Next Stop: Immobility

An A to Z Guide to Surviving the Death/Pause/Sunshine of the CenterLine

Photo by Tenaya HillsTwo weeks ago, readers of the Los Angeles Times and The Orange County Register learned that the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) board of trustees would snuff out the pipe on which they'd all been taking hits for a decade, the pipe that produced visions of a 90-mile light-rail system that would speed workers from home to high-tech office, eliminate traffic, maybe cure cancer. Then—looped, cracked-out, coming down—they apparently saw reality. "End of the Line for CenterLine," the Register screamed on its Feb. 5 front page. The Times took a few more days to declare the project "The Little Rail Line That Couldn't."

But not so fast. On Feb. 12, OCTA trustees voted to delay—not kill—CenterLine as it considers such alternatives as Bus Rapid Transit, street widening, improved bus service and even maglev lines. Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, whose city would gain the most out of the initial 9.3-mile CenterLine route, characterized the decision as a "pause."

Running bravely against ancient wisdom, the board said it would be nuts to abandon the project after spending nearly a decade and $63 million to study and promote the trolley. Now, it has become the Pope John Paul II of light-rail plans—antiquated, infirm, slowly shrinking to a rumor of its former glory, refusing to die.

But what's the alternative? What we have now sucks. No one wants to ride the bus, domain of the ethnic and poor. Rail choices such as the Metrolink, while successful, occupy pathways originally set up to benefit ranches and farmers back in the day when there were ranches and farmers. Building new roads and freeways costs billions and, given our state budget, will probably never happen. And hover bikes? Still a fantasy left for The Simpsons.

So, whether the CenterLine is dead, suffering a Pythonian flesh wound or, as OCTA's website puts it, basking in eternal "sunshine," one thing's certain as we read the morning paper while idling on the 22 freeway: we're boned. (Gustavo Arellano)

AisforAlertBesides not leaving your house, the best way to avoid traffic in Orange County is to surf the net. There are two great websites that provide free, up-to-the-minute traffic updates for Orange County freeways. Both use color-coded symbols to represent the various levels of congestion you might encounter. Green is fast-moving, yellow is stop-and-go congestion, and red is parking lot. But let's not forget gray, which is the symbol for "We've got no fucking idea because our website isn't working right now." That's a common color on the California Department of Transportation's traffic-alert website: For more accurate traffic updates, try Cox Communication's superb Orange County area traffic site: (Nick Schou)

BisforBroadwater,BruceFreeway traffic—at least in North OC—has no greater friend than Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater. In October 2003, Broadwater sued OCTA, trying to force the agency to widen his city's freeway underpasses and on-ramps. Broadwater's lawsuit stopped all work to widen the 22 freeway. In July, OCTA settled the lawsuit so that work on the freeway could go forward more quickly, and on Sept. 22, the agency held a press conference and ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the start of actual construction. At the event, Broadwater employed a vaguely sexual reference to brag that his lawsuit had forced OCTA to spend state money on his city's freeway underpasses. "OCTA bent for us and kept bending and kept bending and kept bending," Broadwater said. "Our lawyers kept saying, 'Bruce, you've got enough, you've got enough.' I said, 'We can go a little further, you know.' . . . But uh . . . it's really gonna make the flow under the freeway great, as well as the flow on top of it." Broadwater's remarks betrayed his true goal: not to improve the flow on the 22—which would benefit his future constituents—but to take as much money away from that effort to improve traffic in Garden Grove, which is an even worse traffic nightmare than the 22, thanks to Broadwater, who squandered the city's street-widening cash on traffic-generating hotels. (NS)

CisforCenterLine"The CenterLine might just be the best thing to happen to Orange County since sunshine," says OCTA's website, and ain't that the truth because sunshine burns!? Originally proposed in 1992 as a 90-mile light-rail system that would eliminate traffic forever, it instead became a $63 million metaphor for a county in love with the automobile. Cities didn't want it, fearful it would eliminate valuable automobile lanes; conservatives argued that the CenterLine was "social engineering" designed to eliminate every American's right to the road (see "Greenhut, Steven") and would cause more delays than alleviate congestion. Incredibly, the OCTA's own studies continually bolstered the opposition's argument: one gem recently uncovered by longtime CenterLine crank Jack Mallinckrodt revealed that while the CenterLine would supposedly eliminate traffic by 43,000 person-miles per day, additional traffic caused by its construction would ultimately increase traffic along rail-throughway streets such as Bristol Street by a whopping 156,000 person-miles per day. Leaving aside the question of what the hell a "person-mile" is, here's a layman's translation: your currently leisurely drive up Bristol will soon resemble Baghdad on a Friday night during Ramadan. Little tidbits like that caused cities to ditch the project in droves. As a result, CenterLine shrunk from 90 miles in 1992 to 32 miles in 2001 to 9.3 miles in 2004 to bubkes today. (GA)

