I disagree with several points made in Daniel Freedman's op-ed of July 2 ("Subway-to-the-Sea Is Not the Solution for L.A. Transit"), specifically that subways are vulnerable to terrorist acts and that a subway is too costly a solution to mobility needs, which are better met by bus rapid transit.
I fail to see how a subway is more vulnerable to terrorist acts than a street system. Certainly the vast majority of terrorist acts in recent years has depended on car bombs, to which, of course, a subway is completely impervious. And, leaving aside the question of whether terrorists are going to be traipsing along a narrow tunnel, dodging the 600-volt third rail while trains rush by (there is very little clearance in the shafts), the fact remains that the subway system is largely sealed, with only a few well-known access points.
The streets, however, are a vast network with hundreds of thousands of nodes where mischief might be introduced. Freeways also are vulnerable: a truck bomb at any interchange or even parked on a side street overcrossing could wreak havoc on our city.
Then there's the question of money. Subways have a high capital cost, it is true they cost about the same per mile as all those freeways that cut, clog, and pollute our city. However, unlike those freeways, they leave the surface of the earth available for family, community, and commercial use homes, parks, libraries, schools, shops, factories, offices, and so forth, most of which pay property taxes, and many of which pay sales taxes as well.
Subways are, in fact, indirect profit-generators for a city, whereas roads take land off the tax base and incur very high maintenance costs, as well as costs incurred in responding to wrecks, in managing traffic flow, and in time and health lost to stress, jams, and pollution.
Furthermore, the American Public Transit Association's compendium of land value studies (in western as well as eastern U.S. cities) shows that proximity to a rail transit station directly increases property values of parcels around it. Bus stations (or freeway interchanges) do not have that effect.
No road-based system of any sort car, bus, whatever has the capacity of a subway. A forgotten traffic engineer once quipped back in the 1970s that "Curing congestion by adding more lanes is like curing obesity by buying bigger pants." Our current traffic dilemmas bear this out: We build and build lanes, and we jam and jam them. This is the traffic engineer's well-known principle of "induced demand" or, "if you build it, they will come."
The subway is the most efficient means of powered urban transport. According to an article by John Holtzclaw of the Sierra Club, a two-track subway can move as many people per hour as a 35 lane freeway.
In Tokyo, a single train and subway hub, Shinjuku, moves 4 million persons a day with no pollution, no parking required, no massive freeways slicing up the community. And, of course, each of our 1,000-passenger Red Line trains requires but a single operator. How much labor cost is needed to move that many people, more slowly and more dirtily, by bus rapid transit?
When you weigh the cost of building and operating a subway over the longer term against the cost of supporting road travel, even buses, you see that it is a cheap investment that returns financial as well as social benefits for a very long time. In London, Paris, New York, and other cities, subways that are around a century old are still going strong.
The Wilshire corridor is the most heavily used commuter corridor in America. You cannot add enough lanes to make it move effectively using road-based systems. Only the "Subway to the Sea" (or at the very least to Westwood) can make it possible for Los Angeles to grow into a city that accommodates both commerce and community successfully.
Let's not be left behind by cities that are choosing to invest now in transit for tomorrow. Tomorrow, it will cost us even more.
Richard Risemberg is co-editor of the urban sustainability Webzine "The New Colonist," publisher and editor of bike commuter Webzine "Bicycle Fixation," and owner of a small business that designs and manufactures clothing for bicycle commuters. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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