Amid the onslaught of flyers that seem to keep the Postal Service afloat every campaign season, the last theme we expected to see land in our mailbox was one harking back a century to legendary interurban rail travel. Mass transit, sure – it’s every progressive’s pet cause today. But to summon the heyday of the Pacific Electric, the gargantuan Southern California system felled by disinvestment and the convenience of the automobile?
Maybe it had to come from a Santa Monica candidate for the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor. That city (unlike Beverly Hills) has taken the lead both in transit-friendly planning and in creating the infrastructure and programs to make cycling attractive, practical and safe as a mode choice.
Though Metro’s Expo Line is not expected to reach the beach by 2015, well in advance of that historic re-linkage of the beach city to Downtown Los Angeles the city embarked on a general plan update. And the updated plan envisions “no net new evening peak period vehicle trips” (see the executive summary). The new Land Use and Circulation Element in effect calls for policies that it is anticipated will redistribute travel from automobile trips to those on other modes.
Leveraging public investment in transit and infrastructure is the key, Shriver’s flyer suggests. By concentrating new development near transit hubs, as well as providing incentives to walk, ride and/or use transit, we can find our way toward a post-auto transportation future.
Of course the larger region enjoyed that kind of transit access a century ago, and candidate Shriver’s campaign flyer summons that history with a map of the extensive Pacific Electric lines inter-city travelers once took for granted:
Slowly but surely, Metro, with the support of the voters, is retracing some of the original PE rights-of-way (like Expo Line, which sticks closely to the old Santa Monica Air Line) in an effort to again offer travelers transportation alternatives. Shriver juxtaposes the legacy of interurban rail travel with today’s present program to “rebuild our infrastructure!” by foregrounding the role of public investment in the recreation of a great transit system. As a County Supervisor, too, he’d be in a position to approve further investment to make county-wide rail access a reality.
Now, this is no endorsement. Let’s wait to see if his opponent Sheila Kuehl steps up to herald that bygone era of convenient, affordable rail access, perhaps with her own tribute to the Pacific Electric. Is there a more suitable tip-of-the-hat to our region’s once-greatness that reminding us that we once had a jewel of a public transit system?