It was a victory for transit and for community process at Metro today as board members listened to advocates for the proposed North San Fernando Valley Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project and to its critics—the neighbors who would live near it—assuring both groups (there were more than 80 speakers) they would seek a strategic solution to everyone's needs and concerns. Board members then voted to begin the environmental review.
Neighbors are concerned the BRT corridor will worsen traffic along Nordhoff Street because the buses will take up space now used by cars. They have recommended that the line travel instead down Roscoe Boulevard, a street lined with light industrial buildings, some commercial uses, single-family neighborhoods and vacant lots. Some have expressed concern that if BRT is built along Nordhoff then SB 50, a 2-year bill by state Sen. Scott Wiener (San Francisco) that will be heard again next year, would upzone the mostly single-family neighborhoods along the line, allowing developers to build apartments and/or more homes.
Students, transit advocates and environmentalists, however, countered that BRT along Nordhoff would relieve traffic—because the line would travel along the south side of the Cal State Northridge (CSUN) campus, creating easy access for its 30,000 students and thus ensuring significant ridership—as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We believe that if Metro were able to create a deeply-discounted student transit pass program—something that Move LA and its partners have advocated for years—that it may be exactly the program that could reassure the project's critics that traffic would not increase.
Move LA is urging the Metro Board to move forward with the North San Fernando Valley Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Project, and we are asking you to join us in this effort by sending an email to board members—their email addresses and more info is below—to express your support. Or consider attending the Metro Board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 24, at 10 a.m. If you want to provide public comment you need to register at the meeting before the item is taken up.
This BRT project represents a $180 million investment in the North San Fernando Valley, and is projected to result in an estimated 28,000 daily boardings in 2042—comparable to the highly successful Orange Line BRT today—in part because it will directly serve students, faculty and staff at Cal State Northridge, one of the largest universities in the state. But it will also serve key work centers including North Hollywood, Panorama City and the Northridge Fashion Center, and allow people to transfer to the Orange Line, Metrolink and the planned Van Nuys Boulevard Light Rail line.
Everyone—especially low-income residents—will benefit from faster transit service that reduces both traffic congestion and the time they have to spend getting to destinations. Traffic in Los Angeles is slowing down buses, making arrival times unpredictable and reducing ridership. One recent study, by Aaron Mendelson at KPCC, found that while 22% of Metro buses now run late, buses that travel on a dedicated lane, like the Orange Line, are late only 5.4% of the time. On-time performance matters greatly to bus riders, and dedicated lanes for BRT would really improve the reliability of service.
Consider some of the results of research that has been done on BRT systems in the U.S. by the Federal Transit Administration, the Transportation Research Board and others.Read more
Last month Tunua Thrash-Ntuk, executive director of LA's Local Initiatives Support Corporation, sat down with Sen. Ben Allen, Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane, and public finance expert Larry Kosmont for a discussion about affordable housing and public transit. The result is podcast #13 in LISC’s Changemakers LA podcast series: "What Move LA is Doing Around Transit Districts"!
Tunua Thrash-Ntuk began by asking the question that many people are asking: Why is it that with so many transportation options now available in Los Angeles—following voter approval of Measures R in 2008 and M in 2016, which are now providing $120 billion (mostly for transit) over 40 years—that traffic is getting worse and bus ridership is declining?
The answer? It's not just a transportation problem, it is a housing affordability problem.
"There's definitely a housing-transportation nexus here," Sen. Ben Allenbegan. "So many people can't afford to live near where they work that as housing costs increase they have to move further and further away. We need more housing near job centers and more transit to get people to jobs."
Denny Zane agreed, noting "It's important to appreciate that housing has a dramatic impact on ridership, and the people who ride transit most often are from low-income households, which are being forced out of Los Angeles as high-income households move in—many of them to work in LA's expanding tech industry—causing rents and housing prices to climb."
Larry Kosmont pointed out that local governments could step up and help solve the need for more affordable housing if they had a way to capture the value of the public investment LA County is making in transit—adding that if government doesn’t capture the value, the private sector will by building luxury condos and high-rent apartment buildings.
Value capture is what community redevelopment agencies used to do, but Governor Brown ended redevelopment to deal with the state’s budget crisis in 2011, and recreating it has recently been the subject of much discussion in the state Capitol.
Sen. Ben Allen’s SB 961—which Move LA sponsored and Governor Brown signed last year—would resurrect a type of redevelopment by allowing cities to create enhanced infrastructure financing districts near high-frequency bus and rail corridors and in the half-mile radius around stations.
