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L.A. Times Editorial Board: California Could Have Better Transportation Options

Photo: Wikimedia

The L.A. Times editorial board agrees with what Streetsblog has been saying for years: the designs of our cities and streets and the transportation investments California is making are leading us in the wrong direction.

The Air Resources Board published a report this week showing that despite a decade of thinking and planning for better, more sustainable communities, emissions from California's transportation sector are still rising. Is there something wrong with the plans? No. The problem is those plans have stayed on the shelf:

On paper, California may have committed to building more walkable, bike-able, transit-friendly communities. In practice, cities, counties and the state are failing to follow through.

Not only that, but California continues to spend its transportation funding very heavily prioritizing roads, highways, and infrastructure that serves driving:

Despite the goal of getting people out of their cars, there has been little move to spend a greater proportion of dollars on other modes of transportation. No wonder that transit ridership and carpool rates have fallen across the state, and that three out of four commuters drive alone to work.

No wonder indeed. And the result is a world that leaves many California residents believing that driving a car is the only reasonable way to get anywhere:

And so people are often forced to make bad choices. It’s too expensive for many people to live near their workplaces in coastal urban areas, so they buy or rent homes in far-flung suburbs and make the long commute. Within communities, there aren’t enough good options for getting around without a car. Homes are often far from grocery stores and schools. There aren’t enough parks within walking distance. The design of our cities can make it challenging, time consuming or downright dangerous to walk, bike or take public transit.

It's not easy to shift a culture, but if California truly means to do something to prevent cataclysmic climate change, that something has to be done now. The passage of S.B. 1 and the defeat of Prop 6 mean that there is enough money to invest in a better transportation system, one that sustains our communities and improves our health. But will California do it?

The state will spend $1.1 trillion on transportation over the coming decades, which could dramatically expand the options for Californians to get around without a car — but only if there is a concerted effort to change. It’s clear that simply adopting sustainability plans isn’t enough. If California is going to meet its ambitious greenhouse gas reduction commitments, lawmakers and local leaders have to live up to the commitments in those plans.

Will the California Transportation Commission understand the urgent message in this report and drop its insistence that congestion is the biggest transportation problem the state faces and that widening highways is necessary? Will Governor-elect Gavin Newsom and the new legislative teams arriving in Sacramento next week recognize and act on this issue with urgency?

It won't be easy. Housing, transportation, equity, the economy, public health—all are intricately connected and all need big solutions.

Kudos to the L.A. Times editorial board for an excellent editorial that is timely, bravely contrarian, and gravely important.

(Maybe this will inform the newsroom next door - can readers expect a more balanced Times take on, say, high-speed rail in the future?)

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