had been promised eleven rail lines when Proposition A was presented to them in 1980. At that time, the first leg of the Blue Line had gone into service (July 14, 1990) with the last leg scheduled for opening on February 15, 1991. The first (MOS-1) segment of the Red Line would not open until early 1993, there was funding to pay for the second (MOS-2), and pay for part of the cost of the Green Line, but NOT for anything else, not for years.
    So, LACTC went back to the voters with Proposition C, the second half-cent transit sales tax (20% of it was dedicated, probably illegally, for HOV lanes). In return, the voters were promised many of the rail lines that had been included in Proposition A.
    By 1994, after the merger that formed MTA out of SCRTD and LACTC, it was very obvious that there were huge problems; it was simply not possible, even with Proposition C money and some new, and previously unexpected, State ballot proposition money, trying to complete the Red Line to North Hollywood, plus extensions down Wilshire and to the Eastside, plus what we now know as the Pasadena Gold Line, plus the San Fernando Valley E-W subway, were just not going to happen; it couldn’t be done.
    So, part of the response was, some of the money had to come from bus, as far as was possible.
    The proposal, which was passed, was for the fare to go to $1.35 on September 1, 1994. However, this was far more than a 23% increase from the $1.10 fare that was in place because MTA decided to get rid of just about all passes, which were very widely utilized. From my analysis of the details of the fare increase and adopted budgets, I got an average fare increase of a bit over 100%.
    Now we get to the question, were the SCRTD/MTA transit riders paying their “fair” share? There are a variety of ways to look at this. The actual average fare on SCRTD buses was lower than many of the big-city peers of SCRTD/MTA, but, this actually worked to IMPROVE financial performance. The buses had the heaviest passenger loads in the industry, and, as a result, the taxpayer subsidies per passenger and per passenger-mile were the best — the VERY best — amoung U.S. transit operators. The buses were overcrowded, which made for quality issues, but, as far as paying their way, the bus riders in LA were leading the pack, were far out ahead of the pack — and the LA taxpayers were getting a very sweet deal. SCRTD/MTA bus was also the leader in capital utilization, no agency got anywhere near the annual passenger miles per bus that we did.
    The comparable statistics for the rail lines were terrible in all regards. In fairness, while the Blue Line had had some time to mature by then, the Red Line was a 2.97, five-station system with a quarter fare, so it was premature to make any global findings about it. The Blue Line was experienced good ridership, but this was due, in very large part, to the extremely low fares for all rides, including end-to-end rides.
    Does this sound like doing great harm to what was, in many ways, the best financially performing bus system in the nation to finance expansion of a rail system with not particularly good results was perhaps not the best idea?
    Keep in mind that there were two separate, but related, financial impacts from this huge fare increase. One was, of course, that there was going to be a very large increase in fares, both per rider and in total, and that increase in the total fares would go pretty much straight to the bottom line. The other was one of rationing — because the fares were going up, ridership was going to go down, to the extent that MTA could significantly cut back on bus service, lay off a lot of drivers and mechanics, and reduce its capital requirements for replacement buses. Over a period of about two-three years, the “rationing” impact was probably going to be more than the increased fares impact.