These districts could enable cities to bond against the future tax increment and begin improving these neighborhoods and turning them into mixed-income, mixed-use, transit-oriented communities. SB 961 requires that 40% of the funds be used for affordable housing for low- and very-low income people as well as people who are homeless—redevelopment in contrast required only 20% of for housing that is affordable.
"There are tools, like SB 961, to do this but they need to be strengthened," Larry concluded. "What is missing is motivation for government agencies to cooperate by committing a share of their property tax increases to reinvestment in these districts."
Denny said the intent of SB 961 is to create an important new funding source for community building in mixed-use mixed-income neighborhoods along underutilized boulevards. LA County has a significant number of these commercial corridors that are served by high frequency bus and rail transit—including Vermont, Venice, Valley and Vanowen, said Denny, adding "and that's only the boulevards that start with a V."
Sen. Allen, Denny, Larry and Tunua talked at greater length about the importance of value capture and how it can be used to invest in community development and increase transit ridership—we urge you to listen to the whole conversation here: Podcast #13: "What Move LA is Doing Around Transit Districts." This podcast series is part of an even larger conversation about how to make LA neighborhoods better in a time of growing prosperity and growing inequity in LA, and it's a celebration of LISC's 30 years in LA. Thank you Tunua Thrash-Ntuk!
The Planning Report recently asked Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane an important question: What would SB 50, a bill by Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) to upzone much of the land in transit-rich and jobs-rich neighborhoods--including those currently dedicated to single-family housing--do to voter support for transit expansion measures such as Measures M and R?
A City of LA Planning Department report estimates that about 43% of developable land in the city could be affected by SB 50. And the bill—which was held in the Legislature this session but will reappear next year—has definitely had an impact on discussions about a planned bus rapid transit project in the San Fernando Valley. Click here to read Denny's assessment of supply-side answers to the state's housing crisis in the new issue of the Planning Report!
We were very pleased this summer to be identified as a major player, in the Eno Center for Transportation's laudatory account of the 2016 Measure M campaign—along with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and LA Metro. That win—with 71.15% of the vote—on a measure now providing $120 billion (mostly for transit) in LA County on a ballot that included three other successful funding measures (for community colleges, parks and homeless housing and services) was remarkable. Voters suddenly seemed very willing to tax themselves to help solve the county's real needs.
The non-profit Eno Center is a progressive transportation think tank in Washington D.C. that has been publishing analyses of transportation ballot measures in the recognition that new transportation funding sources are necessary. The reason? Federal gas tax revenues, long the biggest source of transportation funding, have been declining as the fuel efficiency of cars increases. The Eno Center sees LA County's ballot measures as an example for other counties.
The Eno report, a joint effort with the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and written by UCLA Professor Michael Manville, noted that “Measure M is a classic example of coalition politics. Much of the work surrounding the measure involved building an alliance to support it. This took place long before voters even saw the proposal . . . Measure M’s success began with a coalition representing almost every geographic area and large stakeholder.”
And, the Eno Center noted, not only did Move LA play the role of coalition-convener in the 2016 campaign but had done the same in 2008 when Measure R won with just 66.7% of the vote, a victory no less remarkable than Measure M, however, as the Great Recession was crashing down all around us. (Yes, that's Move LA's Executive Director Denny Zane to the right in both R and M photos above.)
The Measure R win also prompted a study by the Dukakis Urban & Regional Policy Center at Northeastern University, written by the center’s Associate Director Stephanie Pollack—now Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. This study discussed Denny's role in initiating the campaign at a summit he organized in early January 2008, after which he convened a powerful business-labor-environmentalist coalition to support the idea.
Wrote Pollack, “A charismatic leader can get the ball rolling and help overcome adversity. While the circumstances in 2007 clearly were ripe for a transportation finance campaign, someone had to convene the stakeholders. It is fair to say that without Zane there would not have been a Measure R campaign. Zane’s ability to bring people together and his willingness to take a risk kick-started this effort and likely carried it through.”
Move LA Policy and Communications Director Gloria Ohland was invited to Oakland last month to share the Measure R and M lessons with Bay Area transportation leaders and advocates who are considering a measure for their 2020 ballot. She talked about the importance of building multi-constituency coalitions and finding common ground—and how that is best done face-to-face, one conversation at a time. We believe that is the most important lesson!
