Getting to Know the New Metro Board Chair, Diane DuBois
The City of Lakewood is one of the more car-dependent cities in Los Angeles. Despite being the size of Santa Monica in population, under 500 people take transit to get to work. Even fewer walk or bicycle. Outside of a Dash Shuttle Van for seniors, Lakewood does not have its own transit system, relying instead on Metro and Long Beach Transit for service.
At first glance, this makes Lakewood City Council Member Diane DuBois an odd fit as Chair of the Board of Directors for Metro, the second largest transit operator in the country. DuBois is not a regular transit rider. However, she fondly remembers long trips from Gateway to Manchester and Vermont for violin lessons and sleeping on the J-Car from Huntington to Los Angeles to take classes in college (“I was in college, I had a lot going on,” she laughs about the experience.) When she does use Metro service, she finds the riders polite and informed, implying that many riders are repeat customers who are used to, and comfortable with the service.
She’s also served on the Metro Board of Directors for three years, giving her a first-hand view of Metro politics and dozens of hours of public testimony. As first Chairperson from the Gateway Cities, DuBois is ready for her turn in one of the most powerful positions in the region. She already understand there are limits on that power, and wants to work with the Board, and staff, and Metro riders to continue the county’s path towards multi-modalism.
“I’m a consensus builder, and I believe we have a tremendous amount of work left to do,” she replied in response to a question on how she would introduce herself to people who don’t know her. “We’’ll have to work together.”
When I sat down with DuBois last week, it was clear that under her leadership the Metro Board would focus on what needs to be done to keep the momentum moving towards building a transit system that works for all of Los Angeles County. While she looks forward to a future where Los Angeles County has an “extraordinary multi-modal transit system,” she also recognizes that many of Metro’s most exciting projects are currently slated to be completed decades from now.
“A lot of the things we have on the books, I’ll not live to see,” she replied.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do right now. Will there be another Measure J, the just missed effort to extend the sales tax to promote a better bonding atmosphere? “I would think so, we came too close.” In the meantime, she believes that Metro staff can be better utilized to keep projects moving through the pipeline.
“We have a very ambitious Measure R program,” DuBois says of the projects being planned and built in-part because of a county-wide sales tax passed in 2008. “In order to do that (get all projects constructed on time,) we’ve placed a lot of pressure on our employees…and that’s created some tension in the organization. I want to make this a kinder and gentler place to work.”
Another thing that Metro can do now to insure its future is to build and plan current projects to their best potential. The Master Plan process to re-imagine the station as a destination similar to Union Station in Washington, D.C. and Grand Central Station in New York City seemed to particularly excite the Board Chair.
The Capitol’s Union Station houses “a lot of retail” and Grand Central Station is “incredible.” While L.A.’s Union Station is smaller than either of the two east coast stations we discussed, an improved interior to match the historic feel of the exterior is important for more than just the station. “(A first rate station) can set a tone for the entire transit system.”
Before taking the helm of the Board, DuBois took a day tour of Metro, riding the Gold, Orange, Red, Purple, Blue and Expo Lines as well as some local bus service. When the topic moved to how Metro can encourage development around its transit centers that best utilizes the existing service, she was clearly impressed by the efforts in Pasadena and South Pasadena.
“If you go to Pasadena, you’ll see some wonderful work being done there,” she began. “If you go to South Pasadena, Mission Street, you can get off the train, and cross the street and there’s a great retail area….and there’s a train going right through there. It happened because Metro looked beyond the rails to the Transit Oriented Development.”
Discussing the development around transit hubs also brings up a question of the “last mile problem,” i.e. how to encourage people to ride transit if they have a long walk at the start or the end of the trip. She wants to see more communities do what Pasadena and South Pasadena are doing, creating multi-modal options to get people to the station.
“What an incredible opportunity we have,” she says of where Metro, and the region, sits today.
While DuBois rejects her former moniker of “highway queen,” it doesn’t mean she doesn’t believe transit expansion alone is a reliable way to build for the future. “I would like to have good transit to all parts of the county, but we can’t just have transit. We have to get freight out of Long Beach to Iowa,” she says of the traffic that flows from the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
But most of our discussion centered around transit, and highway expansion was brought up only as an aside when talking about multi-modal solutions. We actually spent more time on a surprising side topic than on highways.
“I was thinking of buying one (a bike), because they are good exercise. Don’t tell anyone, she laughed at one point. (Don’t worry, everyone that reads this story will keep it to themselves.)
“I can ride to City Hall instead of riding a car. But, I won’t ride to Metro meetings. I would have to leave the night before.”
If she’s thinking of joining the two-wheeled set, there’s no time like the present. After all, Lakewood’s neighbor is planning a CicLBia and there are few stronger statements in favor of multi-modalism that can be made more than a Metro Board Chair going for a ride with a few hundred thousand of her closest friends.