Will L.A.’s New Transportation Sales Tax Measure Solve Traffic?

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Edward Humes spoke to the Los Angeles Times‘ Patt Morrison to complain about the just-passed Measure M sales tax measure to boost transportation in Los Angeles. He argues it won’t help traffic and is missing out on big technological shifts:

But what’s missing are transformative visions that are necessary to get people to really change the way they get around. There was a survey done last year of transportation planning for the largest municipalities and counties in America, and something like only 7% of their plans even addressed the big changes that have arrived recently in mobility or are coming soon — ride-sharing services, automation, driverless cars.

We know they’re coming — there’s nothing in Measure M that even addresses these transformative developments that 1980s-style transportation plans wouldn’t know to address. It’s like we’re not acknowledging that things are changing very rapidly in the transportation space. We’re going to just go out and lay down more asphalt and lay down more rail and hope for the best. It’s not going to work.

He recommends doubling down on these technology changes with first/last mile automated vehicles, putting big rigs in carpool lanes, and relying on automated buses in dedicated lanes.

I agree with him that Measure M won’t solve traffic by itself: the only way to do that, barring huge spikes in fuel costs, is congestion pricing.

But nothing about Measure M precludes what Humes advocates. And in the meantime, it will pay for important new infrastructure — including maintenance of existing infrastructure — that a growing population will rely on for mobility. We need the new capacity to move people that rail and buses bring, and Measure M will boost ridership across all rail lines by finally giving the region comprehensive rail coverage to fill in the missing pieces.

On automation, Humes doesn’t seem to acknowledge that more driverless cars could mean a huge spike in traffic, which could push more people to want to use the rail or bus networks that Measure M will fund. His solutions (such as encouraging shifts in employment hours) will only provide temporary respite from induced demand.

Meanwhile, we can acknowledge that Measure M is probably not enough by itself to address all the mobility challenges in Los Angeles, but it’s a necessary part of the solution. For example, the region will need smart policies on automated cars.  But these vehicles will still rely on and complement improvements in infrastructure from Measure M, just like investments in bus-only lanes funded by the measure can eventually accommodate the automated buses that Humes envisions.

Finally, Humes never discusses land use (at least in this interview). But that issue is central to the mobility concerns. The region needs to concentrate all new growth around transit corridors, and Measure M can provide the network to get new residents and workers to move about without adding to congestion.  Measure M also provides new development opportunities to channel growth around transit, which is the only sensible recipe for future growth.

I think it’s worth thinking through the issues that Humes describes, and a visionary voice can be powerful.  But we shouldn’t dismiss so readily the incredible funding tool that Measure M gives the region to address its transportation challenges.


One thought on “Will L.A.’s New Transportation Sales Tax Measure Solve Traffic?

Leave a Reply