Patch Position Papers: Kevin James - Transportation

Patch Position Papers are an opportunity for Los Angeles mayoral candidates to weigh in on subjects important to city residents. They have been prepared as background for the "Talking About Los Angeles" series of conversations.

Patch:  How would you use walking, bike share, car share, shuttle buses and trains to increase mobility in Los Angeles?

Kevin James: In order to increase mobility in Los Angeles through walking, our sidewalks must be repaired. Recent reports state that well over 4,600 miles of the City’s sidewalks are in serious disrepair and thus qualify as dangerous. Unlike current City leadership, I would make sidewalk repair a priority. It is a quality of life issue. I provide a more detailed answer on sidewalk repair in my answer to that specific question below.

In order to increase mobility through bike share, the first thing we must do is accelerate the implementation of the City’s bike plan. The City has never even come close to meeting the bikeway miles set forth in any of its three (3) bike plans. In 1977, the City only built 230 of the goal of 600 miles. The 1996 plan had a goal of 673 miles but only achieved 104 miles. The 2010 plan has a goal of expanding from the existing 334 miles to 1,684 miles over a 35 year period – 35 years! I provide a more detailed answer on the benefits of acceleration of the bike plan in my answer to a following question below.

In order to increase mobility through car share, people willing to share a car must know ofthe availability of such car sharing services – services that are provided either through a rental company/share company (e.g., Zipcar) or online services bringing people together that are interested in car sharing arrangements.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation already has a pilot program in place identifying specially designated parking locations in highly populated areas around the City in order to help jump-start the car sharing industry in Los Angeles. There are currently no less than 14 car share companies now operating around the country. This is an attractive growth industry that benefits our community in many ways including the creation of private-sector jobs, eliminating the cost of owning, registering, insuring and parking a car, easing traffic congestion, and of course the conservation of energy.

I would continue to promote and support LADOT’s pilot program in favor of car sharing. A more efficient and effective transit system overall will increase mobility in Los Angeles for walkers, cyclists and those willing to share a car if they are able to utilize an improved transit system (buses and trains) for part of their commute.    The lack of a good public transit system prevents people that would otherwise walk or bike for part of their commute from walking or biking. I provide a more detailed vision for how we improve our transit system in my answers to the following questions below.

Patch:  How would you raise federal, state and local general funds to pave streets and sidewalks so they’re safe for bikes and pedestrians?

Kevin James: Our City streets are the second worst in the nation. Shockingly, 63% of all of the City's streets are rated as "poor" by Federal Highway Administration data. The same data shows that the average urban motorist in Los Angeles spends $746 annually in automobile maintenance due to LA's poor roads. The poor condition of our roads also diminishes road safety for drivers, bikers and pedestrians.

The state of the City's sidewalks is not any better. The reported wait for sidewalk repairs varies anywhere from 15 years to 75 years, depending on who you talk to – which is unbelievable to say the least. Additionally, the City wants to burden homeowners with the cost of sidewalk repairs and to shoulder homeowners with liabilities resulting from damaged sidewalks. I disagree with the City’s position here. Homeowners should not be burdened with the added responsibility of repairing the City’s sidewalks outside of their homes. I will make street and sidewalk repairs a top priority.

I am well aware that the most significant hurdle in solving this problem is funding. With federal and state funds becoming harder to obtain, we are forced to rely more on local funding. The funds that we are able to apply towards street and sidewalk repairs must go a very long way. We must, therefore, be smarter in the choices we make regarding street and sidewalk repairs.

I recently met with representatives from the cement industry to learn about incredible new technologies available for long-term and cost-effective road and sidewalk repairs. In Los Angeles, we need to implement a pavement preservation program that postpones the need for significant rehabilitation by performing initial maintenance on road surfaces while they are still in stable condition.