    This fare incrase was the direct cause of the Labor/Community Strategy Center v MTA Federal Title VI (discrimination in the utilization of Federal funds) lawsuit which eventually produced the Consent Decree (CD) that was in effect from late 1996 to about 2007.
    From the peak of SCRTD bus ridership in FY85, the last year of the fifty-cent fare, to FY96, the year before the CD went into effect, total SCRTD ridership (incuding Blue Line, Red Line MOS-1, and Green Line) fell from 497 million a year to 375 million (after adding back 10 million for lines that where transfered to other operators during this period), or about 25%.
    By 2007, when the CD ended, MTA ridership was back up to 495 million (505 million if you add the ten million mentioned above.
    This was done thru three main means, fare reduction (the $1.35 cash fare was retained, but the monthly pass was saved, at the pre-legal action price of $42, and new weekly passes, which proved very popular, also went in), adding service to existing lines (this was done to relieve overcrowding, but MTA somehow never figured that their proposal, for a “load factor” standard limiting standees, would require them to add a lot of service as people who could previously not get on bus due to overcrowding would use transit more), and a few new bus lines.
    During this CD time period, it is pretty hard to say that MTA had stepped away from building rail lines. Red Line MOS-2A (to Wilshire/Western(, MOS-2B (to Hollywood/Vine), MOS-3 North (North Hollywood), and the Pasadena Gold Line all went into service, major construction was underway on the Gold Line Eastside, major planning/design work was done on the Expo Line, and major planning work on many other lines. MTA also paid for a major share of the cost of Metrolink expansions and also built the Orange Line BRT, which is guideway transit (as implemented, not one of my favorite transit expenditures, but, if pressed to say something good about it, well, at least it wasn’t anywhere near as dumb as light rail would be).
    Yes, a lot of the ridership increase during the CD period was rail, but over half of the total increase was bus, most of the rail passengers were former bus riders (which makes the increase in bus ridership over this period even more amazing), the low fares in the CD certainly did quite a bit to attract new riders to rail, and, without the bus service improvements, a lot of people would not have been able to get to the rail stations.
    Now that the CD is history, MTA is again reacting to shortfalls in its rail capital expansion budget by looking to increase bus fares and reduce bus service (in fairness, rail fares will also increase and there will be something of a reduction in rail service). The problem is, the people who use MTA bus service are very poor; the last survey showed the median household income to be about $12,000. A $10/month increase in the cost of a monthly bus pass for a family that has two wage-earners who both need transit to get to their jobs is $240/year — 2% of annual pre-tax income, which means a lot of food doesn’t get to the table, to say nothing about actually having a table to put the food on.
    I have seen very similar fare increases, for very similar reasons, in many other U.S. cities.
    I hope this assists you in understanding the point I’m trying to make.
    Tom Rubin

