On transportation: March 13 column

CONNECTING METRO TO LAX: As many Source readers know, Metro is working on a study on connecting the agency’s growing rail system to LAX. This won’t be a one-seat ride from downtown — as some activists have long sought — but I think it will be a pretty useful project, whichever form it takes.

First, some background: The Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line will share a new station at the intersection of Century and Aviation, which is 1.3 miles from Terminal One at LAX. Another project, known as the “Green Line to LAX,” seeks to connect that station to the airport terminals via light rail, people mover or bus rapid transit.

The type of transit is still to be determined. It’s pretty clear at this point that some — perhaps many — travelers using Metro Rail to reach LAX will likely have to transfer somewhere. A very fast train zipping between downtown L.A. and LAX is not on the table.

Would such a train be a good investment in the region? In a perfect world, perhaps. The problem is, as these two charts below show, travelers and airport employees are coming to LAX from all over the region. So the public policy question becomes this: spend a lot of money going straight to one part of the region OR spend a lot of money tying the airport to a growing transit network that serves many parts of the region?

Connecting LAX to the Aviation and Century station ties the airport directly to two light rail lines — Crenshaw/LAX and the Green Line. The Green Line runs south to Redondo Beach and may be extended south four miles by another Measure R project that is being defined by another study. The Green Line also connects to the Blue Line, which provides access to Long Beach, South L.A. and, of course, downtown L.A.

As for the Crenshaw/LAX Line, it will run north to the intersection of Crenshaw and Exposition boulevards, where there will be a connection to the Expo Line, allowing for easy trips to Culver City, Exposition Park, downtown L.A. — and through downtown L.A. when the Regional Connector is built.

Two other projects in Metro’s long-range plan — albeit unfunded projects at this time — could get even more bang for the buck. A proposed Green Line extension from its current terminus at the 105 freeway to the Norwalk Metrolink station would tie Metro Rail directly to commuter rail serving Orange County, which depends on LAX for a lot of international and domestic flights.

Another project would extend the Crenshaw/LAX Line north, where it could intersect the Westside Subway Extension under Wilshire Boulevard. That would allow subway travelers from Westwood to North Hollywood fairly easy access to light rail to the airport.

As with all transit projects, what I’ve outlined above is still many years from becoming reality. But it’s hardly the far-fetched notion than it was five years ago before Los Angeles County voters approved the Measure R sales tax increase. The Expo Line will soon open. The Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Regional Connector and the Subway Extension are headed toward construction. And serious planning on getting Metro Rail to the airport is finally underway.

GATE LOCKING: The news that Metro is moving toward locking the gates in Red and Purple Line subway stations this year, predictably, upset a few readers. Complaints range from it being a waste of money to problems getting through the gates for those with disabilities, bikes, EZ passes and Metrolink tickets.

Here’s the thing: these are all solvable problems and Metro is working to solve them along with other agencies. While I realize gate locking has been a divisive issue — and hardly a problem-free issue — my own view is that the honor system has outlived its usefulness. It’s better and easier to install gates now before the rail system grows and adds many thousands of passengers each day to the system.

PEOPLE LIKE CHEAPER DAY PASSES: Not exactly a shocker, but it turns out that the Metro Board’s decision last August to lower the cost of the day pass from $6 to $5 got the attention of the public. In the time since, monthly sales of the pass have increased from 260,000 to 400,000, according to this Metro staff report.

The overall impact on the agency’s revenue is still to be determined. But it’s pretty clear that one way to get people to take transit is to keep it very affordable and that a dollar makes a pretty big difference.

HIGH SPEED RAIL VISIONS: I thought the article in the L.A. Times headlined “A collision of visions on California bullet train” could have just as easily been headlined “A collision of extreme visions…” on the project.

The two visions, in short: Some say the bullet train will allow for great population increases in California and will be a great way to reduce sprawl by inducing thousands to live in dense communities next to stations. Others say it’s a big public subsidy waiting to happen, an exercise in social engineering and a threat to the state’s legacy of communities built around single-family homes.

In truth, the bullet train is neither. As proposed, it’s a fast and convenient way to travel between some of California’s population centers. While it may (and hopefully) attract development near stations, it’s not going to eliminate sprawl and it’s likely not going to be much of a factor on the state’s future population.

The debate should be on whether this particular project is the most cost-effective way of getting people around and whether it hits all the right spots in terms of its routing. The extreme views are provocative but not much else.

TAP CARD BALANCE: When the taptogo.net finally gets its much-needed overhaul, I hope they put a big button on the home page saying “CLICK HERE TO CHECK YOUR BALANCE.”

The current system is far from intuitive. After signing in, a user must click on “fare products,” then “already have a TAP card,” then “add stored value.” At that point, the screen shows how much value is remaining on the card.

That’s three steps too many.

 

Categories: Transportation News

13 replies

  1. “one part of the region OR spend a lot of money tying the airport to a growing transit network that serves many parts of the region?”

    Or, perhaps a long term vision of both should be on the table. Who says only one light rail has to go to LAX? Why not provide a longer term vision where LAX can be accessed in multiple ways by multiple rail lines?

    Many cities have multiple rail lines going to the main airport.

    London Heathrow, for example, can be accessed via the London Underground and the Heathrow Express. The former provides a slower, but cheaper access into London and nearby areas. The latter provides a faster, albeit more expensive access into Downtown London.

    New York JFK can be accessed via the Airtrain+E-Line subway, or if one wants a faster route into Manhattan, can be done via the more direct but expensive Long Island Railroad from the same Jamaica station.

