Comments on Rail Transit

3 Comments on Rail


Both subway and grade separated light rail are very expensive transportation options for extensive use in LA. They are usually used for suburban commuters to work centers. Therefore a more complete view of functions must be recognized and modes of transportation. It is a multi-modal transportation design that is needed to obtain a balance between transportation and land use functions in Los Angeles and its various communities. Where freeways and rail transit lines deal at the regional scale, what is of concern here is the sub-regional and community scales. This is essentially a domain where over 93% of the trips in LA County are vehicular and rail as proposed will comprise less than 3%. Vehicular trips work with these sub-regional and community scales not only due to economics but because they connect well to the land use patterns and architectural components that are Los Angeles in character. Therefore discussion of identifying what elements are needed to structure environmental and community needs is begun.

Comments on Rail
A 2005 Statement

I like bus transit more than rail transit, -a lot more-! Rail transit does not pay for itself in any way imaginable. Because rail is expensive it detracts from a complete and functioning transit system in Los Angeles. Flow Boulevards can help develop the extensive, flexible and rapid transit needed in Los Angeles.

I am sure that creativity in the use of small and large individual mobility vehicles has just begun. To me this means that freeways, boulevards and streets must be looked at in a creative way as well. The same goes for bus transit. With the combination of creative thinking about kinds of buses on an extensive network of road types the basic flexibility and convenience of these vehicles can come about. In contrast to this the comments on rail transit below should make you realize that rail transit does not belong in Los Angeles at the expense of a diverse, extensive, flexible and evolvable system of roads and vehicles.

Rail systems to date have taken place in a number of historic cities. Rail systems have been a success in these historic cities because they had an appropriate technology for the time and they grew with the emerging city becoming a part of the development pattern. Usually you find a radial, star like pattern with the center of the star being the downtown as in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. The BART system in the Bay Area is reasonable due to the lineal string of cities around the bay with the focus being San Francisco.

Los Angeles is not in a lineal geography or is there a radial development pattern with an exclusive downtown. Los Angeles has grown in a broad pattern with a grid of freeways having many downtown like employment centers. The attempt to impose a rail system on Los Angeles is fighting the natural geographic setting and the developed regional freeway transportation system and development pattern. As you will see below, by trying to impose a major rail system at this late date, the MTA is not allocating well the valuable transportation funds, thereby crippling the repair and improvement of the vehicular system of highways in central Los Angeles and impacting the mass transit system of buses. The MTA however, is not the bad guy, it has just been put in the position of “holding the bag” from an unfortunate history of events. The MTA is the comprehensive transportation planning body for Los Angeles. History has given the MTA the “broken freeway network” in central L.A. and beyond that the impossible Los Angeles “Centers Concept Plan” where identified centers in the L.A. area were supposed to be connected with rail transit. All of L.A. County tugs at its sleeve for transportation improvement favors yet these requests are far from consistent. Towards the end of this section I will propose what I think is a consistent and practical remedy for transit, but first let us delve into the transit dilemma further.

Criticism of rail transit can get involved and technical. There are other websites that I recommend here that begin to do justice to this issue. From the planning viewpoint, go to www.AmericanDreamCoalition.org. Look at the Rail Disasters 2005 report. The Los Angeles red line is evaluated as one of the great rail disasters. Another website, www.BusRidersUnion.org, is from the viewpoint of the bus rider. These are Los Angeles bus riders, the people that won the court consent decree to provide more buses for rapid transit. Go to the Resources section on the menu click on it, and then click on “A new Vision for Urban Transportation”. There is a lot of socialist orientation to the website, but other than that their ideas on transit are OK.

A few selected quotes from Rail Disasters 2005 would be in order here:

“Rail transit also harms most auto drivers. Most regions building rail expect to spend half to four-fifths of their transportation capital budgets on rail transit systems that carry only ½ to 4 percent of passenger travel (L.A. currently has less than ½ percent). This imbalanced funding makes it impossible to remove highway bottlenecks and leads to growing congestion.” This is where Los Angeles is! Central L.A. is sinking into highway gridlock because of the three freeways that were never built and that money is not being allocated correctly (see the beginning portion of the Flow Boulevard 2006, ‘Why L.A. has traffic Congestion’). The MTA response has been to try “getting people out of their cars”.

Another quote from Rail Disasters 2005 is in regards to planning and their forecasts: “One analyst calls the estimate of rail costs ‘strategic misrepresentation’, meaning that transit planners underestimate costs in order to get their rail plans approved. Another simply calls it lying. ‘I am convinced that the cost overruns and patronage overestimates were not the result of technical errors, honest mistakes, or inadequate methods,’ says University of California Professor Martin Wachs. ‘In case after case, planners, engineers, and economists have told me that they have had to revise their forecasts many times because they fail to satisfy their superiors’.” This is not a good position to be in as a planner.

