This is a Guest Post by Peter and continues his series on overseas cities.
Los Angeles is a poster child for automobile dependent sprawl – a moniker that is somewhat justified, even if it also happens to be one of the denser American cities (if you use the rather dodgy measurement of average density). But Los Angeles’s story is actually a bit more complicated than the normal story – especially if you look at where LA is now heading with its transport policy and its funding priorities.
To start with, Los Angeles’s highly dispersed urban form was not originally the result of the automobile, but rather the result of it once having the world’s most extensive electric railways network – the Pacific Electric System: At its greatest extent in 1925, the Pacific Electric Railway system had over 1600 km of track – linking towns with each other and with downtown Los Angeles. Coupled with the “Los Angeles Railway“, a system of streetcars in the very inner suburbs of LA, you would have struggled to find many cities in the world in the 1920s with a more extensive rail network: particularly as population wise Los Angeles wasn’t the huge conurbation that it is today.
Obviously in later years Los Angeles decided to go down the “build motorways exclusively” path, arguably to a greater extent than just about any other city in the world – particularly in terms of constructing such an extensive system relatively early (the Arroyo Seco Parkway opened in 1940). By the 1970s Los Angeles didn’t have a passenger rail network – quite staggering for the second largest city in the USA, and leading to pretty massive congestion and pollution problems. So for much of the last 20 years, a major focus for Los Angeles has been the construction (or in many cases reconstruction) of the city’s rail network. A lot has been achieved:
- The Blue Line (opened in 1990) is a light rail line running between Downtown Los Angeles and Downtown Long Beach.
- The Red Line (opened in 1993) is a subway line running between Downtown Los Angeles and North Hollywood.
- The Purple Line (opened in 1993 as part of the Red Line) is a subway line running between Downtown Los Angeles and the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles.
- The Green Line (opened in 1995) is a light rail line running between Redondo Beach and Norwalk in the median of the Century Freeway (I-105), providing indirect access to Los Angeles International Airport via a shuttle bus.
- The Gold Line (opened in 2003) is a light rail line that runs between East Los Angeles and Pasadena via Downtown Los Angeles.
- The Metro Expo Line is Metro’s newest light rail line that will open to the public on April 28, 2012. The line has been delayed for nearly 2 years.The line will initially operate between Downtown Los Angeles to La Cienega/Jefferson and in the summer 2012 to Culver City. It will share 2 Metro Blue Line stations (7th Street/Metro Center and Pico).
Along with a couple of bus rapid transit lines, Los Angeles has managed to build a fairly decent network over the past 20 years – pretty much from scratch: But what makes Los Angeles particularly interesting is looking at where it’s headed now. Despite the investment over the past 20 years in the network shown above, as well as a pretty clever bus system, Los Angeles remains a car dependent city that continues to suffer from congestion and pollution. However, unlike Auckland – where we remain under the illusion that perhaps if we just widen one more motorway we might finally fix congestion for good – Los Angeles has come to the realisation that the only solution is to offer people alternatives to sitting in their cars getting stuck in traffic. In short, there’s a general realisation that the vast bulk of investment in transport needs to go into these alternatives.
Reflecting this general understanding in the population, in November 2008 Measure R was passed by a two-thirds majority in Los Angeles County. Measure R added 0.5% onto the existing county sales tax over 30 years, with the money raised from that sales tax increase being specifically allocated to transport projects. Over the 30 years, the tax is expected to raise around $40 billion – with all money raised needing to be split across different transport activities in the following way:
- 35% for transit capital projects (i.e. new rail and bus rapid transit lines).
- 3% for transit capital on the Metrolink commuter rail system.
- 2% for transit capital on things like rail cars and rail yards.
- 20% for highway capital projects.
- 5% for operations on new rail lines.
- 20% for bus operation improvements.
- 15% for local return (i.e. transportation money that individual cities decide how to spend).
The graph below also illustrates the funding split quite well:While there probably remains some uncertainty about where the local improvements money will end up, generally the funding split for Measure R funds is tilted extremely strongly towards public transport projects, as well as ensuring there’s sufficient money available to also improve services.
The map below shows that a pretty extensive range of projects are able to be advanced due to Measure R: The biggest project of the lot here is the Westside SubwayExtension, with the full project expected to cost around $9 billion (but is hugely needed as it runs under Wilshire Boulevard, an enormously dense activity corridor).
What becomes increasingly clear, when you look at the long-term transport plans of supposedly auto-dependent cities like Los Angeles, is how they’ve realised the pointlessness of continuing to add more and more motorway capacity, just to watch it fill up again. But for some reason Auckland doesn’t quite get this yet, for some reason even a 50/50 split between roads and public transport funding is seen as “too extreme” – the Auckland Plan shifting away from that general funding split that had been in the Regional Land Transport Strategy. It seems that anywhere else in the world a 50/50 split would be seen as extremely roads-focused, yet in New Zealand it’s the complete opposite.
Why are we so out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to transport matters?