Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ancient But Revealing Article

The article that I am posting below may be ancient in today's rapidly changing world, but it does state what must be surely obvious to all of us who try to get around the greater Los Angeles Area.

Published almost ten years ago, the article contains the words, "smart growth" and not in a wonderful light.

Since the publication of the article, the 110 Freeway got its HOV lanes, but the Long Beach Freeway still is stuck with basically its same geometry.

Whatever benefits have been gained during the last 9 years since the article was published has been more than eaten up by increased population and so many more vehicles on the road.

But sometimes it might be a good idea to learn from the past so we don't repeat it. Unfortunately, the L.A. Department of Transportation and others didn't seem to remember or learn what they should have.

Honk if You Love Traffic
By Wendell Cox

Op-ed published by Los Angeles Daily News17 October 1999

Everyone believes Los Angeles is the ultimate in "urban sprawl" -- low density residential and commercial development. And, indeed, Los Angeles covers a lot of territory -- stretching 75 or more miles from Ventura to Beaumont and from Santa Clarita to San Clemente.

But compared to the sparse suburbanization of other U.S. cities over the past 50 years, Angelenos are packed in like sardines. Los Angeles now has the highest population density per square mile.

For example, if Los Angeles followed Portland, Ore.'s more sprawling path, the Southland would extend uninterrupted to Mojave, Barstow and Indio.

If Los Angeles were developed at the same density as the New York City area, nearly 10 percent more rural land would have been developed.

Most people also believe that Los Angeles is nothing but freeways. The fact that Los Angeles has the nation's worst traffic congestion has led some anti-automobile interests to suggest that freeways are incapable of solving the problem.

However, Los Angeles has less freeway space per capita than most urban areas -- ranking 44th out of the largest 57 urbanized areas in 1996, according to Federal Highway Administration data.
Nashville and Kansas City have approximately double the equivalent freeway lane miles of Los Angeles, and traffic congestion is under control in both locations.

The plain fact is that Los Angeles, with an urbanized area density of 5,800 residents per square mile, has a freeway system that is at least one-third too small to accommodate travel demand.

This did not have to be the case. Decades ago, the California Highway Department planned to build freeways four miles apart that would have provided close access to virtually the entire community.

Unfortunately, special interests and communities opposed the freeways planned in the San Fernando Valley along Reseda Boulevard, Topanga Canyon Boulevard and a mid-Valley east-west route so vociferously that they were canceled, as was a freeway planned for Slauson Boulevard.

Had all those freeways been built, there would be considerably less traffic congestion in Los Angeles today.

Clogged traffic should have been recognized as a conscious choice based upon the freeway development policies that were pursued.

There was also a lot of wishful thinking that didn't materialize. Policy wonks believed the public would abandon their cars in droves and hop on buses or subways. They didn't.

Thirty years of history make it clear -- people love their cars. And it's not just a phenomenon found in Los Angeles. From Europe to Canada, Australia and New Zealand -- more cars are fighting for space.

It is time that state and local officials recognize the obvious -- that the automobile is here to stay and the number of cars will continue to grow at least at the rate of population growth.

No amount of transit expansion or rail construction is going to change that. Providing transportation for the future means providing for the automobile, pure and simple.
Solving the traffic problem in Los Angeles won't be easy. But it can be done. It means either building more freeways and/or improving efficiency.

Politically, the task is daunting.

Practically speaking, adding capacity isn't a problem. For example, in Tokyo, a city that has more people but fewer cars, double-deck freeways are being constructed in the middle of major surface streets, while major downtown streets are double decked. Little additional right of way is required by these approaches.

And Paris is beginning to build 60 miles of underground freeways.

Making roadway use more efficient also could be easily solved by adopting the type of road pricing plans that operate in Singapore. During peak periods, car and truck drivers are debited by freeway scanning devices that make toll booths unnecessary.

Making drivers pay more during peak hours would discourage freeway use at the most congested times.

That certainly would reduce traffic congestion, but almost as certainly would rile the public who are used to paying for roadways at the gas pump rather than on the highway.

Until the politics changes, traffic congestion will continue to get worse.

But if government adopts the current fashionable idea of "smart growth" the worst will happen sooner.

Well meaning but naive people believe that such so-called "smart growth" -- increasing densities and restricting growth boundaries -- will reduce traffic congestion.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Traffic congestion in the United States and around the world is worse in more densely populated urban areas.

