Your Life or Your Car? That’s Easy

Ari L. NoonanOP-ED

     Car is power to the elderly for whom everything else has ebbed away. To the rest of us, a car represents unbridled independence —especially in Southern California where car culture was born, raised and probably never will die.
     Mention these seedlings of truth to my favorite City Councilman, the Vice Mayor Gary Silbiger, the next time you see him.
     Mr. Silbiger is of the notion that when light rail arrives — allegedly later this decade — Southern Californians will abandon the love of their lives, their cars, and go rail. Right. 
     Holding in his hand a promise from the MTA — which is more inept than FEMA — that light rail is only several years away, Mr. Silbiger said recently that Culver City was standing at an historic juncture. He said City Hall had been presented with a fleeting opportunity to restore the golden past when mass transportation was not a joke. 
     MTA, the clunky, faceless, responsibility-shunning bureaucracy that is supposedly going to recreate Paradise in our backyard, actually stands for Messy Transportation Authority. It has three words in its name, in honor of the Three Stooges.
     Frankly, it would be easier to train a gorilla to comb his hair with his left hand every morning before shaving than to teach the MTA to dependably oversee the further development of mass transportation.
     As a City Council member or two has pointed out, relying on the MTA to keep a promise is like going to your ex-brother-in-law for a gambling loan.
Typical of a multi-layered bureaucracy, the MTA regularly undergoes key personnel changes. This means at least some of the people who have made grand promises about light rail to Culver City this autumn will be gone before light rail ever reaches our town.
A Sunny Outlook

     The Vice Mayor’s vision is locked onto the presumed long-term benefits.
     “With light rail,” Mr. Silbiger said, “we have a chance to reduce the poisoned atmosphere and improve our terrible traffic problems.” 
     I may be mistaken, but I don’t believe there is a sound basis for Mr. Silbiger’s enthusiasm. I have not seen credible evidence that it will make a drip of difference on the highways.
     Better that the wildly inefficient, bumbling, and untrusted MTA should open an outdoors ice cream franchise in Anchorage.
What separates us from most other communities in America is our unquenchable love affair with cars. Angelenos will part with nearly every possession, spouse included, before surrendering their wheels. If you send a car to my home, and then drive me to the exact entry to the light rail, I might consider it. I have to walk? No way.

How To Be A Prisoner

     Los Angeles is so sprawling that, unless you are a rail wizard, such as the community activist Ken Ruben, you are effectively a prisoner here without a car.
     The one set of numbers that augers well for light rail success is that our town has 54,000 jobs against a population of 38,000. Workers who live east of here would welcome light rail. But who else would?
     City Councilman Steve Rose was asked to identify the passengers. “The profile of the typical light rail rider will vary,” he says. “Weekdays, it will range from workers coming into Culver City to residents who do business in downtown Los Angeles or along the way. Weekends and evenings, people will find it is easier catching the Metro if, for example, they are going to see the Lakers or the Kings at the Staples Center.”
Acknowledging that cars are vital to Westsiders, Mr. Rose is confident that we can be educated to think rail. “It will take time,” he said. “Slowly, though, you will see a change of (transportation) habit.”
     Mr. Rose agrees that the nine-plus miles of light rail tracks, from downtown to the beach in Santa Monica (sometime after I die), will only cause a midget ripple on the choked roadways.
By way of opening a discussion on how spread out Los Angeles is, he pointed out  that compact Brooklyn and little, ol’ Culver City, amazingly, are the same size, five square miles.

     “Because Los Angeles is so sprawling,” Mr. Rose said, “the only way for light rail to have a real effect would be to run tracks down the middle of Venice Boulevard, Pico Boulevard, Olympic, Wilshire, Santa Monica and Sunset. Then you could make a difference in traffic congestion.”

One Republican’s Solution

     As every child above the age of four in Culver City knows, Mr. Rose is a lonely Republican. He is the only Republican on the City Council, and at a few other places.
     During the City Council’s most recent discussion of bringing light rail to Culver City, Mr. Rose sided with the overwhelming Council majority against colleague Alan Corlin.
     Even though it is evident most residents prefer an elevated (but more expensive) light rail stop here, Mr. Rose says the city should accept a temporary ground level station at a less desirable location.
     He seems to have figured out how it will work.  
      “I predict the Democrats will win the White House back in 2008,” Mr. Rose says. “I think they will win at least one house of Congress, too. This is not necessarily bad news. 
     “If the Democrats win,” he says, “I believe the Westside power base (of Democratic lawmakers) will be able to obtain funding for a permanent above-grade light rail station in Culver City faster than we can get funding now.”