How We Roll, Thursday, October 29: of Big Macs, transit and cool bridges

Art of Transit:

Reflections || photo 📷 @coolcatsnacrobats #GoMetro #LoveMetroLA #reflection #viewfromatrain

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Freedom from fries (The New Yorker) 

A McD's in Connecticut. Photo by Mike Mozart, via Flickr creative commons.

A McD’s in Connecticut. Photo by Mike Mozart, via Flickr creative commons.

Not a transpo story per se, although the rise of McD’s after WWII is inseparable from the rise of post-war suburbs and the American driving culture. In fact, McDonald’s first restaurant was in San Bernardino and franchises spread east from California. Excerpt:

The rise of the healthy fast-food chain has been aided by the easing recession, but it comes largely at the expense of traditional competitors. None have struggled more than McDonald’s, one of the world’s most recognizable brands. In March, the company replaced its chief executive with one of his deputies. Two months later, it ended its long-established practice of issuing monthly reports on individual store sales. And this year, for the first time since 1970, McDonald’s will close more locations in the U.S. than it opens.

McD’s still sells gobs of food. Yet, as the story shows, the eating habits of some Americans has certainly changed and the suits at McDonald’s feel compelled to follow suit. The story also neatly illustrates that while one part of the federal government is warning against the dangers of eating too much fast food, another agency is subsidizing the type of crops that make it possible to peddle cheap burgers, fries, chicken and soda. (In fact, we’ve certainly had Source readers say that Metro does this, too — with its highway program being at fundamental odds with its transit program. I don’t agree, but it’s certainly an issue worthy of debate).

The big reason I’m including this story in HWR: if something as fundamental as the eating habits of Americans can change, so might the way we get around? Even if you think that’s a stretch, this is great article to digest (groan) while sitting/standing/waiting/stuck on transit.

Related: if looking for a book to cozy up with on transit, David Halberstam’s “The Fifties” has a great chapter about the founding of McDonald’s, as well as other businesses that shaped the American businesscape in the latter half of the 20th century.

Do gas prices impact transit ridership? Sure. But there’s more (Streetsblog LA)

A good and thorough look at a complicated issue, spurred by a new study by USC students we recently discussed in HWR.

Damien Newton and Joe Linton find that while the gas-ridership relationship may be muddy, there’s something else crystal clear: a really good predictor of transit ridership is how much agencies are willing to invest in building good transit.

The farebox recovery ratio: a misleading metric for Los Angeles County (Investing in Place)

Attentive readers know that in recent years Metro fares cover less than 30 percent of the cost of operating buses and trains. That’s a low number by the standards of large transit agencies.

What to do about it? Investing in Places argues raising fares in the future would only discourage more people from riding. Rather, this post argues that it would be better for Los Angeles County as a whole to subsidize (there’s that word again) transit to get as many people on board as possible.

Another possibility I’ll throw out there: maximize other revenues to avoid having to make all the money needed at the farebox.

Guest commentary: At 10, Valley’s Orange Line is a child star that hasn’t aged well (Daily News)

Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo: Steve Hymon/Metro.

Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. chairman Coby King argues that Metro’s potential 2016 ballot measure should fund a conversion of the Orange Line to light rail. Excerpt:

The early days of the Orange Line were wonderful, as many people tried the shiny new double buses and marveled at the landscaped right of way. But it became a victim of its own success. Because the busway was built without grade separations or gates, collisions with cars occurred frequently.

Today, the Orange Line is still incredibly popular, but it’s overcrowded and often slow, taking 45 minutes or more to get across the Valley. And its ridership quickly topped out, limited by its inherent capacity.

Here’s our recent post on Metro’s work to update its long-range plan and a potential 2016 sales tax ballot measure to fund projects. As you’ll see in appendix D, the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments included both Orange Line improvements and a conversion to light rail in their draft list of projects that could be funded by a ballot measure. Those lists are in the process of being refined by local cities.

In response to a Metro Board motion, Metro staff issued this report in September 2014 on possible ways to upgrade the Orange Line. No service improvements have happened yet. A state bill was signed last month that would allow longer buses on the Orange Line. And Metro is doing a safety study to determine the top speed that buses could run through intersections along the Orange Line.

