Metro CEO Phil Washington made it clear at our Zoomposium on Boulevards of Equity and Opportunity that because voter-approved Measures R (2008) and M (2016) made Metro probably the most well-funded transit agency in the U.S., Metro is not just about mobility anymore, and not simply a big transit construction program. The agency is, in Washington’s words, “about investing in communities, delivering jobs, training programs, small business assistance programs—as well as new transit lines.” You can listen to the July 16 Zoomposium here (Phil's conversation with Move LA Executive Director Denny Zane begins about 7 minutes in.)
He noted that LA County’s predominant infrastructure investments in the past have been mostly to construct freeways with the goal of providing more mobility—investments that in the end have in large measure divided us. The Measures R and M era of investment is doing something different, he added, funding construction of new transit lines with the goal of providing access to opportunity—education, jobs, healthcare—to “uplift disadvantaged and low-income communities.”
Other topics he addressed: Safe streets, a 10-minute walk to the bus/train, equity and the impact of Metro's investment in communities, Metro's investment in housing affordable to households earning less than 60% of AMI (35% of 4,500 units), $75 million for active transportation, bus rapid transit, electrification of Metro's fleet and the jobs this will create, and a bright future.
“COVID-19 has demonstrated that people are willing to drive less, and to walk and bike more, so we’ve begun supporting communities through grant programs to pilot safe streets and provide more space where people can be outdoors as we shelter in place. COVID-19 has shined a light on the most pressing issues we face as a region, has made us see that burdens are not shared equally. We’re seeing that black and Latino communities are suffering from the virus at higher rates, that blacks and Latinos living in low-income communities and people with poor health are the most vulnerable to the pandemic. And we’ve seen that economic repercussions have only increased the need for affordable housing and policies to stabilize these communities.”
A 10-MINUTE WALK
“Equity is the most central part of the solution, not only to our recovery from COVID-19 but to the broader picture at Metro: The majority of Metro riders are from lower-income households. Metro has the highest percentage of low-income riders in the U.S. Chicago, my hometown, comes in second. But while we have the most low-income riders we also have the lowest fares among systems of our size. And our goal is to ensure that all residents are within a 10-minute walk of a transit stop—we made that very clear in our long-range transportation plan.”
"KeAndra Cylear Dodds is Metro’s first Executive Officer of Equity and Race, and is in charge of putting Metro’s equity platform into action and make sure equity and race are part of the evaluation process when decisions are made about where the future transportation network will go using our new equity assessment tool. She is strengthening our relationships with community organizations, advocacy groups and local governments. Metro approved our equity platform in 2018 to provide a framework for how Metro tackles equity issues, engages communities, and delivers projects to address the vast disparities that exist in LA County. And we’re going to share the idea of an equity platform around the country."
"In 2018 we also adopted Metro’s transit-oriented communities policy, which outlines our commitment to partnering with communities to increase transit ridership, stabilize and strengthen communities, and engage our partners from visioning to realization with the goal of distributing transit investments across the region. We know about the rising cost of housing and congested streets and how it’s become harder and harder to afford housing near jobs in neighborhoods where they can also meet other daily needs."
THE IMPACT OF METRO’S INVESTMENT
"We also understand that Metro’s investment in these communities can really influence development patterns. So we want to work with cities to develop in ways that complement transit investments. That’s why we developed the transit-oriented community policy: to encourage communities to look not just at or around the station area but to also investigate the two-and-a-half-mile radius around the station so that our investments can have an impact more broadly."
"The issue of affordable housing is huge. We have provided cities with $24.6 million in grant funding and are creating a technical assistance program to help local jurisdictions leverage the positive benefits of the transit investment. And just this spring the Metro Board approved repurposing nearly $1 million for small business loan funds to provide emergency relief to small businesses near transit."
4,500 UNITS OF HOUSING (37% AFFORDABLE)
"The affordable housing crisis and the rise in homelessness, compounded by COVID-19, is really pushing us into a deeper conversations about these issues. In 2015 Metro pioneered the most aggressive affordable housing policy of any transit agency in the U.S. when we decided that 35% of the housing built on land we own would be affordable to households earning less than 60% of AMI. Today Metro has built 2.200 housing units, 34% of which are affordable, on Metro-owned land through our joint development program. Right now we are in the midst of negotiating and entitling another 2,300 units, which will bring our affordability to 37%. So we’re not stopping. The severity of the housing crisis is so great that we’re looking for ways to do more. We are re-examining our affordability goals. I’ve asked our joint development team to re-examine that 35% goal, and to see if we can go higher with our objectives."
"We are very interested in creating more vibrant streets—streets that are special places. We are creating an active transportation program to provide grant funding to local jurisdictions to improve sidewalks and crosswalks and bike lanes. During in the next five years we expect to award $75 million to support pedestrian and bike improvements around the county. We can’t improve transit ridership if people don’t feel safe walking or biking to the nearest bus stop or transit station."
BUS RAPID TRANSIT
"We are still committed and in the process of discussing several new bus rapid transit (BRT) lines, and believe there is great potential for BRT to increase the reliability of our transit service. We are studying the potential of developing an entire BRT network; the North Hollywood to Pasadena line is just one line we are studying now."
ELECTRIFICATION AND JOB CREATION
"The state has set a goal of electrifying all transit by 2040 but Metro’s Board of Directors wants to do it in the next 10 years. COVID has set sales tax revenues back but we have started to electrify the Orange Line with new buses and will have finished by the end of the year. Electrification of the Silver Line, which runs all the way from the East San Gabriel Valley down the 110 to the South Bay, has been slightly delayed by the revenue shortfall but we are fully committed to electrifying where we can and eventually our entire fleet. And with that comes new jobs. We’re looking at ways to train both our existing staff and young people on this new technology and are excited about the opportunity to electrify our entire fleet."
A BRIGHT FUTURE
"This is a challenging time. COVID has put all of us and the struggles of LA County under a magnifying glass. But we believe that with great stress comes focus and productivity."