Bus ridership, getting Californians on transit, Hawthorne tunnel: HWR, August 24

Throwback Thursday! Let’s pretend the Reds are still in the NL West and have someone — anyone — who can pitch. Credit: Major League Baseball.

Sports Update: The Dodgers bounced back from a gutpunch of a loss Wednesday night to win their 90th game of the season in Pittsburgh on Thursday afternoon. Barring the collapse of human civilization, the Dodgers are guaranteed to be headed to the playoffs, meaning Metro is also headed to the post-season with the Dodger Stadium Express.

Expect huge crowds and game traffic the rest of the season as the Dodgers try to capture the best regular season record in Major League history — they can start by emptying the Brewers’ mugs this weekend. The bus runs from Union Station and Harbor Gateway to the ballpark and is free AND has its own lane to make trips faster. More info here.

Wanna walk to the game? You can certainly do that. Here’s our video, if you haven’t watched it already.

Art of Transit

A worker looks through a cross-passage in the northernmost underground section of the Crenshaw/LAX Line below Crenshaw Boulevard. Photo by Peter Watkinson/Metro.

Dept. of Bike Share

Los Angeles bus service declined as rail expanded (Streetsblog)

Urban and transportation writer Yonah Freemark looks at bus service in our area in a well-researched post. He argues that Metro’s bus cuts in 2010, following the Great Recession, likely had a big impact on Metro’s ongoing ridership declines that started in 2014.

But it’s a nuanced story, as Yonah writes. I agree: see the item below for some other thoughts on ridership.

He points out that bus speeds have also dramatically declined, a sign that not enough is being done to get buses through intersections and traffic. That’s a tough one. Metro runs the buses, but the 88 cities and/or county control traffic signals.

As a motorist, transit rider, pedestrian and occasional cyclist in our region, I’d have to say that traffic signal timing…to be Very/Extremely Diplomatic …feels like it could be a whole letter better. Too many bus stops are double stops. The bus gets stuck at a red light and then rolls through and stops again to drop off and pick up riders.😡

Yonah also points out that while many residents in our area live near frequent bus/transit service during peak commuting hours, but that service is hardly available day-round. And commuting times increase greatly outside of the established job centers, making transit more difficult to take. 

There’s also this: A lot of bus service in our region is provided by other agencies. In my city of resident — Pasadena — we have bus service provided by Metro, Foothill Transit and the city of Pasadena. It’s fair to ask if those services are aligned and also it’s fair to wonder why the city’s bus is often under-utilized.

Good piece of journalism and I’m looking forward to a promised followed-up that looks at urban planning issues in our region.

One last thing: if you haven’t heard, Metro is embarking on a big study and effort to restructure and reimagine its bus service. There is a parallel effort underway looking at bus service from the many muni providers in L.A. County.

Related: Here’s a recent Metro staff report on improving bus speeds and on-time performance. The gistiness of it: the agency wants to work with cities on identifying solutions for hot spots where buses get bogged down.

California has a climate problem, and its name is cars (Vox)

Good post on California’s ongoing attempts to lower its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Those are the nasties responsible for climate change.

Long story short: the state is making progress on increasing renewable energy supplies. But that progress is being canceled out by so many people driving gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Which leads writer David Roberts to conclude that one solution is to vastly increase the number of electric-powered cars on the road. The other solution:

…is reducing commuting times by solving that housing crisis, and getting people out of their cars by increasing infill and density via building out proper public transportation systems (which themselves will need to be electrified). Unfortunately, cheap gasoline lately has meant a decline in per capita public transportation use in almost every major California city.

My three cents:

•The home of every single Californian is connected to the state’s road system. Californians are going to drive and drive a lot, period. That’s the reason I think creating electric cars that appeal and are affordable to the masses is of paramount important.

•Can’t argue with building out “proper” transit systems that are electrified. The only way for transit to compete and get some people out of cars is to build systems with speed, capacity and frequency. As some of the Source’s commenters frequently point out, there’s no doubt an electrified Metrolink system with frequent service through the day and night could get a lot more riders.

•Declines in ridership due to cheap gas? That’s probably one reason, but I think it’s a little more complicated than that. Other possible reasons for transit declines: a strong economy that means people have money to purchase/lease cars that are increasingly affordable, transit service and maintenance issues and — last but not least — the rise of cheap and fast taxis courtesy of Uber, Lyft, etc.

There are certainly transit expansion programs across the state. Metro, of course, has its Measure R and Measure M projects to greatly expand our rail and BRT system. The state’s bullet train project is inching along even though many opponents have tried to put a bullet in it. The Bay Area has several notable transit projects underway. In our area — and others — there is no shortage of proposals to build more housing in cities and other urbanized areas.

And, finally, this: if lawmakers had the will, they could easily spend some $s create some incentive programs to get more people in electric cars and transit.

Your thoughts?

And this…

Missing links in the Bay Area’s public transit (KCRW)

Click above to listen to Zocalo Public Square columnist Joe Mathews on some of the flaws in the Bay Area transit network, i.e. Marin County, BART crowding, Caltrain to local transit connections. Gist of it: the Bay Area can be as dysfunctional as anyone when it comes to transit and traffic issues.

