Sometimes what seems most obvious to me doesn't necessarily ring true for others. Take, for example, the importance of building out LA's public transportation system with as much fixed rail infrastructure as we can afford. This is what LA's 30/10 Initiative will do for us in a decade rather than the 30 years that Measure R funding provides for. Measure R is the half-cent County voter approved transportation sales tax that will make possible the critical Wilshire Subway extension, Crenshaw Line, expansion of the Green Line, link between the San Fernando and the Westside, the downtown regional connector and other overdue projects.
Of course the availability of a faster than driving transportation option converts car-dependent commuters to train riders, right? Yes, but that doesn't mean everyone agrees with me. Which is why a look at the 2009 Census data from the American Community Survey described in The Transport Politic is so important. In the research, author Yonah Freemark notes how,
When comparing cities that have no rail lines with those that have existing lines or have invested in new ones, a correlation between rail and transit use is apparent. Cities with no rail saw far smaller declines in automobile mode shares than their rail counterparts; they also saw declining non-automobile mode shares, compared to increases in the rail cities. This may indicate that rail lines can play an important role in encouraging the population to try modes other than the automobile.
Between 2000 and 2009, the period studied, the cities with the most significant rail investment included Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle. Biking also showed a significant percentage increase (58.5 percent), which bodes well for climate friendly cities like LA where for many biking is always an option.
The findings on biking bring me to more good news for those who want a different LA from the one the freeways have created. What a week it has been. Beginning with CicLAvia, a dream come true for the growing chorus of Angelenos who recognize that we can change the paved parking lot that has become too much of LA. CicLAvia's organizers had the vision to recognize that Los Angeles can be remade into a grid of parks, vibrant neighborhoods, and streets that are built in a way that accommodates bikes and pedestrians as well as buses, cars and trucks.
Though you would never know it from the number of late model SUVs in my neighborhood, the estimated 100,000 who enjoyed the beautiful day and car free streets on Sunday, 10-10-10 are confirmation of the fact that LA is changing for the better. CicLAvia, which temporarily took back over seven miles of LA's streets for the enjoyment of all, will now become a part of LA, just like the Watts Tower, the Grand Central Market, the Hollywood Sign, the Bicycle District at Melrose and Heliotrope, the bike paths along the beach in Venice and Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Mountains and the growing number of Metro trains.
In other news this week, I learned first hand that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. As I struggle like many others to make a living in these hard times I took some pride in reading that the Mayor of Los Angeles has adopted my idea for spending the transportation money New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is inclined to leave on the table.
It seems the Mayor even told President Obama as much when they met recently. As a fellow writer said to me, "I noticed your post and was struck by the similarities. Enjoy the cash."
In my best Borscht Belt delivery, "But enough about me, what do you think of my idea?" If New Jersey won't have it, LA can put to good use in a cost-effective and transparent way the federal transportation dollars that can mean the difference between 30 in 10 and more of the same. Common sense and the census data suggest that if we build it, they will ride. Not everyone maybe, but surely those smart enough, with access to, or with no alternative but to board LA's planned subways and light rail.
Maybe instead of leaving the world of corporate giving and philanthropy back in 2009, I should have found another job thoughtfully giving money away for a wealthy donor or successful company with a commitment to the community. Maybe, but then I would not have been involved in this sea change in the way LA commutes and uses its streets.
There's nothing political or partisan about it. More fixed rail and dedicated lane bus rapid transit like Metro's Orange Line can mean the difference between getting to work on time and not having a job to go to. I'll take the train over unemployment any day.
Follow Joel Epstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/thejoelepstein