Friday, October 21, 2016

LA Metro’s Long Range Plan and What It Means for Our Communities

As readers of our blog know, Metro is not simply a bus or train agency. As our County Transportation Commission, Metro is the primary planner, funder, designer, and builder of Los Angeles County’s regional transportation system for all modes, from streets and sidewalks to carpool lanes and freeway interchanges, and from bus stops to bike paths.

About once per decade—the last time was in 2009—Metro updates its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), a key policy document that has far-reaching implications for how our transportation dollars are spent and whether our communities benefit from that investment. 

What is the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP)?

Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) is the long-term transportation plan for Los Angeles County and includes a list of the agency’s planned and potential projects for the next four decades and beyond.

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Map from Metro’s 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan with recommended projects. Source: Metro Long Range Transportation Plan (2009)

Developed through a regional submissions process with strong participation by stakeholders from the county’s nine subregions and councils of governments, the LRTP is a technical document with profound impacts on regional transportation outcomes, determining what will be built where and when.

It also includes assumptions about operations, maintenance, debt service, and other financial obligations. The LRTP sets objectives for the transportation system and projects the benefits of new transportation projects and programs on regional mobility, accessibility, safety, and sustainability. Metro is also required by Title VI of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 to assess the LRTP’s effects on people of different races/ethnicities to ensure there are no disparate impacts on historically marginalized communities. All of Metro’s day-to-day activities—particularly decisions about spending money—are supposed to be consistent with the LRTP, making it an exceedingly influential document for long-term policy change.

Why does the LRTP matter?

The LRTP matters because transportation matters. Since transportation connects people to jobs, education, services, and other destinations, good transportation policy can improve economic development, social cohesion and community resilience, and public health and environmental outcomes. Whether or not Measure M passes, Metro will spend billions of dollars every year according to policies contained within the LRTP. A strong LRTP has the potential to make our region more efficient, economically strong, equitable, and sustainable.

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Countywide use of current funds and forecasted funds. Source: Metro Long Range Transportation Plan (2009).

What opportunities exist to improve the upcoming 2017 LRTP?

Past LRTP updates have been treated as a pro forma process that didn’t meet their potential for engaging diverse stakeholders or analyzing the impacts of key decisions.

Investing in Place is pushing for improvements to both the public process and the level of analysis conducted as part of the 2017 LRTP update:

We seek to ensure that the update to the LRTP is an open and inclusive process that sets clear metrics and investment priorities in collaboration with community voices, analyzes the benefits and costs of policy choices vis-a-vis those metrics, and makes appropriate investment decisions accordingly.

One of our key criticisms of past LRTP updates is the gap between analysis and decision-making. Decisions about funding and projects get made, and then modeling is done to calculate the benefits of those decisions, rather than modeling alternative scenarios and then choosing the one with the most beneficial outcomes. The practical effect of this process is that potentially cost-effective alternatives that would yield greater benefits for mobility, accessibility, safety, sustainability, and/or equity aren’t analyzed or considered by decision-makers.

Investing in Place is committed to engaging with the LRTP update, elevating stories of people who use and rely on our transportation system, and making sure that both the process and the product reflect good planning practices and result in investments that improve our communities.

What’s next?

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To continue the conversation on Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan, please join us on November 14 2:45pm – 5pm for our #JustGrowth summit with special guest speakers including Bea Solis of The California Endowment, Dr. Manuel Pastor of USC, John Kim of the Advancement Project, Mark Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Mary Leslie of the Los Angeles Business Council, and Therese McMillan of LA Metro.

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