Subway Critics Attacks Based on Faulty Logic

9 24 10 subway

Earlier this month the L.A. Times headlined its coverage of the release by Metro of the draft environmental studies for the Purple Line westward extension “Proposed Westside subway will do little to relieve traffic congestion, report shows” as if this was a searing revelation. Just proof again of the sad decline of the Times these past few years.

The follow-up anti-subway drum beat started up immediately. Richard Lee Abrams is a lawyer who has been of late placing ranting opinion pieces on the CityWatchLA website denouncing mass transit as 19th century technology and a scam to aid and abet developers and their evil plans to densify the city. His article on the subway draft environmental report doesn’t merely carry the ominous title “Westside Subway Study is Defective” but has the subheading “The Manhattanization of LA”. His solution is telecommuting which he claims is on the cusp of being a real way to do most of your business from the convenience of home. He calls it Virtual Presence. I call it a pipedream.

Then the L.A. Weekly engaged in a hit piece on the subway, quoting well known anti-rail zealots James Moore and Wendell Cox along with a smattering of statistics bent to make it appear the project is an utter disaster in the making.

The latest to join the anti-subway dogpile is Mark Lacter,  who writes on business for LA Observed. As a long-standing critic of the project it is no surprise his commentary is titled “Cracks start to appear in subway boondoggle” while the piece itself includes such words and phrases as “nonsensical”, “this project is as good as dead”, ” supporters are desperately looking for cover” and “politically inspired flim-flam”. He even hints a Republican takeover of Congress resulting from the upcoming midterm elections would spell doom for the project.  I guess he doesn’t remember the original Red Line was able to get federal funding in the midst of the very anti mass transit Reagan administration. Given the cost effectiveness numbers prospects for federal funding are fairly good if and when the transportation trust fund situation is resolved (hopefully next year).More than a few have asked who said the purpose of rail transit is to solve the problems of auto congestion? Also I see the entire argument as a strawman: Traffic is not a static situation. Any relief would be unnoticed as latent demand (drivers who otherwise would decide not to drive due to congestion) refilled the roads. New York has a stupendous subway system yet still suffers from gridlock. Does that make the subway a failure?

Congestion pricing like they have in downtown London is the real means by which to solve the problem of crowded roads and the subsidies that create same. But don’t hold your breathe for that one here any time soon–it would be truly visionary and challenge the status quo if a leader promoted pricing for L.A. Moore in the Weekly promoted expanding road capacity when if he had any understanding he’d have instead touted pricing. And note the critics say zero about ridership, therefore obscuring what a tremendous amount of use this subway line will have from day one. That truth will soon reassert itself and the collection of naysayers will go back to their grumbles and gripes while the process continues to move forward.

  • I just saw the LA Weekly piece yesterday. I think the thing that irritates me about the article is that the author takes the fact that politicians made a political mistake (of initially promising traffic reduction, whereas no transportation planner would have ever claimed the subway would do that) and uses it to support the argument that the subway is therefore a giant worthless waste and a boondoggle, while ignoring anything else remotely positive about the project, namely having an extremely fast alternative to sitting in traffic, to name just one. (Woof, that was a run-on).

  • Weren’t all those freeway projects going to solve the car-congestion problem by getting them cars off of our city streets? (h/t James Rojas)

  • Cartier, good point. The Weekly has become a bastion of far right nonsense since Jill Stewart became news editor. I more and more see the racks full of issues just sitting untaken, amazing from its heyday when it was a very popular essential read.

    Joe, My favorite nonsense solution to auto gridlock was automated freeways with platooning

    So.CA.TA and Sierra Club member John Ulloth when he heard this one made the salient point–what happens when the increased capacity this would allow spills onto the surface streets? Personally I laughed when one boosters rather diplomatically allowed the liability issue was an obstacle. Imagine the first time a glitch causes these speeding groups of cars to smash up–I shiver just thinking of the carnage.

  • Erik G.


    Yes. Let’s dust off the SR2 Beverly Hills Freeway and SR170 La Cienega/Laurel Canyon Freeway plans. The Baldwin Hills section of the La Cienega Freeway is already complete, so IIRC, no minority neighborhoods would have to be razed.

