Sixty years after The Great American Streetcar Scandal torched the trolleys and tore up the tracks, Los Angeles may be getting its revenge.
At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Monday night, city leaders and public transit advocacy organizations talked of bringing a unified front to Washington to lobby for $9 billion in federal funding to accelerate the twelve Measure R-backed projects -- a rare, and they would argue necessary, show of solidarity in the sprawling, fragmented Southland where the competing interests are often as diverse as the population.
The so-called "30-10 plan" would implement the Measure R projects and programs in ten years as opposed to 30, something Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa calls unacceptable. Measure R is a half cent sales tax increase for transportation projects that was approved by more than 2/3 of Los Angeles County voters last November.
L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky called the City of Angels "ground zero of the economic recovery" because as California goes so goes the country and as Los Angeles goes so goes California. Therefore, this hugely ambitious undertaking to remake L.A. as a transit-friendly place would have a ripple effect on the entire nation because, for example, supplies such as all that steel would be purchased in the United States.
Move L.A. exec director Denny Zane touted the jobs that would be created by speeding up the timeline when California is currently suffering from double-digit unemployment. According to the literature at the event, the acceleration of Measure R projects and programs would create 127,800 transit construction jobs in Los Angeles County alone.
L.A. Metro CEO Art Leahy showed a graphic that mapped out the 76 miles of rail tracks that would be laid by projects such as the Wilshire subway extension to Westwood. He noted that the 76 miles would raise the total miles of tracks to 155 -- bringing the region back to the miles of tracks that existed when the Red and Yellow streetcars criss-crossed the city.
Metro board member Richard Katz explained the environmental and health benefits of speeding up the implementation of Measure R in ten years. He cited for example the cases of childhood asthma that could be averted by taking some of those vehicles and their carbon emissions off the roads. According to the literature, the initiative would eliminate 568,458 pounds of emissions per year and save 10.3 million gallons of gasoline per year.
City planners and transit advocates want the public to get involved in reaching out to the California congressional delegation in order for them to champion federal funding for the "30-10 Plan" in Washington and also to support the creation of a National Infrastructure Development Bank, which was introduced in the House as HR 2521 by Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut.
Metro screened a promotional video featuring an aspiring actor who is late to his audition (at the Variety Building across from LACMA in the Miracle Mile) because of traffic. He predictably doesn't get the part. An alternate ending is then shown in which he takes public transit and gets the part. The insinuation of course, at least for those in the entertainment industry, is that bigger and better regional public transit will help advance careers. In other words, driving in a car versus riding the subway could be the difference between scoring that coveted role in the next James Cameron movie and going back to being a Barista at Starbucks.
Other speakers included LACMA president Melody Kanschat, Deputy Mayor for Transportation Jaime de La Vega and Metro resource staffers Raffi Hamparian and Jody Litvak.
So will Los Angeles turn into New York with better weather in ten years?
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" -- a story about the destruction of the trolleys to make way for the freeways – perhaps offers a glimpse of the future by looking at a glorious and forgotten public transportation past. Here is a memorable exchange from the movie:
Kid #3: Hey, mister. Ain't you got a car?
Eddie Valiant: Who needs a car in L.A.? We have the best public transportation system in the world.