The MTA has given final approval
to the proposed Exposition Light Rail Line, clearing the way for construction on the Downtown-Culver City line to begin next year (read the press release here
I wish I could get excited about the prospect of finally getting a east-west rail line built, but as I've said before, I don't think this thing is going to do a bit of good in terms of relieving gridlock in Los Angeles.
If anything, building an at-grade rail line through one of the most congested areas of the city may result in impeded traffic flow.
The better option for an east-west line is to extend the Red Line subway along Wilshire to Santa Monica, thereby blah-blah-blah, you've heard me harp on this a thousand times before...
Look, I understand that in many ways the MTA's hands are tied. Dealing with budget concerns, operating under an onerous consent decree, attempting to expand service while legally barred from subway construction, and tackling the thorny problem of keeping a sprawling megalopolis from descending into total gridlock: these are not insignificant issues.
But throwing money into ill-conceived transit projects in order to be able to be seen to be doing something, anything
about L.A.'s horrendous traffic is not the way to go. The underperformance of poorly planned routes will eventually begin to sap public support for large mass transit expenditures. As taxpayers see project after project not deliver on the MTA's hyperbolic promises of traffic relief and fast, convenient mass transit they may well begin to ask themselves "Why bother?".
The road to a workable mass transit system is peppered with roadblocks: NIMBYism, anti-tax sentiment, and distrust of local government, amongst many others. And yet, Angelenos are so sick of traffic that for the moment these voices have been pushed to the side, as commuters clamor for relief from clogged streets and freeways. If the MTA produces another white elephant, however, that momentum could be lost. A historic opportunity would disappear, and L.A. could devolve into a hellish traffic nightmare in the vein of Bangkok or Mexico City.
L.A. is at a turning point in the city's evolution. We can launch a forward thinking subway construction project, as New York did in the early years of the last century, or we can continue to try to solve our traffic woes with a succession of $300 million dollar patchwork projects whose benefits are negligible, at best.