June 30, 2011 - From the June, 2011 issue

Grannis: Vision L.A. Launches ‘Can Do' Mobility Initiative

The result of a partnership between the LAEDC and the Environmental Defense Fund (among others), Vision L.A. has produced a regional, strategic mobility plan focusing on actionable, locally generated and managed initiatives. The goal: to improve on existing regional transportation investments. To detail the ambitious agenda of Vision L.A., TPR is pleased to excerpt a presentation by David Grannis, lead consultant of Vision L.A., to the LAEDC Infrastructure Committee.

David Grannis

What is Vision L.A.? Vision L.A. is "can," it's not "can't." Vision L.A. is hope; it's not hype. Vision L.A. is what's right, not what went wrong regarding transportation in Los Angeles. It's not a rearview mirror; it's a look forward. The vision is: we can have the most accessible region in the country.

Why not? We can have a world-leading economy, nation-leading region in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and safe, efficient, affordable, and abundant travel choices for all Angelenos. We can have a transportation system that works.

Our Vision L.A. objective focused on the triple bottom line-the economy, the environment and equity. We grounded this in success and focused on people's needs. Everybody plays a role. You all get an invitation, and if you accept the invitation, you've got to show up. That is, in essence, what we're all about.

This was a lot of hard work. A lot of people gave a lot of time. I am deeply appreciative to the Bank of America Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, and the Dipaola Foundation. But we also needed a strong organizational partnership. If we had set out to do this on behalf of a governmental entity, or the Real Estate Roundtable, it might have been interesting and produced great ideas. But we needed to ground this in a partnership that covered all aspects of our social fabric.

The LAEDC's Bill Allen and the Environmental Defense Fund's Kathryn Phillips forged this partnership and are critical to its success. We ultimately had 21 advisors-people from all walks of life. We specifically focused on three groupings: business and labor; environment/environmental justice and institutions; and government. Our consultant partners, Fehr & Peers and CD+A, did amazing work....

...Our approach: we focused on the housing and transportation index. How much does it cost to live and travel in L.A.? We are well over the national average, at number two, in the country in terms of the median cost of housing plus the median cost of transportation. Combined, it's just below 50 percent of disposable income. Gas goes to $5/gallon. What happens? It's a big problem. We need choices.

We also focused on the fact that we have an amazing set of plans. SCAG has done good work over the years, and Metro has great plans. The voters of Los Angeles County voted for a tax increase during the worst recession in history. The mayor stepped up with strong leadership on 30/10, which is embedded in Vision L.A.

We have a great hardware strategy. We have good software plans. What we don't have is an operating system! How do we operate? How is it all coordinated? A computer and software doesn't work without an operating system.

Government can't do this alone. In the last 30 years, what were the two successful transportation stories in L.A.? The Olympics and the 1994 earthquake. When the Santa Monica Freeway fell, people couldn't use the freeway. They were diverted off of it. Guess what they did? They found 5, 6, 7, 8 other routes, other means, other ways, and other times to get from Downtown to the Westside and from the Westside to Downtown. Caltrans charted the travel times in those vital corridors. Travel times in those directions decreased. Travel times increased when the freeway reopened. During the Olympics, the amount of travel reduced on the freeways as a percentage of total daily volume was under 5 percent. Volumes were much lower 30 years ago than they are today. In both these cases, transportation worked because there were choices...

...The baseline for Vision L.A. is the implementation of our region's transportation plans. Vision L.A. is an overlay and tweaks those plans. Metro's done a brilliant job. Measure R and 30/10 are brilliant approaches. But we looked at transit corridors, we looked at pricing. We looked at parking management and car sharing-a whole series of things that can be done and are being done now. We analyzed it all.

The medium scenario in implementing Vision L.A. is 22 percent more transit boardings in addition to the estimates for the current plans. That number is equal to doubling today's transit boardings.

The biking community has done a brilliant job. The city of Los Angeles has done a brilliant job. Long Beach aspires to be the most bike-friendly city in the world. In this Mediterranean-type climate, bicycling is going to make a big difference.

Air pollution and greenhouse gasses: SCAG did a good job in their plan. We come in under the baseline in SCAG's plan. Vision L.A. adds another 6 percent on top of that.

Delays-this is a big deal. Vision LA reduces delay. It doesn't look like a big number, but a 5.7 percent reduced delay. That's countywide. Some corridors will see more, some less.

This is about the competitiveness of transit, meaning it's about choice. If I jump into my car, and I go from Inglewood to Downtown, if we implement the baseline plan, it's going to still take me 85 percent less time to go by car than by transit. If we start implementing Vision L.A., transit becomes more competitive.

After an exhaustive process of gaming the potentials, with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, the most important result we had was that we agreed we can work together.

We identified and organized Vision L.A. into three basic strategies. Access Operating System, Access Hardware, and Accessible Land Use. I want to underscore the hardware piece because the "have it now" aspect is 30/10. The operating system is how we organize ourselves in our civic space.


Some of the most important Operating System strategies involve a comprehensive database. We have some of that. You can dial 511. You can find out what traffic looks like. But have you ever noticed what FedEx and UPS do? They don't talk about it, but they know exactly what's going on everywhere. They know what to avoid and they know where to turn. How do they do that? They have their own database.

We don't want to simply make that available-we want to take that technology and give you choices: the ability to say, "I'm here at the California Club and I need to go to Pasadena, what are my choices?" I get five, six, seven choices, but I can filter those based on my value set. I want to reduce my carbon footprint; I want more time; I want to save money; I want quickest way possible. My credit card is embedded. I can pay for a choice. I can be picked up; I can walk to the Metro station; I can drive. This is not about what not to do. This is about choices of what you can do.