We will soon share our coalition-building plans around the issues of affordable housing, clean air, climate change, regional high-velocity express rail, zero-emission technologies and the imminent need to address short-lived climate pollutants (also called super pollutants)—and hope you will join us. Stay tuned!
Since last month at the Metro Board meeting on its budget, where we testified that Metro needs to budget for expanding bus service, several news outlets have called Move LA to ask us why we believe bus transit ridership continues to fall in Los Angeles County.
Our answer: since Metro’s primary ridership base is the low-income members of our community, declining bus ridership and rising homelessness have the same fundamental cause – the loss of a large share of Los Angeles’ County’s affordable housing stock, not to bulldozers, but to rent increases and eviction notices.
Increasingly, very-low and low income people and families are no longer able to afford to live here. Many leave the county for more affordable communities to our east or communities in other states; some end up on the streets among the growing ranks of our homeless population.
In any case a large share of Metro’s very-low and low income transit rider base have left and are no longer riding transit.
We began to unearth this trend last year when we looked at demographic data we asked for and received from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).
Since 2005, Los Angeles County has experienced two dominant trends: a dramatic increase in households with six-figure incomes and a concurrent and dramatic loss in very-low and low income households.
The Changing Demographics of LA County: 2005-2015
Source: Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG)
Changes in composition of LA County Households by Income
Increase in #
Growth in Households in LA County
Decline in Households in LA County
The growth of over 300,000 high-income households in LA County is huge – more than a 50% increase over a decade from about 600,000 in 2005 to over 900,000 in 2015. This growth continues today and is changing LA County in fundamental ways.
We believe this sudden and very large increase in our high-income workforce, primarily in high-tech industries, has created pressures on housing costs across the county, both for-sale and rental housing, driving up rents, gentrifying neighborhoods and displacing many low-income residents.
The Silicon Valley came to LA in the early 2000s to couple-up with Hollywood and beget the Silicon Beach (and spread inland). Early tech migrants Yahoo! and Google each bought major properties in Santa Monica and Venice in 2005-6 bringing the first wave of what would soon be 300,000 new highly paid employees (most from out of town). We had no idea the transformation they would bring.
The residents of Queens saw the future better than we. When they heard that Amazon was coming and bringing 25,000 highly paid jobs, they figured the jobs weren’t meant for them and the new highly-paid workforce would likely drive up housing costs, gentrify their community, and drive many of them out. So, they resisted. Amazon backed out of the deal.
Imagine if they faced an influx of not 25,000 new highly paid residents but 300,000 like us– it would be like lighting a demographic fuse that would blow away our low-income residents.
Many displaced low-income residents have moved out of town; some may have become homeless. Many members of the displaced households were likely transit riders. Thus, between 2005-2015, LA Metro lost nearly 17% of the population that provided its ridership base, largely due to rising housing costs. This loss of low-income households has continued and probably now exceeds 20% since 2005.
It is no surprise then that, in addition to riders lost in the aftermath of fare increases and service cuts in 2010 and 2014, Metro transit ridership declined another 17% after 2015.
It’s not just LA County. In 2018, Beacon Economics in a report done for Next 10 said that essentially the same process was underway in urban areas throughout California.
We have been sharing this information with key leaders--at Metro, SCAG, and at our Annual Transportation Conversation. The news media took note and Elijah Chiland wrote an article for Curbed LA that supported our conclusion with further data. And then we were interviewed for KNX 1070 News Radio, the largest news radio outlet in Los Angeles, about the decline in ridership caused by demographic shifts and housing costs and what Metro can do today to invest in our current ridership and not just our future.
We believe that the Metro Board has been incredibly ambitious with its “28 by ‘28” proposal to complete 28 major capital projects by 2028 when the Olympics. This is ambition we encourage, with one caveat: we want Metro to add one more ambitious plan: We should rebuild our transit ridership back to 2008 levels by 2028.
We believe there are cost-effective, proven strategies that include significant bus service enhancements, real fare reductions, universal student transit pass programs available to all college students in the county, and additional access for services to seniors and people with disabilities.
Further, Metro should prioritize (like Barcelona, Spain has done) developing a significant network of Bus Rapid Transit lines on boulevards throughout the county. There is already funding in Measure M for this and we believe it would be an excellent use of that measure’s new transit operations dollars.
Joe Linton of Streetsblog LA outlined our concerns with the FY 2019-20 Metro Budget and our recommendations for expenditures in this detailed story.
