Monday, March 13, 2017

Metro’s 2016 Quality of Life Report Offers Preview of Potential LRTP Metrics

Late last month, Metro released the full version of its 2016 Quality of Life Report. As we wrote when the initial report was released in May 2016, “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.” The full report builds on the foundation laid last summer and — more importantly — offers a starting point for the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) update process that is just getting started.

Aligning Metro’s Quality of Life Outcomes with #JustGrowth

Metro is a large agency with many responsibilities, so the Quality of Life Report understandably includes a broad range of metrics with varying degrees of relevance to our #JustGrowth agenda. However, we are encouraged to see so many of the metrics we care about included in this report.

Let’s break it down for each of our six #JustGrowth outcomes: Is this goal measured in the report? Is Metro using the best metric for the goal? What does this mean for the LRTP?

1. Metro promotes access to opportunity by concentrating and prioritizing investments in communities with the greatest need.

Central to this goal is mapping the communities using a shared definition of need, and then measuring investments and outcomes. The Quality of Life Report does this to some extent. When discussing the residents and jobs served by rail, BRT, and bus services, the report includes maps showing those communities identified by CalEnviroScreen 2.0 as disadvantaged communities (p42-47). The report even highlights the fact that 59% of residents in disadvantaged communities are served by frequent bus service, compared to 41% of the county as a whole. Additionally, through its ridership survey, Metro tracks the racial makeup of its ridership and compares those demographics to the communities surrounding its stops and to the county as a whole (p23).

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Racial makeup of LA County and Metro’s riders and adjacent communities. Source: Metro’s survey results.

These metrics indicate Metro’s willingness to consider the specific needs of vulnerable communities and to consider race in analyzing its service decisions. This is the right direction—now we just need to be more precise with our definitions and to more proactively incorporate the needs of these communities into policy and funding decisions.

That is the idea behind Equity Opportunity Zones, which would use race/ethnicity, household income, and vehicle ownership to define high-need communities and measure transportation investments and outcomes in these places. Equity Opportunity Zones would be more precise than CalEnviroScreen 2.0 by focusing more on transportation-related metrics. Let’s work together to identify those communities that experience the greatest barriers to accessing economic opportunity and target these places for strategic transportation investments in the LRTP.

2. Metro engages the community as a partner in developing the transportation system.

We’ll be honest—community engagement is the weakest part of the Quality of Life Report. While the report goes to great lengths to talk about who benefits from Metro services and projects, there are virtually no metrics of how those individuals and groups were engaged in decisions that affect them. To us, this indicates a lack of systemic thinking about engagement.

On the one hand, we have seen specific instances of exemplary community outreach for some decisions. And, Metro does have a Public Participation Plan that is supposed to guide these activities agency-wide. Yet the importance of community engagement hasn’t trickled up into the Quality of Life Report’s assessment of how Metro is doing across the board and that’s a problem.

We think it is critical that Metro think more holistically about how early and continuous community engagement factors into all major decisions, and that Metro consistently demonstrate how that input was incorporated or not. To help bridge the gap between Metro and the communities it serves, we propose that Metro establish a bench of qualified community-based organizations to expand the agency’s capacity for authentic engagement.

3. Metro supports economically stable and culturally diverse neighborhoods by promoting integrated transportation and land use policy.

One of the strongest parts of the Quality of Life Report is the detailed reporting on what is happening to housing prices and commercial rates near station areas compared to the county as a whole (p54-57).

Rent stability is critical for long-time renters to be able to afford to remain in their neighborhoods and benefit from new transportation investments that are intended to serve them. The report also tracks changes in household income near stations as well as new housing construction (p58-61). The news is generally not good: rents are up and income is down pretty much across the board, which is consistent with recent headlines proclaiming Los Angeles as one of the least affordable regions in the country. The only silver lining is that Metro’s data shows that rents aren’t increasing faster near transit than in the surrounding community as a whole.

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Average income in communities near Metro stations. Page 58 from Metro’s Quality of Life report.

This is a problem that needs more study and more policy solutions. While it is important to track overall housing prices—and we encourage Metro to continue measuring this—we also want to know whether individual families are being displaced. Average rental rates are the tip to the iceberg and may conceal instability in the lower end of the market that provides the overwhelming share of the affordable housing stock our families rely on.

Other indicators, such as the number of affordable housing covenants or rent-stabilized units, are important to provide a complete picture. We need reliable data that can underpin an “all of the above” housing strategy near transit to increase the supply of both market-rate and affordable housing located near transit.

