Why Boulevards? Why BRT? Why Now?

We’ve told you about our program to re-imagine stretches of commercial property along some of LA County’s underutilized boulevards—we call them “Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity”—with the addition of high-quality transit, especially bus rapid transit (BRT), and new moderate-density neighborhoods comprised of mixed-use, mixed-income, multifamily development.

Why boulevards? Because they offer significant opportunities for affordable housing without the displacement of current residents or businesses. Displacement is a major challenge when housing is built in existing neighborhoods, but most boulevards aren’t zoned for much housing. We believe that wherever there are homes or businesses, however, they must be protected.

Protecting against displacement and building robust affordable housing will help ensure that this development helps remedy rather than exacerbate historic racial injustices and concerns about equity. Building these neighborhoods near transit also addresses the problem that the people who ride transit the most are often priced out of neighborhoods with high-quality transit.

Join our online Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity Zoomposium JULY 16 at 3 p.m. to talk with an impressive line-up of transportation & affordable housing experts re: if, how, why & where Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity are feasible. REGISTER HERE. Speakers include Metro CEO Phil Washington & UrbanFootprint co-founders Peter Calthorpe & Joe DiStefano. All speakers are on the registration page.

If the density of this development is moderate, with 4-5 story buildings, for example, even nearby residents and businesses (if there are any) may see this make-over not as a problem but as an opportunity—with more amenities for residents and more customers for business. Moreover, moderate-density development could provide enough new residents to justify enhancing transit service with BRT.

We also focus on boulevards because LA County has so many, including some that are 15-20 miles or more in length. Many were served by LA County’s 1,000-mile streetcar system, which helped make them prosperous centers of local commerce.

But these boulevards have been in transition because freeways, then shopping centers, and now the internet have taken away business over several decades, with the result that many properties are or may become underutilized, and are therefore less expensive to purchase and develop.

Why BRT?  Because BRT typically operates in dedicated lanes along major streets and gets signal priority when crossing intersections, making it significantly faster and more predictable and with greater capacity for passengers than bus service (the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley is a good example). It’s not as fast as a rail line but neither is it as expensive.

If streets as long as some of LA’s boulevards were served by BRT, the easy access to jobs and destinations would make transit-oriented mixed-income neighborhoods along the BRT route desirable. Success could be virtually guaranteed if, as we envision, we also provided significant urban greening, street trees, and pocket parks; made streets and sidewalks safer for walking and biking; improved bus stops with real-time arrival/departure information, shade and benches; and added neighborhood services.

We believe the high quality of BRT service together with the other improvements we’ve listed would make these boulevards very attractive places in which to live and therefore attractive for investment in community development.

BRT might also help with long-term economic recovery from the coronavirus. One recent study for the National Institute for Transportation and Communities found strong evidence that BRT systems in the U.S. generate economic development, attract jobs, retail and affordable housing—at a cost that’s within reach of most transit agencies.

The study also found that after the 2008 recession more higher-wage job growth occurred near BRT stations than in other locations. Study author Dr. Arthur Nelson told the national nonprofit Transportation for America that “Bus rapid transit systems have important effects on development patterns. At substantially lower costs, BRT generates important and sometimes impressive development outcomes.”

Why now? The need for affordable housing in Los Angeles County, especially now as we recover from the coronavirus, has never been greater and the land to build it on has never been more expensive. Repurposing underutilized commercially zoned land along these boulevards creates new opportunities for the development of both the market-rate and the affordable housing that our communities need.

This is the reason we are eager to encourage cities in LA County to investigate Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity and are working on legislation to help make it happen.

Please join our online Boulevards of Equity & Opportunity Zoomposium to talk about the possibilities! JULY 16 at 3 p.m. REGISTER HERE. All speakers are listed on the registration page.


What's Been Done & What Can Be Done: LA County Transit & Affordable Housing

Our world has become more challenging for all of us these past several years, especially recently. Move LA started building a campaign in 2007 to address LA's then soul-crushing traffic congestion. But we did not know then how deep our community's affordable housing crisis would be become nor how severe would become our crisis of homelessness. We knew climate change would be a generational challenge, but we did not know an IPCC report in 2018 would say we had but a decade to turn things around. 

