2016: two rail openings, bike share, a ballot measure and a very busy year for Metro

This was my seventh year at the agency and, by far, 2016 was the busiest. I usually like to put the end-of-the-year highlights in chronological order but I think four items in particular trump all others in 2016:

MEASURE M: In November, more than 71 percent of Los Angeles County voters approved Measure M — a new half-cent sales tax and extension of the Measure R half-cent sales tax — to fund new transit, road, pedestrian and bicycle projects and programs. Measure M is forecast to raise about $120 billion in its first 40 years.

Measure M is the fourth half-cent sales tax approved by county voters since 1980. Those local funds are key to securing state and federal funds — and possibly private monies to accelerate some mega-projects. The Measure M project list is a long one and inspired the map below by Metro enthusiast Adam Linder, who tried to capture M’s potential:

M is a huge program that’s hard to neatly capture in one measly bullet point. For more info, please see the following:

Again, voters embrace bold choice

Measure M project list and project descriptions

Measure M: final certified results

•GOLD LINE EXTENSION OPENS TO AZUSA: The 11.5-mile extension opened in early March with six new stations: Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale, Downtown Azusa and APU/Citrus College. Crowds were heavy from the get-go; to help meet demand Metro began running trains every seven minutes to Azusa in June instead of every 12 minutes. Ridership on the Gold Line averaged about 47,000 boardings per weekday before the extension opened. In November there were 52,916 average boardings on weekdays, a new high for the Gold Line.

•AND ON TO SANTA MONICA: Less than three months later, on May 20, the Expo Line extension opened from Culver City to Santa Monica, providing the first rail service to that city since 1953. The six-mile extension included seven new stations: Palms, Westwood/Rancho Park, Expo/Sepulveda, Expo/Bundy, 26th/Bergamot, 17th/SMC and Downtown Santa Monica. After several months of heavy crowding trains began running every six minutes during most hours in October (they’re now back to 12 minutes during mid-day). Ridership on the Expo Line went from about 30,000 boardings on average weekdays before the extension opened to 47,544 average weekday boardings in November.

•METRO BIKE SHARE DEBUTS: These type of programs have become increasingly popular across the globe in recent years. The Metro bike share program wasn’t the first in So Cal but it became the first in the nation’s second-largest city when it launched in early July with about 60 stations across downtown Los Angeles. More than 50,000 rides were taken in the program’s first three months and in October the Metro Board approved expanding Metro Bike Share to Pasadena, the Port of Los Angeles and Venice in 2017.

And now, in chronological order, a look at some of the many other things that went down this year: 

REGIONAL CONNECTOR: The Gold Line was closed in Little Tokyo in January to shift the tracks from the middle of 1st Street to the north side of the street in order to build the first of two tunnel entrances for the Regional Connector project. The Connector is a 1.9-mile rail tunnel that will link the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines in DTLA and allow faster light rail rides to and through DTLA with far fewer transfers. The Gold Line was back up and running to Little Tokyo in late March.

Significant progress was also made throughout the year on station excavation at 2nd/Broadway and 2nd/Hope.

•METRO ART: Artists were picked for the Regional Connector project, new artwork was installed on the renovated Patsouras Transit Plaza and we provided a preview of the artwork that will grace the Crenshaw/LAX Line:

•WELCOME BACK, RAMS: Shortly after the Rams announced they were moving from St. Louis back to L.A., the Metro Board voted to create a “Metro Line to Goal Line” task force to study the best way to use transit to get fans to Rams games at the Coliseum and the new Rams stadium in Inglewood, which supporters say could host 50 to 60 games and events a year after it opens (planned for 2019).

In May, the NFL announced that Super Bowl 55 would be held in Inglewood. The new stadium and surrounding development in Inglewood will be about a 1.5-mile walk from the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s Downtown Inglewood Station; the line is scheduled to open in fall 2019.

The new Division 13 at the corner of Vignes and Cesar Chavez in DTLA.

•A GREENER BUS DIVISION: The new $120-million Division 13 opened adjacent to Union Station with a number of sustainability features, including solar panels, rainwater capture capabilities and energy efficiency technology. It was Metro’s sixth building to be recognized as a LEED winner by the U.S. Green Building Council.