The reason is very simple -- higher population densities mean more cars per square mile, more travel per square mile and thus, worse traffic congestion, not to mention air pollution.

The last thing Los Angeles needs is higher densities. It may seem ironic, but at the end of the 20th century, Los Angeles faces the nation's most severe traffic congestion because it has become too dense and has too few freeways.

Wendell Cox was a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission from 1977-1985.

Since the article was written there have been busway access points added to the 110 Freeway, but still there is only one METRO bus line that travels along Western Avenue during the day.

I don't believe that Ponte Vista would ever receive real beliefs that is could be completed and be truly be called a development that had enough of the smart growth standards needed.

It certainly could be built utilizing some of those standards.

As I have considered for several years and illustrated on this blog, there needs to be a route to Gaffey provided for both Ponte Vista and Mary Star of the Sea High School.

With 'new' ideas that will be considered, the new route should come up again with real discussions this time and more pressure on the U.S. Navy by regular residents and those who want housing at Ponte Vista in numbers greater than 420-735.

Now that the Planning Department has opined that there should only be two access points along Western in and out of Ponte Vista, the new route to Gaffey should be given even greater importance as a subject to consider and work towards.

Ponte Vista may never reach the heights of truly being considered as real smart growth, but that doesn't mean we can help it achieve as many of the standards as it can get. That may end up helping all of us out in the long run.


Anonymous said...

Here’s an article worth posting entirely.

Strategy for a retired couple as home value falls

With longevity in their genes, Ellen and Ray Bluemel worry that they'll outlast their assets. Financial planner Delia Fernandez addresses three possible scenarios.
By Ann Marsh
10:30 PM PST, January 16, 2009
Ellen and Ray Bluemel are retired and healthy, and figure their eight grandchildren will help them stay active for many more years. The question is whether their assets, damaged by plummeting real estate values, will last as long as they do.

"I always tell people the good news is that we're living longer and the bad news is that we're living longer," said financial planner Delia Fernandez of Fernandez Financial in Los Alamitos.

Two years ago -- the "$800,000 days," as Ellen calls them -- the bank not only valued their 1,250-square-foot Tarzana home by that much but also projected that the one-story house would be worth $1 million in a decade.

That got them thinking of the possibilities. The Bluemels talked about selling their home and moving into a secure senior community -- a place where they wouldn't have to worry about gardening and where they could be around folks their own age.

"My thought was I wanted to go and live in a Leisure World-type place where [Ray, 71] would . . . go and talk with the guys and do whatever guys do, and I would go knit or do whatever ladies do," Ellen, 69, said.
When the value of their home was soaring, the Bluemels figured they could sell it, spend as much as $300,000 on a house in a gated community and live on the remaining proceeds.

But now, with a one-third drop in the value of their home, their hopes are greatly reduced. They may instead buy a $150,000 condominium or cooperative in the Laguna Woods senior community called Laguna Woods Village, formerly Leisure World, and rely on their modest income for necessities.

Ray Bluemel spent more than 32 years as a gardener for the Los Angeles Community College District. Before she retired in June, Ellen Bluemel held a variety of jobs, including dental assistant, bank customer service representative and special education teacher's aide at a nearby elementary school.

A combination of Ray's pension and their two Social Security checks brings in an annual income of $40,781. Their home, which cost $17,900 when they bought it 43 years ago, is their major asset. Their only other savings is about $34,312 from three sources: an individual retirement account, a regular savings account and an annuity. Their savings were hurt by a series of unexpected home repairs and family financial matters in recent years.

They figure they spend about $26,200 a year, though Fernandez suspects the amount is higher because of their modest savings. But they also have paid off the loans on their cars, and they give $260 a month to their Mormon church.

In downsizing, the Bluemels are most worried about their future medical bills, especially if either or both of them should require expensive medical care or in-home nursing care. At their ages, they can't afford to pay the high monthly premiums for long-term-care insurance.

"There comes a time when you deteriorate, and what do you do?" Ray said.

Longevity is in the genes on both sides, so the couple hope their savings and income can last at least 20 more years.

Putting them further in a corner was their decision two years ago to borrow $62,000 on their home in a costly reverse mortgage, which carries high fees but does not have to be repaid on any schedule. Such loans often are repaid after the borrower dies or decides to sell the house. That seemed like a better risk when the home was worth more.

The funds covered part of the debts they incurred mostly in helping their three children. They lent $24,000 to a daughter to buy a home and spent about $15,000 to buy a car for their son.

