Santa Monica, Westside Political Leaders Disagree on “Go Zone” Congestion Pricing Proposal

Mobility Go Zone &; Pricing Feasibility Study
Mobility Go Zone &; Pricing Feasibility Study

The big headline from this morning’s news roundup was a new study released by the Southern California Association of Governments that found a congestion pricing charge of $4 at peak hours could reduce car traffic congestion by 20 percent during rush hours. The charge would be coupled with improvements to transit serving the area. In addition to reduced car congestion, the study forecasts big benefits for walking, bicycling, transit ridership, carpooling – and therefore big improvements in air quality, public health, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, which has the support of transportation experts at UCLA, environmental analysts at the NRDC, and at least one Westside politician, Assemblymember Richard Bloom, analyzes the benefits of creating of “Go Zones” where congestion pricing would decrease car congestion during the busiest hours.

SCAG's report estimates big gains for green transportation, health, and the environment
SCAG’s report estimates big gains for green transportation, health, and the environment

“Communities around the state are calling for creative ways to address congestion and improve mobility. It’s time for the state to heed that call,” said Bloom, who represents Santa Monica, Malibu, Beverly Hills, and other Westside cities.

“We have seen congestion pricing work around the world and this report shows us that it can work in California’s beleaguered cities, as well. I hope to facilitate ‘Go Zones’ with legislation allowing for a small number of locally determined pilot projects that provide measurable community benefits.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-28 at 12.29.28 PM

The boundaries for the SCAG cordon area includes the communities of Mar Vista, Brentwood, and a chunk of Santa Monica between the I-10 and Santa Monica Boulevard from the eastern border to 20th Street.

SCAG's potential Westside congestion pricing cordon includes parts of the cities of L.A. and Santa Monica
SCAG’s potential Westside congestion pricing cordon includes parts of the cities of L.A. and Santa Monica

Conventional thinking might have placed the cordon around downtown L.A., as central cities are most typical for cordon pricing programs around the world, including Stockholm and London. SCAG researchers found that the transportation corridors on the Westside experience more traffic congestion than does central L.A., hence Westside road pricing would result in greater reductions to car congestion.

Among the proposal’s early detractors is Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who has been a stalwart promoter of a transportation system with robust options outside of the car, even when it angers his constituents. On his personal Twitter, Bonin lashed out at the report this morning.

Between 7:15 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. this morning, Bonin tweeted six times a series of attacks on the study (not the concept of congestion pricing). Bonin’s objections range from equity concerns to a lack of transit options on the Westside to complaints that other areas of the city make more sense for this pilot.  He concludes by attacking SCAG for ignoring comments sent to them years ago that went into more depth on these points and for setting back the cause of bringing congestion pricing to Los Angeles for years.

Of course, a proposal from SCAG does not have the weight of law behind it. And the devil – especially with regards to equity – is in the details. Any congestion pricing project must be structured in a way that serves the mobility needs of low-income Angelenos.

If a final Westside congestion pricing project doesn’t take a shape that Bonin could support, it would be politically dead. To be fair, his point has merit that pricing may initially work best in places – like downtown Los Angeles or, soon, LAX – where robust transit options exist.

Typically, around the world, congestion pricing programs have polled poorly in advance, but then enjoy majority support soon after implementation. Also typically those programs are accompanied by robust improvements in transit access to the areas affected by the charges.

So far, discussion on radio and social media about the Westside Go Zone proposal has focused on the costs: whether or not people would pay the $4 fee. What also need to be part of the discussion are the potential benefits: cleaner air, improved health, increased funding for transit, sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure and, of course, decreased car traffic congestion.

The feasibility study demonstrates that a Go Zone would reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 21 percent and vehicle hours traveled (VHT) by 24 percent during peak travel times. A more even distribution of trips throughout the day would reduce overall VMT by eight percent and VHT by ten percent for the average motorist.

As for the question of whether or not people would pay the $4 charge to drive into this area at rush hour, the overwhelming consensus is that they would not. But that many people wouldn’t pay the fee is kind of the point of the fee in the first place–it would keep people in cars from driving into the area.

