October 26, 2011
A chosen rail line?
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Despite the forays of some Jerusalem residents into the suburbs and beyond, on the whole, in West Jerusalem at least, most residents are still an urban people who carry on their backs their own experience or those of their ancestors back in Warsaw, Berlin, Paris, Casablanca, Buenos Aires, Odessa, Moscow and New York. Their need to live near the synagogue, and their preference for proximity to family, friends, schools and markets, still explains why so many Jews remain in the Holy City. Jerusalem’s Red Line is a far cry from Warsaw’s countless trams, but it is a start. In this regard, Los Angeles and Jerusalem are really not that different. Both are working to make up for lost time by building long-needed trains and rapid buses. Now it is Los Angeles’ turn. Getting the Westside subway extended will be a good next step.
Jerusalem’s completion of its often-criticized light-rail line demonstrates that the expansion of public transportation is possible in even the most balkanized of cities. In terms of its lessons for Los Angeles, here are a few that I found critical:
• Planners must invest in community outreach to all impacted residents, so that no one can claim they didn’t realize how costly, time-consuming and disruptive the construction would be.
• Once a plan has been developed, every effort should be made to keep the project on track, on schedule and within budget to disrupt the smallest number of residents and reduce the inevitable not-in-my-backyard opposition that plagues all projects of this sort.
• Businesses and residents displaced or likely to lose their livelihood as a result of the construction must be equitably compensated. This will help reduce the probability that they will become vocal opponents of the project.
• Finally, the construction must be directed by the most able, determined and proven team of contractors available. CityPass was plagued by cost overruns and problems with its initial operators. Those challenges cost the project years and money the city could hardly afford.
The 10-plus years it took to build Jerusalem’s Red Line took its toll on the city and its residents. Given the problems Los Angeles experienced in building its own Red (and Purple) subway lines, keeping the project and time line on track by anticipating seismic and other obstacles to construction, as well as neighborhood objections, seems the most important thing we can learn from our Middle Eastern cousins. Just because the residents of a city may hold deeply rooted beliefs that appear to conflict with those of their neighbors does not mean municipal government can’t make transit improvements that provide across-the-board benefits to residents.
Los Angeles, like Jerusalem, is ready for an expanded public transit system. Our perpetual gridlock with relatively few fixed-rail alternatives is killing us. Like the biblical exhortation, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning,” so, too, will Los Angeles lose the businesses that remain if we do not solve the mobility challenge by getting our new trains and bus rapid transit lines running as soon as possible.
Joel Epstein is a West Los Angeles resident, Metro customer and strategic communications consultant focused on transportation and other critical urban issues. For more about Epstein, visit joelepstein.com.