I'm not sure if I should give this oxygen, but for the record: Randal O'Toole, the infamous anti-planning writer known for his blog The Antiplanner, has falsely implied that I agree with his critique of Los Angeles rail plans. Not so fast. If he'd read by blog, or my book, he'd know better.
Here's what he wrote today:
Portland transit expert Jarrett Walker argues that “we should stop talking about ‘bus stigma.’” In fact, he says, transit systems are designed by elites who rarely use transit at all, but who might be able to see themselves on a train. So they design expensive rail systems for themselves rather than planning transit systems for their real market, which is mostly people who want to travel as cost-effectively as possible and don’t really care whether they are on a bus or train.
This view is reinforced by the Los Angeles Bus Riders’ Union, and particularly by a report it published written by planner Ryan Snyder. Ryan calls L.A.’s rail system “one of the greatest wastes of taxpayer money in Los Angeles County history,” while he shows that regional transit ridership has grown “only when we have kept fares low and improved bus service,” two things that proved to be incompatible with rail construction.
So because I defended buses from the notion of "bus stigma", O'Toole assumes I'm a bus advocate and therefore a rail opponent. This is called a "false dichotomy," identical in logic to George W. Bush's claim that "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists."
(In a related move, he insists that you can't improve rail and buses at the same time, a claim directly disproven by the last decade in which LA Metro developed the Metro Rapid buses [and Orange and Silver Line busways] concurrent with rail extensions.)
In fact, I maintain and encourage a skeptical stance toward all technophilia -- that is, all emotional attachments to transit technologies that are unrelated to their utility as efficient and attractive means of public transport. To the extent that the Bus Riders Union is founded on the view that rail is some kind of adversary, while the bus is the unifying symbol of their cause, I view them with exactly the same skepticism that I would bring to the elite architect who implied that we don't need buses because she'd never ride one.
Some technology-fixated minds just can't imagine what it would be like to be agnostic about technology and to care instead about whether a service actually gets people where they're going efficiently. To put in terms that conservatives should respect -- I'm very interested in transit that efficiently expands people's freedom, and whatever technology best delivers that in each situation or corridor.
I'm also interested in how all kinds of transit fit together as networks, because this is essential if we're to offer a diverse range of travel options to each customers. Everyone who becomes emotionally invested in bus vs rail wars -- on either side -- closes themselves to the idea that different technologies can work together form a single network.
Like many pairs of polarized enemies, the Bus Riders Union and certain bus-hating elites both endorse the same fallacy. In this case, both seem to believe that the most important purpose of a transit technology is to signify class categories, and that the key feature of their favorite technology is that it serves their class and not the other's. Both experience cognitive dissonance when one suggests that maybe bus and rail are not enemies but complementary tools for different roles in a complete network designed for everyone, or that people of many classes and situations can mix happily on one transit vehicle, as happens in big cities all the time.
The idea that a city as vast and dense as Los Angeles can do everything with buses, no matter how much it grows, is absurd. Drivers are expensive, so rail is a logical investment where high vehicle capacity (ratio of passengers to drivers) is required.
The only way the conservative dream (shared by Gensler Architects) makes sense is if you smash the unions so that all bus drivers make minimum wage, preferably from low-overhead private operating companies. This is how transit works in much of the developing world, and the result is chaos, inefficient use of street space, and fairly appalling safety records. Most experts I know who've immigrated from such places were glad to trade that for the transit they find in North America, whatever its faults.
It is absurd, too, to continue claiming that the Los Angeles rail program is "elite." Go ride the Red Line to North Hollywood or the Blue Line through Watts and tell me if those services seem packed with "elites" to you. When I ride them, I see the same wonderful diversity that I see on the more useful bus services, weighted of course by the characteristics of the neighborhoods we're passing through.
There's no question that some LA rail projects can be criticized for having been built where right-of-way was available rather than where they were needed, though the more you understand the political process the more you sympathize with the difficulty of those decisions. But when self-identified bus-people attack rail, and self-identified rail people attack buses, they both sound like the lungs arguing with the heart. There's a larger purpose to transit, one that we achieve only by refusing to be drawn into technology wars, and demanding, instead, that everything work together.