By ALBERTO GONZALEZ

I couldn't agree more with Charles Crumpley's Comment column of Jan. 22 ("Let's Do Lunch Or Maybe Not," about how heavy traffic in Los Angeles inhibits lunch meetings). Because fighting traffic eats up so much time, I often end up eating at my desk when I should be meeting with clients.


However, there are several small things that I do and that each of us can do to help improve this situation. In the following examples, I've found that a little planning can truly go a long way:


-Try a business breakfast instead of a business lunch. You can schedule a time that would let you avoid traffic better. Also, breakfasts are less time consuming and more affordable.


-Get familiar with the transit, biking and walking options. I discovered that the Metro Rapid buses I see going by my office every five to 10 minutes all day long also pass by dozens of great restaurants. With the time it takes me to get my car out of my building's garage and then find a parking spot at the restaurant, I've found that the bus believe it or not can be faster than driving.


-Evaluate where you choose to live or work. Having a rail line, HOV lanes or good bus service nearby can save a lot of hassles, time and money.


If our community can work together on this issue, we'll be able to make even larger-scale improvements throughout Los Angeles.


Around the world

I recently had the opportunity to join a group of people from around the world interested in solving transportation problems not all that different from L.A.'s. We toured cities that successfully integrated transportation and urban planning solutions into the development of their communities. These solutions focused on improving citizens' lifestyles, businesses' potential and the environment.


Some cities took dramatic steps which at first seemed Draconian, but which now have been embraced by the communities they impacted.


A few examples:

-Faced with rapidly increasing development and an already choked highway system, London imposed a congestion management "use toll" for anyone driving into the city. The toll discourages trips by car into the city, but encourages use of transit, biking and walking all of which the toll revenues support.


The results: Traffic congestion has markedly decreased, transit service has improved with ridership increases, pollution has gone down, and much to the surprise of critics retail and entertainment revenues have gone up.


-City leaders in Bilbao, Spain, took a comprehensive look at their community, noting that years of transportation development that favored highways over transit and pedestrian alternatives had left their streets filled with cars but not people. With the backing of political and civic leaders, the city eliminated autos from most major streets in the core city, converting them to transit, pedestrian and biking-only roadways.


The results: Wide public support, reduced traffic, dramatic increase in bike and pedestrian use, and substantially increased economic activity. In fact, businesses outside the pilot project area are now lobbying to have the approach expanded to their neighborhoods.


-Civic leaders in Lille, France, decided to combat regional congestion and environmental challenges with a fully integrated approach that coordinated and marketed all transportation alternatives into one seamless system. A variety of different private and public transportation systems formed a consortium to run the project. One of the coolest things they came up with was an electronic pass that could be used to pay for buses, trains and taxis, and to rent a bike, share a car or even a Segway scooter.


The results: A significant increase in consumer convenience, alternative transportation use and reduction in regional congestion.


In the U.S. as well, communities that have committed to integrating a mix of transportation options with urban planning have been extremely successful. Examples include Portland, Ore.; Denver, Colo. and Arlington County, Va.


Los Angeles itself has introduced, and is continuing to introduce, successful solutions to transportation challenges. Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade and Big Blue Bus service, Metro's Rapid and Orange Line services, and the Metrolink and Metro rail systems have each experienced significant, if not dramatic, ridership growth. Foothill Transit is now adding a new high quality service called Silver Streak to its Los Angeles service area, while Metro is expanding its Rapid system.


The key is a unified approach and a commitment from political, business and community leaders. It also means taking some risks. Los Angeles clearly has demonstrated an approach that doesn't work. We'll have to make some leaps of faith to break free from our past mistakes. Perhaps the Business Journal could help in opening the dialogue for this effort.


Alberto Gonzalez is president of Pulsar Advertising in Beverly Hills, an agency that specializes in marketing transportation systems.

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