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Working With China to Build Public Transportation in LA

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Since I live in LA you would think the last place I would want to spend a week away from the Southland is in a car. But that's exactly where I spent much of last week, and I have no regrets. I've just returned from a trip to the public transportation and biking holy-cities -- Mecca and Medina -- with stops in the Bay Area and throughout the Northwest (and Southwest) if you include Vancouver, BC, as I did. Though you would never know it from the way I got there, this working road trip was about subways, light rail, buses and bikes. It was far more than just a tour of the gourmet ghettos of Berkeley, Eugene, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, though, as my waistline attests, I partook in some of that as well. Once you are past the irritating and wrong "Congress created dust bowl" billboards on I5 through the Central Valley, there's a wealth of public transportation experience and expertise that LA can still learn from, with names like BART, AC Transit, MUNI, TriMet, the Seattle Streetcar and Light Rail, and TransLink.

It's an aside, but who do those growers think brought them the water in the first place that they use to grow thousands of acres of thirsty row and tree crops on the west side of the otherwise arid Valley? Newsflash. The California Aqueduct and most of the other water projects throughout the West were built by Big Government, not private hands.

And all you LA-haters in Northern California and Seattle, let's be honest, freeway traffic in the Bay Area and on the awful I5 through Seattle (it cuts the city right in half like the Cross Bronx Expressway does to the Bronx) gives some of LA's worst free parking lots a run for their money. Which is one of the things that makes Vancouver so special. No freeways into downtown and extensive public transportation and bike routes everywhere.

First travel observation: Subway, the sandwich shop, not the method of conveyance, has taken over. You can now find them all over California and the Northwest. Second, free wireless at Starbucks is Howard Schultz' smartest business move since he invented coffee. I think I stopped at every one between here and Vancouver, both there and back.

But all this is not what I sat down to write about. News of Mel Gibson's racist rant aside, the most eye-catching article I read this week concerned China's agreement to make major investments in Argentina's rail and metro lines.

Reading the piece on the always-informative Transport Politic blog, I thought, why not a similar deal for LA Metro in its quest to build thirty years of transportation projects within a decade?

Instead of a public private partnership (P3) we'll call it a Public People's Republic of China Partnership (PPRCP). Perhaps that's what we need to get things moving in Washington on the 30/10 Jobs and Transportation Initiative? A little healthy competition that gets Washington sparring with China over who gets credit for building 30/10. President Obama and Congress, can you hear me?

After all, wasn't it also a good deal of (albeit private Hong Kong) Chinese money that built the skyline of modern Vancouver?

The Transport Politic article notes that not only is China willing and able to contribute its national funds to foreign projects, but also that it intends to structure its investments as an alternative to the World Bank. You see, in March China also announced a series of investments in high-speed rail throughout Asia and Europe.

What's planned in Argentina is a $4.35 billion investment toward the renovation of three freight train lines to carry agricultural products to ports for export (to China), as well as over four billion dollars towards the improvement of the Buenos Aires subway and construction of a metro in Cordoba.

As the article notes, the urban projects offer no clear economic benefit to the Chinese. The quid pro quo of the overall deal is preferential trade treatment for China as well as improved access to the country's agricultural products.

Well why not offer China the same deal here in California? We could start by enticing them with better access to Central and Imperial Valley produce, improving the economy of those hard hit areas, and exports like American Apparel and other "Made in America" goods. And yes, a shot at the engineering and construction contracts when Chinese transportation know-how makes Chinese firms the best candidates.

The Transport Politic piece also observes that the deal suggests American projects could potentially find funding in China. With the notion of a national infrastructure bank dead for now and Wall Street reluctant to invest in anything truly useful for the US economy, Chinese investment in 30/10 and other critical infrastructure projects could be just what we've been waiting for.

I can't wait to hear what Glenn Beck, Rush and the Tea Party have to say once they learn of this plan for LA to get into bed with the Communists.

How serious am I? Very. Investment, as Wall Street has taught us, knows no borders and money is green even when it comes from a place like Red China.

See you soon. I'm off to my Mandarin lesson.

Around the Web

The Transport Politic

China Agrees to Major Investments in Argentina's Rail and Metro ...

China's Foreign Investment Rebounds - BusinessWeek