We've outlined our asks to the Metro Board and would like to get your support. Can you sign onto this letter endorsing our recommendations today and we will share it with the Metro Board?
Oh, and what is our approach to the affordable housing crisis? More on that next time.
Move LA has been making the case for unlimited and universal student transit passes for almost five years now because we believe that free and discounted transit pass program will increase declining transit ridership in LA County and improve access to economic and educational opportunities while at the same time reduce the driving, traffic, GHG emissions, the need for students to own a care and the cost of getting an education.
This belief is based on good, analytic data showing that access to transit for students can have a whole range of other benefits:
- A 2012 study by Safe Routes to School National Partnership estimated that 20-30% of morning traffic could be generated by parents driving their children to school;
- A 2015 study by Harvard University found access to transportation is the single biggest factor in the odds of escaping poverty and avoiding homelessness;
- A 2016 University of Minnesota study found that their student transit pass program resulted in lower estimated annual emissions of 93% for nitrogen oxide, 89% for particulate matter, and 59% for CO2, compared to the previous yellow bus program. In addition, annual reductions were estimated at 18,304 trips and 158,400 vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) from replacing yellow buses and 2,038,784 VMT from personal vehicles.
- Alameda County's pilot program, which has been running since 2015, is providing bus and BART transit passes to high school students; 14% of students reported missing fewer days of school than they did during the prior year and involvement in non-school-based afterschool activities and after-school jobs increased dramatically (by 77% and 238% respectively) for student participants.
- A study by the LA County Department of Public Health found that securing free transit passes for all students from preschool to college could lead to: 1) families saving $750,000 per year in fines for fare evasion and $2.5 million per year on student transit passes, 2) students receiving more instructional time, 3) schools receiving an additional $125,000 each year for every 1% decrease in unexcused absences, and 4) fewer vehicle emissions resulting in healthier families and communities.
- And studies conducted by Dr. Donald Shoup (2001) on student transit pass programs show that these programs reduce the cost of attending college by up to $2,000 and Dr. Nuworsoo (2004) show that deep discount group pass programs are useful instruments for increasing transit revenue and ridership.
A number of major cities like Paris, Chicago, and Seattle are currently researching or expanding their transit pass programs for students; our partners at Investing in Place wrote a great article about those programs as well as the current programs being offered in Los Angeles County.
Big Announcements Last Week On Student Passes
Last week, Los Angeles took a major step in providing unlimited and universal student transit passes to students in the LA Unified School District and the LA Community College District. In partnership with SLATE-Z and the LA Promise Fund, LA Metro began distribution of U-Pass TAP stickers to the rising Junior class at Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles. These stickers go directly on students' IDs and can be used on all Metro buses and trains as well as 10 other municipal bus systems. This is the first-of-its-kind program where high school students will receive passes at a group rate. This pilot program is being funded by a grant from the 11th Hour Project after our organizations won a Just Transit grant.
We will be tracking the outcomes of this program with the goal of sharing the results with the LAUSD and Metro Boards to make the case that expanding this program to more high school students can improve school attendance, increase involvement in extracurricular activities, and decrease vehicle miles traveled, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution.
Also happening this week, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Paul Krekorian, and LACCD Board President Mike Fong announced that LADOT's DASH Bus Service would be FREE for LAUSD and LACCD students with a Metro student discount TAP card. This is funded through an existing stream of $$ coming from Caltrans HQ for low carbon transit programs, a program that Move LA advocated to fund through California's cap-and-trade auction proceeds.
Move LA was quoted in both Streetsblog LA and Curbed LA on this exciting development but what piqued our interest the most was when Mayor Eric Garcetti speculated that "maybe Metro will be next.” We hope that we will soon see Metro take similar action, laying the foundation for transit ridership resurgence which we believe should be the 29th project in Metro’s plan for the 2028 Olympics. In fact, all municipal and county transit operators should leverage these existing state funds to subsidize student transit passes as an effective policy for ridership and transit access, and we will continue to encourage State and local leaders to invest in these types of programs.
The coming decade looms large for anyone who has been at the frontlines of fighting climate change and air pollution. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded we have just 12 years to reduce global emissions or the consequences could be irreversible.
