On Transportation column August 24 edition: 710 gap studies and Dodger Stadium traffic

710 GAP STUDY: I know some readers believe that my recent post about the ongoing 710 study was perhaps one of the worst things ever published on the internet. And that I was condescending, to boot.

Here’s one recent email from a reader:

More window dressing to try and cajole the effected groups. This is never going to fly. We will fight you every step of the way.

I certainly don’t intend to be condescending. On the other hand, I did mean to as forcefully as possible set the record straight that the 710 gap project is far from a settled issue despite what some people are saying. That was demonstrated Thursday when Metro announced that seven of 12 project alternatives were being dropped from the ongoing study, including two that involved roads going through or under the San Rafael neighborhood of Pasadena.

Again, I want to emphasize: No project has been selected by the Metro Board of Directors, who are the ultimate deciders. And the Board has a long, rich history of acting independently of Metro staff.

I think the problem with the 710 study goes back to the very nature of the project. Oftentimes when Metro launches a project, there’s a particular set of alternatives that the agency wants to study. So there’s a starting point that’s easy to grasp–for example, Metro wants to study extending the subway deeper into the Westside as well as possible alternatives.

In the case of the 710 gap studies, the agency started from scratch with — I believe — the noble idea that it would completely reconsider the 710 gap problem and potential solutions for it. Without anything specific on the table, it was naturally hard to attract much attention to the early planning efforts.

As a result, a lot of people — and by no means am I blaming them — were unaware that Metro was studying the 710 issue until they learned that one of the alternatives under review could potentially impact them. As we all know, no one likes surprises.

As someone who covered this agency as a reporter and who now works for it, I sincerely believe there is no attempt underway to to steer the public toward any particular alternative. If anything, it’s the opposite. The agency decided to study all options based largely on their performance, putting aside for better and worse the equally critical issue of whether each of those alternatives was practical and/or politically viable.

Hopefully everything calms down on Aug. 29 when a technical advisory committee is scheduled to meet and eliminate some of the alternatives on the table. As I wrote the other day, I also believe the 710 gap does have real impacts in terms of traffic and I hope that everyone — even those with the strongest of opinions — can engage in the studies so that when they’re finished we will all have a better idea of what project, if any project, may help improve the current situation.

One other note: I’m well aware of the state audit critical of Caltrans for its management of about 500 homes it owns in Pasadena and South Pasadena. I want to stress that it’s Metro, not Caltrans, that is the lead agency on the current 710 gap project planning and that these are two separate issues (although serious issues, for sure).

In addition, some media stories about the audit have quoted people saying that a potential 710 tunnel could cost $15 billion. That figure is incorrect. In July 2011, Metro staff and agency consultants estimated the cost of a 7.96-mile tunnel to be between $2.7 billion and $3.5 billion, with the most likely cost being $3.25 billion; here’s the report. Those estimates were based, in part, on the cost of building similar tunnels elsewhere in the United States and world.

DODGER STADIUM: After reading 150 reader comments on the L.A. Times website, I think it’s safe to say that readers have a better grasp of the Dodger Stadium traffic issue than staff bloviator Bill Plaschke, whose solution involves making the stadium smaller — and who seems unaware of this crazy concept called mass transit.

Then again, media gets into games for free and information about the Dodger Stadium Express service offered by Metro to the stadium is not on the front page of the team’s website; a reporter would have to click at least twice to get more info. BTW, the team’s description “The Dodgers offer Dodger Stadium Express bus service from Union Station in downtown LA” is misleading. Metro provides the service, which is paid for with a state air quality grant and which has about 338,000 boardings since the service began in 2010.

Interestingly, many Times readers say the best way to improve the traffic situation at the stadium is to provide more mass transit options. Specifically, many would like to see a bus-only lane between Union Station and the stadium for the Dodger Stadium Express. The city of Los Angeles, of course, would have to approve of such a lane. The issue would be whether removing a lane would put too much of a squeeze on traffic in other lanes — the same argument that has been used early and often to kill bus lane proposals.

Other readers would like direct rail access to Dodger Stadium. I don’t see it happening, at least not at a time when transportation funding is so limited. Such a rail line — whether it’s a light grade line snaking up the hill from downtown L.A. or a subway stop (never mind that no subway runs anywhere near the stadium) — would likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, based on the costs of other rail lines in the area. A rail station at the stadium would serve only the stadium — there’s nothing else there except for vast fields of parking lots.

So, it’s a big ask of taxpayers, especially considering the Dodgers play 81 regular season games a year and those games are generally at night. What function would such a train or station serve the rest of the time? Not much, unless suddenly thousands of residential units pop up in the parking lots, a scenario that seems politically far-fetched. I know some people like the idea of a tram to stadium from Chinatown, but — and skiers know this already — trams lack the capacity to handle giant crowds.

Obviously the stadium is much beloved by Dodger fans and dealing with the delicate issue of moving the stadium into downtown proper and closer to transit is probably a headache that most officials would rather avoid. You know where I stand, Source readers: hire some world-class architects to design a true downtown ballpark that is close to transit and will preserve the best features of the current stadium.

In the meantime, I think bus-only lanes are probably worth a shot — but they’ll only work if a lot of people take transit. At the current stadium, The Car is The King and anything that gets in its way will likely be thrown out at first base.

 

11 replies

  1. Yeah, I was for the tram from Chinatown, but realize it probably won’t have the capacity to make much difference. One other idea is a direct walkway ramp from Chinatown Station with a moving sidewalk (like at an airport). It would be expensive no doubt, but might be worth a thought.