Attentive Source readers know that Joe has been critical of our system, too.

Dig it: Hawthorne approves Elon Musk’s test tunnel beneath city streets (Daily Breeze)

Using a tunneling machine purchased from the Bay Area (it was used to dig a sewer line), Elon Musk & Co. have received permission from the city of Hawthorne to dig a two-mile tunnel extending beyond the grounds of the SpaceX HQ.

Musk’s interest in tunneling is no secret although it’s still not entirely clear if he wants to dig tunnels for car traffic or perhaps his Hyperloop that proposes to whisk vehicles at high speeds across long distances.

Interesting stuff. Attentive Source readers know that I was initially pretty skeptical about some of Musk’s endeavors. But I’m increasingly impressed with Tesla and I’m also impressed that he’s publicly taking chances on potential new technologies.

BTW, Musk’s company is using Metro’s specs for its two-mile tunnel. Which is a nice endorsement, I suppose.

Progress report for Union Station’s Silver Line station (Urbanize LA)

The new bus platform as of 12:55 p.m. today. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

What the project will look like. Current forecast is for it to be completed in Nov. 2018. Credit: Metro.

It’s still a little hard to envision the future platform that will be accessible from Patsaouras Plaza at Union Station — it doesn’t exactly look like a bus platform yet.

The current Silver Line station is a small plaza surrounded by roadway on Alameda Street just above the 101 freeway. It’s a bit of a slog from Union Station proper and perhaps not The World’s Most Pleasant Place to Wait for a Bus.

CiclaValley Looks Forward to an Improved 7th Street (VIDEOS) (CiclaValley)

Generous headline about the 7th Street riding experience in DTLA, IMHO.

5 ways Metro plans to fix the Blue Line (Curbed LA)

Not a completely accurate headline as the Metro Board hasn’t yet approved of two of the ways — an express train and street separations. Both still must be studied further and then funded, and the funded part is never easy given the costs involved. Here’s a recent Metro staff report on the potential upgrades.

Things to read whilst transiting: good New Yorker profile of St. Vincent, whose new album is coming out soon. I’d post her latest single but it contains a certain non-governmenty word that is a no fly zone in these parts.

Dept of Sports Predictions: After a rough start, Rocky triumphed over Thunderlips. Expect the same Saturday evening.

29 replies

  1. While cheaper gas and Uber impact public transportation’s ridership levels, cities and transit agencies need to take some of the blame. Improper planning led to light rail lines that are excruciatingly slow at times. Emphasis was on getting it done, as opposed to getting it done right (i.e. bottleneck on Flower, minimal grade separations).

    • “Emphasis was on getting it done, as opposed to getting it done right ”

      Bingo!! I could care less if waiting another 2 years and getting taxed more meant not having the Expo Line suffer from forced waiting at intersections in Santa Monica and Downtown. The fact that the Rapid 10 can actually be faster than the Expo Line during the middle of the day is an example of why this line should’ve been right, even at the expense of both time and money.

      • Barring enhancements to Expo, When the Purple Line eventually gets to the VA, it could be quicker to take the 720 (or even BBB 2) and transfer to the Purple to go downtown.

        Stopping the Purple at the VA and not going “all the way to the sea” was another poor budgetary decision.

        • Hi Steve;

          Will be interesting to see if bus lanes are placed on Wilshire from downtown Santa Monica to terminus of Purple Line Extension. I think it would greatly increase ridership from those who live a mile or two west of the subway.

          Steve Hymon
          Editor, The Source

          • Hey Steve

            The bus only rush hour lane already exists on the Brentwood portion ending at Centinela (1.5 miles from the planned station next to the VA hospital).

            Years ago, Santa Monica added planted medians and curb bump outs to prevent a bus lane on their portion of Wilshire.

            A DASH service that connects the San Vicente business district to the VA station could definitely help.

          • Thanks for the reminder! It will be interesting to see what Santa Monica does with their section of Wilshire.

            Steve Hymon
            Editor, The Source

  2. YES to electrifying Metrolink! If Caltrain can do it there’s no reason we can’t do it too. Also, Metrolink service frequencies, especially on the OC line, are downright pathetic. There is also a notable lack of reliable bus connections to even the most popular metrolink stations.

    This is especially true in Orange County (try getting from the Laguna Nigel/Mission Viejo metrolink station to PCH in Laguna Beach by bus if you don’t believe me) but it’s also true in Los Angeles County.

    • The big barrier, of course, is that Mertrolink shares most of its trackage with freight railroads and that hinders capacity. That’s a huge issue that needs to be addressed, whether the trains are electric or not.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • From what I understand, the grade separation of the Rosecrans/Marquardt crossing will allow the final piece of that corridor to be upgraded to three tracks, unlocking the potential for more Metrolink service. The Union Station run through tracks are another critical improvement. Hopefully more frequent all day Metrolink service on the OC Line will follow those investments.