  • And grade separate Venice Blvd.

  • I think if Metro wants to be outraged about people and their assessments of their system they should probably actually use their system. I think the fact that they don’t use it makes them look a bit insincere in their dedication to public transit, rail, bus or any other non car method.

    Now if their system was awesome, I wouldn’t care, but since it’s very horrible. Put it this way I live a seven minute bikeride from Union Station. I have a bus that goes right in front of my house that is always packed, standing room only and it comes by every 30 minutes during BUS rush hour. Metro sets up their transit like a person who drives a car.

    What if people from PETA ate steak, that would be weird. Metro won’t even use their own system and owing to that no matter what they do it’s going to end up not working correctly, but I’m sure they will have some very cool brochures and social media to go with whatever project they completely mess up.

    I want the subway/rail whatever it is to be built, but people are going to criticize Metro, because they do a crappy job at planning things. Something very cool can turn into something very horrible owing to poor planning and that’s something Metro is very good at.


  • Theo T

    The Weekly has become a bastion of far right nonsense

    But you must be fully aware that Mark Lacter is pretty much a liberal Democrat? When it comes to transit issues in LA, he’s fairly typical of far too many people, progressives or otherwise, on the Westside and SF and SG Valleys. The folks who are not libertarians or conservatives, yet who suddenly change stripes and start expressing doubts about the size of public-sector budgets and the power of unions associated with the government.

    Lacter can be the lefty idealist when it comes to any number of issues in general. But the one time such idealism would be warranted — regarding a future in which it will be ridiculous if LA still is notoriously dependent on highways, more highways, parking lots, buses and gas-guzzling autos — he becomes a boring old stick in the mud and a shortsighted “realist.”

  • la rider

    What are the benefits of widening the 405, then the 101, then the 10 and the rest of our freeway system. Will traffic be alleviated? As far as I can tell, most of the times I drive on the freeway, non rush hour times, it’s still over capacity. Of course the subway will not immediately alleviate traffic. But it will make available an option for those who are willing to take public transportation an excellent opportunity to not sit in traffic.

  • Miguel

    I Love getting together with friends and going to a bar (or 4) once in a while. living off of the red line and having a bar near the red line saves me from risking myself from a DUI every time I decide to go out for a drink. (not that I’d do it anyway just saying) anyway, the more extensive/convenient a subway system (I.E. the more people it may serves) the less potential there is for drunk drivers on the road. To me, taking even one drunk driver off of the road on any given night can save many people from potential disaster. We’re so anti-drunk driving yet we have no other option. . . . although this line may not have a huge dent on traffic, its one step closer to the reality of having a more extensive & convenient system which has the potential staying away from cars while drunk. I’m not saying this subway’s going to save lives, but i’m saying maybe someone wont get killed because of one less drunk driver or even sober driver on the road.

    makes sense to me. . .

  • Jim

    It’s remarkable how the draft EIR is being touted as a black eye for the subway by its opponents. The executive summary of the report points out that any easing of congestion brought about by the subway would be offset by population growth. Rather than an occasion to cheer on the “Suburbia Über Alles” crowd, otherwise known as the people who persist in the fantasy of L.A. as a suburban “paradise”, the study should be seen as an indication that we’d better build it, and much more besides–or else we’ll be in serious trouble down the road. No pun intended. When cities get this big and and the people don’t build good transit systems, they end up like Port-au-Prince, Manila, and other impoverished megalopolises, choking in their smog and traffic.

  • Joseph E

    “When cities get this big and and the people don’t build good transit systems, they end up like Port-au-Prince, Manila, and other impoverished megalopolises, choking in their smog and traffic.”

    I any other city, they would add “… or Los Angeles” to that list.

    Los Angeles’s economy has been cramped for decades due to terrible car traffic and smog. I’ve lived in Northern California and San Diego, and half the people there would say “I would never move to Los Angeles, I can’t deal with the traffic, or the pollution.” Or they will complain about the lack of good neighborhoods, or how the city is “too big” to get around.

    Contrast this with London, Tokyo, New York, or even Chicago, where people have an alternative to traffic and tolls. People complain that those cities are “too popular” or “too expensive,” not that they are a bad place to live. That’s a sign of success.

