By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Ohland: I think that with the MTA board, you can see that. The board is so politicized that it is no longer about professionals insulated from the political environment determining what kind of transportation system would best serve the county. What it becomes is Zev Yaroslavsky doesn't want to play ball anymore because he's not going to get a rail line in his district, and somebody else doesn't want to play for another reason.
Charles Rappleye: I want to know why highway money is not part of the debate. Everybody is aware of the debate over bus and rail, but we hear nothing about highways.
De la Loza: I've always believed that a city should be dense, but let's face it, 97 percent of the population here moves by automobile.
Ohland: Yes, but why is it that at MTA board meetings, a for example, when we debate where the investment is going, we end up only debating the bus vs. rail, and we don't end up debating a bus vs. rail vs. highway? I asked Julian Burke, the MTA's interim CEO that question when he came to talk in South Pasadena about the Blue Line, and he said, "Well, there is money that's earmarked for rail, there's money that's earmarked for buses, and there's money earmarked for highways." But that isn't true. I mean, almost all of the funding is flexible. So when we're trying to decide on the right balance of investments for this city, I don't understand why the perception is that it's bus vs. rail.
Killough: It is true there's flexible money, but for the most part the MTA has committed all of its flexible money to buses.
Ohland: And HOV lanes.
Killough: Remember that some of the funds for the Pasadena line came from the HOV program. That was a conscious decision by the board to move money out of the HOV program into the Pasadena line.
Cole: We should forget the HOVs. They don't work, and they send the wrong message anyway. We should be stepping back and asking, What kind of Los Angeles
do we have, and what kind of Los Angeles do we want? Then we evaluate what is the best way to serve the transportation needs of the city we want. There are more options than are on the table.
Fairchild: I agree. Without that sense of where we're heading, we get into pork-barrel politics, because it becomes strictly a question of equity, a sense of "So much is being spent, and I want my share." These are major public investments, so it becomes, "What did my community get? What is the transit-dependent population getting? What is the Valley getting? What is Orange County getting?" And those aren't the right questions. What we have to come back to is the question of what makes sense for all communities and how we create a high quality of life served by our transit modes.
Burgos: Are you saying it's important to go ahead with a nearly $1 billion rail project and say buses can wait?
Ohland: I really believe that rail is also about economic development. I believe that rail can focus and attract economic development like no other kind of transportation investment. You have to look at how this city is sprawling and at the larger threat that sprawl poses to poor people in the form of disinvestment in existing communities, and jobs moving out to the suburbs. Given all that, yes, making that rail investment is very important to improving quality of life for poor people.
Burgos: I think what you guys aren't acknowledging is the fact the most transit-dependent people are lowest on the priority list. I don't hear people in this discussion saying, yes, bus riders should take highest priority. But there's a federal consent decree that mandates they take highest priority. The Blue Line cannot be completed until the $1.5 billion is found to bring bus service up to the standard mandated by the consent decree.
Cole: Do you think we ought to widen the highway to Lancaster before we spend the $1.5 billion on buses?
Burgos: No, I don't think we should widen the highway to Lancaster.
Cole: I think bus riders ought to come first, too. If we could all agree that we're going to put the bus riders first, ahead of everybody, I'm on that page. But if we're going to say, well, we're going to put the bus riders ahead of rail and put highway ahead of the bus riders, I'm not on that page. I agree bus riders ought to come first, but we ought to build rail instead of widening the highway to Lancaster. That's where I would take the money for rail. I wouldn't take it from buses, I'd give more money to buses.
Burgos: But when pots of highway money opened up, you pushed for that money to be allotted to rail.
Ohland: There's no question that the inner city isn't getting its fair share of transit money, but it's not just buses. We're not building more inner-city rail lines, and we're not building busways. We're not making that big public infrastructure investment our city needs. Instead, we're making the infrastructure investment out where it's going to benefit developers, and not here in the urban core. Whenever you make that significant public investment in an inner-city community, it leverages other investment, it attracts private investment, and it attracts more public investment. In the end, it makes that community more livable; it creates jobs around that investment. But that's not what's happening, because we're not making that kind of investment. Instead, we're making investments in the highway system to serve outlying suburbs. In a region of the country that has the worst air quality anywhere in the nation, and that has the worst congestion, it doesn't make any sense to make that kind of an investment in a highway system. Furthermore, a growing body of evidence suggests that adding HOV lanes, that increasing highway capacity in any form, actually induces more traffic.
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