  • Tom Rubin

    MU — you state, “If your goal is to increase road capacity I would just point out that increasing rail, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian facilities generally has this effect. By removing cars from the road, effective capacity is increased for all remaining drivers.”
    As to transit, this sounds very reasonable, but, when you actually do the research, this is not backed up by the data. There is a limit to how far I’m going to go in describing the results here, as the paper is due to be published in a few months, but there is NO statistical relationship between transit usage, or increase in transit useage, and reduction in congestion for large urban areas. In fact, the results actually show congession getting worse as transit usage increases — BUT, this is not statistically significant.
    While this seems rather counter-logical, when you get into some specific places, you can get a picture for what is going on. In Portland, which is the poster child for smart growth and transit improvement, and which has shown the greatest growth in transit usage since the early 1980’s, there was actually a strong positive link between transit usage and traffic congestion. The first light rail line was financed by “trading in” an Interstate highway that had been approved and financed — and then, to build it, they took away a HOV lane on a freeway into downtown that carried more transportation work than the light rail line. The region has adopted a strong policy of transit preference, which has meant reducing investement in road capacity, even by contemporary American standards. This has been particularly troublesome as I-5 through Portland is the prime N-S truck freight corridor in the Northwest and the lack of upgrades to the Columbia River crossings have made Portland a place that most truckers would rather avoid. (The current proposal is for a bridge that will include a light rail line — which my analysis does not show as a particularly good transportation project, especially when compared to alternatives such as an HOV/HOT lane that would be usable by express buses from Washington to Oregon.) Portland Metro and Oregon in general have long opposed any expansion of the Columbia River Bridge capacity, which many in Washington State attribute to the varous smart growth policies on the South side of the river, which have evidently driven a lot of people who work in Portland et al to live in Vancouver/Clark County, over the river (and Washington State, although not as far into smart growth as Oregon, is hardly an anti-smart growth state).
    For the Portland UZA, Transit Unlinked Passenger Trips per Capita have increased 28%, 1982-2007, the largest rate of increase in the nation (for the 90 largest UZA’s, down 19%) — but, even in Portland, VMT/freeway lane mile grew 80% — which is MORE than the average of 55% for the 90 largest UZA’s.
    Interestingly, one of the reasons for this appears to be the strong local smart growth policies, particularly the urban growth boundaries. The limitations on new home construction has caused very large increases in the prices of the existing homes (which always makes such policies, and the politico’s who support them, very popular with the owners of such existing properties), but it drives many newcomers, and people who would like to move up, to the other side of the urban growth boundary. I know one person who who lives on the other side of the limit line, who drives many miles to the end of the Banfield light rail line every day, which he takes to his office — where he writes papers on the negative impacts of smart growth.
    I haven’t done the research on bicyles and pedestrians and traffic congestion, although I personally support reasonable expansions of cycling and pedestrian access. I do this, not because I expect a big, or really, any, real impact on congestion, but rather than, as long as this is not taken to excess, it is generally a good thing to do for other reasons, including supporting personal choice. I support personal choice, but, sorta, in way that I support your right to wave your fist around, up to the point where it reaches my nose — YOUR personal choice should not be diminishing the personal choices or others, or significantly impacting their rights.
    A good internet buddy of mine, who knows more about bicycle safety than anyone I’ve ever run into, is very much anti-bike lanes, and he has good reasons, because he feels that the only real solution is for drivers and cyclists to learn that the others have a very strong right to be there (or, as I tell my cyclist friends, “I fully respect your right to drive your bikes on the public roads; I suggest that you respect the mass of my car”). I find some of the recent behavior by auto drivers who have hit cyclists outrageous, and I find the failure of police departments to do their jobs even more outrageous.
    As I have said before, there is no silver bullet that will solve all our urban transportation problems, but there are a lot of little things that, together, can add up to some significant improvements. Of all these little things, I find cycling improvements to be one of the biggest — and least expensive to implement, when done rationally.

  • MU

    @Tom – Clearly you have far more technical knowledge and experience with the details of transit systems than I do. So I won’t question your specifics. But I would argue a few general points.

    – Saying that a city invested heavily over a certain time period AND road congestion increased does not show a causal relationship. Obviously many other factors affect congestion including where the transit is located, population growth, etc. Any quality study will account for these factors of course and the one you mention probably does. But my first question would be “do it’s conclusion account for what would have happened to congestion if the transit line had not been built?” A specific case where a car lane is removed to build a train of course is going to affect road congestion. But my general point is that all users on a system benefit from capacity increase of any part of the system, even if they don’t use that part.

    – You also seem to be arguing from the perspective that auto capacity and congestion must be the first point of consideration with all other factors being secondary. I would question that basic viewpoint. I understand that automobiles are the dominant transportation mode for most people and we cannot expect that to simply end in the short term. But I don’t think it is smart planning policy to simply say, “this is the way it is now, so we cannot plan for any other reality than that.”

    – On bicycle issues, I’m glad to hear that you see a role for them. You question whether they can have any “real impact on congestion.” Based on several cities’ recent experience, it is not unreasonable to expect to shift 1-2% of trips to bicycle with fairly moderate investment in bike infrastructure. In some places that may be difficult to do without some minor reduction in car lanes. But the amount of car capacity that would be reduced is usually vastly overstated. And in a city like Los Angeles a huge cycle network could be built without reducing travel lanes at all or only removing lanes that offer excess, unused capacity. (And yes, there is such a thing as excess road capacity in Los Angeles.) If you are arguing that reducing car trips by 1-2% would not have a significant impact on congestion, I would strongly disagree. I know there are a lot of generalities and assumptions in my statements, but I have yet to hear a valid refutation of them.

