The 30/10 Initiative Revisited

Think about this. The East Coast is suffering through its harshest winter in memory. With snow accumulating faster than a New York minute that city's smart Teflon mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has taken it on the chin for the failure of his sanitation department to clear the streets of the five boroughs of snow in a timely fashion. It seem the plows did a decent job in Manhattan, including along Hizzoner's street, but in Brooklyn and Queens, not so much.

And what is our fate here in Lalaland? Well for one there is little inclement weather to speak of. With the heavy rains already last year's news we have been enjoying clear skies and unseasonably warm temperatures. But what about our mobility? While New Yorkers and even Atlantans struggle to dig out their cars or stay warm on the subway platforms, we're still waiting for those new subway platforms and other public transportation manna that the 30/10 initiative promises. Yes it is time to take another look at 30/10, that creative idea for building thirty years of public transportation projects within a decade.

It was encouraging to read that the LA Mayor spent some time in Washington last week imploring key Congressional leaders that 30/10 is a model for helping cities fund critical infrastructure construction like public transit. And, with a new and improved post-November President Obama focused on jobs, infrastructure and the economy, it does seem as though the President is back on the best track. But whether this will translate into Congressional love for 30/10 remains to be seen.

Certainly no one is missing the political reality of the new Congress. Since the November election, Washington has been split, or perhaps always was, between fiscal conservatives on both sides of the aisle and those who recognize that government works best when it promotes economic development. And what is the best way to promote economic development and hiring? My vote is for a new New Deal which helps communities accelerate construction of overdue projects like the Wilshire subway extension and the downtown regional connector.

But my goal here is not to criticize what is beyond our control. As I've argued many times before, given today's Washington while we're working hard there we also need a parallel track focused on obtaining private financing for 30/10's critical projects and a plan for getting the public to do more than simply agree that 30/10 makes sense. And that is where I am disappointed with LA's civic leaders. It is time they stopped playing the savior and accepted that they can't do this alone or with only Washington's help.

Maybe I have missed something and there is an effort underway to hammer out a deal with Wall Street, the sovereign wealth funds, the union pension funds or even some foreign government to help fund 30/10. If so, please do tell. And let's be sure that the process is a transparent one that permits the public to study and show its support for the idea. We need to leave no stone unturned in our effort to accelerate public transit construction, and that is still not happening.

LA needs both a parallel effort to privately fund 30/10 and a better partnership between the city's leaders and the public to get this thing done. What is more, the push to privately fund the ambitious construction plan can only help demonstrate our collective commitment and help Washington recognize the golden opportunity 30/10 presents. A better public/civic partnership therefore gives City Hall the muscle to get our 30/10 train over The Hill or further down Wall Street. Either way, we win.

Thanks to our ever-worsening traffic, Metro's success expanding fixed rail and rapid bus service, the public's recognition that riding Metro makes sense and advocacy journalism on the opinion pages and on the blogs, there is a growing consensus that we need more public transit and we need it now. But is City Hall doing enough to enlist the thousands of Metro "customers" and others who support the 30/10 vision? I have been to the rallies and worked with the transit coalitions but I don't think so.

Take a look at the data. According to the just-out Urban Mobility Report commuters in LA collectively spent more than a half-billion hours stuck in traffic during 2009. However exceptional the weather, there is no doubt that for even the most car-loving among us the train is looking like a better and better option all of the time.

That is a hell of a constituency to overlook in our efforts to show how critical 30/10 is to LA, the region and the nation.

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day I spend time honoring the civil rights leader's memory listening to his stirring speeches. Leadership, as Dr. King taught us, is about more than speaking truth to power and sharing visions of a better society. Like all great leaders King had that ability to also inspire others to step forward and add their voices to the rising chorus for change.

It is time for LA's civic leaders to inspire Angelenos to action as well as present them with a noble vision. Without the pews full and working for 30/10 we may never get to the promised land of a more transit-oriented LA.

Yours in transit,