On Transportation column, May 2

Photo by Gary Leonard for Metro.


EXPO LINE OPENING: First and foremost, a hearty congratulations to Los Angeles County taxpayers who mostly footed the bill for the $932-million first phase of the Expo Line. I thought the best part of this past weekend was watching those who paid for the rail line finally get a chance to ride it. That was sweet.

I also appreciate Source readers who have shown such a great interest in the project — the opening of Expo, by far, has brought this blog its largest audience since we started in late 2009.

I’ve also read your comments here and on Twitter and Facebook and forwarded them to the appropriate people at Metro. The biggest concern looks to be the issue of traffic signal synchronization for the train.

I’m told by Metro and city of Los Angeles officials that they are going to continue to work on improving all aspects of the line, including the signals. The issue here is rather obvious:  They’re trying to balance public safety and providing the public with fast and convenient mass transit.

Bruce delivering the soul classic 634-5789. Photo by Steve Hymon.

EXPOSITION PARK PARKING: Parking at the Bruce Springsteen shows at the Sports Arena last week was $25, which was one-quarter the price of the best tickets to the show. And that’s for the privilege of parking in a lot that took more than an hour to empty after the show as a sea of cars sat there and idling.

Hey, there’s no better way to come down from a transcendent Springsteen show by sitting in a traffic jam. (I merrily sat in a beach chair in the parking lot until the jam cleared).

USC football games and other events at the Coliseum are equally pricey when it comes to parking and the traffic problem is only compounded with the bigger crowds. Conversely, a round-trip ticket on the Expo Line is $3. I expect a lot of people will be riding the train to Exposition Park events or parking in downtown for cheap (due to a glut of downtown parking) and taking the train to one of the three stations in the USC and Expo Park areas.

Tailgating without a car, of course, can be a little tricky. I assume that USC fans are smart enough to figure something out; UCLA fans who take the Gold Line to the Rose Bowl shuttle manage. Of course, the Internet is always here to help with highly intelligent offerings such as this:

ENVIRONMENTAL STUDYPALOOZA: It was a big day at Metro on Thursday when the Board of Directors certified a pair of Final Environmental Impact Statement/Reports — one for the Regional Connector and the other for the Westside Subway Extension.

Getting the studies completed and certified is a big step toward getting shovels into the ground on both projects. The Federal Transit Administration still has to issue a “record of decision” — government-ese for “looks good to me” — on the FEIS/R for both projects. The hope here is that happens sooner rather than later given that the Obama Administration has frequently said it’s committed to creating new jobs.

How do I spell commitment? S-O-O-N-E-R.

I would categorize the Regional Connector and the Westside Subway Extension as super-duper-ultra-phenomally important-perhaps life changing transit projects for Los Angeles County.

The argument for the Connector is simple: it makes all the other investments that the county has made in rail that much better. The Blue Line, Gold Line and Expo Line will finally be tied together, meaning less transfers and quicker commutes for those either headed to downtown or passing through on the way to somewhere else.

Let’s be frank: this is a project that should have been built as part of the original Gold Line to Pasadena but lack of money and politics got in the way. It’s a nice little chunk of awesomeness that the project is finally going to be built.

The Westside Subway Extension is another project that probably should have happened long ago — if not for money, politics and a healthy dollop of fear. The Westside has jobs galore — and the traffic to go with it — and the subway will finally make travel to that part of the region humane. Not to mention fast, cheap and easy.

As for the controversy involving the opposition by Beverly Hills to a potential Constellation/Avenue of the Stars station location in Century City, I’ve been around long enough to know that every transit project here or pretty much anywhere else in the U.S. has at least one controversial issue. The vast majority of the time projects survive and get built. I’m unaware of any project that pleases everyone.

Current funding has the subway getting to Century City in the year 2026. So there’s time to resolve the issue, including negotiating the payment for an underground easement with the School district if the Board of Directors decides on that route.

In the meantime, the hope here is that a civil and rational discussion can be had with Beverly Hills — both the City and the School District. Many of the questions that residents and officials there have asked are hardly dumb — they’re fair questions that should be asked and that, I believe, Metro has answered and studied honestly.

That said, comments by officials that the school has plans to build structures 200 feet underground and that Constellation station supporters are “zombies” are ridiculous. And they hardly help the city’s own cause.

LIGHT RAIL CAR VEHICLE CONTRACT: It was with a sigh of relief here that the Board of Directors voted to approve a contract worth up to $890 million for the purchase of up to 235 new light rail vehicles.

This was huge. Metro CEO Art Leahy laid it out for the Board before the vote: the longer the Directors delayed picking a firm to build the light rail cars, the greater the risk that Metro wouldn’t have rail cars to run on rail lines that should open in the next few years such as the second phase of the Expo Line, the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa and the Crenshaw/LAX Line.