    – Regarding your friend’s view on bike lanes, this is a widely debated issue within the bicycle community and planners. He is a “vehicular cycling” proponent and they have some valid points. However, while there are cities that have good bike mode share that do not have lots of bike lanes, etc. they are all places where there was already a strong bike share as cars were introduced. What is very hard to find is any area where you increase bike share without adding lanes and other infrastructure. The general problem seems to be that non-cyclists and recreational cyclists have a misperception of the relative safety of riding in car lanes. Because they perceive it as “dangerous” (while it generally is not), they are hesitant to use the bike for transportation trips. Experienced cyclists like your friend know how to ride safely in traffic so they don’t see as much benefit to separate facilities. But pretty universally, when you add well designed, useful bike lanes to an area, you get a quick and durable increase in bike usage. If the goal is to increase ridership, the best way to do it is to add infrastructure. And as I both think we would agree, the cost to build bike infrastructure is so cheap that it seems to me to be worth a little experimenting. Look at what New York is doing if you want some good examples.

    – Finally to your point about supporting personal choice until “YOUR personal choice should not be diminishing the personal choices or others, or significantly impacting their rights.” Fair enough, but consider this: Every time you drive your car you are putting toxic chemicals into the air (regardless of the debate about global warming, see asthma, heart disease, etc.), you are funneling money to large multi-national corporations and hostile foreign governments, you are using a transport system that kills roughly 40,000 people a year in the US just in impacts, and one that encourages development patterns that lock people into a system that requires them to spend large portions of their income on transportation. To use your analogy, the current car centric system is pretty much punching us all in the face every day. I’m not some rabid idealist who thinks all cars will or should disappear. But to act like asking that we begin very small shifts away from focusing exclusively on cars as some sort of an attack on someone’s “rights” is a bit disingenuous.

  • Yuri


    I’m not going to defend the policies of SCRTD/LACTC/MTA/Metro because you can often take these as what *not* to do. Kind of like the MacGruber of transit agencies. Or does that distinction go to LADOT?

    Regarding whether increased preference for transit will lead to increased automobile congestion on the streets, it depends how it is done. But if it’s done properly, it should. Because there is a fixed quantity of space on the streets and if you dedicate space for light rail, bus-only lanes, and bike lanes, you will need to reduce space for autos. And that’s ok, an acceptable compromise in a world of limited resources. Because a bus carrying 100 people or a light rail carrying 300 should have priority over 1 person in their automobile on a public street. That is what is rational to me. What is irrational to me is to continue to give preferences to individuals over the collective. When I ride a bus or a train, I give up my private space and comfort and occasionally have to put up with other humans acting anti-socially. I should be compensated for that with a better commute than someone in their auto. When I ride my bike, I put myself at risk that a vehicle can run me over. But since by riding my bike instead of driving, I reduce congestion and emissions, I should be compensated at least with a small amount of space or visual indicators that signal to drivers that my bike belongs there. I prefer bike lanes because taking a lane with aggressive LA drivers driving 50 mph is risky. Even when I’m driving my car at normal speed, many times drivers will tail and honk at me to go faster, even though a passing lane is available. I usually ignore these attempts at intimidation, but on a bike you feel much more vulnerable.

    It is irrational to keep wanting to build more freeways when 60+ years of building them hasn’t produced the transportation utopia the original planners envisioned (Beverly Hills Freeway?? Malibu Freeway??). Instead we got a nightmarish mix of concrete, smog and gridlock. And acres of asphalt dedicated for auto housing. What Measure R signals is that people are ready for a change in the status quo. It’s not working and it’s time to try something else. That’s very rational and quite remarkable considering there are 3 generations of voters who have only known Los Angeles as the auto-centric paradise.

    In my utopia, you and I will still have the freedom to drive our autos. But since I don’t use it to commute, you and others sharing your views will have to put up with commute times that could be significantly more than what you have now. You would also have the freedom to pay for $10 gas because speculators pushed up the oil price due to real or perceived scarcity. And the freedom to pay for carbon taxes to compensate for the damages due to climate change and rising sea levels. And taxes to compensate for the health costs associated with emissions. And tolls implemented to dynamically control congestion on ‘freeways’. But if you still insist on driving your auto for a 100 mile commute, that’s your right and no one will take it away.

