As chair of the L.A. City Council's Transportation Committee and the representative for significant portions of the San Fernando Valley, one of Southern California's most gridlocked geographic sub-regions, Councilmember Wendy Greuel is well aware of the need of regional solutions to traffic congestion. MIR is pleased to excerpt Councilmember Greuel's speech from Mobility 21's "Focus on the Valley" event earlier this month, in which she makes an eloquent appeal for solidarity in assuaging the region's traffic problems.
We have been talking about traffic for decades. We talk about it in line at Starbucks. We talk about it on the radio, on TV, and in newspapers. We talk about in City Council meetings, in Sacramento, and when we visit our representatives in D.C. For all our talking, Los Angeles continues to be the worst in the nation when it comes to traffic congestion.
The average Angeleno spends 93 hours a year stuck in traffic. That time could be spent with our friends and family, not staring at the back of a truck on the 405. By any measure, we have some of the worst air quality in the nation, which is made worse every single day by cars and trucks idling on our roads.
The most recent study showed that our region loses approximately $12 billion dollars a year due to traffic and congestion. Having just finished 52 hours of budget hearings this week and closing a $400 million budget deficit, I can tell you firsthand that we cannot afford to lose $12 billion from our economy each year.
Our ports are growing; our airport is growing; our population and workforce are growing. We can't simply bury our heads in the sand and hope the problem goes away. We need to take proactive steps to move both people and goods through our region at an acceptable rate.
To help alleviate pressure from our over-burdened freeways and surface streets, we are going to have to explore some bold ideas, such as additional toll-roads and HOT lanes where drivers could access open traffic lanes; creating economic incentives for carpooling, telecommuting, and riding public transportation; a North-South light rail line, which could relieve congestion from the 405 and the 101; and a reversible lanes program, which would create additional lanes on the busiest streets during rush hour.
The goal of our conference today is to face some hard facts about the government's capacity to solve our transportation crisis and to enlist new allies in the search for solutions. My purpose is to engage all of you-business owners, regional managers, economic consultants, and community members in a plan of action.
We are going to outline specific initiatives in which your business can participate. I am asking that you partner with us on the city, county, and state level as we work to address a challenge that affects us all.
Business is vitally important to the city of Los Angeles, and maintaining a hospitable environment for businesses to thrive in is paramount. I worked with you before to amend our business tax structure, and we've seen how successful that was: an 11 percent, across the board cut for business taxes; over $100 million returned to Los Angeles businesses so far; a dramatic reduction in the number of permits and filings for businesses citywide. I know we can partner together again to help reduce traffic.
Transportation is one of the greatest hurdles that businesses face in our region-be it attracting patrons through miles of gridlock or retaining workers that must travel 50 miles to and from their jobs. Today, we will be talking about future of business and transportation in the San Fernando Valley.
As the daughter of a small business owner in the San Fernando Valley, who grew up working at my parents' building supply and trucking company, I know firsthand how crucial this discussion is. And as a member of the City Council and chair of the city's Transportation Committee, I can attest that government can no longer tackle this problem on our own.
Our first obstacle, of course, is finding the funds to improve transit in Los Angeles...
Federal transportation dollars are drying up. The 1909 commission indicates that between $225 and $340 billion needs to be invested in the next 50 years to upgrade all modes of surface transportation in the United States. Currently, we invest about $85 billion dollars in all modes annually, with $13 billion dollars on transit.
The commission was united in acknowledging that declining gas tax revenues, bureaucracy, and decades of shortchanging our infrastructure investment have left us in a funding crisis. There is universal acknowledgement that we need to rethink our strategies for funding on federal, state, and local levels.
In January, Denny Zane opened up the conversation locally to explore funding options at his Moving L.A. conference. Assemblymember Feuer has introduced a very extensive legislative package that considers local sales taxes, carbon taxes, and vehicle registration fees. Metro has also been investigating a potential sales tax measure for the November ballot.
