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Kevin Seymour
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A couple of things I think are worth mentioning regarding the gist of the original LA Times article and the general rail/bus debate in the comments: 1. Correlation is not causation. Why is this always so hard for journalists to understand? The underlying argument of the article is that overall transit ridership in LA has declined since the mid-80s which is also when LA embarked on a rail building program, therefore the rail system caused the reduction in transit ridership. This ignores a whole lot of other very pertinent factors in play, such as the continued building of new freeways (ie, the Century Freeway which opened in the 1990s) and addition of many, many new lanes to existing freeways that occurred at the same time, many built with transit tax funds and under the guise of building supposedly less wasteful HOV lanes. However, even if no new freeway lane-miles had been added between the mid-80s and now, the massive investment in the freeway system in the 60s and 70s would have continued to have a long term effect on where people chose to live and work and how they would move between those two places. And those new places created by the freeway network by and large are not easily serviced by bus or rail, no matter how frequent, speedy or cheap. Other factors affecting transit ridership: the collapse in the price of gasoline from the early 80s to the early 21st century and race-based land use planning and transportation decision-making especially following the early 90s riots. 2. LA shot itself in the foot not because the MTA wasn't able to plan an effective rail system, but because LA voters and politicians prevented the building of subways which could directly serve primary commercial, shopping and entertainment corridors, such as the Red and Purple line do. A good part of the period in question has seen the building of light rail lines along old freight and intercity passenger rail corridors which sometimes happened to go near activity centers, but mostly don't - and the ridership disappointments on these lines (both ends of the Gold Line) should serve as a warning to Angelenos who thing they're saving money by not building subways that can serve the destinations people actually want and need to get to. This should change over the next ten years with the westward expansion of the Purple Line and to a lesser extent with the building of the Regional Connector (so that trains from the two halves of the Gold Line can actually reach downtown, not the fringe area of Union Station). However, the San Gabriel Valley extension of the Gold Line now under construction is fated to be a relatively low-cost per mile, easy to build, politically favored rail line that turns out to have very few people riding it because it doesn't really go where people want to go. 3. And one final glaring omission from the LA Times article is that the MTA, under the court-ordered direction of the BRU, has in fact spent quite a bit of money on its bus system, most notably through the deployment of the Metro Rapid system which is intended to speed bus trips by limiting stops, using signal preemption, running larger, more frequent buses, and providing better bus stop amenities. This a great system and should be expanded and improved with dedicated lanes (as is currently planned for Wilshire) and more frequent service mostly because LA could not possibly build rail transit on all of these corridors. However, this investment, though improving the mobility of many people, hasn't lead to an all-bus-based transit utopia or great spike in bus ridership no more than the investment in rail has transformed LA into Paris. It's too bad that this "bus or rail" argument continues to live on in the media and in social discourse. A city that offers great car-free mobility to its citizens invariably has both a strong rail system and a strong bus system. (It also has great pedestrian life and, increasingly, great bicycle infrastructure.) It's no wonder that the largest bus system by ridership in the US is not LA's, but New York's.
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Jul 26, 2010