Two technologies that are particularly promising are “full depth reclamation” and “pervious concrete.” Full depth reclamation is simply the recycling of roads in place – it is a proven cost saving method of road repair. The City of Santa Ana was recently able to rehabilitate 80 miles of asphalt streets over 3 years at about half the cost by using full depth reclamation compared to the traditional methods of removal and replacement. The benefits of full depth reclamation are numerous.

Pervious concrete is simply concrete that allows water and air to pass through it. Pervious concrete reduces stormwater runoff and recharges the underground water supply. One of the most timely benefits of the use of pervious concrete in Los Angeles is the prevention of tree trunk “heaving.” Pervious concrete allows the tree trunks to get the water and air they need so the tree trunks will not “heave” through the sidewalks.

Finally, in order to prioritize street and sidewalk repairs we must prioritize a plan for long-term fiscal solvency for the City, including further pension reform. It has been reported that over the last six years, City payroll and related benefits have increased by $720 million, a 24% increase, as average salaries have increased to $82,000 a year, excluding benefits. Contributions to the City’s pension plans have increased by $540 million as pension liabilities have grown to almost $10 billion, a reported 40% increase.

Bloomberg News just reported that DWP employees earn on average 40 percent more than other municipal workers, even those with identical job titles. California’s Little Hoover Commission has estimated that L.A.’s retiree costs could swell to 37% of the City’s budget by 2015. Quite simply, we cannot continue on this track of financial recklessness and expect to have funds to repair our streets and sidewalks (or a whole host of other items in desperate need of repair).

Patch: How important to you is the quick development of transit to connect the east and west sides?

Kevin James: Smart and efficient transit is very important, whether it is to connect the east and west sides, to connect the city’s center to the beach, or to connect LAX to Downtown and the Valley. Yet smart and efficient transit is something we have not been able to achieve in Los Angeles. Why doesn’t the “subway to the sea” go to the sea? Plans have had it stopping at the V.A. facility in West LA. Shouldn’t we just call it the “subway to the V.A.”?    The Green Line doesn’t go all the way to LAX. The Crenshaw/LAX Metro light rail will stop a full mile short of LAX. How does that make sense for the nation’s second largest city? Also, complaints about the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor argue that it doesn’t go nearly far enough down the 405.

Furthermore, if you add our inability to avoid constant cost overruns, construction delays over-billing scandals and other forms of corruption to the equation (and there are numerous examples), the reality of “the quick development of transit to connect the east and west sides” sought in this question becomes a bit “cloudy” at best – at least with current City leadership. That said, I am the only candidate in this race willing to expose such failures in planning, take those that force the cost overruns and construction delays to task, and ensure that those responsible for the over-billing scandals and other corrupt practices are required to pay the price for such improper conduct.

In other words, it is very important to me to develop smart and efficient transit throughout the City. But it is equally important to me that the taxpayer not be taken to the bank by boondoggle public works projects that end up being used as cash-cows by elected officials and their campaign contributors.

Patch: Are there other major transportation infrastructure projects you would make a priority? The 710 extension and the widening of the 405 come to mind.

Kevin James: While there are a number of major transportation infrastructure projects that should be made a priority (and the widening of the 405 is certainly one of the more high-profile ones), I would also make it a priority to move traffic more efficiently and effectively on our City's surface streets. This can be done in various ways. For example, by better clearing the right-hand lanes
during peak traffic times and keeping the right-hand lanes moving.

This can be done in a number of different ways including; (a) the installation of right hand turn signals which would require pedestrians to wait a brief period of time (e.g., 30 seconds) before entering the crosswalk, which will allow right-hand turners to clear the right-hand lane for traffic prior to having to yield to pedestrians crossing the street; (b) the installation of bus shoulders at bus stops to enable buses to move out of traffic when stopping to load and unload passengers (this will also increase the safety of bus riders) which would also clear the right-hand lane for traffic while buses are loading and unloading passengers; and (c) continued traffic signal synchronization throughout the City and the continued installation of left-hand turn signals at appropriate intersections.

