Will LA Mayor Eric Garcetti reshape the transportation landscape of the city he leads? The mayor will oversee new rail lines and complete streets initiatives during his tenure, even though many of these initiatives were ushered in by his predecessor Antonio Villaraigosa. However, while Villaraigosa was seen as a visionary, Garcetti is considered more pragmatic in his approach to addressing transportation problems. Garcetti may very well focus on reassessing the relationship between the citizens of Los Angeles and its existing infrastructure. The same could probably be said of whoever is set to lead the city’s Department of Transportation, which one pundit feels Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner for the City of New York, would be more than capable for the job.
As the state continues its climb out of the recession housing affordability around the state is once again moving front and center. While much of the media’s attention is focused solely on the cost of housing there is much more at stake. For middle and low-income families, affordable housing options accessible to transportation choices, jobs, education, and other services and amenities are critical for their economic well-being and health as well as that of our regions and state as a whole.
As California’s regions invest in expanding transit systems and building walkable communities it is critical that housing in these areas is affordable to a diverse set of incomes. On average low and middle income residents ride transit at significantly higher rates than those at the higher end of the scale. In other words, in order to maximize carbon and air quality emissions reductions affordable homes in existing and future transit rich areas are critical. At the same time, the true measure of affordability is not the cost of housing alone but instead the combination of housing and transportation costs.
The most glaring example we are currently seeing is from San Francisco where there is a growing backlash against Silicon Valley “techies” that are driving soaring housing costs that are pricing out middle and low-income families. In our own backyard, rapidly rising housing prices in Silicon Beach are making news for the same reason. Of course housing prices in much of the Los Angeles and San Francisco metro regions have been out of reach for a large proportion of working families for a long time. The important lesson for us is that in order for us to achieve our emission reduction and economic goals we must invest in transit and affordable homes in an integrated, strategic manner. The result will be less sprawl, healthier communities, and enhanced economic opportunities for all and competitiveness for our regions.
LA City Councilmember Janice Hahn called for better working arrangements for port truck drivers. Hahn noted that, even as the ports generate a multitude of middle-class jobs, most drivers come from other countries and work as independent contractors, to the convenience of the truck companies that regularly deduct expenses from truckers’ salaries. Moreover, while the councilmember cited the success of the Clean Trucks Program, which has reduced air pollution at the ports by up to 80%, much of the costs to modify tractors are shouldered on the truck drivers themselves. To date, however, state and federal labor agencies have increasingly enforced regulations that favor drivers, while some transportation companies have answered the clamors of drivers by offering better wages and various benefits. Truck drivers and transport companies should get their act together if our ports want to stay competitive in light of an expanding Panama Canal.
Celebrated architect Frank Gehry is back into the fold of the Grand Avenue Project. His firm Gehry Partners recently submitted a proposal for residences, retail space and a hotel on the parcel of property across Grand Avenue from Disney Hall, which currently houses a parking garage. The firm proposes developing the entire parcel all at once, replacing the phased approach initially favored by primary developer The Related Companies. The Grand Avenue Authority will review the new, $650 million project proposal. If things go well, construction could start in 2015 and be finished by 2019. The proposed project would sit a block west of the Civic Center Red/Purple Line Station. Readers weigh in on the news.
Metro has also begun discussion as to how to bring about a new ballot measure that could bring transit and highway projects about at a faster pace. Though Metro tried to extend the existing Measure R by 30 years in 2012, the ensuing ballot measure, Measure J, failed to cross the required 2/3 supermajority by the thinnest of threads. Pundits attribute the failure to the lack of new projects, apart from what Measure R would fund, that soured some voters. Hoping to learn from their mistakes, Metro will craft a new measure with input from other communities and officials that may make the measure more palatable to voters. The new measure may possibly enact an outright sales tax increase instead of an extension of the Measure R tax. The Los Angeles Times believes proponents should take their time to write up the measure, which could come to voters either in 2014 or 2016.
Finally, let us delve back into the history of Los Angeles, where more than 70 years ago the portion of the Hollywood Freeway through the Cahuenga Pass opened. At the time, the road contained railroad tracks in the median that transported Pacific Electric trains between Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. The tracks did not last long, however: Rail service ended in 1952, with the tracks paved over to provide additional traffic lanes. Fortunately, rail returned to this corridor in 2000 with the opening of the North Hollywood Red Line. In relation, a recent LA City Council motion asks to support a repeal of rail on the segment of a former railway west of North Hollywood (now occupied by the Orange Line), which has a history of its own.
A report issued by LA city budget analysts revealed that construction costs for a port terminal upgrade soared from the $245 million approved by the LA City Council in 2009 to an unseasonable $510 million. Both Councilmember Joe Buscaino and port officials agreed that the problem stemmed from builders not asking for amendments to the project sooner and the port commission dismissing the changes as inconsequential. One particular change included the installation of rail-mounted container cranes instead of rubber-tired cranes. As a means to formally incorporate the latest project changes and to control future costs, city staff will consider amending the lease made with future terminal operator TraPac. The city expects to receive $2.3 billion over the life of the lease. The City Council has since approved the changes, much to their chagrin.
Meanwhile, progress continues on the new bridge that will replace the outdated Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach. It doesn’t feel that way since much of the construction is occurring well away from prying eyes. Unbeknownst to most, Terminal Island mainly consists of fill, which has sunk over the years on account of oil extraction. Currently, workers are capping oil wells and relocating utilities at the site of the future bridge, which has increased project costs by $240 million.
In a peculiar twist to the ongoing design of the Metro Regional Connector, Metro staff disclosed renderings of a proposed pedestrian bridge for the future 2nd/Hope Station at a recent Community Leadership Council meeting for the project. Metro added the bridge in response to Bunker Hill groups that wanted a better connection to the Broad Museum under construction and nearby attractions. Metro estimates that the bridge will cost at least $7 million and would avoid conflicts between drivers and pedestrians on Hope Street. Metro also mentioned that a contract to build the station will be awarded in April. Meanwhile, workers laid down the first piece of actual track on Phase II of the Expo Line.
What happened to bikesharing in Los Angeles? The LA City Council voted last December to move forward with the plan, but nothing has come of it since. Much of the problem stems from permit issues and the advertising plan, which caused conflicts with previous advertising agreements between the city and ad purveyors. BikeNation, which promised to bring bikesharing at no cost to the city, initially banked on the idea that the concept could be built through advertising revenues. Now Metro has come into action, as its Board voted last week to find a vendor that would bring bikesharing to Los Angeles County and discern the state of the industry. However, bringing bikesharing to the county may add its own hurdles, particularly when it comes to working with municipalities on installing bike stations and hiring operators.
The Los Angeles City Council recently voted on a new growth plan for Warner Center, which would guide the transformation of the mainly auto-centric business hub into a transit village. The Warner Center 2035 Plan would focus on pedestrian-oriented design and environmentally sound transportation options. Unique to Los Angeles, this new plan calls for the installation of “slow vehicle lanes”, which offer dedicated travel lanes for vehicles slower than bicycles. The success of the Orange Line bolsters the notion that transit-oriented development will fuel future growth in the area, according to proponents. The plan also calls for “activity nodes” that encourage public gatherings. The plan has the support of various local groups.