Just Growth

Just Growth, Measure M, transportation equity

Recap of #JustGrowth March Meeting


Last week, we were joined by over 20 partners to discuss Investing in Place’s Equity Opportunity Zones strategy. We discussed indicators for equity, census tracts, and visualizing the data. Big thanks to Madeline Wander, Senior Data Analyst at USC PERE, who presented maps and led the discussion on Equity Opportunity Zones.

For the last two and half years, Investing in Place has vetted with partners and discussed which indicators would adequately address the issue of transportation inequity in Los Angeles County. The three variables we narrowed down to were based on research, best practices and our discussion with partners: race, income, and low vehicle ownership.

A key discussion last week was the idea of adding collision data as a factor in the Equity Opportunity Zones. Collision data is a poignant indicator that not only speaks to where disproportionate number of crashes are happening, but it’s also a real need that affects everyone.

This Spring, we are working to incorporate the feedback we heard from the first two #JustGrowth meetings of this year. If you haven’t already, please review the great feedback and comments we received at our January meeting.

Many of our participants at the last meeting, like Reuben De Leon from First 5 LA, also expressed the need to elevate diverse stories and experiences from community members and decision makers. We agree — and our experiences talking with mothers, fathers, and youth from First 5 LA’s Best Start Communities across Los Angeles County shows us that having more reliable and frequent buses, safe sidewalks and crosswalks, and having a bus stop can be a lifeline for many, but there’s still work to be done.

In regards to feedback: the invitation still stands for our partners to write a guest blog and highlight the different indicators discussed in our meeting. Please send to Jessica Meaney at jessica@investinginplace.org.

Again, thank you to all who attended! We appreciate it.

Next Steps:

  • Save the Date for next month’s Just Growth Work Group for April 20th from 2:30-4:00pm at Teach for America’s office by Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles. We will be providing our thoughts on the recently released Measure M Guidelines and continue to develop the EOZ maps and ideas.
  • For those who haven’t kept up on our Equity Opportunity Zones policy campaign, please click here for the Executive Summary and report.
Just Growth, transportation equity

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).

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 2.50.53 PM.png
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.

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 2.39.47 PM.png
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 (

Screen Shot 2017-03-13 at 2.53.51 PM.png
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:

Just Growth, Measure M, transportation equity

Mobilizing for #JustGrowth: Recap of our 2/16 Work Group Meeting


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Investing in Place presented its 2017 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) Advocacy Agenda at our #JustGrowth work group meeting two weeks ago. We were joined by over 50 partners, including representatives from NRDC, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office, Los Angeles Walks, American Heart Association, SCAG, TRUST South LA, LA THRIVES, and many more.

Investing in Place created the #JustGrowth work group to bring our partners together on a more frequent basis to integrate equity metrics in Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan update — which we believe has tremendous opportunity to address accessibility, social equity and public health with clear intention and strategy. The work group builds on the groundwork of our Transportation Equity Technical Work Group.

Below are the three takeaways from our meeting last week, but you can read all the feedback and input we got here.

Top three takeaways:

  1. Race Matters
  2. Students Exist
  3. Mobilizing and Organizing are Critical

1. Race Matters

Metro adopts a clear definition of high-need communities called Equity Opportunity Zones that addresses historical factors of disinvestment — like race, income, and vehicle ownership — and to begin mapping priority areas for investment at the census tract/urbanized zone area (UZA) level. Without policy consensus on high need areas in Los Angeles County it is impossible to strategically target public resources, strategies and measure impacts of investments for access, opportunity and safety.

Most of the time, transportation funding is allocated by population, irrespective of needs and existing resources. IiP and its Transportation Equity Technical Work Group recommend that these zones are identified by three criteria: race, income, and households with low car ownership. One key reason? Declining transit ridership. 92% of Metro bus riders are people of color,1 and the metropolitan average of housing burden for people of color is 49 percent.2 Regional inequities are apparent in our transportation network, with a Metro bus rider’s annual household income averaging $15,000.3

If our regional goals are to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips and building out the transit network, we need to address race in our strategies and investments.

