That’s the conclusion of a Rand Corp. study released today that puts the lie to the Measure R sales tax hike as the answer to L.A.’s traffic woes.
The study found local officials have taken most of the cheap and politically easy solutions — what a surprise! — and now need to move quickly and decisively to adopt measures that work all around the world.
“Without bold action, congestion across the region will only get worse
and cost everyone more — financially, environmentally and through a
diminished quality of life,”said Paul Sorensen, lead author of the “Moving Los Angeles” study.
Congestion pricing for driving and parking in peak hours, local fuel taxes region-wide bike paths, restricting parking on main thoroughfares, one-way streets, more HOV lanes are among the 13 practical proposals for reducing the nation’s worst traffic congestion within five years.
In the simplest terms, drivers who use the roads the most, especially during peak hours, are so heavily subsidized by the rest of us that they don’t have to make the economic decision to make different choices like using public transit, ride sharing and staggering work hours.
Make them pay more and their behavior will change. In other words, sales taxes– already at 1 percent for the MTA and soon to rise another half-cent unless voters wake up and reject Measure R — hit everyone equally and encourage traffic congestion.
So what do our local officials who thirst for the public’s money like vampires for blood have to say about that?
Wendy Greuel, who heads the City Council’s Transportation Committee and wants to be the public’s watchdog on money as Controller, told Rick Orlov in the Daily News that the report confirmed the city is “doing all it can on short-term solutions.”
fact is, we have to look at the more costly programs, such as Measure
R, the half-percent sales tax on the Nov. 4 ballot,” she said. “What we
need to do is pay for the mass transit we need and continue to look at
our land-use decisions to get people to live closer to where they
Wait a minute, the report said just the opposite. It said make the people who cause the problem pay by imposing short-term solutions that don’t require higher taxes.
It said local officials “adopted most of the ‘easy’ ways to reduce congestion — those that are
effective, affordable and uncontroversial — such as freeway on-ramp
meters, traffic signal timing, and ridesharing programs” but haven’t implemented the effective short-term solutions that require leadership and political courage.
Rand researchers did not even look at costly long-term infrastructure investments like adding freeway lanes or the subway-to-the-sea. In fact, the study pointedly notes that while getting 2 or 3 percent of the cars off the roads can produce up to a 15 percent reduction in congestion, the impact is only temporary. As soon as people see congestion isn’t so bad, they get off the bus and go right back to driving.
“Pricing strategies are the only sustainable option for reducing
congestion over the long-term, and they will be immediately effective
upon implementation,” said Martin Wachs, one of the study’s authors.
Did I miss the MTA announce a series of pricing strategies that would reduce the massive subsidies that support traffic congestion? Is that a secret part of Measure R nobody wants to talk about?
Hardly. It’s easier for the mayor and his colleagues on the MTA board to go out and raise $10 million from contractors, consultants and lobbyists to buy votes than to tell the public the hard facts and take the tough steps that might cost them votes.
How can they possibly know what infrastructure investments would produce long-term benefits to the community if they haven’t taken the only steps that work?
Here’s how Rand explains why traffic is so bad:
“The population density of Los Angeles
metropolitan region is very high in urbanized areas, and parking is
cheap and abundant. Most drivers do not pay the full economic and
social costs of driving. Los Angeles also is polycentric: instead of
one single, dominant downtown region, it has many sub-centers with high
populations or job densities. Though polycentricism can spread traffic
out, it also makes it more difficult to provide a fast, effective, and
well-connected transit network and reinforces auto-reliant travel
patterns, according to researchers.”
These are the study’s 13 recommendations:
- Install curbside parking meters that charge more during peak
business hours for parking in congested commercial and retail districts.
- Enforce the existing California state law that allows employees to
“cash out” the value of their parking spaces. Companies with more than
50 employees who lease parking are supposed to offer their employees
the option of cash instead of free parking, but this law is not
- Implement local fuel tax levies at the county level to raise transportation funds.
- Develop a network of high-occupancy/toll lanes on freeways throughout Los Angeles County.
- Evaluate the potential for implementing tolls on those entering
major activity centers, like those that exist in London and Singapore.
- Expand rapid bus transit with bus-only lanes on arterial streets and express freeway service in the high-occupancy/toll lanes.
- Offer and aggressively market deeply discounted transit passes to
employers, who would purchase passes for all employees, allowing those
who commute by transit to ride at reduced cost.
- Develop an integrated, region-wide network of bicycle pathways.
- Restrict curb parking on busy arterial streets.
- Convert selected major surface streets to one-way streets.
- Prioritize and fund investments in upgraded signal timing and control.
- Bolster outreach efforts to assist businesses in promoting ridesharing programs, telecommuting and flexible work schedules.
- Evaluate the costs and benefits of implementing a regional incident
management system on the arterial streets to reduce congestion caused
by traffic accidents.