This is really nit picky, but the Daily News probably should have included that King, as a public affairs consultant, has represented the rail vehicle manufacturer, Kinkisharyo. That said, it’s also fair to point out that there we’ve heard from plenty of riders who echo the viewpoint that the Orange Line should rail. Stay tuned. An expenditure list for the potential ballot measure is currently scheduled to be released in March.

Bridges: nature abhors them (How Stuff Works podcast)

In less than an hour, this podcast neatly explains the basics of structural engineering and the challenges faced when building a bridge. You’ll learn about compression, torque, resonance and that every bridge has its own particular frequency. Excellent brain food.

On that note, a question for readers: did any of you ever take an Infrastructure 101 type class that explains things such as the basics of bridges, where our garbage goes and where we get our water and electricity and other everyday basics?

I certainly never had such a class. I can recall year after year after year of social studies classes that explained how things such as Congress worked (omitting one key detail, perhaps). That’s well and good, but as we are increasingly a society reliant on technology, it might be wise to educate our young padowans on what’s holding all the stuff together. Kind of like this…

Recent How We Rolls:

Oct. 28: bullet train officials say the project is on budget and on time, why transit is a tough sell in smaller cities, a really smart new bike.

Oct. 27: melting ice and record heat, Metro weighs Metrolink station relocation, 710 opposition at Board meeting, Chewbacca arrested in Ukraine.

Oct. 26: Can American reinvent its infrastructure? It has before.

Oct. 23: Social media reaction to announcement of Foothill Gold Line opening, Denver’s rail line to airport set to open in April, funny things to listen to while riding transit.

Oct. 21: Back to the future edition, i.e. what Los Angeles County transit officials of the past century got right and wrong about your transportation future.

Questions? Email me. I’m also on Twitter and have a photography blog

17 replies

  1. 35 years ago I took a college class in business logistics management that touched on a lot of the infrastructure issues you asked about in the context of business planning. the Japanese management revolution hadn’t really kicked into high gear yet and most of the concepts were focused on the 70’s current thoughts on infrastructure and approaches, so there was more discussion of inventory management and storage, transportation options that touched a lot more on rail and almost nothing on rail intermodal, and things that are no longer relevant such as communications technology of the 70’s. I think that if we had something like what you suggested as a core high school class then a lot of the ignorance about what we as a society can and should do to make the system work would be diminished. I wonder if they touch on it in societies such as Japan that are much more reliant on infrastructure density and seem to be more readily adaptive of investments than we seem to be.

    • “I wonder if they touch on it in societies such as Japan that are much more reliant on infrastructure density and seem to be more readily adaptive of investments than we seem to be.”

      I can answer this.

      The answer is “no” in that not all Japanese students learn about it because that topic may not interest everyone (some may have an interest in commerce, trade or agriculture instead).

      But the answer is “yes” in that the Japanese, if they choose to learn more about that topic, they get a three year head start than their American student counterparts by choosing what specialized high school they wish to go to.

      Allow me to explain.

      The Japanese educational system is a lot different in the US. Their compulsory education is only up to middle school, although pretty much everyone goes on to high school and college thereafter. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Japan)

      But being said that, post-middle school, the Japanese school children are given a choice on what specialized field that they want to head into. Think of it as selecting your college major not at 18, but at 15. Basically while most American students wait until 18 or later in college to choose what field they want to go into, Japanese students have a three year head start in learning what they want to learn that interests their curiosity.

      At age of 15, for the next three years, they can choose to go to high school (public or private), college of technology, or take on an apprenticeship. It is here where depending on what choice you made, you get to learn about stuff that interests you.

      There are many different types of high schools to choose from, whether it be general public (though the use of “public” is not entirely true as they’re established as private-public partnerships), private schools, or specialized high schools.

      So if a student is interested in civil engineering, architecture, or so, they will have the option to go to a high school specializing in manufacturing. Said high school will usually have strong ties to the local industries, factories, general contractors, construction firms and is supportive of factory tours and hands-on learning.

      And since compulsory education is only up to middle school, the local industry that deals with manufacturing pitches in with donations to help the school to help train the future prospective Japanese teenagers who are interested in going to manufacturing.

      So the answer is “no” in that not all Japanese students learn about it because that topic may not interest everyone (some may have an interest in commerce, trade or agriculture instead).