  • Tom Rubin

    MU — Let me explain the piece I mentioned. It is not an analysis of transit construction projects and their impacts, it is study of transit usage, in terms of unlinked passenger trips and passenger miles, and congestion, and changes in congestion, measured by the Texas Transportation Institute’s Travel Time Index, and looking for a relationship between them over the time period, 1982-2007. The hypothesis being tested was, in plain English, as transit usage increases, congestion decreases, and vice versa.

    We sliced this a lot of different ways, looking at the 74 U.S. UZA’s over 500,000 population, and the results were almost random. One categorization we did was to take the results for the 74 and put them in a 2×2 matrix. One axis was, transit usage and congestion moved in opposite directions vs. moved in the same direction; the other axis was statistically significant or not. The vast majority of the results for the 74, and for the total, were not statistically significant and the smallest grouping in this simple matrix was transit usage and congestion moved in the SAME direction and was statistically significant. When we used a national plot for all 74 for the 26 years, it was not statistically significant and they moved together.

    We were not trying to come up with the comprehensive congestion model. In my view, there are a large number of factors that go into congestion and, to the extent it would be possible to come up with such a model, transit is probably in there somewhere. There is the classic caution, correlation does not equal causation, but where there is virtually no correlation at all, it is generally safe to say there is probably no causation, or not very much. My view is that transit usage, and change in transit usage, is a very small factor in congestion because it is such a small factor in urban transportation in most UZA’s.

    What DID correlate, very well, was vehicle miles traveled/freeway lane mile, both on a national and specific UZA basis. For many major cities, r-squared was over .95.

    We had cities that DID invest heavily in transit, and there wasn’t much in the way of impact, and cites that DIDN’T invest in transit, with big fall-offs in transit usage, there wasn’t much in the way of impact.

    To paraphrase you a bit, I AM arguing that road capacity, and the use of that capacity, is the prime driver in congestion and all other factors are secondary, or even need not be considered. This is basic Econ 101, supply and demand, with the price expressed in time.

