An LA Idea for Moving America From Pause to Fast Forward

In places as different as LA and Salt Lake City, local voters had to first recognize the benefit of public transportation by voting for sales tax increases that are helping pay for expansion projects.
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Earlier this month I wrote about LAX and its shameful public transit connections. Nothing I have seen or done since then has changed my thinking any. In fact, to add insult to LAX's injury I made the threatened trip to San Francisco that I wrote about in my last piece and it was further confirmation of how far LA still has to travel public transit-wise.

It turns out my LAX piece was one of several recent articles debating the merits of spending hard-to-find transportation dollars on construction of a true mass transit connection to the airport when options like the Flyaway Bus and an airport shuttle that connects to the Metro Green Line and local buses already exists. Suffice it to say, YES, we still need to make this investment. The goal, of course, is better and more equitable transit, not simply the status quo that Angelenos have lived with for too long.

Maybe because it was already on the schedule or maybe because of the spate of articles it is refreshing to see that Metro is now taking a hard look at its options at LAX. If there is a god, that scrutiny will explore the promise of linking LAX to the ambitious but overdue idea of building out a Sepulveda Pass transit line that would link the San Fernando Valley with the Westside, LAX and the South Bay. This genuinely visionary idea put forth by The Transit Coalition would be a regional game changer like the Bay Area's BART system.

Of course the operative word in this discussion is money, so that is really what I want to focus on. The subject of a recent Westside Urban Forum event featuring Metro Board member Richard Katz as well as a piece on LA's transit building plans in Time Magazine and an interview with City National Bank CEO Russell Goldsmith on CNBC -- aside from Japan and Libya, a lot of the talk in Washington is now about the 30/10 Initiative, American Fast Forward and a national infrastructure bank. Call it what you will. The notion of investing in critical infrastructure projects as these programs propose is finally gaining strength in Congress and on Wall Street.

But as journalists like Carter Rubin have noted in The Source and elsewhere, the model is different from the past when little special local investment was required by Washington or the big banks to step up to the plate. Now the model, as Rubin notes, is to "reward those cities that have taxed themselves by giving them expanded access to federal loan programs."

In places as different as Los Angeles and Salt Lake City that means local voters had to first recognize the benefit of public transportation by voting for sales tax increases that are helping pay for critical subway and light rail expansion projects.

The quid pro quo for the nation's capital from the nation's capitol is a local willingness to tax oneself before Washington ponies up.

And all in all, this is a good thing in that it makes local voters partners rather than passive beneficiaries of the light rail lines and subways that will be built through the local/national partnership that funds the critical work. Or, as one tries to teach one's children, if you want something you have to pay for it.

As an Angeleno, I am proud that my not-always-together city has been the catalyst for this important and growing national idea.

In America Fast Forward, Washington has an opportunity to help LA and other communities help themselves. For Americans used to seeing nothing but Washington's partisan bickering, that's a train we can all get on.

Yours in transit,

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