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Joel Epstein

Joel Epstein

Posted: February 17, 2010 12:05 PM

Moving LA: There's a Train a Comin'

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Nothing good, or bad, lasts forever. Which is why we're seeing Toyota, whose reputation had long been for quality, torn down by a widespread recall. Over 4 million cars and trucks at last count. If this keeps up we'll soon be confusing Toyota with GM and Detroit with Tokyo.

It's times like this that as a fan of John Updike and his brilliant American family saga about Harry Angstrom I feel adrift. Without the great writer around I don't know whether Toyota the company will weather the storm or like Toyota the dealership that made Rabbit rich go down in flames under the tutelage of the new generation. I'm like a tourist in LA without a Metro bus map.

Will the Harvard Business School case study-worthy company bring back its customer base with fire sale prices on the superior, fuel efficient cars Toyota became known for, or is the company's condition fatal? As someone who will need to buy another car in ten or fifteen years I'm saddened by the prospect that Toyota's demise would leave the consumer that much poorer. With fewer reliable models to choose from and the greatest thorn in the side of a still poorly performing Motown gone from the scene, we'd all be goners.

Of course, like the fortunes of Toyota's leaders guilty of hubris, ideas change too and that can be a good thing. Take for example Los Angeles and its attitude toward mass transit. In November 2008 the City and County, known for decades as a great big freeway in an unassailable romance with the car, approved a half cent sales tax to pay for long overdue mass transit improvements. Move LA, a smart coalition of business, labor, and environmental groups, actually came together and worked to convince 68 percent of the electorate to open up the spigot on $40 billion in transit funding. Measure R, which will provide the transit funds over a thirty year period, shows that even Angelenos have come to realize that the always packed freeways have become a powerful octopus slowly tightening its unforgiving grip around the heart of this city.

Mass transit, as the voters proclaimed in passing Measure R, has to be expanded if we ever want to leave the house after breakfast and get home from work before the kids have logged off Facebook and put themselves to bed.

And it's not just a new tax for mass transit that says Angelenos have had it with the traffic. Just look at the explosion in the number of locals riding bikes, motorcycles and scooters that can weave between the stagnant flow, the growth in telecommuting at least part time and the number of people moving closer to work or, if they own the store, moving work closer to home.

As anyone who leaves his or her crib before sunrise to commute to work can tell you, LA's traffic hurts more than just the commuter. In a big city like this economic prosperity, never easy to achieve but especially hard to find in recessionary times like now, goes hand in hand with mass transit. Trains and rapid buses help get workers to their jobs as quickly and efficiently as possible or at least on time.

Just talk to the thousands of business owners, large and small, who know they are losing their competitive edge, as their hard working employees look for work closer to home or in less traffic clogged cities, and clients opt for less logistically challenged suppliers.

With Measure R passed, as tempting as it is to kick back and wait for the train to come, the hard work has only just begun. Now we actually have to build the dozen train lines and other transit improvements that Measure R funds are earmarked for. And perhaps most importantly, we have to accelerate the process - 30/10 as the Mayor's dubbed it - to complete within 10 years the transit system LA needs today not three decades from now.

The campaign for 30/10 will need volunteers and dedicated activists, concerned citizens who get involved; motivated by their exasperating experience commuting in this endless suburb of a city.

It will take people like C, a Masters graduate student in City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley concentrating in transportation who wrote me following my last blog about how he wants to do something about mass transit in his hometown; or M, who describes himself as one of those who for now waits patiently on the Metro 761 bus but is up for the fight to get a train or rapid busway built through the Sepulveda Pass; or K, who works in reality TV and has to drive the dreaded 101 through the San Fernando Valley instead of riding a comfortable train back and forth to work.

Move LA has a laundry list of important encore projects it will need to achieve if it wants to see the benefits of the Mayor's 30/10 initiative realized. These include a national infrastructure bank committed to supporting mass transit projects like the Subway to the Sea, enhanced Federal funding for regional mass transit projects through the Federal transportation re-authorization bill, a set of guidelines for public private partnerships for mass transit development; and a State constitutional amendment that enables agencies like Metro to seek voter approval of new taxes for mass transit by a 55 percent vote rather than a two thirds majority of the electorate.

A comprehensive mass transit system for Los Angeles constructed within a decade will help the region address its crushing traffic problems and will be an economic lifeline to the poor, middle class, and rich alike who try to live and work here.

If you like living here, it's time to join with the chorus in working for the train a comin'. Together we can move LA.

 
 
 

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