That would be a wee bit embarrassing, wouldn’t it? The good news is that Metro now hopes to have 62 of the new cars by May 2016, enough to keep trains rolling on both Expo 2 and the Foothill Extension.

Big contracts often invite political meddling and such was the case with the rail car contract.

Here’s a story by the L.A. Weekly about the many Democrats across California who tried to insert themselves into the process of Metro selecting a rail car vendor. In this case, many Democrats from across the state backed a labor-backed firm with a bid that would cost Metro $50 million more than the winning bidder, Kinkisharyo International, LLC. Their argument was that the other firm would create many more U.S. jobs although Metro’s own analysis found the two proposals about the same.

As regular readers know, The Source has in the past linked to many stories about Congressional Republicans’ zeal to reduce government spending and transit spending. So it’s only fair to also link to this story about Democrats’ zeal to increase government spending, perhaps needlessly in this case.


18 replies

  1. Its good that the severe signal problems for the expo line street-running sections are a concern among many and that the concerns have been forwarded to metro by you. Thanks for doing that, Steve. Because right now, having ridden the line on Monday, the signals are REALLY bad including the un-gated Crenshaw crossing (I still don’t understand why this is an open crossing since it’s in a railroad right of way…). I think at least 5 minutes could be shaved off of the run time just by fixing the signals to finally allow the train to move along its route relatively unimpeded.

    “They’re trying to balance public safety and providing the public with fast and convenient mass transit.”
    I would replace “public safety” with “intersection Level of Service” or LOS. That seems to be the more predominant reason as to why LADOT has been so reluctant to preempt or even properly sync the signals to LRT train movements IMO. It’s car culture at its finest… LOS is mandated by the state which is a severe hindrance to at-grade transit. From what I know, it actually treats a high capacity LRV or bus the same as a single occupancy auto since they are both classified as “vehicles” under LOS. This NEEDS to change.

  2. When I took an opening-weekend ride, I was shocked at the number of times the train stopped for traffic signals. It took 17 minutes just to travel (westbound) from 7th Street to Vermont. Moreover, the scheduled runtime from end to almost-end is supposed to be about 25 minutes but I timed my eastbound run at 35 minutes. That’s a lot of extra stopping, making for a slow ride.

    I’ll second the prior commentator that LOS all but guarantees all other services bow before the gods of moving vehicles (read: automobiles). Why is a motorist’s time inherently more valuable than a train rider’s?

  3. Of the cars that Metro currently runs, my favorites are the Kinkisharyo-made ones, on the Blue Line. Very honest, no-nonsense, thoughtful industrial design. I think the Red Line cars were depressingly lit and appointed (band-aid colored plastic?) from day one, and it didn’t surprise me to see them looking worn, dingy and vandalized shortly after they were introduced. Very disappointing, considering the effort that was put forth designing the subway stations. And I’m not very fond of the grey Italian ones on the Gold Line, either – also too dingy – and the exterior looks like it was designed by a fascist propaganda poster aficionado.

    It doesn’t surprise me that Kinkisharyo is an on-time supplier – it shows through their attention to design detail that they are well-organized.

    So, as a rider, I am very happy with Metro’s decision.

  4. question of curiosity on my part…..did metro consider running an expo line trains along the blue line tracks to long beach? I’m thinking the trains would could have had an additional connector track or just go up to pico station then turn right around and head to long beach. Sure the trip from long beach transit mall to culver city station would take 90 minutes but it would add another 1-seat ride opportunity. currently, if i want to get to culver city station its blue line to green line to culver city bus to the tune of 2 hours

    • Hi Infamousme;

      That’s an excellent question. Off the top of my head, I don’t know the answer. The line was actually built by an independent agency, the Expo Line Construction Authority and the answer may lie within the final environmental study for the project.

      I can tell you that I’ve never heard of such a proposal and I do agree that’s somewhat of an awkward transfer at Pico station for those who want to transfer between Blue and Expo to travel west or south. I suspect that one challenge is that there is little room at the Washington and Flower intersection for a sharp right turn between Expo and Blue Line tracks — and there’s a big building there on the SE corner.

      I haven’t heard much in the way of people demanding such a connection. If I can get an answer, I’ll try to post.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. I do believe that riding the other day, the train actually switched from being an Expo Line to Blue Line train after arriving at 7th Street. Of course, 7th is the “end of the line” and you have to get off there, but if you didn’t, you could theoretically have a one-seat ride from Culver City to Long Beach — albeit with 2 stations doubled up. Was it my imagination, or are they physically running trains in this way?

