Billions in Infrastructure, Rapid Transit, and the freeways are stilled jammed

The keynote speaker the other day at the UCLA Automated Parking Seminar was Richard Katz, Chair, Metrolink Board of Directors, and Board Member, Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in Los Angeles. He gave an informal speech about rapid transit projects and freeway expansions in the city. My guess is that the projects he listed had a price tag in the tens of billions of dollars. Fair Enough.

The problem is, just what good are they doing. He spoke, for instance, of the metrolink train that basically runs along the congested I5 freeway from Orange County to LA. About 22,000 people a day ride the train, but the freeway is still congested. Then he made an interesting statement.

It seems that during the 1984 Olympics, which locals feared would be the first “Carmaggedon” and choke the freeways, traffic was, during the fete, much like Sunday at 10 AM. Light and airy. Katz asked the audience to guess what the percentage reduction in cars were during that period — most though 50%.  Nope, he said, it was only 5%.

OK assume the MTA gets its numbers off by a factor of 2 so it was 10% less.  That means if we take 10% of the cars off the freeway, traffic congestion goes away. Of course we have a lot more cars now, but we have a lot more freeways that we did nearly three decades ago.

Here’s my suggestion — instead of spending billions widening the existing freeways, installing light rail which few ride, and the like, why not invest the money in programs that promote ride sharing and car pooling.

Let’s say the MTA and all the other agencies that spend on highways and transport took part of their revenue, say 10%  about a billion a year, and invested it in marketing and technology with the goal of getting 10% of the cars off the freeways during rush hours through ride sharing programs.

Instead of investing in electric cars and trains to nowhere, why not actually get cars off the roads. My plan needs fleshing out, but perhaps a PR program to heap guilt on drivers. Maybe a grand technology web site where I can find people around me with similar work hours and work sites.  How about coffee klatches where people can meet informally so I know people in my carpool aren’t throwbacks to Jack the Ripper.

Think what a huge marketing budget could do. — Nike spends $500 million world wide on marketing, think what that kind of money could do focused on the LA or Houston or Atlanta markets.

Of course, you would have to figure out a way to privatize it. If it was run by the city or the county, it would be just another bureaucracy. But if you set up a ‘for profit’ operation, I’ll just bet it would work.

Think about it — change the habits of only 10% of the drivers and we would have no more gridlock, no more traffic jams, less smog, fewer accidents, shorter commute times.

LA is the heart of the marketing beast. We have all the talent and skills of Disney, major ad agencies, the movie industry.

Of course, to start, Mr. Katz might have to figure out a way to get his own staff to car pool. They get free parking, so why carpool. He says he can’t start charging for parking because its in the union contract. Of course it is.


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One Response to Billions in Infrastructure, Rapid Transit, and the freeways are stilled jammed

  1. Keith says:

    California has amply proven that you cannot build your way out of congestion. Six or more lanes in each direction are filled to capacity as soon as the new lanes open.

    In our fair city, public transit removes a significant portion (over 5%) of all commuters, yet our freeways are still congested during the rush hours – and it’s getting worse. More people, more cars.

    Taking the Shoup model, congestion pricing might be an incentive to carpooling, using the funds raised to promote alternatives to one occupant vehicles.

    Looking forward to the next posting on this blog, touting the successful carpool program at Parking Today. After all, we have to start somewhere, right?

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