To say that Ed Wytkind likes to talk about America’s epic failure to invest in transportation is akin to saying that Pauline Kael enjoyed critiquing films or that Christopher Hitchens was fond of writing political commentary. Because Wytkind, who heads the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department and will be honored next month at the L.A. Alliance for a New Economy’s City of Justice Awards, lives and breathes transportation, and is determined to bring the issue front and center in the national conversation.
Wytkind, one of the country’s leading advocates for long-term investment in such things as mass transit and air travel modernization, offers a powerful case that the future of America’s economy is inextricably linked with our decision to either fund or starve our transit systems. And he can be a fierce critic of Congressional inaction on such priorities as full of funding Amtrak and repair of the nation’s neglected highways and bridges.
Seleta Reynolds, Los Angeles’ new chief of transportation, wants to help break L.A.’s dependence on cars. She believes that bikes are key to doing it. New York City, the Bay Area and other metropolises have already begun to show that a mixed transportation network with a central role for bicycles can be achieved in America. But can bikes prosper in the most infamous car town in the world?
Before being hired by Mayor Eric Garcetti this summer, Reynolds helped lead San Francisco’s Livable Streets office in that city’s transportation agency. She sees a bit of L.A.’s future in San Francisco’s present.
“In San Francisco, people are truly multimodal,” she told Capital & Main. “They take taxis, they take Uber and Lyft. They ride their bikes, they take a bike-share. They take the ferry, they ride the bus, they take the Muni Metro. Sometimes they drive, they take car-shares.
After the President’s State of the Union address, federal policy circles are squarely focused on how to speed and grow America’s economic recovery. President Obama was right when he said America needs “a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity.”
America’s public transportation infrastructure provides one excellent opportunity to build a more equitable, prosperous economy. Here are five policy prescriptions that can help create good jobs and growth in the transportation sector:
1. Make a globally competitive investment in infrastructure. Increase federal funding to address America’s infrastructure deficits identified by the American Society of Civil Engineers and detailed in the BlueGreen Alliance’s Repair America report, especially in the transportation sector. Investments in transportation can put Americans back to work while rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, and improving the efficiency of our rail and transit systems.
The success of Measure R, passed by voters in 2008, the “30-10” plan to accelerate implementation of our transit revolution, and the 66 percent “yes” vote on Measure J each demonstrates that Los Angeles voters are ready to invest in a transportation transformation. There is an opportunity now and a coalition partnership available that’s too good to waste. Together with Mayor Eric Garcetti we must continue cultivating this voter trust and this partnership of labor, business, environmental, community groups and elected officials who share a common vision — of a Los Angeles with a clean public transportation system that is both robust and financially sound, and that has a vigorous economy with prosperity that is widely shared.
As Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has demonstrated so clearly, we can think big about solutions to our challenges as a region — and we can expect to succeed.