Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 31

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Today’s profile of a Metro rider by Zocalo Public Square: I’m always thinking about food, Alpine Street to Santa Monica Boulevard

Recent crash puts L.A.’s expanding rail lines under scrutiny (KCRW Which Way L.A.?) 

The nine-minute segment aired on KCRW last night and featured host Warren Olney asking questions of Najmedin Meshkati — a long-time critic of Expo Line safety — and Vijay Khawani, the Director of Corporate Safety for Metro. Meshkati argues that rail crossings need to be more foolproof to prevent incidents, including those caused by motorists or pedestrians who don’t follow laws and/or signs. Khawani explains how Metro decides which crossings are grade separated and how decisions are made about what type of safety devices are used on crossings.

That’s an important issue. It boils down to this: The Metro Board of Directors in 2003 adopted a grade crossing policy to help determine the type of rail crossing needed. Generally speaking, the policy recommends grade separations for highly-trafficked roads, although other variables are involved. The grade crossings — developed in partnership with cities where they are located — then must be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.

In fiscal years 2013 and ’14, there were .5 accidents per 100,000 train miles involving motor vehicles on Metro’s four light rail lines (Blue, Expo, Gold and Green). The Green Line has no street crossings because it either runs in the median of the 105 freeway or is elevated on the segment of track south of the 105.

APTA Metro review: raise fares, consolidate for service, charge for parking (Streetsblog LA)

The post is a good summary of the recently-issued review of Metro’s fare policy requested by the Metro Board of Directors last year as part of the fare increases/change. The Board, as you know, raised some fares but declined to adopt a second and third round of increases until the review was completed. APTA is the American Public Transportation Assn., a trade group that represents transit agencies.

The review was wide-ranging and touches on issues that likely impact or interest many Metro customers. Perhaps the most important recommendation is for the Metro Board to go ahead with planned fare increases in 2017 and 2020 (Metro has already said there are no fare increases proposed for the 2015-16 fiscal year that runs from July 1 through June 30, 2016). The report also recommends going ahead with an increase of K-12 student fares (from $1 to $1.25 for the regular fare and $24 to $29 for a 30-day pass), which the Board declined to include in last year’s changes.

As for the parking issue, Metro is presently working on a “parking ordinance” that will help the agency manage its lots — which currently are regulated by state law. The ordinance (I’ll write more about that soon) would also regulate potential parking fees and cover how they would be managed and used. The decision to charge such a fee would ultimately be up to the Metro Board. Obviously the lots do attract some riders that may not otherwise take transit but the lots also cost considerable money to build, patrol and maintain — thus making for an interesting public policy question.

I encourage everyone to the APTA report and the Streetsblog post for the outside coverage it provides. The part of the report that most interested me were recommendations about service — in particular that the bus system should have lines running more frequently on a more sparse network. That suggests that reviewers believe the bus system is spread too thin, i.e. with a lot of stops but not necessarily the type of frequent service that will attract riders.

As the U.S. population grew, gas consumption dropped (Washington Post) 

Between 2004 and 2013, the population of the U.S. increased by 11 percent but gas consumption by cars and light trucks fell 11 percent, according to a new study. The WaPo suggests that as cars and trucks grow more fuel efficient, it will be increasingly hard for the federal Highway Trust Fund to keep up with highway costs — even if the federal gas tax is increased, as some lawmakers would like to do. The current scheme to keep the Fund funded expires later this spring and it remains to be seen what, if anything, Congress will do about it.

On a related note, APTA is holding Stand Up For Transportation Day on April 9 to implore Congress to finally pass a solid multi-year transportation funding bill. The chair of APTA, btw, is Phil Washington, who will begin as Metro’s next CEO later this month.

Think millennials prefer the city? Think again (Five-Thirty-Eight) 

The latest Census data shows that more people age 25 to 29 moved to the ‘burbs from cities than the other way around. The trend was even more pronounced among younger millennials. The key graphs:

Indeed, for all the talk of the rebirth of American cities, the draw of the suburbs remains powerful. Across all ages, races, incomes and education groups, more Americans are still moving out of cities than in. (Urban populations are still growing, but because of births and immigration, not internal migration.)

The common narrative isn’t entirely wrong about the long-term trend lines. Millennials are moving to the suburbs at a much lower rate than past generations did at the same age. In the mid-1990s, people ages 25 to 29 were twice as likely to move from the city to the suburbs as vice versa. Today, they’re only about a quarter more likely. But even that slowdown appears to be mostly about people delaying their move to the suburbs, not forgoing it entirely. Today’s 30- to 44-year-olds are actually heading for the suburbs at a significantly faster rate than in the 1990s.

Not hugely surprising and this has been written elsewhere in recent months. I’m not sure what to make of it. There’s little doubt that some cities are certainly attracting more people than in the past (DTLA being a prime example) but I don’t see much evidence of the ‘burbs going anywhere. A lot of the housing that has been in cities, of course, is extremely expensive and out of reach of many.

The future of humanity (StarTalk) 

Neal Degrasse Tyson interviews science guy Bill Nye and Elon Musk of Tesla, PayPal and SpaceX fame. The conversation is wide-ranging and eventually gets around to the subject of oil, electric cars and flying cars at about the 30-minute mark.