The Los Angeles red line had a 100% cost overrun. The ridership shortfall was half of what transit planners projected. This adds up to big subsidies for rail patrons, fewer buses, and congested freeways and boulevards. More on the effects of rail transit on, commuting, congestion, taxes, energy usage, misrepresentation, safety and land use; read the American Dream Coalition website.

The Bus Riders Union is located here in Los Angeles and has been in court fights for years with the MTA. So the following quotes (from the website www.BusRidersUnion.org) hit closer to home. This quote is from the section, A New Vision for Urban Transportation, “The discussion and heated arguments about bus versus rail, both in the public arena and in the courts, have finally been able to shape the debate. At the core of the debate is the question, ’What is the objective of government transportation policy,- to serve the needs of the transit dependent, or to serve the needs of the choice rider and the needs of the transportation contract dependent?”. The contract dependent would be the tunnel, rail and station contractors and the professions that serve them.

The following is a chapter heading and is quite telling of how rancorous the fighting has been; “How the Los Angeles MTA Ran Public Transportation into the Ground: The Corporatization of Government and the Destruction of L.A.’s Transportation system”. The subject, among others in this chapter is the subsidizing of rail transit. In the chapter is a graph comparison of bus versus rail systems. Of particular note is the subsidy per passenger trip of between 33 cents and $1.17 for bus trips as opposed to $5.00 to $25.00 for rail trips. The $25.00 dollar trip subsidies are the Metro Link trips. So the tax payers are in effect paying the Metro Link riders $50.00 per day to commute to downtown L.A. and elsewhere. Wow! With subsidies like this, L.A. can not afford more rail transit!

The Bus Riders Union has identified L.A.’s transit system as racially discriminatory, separate and unequal, a two tiered mass transit system. The bus riders have fought in the courts and have usually won. But this issue is in the circumstance of being over looked now that the choice riders (the middle and upper class riders) are feeling needy too. It is difficult to get to work ! This is a time when an uninformed and often short sighted electorate can make some very unfortunate problems for Los Angeles.

How the MTA got going on rail transit is hard to say; 1/ The Centers Concept Plan, 2/ supposed glamour of big shinny trains like other big cities, or 3/ the “split”, that transportation and land use are not planned together. Remember the MTA makes comprehensive transportation planning, which is different than comprehensive planning of land use and transportation. Maybe the “split” simplified the planning task for the cities and the MTA. Facing the people with community problems can be hectic. It is easier to duck under ground and go in out of the way abandoned railroad alignments. Maybe it has just been bad timing.

Another problem vexing planners is sprawl. The MTA can’t build freeways fast enough in the expanding suburbs. Planners are even putting out an idea for a 3 billion dollar plus tunnel and road through the San Gabriel Mountains between Glendale and Palmdale, (L.A. Times article sept.18,’05, “With Traffic at a Crawl Planners Talk Tunnels”, by Dan Weikel, Jeff Rabin and Daryl Kelly). This incidentally is getting people into their cars making long trips to central L.A. and develops through traffic congesting our central freeways. The MTA is first saying get out of your cars, then they are saying get into your cars, -this is confusing- !

The answer, in combination with building denser communities near employment centers is of course to build Flow Boulevards. Congestion on freeways and boulevards can effectively be done away with. The FB puts rapid transit right in the high density corridors where it should be and with low cost many miles can be developed quickly. By not spending funds on rail, there would be enough money to get the required buses necessary to make bus transit attractive and extensive thereby serving the public efficiently. With high density corridors and high capacity FBs, home to work and supporting functions can in turn, reduce trip lengths.

People should make adjustments with a varied new housing stock allowing people to choose to be near work, and community activities. But for the FBs to be built you must build elevated pedestrian circulation and bring forth the corridor redevelopment. By looking at the website, www.MTA.net/projects (then click on PROJECTS/PROGRAMS, then click on Funding Programs, then click on Local, State, or Federal Funding Sources), there seems to be plenty of money and a variety of programs that can be allocated to FB and pedestrian/bicycle development. For starters, there is a ¼ cent sales tax for example; TDA article 3 source, Bicycle and Pedestrian Facilities. If specific sources and programs do not apply or are not big enough to do the job; it is time for legislation to be done to make it happen. At the same time, Los Angeles City Planning Department must make the necessary commitments to the Flow Boulevard concept so that redevelopment has a future to work towards.