    There are a large number of urban transportation issues other than congestion, with one of them being the provision of a means of transportation for those that do not have access to an auto due to reasons of age, physical condition, economic status, or other factor(s). Transit doesn’t appear to have much impact on congestion. Transit is one of the few available methodologies, and by far the most important, that can impact the mobility for the transportation-disadvantaged. One of my big problems is I’ve spent 35 years in this business watching billions and billions of scarce transit dollars being spent to try to do things other than move people, particularly those people that don’t have other options, with little success, and frequently finding that the impact on moving people is negative.
    Reducing travel demand by 1-2% would have very little noticable impact over any length of time. Travel demand in LA generally grows more than that each year, if we aren’t in a recession. I have spent a significant portion of my career pointing out to planners that, even if they were able to achieve the 50% growth in transit usage they propose over the next few decades (which has very rarely been done, or even gotten close to, particularly in a major UZA), in terms of cars taken off the road, it is a fraction of the growth in travel demand that they have forecast.
    OK, I’m a CPA, so I tend to focus on numbers and dollars, but, if the objective is to have an impact in a public sector program, going with the alternative that can add a transit trip for well under $2 (which is what each added bus trip under the CD ran) is going to have a lot more impact than going with the rail expansion that costs over $25 per added trip.
    As far as dedicated bike lanes, I’m very willing to look at proposals on a case-by-case basis. Even if we are talking about taking an existing auto lane, OK, let’s take a look. The math is very well known and utilized and not all that hard to do. However, everyone needs to understand the big picture, and that there can be network flow and safety considerations that often can be vital.
    I think we can probably agree that the two dominant negative factors in bicyclist safety are: (a) the auto drivers that are ignorant and/or arrogant a******* and, (b) the cyclists that are ignorant and/or arrogant a******.
    OK, as to the usual “driving is evil” arguments:
    1. One person being killed in a road incident is unacceptable. That said, the American auto is one of the safest means of travel known — and is getting safer all the time.
    Last year, in the U.S. there were not the 40,000 highway fatalities that you and a previouis poster have claimed, but 33,963 (NHTSA) — 15% fewer. More important, the annual fatalities have been dropping for years, even as the number of miles driven increases steadily.
    Last year, the fatality rate was 1.16 per 100 million VMT, down from 1.25 the previous year, down from 1.36 the previous year, down from 1.42 the previous year, etc. In 1990, the rate was over two, in 1971, over five, and in 1944, over ten.
    Obviously, we have made tremendous progress in road safety — even as we will continue to make driving and roads even more safe.
    it is also interesting to compare transportation fatality rates as to what we now have with auto’s and what we had with pre-auto transportation. Around the turn of the century, railroad was the dominant means of inter-city transportation and, through commuter rail, streetcars, etc., a far more important component of urban transportation than it is now. At that time, about 10,000 rail fatalities a year was the norm — which, adjusting for the population of the U.S. then, is a higher rate rail travel then than for auto travel now. In 1900, the average person traveled about 210 miles by steam train and about 130 by electric (streetcar and electric interurban), for a total of about 340 miles. In 2006, the average U.S. resident traveled over 16,000 miles on the roads. That’s an improvement in the fatality rate per miles traveled approaching 500 times.
    Non-rail intra-city travel was also most interesting in pre-auto days. While there were streetcars after the late 1800’s — which had various safety problems of their own — the main means of transportation was animal powered. The emissions of these powerplants were major public safety problems, not to mention the common practice of, when the horse, mule, or ox died, it was f.o.b. street for others to worry about.
    2. Moving on to emissions, yes, this a problem, no doubt — and are you aware that every single one of the EPA’s “big six” has shown marked reductions over the past decades? CO, down 79%, 1980-2008; ground-level O3, down 25%; Lead, down 92%; NO2, down 46%; PM10, down 31%, 1990-2008; PM2.5, down 19%, 2000-2008; and SO2, down 71% 1980-2008 (I combined PM10 and PM2.5 into a single element for the “six”). Moreover, there were very significant improvements before EPA began these statistic time series in 1980.
    Now, here is the problem — asthma rates have been going up, very steadily, since 1980.
    While no one is going to argue that breathing anything on this list is good for you, how does one reconcile that every single monitored emission is going down strongly, but the asthma rate is going up? How can the rate amoung children of a given age be going up, where there is a very obvious limitation on the time period of exposure that limits the lifetime exclusion factor (like unsafe tanning in your teens coming back to bite you in the 50’s or 60’s) while the presence of each emission is going down?
    Perhaps we have a situation like that of peptic ulcer, where everyone knew that the causes were stress, spicy foods, and too much stomach acid, right up to about the time when those nice doctors from Australia were presented the Nobel Prize for Medicine for showing it was a bacteria — and that antibiotics could be effective against that bacteria.
    Are you, by chance, familar with the eczema-asthma hypothesis?
    3. As you appear to be very concerned about “funneling money to large multi-national corporations and hostile foreign governments,” I assume you are a strong supporter of ending the U.S.’s status as the only nation that prohibits oil exploration and development in its coastal waters and that you favor vastly ramping up nuc power plant construction and production?
    4. As for global warming, well, I often have to work very hard to try to make my point that the American auto and the way it is used is a good thing, but, am I happy that I don’t have to try to make the case for global warming.
    I’m sorry, that’s now “climate change,” evidently because with the data showing that the warming trend was not progressing the way that many scientist were projecting (hoping?) it would, that appears to be the “safer,” easier to defend, term.
    Thanks for your interest. You make good points and present good questions.
    Tom Rubin

  • MU

    Tom – Well, I’m an MBA, so I understand and appreciate the focus on “numbers and dollars”. But I think when it comes to public policy, you need to look beyond simple numbers sometimes.

