Saturday, August 25, 2007

Federal Official Warns, But Locals Dither Over LAX

Los Angeles is nowhere near as economically progressive as Shanghai. That will become obvious later in this blog.

In the U.S., The FAA has not always been appropriately aggressive over safety improvements at airports or in air travel in general. That is why, it seems very significant when the outgoing FAA chief, Marion Blakey, warns, as she did this week that it's imperative that Los Angeles International Airport move its north runways further apart for safety reasons.

Blakey was quoted in a story by Steve Hymon in the L.A. Times as saying: "Get the north airfield project done...It's an issue of safety and efficiency and economic competitiveness."

The trouble is, Los Angeles officials aren't listening. They have been dithering for years now over plans to expand LAX and make it safer. They have done some things, such as building a new taxiway between the south runways, but they have been delaying other plans, anathema in surrounding neighborhoods which have clout with elected representatives, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The most pertinent proposal at the moment is to move the north runways 300 feet further apart. But, of course, this would impinge, at least on the peace and quiet, of the adjacent neighborhood. No wonder, homeowners don't like it. But the question is, should homeowner concerns trump traveler safety?

There have already been several instances of near collisions between airliners, and one instance, back in 1991, of a fatal collision at LAX.

I would see nothing wrong with declaring LAX a secondary airport for international and transcontinental travel and moving most airport operations to Palmdale, where there is unlimited space. A high speed rail line could be built to get travelers to and from Palmdale.

But since this is not likely to be done in the near future, airport users deserve more than a sixth -- that's right a sixth -- study over what should be done.

Whenever politicians start asking for a sixth study, you know they don't have the courage to make up their minds, and proceed with a sound choice. So when Congresswoman Jane Harman, Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl and L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe call upon Villaraigosa in a letter, as they did this week, to ensure that all options are examined, what they really mean to ensure is more delay in doing anything.

This has been studied enough. The airport, crowded, poorly managed, even threatened by terrorism, needs to get off the dime and move toward the future.

The L.A. Times runs two other fascinating transportation stories today. On Page 1, there's an account by Mitchell Landsberg of the fast-expanding subway system in Shanghai, which is building the world's most extensive underground lines. The 80 miles today is supposed to reach 125 miles by the end of the year, 250 miles by 2010 and 560 miles by 2020, at which time it is projected to carry 14 million passengers a day.

Landsberg contrasts subways in Shanghai with those in Los Angeles, where subway expansion has been blocked by shortsighted officials unwilling to invest the money necessary. Shanghai officials have no such compunctions.

Then, there's a story in the Business section by Jane Engle on the security confusion and poor baggage handling that presently afflicts passengers at London's Heathrow Airport, which handles 67 milion passengers a year. At least, a new $8.6 billion terminal will soon open, relieving matters.

In Los Angeles, no such luck. Neither in the airport nor in the subway system is anything being built.

--

Tim Rutten mentions in his weekly column in the L.A. Times Calendar section today that the New York Times ran an Op Ed page article last Sunday by seven soldiers and noncommissioned officers serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq calling for an American withdrawal, but then refused to run a reply written by seven Army and Marine Corps veterans of the war which said that a new American strategy in Iraq is working and will ensure that those who died in the war would not do so in vain. The reply was posted anyway on the Web site of the Weekly Standard, a conservative publication.

In many respects now, the New York Times is not providing fair coverage of the war issues. This is particularly true on the editorial pages, where the editors are falling all over themselves pleading for America to surrender to the enemy.

Since my New York Times subscription is costing me seven times more than the L.A. Times, I wish it was at least providing fair coverage. But, on this, and the developing presidential campaign, I don't think it is. The paper has an agenda which is all too apparent.

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