Penny wise, pound foolish: light rail and Los Angeles

by w3woody

Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Misses Airport by a Mile

On Jan. 4, Metro, the regional mass-transit agency, received final approval from the Federal Transit Administration to proceed with the $1.7 billion Crenshaw/LAX line, which will link the Expo Line and the Green Line.

Less than three weeks after that, Los Angeles World Airports spent a small fortune sending a lush, four-color PR brochure to more than 700,000 Angelenos, tucked inside the Los Angeles Times. It boasts that the striking new Bradley Terminal and other LAX projects will “lead Los Angeles into the future” and create tens of thousands of jobs.

There’s no mention of how people will reach the traffic-gridlocked airport. It wouldn’t have been good PR to detail how two of the region’s key transit infrastructure projects, the LAX upgrade and the Crenshaw/LAX line, are being carefully planned — to pass each other in the night.

As Railway Gazette International delicately put it, the 8.5-mile-long Crenshaw/LAX line will serve “the area around” LAX.

But it won’t go to LAX itself.

Urban planning is hard. Too bad it’s also being done by a bunch of half-wits with a bunch of pet theories but lacking the balls to do what’s necessary.

And that’s the reality of local and state planning: by and large regional planners should build projects that help solve problems on the ground, and plan ahead for future problems that may arise based on demographic trend lines.

We used to do this very well. Look at the urban planning that created New York’s Central Park, for example. Or look at how the population growth in areas around the state of California were handled up until the 1970’s and 1980’s. But today urban planners are more welded to their own pet theories, trying to shape the growth of a city by forcing their own designs, their own aesthetics, their own choices down people’s throats.

It’s why we have gridlock on the freeways, for example: urban planners want us to live in the lofts in downtown Los Angeles and use mass transit. People in Los Angeles, if left to their own devices, would choose to live in a small suburban home and drive there. If it were otherwise, three bedroom lofts would run a couple of million dollars, and the hill-side mansions along the Verdugos would cost a few hundred thousand.

But it all comes down to the supply and demand curve–especially if you consider (for example) the long commute through the Newhall Pass (the route above downtown Los Angeles leading to the desert cities near Palmdale) as a “cost” that people are willing to pay to satisfy their desire to live without sharing any common walls in a quiet neighborhood where their children can walk to school safely.

Urban planners in the 1970’s would have seen the trend and have expanded the freeways. Urban planners today decide to increase the cost of transportation, to force people to make choices they don’t want to make–and then are surprised just how intractable human desire really is.

Today’s urban planners have stopped doing their jobs. Which is why mass transportation in and out of LAX doesn’t exist and won’t: because the urban planners aren’t interested in making the city more efficient; they’re interested in imposing their choices on you.