Because their original plans hinged on the equity they had expected from the sale of their home, they repaid $10,000 of the reverse mortgage proceeds to recover some of the equity cushion lost in the recession. Given the fees and interest rate on the loan, financial planner Fernandez advised them to use the $10,000 remaining from the loan to pay down the principal.

"I'm so astounded. I've never met anyone who actually tried to pay back a reverse mortgage," Fernandez said. "This is a very practical and diligent couple."

Fernandez looked at three plans for the couple, depending on their possible need for an assisted-living or a skilled-nursing facility, which could rapidly drain their resources with charges of $3,000 to $6,000 a month for care.

In making her projections, Fernandez assumed that in-facility care costs would rise 6% annually and other costs would go up 3% a year. She also assumed the Bluemels would net $460,000 on the sale of their home and spend $150,000 for a new one -- and that at least one spouse would live well into the 90s. All the following figures are expressed in today's dollars.

Should one Bluemel need some in-home care by 2019, the planner figures the couple would be able to afford four hours of care at $20 an hour five days a week, increasing to eight hours a day every day of the week by 2025 at a cost of $58,240 a year. If that spouse dies two years later, the surviving spouse would have enough money, through a reverse mortgage, to pay for some housekeeping and medical expenses for 13 more years. Only a modest life insurance policy to help pay burial costs would be left to their children.

Should, instead, one of the Bluemels need to go into a nursing home or a care facility by, say, 2019, that spouse's life expectancy would be shorter. Fernandez said that 85% of those entering such facilities live 2.8 more years, and she assumed three years in her example. Costs would be higher but shorter in duration. She projects that the surviving spouse would be able to use reverse mortgage proceeds to pay for modest housekeeping and medical expenses and would live until 2036, leaving about $80,000 to the children.

Should both Bluemels need some long-term care at different times, Fernandez figures they could pay for two years of part-time in-home care, one year in a facility for one spouse and two years for the other, assuming one dies in 2018 and the other in 2035. The funds would come mostly from a reverse mortgage. They would leave about $74,000 in cash and a small amount of value in the house to their children.

If either spouse spends more than a few years in a facility, the Bluemels may run out of funds and need state aid. That would mean applying for Medi-Cal, California's version of Medicaid.

For 2009, Medi-Cal stipulates that a healthy spouse may retain $109,560 in savings, not including equity in a home, with an ailing spouse on Medi-Cal, said James Perry, an estate planning lawyer in Orange. The Medi-Cal spouse must have only $2,000 or less in remaining savings, Perry said.

The healthy individual also may continue receiving $2,739 a month after his or her spouse starts Medi-Cal, he said. If Ray Bluemel, for example, were to need Medi-Cal, Ellen could keep her $807 monthly Social Security income and receive a portion of Ray's pension up to a total monthly income of $2,739, Perry said. Medi-Cal would use the balance of Ray's pension for his care.

Fernandez praised the Bluemels for facing the hard planning questions now. Although they're enjoying a recent $20,000 renovation to their kitchen, she said, the improvement makes it a good time to sell.

"Or," she said, "you stay at home and become some of those people whose lawns are never mowed" because they can't do it themselves and can't afford to hire a gardener.

Ray said that's not for them.

"The red flags are flashing," he said. "In a year or two, we gotta go."

Anonymous said...

what get's me is:

the question people are asking shouldn't be "how many units are acceptable to san pedro?"

the question that people should be asking is: "How do we reduce traffic and congestion in San Pedro?"

it's a totally ridiculous situation, one in which the debate that needs to be had, isn't being had, but the one that doesn't need to be had, is being debated.

M Richards said...

Thanks anonymous 2:29 PM, you may be just the person that is needed to help with the solutions and not help to create more problems.

I think it is important to work on solutions to the many problems that surround the Ponte Vista conundrum.

How can we do what so many people want in a locale that is not condusive to much of anything right now.

With no road to Gaffey and ever increasing use along Western, it just might be better to deal with the suggestions made by the Western Avenue Task Force before Ponte Vista goes much further in new planning.

Maybe we should consider the failure of Bob's plans as a gift of time and reason to deal with problems from a less anxious position where building up Ponte Vista was called for, almost immediately.

Anonymous 2:29, please consider trying to volunteer for any group working on solutions. Your input is vital and it may be the input that brings about the best solutions to the problems.