The important question for Move LA now is what can we do, together with allies and coalition partners, to help make progress on important issues related to clean transportation, affordable housing and smart land use over the next couple of years? Below are our priorities for the next decade.

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Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity (BEO)

This program is essentially an affordable housing advocacy plan joined with the development of new Bus Rapid Transit or other more robust bus service strategies on commercial boulevards or in downtowns in LA County.
It brings together a plan for siting new housing near high-quality transit as well as proposals for new funding to make our affordable housing efforts real. Under the banner of this program
Move LA will champion:

State legislation and local strategies to ensure that as a state, as a county and as a community we have created the funding programs and planning tools needed to implement a robust affordable housing program;

Multiple Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems on boulevards around LA County;

State and local legislation to enable a vigorous community development program of mixed-use, mixed-income, multifamily housing projects on commercially zoned property along LA County boulevards done without sacrificing existing neighborhoods or displacing current renters or longtime local businesses; 

Creation of bikeways parallel to transit along the length of such boulevards; and

Ensuring robust investments in urban greening and first-last-mile bike and pedestrian access to transit. 

By shifting the discussion to promoting mixed-use development on commercial boulevards or in downtowns, where development potential is greater and nearer to transit services, Move LA with our BEO program hopes to reshape the discussion about how to do housing development near transit in California without threatening R-1 neighborhoods and making the homeowner community hostile to transit.

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NextGen Bus Program

Engagement with LA Metro to make sure the NextGen Bus Program—especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis—rebuilds our bus ridership and is smart, efficient, effective and equitable for low-income communities, seniors, people with disabilities, and students.

Vision 2022: Conquering Climate Change & Air Pollution & Accelerating High Efficiency Transit

Move LA will use our coalition building experience, our understanding of the legislative process and ballot measure strategies to develop a statewide ballot measure to place before California voters in November of 2022. Our proposed measure will: 

Make dramatic reductions in both greenhouse gases and air pollution in California by accelerating the deployment of zero and near-zero emission light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles and equipment as well as the charging and fueling infrastructure to support these advanced technologies. Proposed first decade priorities: 

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° Moving heavy-duty trucks and equipment away from reliance upon diesel fuel—designated a toxic air contaminant by the State of California—to instead use battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell, or RNG near-zero emission technologies, and expand available infrastructure to support this goal.

° Implementation of programs to reduce and capture short-lived climate pollutants aka “super pollutants,” believed by scientists to be responsible for 40% of global warming. Because existing SLCPs will decay within 12-15 years or less, doing so presents our best and maybe only oppourtunity to actually roll back climate change. 

Make significant investments in zero-emission, high-velocity, express regional rail systems and county-based transit infrastructure and operations in urban and rural communities around California.

Download Move LA:Past Accomplishments 

Download Move LA: Future Goals


Let's Expand Bus Rapid Transit in LA County: Answer Metro's BRT Survey

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Last week we emailed you about the opportunity expand Bus Rapid Transit in Los Angeles County because it will create jobs, help get our economy moving, and it could just be part of the solution to our impending climate crisis (less than a decade away from irreversible harm).

LA Metro understands all this and has been conducting a “Vision & Principles Study” to develop an overall vision, goals, and objectives for BRT in LA County. They have analyzed the top 30 highest performing corridors (see image) and are working on assessing these corridors to shorten the list to 3-5 priority corridors for recommended BRT implementation. These are in addition to the BRT projects already funded and in planning in the North San Fernando Valley and the NoHo to Pasadena lines.

Please visit MetroBRTstory.com and take 5-10 minutes to complete the survey and provide your input. The survey will be open for responses through May 31, 2020.

The website also provides an incredibly detailed map of corridors analyzed by the Study Team. Your input to the survey and your feedback to the opportunity to expand BRT throughout Los Angeles County will be critical for Metro as they move forward with this important effort.


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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