Transportation Management Associations (TMA) are huge. I had the pleasure of working with Bud [Ovrom] when he was the city manager of Burbank. What the studios and the city of Burbank did is phenomenal. The city was putting together a General Plan and a Specific Plan update for the studios. Disney, Warner Brothers, and NBC studios began consolidating back to Burbank 25 years ago, and they realized that if they followed the city codes they would have to build a lot of parking. It was not just about building parking; it's about taking away functional revenue space. It's shoot space; sound stages; production space. That's revenue out the door; plus, they are going to pay more to build parking and they don't get any revenue. How about they set up a TMA and pick people up at the Metrolink station? Can you give us a break on parking? Can we imbed that assumption in the Specific Plan for the city of Burbank? Burbank was extremely progressive and said, "Yeah, let's try that."

That program, 23 years later, is still going and it has expanded. They're not just picking people up at Metrolink stations. They circulate through certain neighborhoods and they do their homework on demographics. They know that 40 percent of the employees live within five to nine miles. They even tried a school pilot program that permitted Disney employees and their children use the shuttles by dropping the child off at a Burbank school on the way to work. This is all a part of building the social-fabric. The employees love it, and it's huge for employee attraction and retention. Moreover, it takes cars of the street, takes pollution out of the air and adds to the bottom line.

Brad Cox at Tramell Crowe and others in Century City are forming a TMA on a similar model. Carol Schatz in Downtown is talking about doing that. We're going to see these things pop up. We in the Vision L.A. successor entity want to help. This is control your own destiny. It's huge...

...Metro is doing a whole pricing program. AAA's website tells you how much it costs to drive. We need to populate all of that information as part of the process. How much does your insurance cost? How much does it cost to maintain your vehicle?

For Access Hardware, expanding MetroRapid express routes and converting routes with high ridership to BRT makes a difference. Some of these solutions aren't expensive. Caltrans installed lights in the roadway on the Harbor Freeway above the I-5 transition to the northbound Golden State. That was a 30-year problem. Those lights cost $1.25/each to put in the road. They turned that from one lane to two lanes and alleviated a major congestion pressure point...

...The complete streets initiative is huge. All that means is making them accessible to all modes: bikes, people, and transit.

Two last big points on Accessible Land Use: We came up with a metric that looked at investing to move people closer to their work in certain industries. In a meeting a year ago, Northrop talked about how much it cost a business if they lose a lead engineer on a major project. It's a huge hit to the company. But housing is expensive and transportation is both time-consuming and expensive. Combining those things together, at some point families look at each other and say, "It's not worth it." What if, in certain targeted instances, instead of building a transit system for billions of dollars, we invested from the private sector and created a revolving fund for housing assistance? Instead of investing in the unit, which a lot of universities do already, you invest in the debt. It's about attracting and retaining talent.

This idea was pioneered some years ago by NRDC, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and Fannie Mae; it is called the Location Efficient Mortgage®. In short, a Location Efficient Mortgage (as of 2011, no longer available) increases the amount of money homebuyers in urban areas can borrow by taking into account the money they save by living in neighborhoods where they can shop at nearby stores and use public transit, rather than driving to work and to the mall. The program was designed to encourage the development of efficient, environmentally progressive communities and to reduce urban sprawl and dependence on cars.

But this valuable program made more sense before the housing crash. Today, reducing your interest and your down payment may simply mean that you wake up one morning and find out that you're underwater. Maybe there's another way to do that. For example, let's imagine "Bob Hertz" is one of the leading graphic artists for Sony's games in Santa Monica, but he lives in Woodland Hills. His mortgage is $3,000 a month, and he is ready to leave because of his commute and housing near his job is too expensive. If he's paid an extra $1,000 a month to keep him for five years until he finishes "World of Warcraft 19," Bob will stay. His employer would invest in that revolving fund because to replace him would cost more than $1,000/month for five years. We could pool those resources into a fund and invest strategically in our creative economy to keep, retain and attract that kind of talent.

We did a little modeling. It's 294 percent more Vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT) saved doing the play I just described than investing in more public transportation. It doesn't work for every industry, and it doesn't work in every corridor. But it does work in places. This is all about what can we do, not what can't we do.

We need to work on networked work centers. The SB 375 report done by the Public Policy Institute of California discussed how much more effective it is to cluster employment along transit lines than housing. That's what this is all about. What if there were networked work centers so people didn't have to come from Rancho Cucamonga into Downtown L.A.? Not every job is going to work that way, but many of them could at least part time. If you do that two days a week, you cut your VMT by 40 percent. A connected work center is not some cold space with computers. It's a mini-city, with childcare, restaurants-the whole nine yards. You can envision converting some of our empty spaces to functional networked work centers around this region. Why not?

Finally, the LAEDC Infrastructure Committee advocated clustering some of that density along transit lines, the 30/10 lines-embedding the infrastructure cost in that density. That is how Portland built the streetcar. That is how South Lake Union did their transit system. It was privately funded. They got some federal grants because the public sector wanted to play. But it's a heck of a lot easier to go and say, "I need 20 percent instead of 80 percent," which is the brilliance of 30/10.

Our next step in Vision L.A. is to go do this. Vision L.A. is about what we can do in the business community. We can do this ourselves. We can help ourselves. We can partner with government. We can partner with communities. We can make these multiple benefits throughout our region in various spaces.

We're launching a group and working closely with our existing partners and many of our advisors. This organization is going to provide this service to businesses. We want to grow, nurture, and foster that economy. We want a better environment. It doesn't make sense that we do this in silos. We can't have a thriving, vibrant economy without great quality of life. We can't have that great quality of life without a thriving, vibrant economy.


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