Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity—This Can Work!

Los Angeles and every urban area in California is looking for solutions to transportation challenges as well the affordable housing crisis.

Fortunately, a big part of the solution to one—where to build new housing without threatening existing neighborhoods, for example—is part of the solution to the other. These solutions have been taking root here over the past few decades. We need to encourage, even accelerate, them. 

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Mixed-use development with multifamily housing on commercially zoned land has become popular in many communities in Los Angeles County. We believe that if we are going to help solve the affordable housing crisis in the aftermath of COVID-19, this is the type of development we need to encourage and accelerate by making it easier to build throughout the county, especially along commercial streets well-served by transit. 

Many of these streets—or at least stretches along these streets—are in need of revitalization and and redevelopment. We propose enlivening them and giving them new purpose by turning them into “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity”!

If Metro were to choose a few of these streets for their planned zero-emission bus rapid transit (BRT) projects and work with cities to develop attractive neighborhood plans, these streets are likely to attract investment, development, renters and riders. BRT costs less and takes less time to construct than light rail lines, operates on dedicated lanes so it provides better on-time service than regular buses, and Metro has set aside money to build several BRT lines.  

Our goal would be to encourage investment in mixed-income, mixed-use, moderate-density development (maybe 4-5 stories) in order to create these new urban neighborhoods by first improving them with BRT service, making the streets and sidewalks better and safer places to walk and bike, and adding street trees and urban greening—a key ingredient to success. Another key ingredient: new state and local funding for affordable housing (more on that in another email).

We aren’t the only people talking about using what are currently "moderate-density” commercial corridors to address the housing crisis. Peter Calthorpe, renowned architect, urban planner and a founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism, and Joe DiStefano—co-creators of UrbanFootprint, web-based urban planning and mapping platform—used this tool to evaluate the housing potential along El Camino Real, a 45-mile mostly commercial roadway through the heart of Silicon Valley.

Join us on Wednesday, June 10, for a Zoom webinar from 1-3 p.m. with Peter Calthorpe and Joe DiStefano, who will use UrbanFootprint to help us understand the potential for BRT, housing and community development on select boulevards in LA County. Register HERE.

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Zero-emission Bus Rapid Transit is a Critical Mode for the Future

You may have heard of EcoRapid Transit, the Sepulveda Pass Line, or the Green, Gold, and Crenshaw Line extensions projects. These new rail projects, along with dozens of others being completed or in the works, will all have transformative benefits throughout LA County. And all of them were included in Measure R (2008) and Measure M (2016) and supported by voters.

But as we settle into the “new mobility normal” with fiscal austerity necessary to ensure transit continues to provide vital service to lifeline riders, it is now more important than ever to appreciate LA Metro’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vision.

BRT is a high-capacity bus transit service that operates on dedicated lanes and has speed, reliability, and capacity much greater than regular buses, though less capacity than light rail.  But BRT is far less costly than light rail to create.  

And, BRT will create jobs and can help get our economy moving again. It is one part of the solution to our impending climate crisis (less than a decade away from irreversible harm).

And we already have BRT of our own.  Metro’s Silver and Orange Lines are BRT and arrive on-time around 90 percent of the time. When Metro launched a bus-only lane on Flower Street in May 2019 during the temporary Blue Line rail refurbishment, the 1.8-mile lane was carrying 70 buses per hour with zero complaints. It is still carrying 45 buses per hour through one of the most traveled corridors.

The Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley (with a dedicated BRT lane) had 22k-25k daily boardings last year, which exceeded Metro’s projections of 20,000 by 2020. And when the Orange Line opened in 2005, it more than tripled Metro’s initial projections. Metro is currently converting this route to an all-electric Bus Rapid Transit corridor, making it cleaner and improving air quality in the San Fernando Valley.  And Metro is evaluating 30+ corridors for Bus Rapid Transit in LA County based on the criteria in this image (and Metro website).

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Response to a Critic: Fortune Favors the Bold

Move LA has always worked with a wide range of civic leaders and organizations to “dream big” and identify strategies that address fundamental community challenges. Our motto has long been "Fortune favors the bold."

But last week when we shared our plan to make it possible for voters to vote to end climate change we got some feedback we would like to respond to here.