Metro will be getting its own congestion pricing studies underway soon. These are not directly related to the Westside area proposal in the SCAG study, but SCAG’s findings could inform Metro’s efforts.

For more, read the Los Angeles Times articlethe full report, or SCAG’s press release.

  • Alexander DeLarge

    Bonin says that Westside isn’t served well by transit?

    Just High Quality Transit: Expo Line, Metro Rapid 704, Metro Rapid 720, Metro Rapid 788, and all the Big Blue Bus Lines.

    What is this fool and his foolish staff talking about?

  • HannahInManoa

    Congestion pricing only works where transit exists as an option. The West Side of L.A. may have relatively good public transit, but it isn’t CENTRAL LONDON (and it will never be, in the foreseeable future), where congestion pricing even applies to public transit!

  • It’s funny how we all complain about traffic until an actual fix like this comes along and then we complain about that.

  • Kevin Withers

    “Typically, around the world, congestion pricing programs have polled poorly in advance, but then enjoy majority support soon after implementation”

    Typically…? Can someone please flesh this statement out with some facts & specifics?

  • Ryan Kennedy

    The proposed Westside congestion zone is not the right solution. It reminds me of the Playa Del Rey bike lanes. It takes a legitimate solution and applies it to the wrong place, thereby turning moderates against good urbanism.

    The proposed zone is larger than lower Manhattan but only has two train stops and zero bus lanes. Most of this area is more than a mile from the train stations. This part of the Westside isn’t even that dense or populated. The chaos here stems from the break in the grid caused mostly by the 10 and 405 freeways and recently made worse by the at grade crossings of the Expo line.

    There is a legitimate pro-walkability, pro-urban argument to be made for re-connecting the grid under the freeways, and very very selectively widening (Heresy!) certain key streets with ridiculous 1-2 mph speeds.

    The most advanced weapons like high speed transit, protected bike lanes, congestion pricing etc. should first be applied to truly urban areas like DTLA, Koreatown and Hollywood, and Westlake to create a core transit city, like Manhattan for New York. Politically, there has to be a strong core base of transit users and middle-class residents who live a car-free or car-light lifestyle for LA to become a true multi-modal city.

  • j1998

    newspaper headlines in Stockholm proclaimed pricing unpopularity before implementation, and popularity after implementation.

  • Exactly! The program was initially introduced on a trial basis. Read the Wikipedia version:
    “The congestion tax was implemented on a permanent basis on August 1, 2007,[2][3] after a seven-month trial period between January 3, 2006 and July 31, 2006.[4]
    “…A referendum was held in September 2006, a few months after the end of the trial period. In the referendum the residents of Stockholm municipality voted yes and in 14 other municipalities voted no to implement it permanently. ..”

  • I think that’s because of the price tag. People want government to mitigate traffic congestion, but they don’t want to have to pay for it. This happens with the more common types of congestion pricing.

    Planetizen: “Strong Opposition to Toll Lane Additions Expressed in Colorado”
    December 11, 2017
    “It’s not the widening of Interstate 25 that rattled attendees of the public meeting held by the Colorado Department of Transportation on Dec. 7—it’s the fact that that they would have to pay to use the new lanes.”

  • Matt

    Just because there are a few bus lines on the major streets doesn’t make the area any more transit friendly than other areas of LA. Everywhere in LA you have bus lines on major thoroughfares. The buses just sit in traffic here anyway. Sure there are 2 rail stations at the bottom of the area but they are far from the dense areas on Wilshire and Santa Monica where much of the new development is.

  • helloWorld

    people will just take uber over transit. it’s too dangerous

  • Alexander DeLarge

    These aren’t *just* bus lines, these are Rapid aka the faster bus lines. I didn’t even include ALL the other regular bus lines.

    So yeah, Westside does have good transit connections.

    People just don’t want to take them.

  • Matt

    Rapid bus lines are everywhere in LA. They aren’t really rapid. In an area with large high rises and more under construction and where only one street goes through the massive VA, it is easy to see the problems.

