10/25/2011 02:20 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2011

"My Metro, Right or Wrong": Metro's Greatest Hetz

Oh, the indignity of it all. On the day of UCLA's embarrassing 48-12 drubbing at the hands of Arizona, transit advocate Matthew Hetz in a Citywatch article tries to smack down the university's hopes of a "UCLA/Westwood" subway station which actually would be deserving of the name. He describes my efforts to bring better transit to the UCLA campus and to all of Westwood as a "diversion."

Mr. Hetz spends a lot of time speculating as to my motivations in taking up the cause for a UCLA-friendly subway station in Westwood. He suggests that I'm trying to create a diversion to the Century City subway station controversy. The Century City subway station will take care of itself and the arguments are the arguments, and I have written plenty on the subject myself. It's entirely possible, if not likely, that the Century City subway station location will wind up in court. There is no need to create a diversion.

While I won't counter Mr. Hetz's numerous errors in regard to a Century City subway station location, I will respond to his points about the Westwood station location, which was the sole subject of my Huffington Post article, "Fight On for UCLA." (Sorry, I can't resist at least pointing out that a Constellation station would not be closer to the mall than the Santa Monica station, as Mr. Hetz suggests. And just for the sake of good order, both the Century City and "UCLA/Westwood" subway stations are on the Purple Line, not the "Red Line").

I won't pretend to hide the fact that I'm a bit allergic to Metro's double standards regarding station location placement or to the tone-deafness of some behemoth government agencies. Surprise, surprise. Again, I've written about this elsewhere. But I am indeed convinced that Metro's decision to locate a UCLA subway station almost a mile away from UCLA is a bad one. And if Hetz truly cares about getting the best transit system possible for taxpayer dollars, then he won't give a squat about the why or wherefore of the idea being proposed, but he will look at the suggestions and view them on their merits alone. In fact, in writing off my suggestions as a "diversion," Hetz happens to be doing the exact same thing he accuses me of.

The first mistake in Hetz's attack on my position is a fairly elementary one: he tries to address specific suggestions I haven't even made. He says that I support a UCLA station by the Ackerman Loop. Actually, leaving the specifics of the location open, I've suggested a station in Westwood Village, which would serve UCLA, the Village itself, as well as the high rises along Wilshire.

Hetz notes the similarities between Westwood and Century City. How does he know there are similarities? His answer: he once took a bus down Westwood to Wilshire and Sepulveda and noted that both areas have high-rise office buildings.

Well, okay, but beyond this revelation, just what are the similarities? Is there a major university or higher learning institution in Century City? Is there a self-contained mall in Westwood? Just what is Hetz's point? I hardly think that creating some kind of "transitive law of subway station location" on the basis of noting there are high-rises in both places would be considered the height of transit-planning prowess. But if you do take stock in this unique transit-planning method, then how can a subway station at the VA with its open spaces and lack of urban activity make any sense whatsoever? How can it be a good urban and transit-planning for the VA campus effectively to have two subway stations, while UCLA doesn't even have one?

In making his statements, Hetz purports to know that the need for a subway to serve the office buildings in Westwood is greater than serving the 55,000 people (a figure mentioned at a recent cityLAB event) who make their way to UCLA on a daily basis during the school year. And as Mr. Hetz will surely have noticed, having lived here for a number of years, universities are increasingly becoming year-round hubs of activity, not to mention the UCLA Medical Center, which knows no breaks between semesters.

So just where does he get his information that there is a greater need for a subway to serve the Westwood/Wilshire office buildings than UCLA? How can Hetz possibly know that ridership on Wilshire and Westwood would be greater than it would be on, say, Westwood and Le Conte, which to me seems to be the logical location for a UCLA/Westwood station? Yes, logical: Westwood/Le Conte is actually a gateway to both UCLA and Westwood Village. It would have the advantage of better integrating the Village with the campus -- a stated goal at the recent cityLAB seminar -- and it would be better situated to contribute to a much-needed revitalization of Westwood Village, in particular light of the goals of campus/Village integration.

A station at Westwood and Le Conte (or possibly Westwood and Weyburn) would better serve the entire Westwood area, providing access to UCLA and Westwood Village, as well as the high-rises on Westwood and Wilshire. Office workers who head to the high-rises would have to make their way through the Village, providing wonderful opportunities to do something to finally make the Village relevant. Why isn't this idea worth exploring, Mr. Hetz? Because you want a Century City subway station at Constellation? What does this have to do with Century City, Mr. Hetz? Please: speak to the proposal, rather than creating a diversion yourself.

I happen to think that effective public transportation systems are not just about ridership, but also about access and I believe that providing access to the second- (or third-) best academic institution in the region would indeed be fulfilling one of the fundamental purposes of a transit authority. But even if you take a ridership über alles position, how can you possibly know that ridership will be greater at Westwood and Wilshire than Westwood and Le Conte? You can't, because no detailed ridership studies have ever been performed for the Westwood/Le Conte intersection or for any other location within Westwood Village.

What does that say about the entire process?

Undoubtedly, it says a lot, and the two main reasons Metro keeps offering up as to why a "UCLA/Westwood" station location is not closer to UCLA has never been seriously considered have nothing to do with ridership. The first reason is that the station itself would be more difficult to construct in Westwood Village, with the purported associated impacts. OK, so there's another taxpayer-funded government agency with a "can't do" attitude. I'm not buyin' it, but if you do, Mr. Hetz, then please explain how and why it can be done in Rome, London and Paris but not in LA. And the second reason Metro offers for not building a more centrally located Westwood station is that they don't want to tunnel under a cemetery as they continue the subway route westwards. Your thoughts, Mr. Hetz? Is tunneling under a cemetery really a reason not to pick the best station location? If so, why?

Ultimately, Mr. Hetz's solution to those wanting to use public transit to get to UCLA is similar to Metro's. It's an admonition to "take the bus." Is that really the best we can do? In my mind, it's hardly a good use of scarce transit dollars to build a multi-billion dollar subway so that people can then "take the bus." I don't see how anybody who espouses such a position can describe themselves as a "transit advocate." Metro advocate, maybe. But "transit advocate"? No way.

I happen to agree with Hetz that there are benefits to be had from an expansion of the subway and light-rail system, but the benefits become greater in direct proportion to the access they provide and the people they serve. The goal should be to provide the taxpayers with the best value-for-money for our dollars, and a subway station which serves UCLA, Westwood Village and the high-rises would do just that.

Finally, as Mr. Hetz accuses me of delay tactics, it's worth asking the question if switching station locations to a better site would significantly delay the building of the subway, as Hetz suggests. Not necessarily. If the 30-10 plan doesn't happen, as seems increasingly likely, then a station wouldn't get built in Westwood for years. In any event, there's certainly time to tweak and upgrade plans, so we might as well get it right and do it right.

Again, I believe that a bit of consistency is order, all the more so because of the expense of billions of dollars of our money which is on the table. I suppose I could suggest that Mr. Hetz is simply mentioning my position on the Century City station location in order to shield Metro and divert attention from the numerous questions I have raised surrounding the location of the so-called "UCLA/Westwood" station, but instead I'll leave Mr. Hetz with a single, simple question:

How can a station which mainly serves the Wilshire/Westwood office high-rises be superior to a station which better serves UCLA, Westwood Village, as well as the high-rises?

Whatever his answer may be, good decision-making and setting good policy can never be a diversion and Mr. Hetz and others do this region and our dysfunctional statewide political system a disservice by suggesting we ignore discussions which can lead to better policy-making and better decisions.