In one response, we were told that our Vision 2022 plan was “crazy overreach”  and that we'd better "rethink our priorities." (If you didn't read our e-blast on May 7, you can read it on the blog post below.)

Maybe this respondent didn't know about our victories, with the help of voters, over the last 12 years. So Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane replied: 

That is exactly what we heard in 2006 when we put on the table the proposal for what became Measure R in LA County in 2008 and Measure M in 2016. Voters said YES to both—to Measure M by more than 70%. Before COVID these measures together were projected to provide $120 billion in funding for transportation over 40 years to enhance and modernize LA County transit systems. 

That is what we heard again when we proposed to LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas that that the county ask for voter approval of a sales tax in a 2017 special election to provide $350 million a year for housing and services for people who are homeless. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas led the way and voters said YES again to Measure H by 67.4%. Imagine the county dealing with the homeless during COVID without that funding!

I guess we have learned not to underestimate our voters, or ourselves. The U.N.’s International Panel on Climate Change wrote in a 2018 report that we had a little more than a decade to start to reverse climate change. So a sense of urgency joined with greater confidence in voters—than perhaps you may have—makes a regional or statewide measure seem both necessary and winnable.

I believe that a half-cent sales tax in the pre-COVID economy would have generated over $130 billion at an average per voter cost of less than a dime a day. With that revenue we could fully implement the California Air Resources Board’s AB 32 Scoping Plan to reduce GHG emissions and fight climate change as well as most of the adopted plans of the regional commuter rail agencies.

Are we ambitious? Yes. Are we crazy? No.

Denny Zane

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We Can Vote to End Climate Change! But Regionally or Statewide?

Yes, we meant it when we said maybe we could vote to end climate change in 2022 or come pretty close. It is very important that we try – especially since the 2018 IPCC report said we had maybe 12 years to turn climate change around.

And with the need for serious money to recover from the economic shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and the need to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs quickly to get people back to work, what better way to stimulate the economy, clean up our air and environment than to invest in modern transportation? Of, course the revenue source matters.

Here’s how:

clean_vehicles.pngMission Critical #1: Dramatically reduce, or capture and use, Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, a.k.a. “Super Pollutants” such as biomethane, black carbon, and ozone from landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, dairies, livestock, from diesel uses, fireplaces and wildfires. These gases are the most powerful climate forcers and drive 40% of global warming. Fortunately, they decay in 12-15 years or less. Dramatically reducing these emissions is a strategy that can actually roll back global warming. 

Mission Critical #2: Accelerate the rollout of zero-emission cars, SUVs, and pickups in the most significant transportation marketplace in the world – California! With the possible need to social distance, we don’t want people getting back into their pollution emitting vehicle or, even worse, purchasing a new or used pollution-causing vehicle.

Mission Critical #3: Accelerate the rollout of zero and near-zero emission trucks, trains, ships and planes in the most significant transportation marketplace in the world – California! Such vehicles are the largest source of smog in California.

Mission Critical #4: Transform our regional commuter rail transit systems into a zero-emission, high-velocity, regional express systems – in Southern California, perhaps in San Diego County, the Bay Area, even in the Central Valley. Even connect them up to create a statewide high-velocity system (do we dare call it high-speed rail?)

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Our Thoughts on Metro and the "New Mobility Normal"

Photo by Olenka Kotyk on Unsplash

The stay-at-home orders have shown us what blue skies, singing birds, and clean air can look like in Southern California. But this is only a temporary side-effect of these extraordinary times. Will all this change when we return to a "new normal"?

We have to put this all into perspective. Two months ago we were embarking on an effort to change the tide on declining transit ridership. The decline began in 2010, just after voter approval of Measure R. During a historic recession, the LA County Metro Board of Directors voted to increase fares and reduce Revenue Service Hours (RSH) for LA's bus network. Since then the demographic data shows LA County has experienced a dramatic loss of its low-income workforce, likely displaced by rising rents (more on that later). The low-income workforce is a large share of the transit user base here and in nearly every American city. Lose 20% of your base, lose 20% of your riders.

