Five things I'm thinking about transit, Nov. 30 edition

From Santa Monica's new bike plan. Click above for a larger image.

SANTA MONICA BIKE PLAN: Congrats to Santa Monica, where the City Council last week approved a new bike plan for the already very bike-friendly Republic. The best part, I think, are bike lanes for the city’s downtown area where cyclists currently get stuck in some pretty serious car traffic.

It will be interesting to see the combined impact of the bike improvements and the coming Expo Line, which is scheduled to arrive in 2015. From the bike plan:

“Much of Santa Monica is within a 10-minute walk of the stations, but all of Santa Monica is within a 10-minute bicycle ride. Bicycle access to Expo is essential, as are strong and legible bicycle connections throughout the areas surrounding the stations.”

 

If all goes as planned, it should be far easier to reach the Expo Line by bike in Santa Monica than it is to get to rail in many other parts of the county.

I can tell you for a fact that the north-south bike access to the three Gold Line stations in the 210 freeway median in Pasadena — where I live — could be much improved. For now, providing free street parking for cars trumps bike lanes in those areas.

WESTCHESTER STATION: Interesting motion by Supervisor and Metro Board Member Don Knabe to add a Westchester station to the future Crenshaw/LAX Line light rail project.

The gist of it: Supervisor Knabe wants Metro to ask contractors bidding to build the project to include a street-level station east of Aviation and Manchester as well as a possible Leimert Park station within the project’s $1.7-billion budget.

In both cases, it’s a smart move — instead of going over the project’s budget, it’s an attempt to use the marketplace to get what Metro wants. It remains to be seen whether any contractor can get the stations to pencil out. But it never hurts to ask.

On a related note, some of you may have heard the news that Measure R receipts are down due to the sour economy — projections are now that the sales tax will bring in $34 billion to $36 billion during its 30-year lifespan that is due to expire in 2039.

The key word in the above sentence is “projections.” Certainly it’s not good that receipts are down, but it’s also really hard to say what the future holds, right?

 

Santa Monica Airport, via Google Maps.

SANTA MONICA AIRPORT: As someone who used to live under the flight path of Santa Monica Airport — as in under the path of very noisy planes taking off — I read with great interest the L.A. Times story on how the city wants to get rid of the airport. The Federal Aviation Administration, however, says its mission is to preserve as much access to the skies as possible, no matter the location of current airports.

I don’t live in Santa Monica any longer and I can’t really afford to move back (not to mention my Sacred Oath to avoid the Santa Monica Freeway whenever possible).

So I have no stake in this battle. But I think that land can be put to a lot better uses than an airport that serves private planes. Santa Monica has been slow to build housing in recent years even as the number of jobs in the city has greatly increased. And the airport isn’t far from key transit corridors such as Venice Boulevard, Olympic Boulevard, Pico Boulevard and the future Expo Line.

Plus, there’s also the usual safety concerns with the airport, which are very real. No one wants a plane dropping on their house.

Of course, this is a bigger battle. If the city manages to close its urban airport, I imagine there are many other people in California and elsewhere that would like to close small airports that were built in once rural areas that are now surrounded by humanity and suburbia.

 

The route of the proposed DesertXpress, from the DesertXpress website. Click for larger image.

BULLET TRAIN TO VEGAS?: If you read one story on the proposed DesertXpress bullet train between Victorville and Las Vegas, read the Business Week article headlined “Betting tax dollars on a bullet train to Vegas.”

The project has been in the news this year, having recently received a key environmental clearance to build tracks along the 15 freeway from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to get built.

At this point, the project doesn’t have anywhere close to the money it needs. Instead, the developers are applying for a $4.9-billion loan from the Federal Railroad Administration. It is by far the largest such request ever made of the FRA’s loan program but it’s also a project that federal officials seem to think has merit.

What’s unknown is how much influence the White House — which has been pushing high-speed rail — has on the FRA. Certainly the loan program would be one way to fund a bullet train project and circumvent the Republican-led House of Representatives that denied funding to President Obama’s high-speed rail program in next year’s budget.

As for ridership, I tend to think the DesertXpress could do well — people sitting on the 15 will see trains zooming by and perhaps give the train a try because it should be quicker than driving and a car isn’t really a necessity in Vegas. That said, it’s a shame that the Desert Xpress would not tie into Southern California’s transit network. By my reckoning, the nearest Metrolink station to Victorville is 40 miles away in San Bernardino.

PAYING FOR CALIFORNIA’S BULLET TRAIN: California’s high-speed rail project got some attention in the New York Times over the weekend in an article pointing out that many elected officials — such as Gov. Brown — still support the train despite its new $98.5 billion price-tag.