We know that the Los Angeles metro area has the state’s worst income inequality,4 5 and the significant gap between the region’s wealthy and low-income communities manifests itself spatially. In Los Angeles County, where you live can greatly affect educational attainment, job access, health outcomes, public safety, environmental quality, mobility, and more.6 7 

Simply put, place matters. In Los Angeles County, carless households are overwhelmingly located in communities of color.8 9 A focus on transportation equity requires an understanding of how class, race, and ethnicity can have profound effects on social, socioeconomic, and health outcomes.

It also requires an acknowledgment that policy decisions regarding the allocation of funding can exacerbate or ameliorate existing inequities. During our research and through our partner convenings, we consistently find race and ethnicity matters to address social equity.

2. Students Exist

As a former teacher, I was so glad to see participants prioritize students and our youth when it comes to Just Growth.

Students and youth today are our future — especially when thinking of cultivating the next generation of transit riders. But, many of them currently have limited mobility options. Getting to school and back home, for many, means taking long rides on the bus or train, biking through traffic congestion, or walking. We’ve all seen this before.

Their needs, however, are not often reflected in our transportation decision making. Our transportation modeling data, the tools we use to project ridership and prioritize investments, do not include any data on how youth travel.

Who is actually losing their life on our streets requires us to look at the needs of youth. In LA City, traffic collisions are the leading cause of death for those between 2 and 14 years old and the number two cause of premature death among those between 15 and 25 years old.10

Our school districts have responded to decreasing district enrollment, losing out to their charter school partners, with increasing magnet school options. Also, Los Angeles Unified School District has created more than 15,000 early transitional kindergarten seats in the highest concentrated areas of poverty in the district.11

The transportation patterns of our students attending school outside of their “neighborhood school” has presented unforeseen issues in safety and public health.  Some estimates predict 10%-14% of morning congestion is caused by private car drop off at school.12

By not incorporating the mobility needs of students — especially those in K-12 — we are ignoring a critical need and opportunity. Nationally, statistics cite less that 15% of K-12 students walk or ride their bike to school — in Los Angeles County that number doesn’t compare. In fact, about 36% of K-12 students walk or bicycle to school in Los Angeles County.13

But, we don’t invest in ensuring they have a safe, reliable, and accessible path of travel, and as a result we see their leading cause of death from motor vehicles. Engaging our school districts with our Metro partners is critical in developing our issues to not only safety and students, but also environmental impact for years to come.

3. Mobilizing and Organizing for our Communities is Critical

The Long Range Transportation Plan is an important opportunity for our most challenged communities. Infusing equity metrics into the long range plan can result in sustainable development and prosperity across Los Angeles County. Without defining or even measuring for equity can hold back the region’s growth — and worse, negatively impacting vulnerable communities.

The best part of all this is that it has been done before. The City of Los Angeles Safe Routes to School program is a robust program that follows an equity model targeting our highest need areas and providing resources accordingly.

We are encouraged by the strong leadership we have on these issues. Therese McMillan, Chief Planning Officer at Metro, integrated equity metrics into a long range transportation plan at transportation agency before too. Fifteen years ago, as the Deputy Executive Director of Policy at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission serving 7.5 million people in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, she worked on a similar program Communities of Concern to align high need areas with public dollars.

Phil Washington, Metro Chief Executive Officer, has also made it a priority to create and update the Quality of Life Report for Metro’s users to monitor and enhance quality of life for all users using models to evaluate impacts such a CalEnviroScreen and the Environmental Justice Screening Method developed by USC PERE.

We have proven models. We have the leadership. We need to mobilize.

Next steps

We will map key decision makers and create a targeted advocacy strategy. We welcome partners and skeptics alike to be part of this process.

Did you miss the first #Just Growth meeting? Join us at our next #JustGrowth meeting on March 16th. We plan to hold these workgroup meetings monthly at least through July as we work to finalize the Investing in Place Long Range Transportation Plan advocacy platform.  
Want to join the work group or have suggestions and recommendations? We want to hear from you — check out our Just Growth agenda blog series here and email amanda@investinginplace.org to find out more and share your ideas with us.

