January 30, 1990 - From the January, 1990 issue

Regional Mobility Plan: Attempts to Return to Traffic Levels of 1984

A return to traffic levels five years prior is no easy task. It will take a regional mobility plan that consist of four sections: growth management, system management, demand management, and facilities development. Ralph Cipriani, SCAG's principle planner for Regional Mobility and Long-range Transit, presenst such a regional mobility plan to reduce traffic, increase all types of transit modes, and improve air quality. 

On February 2, 1989, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) adopted a Regional Mobility Plan (RMP), just six weeks before both SCAG and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) adopted the Air Quality Management Plan. Our goal, quite simply, through the RMP is to recapture and retain the transportation mobility levels of 1984.

Some people might immediately react that 1984 levels were not so spectacular. But the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area is facing a future that no other metro area in the country must confront. By the year 2010, we will expect to absorb 2 million more jobs, 3 million more vehicles, and 4 million more residents in the region.

In making projections for the next 20 years, our models included only those highway projects and transit programs currently programmed and funded. Given an environment of scarce financial resources and an anti-freeway building mentality, we had to come to grips with the question of how to move 3 million new vehicles each day on our transportation network. Since we assumed only the funded projects for modeling purposes, we had to develop new creative means to maintain the traffic congestion levels of six years ago.

Our regional mobility plan consists of four strategies: Growth Management, System Management, Demand Management, and Facilities Development.

The Growth Management Plan is designed to create a better balance of future jobs and housing within subregional areas. Of the three plans, this plan will have the greatest effect on developers. Job/housing balance is an extremely effective way to increase mobility levels, and 33% of our traffic reductions will be due to this type of growth management strategy.

This plan, which pertains only to new construction, is a low-capital investment option which requires cooperation between local governments and the private sector. Smaller, more progressive cities have already attempted jobs/housing balances, such as Boulder, Colorado, Ft. Collins, Colorado, and San Diego, but the logistics have not yet been worked out for a region of our immense geographical size and population.

The System Management Plan attempts to make use of our existing infrastructure as efficiently as possible in order to squeeze out every bit of capacity. Examples include expansion of the present system of freeway ramp metering and traffic light synchronization such as the program which has already been implemented in Los Angeles City’s Downtown central core.

A successful system management program can provide a 15-18% increase in efficiency and eliminate hundreds of thousands of hours of daily delay. This is crucial because there is so little slack in our current system. Most highways are operating in the region over capacity much of the time.

Transportation Demand Management intends to encourage people to change their mode of travel (principally away from single occupant autos), change their time-of-day travel, and eliminate trips altogether. Currently, 95% of our trips are by car. New programs would include carpooling, telecommuting, and shorter work weeks. We hope to have 30% of regular commuters working at home or having a day off because of altered work weeks. Of the remaining commuters, 19% would be using transit, another 23% would be carpooling or vanpooling and another 10% would be going to work at different hours of the day.

Employers will be the primary target of demand management through the AQMD's Regulation 15. Currently businesses in the basin with 100 or more employees must develop transportation plans for their employees. However, within the next two years, this threshold will drop to 25 employees or more.

However, we still recognize that the automobile will be the dominant form of transportation due to the region’s land-use. Our Facilities Development Program includes the creation of new facilities and the improvement of existing facilities. We know we have to upgrade highways such as the Santa Ana Freeway, and our objective is to build at least 3,000 more lane miles or highways.

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But infrastructure improvements should not be limited to the highway system, and we want to expand commuter rail projects, beef up infrastructure at LAX, San Pedro and the Port of Long Beach, and implement all funded transit programs.

We have tested these four major strategies at various levels, and what we found was that the optimum solution to show the lowest travel demand based upon 18.3 million people in the year 2010 was a combination of all four strategies. A job/housing balance by itself would be worthless, as would transit improvements such as Metro Rail and Light Rail in and of themselves.

Some of our ambitious transit programs are already underway, but there are still numerous problems related to future transit use. Much of our current transit debate focuses on the mode—Light Rail or Metro Rail, for instance. This is a foolish debate in that no transit mode can work without the supporting land-use. Metro Rail or Light Rail would operate at optimal levels with far greater land-use and population densities than currently exist.

There is a need for all types of transit within the region. In addition, the lead time on transit capital projects anywhere from 10 to 15 years before we even break ground must be reduced. There needs to be a fast-track method to implement our transit plans. Finally, the RMP demonstrates that the minimal system needed in 2010 to maintain 1984 standards requires an additional $23 billion in transit funding that is not yet appropriated.

Some ask how SCAG can attempt to implement any of these plans. Our RMP is the official long range transportation plan recognized by the federal government for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. Every dollar of federal funding for transportation, a figure in the billions of dollars, has to fund a project in compliance with this plan.

All projects related to streets, highways, or transit must be consistent. This means that local governments, county governments, and county transportation commissions all have a vested interest in seeing that the plan is effected and implemented to the best extent possible.

The RMP therefore provides guidelines for local cities, not prescriptive details. The plan does not indicate specifically where to place housing, where to zone commercial, where to place the next extension of Metro Rail.

The actual implementation of the plan is up to the local governments. The RMP was not developed in a vacuum by insensitive bureaucrats, but by local transportation officials, elected officials, and the CTC's. The conflicts or dialogues between local developers and other parties will be local. Much has been written about SCAG wanting to become the super-regional land-use agency.

Yet this is an agency of less than 120 people in a metro area of 14 million people. Even if it had the desire, SCAG could not possibly review all development projects submitted at the local level.

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