(Editor’s Note: This week Fox and Hounds is running a five part series by Norm King dealing with transportation issues based on his years of experience as a city manager and transportation consultant)

Sustainability & Mobility Plan Strategies Are Unsustainable

Give up trying to increase densities as a realistic way to reduce greenhouse gases and reduce congestion. Participate in the discussion to reform the unsustainable AB375, “Sustainability Communities Strategy” mandates.

AB375 rests on many dubious and fallacious assumptions about how people behave. Yes, people tend to drive somewhat less in denser areas but they still drive and road space does not expand. In this context congestion must increase. And the City of Los Angeles new “Mobility Plan 2035” if implemented will reduce road space. The probable outcome will be to drive many frustrated drivers to relocate to less congested suburbs.

There is much evidence that transit investment does not lead to less congestion. Trying to reduce greenhouse gasses by changing land use is one of the most expensive ways to do so, with some estimates of reducing greenhouse gasses running as high as $19,000 per ton.

There is little evidence that increasing housing around transit stations reduces driving. Often schemes to develop such housing require large subsidies and inevitably the premium for houses close to stations will “price out” lower cost housing.   For example, a Boyle Heights resident wrote this: “In Boyle Heights residents had high hopes for the Gold Line rail expansion and its promise of jobs and street improvements. Fast-forward 10 years, there are four new train stations in Boyle Heights, along with reduced bus service and increased real estate speculation. Now longtime community residents are struggling to live near the public transit they depend upon.”

A far better goal should be on creating faster commute times, while also pursuing least cost solutions to greenhouse gas production, rather than striving for an elusive jobs-housing balance. Faster commute times will produce greater access to jobs and a stronger and more productive regional economy.

Abandon “Wishful Research,” such as the now debunked smart-growth fairy tale that Millennials will not buy cars or want to move to the suburbs. Renounce “Hail Mary Planning,” such as reducing gasoline use by 50% by 2030, which will require divine intervention to achieve.

There is no substance to the oft-heard claim that too much driving is caused by too little transit. Vehicle miles traveled is at record levels and transit is losing market share in spite of record transit investment.

There is little correlation between more transit use and less driving. There is high correlation between transit use and a much longer commute trip in total time. As a planner you understandably wish to have people make decisions, which result in the public good. Don’t let these well-intentioned hopes keep you from dealing with reality – human beings, most of the time, make decisions to gain what they perceive is in their self-interest. In regard to transportation, this means that most people, most of the time, will choose a quicker trip rather than a slower one.

The City of Los Angles newly adopted “road diet “Mobility Plan 2035” featuring road diets and intentionally creating congestion as a way of inducing people to live in more dense areas and take public transit is a potentially dangerous example of “Hail Mary” planning and rests on a number of dubious assumptions about what most people want and will behave. Having people walk and bike more is a grand objective; it is delusionary to think that the very short distances of these “trips” will produce meaningful congestion relief or greenhouse gas reduction. Furthermore, because most such walks or rides will likely be recreational in nature; they will not replace a car trip at all.

Phillip Washington, Metro’s CEO, states the goal is to convert 20-25% of county population into regular transit riders. Let the Hail Mary chorus begin.