  2. Steve – the “car is king” only if we continue to ignore giving the public more transit options. A simple fix like giving the bus lane priority would give more convenience to bus riders than car drivers would see a bus would be more faster and efficient and would choose that next time when going to Dodger Stadium. But just keeping the same old adage that “car is king”, is just feeding the beast more. Provide the option and you’ll see people will make a switch. The same mantra was probably used before the Red Line was built “Oh, nobody would take a subway in LA because car is king”……160,000 daily Red Line riders kind of prove you wrong. Build the infrastructure (just a simple bus lane priority during game days) and people will be using the Dodger Stadium Express by the thousands.

    • Hi LAofAnaheim;

      I totally agree that we have a vibrant and very popular transit system locally. But we sure don’t have much in the way of bus lanes, perhaps one of the easiest transit improvements that can be implemented. The reason: political and community opposition. In that sense, I think the Car is the King when it comes to who gets to use our roadways.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. A Bus Lane is possible on game day only. I recall reverse lanes were in a city I was visiting. It may had been Washington DC. During the morning a lane was for Northbound traffic and during the afternoon rush hours it was for southbound traffic. Figure out a route from Union Station and/or 7th Street Metro station and designate a bus lane for game day only.

  4. The problem I see with the bus lane is the opposition from non Dodger game-goers. I think the bus lane can and should easily be in effect going up Elysian Park Ave. It’d be a small, but still worthy improvement.

    I would also love to see one on Sunset/Cesar Chavez beginning at Alameda… This is where the major improvement would be. The problem is that not all traffic on those streets is stadium traffic. And as soon as you take away a lane from cars, you’ll get opposition from the rest of the public who wants to use those streets, not just those who want to drive to the game.

  5. The Dodgers and Metro need to team up (with the Dodgers kicking in some money) and offer shuttle bus service from different areas, like the Hollywood Bowl does. The Dodgers need to make the purchasing of a (partially subsidized) ticket on the shuttle bus an option when purchasing tickets for the game on-line. LADOT already does lane reversals around the stadium (if you get off I-5 south and take that way into the stadium you can see it) so they could set up a bus only lane in certain areas. Further the Traffic Officers could give special priority to bus traffic.

    The capacity of a tramway can be improved drastically. A loading system like the London Eye uses (the wheel does not stop) or better one like (IIRC) the old Disneyland tramway (where the gondolas detach from the line and reattach) would increase capacity. A tramway with 20 (or more) gondolas with a 20-30 passenger capacity each could serve far more than a Roosevelt Island style tramway.

  6. It’s worth pointing out that though no known transit mode can carry 52,000 people per direction per hour (peak is about 45,000 ppdph), a roadway lane can carry at most 1800 cars per direction per hour. Achieving 45,000 ppdph with a heavy rail subway would result in a lot of transit vehicles sitting idle 97% of the year. This is unlikely to be the best use of public funds.

    The best bet might be a multi-platform boarding configuration and one completely congestion-free bus-only lane and signal priority to Union Station. With standees, you’d need about 380 runs of 80-foot double-articulated buses (or 500 runs of 60-foot standard articulated buses). There would also need to be a multiple-platform boarding configuration at Union Station to accommodate up to 20 parked vehicles at once. With zero intersection or congestion delay, it’s possible that you could turn these buses around to make two trips in an hour, so you’d only need 190-250 buses.

    The reality is that a stadium on a hill with only a few access points will always have congestion (but would be quite easy to defend as a medieval castle).

  7. As Dodger Stadium gets older, at some point, it will need to be replaced. As downtown LA continues its growth and “comeback”, there is little doubt the stadium needs to come down off the hill into town. I would like it to be near LA Union Station so that besides light rail, subway and bus access, Metrolink and Amtrak could even deliver fans from even more distance locations. I think the ballpark on the north side of downtown, as with Staples and most likely a future NFL stadium on the south end, you would need to keep some separate not to overload a section of town and especially if a ballgame and a Staples event is on at the same time. As for the Dodgers current home, turn some of those sea of parking lots into some more park space and if you are going to build housing, build it along the rim of the parking area overlooking downtown. Add a restaurant and a viewing area also.. Then add that sky bucket from China Town station and then that becomes a tourist spot as well. So many possibilities. Hope the next LA mayor has a vision for some things in the future like also covering over the downtown ‘slot” freeway and reconnecting downtown to Olivera street and Chinatown.. Get the first leg of the street car going and then expand according..

  8. The best idea that the MTA could have had to improve access to Dodger Stadium would have been to have an extension of the Gold Line serving the stadium. This should have been done when the Gold Line was first built between Union Station and Pasadena. I think people can get to Anaheim Stadium on both Amtrak and Metrolink; there is a train station right there right next to Anaheim Stadium. Why the MTA and the City of Los Angeles did not do something about trying to improve access to Dodger Stadium is beyond me. The traffic into and out of Dodger Stadium has been congested for decades, so this is nothing new.

  9. @Steve White: Adding a game-day bus lane on Sunset Blvd and Elysian Park Ave will allow all buses to speed through game-day traffic, speeding up travel times not only for Dodger Express patrons, but also for other Metro buses. This faster option will eventually woo more Dodger fans from their gridlocked cars and onto the Dodger Express, and as fewer cars come to the game, traffic speeds on Sunset will improve for all using the street.

    That said, if an official game-day bus lane is impractical, traffic officers could always close down the Sunset Blvd center turn lane west of the Hill St overpass and offer this lane to the Stadium Express (and perhaps other buses). This would allow cars to keep most of their precious travel lanes but also allow the Stadium Express to become a more attractive option than driving. All it takes is some traffic cones, cone-top signs, relocating some traffic officers, and some political will.