Monday, May 5, 2008

Some thoughts on the LA Congestion charging plan

Here are my thoughts on the congestion charging plan for certain LA “free”ways: I posted this response on LA Times’ LA Now blog.

1) The "Taxes already paid to build it argument" ignores the fact that gas tax is NOT indexed to inflation, so even if you (actually you 20-50 years ago) paid to build it, you are not paying enough to maintain it, and improve it.

2) It is a great irony of transportation planning that the carpool lanes are full at peak hours, but carpooling is declining as a portion of work trips in the LA area. This is because more people are traveling. So while it seems that backups in the carpool lane is a sign that they are working that also leads more people to abandon carpooling.

3) Also keep in mind that congestion charging increases real carpooling (taking your kids to school doesn't really reduce traffic, because you would have been taking that trip anyways). Even though you have to pay a toll if you can share that toll it is in effect reduced for each passenger and the driver.

4) One of the reasons the carpool lanes break down is that one slow person can ruin the flow of traffic. For that reason the pilot project has to be in specific carpool lanes where there are two lanes in each direction, and the lanes are easily separated from normal traffic.

5) The principle idea behind congestion pricing is that the price will keep traffic moving. Ironically this will mean that the free flowing lanes will carry more people then the jam packed normal lanes.

6) Finally, this is a pilot project. If it doesn't work then raise a fuss then, but at least give it a shot. Newspaper writers and blog commenters are always complaining that nobody does anything, and then when an agency tries something, they keep complaining!!! And no, I don't work at the MTA, but I am a transportation planner, and I want to see public agencies at least get the chance to try these ideas out.

Read the facts and figures on the 91 toll lanes. I was opposed to the ideas behind toll lanes until I started reading about them. The "Lexus lanes" criticism has proven not to be true.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

First Blog Post, Here I go

I had a very strange experience taking the BRT Orange Line this past weekend in LA. First let me preface this by saying that I had driven up to LA to take the Orange Line. Yeah I know, that's just the kind of guy I am. It gets stranger. I started my day in downtown LA visiting some of the new over priced, but beeaaautiful lofts as part of a downtown loft tour. My original plan was to take the Red line to the Orange Line. Instead I was running short on time, and eventually had to meet some people on the west side, so I took the 10 to the 405 and drove to the Sepulveda station to catch the Orange Line. Yup. its true. Driving to take a bus, for recreation.

I've been wanting to take the Orange Line just to see what the comfort level on the line is, and I was very impressed. I took the BRT from Sepulveda to North Hollywood, then I jumped on the Red line for a few stops and turned around. How long did this take? Significantly longer than if I had driven, but that's not really the point is it? The point was that I was remembering what it was like when I was taking the tube and buses in London. Would it have been faster driving, sure, but then what. If I was going to meet friends for an afternoon of drinking, it would have been pretty irresponsible to get back in a car. If I was going into downtown London, it would have been hard to find parking, and expensive to park in a garage. I know that Los Angeles is not London (though they're more alike than you think... more on that in another post). But someday it may be, and when that day comes people will be very thankful there is infrastructure built for this kind of trip.

So back to my weird story. I got back to the North Hollywood station, got out and I was starving, so I picked up a hotdog from a street vendor (urban fabric / unsanitary food!) Ate it before getting back on the Orange Line. Then the fun started. Returning westward the bus was pretty full. Standing room only. But hey if you're too lazy to stand, well than please move to the suburbs. I noticed a funky dude in suspenders, no shirt, wearing an orange bowler hat. He looked like he could have been a member of Fishbone, a late '80's early 90's funk/metal band, get on wearing a back pack.

A few stations pass and suddenly there is a loud altercation between bowler hat dude, and another black guy dressed like he could have been a bus driver; striped shirt, blue tie, carrying a cooler. The straight laced guy was yelling at Mr.Bowler Hat to not touch him. Bowler hat dude responds that he wasn't touching him, he was leaning forward to try to see the route map to check his stop. Then it went something like this....

Tie Dude: "Well don't touch me, don't push up on me."
Bowler Dude: "I'm touching you man, we're on a bus. WE"RE ALL UP AGAINST EACH OTHER"
Tie: Yeah but don't touch me. Don't you damn touch me.
Bowler: Don't tell me what to do. I said I wasn't touching you.

This went on for a little while, with more yelling and more added expletives. Of course each time it cooled down one of them would mutter something under his breath, and it would keep going. Everyone was feeling slightly uncomfortable, and of course the irony was that freaky bowler hat guy seemed to be the more rational one in this conflict.

This continued for awhile until Tie Dude yells, "Don't touch me because you're GAY AND I DON'T WANT TO CATCH YOUR AIDS!!!!"

I could hear the proverbial record scratch. Everybody's ears perked up, and all I could think was "Oh no he didn't."

He repeated his medical mis-understanding a few more times, and sure enough someone piped up with "SHUT THE F*** UP! YOU HOMOPHOBIC A**HOLE! I have aids you ignorant...." you get the idea. Now Tie Dude starts muttering under his breath, and Aids Fellow yells at him every time he pipes up.

Mind you I think we've gone about 5 stops by now, and everyone is wondering when some of these people are going to start getting off this thing. There were a few more rounds of homo-phobic muttering, which were answered by "Shut the F***UP, ignorant people like you that make me sick."

Finally about 6 or seven stops after this all got started Tie Dude got off the bus, to much applause.

So why am I telling this story. Because I loved every damn minute of it. In the big wide world of things that I think are great about transit, being around the vast panoply of human experience is one of them. I'm of the opinion that seeing each other's plight, makes us all more understanding of each other's human condition. This experience made me think about the fear that tie dude must have of orange bowler hats, and shirtless funk musicians. It made me sad for what was probably a fiercely religious upbringing that made him equate AIDS with divine punishment.

It made me think of where bowler hat guy was headed. He had his instruments, where was he going? Was he going to rehearse, was he going to a gig? Was he any good?

What about AIDS fellow? How crappy it must be to be living with this disease, to know it intimately, to read about every development, to think people have become educated, but then to hear someone genuinely think that one can catch AIDS from touching the same bus pole, or being in proximity to someone. If a person within earshot had any curiosity about their fellow human beings they couldn't help but think about what this person's existence must have been like.

To me this is my favorite and ultimately least quantifiable benefit of transit. How do you pitch this to "taxpayers"? Hey people vote for this potentially expensive travel solution, because then you will have to see each other. You may have to smell other people. You may be very close to someone who looks, sounds and smells totally unlike you, your family, your friends, and everyone you work with. But you'll be okay. They won't hurt you, they won't rob you, they won't give you any diseases, and if you're willing they may give you a tiny glimpse into a totally different life.