Sources
1 Metro, Quality of Life Report (2016)
2 National Equity atlas; national equityatlas.org.
3 Metro 2015 Ridership Survey, http://thesource.metro.net/2015/08/05/results-of-metros-latest-customer-survey/
4 Quality of life scores run along racial lines in California, Los Angeles Times 1/22/15
5 A Portrait of California, Measure of America: A project of the Social Science Research Council 12/9/14
6 Why Place Matters, PolicyLink 2007
7 Addressing poverty and pollution: California’s SB 535 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Review, Vien Truong.
8 An Agenda for Equity: A Framework for Building a Just Transportation System in Los Angeles County, USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. November 2013.
9 Metro 2015 Ridership Survey, http://thesource.metro.net/2015/08/05/results-of-metros-latest-customer-survey/
10 Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Office of Health Assessment and Epidemiology. 2012 California DPH Death Statistical Master File for Los Angeles City residents, compiled 7/31/15, L. Lieb.
11 KPCC’s LA school board candidate survey: Steve Zimmer, District 4.
12 McDonald, Noreen, Austin Brown, Lauren Marchetti, and Margo Pedroso. “U.S. School Travel 2009: An Assessment of Trends.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 41 (August 2011): 2, 146-151.
13 Investing in Place. https://investinginplace.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/travel-to-school-in-la-county.pdf

Just Growth, Measure M, transportation equity

#JustGrowth Agenda Outcome #6: Integrating Sustainability


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This is the final post in a series of blogs outlining six draft outcomes to guide our advocacy work in 2017. For more background on this series, read the introduction here. We invite your questions, comments, and critiques! Please email us your thoughts at jessica@investinginplace.org.

Outcome: Metro builds an integrated, connected, and sustainable transportation system.

What success looks like:

  • Metro supports a walkable and bikeable county by implementing the Active Transportation Strategic Plan, integrating complete streets into all projects, and investing in first/last mile connectivity as part of all transit capital projects.
  • Metro integrates urban greening into all projects to capture and treat stormwater, increase tree canopy, and reduce ambient temperatures in urban areas.
  • Metro measures and reports progress toward regional sustainability goals, including SCAG’s RTP/SCS greenhouse gas reduction targets, SCAQMD’s ozone and criteria pollutant targets, and LA Sustainable City pLAn’s mode shift targets.

The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California and a primary contributor to smog in the L.A. basin. Transportation infrastructure and the movement of goods and people has a measurable impact on our environment and public health:

All of these environmental impacts have traditionally been an afterthought in transportation planning, or have been considered just the cost of doing business by decision makers. Those costs end up on the balance sheets of other agencies charged with mitigating these impacts —  whether it is the County hospital system for respiratory ailments, cities and the County for reducing water pollution, or the AQMD attempting to control ozone and particulate emissions.

Either way, taxpayers end up paying. Addressing all of these environmental issues upstream during transportation planning is more cost-effective and simply the right thing to do.

What’s Metro’s Role in Advancing Public Health and Sustainability?

Recently, Metro has increasingly embraced its role as an environmental leader by adopting many industry-leading sustainability policies, such as:

These policies show a clear evolution from Metro looking inward at its own resource use to recognizing its role as a major player in regional transportation and land use planning. Integrating these policies into the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) is the logical next step. Metro should collaborate directly with other regional planning agencies to set shared sustainability goals for the transportation sector. Two suggestions:

  1. Metro should seek an arrangement with AQMD to jointly address mobile air pollution sources (a.k.a. cars and trucks), similar to the Joint Work Program with SCAG.
  2. Metro should rely on these agencies’ modeling expertise to evaluate different transportation investment scenarios to ensure that shared goals are achievable and consider any necessary changes to Metro’s plans to meet them.

The City of Los Angeles has also set ambitious goals in its Sustainable City pLAn, including reducing VMT per capita 5% by 2025 and doubling walk/bike/transit mode share to 50% by 2035. The pLAn has equally ambitious goals to promote livable neighborhoods through traffic safety and urban greening. Metro should adopt similar goals countywide and ensure the investments proposed in the LRTP will get us there through aggressive implementation of First/Last Mile, Complete Streets, and the Active Transportation Strategic Plan.

