The fact that Los Angeles County is in the midst of a transit transformation has been duly noted in the media,  from the LA Times (“LA – transit’s promised land”) to the New York Post (“Los Angeles is the future . . . NYC watch your back”),  and from Atlantic Cities (“Is Southern California this Country’s Next Environmental Success Story?”) to Slate (“How a ballot initiative, visionary mayor and a quest for growth are turning LA into America’s next great transit city”).

With the passage of the Measure R sales tax in 2008 -- which won 67.8% of the vote – voters resoundingly affirmed their interest in modernizing LA County’s transit system, and in helping to pay for it. This is a story that has resonated far and wide. “Many people are surprised to learn their city’s reputation is at an all-time high among international transit scholars,” author Taras Gresco wrote in an LA Times op ed. Added international transit consultant Jarrett Walker on his Human Transit blog: “When I talk about public transit I don’t talk much about Boston or New York . . . When I really want to shift [the audience’s] thinking I talk about Los Angeles.”

Measure R helps pay for a doubling of the size of our rail transit system,  12 projects ranging from a rail connection to LAX to the Westside subway to the downtown Regional Connector, which will make a one-seat ride possible from Azusa to Long Beach, and from East LA to Santa Monica. Measure R is funding an infrastructure enhancement program that could be as important to our future as William Mulholland’s water project -- only this time a two-thirds majority of voters will have approved it. We can also thank Measure R for the fact that Metro’s fares continue to be among the lowest in the U.S., and  for making it possible for the region to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets of  8% by 2020 and 13% by 2035.

And we think LA County is just getting started. Lots of people have begun talking about Measure R-2 because we need money to fix the 405 with underground light rail and tolled lanes that help pay for it, and we could connect the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood and then to LAX, and connect the San Gabriel Valley to the Inland Empire and to Ontario Airport, and extend the subway beyond Westwood. Improved Metrolink service! More bike lanes and more walkable communities! Student transit passes! A Great Boulevards program! Clean freight corridors with electric and natural gas trucks and freight rail!

This is the discussion that we think needs to be heard in the corridors of LA Metro and in meeting rooms around the county, prompted in part by the very close vote on Measure J last November. Measure J, which would have extended the Measure R sales tax, got 66.1% of the vote but fell just short of the required two-thirds majority. This means that voters have twice registered an extraordinarily high level of support for a clean and modern transit vision, and with the 2016 presidential election looking like an especially good opportunity for high voter turnout, a lot of people are talking about what LA Metro should do to complete the transit transformation.

In the new book entitled The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy,  Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution write that the paralysis in Congress has created a leadership vacuum, and that regions are stepping up with transformative agendas to fill the void. Katz and Brookings like to point to Los Angeles and its success with Measure R as a prime example of what self-help regions can do.

Los Angeles isn’t often cited as an example of what works – especially when it comes to transportation. But we have entered a brave new world.

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