    It sounds like the study you did shows that transit does not affect congestion is any significant way. Obviously without access to data and methodology I can’t reasonably comment on your results. But I will say that you have “proved” that investing in transit at typical levels in Texas is not a good strategy to reduce congestion. This does refute one of my earlier comments, but I think it misses the larger point. If congestion relief was the or a primary goal of transit, that might be a good argument against it. But I don’t think that’s the case.

    While providing mobility for lower economic level population is a major goal of transit, I also don’t think that is the only consideration in looking at transit policy. When you question the cost/benefit of rail over other transit modes I think you are on sturdier ground. There is a long running bias against buses as “undesirable” as a transit mode. There are others out there far better able to look at that debate, but I think you are right to question the benefits of $$ invested. There are times rail is clearly preferable and I would point out that any high speed and high capacity bus system is probably going to negatively affect car capacity more than rail. But, as always, its complicated.

    To your other points:
    1. It is true that cars are getter safer and safer. However, the statistics I’ve looked at show that trains are significantly safer. Comparing safety of modern cars to transport from 100+ years ago tells us nothing relevant I think.
    2. I’m also not a public health expert and it is true that cars are getter cleaner. Again, I think the case is there that transit is significantly cleaner although there is some strong debate about certain modes.
    3. I actually have no rigid objection to ramping up domestic oil production and nuclear to address some of the issues with our current energy policy. Of course, I don’t think that domestic oil production can be increased enough to have any major impact on oil imports. I think the simple fact is that oil costs are going to continue to go up, significantly, long term. Shifting a percentage to domestic sources may be preferable, but doesn’t fix the long term problem.
    4. I won’t argue global warming with you other than say that you obviously know that looking at a small number of data points in a geographically isolated area is not statistically relevant.

    Finally to the issue of bike safety I would say that the main problem is not actually either drivers or riders being ignorant or a********. Most drivers do their best to share the road and most riders do what they think is safe and reasonable given the road design and conditions. The biggest problem with safety is the small number of cyclists on the road. You can argue vehicular cycling versus on road bike lanes versus separate facilities. But the one thing everyone knows makes cycling safer is having more cyclists on the streets. This is highly statistically significant. We invest huge amounts of public money and force auto makers and purchasers to spend a lot of money to improve the safety of roads and cars. Imagine what would happen if we spent even a small percentage of that improving bike and pedestrian safety.

    Again, I’m not anti-car. But they have a lot of problems. Some of the biggest are the associated land use issues and their effect on communities. I just feel we’ve spent a long time pouring nearly all our resources into developing that system and in many ways it is getting worse and not better. And yet people seem to freak out when we argue that it might make sense to spend relatively small amounts trying other things.

