Clearer Roads, Clearer Skies and a Brighter Future for Los Angeles

June 16, 2011 | Posted by Kathryn Phillips in Congestion pricing, Parking Pricing, Sensible Cycling, Smart Pricing, Transit That Works, Transportation, Transportation and Behavior, Transportation and Climate Change, Transportation and the Climate, Travel Choice, Vision Los Angeles

(This blog is co-authored by EDF's Kathryn Phillips and guest blogger Bill Allen of LAEDC and is being cross-posted from EDF's Way2Go transportation blog.)

Ben Franklin once said nothing in this world is certain except death and taxes. People in Los Angeles County might offer two other certainties: traffic gridlock and air pollution. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. By engaging 15 specific but sensible strategies, the region can rid itself of routine gridlock and reduce its air pollution. Solving these problems will help improve the region’s economic outlook, and increase Angelenos’ quality of life. 

The strategies are laid out in Vision Los Angeles, a 30-year action plan—jointly  developed by Environmental Defense Fund and the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation—to achieve clearer roads and clearer skies in the county sooner than convention seems to offer. Its solutions were developed after much discussion and research by a team of top-notch consultants. The plan has been supported by a broad volunteer advisory group representing business, local government and the non-profit community. 

The response to Vision Los Angeles’ strategies have been positive, and good news exists in the details. We learned, for instance, it is easy to identify common ground when you bring up transportation in Los Angeles County. Nobody likes sitting in traffic and everybody wants clean air.

A lot of good work has already been done by a number of entities to lay a foundation for reducing traffic’s gridlock in the county. The proposal to leverage Measure R sales tax in a way that allows 12 mass transit projects to be built in 10 years instead of 30 is one example. The Southern California Association of Government’s COMPASS plan and Los Angeles Metro’s Long-Range Plan for the region contain a lot of good ideas that Vision Los Angeles strategies complement. 

The missing ingredients up until now have been ways to identify and prioritize the best ideas and foster their incorporation into everyday travel throughout the county. If you think of the transportation system as a computer, Los Angeles County has plenty of hardware but an insufficient operating system.  Most of the strategies we identified in Vision Los Angeles, taken as a whole, provide a more efficient operating system.  

A few examples of Vision Los Angeles’ strategies that will improve the region’s economic outlook and quality of life include:

  • Developing an application that provides real-time information about transit and traffic countywide that anyone with a cell phone can use;
  • Accelerating and expanding business and large institution use of transportation management associations (TMAs) to improve employee options for getting to and from work and reduce dependence on automobiles;
  • Employing smarter parking pricing and practices in major corridors; and
  • Creating a local access-efficient mortgage system that provides a variation on a revolving loan that allows employees to live closer to work.  

Most of our 15 strategies have been applied at some scale in Los Angeles County and in other parts of the world, eliminating the need to reinvent the wheel.  Significant transformation will depend on how fully these strategies can be implemented throughout the County. Their success also requires engagement from all sectors of the community. No one sector—and especially not government—can effectively tackle traffic issues alone. We are all in this together. 

Some Vision Los Angeles participants are developing pilot programs to demonstrate the strategies. Two early programs will focus on setting up TMAs in the healthcare, education and entertainment industries and facilitating mobility between networked work centers and housing programs.

 Air pollution costs the Los Angeles Air Basin at least $22 billion a year in lost days at work, lost days at school, healthcare and premature death, according to a studyconducted by California State University, Fullerton. Analysis by consultants Fehr & Peers indicates that if the Vision Los Angeles strategies are fully implemented, air pollution from transportation will be cut by more than 10 percent and greenhouse gas pollution will be cut by more than 9 percent. The solutions will also cut the number of vehicle hours of delay by 9 percent, a level that would make a significant difference in daily commutes.

With hundreds of millions of dollars already spent by the private and public sectors on transportation infrastructure each year, we need to get smart about how to achieve the greatest return on that investment.  A focus on fostering a more effective and efficient system will deliver the quality of life Angelenos expect and the boost to our economy Los Angeles County needs. 

Kathryn Phillips is director of the California Transportation and Air Initiative for Environmental Defense Fund, a national environmental organization and partner in Vision Los Angeles. 

Bill Allen is president and CEO of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

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