Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Metro’s Quality of Life Report Puts Livability at the Center of Transportation

Yesterday, Metro released their initial Quality of Life Report, which provides a snapshot of key metrics for how the agency’s investments since Measure R have affected Los Angeles County residents.

The framing of the report — discussing transportation in the context of jobs, housing, and economic opportunity — is almost more important than its contents. With this report, Metro broadens its focus from just commutes and congestion to a suite of objectives that provides a more complete understanding of how safe and reliable transportation options enrich our communities. This initial Quality of Life Report will be supplemented by a more comprehensive version at the end of the year.

The 50-page report contains a lot of interesting data and we encourage you to check it out for yourself. Our top takeaways are:

  • People do a lot more than go to work. Metro is thinking about what it means to build and operate a safe and reliable transportation system that provides access to opportunities for people to live, work, and play. As noted last fall by the LA Times, very few transportation projects actually reduce congestion, but transit has innumerable benefits including a more reliable commute, more affordable mobility, and healthier communities. Transit can spur economic development, including affordable housing and new local businesses, and increase access to job opportunities for low-income residents. As Metro thinks about who it serves and what trips they need to take, this broader view is essential to ensure that the growing transit system serves riders’ needs.
  • Metro does a lot more than people think. The report features data that measures the full range of Metro’s planning, funding, building, and operating responsibilities. Stats about transit and highway projects are expected, but Metro also operates the largest vanpool program in the nation and funds fast-growing paratransit services. The report also features information about funding for first/last mile projects to increase access to transit for people walking and biking, and shows that the total mileage of bike facilities has more than doubled since 2008.
  • Metro is starting to talk about social equity and race. Los Angeles County has diverse communities with diverse mobility needs. In the Quality of Life Report, Metro breaks down access to the transit network (rail and BRT) by socioeconomic indicators, including CalEnviroScreen 2.0 and the Environmental Justice Screening Method, developed by the USC Program on Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) — one of our key partners in our transportation equity technical working group. They also compare bus and rail ridership demographics to the surrounding neighborhoods. This is the start of a much longer conversation about prioritizing the needs of low-income communities and communities of color, but it is a welcome first step.

Racial makeup of LA County and Metro Service 2016

  • Transportation affects housing and vice versa. Los Angeles County is in the midst of an intractable housing shortage, which is driving up rents all across the region. As transportation projects increase access to certain neighborhoods, this can have localized impacts on the housing market that put further upward pressure on rents and increase the risk of displacement for longtime residents. Metro has taken steps recently to mitigate the impacts of its projects, and support development without displacement and increase the supply of affordable housing by requiring that 35 percent of new units in Metro’s joint development program be reserved for low-income residents. This report begins to look at changes in household incomes and rents near transit stations more holistically to better understand how transit investments can help alleviate or contribute to addressing the region’s housing crisis.

Talking about transportation, housing, jobs, and social equity in one report is an encouraging sign of Metro’s emerging leadership on all of these interrelated issues. This report benchmarks where we were in 2008 and where we are now.

The next step to place quality of life at the center of Metro’s agenda is to set goals on key indicators so that the agency can begin adjusting policy and investment decisions to produce those outcomes. We are eager to see the next iteration of the Quality of Life Report later this year and its impact on the long range transportation plan to be updated in 2017.


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