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Hey drivers: Measure M is good for you, too

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Why the countywide ballot measure benefits everyone—even if you don't use public transit

Red buses and sedans on a palm-tree-lined street in Santa Monica.
Metro buses and cars share the street in Santa Monica.
Antti T. Nissinen

With the election less than a week away, advocates for Measure M have started to enlist the heavy hitters, tapping influencers like Magic Johnson, Mark Ruffalo and Moby to voice their support for a permanent countywide sales tax increase to upgrade transit projects. This triggered some collective eye rolls on social media, because, like, do celebrities even know we have a train in LA?

Celebrity endorsements, as we know, can be fickle. But this 11th hour campaign takes a slightly different tack from the previous pro-M messaging. Take, for example, this tweet from Jimmy Kimmel:

To be fair, Kimmel does ride the Red Line (at least to award shows), and has been a big supporter of transit-oriented development in Hollywood, where he tapes his show. But this statement is representative of the problematic way that many Angelenos think about transportation initiatives: “Yes, build more transit so people will get off LA’s roads—and I can keep driving.”

This is an issue voters in most major U.S. cities will confront Tuesday. There are 45 transportation infrastructure measures on ballots across the country, all trying to win over their respective communities with different tactics. But one of the biggest obstacles in a region as large and diverse as Los Angeles County is communicating the importance of funding transit to people who claim they will not benefit from it. That’s why groups in the South Bay cities are rallying against M—they say they’re footing the bill for improvements that won’t directly impact them.

Public transportation doesn’t stop where the transit lines end. There’s no single rail project that could ever be funded which would magically improve every Angeleno’s commute. And Measure M is more far-reaching than a simple before-and-after GIF can communicate.

In a way, its biggest legacy would not be any physical piece of infrastructure, but rather the fact that it’s the first comprehensive plan to truly address the environmental damage that LA is wreaking upon the planet. After all, the simplest, fastest way to mitigate the impacts of climate change is to get more Angelenos to walk, bike, and use public transit.

That’s the other challenge for Measure M specifically: Convincing people who consider themselves “drivers” to support what is largely considered to be a public transit initiative, although it will also fund improvements for walkers and cyclists like sidewalks and bike lanes. This is, of course, why Measure M touts projects that will benefit people in cars, like bridge overhauls, high-occupancy lanes, and pothole repairs.

But Kimmel’s tweet, as jokey as it was meant to be, reveals a deeper “us vs. them” mentality that’s perpetuated by most Angelenos. It’s this idea that public transit is not for me—it’s for someone else.

A story in The Argonaut last month showed just how divisive this thinking can be. When the Big Blue Bus changed its routes to get riders more efficiently to Expo Line stations, buses started rolling down different streets. A group of Venice neighbors on one of those streets claimed the new bus stops were causing traffic outside their homes and convinced the transit agency to move them.

After several months of campaigning, Big Blue Bus relocated two bus lines to different streets. The neighbors with the now-bus-free street celebrated with a party where their children beat a Big Blue Bus piñata.

“It’s that relief of knowing the problem is gone, and that it’s quiet,” one neighbor told The Argonaut at the party.

Destroying a bus, even a tissue paper one, is not just communicating that “the bus is not for us.” For these Angelenos, the bus is a “problem.”

These anti-bus neighbors spent hours making videos of the supposed bus-induced congestion, driving their own vehicles around Venice during rush hour testing alternate routes, yet they never seemed to consider the real reason the buses weren’t moving faster down their street? You might choose to never take your kids on a bus. But don’t forget that the kids on every bus in LA are being affected by your decisions when you choose to drive.

Measure M is polling with a “razor thin” margin at the moment. Four years ago, the last big transit ballot measure, Measure J, failed, and only by about a half of a percent of the two-thirds majority needed.

The thought that 15,000 votes could make a difference in LA’s future means that we have to work harder to show how better transit can help achieve our common goals. In the end, we’re all trying to get the same places—school, work, play—and home in time for dinner.

Even the most hardcore LA car commuter is multimodal. We all walk, even if just to our parking spaces. Having more options means an Angeleno might not need to allocate a large portion of his income towards a car, or could finally afford to live closer to her job. Measure M not only means more options—bike share, rapid bus lines, greenways—it means making those options accessible to more people.

Measure M represents one way to ensure safer, healthier streets for all of LA’s families, however we choose to use them. As walkers, bicyclists, bus-riders, drivers—we are all in this together.