Measure R2 Sparks Debate on the Future of LA Transportation

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In 2008, Los Angeles County voters approved Measure R, a half-cent sales tax to help build 15 different local transportation projects. This coming November, Metro is setting its sights on a new ballot initiative: Measure R2.

In 2008, Los Angeles County voters approved Measure R, a half-cent sales tax to help build 15 different local transportation projects. This coming November, Metro is setting its sights on a new ballot initiative: Measure R2.

If passed, the Measure R2 tax could raise up to $120 billion over the coming decades. That money could fund even more transportation development, such as the continued construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Regional Connector, and the Purple Line Extension. It could also fund a light rail project connecting Artesia to downtown, plus highway improvements and bike lanes.

On June 23, Metro board members are scheduled to approve the measure for the November ballot. How money from the tax would get apportioned – and which transportation projects to prioritize – is still up for debate.

“What Metro’s trying to do right now is provide an outline of the key, priority projects that they would like to see advance,” says Lindsay Horvath, a member of the West Hollywood City Council, who recently co-wrote a Measure R2 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times with Inglewood Mayor and Metro board member James Butts.

Metro's planned Purple Line Extension.
Metro’s planned Purple Line Extension, a project that could receive funding from Measure R2.

“There are some question marks about some of the projects that have been proposed, exactly how they would unfold [and] at what stage each development would happen,” Horvath says. “But I think one thing is very clear. We need to further invest in a transportation system that serves the entire county that is regional, rational and equitable.”

Depending on who you ask, “regional, rational, and equitable” means something different. For Jessica Meaney, managing director at Investing in Place, its about creating equal accessibility for pedestrians.

“One of the things I care a lot about is how people get to the bus stop and train station,” Meaney says, something the transportation policy sector calls “first and last mile access.”

“In Los Angeles County, less than one percent of our money has been spent on investments for sidewalks and bicycle lanes and safe routes to school, yet almost 40 percent of our roadway deaths are people walking and biking,” she says. “[It’s] a number that spikes in low-income communities and communities of color.”

Patrick Atwater, a civic data scientist for ARGO Labs, has a different priority for Measure R2 in mind. From his perspective, debate over light rail fails to plan for more ways of getting around; instead, urban planners and city officials should look towards a future paved by self-driving buses.

“When you look at light rail, it’s a one percent solution for Southern California in terms of ridership. You need a mobility solution that works for the vast, vast majority of people,” says Atwater. “And it seems really odd that when you look at the proposed plan, they don’t even talk about autonomous vehicles.”

Atwater says building a city infrastructure to accommodate self-driving buses could make way for driverless vehicles on a broader scale – that is, if the city chooses to invest in it.

“LA was always the city of the future. And it seems really pessimistic – and frankly, not in the character of LA – to be dreaming not quite big enough,” he says.

“We have a choice in what sort of opportunity we want to create. And I think in opportunities like this ballot measure, in terms of how its implemented, we can chart a future where we start to pilot, and start to try and test and move towards a world where autonomous vehicles are there. Or, we can just expect it to be some side show that’s off in Silicon Valley.”

A rendering of Metro's planned Regional Connector, one project mentioned in Measure R2.
A rendering of Metro’s planned Regional Connector, one project mentioned in Measure R2.

Jessica Meaney shares Altwater’s optimism for the future of transportation – with a caveat.

“I actually think there’s a whole lot of historical wrongs in our mobility, the way we travel in Los Angeles County and [the way we] have spent our public dollars that need to be righted first,” Meaney counters. “I think driverless cars are coming… But I’m also really interested in making sure this ballot measure makes it really safe to walk.”