Last thoughts…

The transportation sector may be responsible for so many of Southern California’s environmental issues, but that also means it can be part of the solution. As the primary transportation planning agency for Los Angeles County, Metro has a critical role in ensuring that all of its functions from planning and construction to operations put the region on the path toward a healthy environment for the people who live here.

Just Growth, Measure M, transportation equity

#JustGrowth Agenda Outcome #5: Putting Safety First


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This is the fifth in a series of blogs outlining six draft outcomes to guide our advocacy work in 2017. For more background on this series, read the introduction here. We invite your questions, comments, and critiques! Please email us your thoughts at jessica@investinginplace.org

Outcome: Metro leads on transportation safety throughout Los Angeles County.

What success looks like:

  • Metro adopts Vision Zero to reduce fatal and serious injury collisions 20% by 2020 and to zero by 2030.
  • Metro prioritizes and accelerates funding and provides technical support to local jurisdictions for Vision Zero projects and reports annual progress.

Traffic safety is a public health crisis in Los Angeles County. Traffic collisions are the third leading cause of premature death, responsible for over 500 deaths every year. Put another way, a person is killed on Los Angeles County streets and highways every 15 hours. That’s someone’s parent, someone’s child, every single day. Crashes are the #1 killer for children ages 5 to 14 and the #2 cause of death for people ages 15 to 44, behind only homicide.

Like other transportation burdens, these crashes are heavily concentrated in low-income communities of color, but the issue impacts communities all across the county. These crashes are entirely preventable through smart policy and good street design.

Towards Vision Zero

With its Vision Zero initiative, the City of Los Angeles has taken the lead on traffic safety efforts in the region — spurred in no small part due to the fact that a person walking or biking is killed on Los Angeles streets every three days. Based on successful traffic safety campaigns in Europe, Vision Zero is the simple idea that in a well-designed transportation system, no one should die just going from Point A to Point B.

Vision Zero is a collaborative approach that “brings together transportation engineers, police officers, advocates, and policymakers to work together towards creating safer streets.” Unlike prior traffic safety campaigns, Vision Zero is laser-focused on street design as the most effective way to modify behavior and improve safety. Vision Zero doesn’t mean zero crashes — it means addressing factors that make crashes deadly like vehicle speed and enhancing protections for people walking and biking.

Los Angeles County has also joined the campaign with its own Vision Zero policy and smaller cities are following their lead.

Launched in 2015, Los Angeles’ Vision Zero early work included mapping a High Injury Network (HIN) consisting of the 6% of city streets where over 65% of fatal and severe injury collisions occur. The Vision Zero Action Plan, released just last month, maps out the City’s strategy for achieving an immediate 20% reduction in traffic deaths in the next year on its way to reaching zero by 2025. The data-driven plan will focus on implementation of proven countermeasures, such as protected left turns, leading pedestrian intervals, and better bike infrastructure, in the locations where they can have the greatest impact.

What is Metro’s Role with Vision Zero?

As the primary transportation planning agency for Los Angeles County, Metro can and must play a leadership role in the region’s Vision Zero efforts. Creating a safe transportation system should be the agency’s top priority through all of its planning, funding, design, and programming decisions.

Unfortunately, some of Metro’s programs like the Congestion Management Program promote objectives that directly conflict with safety goals. Metro should conduct a top-to-bottom review of its policies and programs to incorporate traffic safety.

Metro should also support local jurisdictions with data collection and analysis, technical assistance, and targeted funding for safety improvements. In the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), Metro should set clear safety goals for the county’s transportation system, prioritize the resources necessary to meet them, and report annual progress.

It is hard to overstate how ambitious this goal is, but our communities deserve it. No child should be killed on their way to school and no parent should be killed on their way home from work.

How many deaths are acceptable on our streets? Zero.