Our politicians have shown the leadership that can help get us there: Governor Jerry Brown set a goal of deploying 5 million ZEVs by 2030; Governor Gavin Newsom wants to dump diesel by 2030; LA Mayor Garcetti and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia set a goal of zero emissions at the ports by 2035. And by 2031 the South Coast Air District must meet federal standards for air quality or face certain penalties and loss of funding.
All of this will take major public investments in incentives and infrastructure—and that’s where voters come in! We can dump diesel, improve air quality, and conquer climate change if we can match the State of California’s investment in clean transportation.
We need to drive clean transportation technologies like zero-emission vehicles to the marketplace faster and at scale—light, medium and heavy-duty vehicles! Simply put, we need to get to economies of scale quickly in order to make ZEVs cheaper than their gasoline and diesel counterparts. Then the marketplace itself can take over.
We also need to drive near-zero emission heavy-duty trucks to the marketplace because we must dump diesel now—it’s toxic to our neighbors, especially in the frontline communities near freeways and ports. While zero-emission trucks are the goal, it may take a long time to develop the technology that allows these trucks to travel across the country, and even longer to install charging infrastructure that will take them where they need to go. This is why we believe near-zero heavy-duty trucks are part of the solution.
There is an advantage to near-zero in the short term because we must also capture and use short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), which are 100 times more powerful than CO2. They also decay more quickly, but only after the damage is done. Near-zero trucks can be fueled by biomethane, one of the major SCLPs—80% of which is produced by dairies and cattle ranches, landfills and waste-water plants.
Regulating heavy-duty trucks to make them comply with California’s climate goals isn’t an option, because they are regulated by the federal government, not states or localities.
Addressing these concerns requires major investments, and we need to make big progress in a decade. We learned when passing Measures R and M for transit that we can raise serious money at the ballot box to help achieve seemingly impossible goals—these measures together are raising $120 billion over 40 years for transportation, 70% of that for transit.
The State of California is already investing big bucks in the fight against climate change. Now we need to double down on that investment at the local level. And we know how to do this because we have done it before.
So what if we could vote to end climate change? Would you?
Is it Time for Move SoCal?Read more
1) Attain federal clean air standards with full implementation of the Mobile Source Plan of the 2016 AQMP:
Diesel emissions are the most pressing challenge to air quality in Southern California by far. Diesel emissions are a toxic air contaminant, second only to smoking as a cause for cancer. Disadvantaged communities near freeways are especially burdened. The 2016 AQMP relies on incentives to accelerate deployment of zero- and near-zero-emission heavy-duty trucks and equipment at a cost of over $1 billion/year. This scale of effort can only be funded by a regional ballot measure.
2) Address climate change head-on:
California is leading the way in the fight to conquer climate change. Our progress in replacing fossil fuel power with clean renewables has been so great that our #1 priority now should be reducing GHGs from the transportation sector, still the biggest source of GHGs. The economies of scale for manufacturers could yield significantly reduced costs for car buyers around the world—and make a big difference in the effort to conquer climate change. We plan to urge inclusion of very significant funds to accelerate deployment of zero-emission light- and medium-duty vehicles and charging facilities.
3) Modernize and electrify Metrolink, Southern California’s regional commuter rail system:
Modernizing our 530-mile, 5-county regional commuter rail system is a golden opportunity to create high-capacity, high-efficiency, higher-speed, zero-emission electric regional transit linking the region’s core communities. Double-tracking and modernizing the system and providing the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (which operates Metrolink) with funding for reliable, frequent and more affordable service will build ridership and address climate change head on.
4) County transportation commission local return program:
We should include significant funds for investments in clean local transit systems and the expansion of active transportation in each of the Air District's 4 counties. The measure would fund each county transportation commission and respect the authority of each to establish their own transit project priorities, specifically referencing each county’s Long Range Transportation Plan.
Move LA proposes placing a regional ballot measure before voters in the South Coast Air District in 2020—which includes nearly all of 4 counties—to fund the transformation of our existing regional Metrolink commuter rail system into a high-velocity regional transit system.
It will require major investments to electrify the 530-mile Metrolink system, and to double-track—even triple-track—wherever needed to significantly enhance service and enable all-day express service on one or more lines, and to connect to regional airports like Ontario Airport.
To accomplish this we propose a regional half-cent sales tax measure, which can also fund implementation of the 2016 Air Quality Management Plan, ensuring we finally meet federal clean air standards and achieve major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
To succeed Move LA needs to identify and come together with regional partners to create a new regional coalition, which we hope to call Move SoCal—if our partners agree!