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