Transportation headlines, Thursday, July 10

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ART OF TRANSIT: Nice colors in DTLA. As for the movie ad, I know who I'm rooting for. #ApesTogetherStrong

ART OF TRANSIT: Nice colors in DTLA. As for the movie ad, I know who I’m rooting for. #ApesTogetherStrong

Dueling highway funding plans moving ahead in Congress (Bloomberg) 

Both the House and Senate plans would shore up the Highway Trust Fund through next May; the Senate plan includes some changes to the tax code that could generate revenue for the plan. It doesn’t appear that any kind of long-term plan is on the horizon and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner said as much today. In other words, we can probably look forward to more “woe the withering Highway Trust Fund” stories next spring. Bon appetit!

More here on why the Highway Trust Fund is important to Metro and other transit agencies.

Voices of public transit systems (Not Of It) 

Nice post revealing the voices being train, station and public service announcements at some large transit systems and airports in the U.S. The post includes video snippets from various media about the voices.

And what about the voice you hear on Metro trains and buses? Stephen Tu, in Metro operations, answers:

The announcements are pre-recorded and automated based on vehicle progress. Back in 2004, as the article notes, there was a hodgepodge of automated and manual announcements, are some of our trains had the capability and others did not.

It mentions the Gold and Green Lines in 2004 and that is because those were the newest (at the time) Siemens P2000 vehicles. We did not have the Breda P2550’s (Gold Line stainless steel cars) until 2009. The old Nippon Sharyo (Blue Line) and Breda A650 (Red Line) were from the early 1990s and never had automated announcements, until Rail Fleet Services engineered an in-house automated system that queues announcements by distance.

There is literally a sensor that detects wheel revolutions to determine when to play “Next Stop” and “Now Arriving” station announcements. They are all now standardized with the same voice from a professional studio we send the script to. It’s the same voice you hear when you’re placed on hold on the Metro telephone network or PSA announcements in stations. However, this voice is not used on bus announcements — there is a different person for that.

However as you can see, while the voice is now standardized, each announcement package is slightly different because of the limitations/nuances each vehicle has.  For example, P2000 can only make an eight second announcement. So we have to be very quick in calling out stations and transfer connections, whereas we have much more time on our in-house system. The P2550s can only make a “Now Arriving” station announcement when the doors actually open at the station, which means we have replaced it with “This is… (South Pasadena Station)” because you are already there.

LACMA, Metro discussing new tower across from LACMA (L.A. Times) 

LACMA is exploring building a new high-rise adjacent to the Purple Line Extension’s future station entrance at Wilshire and Orange Grove. It might include galleries, condos and a hotel, according to museum officials. In a statement, Metro’s chief planner Martha Welborne said: “We are continuing to negotiate with the individual property owners to acquire or lease property needed for the Fairfax subway station, and we are also exploring, with the property owners, the possibility of a large mixed-use project above the station.”

Excerpt:

[LACMA Director Michael] Govan declined to say how tall the tower might be, admitting that any talk of high-rise development in the area might worry nearby residents who are already girding themselves for a decade of construction as the subway is extended west along Wilshire and LACMA builds the 410,000-square-foot Zumthor building.

The question of height, he said, “is where you get neighbors all charged up. So I don’t go out there and say I want the biggest, tallest skyscraper. But we know that density is the key to urban living and to the maximization of mass transit — and key to the environment. And so for all the right reasons, this is the right place” for a high-rise.

Big Blue Bus fixing the fancy stops that riders hated (Curbed LA)

The headline may be a little strong, but it looks like Big Blue Bus may be adjusting the new stop designs it recently rolled out to provide more comfortable seats and more shade at some stops. Curbed has renderings and photos. I was in SaMo over the weekend and it struck me that the shade shields (for lack of better term) would work best if either the sun, Earth or both stopped moving.

The California High-Speed Rail debate: kicking things off (The Atlantic) 

This is the first in a series of posts by James Fallow in which he will argue that California should — and needs to — build the bullet train as planned to secure a better economic future. In this post, Fallows takes a look at some historic infrastructure upgrades that he thinks proved to be good investments, including the Panama Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the interstate highway system and the U.S. aviation system.

I think there are a lot of people, including me, who agree the bullet train can do great things for the state. The skepticism tends to come from those (including me) who are troubled by the lack of a dedicated funding source that can cover the expense of what is currently estimated to be a $68-billion project for the L.A.-to-S.F. leg.

Transportation projects don’t need to take as long as they do (Atlantic CityLab) 

The post asks a perfectly good question but doesn’t really provide an answer about ways to speed up the really big transpo projects (the post includes some persuasive arguments about dealing with smaller but important projects such as bus routing).

As I tell folks often, one issue with big transit projects is the long ramp up time. It usually takes three to five years to complete the necessary environmental studies and another year in procurement to vet and select contractor. Construction, too, often has to be staggered for both logistical, safety and practical reasons, not to mention financial ones — for example, federal funds for construction are granted on a yearly basis and don’t all flow to agencies such as Metro at the beginning of construction.