•CONNECTING TWO VALLEYS: In February, Metro launched the NoHo-to-Pasadena Express bus between the Red Line and Orange Line stations in NoHo, the Burbank Media District, downtown Glendale and the Gold Line’s Del Mar and Memorial Park stations in Pasadena. The idea is to connect the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys in a way that transit has never managed to accomplish. The ride is 34 to 40 minutes end-to-end. In an effort to grow ridership, Metro began in December to run service every 12 minutes during weekday peak hours and extended weekday hours from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. while reducing weekend frequencies to every 45 minutes from every 30 minutes.

***

From reader A.H.:

I’d say there were 2 major noteworthy transpo events in 2016.

1. Passage of Measure M proving that we want and are ready for transit.

2. Expo phase 2 opening. This is the first rail line to service the dense, job heavy westside in many decades and it exploded in ridership. This is seen during Rams games. It connected 2 major destinations (vs suburbs & dtla with the gold ext) and along a busy thoroughfare. This probably introduced the most non transit ppl to transit.

***

•OLYMPIC PLAN RELEASED: A detailed plan for Los Angeles to host the 2024 Summer Olympics is released by the LA 2024 Bid Committee. As expected, the plan relies heavily on existing venues near current or future Metro lines and places the Athletes Village at UCLA near the future Purple Line Extension. That project, in particular, gets a boost when voters later in the year approve Measure M to accelerate the project’s arrival in Westwood. Other bid cities are Budapest and Paris, which last hosted the Summer Games in 1924. The International Olympic Committee is scheduled to pick a winning city in September.

•ALL IDEAS WELCOME: Metro’s innovation office held an “Industry Forum” in February to explain its new unsolicited proposal process. The idea: private firms can now bring any fresh idea to Metro’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation for review. If the idea has merit, Metro may pursue a contract. In particular, Metro is hoping to garner interest in public-private partnerships to build and possibly accelerate mega-projects. The innovation office has received eight such proposals.

The new ped bridge over Lankershim at the Universal City/Studio City Station.

•SAFER CROSSINGS 1: A $29-million, 400-foot-long pedestrian bridge over Lankershim Boulevard opened to help connect the Red Line’s Universal City/Studio City Station to Universal Studios. The bridge includes escalators and elevators and meets all ADA standards.

•PARKING FEES: After years of free parking at Metro stations, the agency began a pilot program to test parking fees at several stations. The intent of the program is to free up more spaces for transit riders and also raise funds to keep lots and garages maintained and safe and secure for users.

•NEW PLANNING CHIEF: Therese McMillan, an area native and previously the Acting Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, was named Metro’s new planning chief in March.


From reader James Bourne:

This will be the year people remember as when LA Rail started to grow up. Measure R planted the seeds for a skeletal frame that was completed in 2016, and then voters doubled down on that with Measure M. Much in the same way that people look back to Measure A and 1980 as the “year that started it all,” once the M system is implemented, people will look back at 2016 as a year that “made LA Metro what it is today.” The pre-M system will be viewed as laughably quaint, but a necessary step toward easing LA onto rail.

I don’t think Metro will get much credit for things like bike share–because they came so late to the game with so little (for 2016 – only DTLA)–or affordable housing, where the efforts have made no dent compared to the scale of the problem. Maybe that can be how we remember 2017?


•YES WE CAN HEAR SOME OF YOU NOW: Cell service (finally!) came online in Red/Purple Line stations in downtown L.A. beginning in April for Verizon customers. Sprint and T-Mobile were added later in the year and negotiations continue with AT&T. Service is being expanded to all Red/Purple Line stations.

•DIGGING UNDER CRENSHAW: The tunnel boring machine for the Crenshaw/LAX Line was named ‘Harriet’ in a ceremony in February — after Harriet Tubman, who helped lead the Underground Railroad to free slaves from the South. The TBM was subsequently lowered into the future Expo/Crenshaw Station and digging began in April. The TBM reached the Leimert Park Station in October and is currently excavating the second of the twin rail tunnels on the northern end of the line.