Just Growth, Measure M, transportation equity

#JustGrowth Agenda Outcome #4: Frequent Transit is Useful Transit


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This is the fourth in a series of blogs outlining six draft outcomes to guide our advocacy work in 2017. For more background on this series, read the introduction here. We invite your questions, comments, and critiques! Please email us your thoughts at jessica@investinginplace.org

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

What success looks like:

  • Metro defines a frequent network of rail, rapid bus, and high-ridership local bus service with all-day 15-minute headways, or better, that serves at least 70% of the county’s population, and at least 85% of people living in Equity Opportunity Zones.
  • Metro regularly reports on-time performance and state of good repair for the frequent network.

Despite significant investment in new transit and overwhelming public support for even more, Metro is in a decade-long ridership slump — down nearly 6% in just the last year — driven by declining bus ridership.

It’s tough to point to one singular reason for declining ridership. Some factors fluctuate month-to-month and some are decade-long trends: relatively low gas prices, bus service cuts, buses stuck in traffic without dedicated lanes, ease and affordability of transportation network companies (i.e. Lyft, Juno, Uber), drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, the growth of job centers not served by high-quality transit, displacement of low-income transit riders from transit-accessible neighborhoods, and more.

The common thread is that alternatives to transit are becoming more accessible and sometimes more affordable. But, to be frank, transit service has not kept pace with customer demands for reliability and usefulness. The Expo Line is an exception to this trend. For instance, Metro has consistently invested in frequent, all-day service that has made the line useful and reliable for many first-time transit riders. The new clean rail cars also helped make a good first impression. But, not all buses and train lines have received the same attention.

How can Metro increase ridership?

Many aspects of our urban environment are out of Metro’s control. While Metro doesn’t directly control land use or parking policy, it can influence local jurisdictions who do. Metro’s transportation investments have significant effects on the region’s land use policy — intentional or not. Metro may not be able to convince a resident who can now legally drive to go back to spending 2-3 hours per day on the bus, but it can focus on making its service — particularly its bus service — more useful and reliable, so that it is more competitive for more trips.

Years of bus ridership declines means that Metro can no longer afford to take so-called “transit-dependent” riders for granted. Instead, Metro should view low-income riders as its core customer base — one that is increasingly choosing other options — and focus attention on improvements that will retain and grow its customer base.

A more useful and reliable bus network will help stem ridership declines among people who are abandoning the system as soon as they can afford to while likely attracting and keeping new riders more effectively than frills like free wifi.

What does a reliable Metro system look like? More frequent buses.

What do we mean by useful and reliable? In an era where customers expect on-demand mobility, this means all-day frequent service, seven days a week, on a network with strong connections.

Frequent service is useful service. It is the difference between scheduling your life around transit and having transit available when you need it. In a grid network like L.A.’s, frequent transit is the difference between smooth connections that open up access to more destinations and a frustrating, uncomfortable, or even dangerous wait on a street corner that is neither your origin nor your destination. Frequent service is also a hedge on reliability — if a bus doesn’t come on time, there will be another one not too far behind it. Frequent service that runs into the evening means that workers with nontraditional commutes, or students coming home from night classes, or people running errands, can still rely on transit being there when they need it.

This is not a new idea for Metro. In fact, Metro’s Rapid network was an innovative combination of new technology and marketing built on the foundation of a frequent grid of high-quality service. But the last recession caused a shortfall in Metro’s operations budget and painful service cuts that have yet to be restored. Many Rapids are now scheduled at 20+ minute headways outside of peak hours, which when compounded with variable traffic conditions and bus reliability problems can result in gaps of 30-40 minutes or longer along the route. That leaves bus riders stranded and drives them to look for other ways to get around.

Last thoughts…

Successes like the Expo Line demonstrate that there is still plenty of demand for transit, but only for transit that is useful and reliable. Metro should double down on the Metro Rapid model by investing in all-day, frequent service on corridors with high ridership potential. Those routes with particular reliability problems due to traffic congestion should be prioritized for bus lanes and other infrastructure improvements to improve on-time performance.

In addition to the Rapid network, Metro should look at upgrades to high-ridership local lines. Metro already started identifying these high-potential corridors in a 2015 study. In the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) update, Metro should identify a high-quality, frequent bus network with minimum performance criteria and commit to the level of funding necessary to operate it all day and into the evening. This should be the highest priority for new operations funding from Measure M.