      Some photos of a typical Japanese high school specializing in manufacturing (and more specifically, in civil engineering and architecture):

      Japanese high school students learning basic architecture theory
      http://i.imgur.com/hMuZH9e.jpg

      Drafting
      http://i.imgur.com/9gNjYoQ.jpg

      Auto-CAD classes
      http://i.imgur.com/SDowNxT.jpg

      Miniature modeling and contests
      http://i.imgur.com/HZayP0P.jpg

      Wood scale modeling
      http://i.imgur.com/nCTL2Rm.jpg

      Basic construction
      http://i.imgur.com/oc4qfdM.jpg

      Field trips, internships, hand-on learning with local general contractors
      http://i.imgur.com/Yxqzx0k.jpg

      Now you know why Japan dishes out more scientists and engineers, has beaten the US in manufacturing industry, while we focus on dishing out more lawyers and MBAs.

      • It’s unfortunate but middle schools and high schools used to offer many courses like architectual drafting, mechanical drafting, wood shop, metal shop, auto shop, etc. But those classrooms are now used for other purposes. They did give an insight as to what a student wanted to go into. It was reported a couple of years ago that LAUSD didn’t offer college prep courses at some of their high schools while other gave out grade that truly did not prepare a student for college.

  2. Whether or not you feel that converting the Orange Line to rail is a good idea, I believe that the best first step is to add crossing arms and signals to all of the intersections along the line and then see what happens to travel times, ridership levels, auto traffic patterns, etc. I contend that the unwillingness of officials to give priority to the Orange Line buses has been a major impediment to improving ridership on the line. Moreover, gates and related items would be requirements for a rail line and, indeed, were issues raised initially by those who didn’t want a rail line in the first place.

    • I dont agree with the idea of cross arms for buses neither do I agree with a bus conversion to rail but i do completely agree with grid separating the line at all major intersections to allow for faster end to end times. I think the money is better spent on keeping the van nuys corridor as grid separate as possible so we don’t have the same time issues that we have on both the orange line and the expo line more so in the beginning of the line. Another thing to look at is Restrooms. we NEED! restrooms in at least 3 locations, Chatsworth, Sepulvida and North Hollywood. there have been a few times where I have no choice but to stop at a station, pee in the bushes and ge tthe next bus. not only is that illegal but i feel dirty doing it. most businesses will not give access to metro riders which is ridiculous if you ask me. If you dont want to put up bathrooms then form a partnership with near by businesses so that those restrooms may be used.

      • What is the cost for grid separation for the Orange line vs add crossing arms and signals at the intersections? I think the crossing arms would do the job for a lot less then grade separations would cost…

        The cost of grid separation for a project in Riverside country is $1.7 billion for 31 locations

        “The cost of constructing grade separations at the 31 locations is currently estimated at
        $1.7. billion,”

      • Concerning public restrooms. It was tried without success at the Hollywood / Vine Red Line Station. After a couple of months it had to be shut down because of vandalism and it was impossible to keep clean. There also used to be one near the East Portal lower level. It was filthy although as was true with Hollywood/ Vine a cleaning person was assigned to the overall location. It’s ahamed that civilized people have to be punished because of a few but that’s what some in our society accepts.

  3. I prefer In ‘N Out (founded 1948, in Baldwin Park, LA County) than McDonald’s.

    In ‘N Out was also the first drive thru. Everyone else copied In ‘N Out.

    http://mic.com/articles/120068/the-story-of-how-in-n-out-made-it-big-will-make-you-love-it-even-more

    “In-N-Out Burger was opened by Harry and Esther in Baldwin Park, then an unincorporated city outside of Los Angeles. Harry would stop by the local markets every morning and buy fresh ingredients to serve at In-N-Out that day. Esther would keep the books at their house around the corner. Even though McDonald’s and others were already around at the time, In-N-Out was the first drive-through hamburger stand in California and was one of the earliest to use the two-way speaker system that’s now ubiquitous at fast-food restaurants.”

    With burgers being so tied to transit here in LA, we really could use some mini In ‘N Out at some of our rail stations. Any possibility of opening up an In ‘N Out at Union Station or 7th/Metro?