Another priority would be to accelerate the implementation of the City's bike plan. The more people that ride bikes in LA, the fewer cars that motorists that are not able ride bikes have to deal with. That means traffic moves more rapidly through the City, and there are more parking places available for the motorists that are driving their cars. The benefits of becoming a bike- friendly city are numerous. For local businesses, economic benefits come from cyclists parking near their shops. For neighborhoods and businesses, roads are safer as there will be fewer car-to- car accidents, and we will see safer communities because people on bikes are not separated by the walls of their car, car windows, and car radios enabling them to notice burglars, thieves, vandals and other local criminals that plague a community – cyclists serve as a form of community patrol whether they intend to or not.

Other major transportation infrastructure projects I would make a priority include the widening of I-5, one of the most congested freeways in the LA basin, and State Route 2 improvements at the end of the freeway near Glendale Boulevard and Alvarado Street.

Patch: Many students are discouraged by transportation options in Los Angeles. What will you do to keep talented students in the city by expanding transit to job centers through shuttles, buses, mobility hubs, etc?

Kevin James: The first thing I will do to keep talented students in the city is to create a much more business friendly environment in the City so these students can actually find jobs. There’s nothing like a good job to keep talented people in a community.

That said, such discouragement at LA’s transportation options is understandable. Yet even with such universal disgust among Angelenos all over the City, our City leaders have consistently failed to deliver efficient and effective transit. In order to turn the corner, we must turn to new leadership. The days of poor planning, shady bidding, irresponsible outreach, failed implementation, cost overruns, construction delays, and the lack of a common sense approach to smart transit must end – and must end in this election.

We have the foundation in place to develop a sensible and workable expansion of transit to (and within) our City’s job centers through shuttles, buses, and mobility hubs. We have the support of the public for such a sensible and workable expansion. Indeed, while the voting public said “no” to school bonds in recent elections, they said “yes” to Measure R – so public support is there.

But, when the public continues to hear that numerous high profile transportation projects are embroiled in mismanagement and turmoil their confidence is shaken, and appropriately so. We have the talent available to develop a sensible expansion of transit to (and within) our City’s job centers through shuttles, buses, and mobility hubs. The first step in making it a reality is restoring public confidence that their money is being properly spent.

I continue to maintain that I am the only candidate in this race willing to expose such failures in planning, put an end to shady bidding practices, use my own media experience to ensure successful outreach, use my own prosecutorial background to take those that force the cost overruns and construction delays to task, and guarantee that those responsible for the over- billing scandals and other corrupt practices are required to pay the price for such improper conduct.

Patch: What is your view of the current Mayor’s 30/10 transit plan?

Kevin James: While acceleration of the major projects contemplated in the 30/10 plan would be beneficial to the region on many obvious levels, including the jobs that come along with it, funding for this plan has once again become the stumbling block. Once Mayor Villaraigosa experienced serious opposition to funding the 30/10 plan coming from the federal government, the suggestion was made that voters be asked to once again tax themselves with a 10 year extension of the Measure R sales tax to pay for the 30/10 acceleration project. Such additional taxation is a mistake for several reasons.

First, I believe LA voters are taxed enough. Second, when the voters were convinced to support Measure R through representations made about what Measure R funds would bring to the community they relied on those representations. If the Mayor then goes back to the voters to ask for another tax increase the message is once again being sent that the original tax was either insufficient or squandered, the City leaders are once again unable to provide proper projections for what is needed, and the taxpayer is once again the victim. Public trust and confidence once again takes another punch to the gut.
I am also concerned with the Mayor’s consideration of seeking such funding from the Chinese government.

I am concerned that the potential for an unfavorable deal (that could hurt us fiscally farther down the line) outweighs the benefits of obtaining the funding from the Chinese government. That said, however, I recognize that the current difficulty in obtaining federal funding sources for such infrastructure improvements warrants new funding ideas and concepts that may take such a search for funds into new funding arenas.

Regardless of where the funding might come from, I remain concerned about what happens if Measure R revenues do not add up to the projections made at the time such a deal is entered into. Who carries the risk of covering such potential Measure R revenue shortfalls?

