THE BLOG
09/30/2010 05:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

LA Metro's Misguided Critics: The Local Party of No

Now that my kids are older, I need a really good reason to go to Anaheim. Which is why when I got an invitation to attend last week's Urban Land Institute (ULI) California High-Speed Rail TOD (transit oriented development) Marketplace at the Anaheim Convention Center the location wasn't my first choice. But since it was ULI, which always puts on a great meeting, there I was driving to Anaheim. Yup, driving, and alone to boot.

When the California high-speed rail and the new Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) are completed I will be one of the first on board, but given a late night the evening before and the fact that the conference started at 8 am, plain old vanilla Metrolink from LA's Union Station just wasn't an option. So before 7 I stuffed myself into the car and drove the less than blissful 43 miles to Anaheim. For those who like numbers that's the 405 to the 10 to the 60 to the 5. Which always reminds me of Tom Lehrer singing New Math.

To make matters worse, I was only able to stay through the morning before life called me back to West LA. Still, I am glad I attended and had the chance to listen to several outstanding presenters including Andreas Heym, Director of International Development at AREP (SNCF Group) and Jeff Heller of Heller Manus architects.

Heym from the French national rail operator gave an inspiring presentation about the decades-old growth of France's high-speed rail (TGV) system to both large and small cities throughout France. His talk and slides effectively demonstrated how high-speed rail has been an economic spark plug for the many cities and regions that are now part of the TGV network.

Heller's talk focused on the development of China's high-speed rail stations and brought back fond memories of my own positive experiences with the Shanghai Maglev and high-speed rail during a 2008 trip to China.

No self-respecting American of any political persuasion can look at China's success with high-speed rail and rail travel generally without crying over how far we are from what the Chinese have achieved.

Heller soberly summed up where the US is today when it comes to infrastructure investment in high-speed rail and public transportation when he said, "I go to China and everyone wants to get stuff done. I come back here and not everyone wants to get stuff done." If only, as he concluded, more Americans would acknowledge that traveling by rail is a much less stressful way to travel than air travel we might be further along than we are now.

Though I had been summoned back to LA early there was no way I was leaving the vicinity of the Anaheim Convention Center without a quick stop at Joe's Italian Ice on Harbor Blvd in Garden Grove. Joe's is the best and the Bada Bing Cherry ices loaded with chunks of fruit didn't disappoint. Between the conference and the ices the drive to Anaheim was almost worth it.

And what about LA? While it was good to get back to the big city from Ciudad de Disneyland, if you care as I do about public transportation it has been no picnic here as of late. Am I the only one getting indigestion listening to the opposition to Metro's thoughtful blueprint for building out Expo, the Wilshire Subway, the Gold Line, the Crenshaw Corridor and other critical transportation projects? And it is not just a handful of Beverly Hills and Cheviot Hills homeowners who are kvetching? For some curious reason the still influential Los Angeles Times, LA Observed and less reputable media like the LA Weekly are joining the local Party of No bandwagon against the County voter-approved push for more public transportation for LA.

The source of my annoyance with Metro's critics is their disingenuous focus on traffic in Metro's environmental impact report. Of course Metro has no control over the region's natural population growth. No one does! Just look at New York, Chicago, Paris and London, all cities with great public transportation systems as well as clogged streets and highways. Metro's subways, light rail and buses are about mobility for those who choose to ride or have no alternative, not about clearing the freeway so you can drive downtown from Tarzana at rush hour as if everyone else stayed home from work. Since no one can promise us that, what is missing from this debate is common sense and intellectual honesty on the critics' part.

Fortunately, there are smart media voices in this town who get what Metro is trying to do and give back with an edgy humor that puts the No's in their place.

I am talking about writers like Amy Silverstein who has penned a fun piece in Neon Tommy entitled, "Westside Subway Will Do Little To Stop People From Making Babies, L.A. Media Say."

The article skillfully skewers the critics with a line about how the "Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, and LA Observed found that improving our city's public transportation will not stop traffic-causing babies from being created."

Silverstein's witty piece was only outdone by the blog LAist which takes first prize in the title department for a story called, "MTA Wants To Environmentally Impact LA Weekly's Face After School In The Parking Lot."

With so much important stuff to report on in this town it is a shame the LA Times, LA Weekly and LA Observed feel the need to slam the hard working professionals at Metro who are trying to make this a better city. Bravo to Neon Tommy and LAist for keeping it real and to Metro for building, maintaining and operating the trains, light rail and buses this city needs.