The TBM arriving at Leimert Park Station in mid-October. Photo by Juan Ocampo for Metro.

Looking toward the south entrance to the tunnel under Crenshaw Boulevard from the Leimert Park Station. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

•CLEANER BUSES: The Metro Board voted in April to ask agency staff to draw up a plan for eventually running a zero-emission bus fleet. As I wrote at the time, Metro has a fleet of about 2,200 buses that are all powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). That fuel is much cleaner than diesel but CNG is still a fossil fuel.

Along those lines, later in the year the Metro Board approved a motion calling for the Orange Line to use only electric buses by 2020. In November, the agency announced that it would purchase five new 60-foot electric buses and eight new charging stations for the Orange Line thanks to a $4.3-million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

•METRICS AND MORE METRICS: The agency’s first-ever “Quality of Life” report was released in May, providing metrics on the agency’s performance and how its services benefit the community.

•BALLPARK BUS: In June, the Lukes family became the one-millionth riders on the Dodger Stadium Express, which began running in 2010.

•ALL-DOORS OPEN FOR BUSINESS: The all-door boarding pilot program begins on the Silver Line after being tested on the 720 Rapid Bus in 2015.

A rendering of the new Southwestern Yard that wil be located just east of LAX.

•FUTURE RAIL YARD: A groundbreaking was held in May for the new Southwestern Yard where light rail vehicles for the Crenshaw/LAX Line will be stored and maintained.

•CRENSHAW/LAX LINE DEVELOPMENT: In June, the Metro Board approved development guidelines for Metro transit-oriented developments near three Crenshaw/LAX stations — including 3.4 acres of land near Exposition and Crenshaw boulevards.

•STICK FIGURES MEET THEIR MAKER: New animated rail safety videos debuted in June featuring stick figures getting clobbered by trains after doing dumb things. The videos were explicit and made quite the Internet splash. Here’s a sampling:

•TAKING IT TO THE PEOPLE: In July, a new mobile customer center was launched. The MCC is a logo-wrapped van containing equipment that allows Metro to issue temporary reduced fare cards and sell TAP products to customers — meaning customers no longer must trek to one of Metro’s existing customer centers. The MCC is also equipped to take photographs used on TAP cards and to accept credit card payments.

•SAFER RAILROAD CROSSING: The state’s most hazardous railroad crossing — at Rosecrans and Marquardt in Santa Fe Springs — received funding in August for a new vehicle bridge over the train tracks. Construction is expected to begin in 2019.

•GIVING STUDENTS A BREAK: A program called U-Pass to make it cheaper and easier for college and vocational students to get Metro monthly passes was launched in August at several local colleges. U-Pass allows students to buy passes when registering for classes and use their student ID card as a TAP card. As for prices: CSUN charges students $95 for 21 weeks of transit, a 64 percent discount from the College/Vocational student fare of $43 each month.

***

From reader Connor:

I think 2016 was also the year that self driving vehicles became real in the public consciousness, while simultaneously having the policy consequences come to the forefront. It will likely be a bit longer before they’re widely used and economical, but they are certainly here today. If you had asked someone from 2015 when self driving vehicles would stop becoming theoretical and start making real inroads (pardon the pun), they would likely have said something more like 5 years. Certainly not 2016.

***

•SAFER CROSSING 2: A pedestrian tunnel under Lankershim Boulevard was opened between the NoHo Orange Line and Red Line stations in mid-August. The $22-million project took two years to complete and helps riders avoid having to wait to use crosswalks on a notoriously busy stretch of Lankershim.

The turnstiles between the Red Line’s mezzanine in NoHo and the new ped tunnel to the Orange Line. Photo: Metro.

•THINKING HOLISTICALLY: A $9-million affordable housing fund and $1-million small business fund were approved by the Board in August. The affordable housing dollars will be used to help fund affordable units in developments that are built on Metro-owned land. The small business fund will provide loans to help preserve existing small businesses near Metro stations.