    Tokyo Narita, same thing. One can take the cheaper JR or Keisei rail lines which takes longer due to multiple stops along the way, or the faster but more expensive express service like the Narita Express or the privately run Keisei Skyline to get into Downtown Tokyo in about 30-50 minutes.

    Rail to LAX can be run the same way. Why not run multiple services on the Green Line or The Crenshaw-Expo Line that offers different services on the same track? Who says every single Green Line or Crenshaw/Expo Line has to stop at each station along the way? Why not offer something like an “LAX Express Green Line” that goes from LAX to Metrolink Norwalk with no stops along the way every thirty minutes? Why not offer something like an “LAX Express Crenshaw-Expo Line” that services straight shot LAX-to-Union Station service every thirty minutes?

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  2. Y Fukuzawa brings up an excellent point. Multiple services can be provided on the same light rail tracks.

    Our light rail transit system does not have to be restricted to station-by-station services only. Much like we have different buses on the same route offering local, limited, and express services, our light rails can be run like that too.

    If the switch link with the Crenshaw Line and Expo Line is done correctly, an express light rail service from LAX to Downtown LA can be done with fewer stops along the way while sharing the same tracks as the Crenshaw and Expo Lines. This would be much cheaper than newly constructing a dedicated line just to serve LAX and Downtown LA.

    If the Green Line is extended on the other end to meet up with Metrolink’s Norwalk Station, an express Green Line service from LAX-to-Norwalk can be done too with only stops along the way; maybe the only stop on this would be the Silver Line connection at Harbor and the Blue Line connection at Rosa Parks.

    Has Metro talked about considering offering limited and express services on our light rail systems? Such an idea would fit well for many commuters (Express Blue Line would be a good start!) and would be a good, cheaper alternative to link Downtown LA and LAX while also servicing multiple stops along the way.

    Same shared track but different light rail service. Sounds like a brilliant idea to me!

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    • Hi Frank;

      The Expo and Crenshaw tracks won’t intersect. Expo is street level at that location and Crenshaw will be underground.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

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  3. I think you are forgetting about the strategic unfunded projects that are supposed to expand more Metro rail in the next 20-30 years, like the abandoned Harbor Subdivision running along Slauson Ave, could be used as a local and/or commuter rail that would link the line from Union Station to LAX on one way travel back and forth.

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  4. @Steve

    Anything is possible if it’s planned out long enough. As an example, the Gold Line is also a street level in Little Tokyo but the planned Regional Connector that’s going to link to it is a subway. http://www.metro.net/projects_studies/connector/images/study_area_map.pdf

    The option of a “West Regional Connector” linking the Crenshaw and Expo lines for an one seat ride from LAX to Downtown express light rail service should be an option that must be considered. Shared tracks running different services is much cheaper to do than trying to build a whole new set of rail tracks from scratch.

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  5. Frank,

    I wrote pretty extensively about that same idea a while back. I think it would be great to have a one-seat-ride from LAX to Downtown (and lots of other places) — and I examined all of the positive possibilities here:

    http://steven-white.com/2011/09/02/exposition-and-crenshaw-connect-the-tracks/

    It is however, something that I’ve loosened up on recently as I’ve ridden the rails more often and realized that one-seat-rides are not the most important thing for convenience — frequency has a much greater positive effect (although, many non-regular riders do look at one-seat-rides as the ultimate convenience). Shared tracks also mean there is less frequency after the branch, because the service gets split. It seems a one-seat-ride from anywhere but the Crenshaw/Green lines to LAX will not happen, but I’ve also begin to think that with the way Metro is expanding lines and service schedules, it doesn’t necessarily have to.

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  6. Metro digs itself into the problem that the Blue & Green lines and the Blue/Expo & Red/Purple lines could never been interconnected, thus making express services more difficult.

    It’s not too late to think about to the tracks to connect the Cranshaw & Expo lines to in order to offer an express service to Downton or Azusa.

    But now it is too late to take about offering express service to North Hollywood because the havey & the light rails cannot use the same set of tracks.

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  7. “In the time since, monthly sales of the pass have increased from 260,000 to 400,000, according to this Metro staff report.

    The overall impact on the agency’s revenue is still to be determined.”

    Does it take long to work that out?
    260,000 x $6 = $1,560,000
    400,000 x $5 = $2,000,000

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  8. I agree with the commentators above that a way to link the Expo and Crenshaw lines to be studied to provide a cheaper express route to link LAX and Downtown.

    Looking at the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor project map:

    http://www.metro.net/projects_studies/crenshaw/images/Crenshaw-LAX_transit_corridor_map_eng.pdf

    I see it makes an abrupt turn at Hyde Park to go north to Crenshaw. Yet there’s also seems to be room for an additional north-easterly diagonal route to link up with the Expo Line at USC.

    Building such a spur would do wonders to provide an express service between LAX and Downtown by sharing tracks of the Expo and Crenshaw Lines, while also providing an access of local transit to Expo/Crenshaw.

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  9. Hi Steve,

    I noticed my comment on here yesterday was never posted/approved. Was there something I said that did not follow the comment rules? I’m just curious to know so that I can better understand.

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    • Hi Connor;

      There was an adjective I didn’t think was appropriate, in addition to conjecture about the existence of a law about the sharing of tracks by heavy and light rail. As for the bigger issue, there are no plans at this time to link the Crenshaw and Expo tracks.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

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