Will Southern California Make Transportation History Tomorrow?

[UPDATED 4/4/12 4:28pm PT] This afternoon the Southern California Association of Governments unanimously adopted a $524 billion transit plan designed to heavily invest in projects to provide greater mobility choices to Los Angeles and Southern California residents and visitors. The plan will reduce harmful air pollution, provide a variety of choices to move around the region without a vehicle, save people money and produce thousands of local, good-paying jobs.  

While Washington politicians continue to point fingers about high gas prices, local leaders in Los Angeles have actually done something about long commutes. SCAG has approved a plan that will save people money, shorten their commutes and create a cleaner environment. Investing in transit will put millions of people back to work on local projects that benefit anyone who chooses to trade gas prices for a metro card.

Car-loving Southern California is poised to adopt the strongest transportation plan in its history tomorrow. In keeping with California’s leadership in adopting forward-thinking policies, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is expected to adopt its first ever Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) at 1pm.  This plan is Southern California’s roadmap to cleaner air and a healthier economy for the more than 18 million residents of the greater Los Angeles region and its visitors.

The region’s voters have spoken. As we learned in a regional poll, SoCal voters want more public transportation, more money to go toward making walking and biking safer, and more opportunities to live near their jobs and daily needs. Voters also rank building new roads as the least effective way to solve traffic congestion, and think it’s time for a new approach.

That new approach is what this plan attempts to deliver, thanks to requirements under California’s SB 375, passed in 2008. A couple highlights. This plan:

  • Increases funding for biking and walking by over 350% from $1.8 to $6.7 billion;
  • Spends $246 billion—nearly half the plan’s total revenue-- on public transportation;
  • Reduces congestion 24% per capita despite adding 4 million residents;
  • Brings 12 key transit expansion projects to Los Angeles in the next 10 years under Mayor Villaraigosa’s 30-10 plan;
  • Creates 60% more housing near transit than is currently available;
  • Creates 4.2 million jobs in the region, 87% of all jobs will be ½ mile from transit;
  • Achieves a 24 % reduction in pollution-caused respiratory problems, resulting in $1.5 billion per year in health care savings’ and;
  • Saves over 400 square miles of open space--more than a third the size of Yosemite--from development by shifting to a more walkable land use pattern for the region.

More than ever before, the public health community has been actively engaged in the process calling for safe walking and biking, and cleaner air. A recent op-ed in the Riverside Press Enterprise calls on SCAG to build communities that require exercise to address diabetes and obesity.  Jane Warner, President and CEO, American Lung Association in California, calls this plan “the best prescription for improving the health of all Southern California residents.”

SCAG Council members have an opportunity to make history here. We strongly urge a yes vote on both the SCS/RTP as well as the motions which will be presented to accelerate funding for Metrolink, Compass Blueprint, clean freight and active transportation. There is no doubt that some elements of the plan could be improved, but it takes serious commitment to move Southern California as far beyond its legacy of freeways and traffic as this plan does. This plan takes steps to achieve real results for mobility and the environment that we can be proud of.

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