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Time Is Ripe for Missing Subway Link

March 19, 2007

Dear Editor,

Ubiquitous global warming doomsday utterances coupled with ever-worsening LA and Santa Monica traffic conditions cause one theme to crescendo in my brain: LA/SM subway. The time is ripe, politically and environmentally for the long-anticipated continuation of the missing link in the Red Line Metro along the busiest travel corridor in LA: the Wilshire Corridor.

With over half a million passengers traveling this street everyday, the demand is definitely there, but so are the obstacles. Los Angelinos need to not only support but demand subway, with our voice, with our vote and with our tax cents.

In 1986 Congressman Waxman passed legislation to ban use of federal funding in the Wilshire-Fairfax district in response to the methane explosion caused by tunneling in 1985. Since then, scientists have studied the area and determined that tunneling could be done safely and the ban has been repealed in Congress and awaits the same in the Senate.

With this move, an actual extension project seems possible for the first time in 20 years. But funding remains the largest obstacle. LA Mayor Villaraigosa is lobbying hard for state and federal monies to fund this important project, one that could save 550 million barrels of oil a year, the same amount that we import every year from Saudia Arabia.

Measures such as improved public transportation mode shares, increased fuel efficiency, and increased energy efficiency in generation, transport and use show us the huge potential for energy fixes present in the “soft path” approach to energy security.

California has shown that this can work. Our energy needs have remained level at around 2250 kWh per capita per year since 1972 (Kammen), despite dramatic increases in individual technology use. The rest of the U.S. has increased steadily from 2750 kWh per capita year to ~4200 kWh/year.

California has accomplished this by requiring energy saving technologies, which are slightly more expensive. Imagine how much energy and pollution could have been saved if the rest of the nation had done the same!

Subway is a similar approach to energy security. It allows us to use less gas, transporting more people per unit energy throughout the city. But subway is expensive to build. The 12-mile extension has a price tag of $5 billion and is expected to take 15 years. This would not make sense for all of LA’s spread out geography.

But, in the dense and well-traveled Wilshire corridor, it makes great sense. Coupled with selective Bus Rapid Transit routes, that run laterally where subways do not, a comprehensive, fast, safe, clean and efficient transportation network would revolutionize the ways that Los Angelinos traverse the city.

Bus RapidTransit (or BRT) is a faster system where the bus either gets its own full or partial lane, you have pre-paid faster boarding and even traffic light coordination. It can significantly reduce travel times and with sufficient rider recruitment away from cars, can still reduce car traffic significantly, despite taking away a traffic lane. BRT mimics the benefits of sleek sexy rail, but at a drastically reduced price.

With funding remaining as the biggest barrier to this subway extension, which would finally connect Downtown LA to the sea, advocates will likely look to voters to approve a half cent local sales tax to pay for the initial chunk of subway. This must be apprved by two thirds vote.

Voters should support this measure. A half cent tax is miniscule and would proffer huge benefits such as decreased pollution and CO2 emissions, improved traffic flow, heightened accessibility and mobility for disabled, young and old citizens and tourists. Los Angeles continues to claim the number one spot for worst air in the nation, with about 50 percent of summer days considered “dangerous” for the roughly 225,000 children with asthma in Los Angeles county (Environmental Defense, 2004).

Connecting the subways to the Westside would help traffic, pollution and its related health-problems, and would also provide an opportunity to make LA more walkable and livable. Transit-oriented developments that cater to pedestrians, transit-riders, bicyclists and bus riders can make our city more charming and enjoyable, facilitating community building and healthy
living. Goodness knows we have the weather for it!

Daria Mazey

(Editor's note: Daria Mazey is a former Samohi student currently completing a BS in Conservation and Resource Studies at UC Berkeley.)

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