How do we get there from here

What happened to 28 by 28 is what's happening to a lot of LA's Olympic-related goals at the moment: a flashy announcement got a lot of attention yet had no strategy to actually make it happen

Easels filled with renderings of bike and transit concepts with the Coliseum stadium in the distance.
Mobility hub concepts displayed at a Metro and LA28 press conference at the Coliseum

In 2018, I spent months researching the temporary transportation systems that Los Angeles built for the last Summer Olympics — sifting through archival photos, gathering souvenir maps, and watching a few highly entertaining commercials.

The resulting story, which ran on Curbed LA (RIP) detailed all the ways that LA had somehow avoided catastrophic gridlock during those 16 days by moving people around with simple, inexpensive, quickly implemented interventions: "The games were powered by revolutionary real-time traffic information, an ambitious new strategy to make deliveries, a built-from-scratch bus rapid transit system, and a plea for employers to institute flex work hours."

Something I think many people forget is that LA was in between rail systems in 1984. Our regional network of streetcars, once the most extensive on the planet, had been dismantled, and our contemporary rail system would not open until 1990. And, as LA was bidding for its third games, we passed Measure M, the second of two local sales taxes which continue to fund what has become the most ambitious rail expansion in the U.S. When we were awarded the 2028 games, the decade of lead time provided a reasonable framework for making bigger, permanent changes, particularly after the Metro board approved 28 by 28, a 2017 motion to speed up 28 transit projects in time for the Olympics. (I remember that the Mayor's office insisted we write this initiative out as "Twenty-Eight by ’28," I assume to make it clear that these goals were not related in any way to LA28. Foreshadowing!)

At this moment, if we were still on the original 28 by 28 timeline, the D (Purple) Line would be taking people all the way to Wilshire and La Cienega, Valley travelers could ride a bus rapid transit line from North Hollywood to Pasadena, LAX passengers could take a train into the airport, and a gap-free greenway running the entire length of the LA River would be just about to open. That's not exactly how it's panned out, as you may have noticed. For those filling out their 28 by 28 scorecards at home, we're currently at 3 completed projects, 7 under construction, 6 in the engineering phase, 12 in the planning phase, and 10 that definitely won't happen by 2028. (One item on the list we didn't want anyway, an expansion of the 710 freeway which was thankfully killed.)

Metro has been well aware of all this and a revised 28 by 28 list was approved last month that swaps out the "won't be open" projects with 10 replacement ones in an attempt to get everything in under the wire. (Here's a presentation including a map.) Even with delays, I do think many of these projects still could happen by 2028, including completing all seven new D line stations, but the window is tight, and most of our rail projects have opened two to three years behind schedule. Just in the time since the new list was put out three weeks ago, the airport people mover to connect the K and C lines to LAX, which was supposed to open this year, announced it will be delayed to late 2025. And if Vermont Avenue gets honest-to-god bus rapid transit by 2028 — a decades-deferred plan that would change lives, including mine, in one of the most transit-dependent corridors of the city — I am throwing the most epic BRT crawl from Hollywood Boulevard all the way to 120th Street. YOU'RE ALL INVITED.

What happened to 28 by 28 is what's happening to a lot of LA's Olympic-related goals at the moment: a flashy announcement got a lot of attention yet had no strategy to actually make it happen. An official — in this case former LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was serving as Metro's board chair at the time, and also traveling the country exploring a presidential run — tossing out a questionably aspirational vision for so-called "legacy improvements" that may or may not deliver benefits before and after the games. (In this case, it was also a potentially illegal vision: 28 by 28 created a list that could have prioritized different projects than the ones Measure M voters had just approved.) But 28 by 28 was an especially vaporous plan because many of these projects never had any money behind them to begin with, which was clear as early as 2019, and bluntly acknowledged at a Metro board meeting last month: 28 by 28 was a $40 billion plan with a $25 billion funding gap; the New 28 by 28 is a $20 billion plan with an under $300 million funding gap. So we lowered the bar. Just a little.

Six years later, we once again have a mayor who is currently serving as Metro board chair. And last night, Mayor Karen Bass delivered the State of the City address at City Hall. While the majority of her speech was devoted to her homelessness initiatives, she did mention the Olympics and a signature 28 by 28 project: "This past year Metro accomplished what commuters have dreamed of for years. A regional connector in the heart of our city that links every corner of our region and bursting with the promise of what's possible as we expand public transportation in Los Angeles."

She's right to shout out the regional connector — indeed great, and only two years late! — and having all those trains burrowing through downtown is going to be key for moving, as Bass mentioned, an extra five million people around the city. (She said the Olympics is like hosting seven Super Bowls for 17 days; other officials have claimed it will be more like seven Super Bowls for 30 days when including the Paralympic Games. I guess we'll see!) But what I would have rather heard about last night are all the much cheaper projects in the New 28 by 28 that she's going to make sure get completed quickly: Dedicated bus lanes that make transit faster than driving, an LA River bike path in the Valley (hey, it's a start), mobility hubs where you can rent bikes and scooters, or store and repair your own. And Vermont BRT! High-impact, low-hanging fruit that could get done with the same urgency that repaired the fire-damaged 10 freeway in 10 days, which was mentioned multiple times in Bass's speech. Thanks for reminding us what this administration is capable of accomplishing!

There's one more thing that Bass said last night that might have slipped right over the heads of people who don't think of themselves as train nerds: "We want the world to see that Los Angeles is the number two transit city in the country." Which sounds like we almost won some kind of light-rail popularity rankings, but is actually very significant. Other big cities lost so many transit riders during the pandemic that they haven't been able to bring them back. But LA's ridership rebounded quickly and kept growing. We're now second in ridership numbers nationwide after New York. This is a huge milestone, and it's why we can't just cut ribbons on a few Metro subway stations. We need the city to step up with bus lanes, bike lanes, wider sidewalks — everything else that currently falls under Bass's jurisdiction as mayor, not just as Metro chair.

28 by 28 is dead. But with the right leadership, the New 28 by 28 might actually get us where we want to go. 🔥

💰 The State of the City address is part of the city's budget process, which the mayor must deliver to the council by April 20. City Controller Kenneth Mejia had a very insightful town hall last week recommending how the mayor could use the budget to set new priorities. Sign up for the Controller's newsletter to attend the next one after the budget is released

🚇 Is LA’s Transit Olympics-Ready? by YouTube's RMTransit (the absolute best channel for my fellow train nerds)

🛤️ My LA Podcast co-host Scott Frazier with a prescient view of 28 by 28 from 2017 (!)

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