April 29, 2019 - From the April, 2019 issue

Long Beach Mayor Garcia on Aligning Regional Bus Services

Despite an avalanche of public investment in transit infrastructure, LA Metro is facing declining bus ridership. The agency has initiated the multi-year NextGen Bus Study to modenize its bus network by optimizing routes, providing faster and more reliable bus service, and fully integrating with other municipal systems serving LA County. Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, a Metro Board member, shares how the effort is progressing and the need to align bus service throughout LA.


Robert Garcia

“It’s important that Metro’s NextGen Bus Study is happening concurrently with other studies being conducted by municipal bus systems, and that we are all working together to better align need and resources to ensure people can get to where they need to go.” –Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia


At an LA Metro Board meeting earlier this month, you heard a presentation on the NextGen Bus Study on its research and planning efforts to design a modern bus system that improves service and connections throughout LA County. What are your thoughts from that meeting?

Robert Garcia: The NextGen Bus Study is important for the future of transit across the county and across the region. It’s also important that  we understand that the bus system LA Metro operates, while certainly the largest in the area, is also interconnected with about 15 or 16 different smaller municipal systems. Some, like Long Beach Transit, Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica, Foothills Transit and others, are also large bus systems. It’s really important that this study happens concurrently with other studies that the munis are conducting, so that they can collaborate to better align the need for transportation with the resources we have available to ensure that people can get to where they need to go.

What we’re finding from our initial data is that some areas of the region are served very well and others are not. Job centers have shifted; the places people want to go are changing. I think that presents an opportunity to align our bus services in a much better way.

At that LA Metro Board meeting, it became clear that aligning municipal bus systems with Metro would require elected leadership to assure alignment. Do you see any signs of local leadership insisting on a regional, aligned, modern bus network?

Yes, I think that Metro and the Board understand that there has to be alignment. Just looking at a map of the Metro Bus system alone and trying to make routing decisions is not helpful because it doesn’t look at the interconnectivity of all the muni systems. We’ve got to make sure we’re all working together, and I think at the end of this we’ll end up with a much better countywide bus system. 

Is Long Beach Transit now engaging with LA Metro about NextGen?

Yes, Long Beach Transit is going through a similar study called the STAR Initiave. It has a different name but is aligned with the NextGen Bus study, which is the umbrella study. Long Beach Transit is totally on board. 

The southern segment of LA Metro’s Blue Line extension, which runs between Compton Station and Downtown Long Beach, has been closed since January, with bus rapid transit replacing service in the meantime. How important to the city of Long Beach are the Blue Line improvements and how well is the temporary BRT service carrying the load?

The Metro Blue Line is very important for connecting Long Beach and the communities along the corridor to Los Angeles and the rest of the county. We are excited for all the improvements and the upgrades. 

Closing the line has obviously caused a disruption for many people, but we think that the temporary bus service we’re providing is meeting the need. It’s not perfect, but most people are able to get to where they need to go using the express shuttles and other bus services that we’ve launched. 

We’re just anxious to get the Blue Line open again. Toward the end of this year, when the whole line reopens, it’s going to be an improvement from what we had. It’s going to be safer, faster, and a better riding experience. Technology and landscaping will be better. The public realm will look better. That will all be positive.

There are rumors that you and Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn would like to see the BRT service continue alongside rail even after the Blue Line fully reopens. Is that correct?

That’s correct. We would like to see a one-stop or two-stop service from Long Beach to Downtown Los Angeles. We’ve talked to many people who would rather take the bus than rail; they feel safer and more comfortable. So it’s something we’d like to explore. 

Linked to the issue of improving bus service throughout LA County is the issue of bus shelters and the bus stop experience. The Planning Report recently conducted an interview with Francois Nion of JCDecaux about the city of LA’s public-private partnership on bus shelters and street furniture. Speak to the importance to bus riders of such investment in Long Beach.

Advertisement

I think it’s very important. If you don’t have shelters with shade—and we have some that don’t even have anywhere to sit—that’s not acceptable. We have to do a better job of making sure our shelters are lit at night and that they’re safe and clean. That’s something that Long Beach Transit is more focused on now, which is good. I hope that we have a good plan in place to see improvements. 

In your recent 2019 State of the City address, you highlighted six city ballot measures that passed last year. What were those measures, and how have they impacted the quality of life and the economy of Long Beach?

Three of the measures were revenue measures. All three of those have certainly been beneficial as far as increasing firefighters, police, and infrastructure funding. One addresses revenue from cannabis, and another helps us with our water service. Those measures have been very positive and really stabilized the city financially. 

We also passed four amendments to the city charter that we believe will make the government more efficient. They focus on fixing term limit laws, strengthening the auditor’s office, and establishing two new commissions: a redistricting commission and an ethics commission. We’re very glad they all passed, and all of our measures passed with good numbers.

Earlier this year, Long Beach adopted a Land Use Element for its General Plan aimed at encouraging dense, transit-oriented development. Elaborate on what the city’s new Land Use Element includes.

The Land Use Element is essentially a document that upzones a lot of the city. It creates stronger densities in transit corridors, and adds density in parts of Central and North Long Beach. I think we probably pushed the density in thisdocument as far we could. 

Density is a difficult conversation for a lot of folks. It’s difficult when you have a lot of historic neighborhoods and single-family homes, and you want to protect those, but you also want to create opportunities for young people to live and work and create affordable housing. 

We shouldn’t be afraid of density. Density almost always produces safer, more modern cities with better amenities and better places to live and work. Long Beach is becoming denser, and I think that is a good thing. 

Let’s turn to the broader debate around pending state legislation addressing housing and densification, such as SB 50. Are you willing, as a mayor, to relinquish your city’s control over land use to the state?

The city hasn’t taken a position on SB 50. We’ve been focused on our own Land Use Element and going through the whole process of planning out the city for the next few decades. We’re proud of that process. Sometimes it was painful, but we got through it. 

We’re focused on implementing our Land Use Element, and we’ll see what happens at the state. I’ve read that the Governor is going to provide some direction on some of these housing-related bills and density bills, so we’ll wait and see where that ends up. 

Lastly, turning to the federal government’s new Opportunity Zones program: A second round of IRS guidelines with more details has recently been released. Is Long Beach positioned to take advantage of the Opportunity Zones program, and do you see it as a plus for your city?

We do see it as a plus. We actually have taken, and are taking, advantage of this economic development program. We’re making developers aware of these Opportunity Zones. A lot of our Downtown has Opportunity Zones, and we’re feeling pretty confident that there will be some good projects that will benefit from them. Our team has been working with our federal partners and developers to map those out, and we have good public tools on the city website as well. 

<

Advertisement

© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.