Networks and frequency are the fundamentals for a successful transit system. Why does this matter for a more accessible and equitable region? Because, in the words of former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa, buses represent democracy in action: “An advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.” A useful and reliable transit system is one that recognizes that all people deserve mobility.

Just Growth, Measure M, Resources

#JustGrowth Agenda Outcome #3: Supporting Affordable and Diverse Neighborhoods


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This is the third in a series of blogs outlining six draft outcomes to guide our advocacy work in 2017. For more background on this series, read the introduction here. We invite your questions, comments, and critiques! Please email us your thoughts at jessica@investinginplace.org

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

What success looks like:

  • Metro tracks housing affordability near transit projects and works with local jurisdictions to adopt policies ensuring that the median family can afford the median cost of housing.
  • Metro supports value-capture near transit to invest in affordable housing and related infrastructure.
  • Metro adopts anti-displacement policies to protect long-term residents and business-owners from involuntary relocation.

Transportation policy has a direct effect on land-use — with targeted and effective transportation investments, we can strengthen our neighborhoods with better housing, better access to jobs, and safe and walkable communities for all. Look at any major city… a city’s growth largely depends on having effective and reliable transportation hubs, be they rail depots, highway systems, bikeway networks, or in some cases, ports.

Some context: in the past, real estate developers built privately funded trolley networks to increase the connection to suburban housing tracts (along some of the same rights-of-way where Metro is now building its new lines). Federally-subsidized freeway construction further accelerated suburban sprawl while bulldozing urban neighborhoods and displacing many of their inhabitants. In the current era, transit access is one of several factors driving up urban land values.

The Los Angeles Housing Crisis

The Los Angeles region has not built enough housing in the past several decades to accommodate its growing population, leading to higher home prices and rents throughout Southern California.* At the same time, demand for urban living has concentrated development activity in locations with good transit access and less organized anti-growth constituencies.**

The combination of all these factors — plus a dose of real estate speculation and a sophisticated gentrification machine*** — have led to dramatic rent increases in previously affordable neighborhoods that are predominantly displacing low-income residents of color.

Metro’s Role Supporting Our Neighborhoods

While improving transit is just one factor in the housing crisis affecting low-income communities of color, Metro is uniquely situated to mitigate these issues.

At the regional level, Metro can:

  • Promote housing affordability by supporting policies that will increase new housing, particularly near transit.
  • Support efforts to link transportation and other funding to local jurisdictions’ willingness to accommodate their share of population growth.
  • Integrate local land use policies into its own prioritization of transportation improvements.

Metro can also act locally to promote housing affordability near its projects and work with local jurisdictions to protect longtime residents against displacement. As a landowner, Metro has already increased its commitment to affordable housing through its joint development program. Metro can build on its efforts to support small businesses during construction and grow its revolving loan fund for affordable housing projects. Metro can also support new Enhanced Infrastructure Finance Districts in order to capture the value created by its projects and direct this new revenue into community needs like affordable housing.

The other role that Metro can play is to help understand the issue through better data collection and reporting. Not too many stakeholders are systematically tracking housing affordability and displacement near transit, so in many respects, policymakers are not as well-informed to the nature and scale of the housing-transportation problem. We encourage Metro to set clear objectives for housing affordability near transit in the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) update and, more importantly, actually measure what is happening in communities.

Last Thoughts

Housing policy is extraordinarily complex with a constantly changing toolbox, and we don’t want to pretend that there are easy answers.

Many of our partners have worked on different facets of this issue for decades. We look forward to working with them to build on what’s working and to innovate where policies have fallen short. Metro has extraordinary reach and resources that — in partnership with local jurisdictions — can be leveraged toward solving the housing crisis.

