California voters envisioned free-flowing roadways and cleaner air when they voted for a $20 billion transportation infrastructure bond last November. And while politicians and bureaucrats throughout the state fight for their area’s fair share and gear up for a massive building boom, we as policymakers can’t lose sight of the voters’ vision or the context of that vote.
Californians didn’t just vote for the bonds. They voted for change.
Yes, they want new highways, bus and rail lines and they’ll help, but Californians are savvy enough to know that we can’t just build our way out of gridlock even if we had unlimited resources and time.
The challenges are immense and there aren’t any overnight solutions.
In addition to opening up our pocketbooks, we need to change our lifestyles.
And the indications are that we’re getting the message.
Look at what’s happening in Los Angeles County, which has 28 percent of the state’s population and more than a third of the state’s traffic congestion.
Ridership on Metro buses and trains went up nearly 6 percent in 2006 over 2005, double the national average. The new Metro Orange Line, a 14-mile busway dubbed a “train on rubber wheels,” already exceeds ridership projections for the year 2020.
There is an estimated $6 billion in residential and commercial development that has been built, planned or is under construction around Metro Rail stations in Los Angeles as commuters, fed up with perpetual gridlock, park their cars and opt for public transit.
About 700,000 people a day share a ride on freeway carpool lanes in Los Angeles County.
The Van Nuys FlyAway, a commuter airport bus, from the San Fernando Valley to LAX, replaces 700,000 individual trips to and from the airport each year.
It’s not just the savings and the satisfaction of thumbing their noses at the oil companies that has spurred ridesharing. People are worried about global warming, their personal carbon footprint and are acting on their concerns.
The Toyota Prius and other hybrid vehicles have become ubiquitous on L.A. streets and they’re not just being driven by image-conscious celebrities.
And all those diesel soot-belching buses?
Not in Los Angeles!
The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates the largest alternative fuel bus fleet in the nation; 2,400 compressed natural gas buses, which are 97-percent cleaner than the diesel buses they replaced.
And Los Angeles isn’t unique in this sense. Throughout the state, people are adapting their lifestyles and employers are changing, too, offering employees flex time, virtual offices, replacing parking spaces with free bus or rail passes, allowing telecommuting, subsidizing transit passes, vanpools, even staggering truck-delivery schedules to avoid rush hours.
Taking our cue from the public, the challenge for policymakers is to spend the bond money in ways that not only improves mobility, but also does so while decreasing our carbon footprint and protecting the health of California’s people and environment.
In crafting the transportation-bond measure, Governor Schwarzenegger, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa , Speaker N