DisforDUIDon't get one. If you already have one, you know exactly what's going on. Don't fucking get one. You will owe so much money, you will be so inconvenienced, you will hate it. It's fucked. The AA meetings. The mandatory MADD appearance. The court appearances and alcohol classes. That shameful state of being in which you're terrified you'll be exposed to the world as a hopeless, pathetic drunk only to realize there are so many people so more successful/prosperous and together than you going through the same exact bullshit. Don't get a DUI. Because if you fuck up and get a second, your life is really shit. For a very long time. The first one is hard enough to deal with. The second will fuck you like nothing next to falling in love with a lying whore will fuck you. If you drive and if the cops stop you and test you and you have a blood-alcohol content of more than 0.08, you're getting a DUI, Jack. So don't get a DUI. How? Simple. Don't fucking drink and drive, asshole! (Joel Beers)

EisforEconomicsIf the automobile is to be the death of us, then Charles Lave is clearly at the acceptance stage of things. Lave, a UC Irvine economics professor and associate director of its Institute of Transportation Studies, has studied and written about cars for some time. And while the author of "Quit Riding Us About Californian's Loving Their Cars" allows that we are tied to our cars, he rejects the notion that the present generation is any different than the drivers who went before them. "If you remember, back then [in the 1970s], prices went from 33 cents to a dollar—that's a tripling of price," he said. "Now we talk about gas going from $1.80 to $2.40. In actuality, that's not as big an increase. Price will eventually discourage people from driving. Estimates are if the price doubles, goes to $4, people will reduce their driving by 20 percent. But, I might add, it probably wouldn't be in their commuting to work." Unlike some traffic wonks and anyone caught in the 5 o'clock crush on the 405 behind some yahoo who doesn't know how to turn off his blinker, Lave is neither apoplectic nor apocalyptic when it comes to the car. He is of a mind that people have been tied to it since the 1930s and nothing—not gas prices, not increased traffic, not mass-transit alternatives—has or will change that any time soon. "There was a survey done by the LA Times in the mid-'50s. It ran two polls on separate days. The first asked something like, 'Do you think LA needs a high-speed rail network to help get people out of their cars?' Ninety percent said yes. The next poll asked that if the rail system was comfortable, efficient and got you to your destination as fast as your car—basically, was perfect—would you use it? Ninety percent said no. The reasonable interpretation to draw from that is that people support public transit so other people will take it and allow them more room on the road." Still, Lave believes that though people may prefer their cars—a lot—they are not the mindless slaves that are usually presented. "The media likes to center on the super-commuter who spends four hours on the road because it's a better story," he said. "In actuality, between 1990 and 2000, on average, most people's commutes increased by two to three minutes. For the most part, people deal with their commute themselves if it's too long. They move closer to work, leave earlier, for example." By the way, as far as solutions are concerned, CenterLine? Not so much. "I calculated the amount of cars the CenterLine would take off the freeway; it's in the one to two thousand range," he said. "Using [CenterLine supporters'] demand numbers, if the system were built, it would eliminate approximately 1,680 cars at rush hour. That's a lane of traffic. That's nothing." (Steve Lowery)

FisforFucked-UpStudentParkingOrange County college students know—or should know—that if they don't want to circle parking lots like vultures or trek a quarter of a mile to a lecture, they better arrive on campus at least an hour before class. Why? Orange County is home to roughly 15 colleges and the more than 200,000 students that come with them—most of whom own a car. Take UCI, for example. Anteaters—of which there are 24,123—must pay a whopping $396 (annual commuter), $297 (academic annual commuter) or $99 (quarter commuter) to squeeze into one of 12,506 commuter parking stalls. Parking woes don't seem to fluctuate by campus size, either—though Orange County's community-college students need only pay a fraction of UCI's permit price (about $30 per semester, $60 per academic year). Want to try skipping the permit and parking without one? Don't even think about it: parking citations over the span of an academic year at UCI and other OC colleges ($25 to $30 for not displaying a valid permit) may, over time, surpass the cost of the permit itself. (Kelli Conkey)

Next Page »