More Mass Transit Not Answer for L.A.?

In my six-plus years in Los Angeles I have pondered the question of mass transit in the city — a problem city officials have been working on for decades now. They have decided that more mass transit is the answer. I’m not so sure.

For better or for worse, this city was built around cars. Now city officials want to retro-fit the town, jamming in mass transit. It’s not an easy thing to do.

I have written in the past that I don’t think a subway is the answer; a comprehensive system would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and even if the city had that money and it could possibly be built, it would take many, many decades to accomplish. Considering the Wilshire subway alone could take 20 years, perhaps we’re talking centuries for a far-flung system. I’m not against planning for the future, but we need relief now.

Even if an improved system could be put in place now, people still would not get out out of their cars. That would be a massive cultural change that would take generations to achieve. We can’t wait that long. I have an idea for a cultural change that could be achieved now at a fraction of the cost of digging under Wilshire Blvd.

Since people are not leaving their cars, what we need to do is to get people to spend less time in those cars. This could easily be accomplished by getting people to live closer to where they work.

This is a unique town — there is no central business district where everybody works. People live and work all over the place, so there is traffic in both directions all the time. If people lived closer to where they worked, there would obviously be less traffic. Instead of a torturous 45 minute highway commute, people might have a short five minute drive on surface streets. People might even be able to bike to work, or — dare I say it — walk.

The city could use the billions of dollars it is spending on the subway to offer tax incentives to people to move closer to their jobs. There are several ways to do this — a mortgage or rent rebate is one option that would definitely get people’s attention.

Businesses would also get incentives to take part in the program. Perhaps a business located Downtown that has 80% of its employees who live in the Valley would get an incentive to move closer to its employees.

Those types of details would obviously be worked out by people far smarter than me.

I’m not suggesting that the city abandon mass transit. Continue to build light rail where it makes sense and continue to expand bus service. But don’t spend billions on subways.

This is a plan that could happen now, not decades from now. Certainly people have reasons for living where they do, so not everybody would take advantage of this program. But I think enough people would participate to make it worthwhile. Most importantly, it would have an immediate impact on traffic. And that is what we need right now.

1 comment for “More Mass Transit Not Answer for L.A.?

  1. Richard
    July 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    FYI, China has been building Urban Rail at a pace unprecedented in the history of Rapid transit.

    An example would be the Shanghai Metro. There was no Metro in Shanghai before 1995. As of this time, 2012, Shanghai has the largest Metro in the world by route miles. 270 route miles with over 2 billion trips in 2011, the fifth highest ridership for any urban metro in the world.

    Another is the Beijing Subway. It is projected to have some 600 route miles in 2020, more than twice the route mileage of any currently existing urban metro in the world.

    56 Chinese cities have operating metros, metros under construction, or have metros in the planning stages. It will need to be seen if all these planned metro lines are actually built.

    The point of this commentary? Where there is a will there is a way. Shanghai went from no Metro to the largest in the world in the same time Los Angeles struggled building ONE 17 mile heavy metro line.

    Los Angeles built almost all of its’ freeway system between 1939 and 1974. 35 years for several hundred miles of freeway using billions of mostly federal interstate funds. It happened because the political will was there.

    Traffic gridlock exists today because of the political gridlock. No other reason. Problems would be solved if there was the political will to solve them.

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