From Measure R Success to Measure J Failure, Villaraigosa Reflects On Transportation
At a USC event Wednesday, Mayor Antonio Villraigosa celebrated his accomplishments in improving L.A.'s transportation options. He also explained the groundwork he's laid for even more transit-oriented development. Yet, he declined to offer specific advice to the person who will replace him July 1 in the mayor's seat.
"I don't want to impose my view of what the city should be on our next mayor," he said. "But I will provide support."
At a luncheon hosted on Wednesday by the USC Price School of Public Policy's Metrans transportation center and Bedrosian Center for Governance and the Public Enterprise, he conversed with Metrans director Gen Giuliano and Bedrosian Center director Raphael Bostic.
When asked what he believed his administration's biggest transportation accomplishments have been, the mayor cited the passage of Measure R, a sales tax to fund transportation projects, America Fast Forward, an initiative to create a new funding structure for local transportation that was incorporated into the federal transportation bill of 2012, and synchronizing all of the traffic lights in the city of Los Angeles.
The mayor also recognized the expansion of transit lines throughout the city during his administration. During his term in office, Los Angeles has seen the opening of the Eastside Gold Line Extension, the Orange Line busway, the Orange Line Extension to Chatsworth, and the Expo Line. Villaraigosa also enthusiastically touted the fact the city has broken ground on numerous other projects, such as the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, The Gold Line Foothill Extension, the Crenshaw Line, and the Regional Connector.
However, he humbly refused to claim this all as his accomplishments, emphatically saying, "No, no, no. These were not my accomplishments. We did this together," and thanking the city council, state legislature, US Department of Transportation, and voters for their support and cooperation.
Villaraigosa is well-regarded for his work in transportation and transportation funding, prompting rumors earlier this year that he could be tapped by the Obama administration for Secretary of Transportation.
He also laid out his vision for the city, which includes high-density neighborhoods centered around new transit stations. He explained how his administration has been making this possible, citing a re-write of the city's zoning and community plans, saying "It's so difficult to build and develop in this town."
Recalling the extension of the Red Line to North Hollywood in 2000, Villaraigosa lamented that it took years for the city to change zoning laws so that more development could take place around the station. Now, he says, the city is creating new opportunities for development concurrent with transit expansion.
Increased rates of walking and biking will come with these new compact neighborhoods. Villaraigosa talked about how his administration has devoted resources to improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. "We've dedicated money for pedestrians and pedestrian friendly projects," he said. He also spoke about how an accident with a taxi when he crashed his bike motivated him to focus on extending bike lanes at a rate much higher than the previous ten miles per year, "We are supposed to build 40 miles of bike lanes a year, and now we're doing even more than what we're supposed to."
He also cited emissions reductions at the Port of Los Angeles and high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on certain highways, saying, "Every HOV lane should be a HOT lane. Come on!"
Villaraigosa called for the reform of certain laws that make transportation improvements slow and difficult to implement, "Our environmental system, particularly CEQA, is broken. Until recently, even projects as simple as striping a bike lane onto a street had to go through environmental review.
He also expressed support for changing a law that requires a 2/3 supermajority to pass a new tax or bond, which caused the failure of measure J, an extension to measure R that would have accelerated transportation projects. "Everyone was for this." he said, citing a "landslide" of 66.11% Los Angeles County voters in favor (just shy of the needed 66.67%), and around 70% in the city of Los Angeles.
Villaraigosa now supports reducing the threshold that such taxes need to pass, an idea that has gained traction with other politicians as well.
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