•LEGAL VICTORY: A federal judge upheld the environmental study for the Purple Line Extension, which has been legally challenged by the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District. The ruling allowed Metro to continue its efforts to secure a federal grant for the second phase of the project between Wilshire/La Cienega and Century City. The ruling requires that part of the environmental document must be redone (and those efforts are underway). A similar legal challenge in state court was won by Metro.

•A NEW METRO.NET: The public beta version of the new metro.net website debuted in September, including a long-overdue improvement to the trip planner and other features designed to make it easier to navigate the bus and rail system, not to mention the piles of content on the website. If all goes well the new site launch is anticipated in January 2017. Here’s a screen grab of the home page:

•A TOUGH PROBLEM: A homeless task force was created by Metro this fall to coordinate outreach and other issues with other government agencies. Here’s the power point announcing the task force. Related: in November, voters in the city of Los Angeles approved a bond measure to create more housing and services for the homeless. A quarter-cent sales tax increase to build more housing is expected to go to county voters in March.

•BEFORE THE COLLAPSE: About 21,000 fans used Metro’s Expo Line and Silver Line to attend the first Rams regular season game in September at the Coliseum since the team returned to L.A. That was about 26 percent of the 80,000 or so who attended the game.

•LISTEN UP: Metro’s Off Peak series of podcasts debuted in September, taking a deeper look into transit and transpo issues in our region. Listen to the six episodes here.

•COPING WITH CONSTRUCTION IMPACTS: The agency’s Business Interruption Fund, established in 2015, in August passed the $5 million milestone for grants to small firms impacted by construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, Purple Line Extension or Regional Connector in the Little Tokyo area.

•BATTLING SMOG AND CLIMATE CHANGE: In October, Metro received a $10.5-million grant for 30 near-zero emission buses to replace old stinky diesel buses on contracted lines in the South Bay and Gateway Cities. Metro also received a $1.875-million grant from the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Committee to install near-zero emission natural gas-powered engines in 125 existing buses.

Decking work at Wilshire/La Brea this fall. Photo: Metro.

•BUILDING THE PURPLE LINE EXTENSION: In October, the decking work for the future Wilshire/La Brea Station for the Purple Line Extension was finished six weeks ahead of schedule. The decking allows vehicle traffic to continue to use Wilshire while the station is excavated beneath. Work on the decking at Wilshire/Fairfax Station is already underway. Also, we found some ancient elephant fossils during construction!

•NEW RAIL CARS: The 50th Kinkisharyo light rail vehicle was delivered to Metro in October. The base order is for 78 cars and there are four options totaling 235 rail cars from Kinkisharyo that will be eventually used throughout Metro’s light rail system.

•SERVING SENIORS: A first-ever Older Adult Transportation Expo was held at Union Station in October to help people of all ages learn to use and navigate the Metro system.

•DIGGING THE CONNECTOR: The tunnel boring machine for the Regional Connector was named ‘Angeli’ in October at a ceremony and then lowered into the ground near the 1st/Central Station in Little Tokyo. Here’s video of the TBM being assembled before it begins digging between 1st/Central and the intersection of Flower and 4th streets:

•In early November, work crews knocked out a panel for a new entrance to the 7th/Metro Station from the Bloc, the renovated shopping plaza on the south side of 7th Street in DTLA. That means Metro riders will easily be able to go back and forth to the Bloc without having to cross busy 7th Street.

Goodbye knockout panel, hello new entrance to 7th/Metro Center Station from the Bloc. Photo: Metro.

•SOUTH L.A. PED/BIKE PROJECT: More details emerged on the Rail-to-Rail/River project that will transform part of the old Harbor Subdivision rail right-of-way in South Los Angeles into a pedestrian and bike path. Metro is aiming to have the first segment between the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s Fairview Station in Inglewood and Santa Fe Avenue in Huntington Park complete by fall of 2019 when the Crenshaw/LAX Line is expected to open.

•BLUE LINE UPGRADES: Some of the new pedestrian safety improvements along the Blue Line were unveiled in early November. Metro is spending $30 million to add swing gates and other safety features to 27 intersections along the Blue Line. 