  • Tom Rubin

    MU — I actually think we are moving towards consensus, although there are still some significant differences between us.
    I agree with you that congestion relief is not a primary goal of transit — in fact, one of the natural outcomes of my paper is that it can’t be, because it really can’t do that. However, this argument is very frequently utilized as a rationale to get the voters to approve taxes for transit expansion — which is one of the main reasons for the paper, to do some basic research to determine if such claims can be taken seriously.
    While I question the value of many of the newer rail systems, particularly in typical U.S. urbanized areas, I also firmly believe that the existing rail transit is absolutely vital to many existing urbanized areas. Can you image Hong Kong, London, Moscow, New York, Paris, or Tokyo without their rail transit systems? (I single out some of the largest and best know urbanized area, but I most certainly do not mean to imply that the list is not far, far longer.) I’ve even worked on several new rail transit systems that I’m very proud of, such as Vancouver SkyTrain. Unfortunately, I’ve also worked on some that I wish had never been (San Jose light rail immediately comes to mind) and have worked against far more, including many that I through were beyond stupid (BART to San Jose, Oakland Airport Connector, etc.).
    Trains are generally safer than auto’s, but rail safety varies considerably by mode. Rail modes that are totally grade separated, either elevated or subway, or otherise have exclusive rights-of-way with no rubber-tire or pedestrian crossings, generally tend to have collision, injury, and fatality stat’s that are significantly superior to auto’s. Rubber tire vehicles on dedicated guideways are also far safer than “street running” traffic. Freeways are far safer than surface streets, and the building of freeways is one of the reason why the auto fatality stat’s I presented have been dropping so far for so long. Rail modes WITH at-grade crossings, chiefly light rail and commuter rail, unfortunately, are far more dangerous than any other transit modes, including street-running buses. I had the unfortunate distinction of being the senior executive responsible for safety when the Long Beach Blue Line began service — and, for the first several years it was operating, we had exactly half of all U.S. light rail facilities. We would generally have about the same number of fatalities from light rail as we did from bus — and bus was carrying 30-40 times as many passengers as the Blue Line in those days.
    While auto safety has improved greatly, and will continue to improve, the incident rates are still far more than will ever be acceptable. The problem is, proposing to shift travel to rail because rail (or, at least, some types of rail) are safer has great difficulties because it will not be possible to provide the same types of transportation service and there is only limited potential to reduce the need for these types of transportation without completely rebuilding America.
    With any type of guideway transportation, one of the most important aspects is “the last mile.” People are not terribly interested in a ten-mile rail trip to their job downtown at 60 mph if it takes them half an hour at each end to access the stations. Because the auto DOES handle that last mile so well, particularly without the need for transfers, guideway transit will always be at a significant disadvantage for the vast majority of travelers — and we simply cannot afford transit systems that could even remotely approach the mobility of the modern American road system and private auto.
    (Many smart growth/rail transit advocates understand this very well, and their solution is to make transit more competative by making auto travel more expensive and less convenient. Not expanding road capacity, either through concrete and asphalt or improved technologies on existing roads, taxing auto users to pay for transit, limiting parking, etc., can all be variations on this theme. Not surprizingly, such proposals often are very hard sells to the public that has become used to private roadway travel.)
    While I do not claim any great expertise in energy, except for what I have run into through my transportation work (where, in a recent discussion, I showed that buses are generally less energy efficient than private auto’s — and buses generally match up well with most local rail modes), I do believe that there is significant value in making more use of our domestic resources. Our untapped oil reserves are considerable; our untapped natural gas reserves far more so. Personnally, I am not greatly concerned about peak oil, or when it may occur, as I see a natural market progression, as the price of oil as a motor fuel goes up, we will see two shifts: (a) to vehicles that use such fuels more efficiently (there hasn’t been a major increase in U.S. fleet average mpg for well over a decade), and (b) shifts to other power sources — with CNG being one very obvious candidate. The only real question in my mind is which new power source(s) will prove to be the winners of this competition to eventually replace oil in the long run. I see both “interim” winners, like hybrids and plug-hybrids, and then long-term ones, such as electrics with superior battery technology and perhaps widespread rapid recharge stations and many even fuel cells (from my own involvement with them, I see a very long way before they are anywhere close to practical) — and, probably, things I haven’t even heard of.
    Here’s the interesting aspect of the U.S. and its unique self-imposed embargo on off-shore fossil fuel utilization — as the demand and supply cures for oil continue to shift, the value of these unused reserves will increase, while, at the same time, the technologies available to go after them will become more productive and less costly. As some point, those oil and natural gas reserves will begin to look a lot more like gold mines and, I believe, eventually these reserves will be openned up for extraction.
    Just don’t ask me to predict the year.
    As to global warming, we have enough to discuss without getting into that. I agree with you that “looking at a small number of data points in a geographically isolated area in statistically relevant” — to the context of global warming/climate change — but, since this is the first time that this has come up in this discussion, I’m not sure of what you are referring to. Perhaps we should just leave it at that.


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