Sources

*Curbed Los Angeles. March 18, 2015. How Much Does Los Angeles Have to Build to Get Out of its Housing Crisis? http://la.curbed.com/2015/3/18/9979526/housing-crisis-los-angeles-construction

** Curbed Los Angeles. May 3, 2016. Millennials Push LA Population Over 4 Million For the First Time Ever. http://la.curbed.com/2016/5/3/11584732/los-angeles-population-millennials

*** York and Fig. http://yorkandfig.com/#post-228

Just Growth, Measure M, transportation equity

#JustGrowth Agenda Outcome #2: Engaging the Community as a Partner


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This is the second in a series of blogs outlining six draft outcomes to guide our advocacy work in 2017. For more background on this series, read the introduction here. We invite your questions, comments, and critiques! Please email us your thoughts at jessica@investinginplace.org

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

What success looks like:

  • Metro incorporates early and continuous stakeholder engagement in all major decisions, with demonstrated responsiveness to input.
  • Metro establishes a bench of qualified community-based organizations to expand the agency’s capacity for authentic engagement.

Metro’s decisions have far-reaching consequences for communities and these decisions aren’t always made on a level playing field. Transportation policy is technical and complex, so how decisions get made is often not transparent to the people affected by those decisions. With such a complicated subject matter, both language and education levels can pose barriers to participation for some stakeholders, not to mention the time commitment to attend meetings and engage decision makers.

How can Metro Better Engage our Communities?

Given the challenges inherent in community engagement, several of Metro’s recent efforts should be commended as great examples of proactive engagement yielding better decisions. Joint Development in Boyle Heights: After a community outcry, Metro scrapped their plan and went back to the drawing board to redo development standards for Metro-owned properties in Boyle Heights. These discussions delved into complicated land use issues in an accessible way, allowing community priorities for the sites to emerge and be incorporated into new development standards.

Measure M: Developing the expenditure plan was an extensive process that took into account stakeholder feedback from all across the county. The combination of polling, public workshops, and targeted outreach meant that the input gathered was both broad and deep — getting a general sense of public sentiment while hearing directly from key constituencies. We particularly appreciated the public workshops held in each subregion to gather input from community members.

Policy Advisory Council: Measure M implementation will require carefully balancing competing priorities among different stakeholder groups. While the Policy Advisory Council hasn’t been formed yet, its structure is promising for its breadth and depth to allow different stakeholder groups to provide direct input on upcoming decisions.

Key Thoughts

These examples have a few common themes: identifying different constituencies with a stake in a decision; bringing those stakeholders into the decision-making process early; engaging them throughout; and clearly documenting how their input was incorporated into the final decision. We seek to make this approach the norm for major decisions at Metro. We also want to build capacity among community-based organizations to engage in transportation decisions by building more formal partnerships with Metro. Community-based organizations know their communities and are invested in their success.

However, these organizations are generally under-resourced and may not have either the capacity or technical knowledge to engage on transportation decisions without greater support. We believe Metro should identify organizations with strong community ties and compensate them for their involvement in helping Metro to engage community members.

Further Reading

Just Growth, Measure M, transportation equity

#JustGrowth Agenda Outcome #1: Prioritizing Communities with Greatest Need


2 Comments

Note: This is the first in a series of blogs outlining six draft outcomes to guide our advocacy work in 2017. For more background on this series, read the introduction here. We invite your questions, comments, and critiques! Please email us your thoughts at jessica@investinginplace.org

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

What success looks like:

  • Metro adopts a clear definition of high-need communities (“Equity Opportunity Zones”) that addresses historical factors of disinvestment — like race, income, and vehicle ownership — and measures both investments and outcomes in these communities.

Some communities have greater barriers to opportunity than others. Whether you look at life expectancy, educational achievement, employment, or any other socioeconomic metric, the fact is that children growing up in economically challenged neighborhoods like Wilmington don’t have access to the same opportunities as children in the Palos Verdes — even if they are a few miles adjacent.

Transportation Can Bridge Opportunity Gaps

Transportation isn’t the only factor in these disparities, but it can play a big role in both creating opportunities in underserved communities and connecting people in those communities to opportunities elsewhere. For example, we know one can access more jobs with a car versus the bus.* But, our poorest families and neighbors are more likely to depend on public transportation — which can often take hours — to get around. And, low-income families who do have a vehicle, spend significantly more of the share of their income on transportation costs compared to richer households.