•UNION STATION MASTER PLAN: Metro staff released a report with updates on continuing studies and implementation of the plan that includes all sorts of perimeter improvements so pedestrians and cyclists can more easily reach the station. Construction of a new concourse under the existing platforms is now part of the Link project to extend the Metrolink and Amtrak tracks across the 101 freeway; relocation of the bus plaza is no longer a near- or mid-term priority, says the report.

***

From reader Steven Harris:

Other than the passage of Measure M, I think the big local transportation stories of 2016 were:

-Expo and Gold Lines expanding Metro Rail’s reach into suburban LA.

-Great Streets/Vision Zero enhancements to across the city of LA.

-Cuts to night time bus and rail service.

***

•CHANGE ON THE METRO BOARD: In December, two of the 13-member Metro Board of Directors (the politicians and their appointees who oversee the agency) left office because of term limits: Michael D. Antonovich and Don Knabe. They will be replaced by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn, respectively. With turnover on the Board in recent years, only two of the current 13 members were on the Board prior to 2008 when Measure R was approved: John Fasana and Ara Najarian.

•POLICE CONTRACT DEBATE: Safety and security is one of the most frequent issues raised by Metro riders. On that front, Metro staff proposed a new contract valued at more than $500 million that would divide policing duties between the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Long Beach Police Department. The current contract is solely with the LASD.

In December, and under considerable pressure from all three police agencies (all of whom want the contract), the Metro Board of Directors delayed a vote until February.

•NEW SUBWAY VEHICLES ORDERED: A contract for 64 new subway vehicles for the Red/Purple Line was approved by the Metro Board in December along with an option to purchase another 218 cars. The 64 new subway cars will replace 30 of the existing cars (the current subway fleet is 104 cars) and also support subway service expansion as the phases of the Purple Line Extension open in the 2020s. The new cars are expected to arrive by mid-2021.

Back in September, the Board approved a $73-million contract and a $3.9-million contract to overhaul 74 of  the subway cars used on the Red/Purple Line. The subway cars are on average more than 17 years old with an average mileage of 1.3 million miles per vehicle (fun fact!).

•MORE SUBWAY CAPACITY: The state’s cap-and-trade fund awarded $69.2 million to a project that will help Red and Purple Line trains turn around more quickly at Union Station and reduce the crawl into and out of the station. Equally important, the project also will allow both lines to run up to every four minutes with the potential for subway service every two minutes between Union Station and Wilshire/Vermont.  The project’s initial study was released in December and the project will not preclude a possible Arts District station.

•NEW UNION STATION BUS PLATFORM: Preliminary work is underway with major construction beginning in January for the Patsouras Plaza Busway Platform that will serve the Silver Line and other buses that use the El Monte Busway on the 10 freeway. As part of the project, the northbound 101 on- and off-ramps to the 101 will be closed for four months beginning Jan. 3.

***

From reader Rita:

With the passage of Measure M we will see hopefully a transportation system worthy of Los Angeles County. This has been a very long time coming. When people look at maps of the streetcars of the 1920s and see where these rail transportation systems ran they wonder why it didn’t survive? Because the people of Los Angeles did not want to support it by riding the systems, or doing bond measures to build a more extensive transportation system.

Being built right now: a light rail connection along the Crenshaw Corridor for better access to Los Angeles International Airport will be finally realized in the next couple of years. Along with — finally — a connection between the Expo and Blue Lines and the Gold Line with the Regional Connector.

The extension of the Purple Line down Wilshire Boulevard was part of the failed 1925 plan and is finally being built thanks in part from funds from Measure M. Along with the extensions of both the Gold and Green Lines. This also doesn’t include many bus projects scheduled for the near future. Transportation for the Los Angeles of tomorrow has to be built starting today. I know that I may never live to see that system completed but I sure can see it in my mind.

***

And that’s all she wrote folks on 2016! And what about 2017?

We should be seeing a lot more progress on the three rail projects under construction, a lot more studies being released or initiated on major projects, Metro Bike Share coming to new places (see above!) and hopefully a lot more all-around interestingness. Happy New Year’s and thanks for riding and reading this year!

Steve & Anna

3 replies

  1. What’s been done about security on the metro lines? It’s a great place for crazy transients and predators to accost riders in a confined space