Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 4

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ART OF TRANSIT: Post-rain visibility at Union Station. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: Post-rain visibility at Union Station. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Today’s Zocalo Public Square profile of a Metro rider:  There are lots of beautiful places out there, but I like L.A., Western Avenue to Vermont Avenue

In one month, gas prices in state have surged about $1 a gallon (L.A. Times)

A California perspective on the reasons behind the recent spike in gas prices. Though the rest of the country is experiencing rising prices as well, L.A.’s average price of gas this morning was the highest in the nation at $3.44.

A small increase in gas prices usually occurs time of year when the switch is made to a cleaner summer blend. But the main reasons for the price spike is an ongoing strike at refineries across the country and last week’s explosion at an Exxon Mobile refinery in Torrence, which impacted gas prices mostly in Southern California. Oil companies profit from this sudden decrease in supply, the article notes.

Hearings with the Senate’s Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee and Environmental Quality Committee and Senate Transportation Committee are scheduled this month to investigate the Torrence incident and the subsequent gas price increases.

Remembering Alex Baum: visionary voice for L.A. cycling (KPCC)

A piece on the life of L.A.’s first and possibly most influential bicycling advocate, Alex Baum, who died Sunday at 92. Baum, a Holocaust survivor, was one of the first to advocate for bicycling as a form of transportation in car-centric L.A.  Before the city had any staff dedicated to bicycling, he persuaded former Mayor Bradley to form the Bicycling Advisory Committee and then headed it for more than 25 years. He is credited for building the foundation for the city’s growing bike network — one of his most notable accomplishments are the miles of bikeways along the L.A. River, where a bike and pedestrian bridge is dedicated to him.

MBTA sets upgrade costs at $6.7b (Boston Globe)

The Boston area transit agency is still reeling from the city’s second snowiest winter on record, and now the estimated cost for needed maintenance and repairs on the aging system has nearly doubled from its original estimate. A possible casualty of this unanticipated increase is reimbursement being demanded from passengers during the days service was severely impacted or shut down because of this winter’s storms. Excerpt:

Angry commuters have demanded reimbursement, but several board members said the agency’s need for repairs and upgrades took priority. Various proposals for refunds or discounts presented Tuesday would cost between $3.6 million and $10.5 million.

“If we take these millions and use it this way, then we don’t have that money to invest in the system,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack told members of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation board during a finance committee meeting.

The one chart that explains all your traffic woes (CityLab)

CityLab’s Eric Jaffe analyzes a chart from Wes Marshall’s Transportationist guest post that shows the effects of road widening on demand. This effect is called latent or induced demand — a term I’m sure many of our transit-savvy readers know well — and is believed to occur when the demand for using a newly widened road meets or exceeds the new supply, resulting in more cars on the road and equal or worse congestion than prior to the road widening.

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The red line above indicates the vehicle flow on any given road. After the road is widened, the vehicle flow increases much more than the original trend or adjusted forecast would suggest. Marshall’s guest post calls this the “Iron Law of Congestion” and explains the probable cause:

Once capacity increases, not only do you get the originally predicted traffic growth, but you also facilitate some often unanticipated changes in travel behavior. First, existing road users might change the time of day when they travel; instead of leaving at 5 AM to beat traffic, the newly widened road entices them to leave for work with everyone else. Second, those traveling a different route might switch and drive along the newly widened option. Third, those previously using other modes such as transit, walking, bicycling, or even carpooling may now decide to drive or drive alone instead.

So is widening roads a futile effort? Jaffe ends his article proposing a multi-faceted approach that includes congestion-based pricing to manage demand, creating well developed transit corridors and building density around them.

The decline of carpooling – can app-based carpooling reverse the trend? (Planetizen)

A good read about possible reasons behind the decline in carpooling and what might be done to get more commuters to do it. Carpooling reached its apex in 1980 with about 20 percent of commute trips compared to a little more than nine percent today. Excerpt:

According to Census and American Community Survey data, in 2013 there were 5.7 million fewer carpoolers than in 1980, a 30 percent decline, even as the number of workers increased by 40 million. There were 2.25 million fewer carpoolers than in 2000, a 14 percent decline. The decline in carpooling since 2000 impacted 50 percent more commuters than did the increase in transit use. Of all modes, the change in use between 2000 and 2013 was the second largest in magnitude for carpooling and the only decline (+12.18 million drive-alone commuters, -2.25 million carpoolers).

The article lists a baker’s dozen of potential causes for the trend, though none are entirely convincing. These include increased wealth and increased vehicle ownership, work schedule flexibility, dispersion of population and employment and more transit options.

One speculative reason — “a growing share of younger workers not as accustomed to sharing as prior generations” — seemed counterintuitive to me. The article mentions Uber’s new rideshare concept, UberPool, as a litmus test for the future of tech-based ridesharing services and carpooling. But the author believes for these services to succeed, the companies offering them must understand and overcome the barriers of entry for potential customers. That is, they need to find the answers to why carpooling has declined, but also look at the reasons some commuters — to a lesser extent — still carpool today.

4 replies

  1. Wow, this picture is of our Union Station in LA? First thought was somewhere in Kasachstan… look at that lonely man in a sea of concrete “architecture”.

    • Hey Denis;

      Yes, photo was taken from the Gold Line platform at our very own LAUS. Although I’m sure Kazazhstan is plenty photogenic, too!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. Can you tell me what’s going at the corner of Wilshire and Crenshaw? They’re building something that I assume is Metro related and I would like to know what. I can only hope it is for the subway station that will connect the South Bay to the rest of Los Angeles, but I am afraid that train is never leaving any station.

    Thank you!

    Sally B.

    • Hi there;

      The lot on the southwest corner of Wilshire and Crenshaw will be used as a construction staging area for construction of the first section of the Purple Line Extension between Wilshire/Western and Wilshire/La Cienega. The three new stations will be Wilshire/La Brea, Wilshire/Fairfax and Wilshire/La Cienega for the first phase. In the planning and study phase, the decision was made not to build a station at Crenshaw because of the proximity to Western (they’re about .6 miles apart).

      The Crenshaw/LAX Line, as you know, will for now end at Exposition Boulevard. There is an unfunded project in Metro’s long-range plan to extend the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the north in order to possibly offer a transfer to the Purple Line. The challenge for now is, of course, that it’s unfunded. Metro is studying a possible ballot measure in 2016 that could possibly include funding for new projects, but nothing has been decided yet — whether to go forward with the ballot measure or to go forward with using it to fund any particular projects.

      I know. I have probably used my quota of “possibly” for the day. But that’s where things stand for now. As I always tell proponents of unfunded projects, please feel free to show your support for them by getting in touch with elected officials and show your support. Here is a link to the 13-member Metro Board of Directors that oversees the agency: http://www.metro.net/about/board/executives/

      Hope that helps!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source