11 replies

  1. Steve,

    Does Metro currently have any plans to prototype and iterate some of their smaller projects? I would think the Rapid buses could see the most benefit from such a program (perhaps trial Rapid service along some local routes with heavy usage, like Line 163 along Sherman Way).

    Or (and this would require cooperation with LADOT) trials of converting rush-hour anti-gridlock lanes into rush-hour bus-only lanes?

    • I don’t believe so. I think the issue is that these type of changes aren’t really that small — they involve a lot of equipment, scheduling and staffs to operate them, maintain them, clean them, etc. Plus the issue of throwing different services at riders on a temporary basis. As for the lane issue, Metro doesn’t control local roads — that’s the domain of cities and county (depending on location). A lot of folks love the idea of bus rapid transit lanes, but they have proven very, very hard to implement here and in other cities because of the politics: a sometimes empty lane surrounded by traffic is not very popular.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. I think my favorite bit of weirdness is on the Silver Line where you get a pleasant “approaching” voice, then a super serious Voice of Doom that cuts in to say “CONNECTION TO THE METRO BLUE AND EXPO LINES.”

  3. I suppose it’s a case of induced demand. LADOT started the anti-gridlock lanes as an attempt to relieve congestion, yet my experience with them in rush-hour traffic on the west side has been anything but: they’re constantly blocked by parked cars, people making left turns, people pulling out, and other obstructions that diminish their effectiveness.

    When they’re clear, they do increase roadway speed. But that’s not good when you’re riding a bicycle in that lane either. (I refuse to ride my bike on La Brea for that reason.)

    When they’re blocked, they actually snarl traffic worse than having only two lanes, since now you have another traffic lane forced to merge by an obstruction.

    If LADOT had looked at using the parking lanes as bus lanes originally, and skipped the anti-gridlock idea entirely, I have a feeling we’d be looking at them differently today.

    • I think it’s also worth mentioning that businesses and customers alike often support parking lanes on roads.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. Hmm. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard the in-house system retrofitted onto the P850s get woefully out of step with reality. And at times, our automated announcements remind me an awful lot of George Segal.

    And a few years ago, on my first (and so far only) visit to New York City (short of a brief stop to change planes once, on my way to Boston), I, too, fell in love with Charlie Pellett’s “Stand clear of the closing doors, please.”

    As to opposition to high-speed rail, I remain firmly convinced that it comes primarily from those who profit from the lack of HSR: those who profit from the insanely large amount of airline and highway traffic between Southern California and the Bay Area, two points that are at nearly the ideal distance for HSR.

  5. Oh, I’m not saying we should abolish all parking lanes. That way lies madness.

    I’m merely suggesting that we may have been better served, in some cases, by peak period bus lanes instead of peak period traffic lanes.

  6. James,

    The airlines are pro-HSR. They do not want to be in a short haul market just to serve flights between SFO-LAX-SAN which are totally unprofitable due to cut-throat competition.

    Put your shoes from the view of say, American Airlines. They have to compete with United, Southwest, Delta, Virgin America, and Alaska Airlines to fly multiple flights between SFO-LAX-SAN everyday. Competition is high so prices are cut throat.

    And gas prices keep rising to keep flying those metal birds for a short haul distance. And they have to pay for the gates at LAX.

    The sole reason they fly SFO-LAX-SAN is mainly to serve connecting international passengers. If that job can be taken away by HSR, they more than welcome it. Less need to fly between those cities, more use of gates at SFO, LAX, and SAN for more profitable routes.

  7. The Santa Monica BBB fiasco would be laughable if it weren’t a blatant waste of taxpayer dollars. Lesson be learned: if you want to try out a new and unusual design, start with a limited implementation to see whether it succeeds or fails miserably. Here’s an article from the Santa Monica Daily Press:
    http://smdp.com/coming-reviled-bbb-stops/140812

  8. George H is corect on how it’s ridiculous airlines have to short haul flights between major cities within CA.

    That being said, it really makes sense to build LAX station with a future plan for it to be a central “Union Station West” so that CAHSR, Amtrak, and Metrolink also has a direct link to LAX. Can you imagine how much more efficient air-to-rail travel will be if travelers don’t have to connect onto dinky and cramped regional jets and 737s and instead, have a smooth air-to-rail connection on CA HSR, Amtrak, or Metrolink as they make a connection at LAX?

    Germany is an expert in this. Deutsche Bahn ICE high speed rail has connections to major nearby cities directly from Frankfurt-am-Main Flughafen (Airport) where major international airlines have codeshare “flights” to nearby German cities with DB high speed rail. Lufthansa and airberlin also is able to achieve huge cost savings because there is less need for them to provide flights for short haul intra-Germany flights as the DB high speed rail takes care of that market. They can instead, focus more on providing better service and in-flight experiences for more profitable and lucrative international flights from Frankfurt.