    It seems the signal priority is far worse when traveling east, towards Downtown. I chronicled my experiences both ways here: http://steven-white.com/2012/05/03/expo-line-revew/ And on a similar note, the few stations with split platforms (one on each side of the street) seem to be planned so that the station platform comes AFTER the street crossing. This doesn’t make sense, as trains have to stop at the crossing, and then stop a few feet later at the station. Shouldn’t the platforms have been before the crossing so that a train could stop at the station during the red light, and then go once passengers have boarded and the light turns green? This would almost negate the need for signal priority in these locations, as trains would be using that time to stop at the stations, rather than having to stop at a station immediately after a light. Any insight into why the stations were designed as-is? Engineering or pedestrian flow issues I’m not seeing?

  6. @Steve White

    Considering how much trash there already was on the Expo Line train I took yesterday morning (despite the very low initial ridership), I’m quite sure they’re switching trains off between Blue and Expo. They probably have to since the Expo is sharing the Blue’s maintenance yard until Phase II. It sounds like the two are basically being run as two branches of the same line (like the Red and Purple).

  7. It looks like you have some answers, so here is my first question: How many people are riding on a daily basis? I’m talking about mid-week, not the inflated weekend numbers from the opening festivities. My guess is 12,000 per day, based on my observations of boardings and passenger loads during my commute, and occupancy of the parking lot at La Cienega (less than half full).
    My first week commuting has been very enjoyable – for the most part. The morning trips always go without a hitch. Plenty of free parking at La Cienega, my TAP card works, plenty of seats on the train. I’m guessing that Metro will switch to 2-car consists in a couple weeks so the trains don’t look so empty (and to save a few $$ in operating costs). Travel time has averaged 30 minutes, as compared to the published schedules that indicate a 26-minute target.

    • Playa Rider,

      Thanks for your feedback. Actually, Metro’s plan for now is to stick with 3-car trains on the Expo Line, so that any given train can be dispatched on the Blue or Expo Line as the conditions on the ground may necessitate.

      Carter Rubin
      Contributor, The Source

  8. That makes sense, and I’ve noticed the confusion that has caused at 7th/Metro during evening rush hour.
    The only real negative comment I have about the Expo experience is getting out of the parking lot at La Cienega. It’s virtually impossible to get out of the parking lot and head west, which is a big problem since this park-and-ride lot is supposed to serve passengers who live on the West Side. The left turn signal at the Jefferson exit (with access to Jefferson westbound) is marked for “buses only”, forcing all autos to turn right and head back towards downtown. If you want to head west you have to either: A) make an illegal left-turn or U-turn on Jefferson; B) turn into the residential neighborhood and make a U-turn; or C) drive an extra two miles to make your way westbound via La Brea. The La Cienega exit is no better, since it is also marked “right-turn only”, but there isn’t enough room to cross three lanes of rush hour traffic to reach the left-turn lane to head west. If I obey the rules and follow these restrictions it adds at least five minutes to my travel time.
    Two possible solutions:
    1) Allow auto traffic to use the bus bay to access Jefferson westbound. This shouldn’t cause a problem because there are very few buses using this bay and there is plenty of room for a few cars.
    2) Stripe a “Don’t Block the Box” area on La Cienega to prevent (or at least discourage) northbound La Cienega traffic from blocking the path from the parking lot to the left-turn lane to westbound Jefferson. I realize that this option would have the negative impact of tempting some commuters to try to make the illegal (and dangerous) left turn to southbound La Cienega, so it might require the installation of a solid median barrier on La Cienega.

  9. I would like to echo everyone else’s experiences with the Expo Line. It took me 36 minutes to go from La Cienega/Jefferson to the end of the line, and 30 minutes the opposite direction. Congratulations! We now have a $900,000,000 bus line.

  10. Why not open the stations of the Phase II incrementally, so that the Expo line is growing its coverage every few months? For instance, why not, after opening the Culver City station at the summer of 2012, then perhaps openning the next nearest station in Phase II on Spring 2013? …etc. This way, people can start participating faster. The revenue can grow faster.







  12. @ Jonathan

    I agree with this. I mean, they are already opening phase 1 like this with Farmdale and Culver City stations not opening until summer. So I don’t see why the same can’t be done with phase 2. Take note metro.

  13. Jonathon and Connor,

    It doesn’t work like that. They build the rail line largely at the same time – they don’t just work from East to West. Remember on Phase I, the junction was probably the last thing to work.

  14. If the route had been built all the way from Long Beach to Pasadena in the first place, it could have kept the original name Pasadena Blue Line instead of being changed to Pasadena Gold Line. Is the Regional Connector going to make trains change from being Blue Line to being Pasadena Gold Line and other trains change from being Expo Line to being Eastside Gold Line? Will people be confused that the two Gold Lines don’t merge?

  15. Rita, once the regional connector is up, the plans are to rehab the naming of the lines.