The lack of public investment in transportation infrastructure in some communities has compounded social and economic disparities. In other cases, the wrong kind of investment has created or exacerbated environmental injustices by running freeways through communities of color or locating rail yards next to neighborhoods.

Public agencies have a moral and economic imperative to address these disparities through intentional investment strategies. We believe that Metro should define high-need communities based on the most significant historical factors of disinvestment — race, income, and vehicle ownership — and concentrate new investment in these areas. We call them Equity Opportunity Zones.

Advocating for Equity Opportunity Zones

To make sure these investments are effective, Metro should track both the amount of funding going to Equity Opportunity Zones and the outcomes that this investment achieves.

When investments are targeted towards communities with the fewest resources, the region will grow stronger overall. When individuals and entire neighborhoods aren’t connected to civic, social, and economic opportunities, the region can’t benefit from their talents. We all become worse off.**

Race Matters

We know that talking about disparities—particularly when it comes to race—will make some people uncomfortable. But, the data is clear that race matters and income matters for which children growing up in Los Angeles County today will have greater access to opportunities. With all that is going on right now, we owe it to our children to be honest about the role these factors have had in determining outcomes in communities and to do everything in our power to address them.

Further Reading:

Sources:

* The Leadership Conference Education Fund. 2011. Getting to Work: Transportation Policy and Access to Job Opportunities. http://civilrightsdocs.info/pdf/docs/transportation/getting-to-work-july20.pdf

** Benner, Chris and Pastor, Manuel. 2012. Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in America’s Metropolitan Regions. http://justgrowth.org/

Just Growth, Measure M, transportation equity

Agenda for #JustGrowth: Healthy, Sustainable, and Equitable Mobility


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If you live in Los Angeles County, you’ve probably heard about — or have experienced — some of the most challenging issues with mobility we need to solve in Los Angeles County.

Yes, traffic and congestion are important issues — but, for some of our most vulnerable neighbors and families, the issues with transportation are so intertwined with housing, jobs, school and household income that we can’t afford to ignore them any longer.

Some of these crucial issues preventing our region from growing stronger are:

  1. Our housing crisis is worsening (long-time families are being displaced and living further away from job centers),
  2. The costs that the average family is spending on housing and transportation is going up (many have to take on multiple jobs in order to survive),
  3. Youth who are poor in Los Angeles County (areas that are mostly low-income communities and communities of color) face the worst odds getting out of poverty, and
  4. The access to quality careers near major transit, especially for our most vulnerable residents, is looking bleak (but getting better with more awareness on connecting people experiencing homelessness and our veterans to entry-level jobs).

Leading With a Just Growth Agenda

To help build a stronger region and economy, we are developing a draft #JustGrowth advocacy agenda with six key policy outcomes. We’re using guidance from our Transportation Equity Technical Work Group, the policymakers who participated in our Just Growth Forum in November 2016, and the elected officials and policymakers who shared their thoughts at last week’s breakfast. But, we want feedback from anyone in Los Angeles County.

These six outcomes will guide our work on the 2017 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), Measure M guidelines, Metro Strategic Plan, and other upcoming policy opportunities. In each of these opportunities, we seek to set measurable objectives and align public investment directly to achieving those goals:

  1. Metro promotes access to opportunity by concentrating and prioritizing investments in communities with the greatest need.
  2. Metro engages the community as a partner in developing the transportation system.
  3. Metro supports economically stable and culturally diverse neighborhoods by promoting integrated transportation and land use policy.
  4. Metro invests in a frequent network of bus and rail transit service.
  5. Metro leads on transportation safety throughout Los Angeles County.
  6. Metro builds an integrated, connected, and sustainable transportation system.

Next Steps

Throughout February, we’ll highlight each draft outcome in a blog post. We invite your questions, comments, and critiques. Please email us any thoughts, suggestions, and questions: jessica@investinginplace.org.

Also, we hope our Transportation Policy Advocacy Resource Manual can be of use to you, your advocacy, and your organization.

To dive deeper into how we plan to advocate for #JustGrowth, please feel free to register for our first work group meeting next week on Thursday, February 16 2:30-4PM.