    As far as ridership, the Expo Line blows away the Green Line, the Eastside Gold Line, and even the Blue Line, whose ridership has tumbled over the years. I think it is obvious to everyone that the lie that only people in the poorest parts of the City use transit has been exposed.

  • Matt

    Hmmm. That doesn’t make any sense. They’d have to pay the fee through Uber. Uber and Lyft prices are expected to rise sharply anyway over the next few years as they are losing tons of money and the drivers hardly make anything as is.

    What is too dangerous? Sounds like someone who has never been on transit.

  • I agree with you, but it doesn’t reflect well on us that we want benefits but not costs. That’s not how real life works.

  • Alexander DeLarge

    Guy named Matt focuses on rail, colour me surprised.

    Numbers don’t lie, Metro’s own data shows that the vast majority of both bus and rail riders are low-income:

    If it makes you happy, there is an uptick of higher income whites and Asians in rail.

  • That’s why I really appreciate leaders who “do the hard work” as opposed to those who find reasons to avoid change that requires some (financial) pain.

    Resistance to congestion pricing is very similar to those fighting gas tax increases and replacing free parking with priced parking –they all represent removing subsidies to driving that drivers have long taken for granted.

    I’m encouraged by the fact that the legislature managed to finally pass a gas tax increase two years ago, and the voters last November resisted the call to lower gas prices by repealing the tax and fee hikes.

    Of course, it did take a toll on one Orange County legislator who lost his job due to the repeal effort.,_California_State_Senate_(2018)

  • helloWorld

    so you haven’t been on metro lately? I don’t want to see some dude masturbate themselves in front of me. I don’t want to to buy drugs from some dude, don’t want to buy tamales from someone. I see you did not hear about the recent sexual abuse and shooting on the Red line?

  • Matt

    I ride it quite a bit. Hundreds of times over the years. Never seen anyone sell drugs, murdered, or masturbate.

    Bad things happen on Uber too. Lots of stories about women sexually assaulted. How do you your Uber driver is a decent driver or not a drug addict?

  • Matt

    The article is about the Westside. However, bus ridership is sharply down in those areas as well.

    Your blatant racism and problem with my name has no place in Streetsblog or in this City.

  • zcake

    So basically the plan is to charge people who have no choice but to go to work $160 per month to drive there and back?

    Wouldn’t it be more practical to require businesses and schools to stagger the times their employees/students should arrive? Instead of having everyone arrive at work/school on the hour, have some companies require their people to come in on the half hour, 15 minutes and 45 minutes after the hour.

    It seems to be that charging $4 per trip could also hurt businesses in the high traffic areas. I suspect a lot of people will shop and get their services where they A) don’t have to pay and B) it isn’t a hassle.

    Btw, the closest Metro station to us is pretty unpleasant. There’s urine everywhere – including soaked into the train seats sometimes – and there are some other smells. They built a fence that the homeless people are sleeping against, and now you have to walk over sleeping people sometimes to get to the station. And at 6:30 am and 3:30 pm, the trains are so crowded that it’s standing room only from La Cienega to Santa Monica and back. My husband was very excited about taking the train, but he’s given up.

  • Councilman Bonin’s point is that without public transit alternatives, congestion charging isn’t practical, or goes against social equity principles.

    Charging to drive on congested streets is like charging to park in areas where there is not enough parking supply to meet demand – it shouldn’t be a measure of the amount of transportation alternatives available. [Imagine a street sign saying, because there is limited bus service, parking is free.]

    Yes, it’s better when there is a range of options, but that shouldn’t be the primary factor. I liked what Damien wrote:
    “SCAG researchers found that the transportation corridors on the Westside experience more traffic congestion than does central L.A., hence Westside road pricing would result in greater reductions to car congestion.”
    Charging for driving and parking is not meant to be punitive – it is meant to better manage a [public] resource in much demand.

  • Congestion pricing works on most of the express lanes where it’s applied, and it would likely work in the Westside cordon that was the subject of the study. “Working” means that traffic congestion is reduced, and use of alternatives increases, which is just what the study found.

    Cordon pricing, which is what SCAG studied, is something we have yet to see in the U.S., but it will be coming to Manhattan in 2021.