But, since that time, Metro operating revenues have soared. In 2016, LA County voters supported Measure M with 25% of its revenue dedicated to bus and rail operations. Then, California voters rejected Proposition 6, and preserved the gas tax in SB 1 that provided additional funds for public transit operations. Then the State of California committed cap-and-trade funds to transit operations. As such, Metro has seen its transit operations budget increase by at least $400 Million since 2015 with new revenue for transit operations.

Despite this increase in operating revenue, budgeted bus Revenue Service Hours has remained constant at 7 million hours per year.

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What Recovery Could Look Like: Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity

Everyone knows there isn’t enough affordable housing in LA County and that too many people live on the street. How are we going to expand the supply of housing for our low-income workforce and for people likely to become homeless as the economy flounders and more jobs are lost due to COVID-19? 

Moreover, how can we rebuild transit ridership in urban neighborhoods served by transit when the people who use it the most can’t afford to live there anymore?

Move LA has a proposal about how to do this. We call it “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity.”

First, we need sufficient land with good access to frequent transit where new neighborhoods can be built without requiring the demolition of existing housing or the displacement of residents. Second, we need policies in place and/or sufficient public capital to build housing affordable to low and moderate-income households in these new neighborhoods.

Below we discuss where we think we can find the land on which to build sufficient housing without displacement. Next week we will write about where we think we can find the resources to build a significant amount of affordable housing on this land.

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Earth Day

Recently my son Alex (pictured above with me three years ago as he got ready to begin his junior year at UC Berkeley) said to me: “I am tired of hearing people give up on the fight to end climate change. We voted for Measure R and M to create more transit. Why can’t we vote to do what we need to do to end climate change?”

My response? “I believe we can. In fact, it may be the only way for us to actually do what we need to do to end climate change." 

Indeed a ballot measure—after the COVID crisis is over, like in November 2022—may be the only way to raise the scale of resources we need to make the investments required to accelerate zero and near-zero emission cars, trucks, trains, ships and airplanes to market as well as their charging or fueling infrastructure.

As we celebrate today the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day (also Alex’s birthday—he is 24 today), we at Move LA believe that we can chart a course to conquer climate change and permanently conquer air pollution if we can double-down (or better) on California’s leadership and investment in super-clean transportation—zero emission where we can, near-zero otherwise.

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Recovery, Restoration and a New Normal

We want to start out by expressing a deeply-felt thank you to all the very brave "essential workers"—especially those in health care, those who are driving and cleaning buses and trains (and stations), and those riding transit to get to jobs in order to keep the shelves stocked and the lights on. You are the heroes!

The COVID-19 pandemic will change society as we know it forever: What does the future hold for the way we build and live in cities, for transportation and population density, for those who are homeless now and those who may become homeless in the wake of the crisis?

This experience is causing us to think hard about what we can do to aid in the restoration and recovery. The impact on transit across the U.S. has been devastating. Metro's revenues have plummeted since the crisis began, with an estimated $800 million loss in sales taxes, a $25 million loss in ExpressLane tolls, and a $19 million to $23 million loss in fare revenues, resulting in what is likely an inevitable need to cut the Metro budget for next year.

This was among the issues discussed at Metro committee meetings last week (now being held virtually) and will likely be discussed at the board meeting this week. And the concerns expressed about the impact on low-income riders resulted in assurances that Metro's newly hired Executive Officer on Equity and Race will join Metro's Restoration and Recovery Task Force.

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Postponed: LA's Boulevards of Opportunity

In light of our current public health emergency, Move LA’s “grand boulevards” symposium scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 at SCAG will be postponed. An update will be made once a new date is selected. 

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Support SB 732 to Clean SoCal's Air and Curb Climate Change!

We need your support for SB 732, a bill authored by State Senator Ben Allen that will create the opportunity of a lifetime for Southern California.

SB 732 will make it possible for Southern Californians to vote to finally clean the air and at the same time dramatically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

SB 732 will also make it possible for us to create a clean, regional, high-velocity rail system to seriously reduce traffic throughout Southern California. 

And it would cost each of us about a dime a day. Would you vote "Yes" for a measure like this?

Of course you would! That is why we need your support for SB 732. Click here to send an email right now to key legislators and their staff to help us move this critical legislation forward.

Or if you prefer to write an email or call youself, click here to see a sample letter and use the contact info for key legislators listed below.

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