Guest Blog by Denny Zane, Executive Director of MoveLA (@MoveLATransit)
I grew up in Colton, a small town in San Bernardino County. I remember vividly that our school tennis matches often had to be called early because the air pollution was so severe that everybody's throat and chest were burning. It is a sharp and a particularly egregious memory of my young life.
Later when I became a councilman and then mayor in Santa Monica, these memories motivated me to champion clean car fleets for the city. At first, there were few clean alternative fuel vehicles actually available, but we persisted. This experience led me later to accept a position as executive director of the Coalition for Clean Air and to take this advocacy for clean fleets regional, including successfully prodding LA Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) to give up its diesel habit and to start purchasing cleaner natural gas buses, with the help of a young Antonio Villaraigosa, who was then a member of Supervisor Gloria Molina's staff.
In 2006, not long after Antonio had become Mayor of Los Angeles, I was stuck again for more than an hour and a half in severe traffic on Olympic Boulevard. It was as if there'd been a terrible accident causing the traffic, except that this occurred every day. At that moment, I remember hearing a radio news story saying that LA Metro proclaimed it would have no money for any new projects for the next 30 years. I thought about all that pollution and all that traffic - and the many more people expected to live here - and thought "Really? That will be a world of hurt!"
That's what led me and friends to form MoveLA and work to create a broad coalition to fix LA's mobility and pollution problems. In 2005, Antonio Villaraigosa was elected mayor on a subway-extension platform. I knew he was a progressive guy, willing to take risks for important objectives, so we began to work with him and LA Metro to start Measure R in 2007 -a proposal, for a $40 billion through a 30-year half-cent sales tax; this is roughly 8 cents a day per person. We knew our transportation problems were severe and this would just be a down payment. Metro had been to the voters before, in 1980 and 1990, when it was hard just to get above a 50 percent threshold for a half-cent sales tax. I realized that to hit the two-thirds threshold required in 2008, it would take a larger and more significant package of proposals that had something significant in it for all parts of the county. Looking for alternatives to traffic, voters approved Measure R with more than 67 percent of the vote.
But we knew we needed more than even these proposals. So in 2012 we tried to extend the sunset on Measure R to 60 years with Measure J. That plan failed by less than 1/2 percent. We saw Measure J, though, not as a defeat, but as a near win; it was confirmation that with the right campaign, the right coalition, and the right turnout, we could win, even when a two-thirds vote is needed.
Today, Measure R is helping us connect our region with these 5 construction projects underway:
- the Expo Line Phase II extending the line from Culver City to Santa Monica;
- the Foothill Gold Line light rail extension from Pasadena to Azusa nearing completion;
- the Crenshaw Line light rail project will connect the communities and users of the LA International Airport to the Expo Line;
- the Regional Connector, near Little Tokyo and the Arts District, will allow passengers to transfer between the blue, red, gold, and purple lines bypassing Union station; and
- the Wilshire subway extension will connect Angelenos traveling to and from LA's "second downtown" corridor comprised of Century City, Westwood, Beverly Hills and Miracle mile.
For the past year, we have been building an expanded coalition and urging LA Metro to go to the ballot again in November 2016. We began putting together a "strawman" map of transit projects and called it Measure R2. We're hearing from many advocates and constituencies who hope that the next transportation sales tax will be even more ambitious than Measure R, including additional investments like bus rapid transit, bicycle and pedestrian lanes, mobility hubs and opportunities for bike-share and car-share programs near transit. We also want investments in clean alternatives to diesel trucks in the goods movement industry and mitigation programs for addressing displacement of residents and businesses near transit station areas.
I thought about all these challenges at the Live-Ride-Share conference we co- sponsored with NRDC's Urban Solutions and other groups. How do we really reduce traffic? How do we bring down Vehicle Miles Traveled and substantially reduce greenhouse gases? It will not be one thing - it will be the interaction between several things.
For bike-share and car-share to work, we need good infrastructure that will support it. Move LA proposes that a future Metro transportation sales tax include funding for Grand Boulevards, the name for complete streets with good bike lanes and bus rapid transit plus community development and mobility hubs where sharing infrastructure can be concentrated. We will also need public investment pooled into off-street parking, so we're not sacrificing local businesses if we have to take away street parking for bike and bus lanes.
We propose that there will be two or three such Grand Boulevards in each part of the county. Some communities will show how to do it right, and then more communities will want them, in much the same way the success of the Third Street Promenade and Old Town Pasadena have created a demand for such models for downtown areas. Meanwhile, on-demand services like Lyft can fill important niches in people's lives, helping many to understand that owning a car is unnecessary. But we want to make sure these services have fair labor practices, are safe, have good insurance, and use clean technology.
We believe that a future Metro transportation sales tax will have this and much more, and we will get the funds needed to build the complete transit system - both rail and bus - that LA needs. Then we can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, finish cleaning up the air, and turn the image of a smoggy, traffic-clogged Los Angeles into something the next generation of kids only reads about in history books.
Edited by Roger Rudick