    With our excellent port and rail connections, near-perfect weather, and good strategic location, Los Angeles should by all rights be the best, most desirable place to live west of Chicago.

    But people instead want to move to rainy Portland and Seattle and foggy San Francisco. Look at where the jobs are, the rents and housing prices, the number of people with graduate degrees, the number of new business. The Pacific Northwest and Northern California, even Denver and Salt Lake CIty, are out-competing Los Angeles, because our traffic sucks, our car-dependent neighborhoods provide too little choice, and political incompetence drives away talent and jobs.

    New York recovered from the dark days of the 1970’s. Los Angeles looked even worse in 1992, and has made a few good decisions (like rail lines, stopping freeway expansion, cutting smog, and improving the schools), but we have a long way to go. I hope Los Angeles becomes a place people want to live and work.

  • James McMath

    Whether or not the Subway to the Sea project alleviates traffic (accurately projecting numbers out to 2035 is pie in the sky anyway), LA needs an alternative to road-based transit. Roads and freeways are already way over capacity. With population growth capacity issues will only be further exacerbated in the decades ahead. Even with substantial investment in roads and freeways there is no way that road systems alone can continue providing virtually all of the region’s transit capacity. It’s a physical impossibility. While rail is hugely expensive those costs must be amortized over the expected life of the system. NY and London’s subway systems have been in operation for well over a century now. I’m sure no policy experts would now say those projects have been a waste of money.

  • wanderer

    James’ point about the fallacy of 2035 traffic projections is well taken. I’ve talked to the people who write EIRs, and they know this. But they have to make these projections for both legal and political reasons. The projections assume that everything will be basically the same with driving–no major change in cost, no change in fuel availability and implicitly no change in technology (that might change relevant terms). It’s possible that will be the case, but I wouldn’t want to build my worldview on it. There are all sorts of reasons to build the subway, but as always the project’s opponents will use the EIR to try to build their flawed case.

  • Bob Zwolinski

    …and after all of these years, the hundreds of people exiting a 6-car subway train at Wilshire/Western in rush-hour have to cram onto a stinkin’ 60-foot bus to continue their journey further west.
    That’s something I would expect from a 3rd-world country, not from a world-class city like Los Angeles…
    [Oooops… Sorry BRU… Didn’t mean to be politically incorrect.]
    I’ve read all of these nay-sayng articles. They’re full of hogwash!
    The Wilshire transit corridor has been studied to death for the last 50 years. The 720 is way over-burdened, trying to handle the load of a non-existent high-capacity subway.
    We know where the line needs to go. Let’s get it built NOW!

  • Joel

    Everybody would agree that if we’re going to build any subway, Wilshire Boulevard is top priority, by far. And nobody would deny the incredible, crushing traffic in which both cars and buses are now stuck every day.

    Build the Wilshire Subway now.

    150,000 people ride the Red Line every day. If half that many ride the Purple Line, it will be worth it.

    Build the Wilshire Subway now.

    UCLA. Miracle Mile. Century City. LACMA. Beverly Hills. Koreatown. Fairfax District. VA Hospital. Restaurant Row. Downtown L.A. All accessible without a car.

    Build the Wilshire Subway now.

  • Scott Mercer

    These libertarian rants from the likes of the LA Weekly and Mark Lacter (whose web site I read all the time) may not deter the convinced and the transit faithful, but they sure are going to arouse the muddled minds of the great grousing masses who aren’t really paying attention.

    People who understand why the Subway (Near) The Sea has to be built have to fight agains this ignorance and nay-saying. Go on web sites this one and leave comments. Talk to your neighbors. FIGHT BACK.

    The Red Line carries up to 150,000 people a day. You sure you want to stick all those people back into cars, or cram them on to buses? If that did not exist, where would those people go? And building the Purple Line out has a “networking effect.” Not only would those people directly served by the line (within 1/2 mile of a station) have access, but now others boarding elsewhere in the system to go to work along Wilshire could use it as well.

    With the roads as crowded as they are, ANY reduction in the number of vehicles will be noticable.

    Build the Wilshire Subway NOW!