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America Stumbles Forward

This article originally appeared June 23, 2011, online at Huffington Post Los Angeles. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Dear America:

Don’t get me wrong. I’m almost as delighted as Hizonner himself that LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the new president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. What better perch from which to pitch the country, Congress and the president on the merits of America Fast Forward?

For those who don’t know, America Fast Forward is the smart, homegrown public infrastructure-financing plan that will let LA and other cities accelerate construction of taxpayer-supported public transportation projects.

Along with Metro, the City of LA and a raft of nonprofits, unions and consultants hungry for work, the mayors are certainly doing their part to advance the plan, which grew out of LA’s 30/10 Initiative and Measure R.

And if you still need proof of the growing interest in the America Fast Forward model then you should have been at Tuesday’s Moving LA Fast Forward conference in downtown LA. The event which drew several hundred enthusiastic backers eager to learn more about the plan and what they might do to help move it ahead, featured a number of fine speakers as well as some excellent questions from an informed audience.

Panelist Sunyoung Yang, lead organizer for the Bus Riders Union, made the important point that if we are not seeing increased ridership following all of the current transit construction, the public will lose confidence in the investment.

Jessica Meaney of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership stole the show with her energy and insights on transit-oriented development, walking and biking in LA while Mike Schneider of InfraConsult, shared his concern that if we let Congress reshape the conversation to be about finding strictly public-private partnership (P3) solutions to our transportation needs, we do so at our peril. The remark was all the more powerful coming from a seasoned expert on P3s and the opportunity they present for Los Angeles.

I left the conference optimistic but preoccupied with the sobering thought that if we don’t win on America Fast Forward or reshuffle the Measure R project deck, we may have to wait until 2036 to see the extension of the Wilshire subway to the Westwood VA. It seems there ought to be a law against the kind of political horse-trading that put lower-priority projects first in line even though the subway extension will carry more commuters than any of the other Measure R projects.

As for America Fast Forward, we have our work cut out for us. Sadly, thanks in part to partisan politics the reality remains an America stumbling, rather than speeding, forward on public infrastructure investment and economic recovery.

And in spite of the now well-coordinated efforts of Metro, the City, the Chamber of Commerce, the unions and environmental groups, plus some good press, America Fast Forward still lacks the national recognition and enthusiasm it will need to win over the hearts and minds of Congress.

Perhaps the recently released non-partisan Vision Los Angeles report with its thoughtful strategies and solutions for transforming transportation in Los Angeles will help push America Fast Forward to the top of the public’s agenda.

If you think I am being dramatic about the importance of the plan to our economic recovery, think again. Without Los Angeles and California back on their feet economically we are not going anywhere as a country.

This week’s America Fast Forward pep rally did a good job of rousing the local troops. Here’s hoping LA and the rest of the country’s cities can bump up their game and create the finely honed campaign we will need to move America to fast forward.

Yours in transit,

Joel Epstein is a communications and public affairs consultant focused on transportation, development, and other urban issues.



Among the projects included in Los Angeles Metro's 30/10 Initiative are the Orange Line Extension, currently under construction, and the Foothill Extension of Metro Gold Line light rail, which now terminates at Pasadena.

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