Q&A: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Los Angelinos now spend about four full days a year trapped in traffic, more time than residents of any other city. But Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is taking on gridlock, and his sometimes-reluctant constituents, in promoting an aggressive slate of transportation fixes. He sat down with U.S. News in the city's state-of-the-art Automated Traffic System and Control Center to discuss whether his plans can break up the city's notorious congestion.
Has there been a change in the way Los Angeles residents see these issues?
I think people are realizing that every time you build a freeway, you fill it, and that you need to invest more and more in public transit and create communities where people live, work, and play. Right now, if you look at the city, most of the jobs are in the inner core, and the housing is in the outer core.
Is it hard to convince people that building more housing downtown will alleviate congestion? Isn't that counterintuitive?
Here's an example: In the campaign, when I talked about the subway to the sea, or investing in public transportation, I'd get little applause. When I talked about smart growth, even less. When I talked about ending construction during the rush hour, I'd get a standing ovation, and yet as soon as we did it, people barely noticed, because that's really not the core of the problem. As long as we've got so many people in single-passenger automobiles, we're going to have gridlock. We have to change driving patterns.
Is building more roads an option?
Given the density of the city, it's not viable to build more freeways. If building a freeway involves knocking down a neighborhood, it's not going to happen. It will be more cost effective to invest in public transportation. It's where we've got to go, it's where great cities around the world have gone, and we've just taken a little longer in realizing that.
Is there any real hope that congestion in the city will actually go down, or is success defined by controlling the degree to which the problem gets worse?
The only way for us to reverse the pattern of more and more gridlock is to invest in public transportation on a scale that has heretofore been unprecedented. I'm talking about billions and billions and tens of billions of dollars and beyond.
Is that even possible?
I think the better question is, "Is there the political will?" and I think the answer is, "Not yet." But there will have to be if we want to address gridlock and congestion in our cities.
You've talked about making it easier for people to live where they work. In November, voters narrowly rejected Measure H, which would have pushed developers to add more affordable housing. Why did it fail?
There's no question we're going to have to engage in an education effort. That's why everywhere I go, I talk about public transportation, investing in smart growth, mixed-use development along transportation corridors, really growing smarter, greener, growing in a way that creates communities where people live and work.
What do you have to overcome to convince the citizens of Los Angeles that more density is needed?
Here in Los Angeles, we think we have a God-given right to a 3,000-square-foot home with a backyard and a front yard and a pool in the back. And you know, people live great lives in New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Toronto, Tokyo, where they live in places where they work, they live more vertical. And very importantly, they are investing in public transportation. If you go to Tokyo, you see an investment in public transportation that should be the standard for all of us.
How optimistic are you about achieving your transportation agenda?
Very optimistic! I'm optimistic about life! Look, the role of leadership is to develop a vision and a plan to accomplish that vision, at the same time, nurturing the community support to make that vision a reality. So you're not deterred where people are todayyou recognize your job as to help bring them along.
What are the prospects for your proposed "subway to the sea" under Wilshire Boulevard?
The prospects for that and other public transportation initiatives are great. This city will one day have a world-class transportation system, period.