“Angelenos Have Lived Through A Ridiculous Era” — Railtown Book Review In The California Planning & Development Report

Josh Stephens wrote a thorough review of Railtown in the California Development and Planning Report.  The review is spot-on in key ways: it highlights the role of the book as a political history and not a transportation economy analysis, and it neatly summarizes the history.

A few inaccuracies: Waxman was not protecting well-heeled constituents from ‘undesirables’ in stopping the subway.  I do not describe to that theory, since there is no proof and Waxman himself vehemently (and seeming genuinely) denies it, as do other elected officials from that area who also seem credible.  But more importantly, he did admit to concern about gentrification in the Fairfax neighborhood, which was definitely a factor in his opposition.  And in truth, the subway never should have been routed up Fairfax and should have instead continued on down Wilshire. 

As another point of clarification, the federal judge did not “impose” the consent decree (settlement) between bus riders and rail leaders in the 1990s.  Metro agreed to the consent decree in order to avoid a trial, and they negotiated poorly for it.

What I like about Stephens’ review is that he touches on the core issue: the challenge of rail planning and implementation in a decentralized democracy.  I like his comparison to Shanghai and Dubai, which got much more rail built much more quickly due to their centralized political system.  I describe this democratic dynamic in this post at more length.

Overall, the review provides a comprehensive summary of the rail history in L.A. and offers a fair assessment of the issues at stake. I’m glad to see that the California Planning and Development Report is following this story.