    • There’s one within walking distance of the Expo line’s Culver City station, just a few blocks west on Venice Blvd. Don’t even try driving, though – the drive-thru line blocks most of their narrow parking lot. Besides, walking burns more calories.

      I think it might be amusing if someone opened a Subway next to a subway station. 🙂

  4. 100% unequivocal NO to converting the Orange Line to rail. There are so many other rail projects in desperate need of funding in LA County. The Orange Line is already extremely popular, and the problems with overcrowding and speed can be alleviated with better signal priority and longer buses. Instead of converting to rail, we should be massively expanding BRT throughout the county.

  5. Prior to the opening of Terminal 26 buses on Washington, Adams and Jefferson laid over by Washington and La Cienega across the street from a Mc Donald’s. After the lay over was moved the Mc Donalds went out of business and remains vacant.

  6. “What to do about it? Investing in Places argues raising fares in the future would only discourage more people from riding. Rather, this post argues that it would be better for Los Angeles County as a whole to subsidize (there’s that word again) transit to get as many people on board as possible.”

    Or we can just move to distance based fares. It’s not like you can’t look this stuff up on Wikipedia with citations in them to see what form of fare collection methods the transit operators that have high farebox recovery ratios utilizes:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farebox_recovery_ratio

    How else can one explain the difference between HKMTR which achieves an astonishing 186% farebox recovery ratio, with fares that start off as low as HK$ 3.5 (US$ 0.45) with no major fare hikes in the past 2 decades, while a comparatively densely populated and high transit use US city, the NYCMTA, only achieves a 51.2% farebox recovery ratio while operating under a flat rate fare of $2.75 with more fare hikes on the horizon?

    Besides if you search around Google, you end up with many studies and researches done by transit scholars and researchers from all over the world who all agree that distance based fares is the best way to go as a fare collections scheme. I don’t know about you, but I tend to put scientists and researchers who spent a career in studying this stuff over “Investing in Place” (Wall Street) or politicians.

    • Scientists and researchers sounds good but what about those who have worked in the transit industry for decades. I’m sure the MTA employed a researcher prior to instituting the TAP Card program and look at the flaws they have encountered since its inception. The person charged with starting the program met with myself and the other four sector TOS mangers the week before the start-up. He was so misinformed about the amount of DAY PASSES and transfers issued each day the program would have been a total disaster if our meeting had not taken place. In fact thousands of additional TAP CARDS had to be special ordered because so many were being sold by Bus Operators everyday. His information indicated Bus Operators only sold approximately 20 DAY PASSES everyday in an eight hour period when in fact they sold over one hundred on some lines. I had 25 TOS’s working for me in the Westside-Central area and the first day they issued over one thousand TAP CARDS to Bus Operators in a 24 hour period.

      Scientists and Researchers are fine but they only deal with data not actual operations. What works for one agency may not work for another due to their make up, social norms and other essential operating factors that make each agency unique in their makeup.

  7. .”….September 2014 on possible ways to upgrade the Orange Line. No service improvements have happened yet.”

    Any word on these “improvements?” I remember everyone being on board with making the Orange Line faster(Metro, LADOT, officals).

    The Orange Line needs to become light rail, either now or later but it the meantime we can get started with longer buses and grade separations. Last week at 6:30pm the bus had to leave people behind because it was too crowded leaving NoHo and that is with a 4 minute headway.

    • I haven’t heard anything. I know there’s a study to determine the intersection crossing speeds. And I know that Metro and LADOT will then have to work together to try to get more green lights for buses.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  8. “Concerning public restrooms. It was tried without success at the Hollywood / Vine Red Line Station. After a couple of months it had to be shut down because of vandalism and it was impossible to keep clean. There also used to be one near the East Portal lower level. It was filthy although as was true with Hollywood/ Vine a cleaning person was assigned to the overall location. It’s ahamed that civilized people have to be punished because of a few but that’s what some in our society accepts.”

    On the other hand, shopping malls, supermarkets, fast food places, and gas stations don’t seem to have a problem with filthy restrooms these days.

    You look at the door of the restroom to these places, they usually have a restroom clean checklist posted up in which they come around at regular intervals to check up on the cleanliness of the restrooms and signed off by the person in charge of keeping the restrooms clean.

    http://i.imgur.com/S6bp6nA.jpg

    Why the private sector is capable of doing this but the public sector can’t?