I think those who support the project would greatly help the chance of it actually getting built if they started talking in good ol’ plain English about some ways to to close the $85-billion or so funding gap — including user fees and taxes. I’m not saying that’s the route we should take, but it deserves to at least be discussed. Otherwise we’re talking fantasy.

Need a conversation igniter? I can google with the best of them so here’s one: More than 14 billion gallons of taxable gasoline are sold in California each year. Californians already pay 53.7 cents in state and federal taxes on each gallon of gas that they purchase. But some people — such as Times columnist George Skelton — say it’s time to raise the state portion of those taxes to pay for the infrastructure the state needs for current and future residents.

Of course, it’s easy for a newspaper columnist to be bold.

8 replies

  1. Great point about the opporuntity to focus on high speed rail funding options in order to make the project more real.

    Glad this column is now a weekly thing. Your opinion pieces are one of the best things about The Source (and the Bottleneck Blog of years past) IMHO.

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    • Hi David;

      Thank you for the kind words! I think a lot of good ideas for the region’s transportation system can come from everyone on this blog and hopefully flow upward to the folks pulling the levers!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

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  2. I wouldn’t mind Santa Monica Airport being shut down as a place for general aviation, but I am against tearing that place apart considering how much rich history it has.

    Santa Monica Airport, or once known as Clover Field was once an Army’s 40th Aviation Division and the 115th Observation Squandron during WWII. It saw action during the Ellwood shelling in Santa Barbara by a Japanese submarine, the Battle of Los Angeles in 1942, and played a huge role in the investigation of Japanese Fu-Go fire balloons that showed up all over the West Coast. Destroying a place that has so much rich history would be a waste.

    Did you know an entire fleet of DCs were actually built at Santa Monica Airport during WWII? Santa Monica Airport also host many events such as the LA Antique Show and fundraisers such as Project Angel Food. It also has one of LA’s best restaurants; Typhoon, on airport property with great views of Cessnas taking off and landing.

    If Santa Monica Airport were to be shut down, I’d be for preserving it as a museum and as a filming location, as well as a destination spot for transit riders to visit. Considering that, a subway to “Santa Monica Airport Museum” would be nice.

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  3. I’m a fan of both Cal HSR and Desert Xpress.

    I’ll admit I’m not part of Vegas’ core audience, but I like the whole public loan-private investment idea. And yes, it sucks that it doesn’t link to Metrolink — yet — but we need to start somewhere.

    It’s obvious that Japan or China won’t take American rail seriously until we get some shovels in the ground, and preferably get some tracks laid, and it looks like Desert Xpress may beat Cal HSR to the punch.

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  4. For people taking flying lessons (like I am now) and just general aviators enjoying flying where do you suggest they go if they close SMO? Where can you relocate to? Whose house are you going to tear down? What farm land are you going to take? What pristine wildland will you rape? All of the convenient airports are in urban areas. If we listen and pay heed to this whining then every airport is a nuisance and they deserve to be closed.

    The plane noise is not that big of a deal. I think some residents are just hypochondriacs when it come to this. I live under LAX’s southern runway flight path the noise is ignorable. I’ve had countless private props/jets, C-17s, 707s, 777s, 767s, 757s, 737s, A340s, A330s, A320s, A319s, MD80s, DC-10s, MD-11s, and EMB-120s fly over my house every night and day in the decades I’ve been here. The noise is ignorable and is not a big deal.

    The airports are a great service to the general aviators and residents who use it as a place of recreation and commuting. They also provide jobs to the flight instructors, plane maintainers, ATCs, and general support employees. I argue that the airport deserves to stay untouched. To the residents who think they’ve got it bad, man up.

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  5. The Los Angeles area is no stranger to closed airports that were repurported to other uses; however, once it’s physically gone, future generations will forget. Who’s aware of the Grand Central Airport in Glendale or Hughes Airport southwest of Culver City?

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  6. Hi Steve,

    Would Metro consider changing some of the lights in the Subway Stations to reflect the Purple Line. I think its strange that Wilshire/Normandie and Wilshire/Western stations still have the 2 Red Lights next to the identification names. In addition. I feel that all the stations between Union Station and Wilshire/Vermont can have 1 Red & 1 Purple light by the names. I know it might not be affordable to change the outside signs to reflect both Red & Purple lines now.

    This could also be done for the Blue and Future Expo line platform, 1 blue light and 1 aqua.

    Jack

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  7. Lol Tony you’re right future generations will probably forget all about closed airports. But those who are currently living and utilizing them will not.

    In my case of course I know about Hughes Airport. My father worked there before going to work for Douglas in Long Beach. And, when I was a kid I would have my dad drive by it so I could get a look at the HUGE hangar that once held the Spruce Goose or so I was told.

    I don’t know much about Grand Central except that it was north of downtown and I think the tower is still there.

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