Finally, given our inability to avoid constant cost overruns, construction delays, over- billing scandals and other forms of corruption (and there are numerous examples), proper oversight of Measure R funds must be maintained in order to avoid a comparable budget disaster like the one now being faced by Californians over the High-Speed Rail (aka Bullet Train).

Patch:  What are your ideas for ending parking pressures that lead to things like the apron-parking in Westside and Silver Lake neighborhoods?

Kevin James: While I recognize that an effective and efficient public transit system will result in fewer residents using automobiles as their primary mode of transportation, until we have that public transportation system in place, Angelenos will continue to rely primarily on their cars. Thus, more parking facilities are needed to accommodate parking in neighborhoods all over the City.

A workable solution for ending parking pressures that lead to apron-parking is to build more parking facilities. The City of Beverly Hills solved many of its parking pressures by building underground parking structures in between little Santa Monica Blvd. and Santa Monica Blvd. Their model is one that should be used to provide more parking facilities around Los Angeles. There are lots around the city (e.g., empty lots and foreclosed properties) that could be converted to parking garages below the ground with open space utilized as parks at the street- level.

An added benefit to underground parking structures with public open space at street level is fewer cars needing to use parking meters which frees up the right-lane for the movement of traffic. Building neighborhood parks at the street level will have obvious benefits to quality of life around our city.

Patch: Last year, several incidents showed weakness in security at L.A. Metro stations. We know the County Sheriff polices the trains, but what are your ideas for improving public safety on them?

Kevin James: There are a number of effective ways to improve safety at Metro stations and on trains –improvements that are not cost prohibitive. Examples include the installation of additional security cameras that are easy for riders to see, increasing the presence of uniformed officers passing through the stations on patrol, and adding even a single undercover/plain clothes officer during each shift of the day.

The existence of the security cameras and the addition of undercover officers should be promoted throughout Metro stations and on the trains through signage and intercom announcements. If would-be culprits better understand that an undercover officer might be present in the station or riding with them on the train, the deterrent effect will be significantly increased.

Patch:  One of the ways the Mayor influences transit is through his appointments to boards of agencies like the MTA and DOT. What criteria would you use to make those appointments, and what would be your priorities?

Kevin James: I would seek individuals with extensive and diverse experience in transportation issues at varying levels, that bring a passion for both the industry and the agency as well as a sincere desire to serve their community. I would end the current culture of handing out such important appointments to friends, family members, and campaign contributors.

The criteria that I would use include confirmation that the prospective appointees have sufficient time to devote to the board's work, confirmation that the appointees believe in the work and vision of the agency/department. I would confirm that the prospective appointees fully comprehend and understand the legal rules and regulations covering the issues they will face on behalf of the agency/department.

I would confirm that the prospective appointees possess the necessary specialized skills needed by the agency/department, including financial skills, planning skills, and marketing skills, etc. I would ensure that the prospective appointees fully understand the industry within which they will be working, including comprehensive familiarity with state and federal regulatory agencies (including funding sources) that frequently work with the MTA and DOT.

While the City is extremely honored to receive the service of qualified individuals, service on these boards and commissions is a privilege and should be treated as an active job, and not a passive absentee experience for someone seeking only to build their resume.

Scott Zwartz March 03, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Good questions Answers are contradictory and fail to address the causes -- traffic congestion is a reflection of population density. There is no solution to transit problems without down zoning much of the city, but no politician will admit that as no developer will whisper sweet nothings into his ear if he opposes more density. 30/10: It is an absurd idea to squander 30 years worth of borrowing just to give it to corrupt developers leaving us with no future borrowing capacity. They only want to build 19th Century technology leaving us far beyond to reach the 22nd Century. If James cannot see this, then el es muy ciego. If James believes he will solve any problems, he better learn to think better Right now it's buzz words without analysis. Yet, James is the only one who has not been bought -- as far as we know.


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