Too often, elected officials are not willing to admit that they don't have the answer. I am here today to tell you that we do not have all the answers, and we do need your help. It's going to take businesses, elected officials, policy wonks, and Angelenos working together to get us out of this mess.
As legislators, we need to offer more than Band-Aid solutions that are unsustainable or that shift the burden of congestion from one community to another. We need to do what's practical, not political, to get the job done. But there are many things that business leaders can do as well.
One of the most discussed remedies for transportation is private investment. It is not just about increasing funds, but developing ways to be more efficient in how we spend these dollars. The private sector has an ability to employ a unique level of innovation and flexibility. You know the needs of your employees, customers, and suppliers better than the government ever could. For example, in San Francisco, the Google bus covers a more extensive network than BART. This privately funded system serves nearly 1,500 employees with 32 shuttle buses and logs about 4,400 miles a day.
Of course, this private system provides public goods. The whole region benefits from the decrease in cars on the road, the reduction in traffic, and the aggregated environmental benefits. But Google did not implement their plan in an attempt to serve the municipality. The Google bus makes business sense.
Reliable and accessible transportation is a key factor in employee retention. Google's success has been so apparent that its competitors are following suit. Yahoo began a shuttle program in 2005. And Microsoft has created a bus service in the Seattle area.
Locally, LADOT has worked with Paramount studios, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown neighborhood councils to better utilize DASH services. The Hollywood Bowl and L.A. Opera have also developed services to cater to their patrons.
But these are examples of very large businesses, and the majority of businesses in the San Fernando Valley are smaller, without the capacity to provide their employees or patrons with shuttle service. The needs of these businesses are equally important, and I am committed to finding solutions for them.
One of the ways that we are going to address the transportation needs of our local business is through our Strategic Plan. With our Los Angeles Strategic Transportation Plan, we are harnessing the private sector's penchant for innovation and flexibility to reform the way we tackle transportation as a city....
....We need a plan to prioritize our projects and policies so we can compete for funding more effectively. Furthermore, we need a plan to ensure that when we do get funds, we use every single dollar effectively.
Initially, the city secured $270,000 dollars in public money to complete this strategic plan. These funds were going to allow us to create a list of key projects and an implementation strategy for growth. However, the business community saw the critical need for this kind of strategic planning, and the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation took the lead in adding to our work.
Along with the LAEDC, we have formed a coalition of business groups, environmental activists, and non-profits to fund a $750,000 study that will include modeling, sector-specific implementation plans, and a continued working group.
We are working with the entertainment community on solutions specific to the Highland corridor. We are working with the shipping industry for port-related solutions. We are working with the fashion industry so we can tailor strategies to their needs. Not only have we expanded our scope and funding, but with the help of the private sector, we have expanded our capacity.
We will have all the decision-makers at the table to ease implementation. I want to be clear: the government is not abdicating its role as policy maker and under-writer. We have a long list of accomplishments on the state, county, and city level.
We've seen the overwhelming success of the Orange Line, which I hope some of you took here today: 26,000 boardings a day, with an expansion to Chatsworth planned. We've broken ground on the Expo Line. We're extending the Gold Line. We implemented the Parking Cash-Out program, so that businesses with more than 50 workers, offer the money that they'd spend on parking to their employees to take public transportation. We've gotten federal legislation that banned funding for the Subway to the Sea lifted. We've synchronized 75 percent of our traffic signals. We've banned construction during rush hour. We've created anti-gridlock zones that increase fines for illegally parking during rush hour. And we've installed 250 left-turn signals, with another 200 planned, so you don't have to wait four lights just to make a left.
However, we can no longer afford to tackle our traffic crisis on an intersection-by-intersection basis. We need to change our approach and implement comprehensive reforms to make our city livable. And we need to do it together.
.... I believe we have reached a tipping point when it comes to traffic in Los Angeles, and it's up to all of us to work together to help reduce traffic....
I believe that we are the leaders that make the tough choices to invest in our long-term infrastructure. I believe that we are the leaders that put our city back on track. I believe that we are the leaders that can get Los Angeles moving again.