I know my jaw dropped when I read Mark Lacter's posting, Subways we'll never see.
Especially striking was the casual nature of his dismissing the idea out of hand as something "that everyone knows will never, ever, possibly happen" and as "nonsense." And in his follow-up he even seems unaware the Exposition project is not simply "well underway" but scheduled in 5-6 years to reach its terminus in downtown Santa Monica. Which is markedly better than his comment that phase I of the light rail project will "take you to Culver City. One day."
We exchanged a few e-mails and essentially he just offered brief comments reinforcing the impression that he was merely expressing a general attitude reacting to the dysfunctional political culture of Southern California. And who can blame him for assuming the subway extension is just the object of empty political posturing. as "the mayor wants it known that he got the ball rolling on his watch"? Ours is an age suffused with cynicism and a marked lack of faith in much of anything in the political sphere — the essential Zeitgeist of California since the 1970s — years in which Los Angeles and environs chased its tail as growth and transportation issues worsened with seeming no extant will or desire to address them.
But this attitude is out of step with the new paradigm. The Los Angeles County electorate last year passed Measure R with a 2/3 vote despite a campaign of misinformation by various instruments of dysfunction. It essentially set the agenda for transportation over the next 30 years, which is why the recent theatrics involving Metro's Long Range Plan by various electeds came to naught.
Measure R's 1/2% sales tax is slated over the next 30 years to provide $4 billion dollars for the subway extension.
Even Beverly Hills is now an eager advocate for the project.
And a coalition of stakeholders has emerged in support of the extension.
I am not some starry eye dreamer and acknowledge the funding challenge for the extension is daunting. While it is well poised for federal funding (a full funding grant agreement in the parlance of transitspeak) the reauthorization of federal transportation funding has been bogged down due to that old bugaboo, too many needs and not enough money to satisfy them (plus the trust funds that draw on gas taxes are falling short of even funding the status quo).
Until this situation clarifies, the Wilshire subway funding picture is quite murky. But I think nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. My sense is that day has arrived for the subway. It may be 7-15 years before stations at Fairfax and Westwood Blvd. are open but the prospects have never been so auspicious for them to happen.
One of my insights I gained over years involved with community activism on transportation is that assumptions are the great challenge to be overcome. Conventional wisdom, as reflected in Mr. Lacter's comments, was that the subway Westside extension was a pipedream. Given it has been proposed in various forms since 1906 and until recently was getting nowhere not taking it seriously heretofore is understandable. But the ground has shifted.
It is now a serious effort that is the object of realpolitik and serious number crunching. My assumption was the word about this had spread among news junkies, political observers, stakeholders, etc. Mr. Lacter has reminded me such isn't the case and more needs to be done in basic education and sharing of knowledge. Just another part of the large and complex task that is necessary to make the subway extension a reality.
Dana Gabbard is on the board of directors of Southern California Transit Advocates, which works to build support for improved transit service in the five-county Southern California area.