Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 12

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Today’s Zocalo Public Square profile of a Metro rider: Friendlier than San Salvador, Olympic Boulevard to Third Street

Top Denver transit official will lead MTA in next phase of rail-building (L.A. Times) 

LA Metro gets a new CEO (KPCC)

Coverage of today’s hiring of Phillip Washington as the next CEO of Metro. Excerpt from the Times’ story:

Washington comes to Metro at a crucial time for the agency, which is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar rail-building boom that has the potential to reshape the face of commuting habits, development and density levels in traffic-choked Los Angeles. Nearly a decade after voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation improvements, Metro is simultaneously building five rail lines and is in the early stages of drafting another proposed levy that could fund a dozen more projects. [snip]

In Denver, Washington secured more than $1 billion in federal grants for transit expansion. Much like Leahy, he managed an agency in the midst of a multibillion-dollar expansion. A decade ago, Colorado voters approved a sales tax to build 140 miles of rail and bus rapid-transit service. Next year, RTD will cut the ribbon on four new rail lines and a bus rapid-transit line. 

On KPCC, Ethan Elkind says that Art Leahy will leave behind a good legacy with five rail lines under construction. As for challenges for his successor: reigning in future costs and potential budget deficits.

The 2004 sales tax increase in Denver is funding the FasTraks program, as shown in this map:


As with Measure R, FasTracks provided the funding for several different lines, allowing the RTD to seek federal funding to help complete the projects. One of the more interesting projects is the A Line, which will be a 22-mile commuter rail line running between Union Station in Denver and Denver International Airport (the airport is out in the middle of nowhere).

The FasTracks program has also had its challenges — notably rising construction costs and sales tax revenues that haven’t always met projections, meaning some projects will be completed at a later date. Nonetheless, this is still a very impressive transit expansion for the Denver area.

Obviously, there are some big differences between Denver and L.A. The Denver metro area has about 2.7 million people whereas Los Angeles County alone has about 10 million. In terms of transit, Metro averaged about 1.43 million average weekday boardings in 2014 versus about 343,000 boardings for the RTD. Of course, there are also some striking similarities between the two areas: Denver is certainly sprawling and sits adjacent to a pretty spectacular mountain range. Like DTLA, downtown Denver has seen a resurgence in recent years, with transit a big part of that.

One other difference between the RTD and Metro worth noting: The RTD is overseen by a 15-member Board of Directors that is directly elected by voters. At Metro, the 13-member Board is comprised of elected officials from the cities and Los Angeles County. That means that the Metro Board is made up of politicians who are influential in a number of areas and who are elected not just on their transportation records.

Cayo: if you don’t like a sales tax hike, here’s a peek at one alternative (Vancouver Sun) 

The columnist argues that perhaps the best reason Vancouverites (or is it Vancouverinians?) should expand their transit system is to avoid becoming more like traffic-plagued So Cal. There’s an accompanying video but I got the “error” message when trying to play it. As an aside, perhaps the Vancouver hockey team could also look to Southern California for some reminders on what it’s like to win a Stanley Cup. #TransitFacewash

Dangerous trains, aging rails (New York Times)

Marcus Stern pens this op-ed about the nation’s aging freight railroad tracks, saying that many are sorely in need of repair and that federal oversight of railroad bridge safety (with some bridges erected in the 1800s) is also sorely lacking. That’s important, he writes, as all sorts of hazardous goods — including flammable ones such as oil — traverse our nation on railroad tracks every day, often close to homes, schools and businesses.

ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro bus passes The Broad on Grand Avenue in DTLA last night. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro bus passes The Broad on Grand Avenue in DTLA last night. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.