4. Metro invests in a frequent network of bus and rail transit service.

Frequent transit is useful transit. It is the difference between transit being there when you need it and having to rearrange your life around transit. For many riders, this is the make-or-break decision point for whether they will take transit or find another way to get around, such as on-demand ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft. We want Metro to precisely define a frequent network (

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Map of CalEnviroScreen 2.0 disadvantaged communities and in blue, the high frequency bus stops. Metro acknowledges that 59% of these disadvantaged communities have access to a high frequency bus service — but many disadvantaged communities outside of Central Los Angeles lack frequent bus service.

The Quality of Life Report does map a frequent network and measures how many people live near it, both in disadvantaged communities and the county as a whole (p46-47). This is a good start. But the report doesn’t define what it means by frequent service. Is it measuring headways at rush hour or all day? What about weekends? Judging from what lines appear on the map, it looks like Metro is counting lines that drop to 20-minute headways or longer.

The LRTP is an opportunity to identify the resources needed to actually provide reliable, frequent service to more communities. The report says that frequent service is currently available to 41% of the county’s population and 59% of people in disadvantaged communities. We want to see these numbers boosted to 70% and 85%, respectively. This is the kind of game-changing transit investment that can turn around Metro’s ridership slump by providing useful service to more people.

5. Metro leads on transportation safety throughout Los Angeles County.

Traffic deaths are the leading cause of death for children in Los Angeles County, and 2nd for everyone else under age 45. As the primary transportation planning agency, it is shocking that Metro is silent on this critical issue, aside from reporting collisions with its own light rail vehicles (p13).

Traffic safety is a crisis in Los Angeles County—one that unfolds with a new death every 15 hours on average. Being able to get safely from Point A to Point B on Los Angeles County’s transportation network is absolutely a “quality of life” issue, perhaps the single most important one.

We are pushing Metro to adopt Vision Zero, like the City of Los Angeles and County of Los Angeles, and to aggressively pursue traffic safety in partnership with local jurisdictions. Metro should integrate safety into all of its planning, policy, and funding decisions and provide robust technical assistance on street design and other strategies to local partners. The Quality of Life Report should identify countywide safety trends, including how many people are killed on our streets and highways, who they are, and what the leading causes are. Traffic deaths are preventable, with comprehensive strategies including street design, education, and enforcement. Metro already convenes the partners needed to pursue Vision Zero, but is not taking advantage of the many resources it has at its disposal.

6. Metro builds an integrated, connected, and sustainable transportation system.

The Quality of Life Report has a whole section on sustainability, plus metrics on bikeway implementation and first/last mile. It’s great to see continued reporting that the vast majority of Metro riders walk and bike to transit (88% for bus riders and 72% for rail), and we hope to see this metric increase over time in future reports (p38). Metro has also increased bike parking at stations with more on the way (p39) and more than doubled the mileage of bike infrastructure since 2007 (p41). These metrics should continue to be reported as Metro implements the Active Transportation Strategic Plan.

As Metro integrates sustainability into more of its projects, it’s important to develop a set of metrics to measure the benefits. In 2016, Metro adopted a new Green Construction Policy requiring new stormwater measures in all projects over $5 million (p63). Projects covered by Metro’s 2014 Complete Streets Policy will enter construction in the near future. Over time, these policies will pay dividends and their benefits should be measured and reported.

What is still missing is a comprehensive view into how Los Angeles County’s overall transportation network is being managed to address sustainability goals. The report includes the Metro fleet’s direct GHG emission reductions (p51), but how does that compare to regional goals? What are the GHG effects of Metro’s highway projects? We are encouraged that a regional air quality metric was included (p51), but the report makes no connection between Metro’s regional planning activities and attainment of Clean Air Act standards. The LRTP must bridge this gap by working with regional agencies like SCAG and SCAQMD to set shared emissions goals and hold each other accountable to meeting them.

Closing Thoughts

The Quality of Life Report is an important addition to the conversation about how transportation investments strengthen our communities’ well being. By recognizing that transportation decisions do impact health, sustainability, and equity goals, the report sets the stage for a more comprehensive discussion about these connections during the next LRTP update. As the LRTP sets clearer goals on safety, sustainability, and equity, the Quality of Life Report can adapt to measure progress towards achieving them.

To learn more about our work on Just Growth and the LRTP:

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