David Lazarus's Los Angeles Times column today lays out what everyone who's studied the problem knows needs to be done.
- Since we can't afford subways everywhere we need them, create "virtual subways," i.e. exclusive bus lanes on all the major boulevards, by eliminating car lanes. (The Metro Rapid bus network, compromised as it is, was in many ways designed to help people discover this for themselves. When the Rapid was being invented in the 1990s, the LA city council wasn't willing to consider bus or HOV lanes on arterials. So Metro took the view, "let's do everything we can to make an attractive fast rail-transit-like bus service, so that more people will care about buses getting through." That's pretty much what the Metro Rapid is, and did.)
- Fund transit expansion by hitting up motorists, via gas taxes or congestion pricing.
He also mentions one idea that may be a bit more divisive among transit advocates:
Longer term, although I believe subways are best for metropolitan areas, L.A. would probably be best served by an elevated rail system — maybe a monorail, maybe something else. Elevated lines and stations are significantly cheaper to build than subways, and it would be relatively easy to begin with existing freeway routes.
For example, an elevated track could run down the center of the 405 to the 10, make its way downtown and then loop up the 101 back to the 405. Once that's running, we build out from there. Getting a line to Los Angeles International Airport would be very high on my to-do list.
I wonder if that bit was influenced by Steve Hymon's recent survey of past monorail visions in LA. Apparently there was a plan in 1960 for monorails along all the major freeways, and also on Wilshire Blvd. It looked like this:
(From Dorothy Peyton Gray Library at Metro, via The Source)
Rail transit in freeway medians still presents major challenges for both land-use and customer experience, as explored here. If the line is elevated over the freeway, as a monorail would be, you would have problems with siting stations, as they would need to be high above freeway interchanges, possibly quite a long way, both horizontally and vertically, from anywhere anyone might be going.
Still, it's interesting to see this kind of thinking -- especially the practical notions about bus lanes and funding -- coming from a mainstream columnist. None of it is his idea, but when you're a columnist, anything can be your idea.