        • The OC Line is owned completely by BNSF from Los Angeles to Fullerton. That was an unfortunate missing piece when the Prop A funds were used to buy either Rights of Way or Trackage rights from the ATSF (now BNSF) and SP (now UP) in the Southern California Region for “Baxter’s Choo Choo”.

          • The CHSR will run from SF to Anaheim and will share the Metrolink track from Lancaster (Palmdale) to Anaheim. As a result the tracks need to be electrified in order to accommodate the high speed train. I wish Metrolink to take this opportunity to upgrade and increase the frequency of their commuter train service from Lancaster to Anaheim by using either EMU or electric locomotive train on the AV line as well as the OC line. But of course I wish the first phase of electrification could go as south as Laguna Nigel/Mission Viejo to create new pattern commuter train going from south OC all the way to North LAC/ Antelope valley. Portion south of Fullerton is owned by Metrolink though.

  3. “The current Silver Line station is a small plaza surrounded by roadway on Alameda Street just above the 101 freeway.”

    Hahahaha. “Plaza.” That’s putting it kindly. I’d describe it more as “freeway offramp median.” The first time I used it, I had to ask three different Union Station workers where it was, because there were no directional signs to it. You just had to know it was there.

  4. I believe ridership has declined on the Metrolink due to the constant delays with in increase in fares. Delays both during the week and on the weekends are normal. Arriving on time is rare and nice surprise. As for the Metro rail system, it too has followed Metrolink’s consistent delays for one reason or another. While I appreciate the LAPD and Sheriffs patrolling the Metro rails, there is a need for equal presence on ALL lines. Rarely do you see any uniforms on the blue or green lines as seen on the red line. I’ve been a Metro rider for over 20 years and have reached a point that I’m considering driving in. Train rage vs. road rage….

  5. The new Silver Line station will still be a slog to get to any train connections, but at least it’s closer to the buses and won’t require crossing any streets. I’d imagine riders will find it to be a safer waiting area, with much more capacity than the current narrow concrete median. These factors could boost ridership a bit.

    • I think the new platform will be much closer to everything than the current plaza. Subway riders will want to use the Vignes entrance instead of the Alameda side.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  6. People will ONLY make the switch from driving alone to transit if (a) you can get from point A to point B in the same time as driving plus maybe 10-20%, (b) it is cost effective (which it already is), and (c) it is safe. Right now in L.A. you have to expect your trip will take you between 2-3 times longer on transit (combination of bus and rail) than driving; and that’s in traffic. And transit is so poorly policed, there are always questionable passengers who truly don’t pose a threat but will indeed make many people feel uncomfortable, and opt to drive.

    • Hey Jim;

      I think the travel times vs driving on transit here really vary — depends on the line, traffic, distance, etc. — and, as you say, whether taking one or more bus or train lines. I do think at peak commuting times, a trip on a single BRT or rail line is usually competitive with driving and sometimes pretty competitive even with a transfer. Again, though, I do think it varies and I’m sure there are instances when your assertion is on the money.

      As for your other points, I think they are very fair.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  7. As always Steve, I appreciate your transparency and honesty when reporting about your agency and those you work with. It’s refreshing to learn that you share the same frustrations (and ambitions!!) as many of the systems enthusiastic riders.

    Whats the no fly zone St. Vincent word? “&*^@” or “New York”? cause both seem to be a taboo in these parts..

    • Hi Michael;

      I took the rare opportunity to amend a comment — replacing one key word with symbols. I hope you understand: so I can live to Government Blog another day! 🙂

      I believe the word in question is self evident!

      And thank you for your kind words and for reading. We do try to keep it somewhat real around here!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  8. I’ve seen that rendering for the new bus platform 100 times, but I just noticed that it’s choreographed wrong – the cars are going the opposite way of the buses on busway side facing the reader.

  9. Americans seem to drive more or less depending on the price of gas. However, studies by both the US Govt & the Auto Club (as well as my own experience) have shown that gas is only a small portion of the cost of operating a car. The major portions are mechanical work and depreciation. The IRS says the average cost of operating a car is 54c/mile. My car costs much less, so let’s assume 27c/mile, but gas costs 8c/mile, only 30% of the total cost.

  10. Metro does not serve all 88 cities in Los Angeles County. Certainly none East of El Monte anymore. How many cities does Metro actually serve now?

    But your point is will taken and LADOT’s pro-SOV facilities is the elephant in this room.

  11. I still cannot understand why can’t metro expand and experiment with new point to point express services . Six flags magic mountain just announced they will be open 365 days starting next year. I would definitely like Metro to operate a pilot express line connecting North Hollywood station to six flags magic mountain. Metro can start off with operating 4 trips to the park in the morning and 4 coming back by the time the park closes. Why??? It’s the only park not served by decent and great transit connections. Ok, yes there is SCT Lines 3 and 7, but from DLA that’s too many bus transfers. Metro already runs line 460 to Knotts and Disneyland. Visitors and theme park employees use the line due to the unique destinations it serves. While it goes outside Metro’s area, it’s still attracts ridership. I seriously would like Metro to try out this proposed line.

    • When Magic Mountain opened in 71, Greyhound’s LA-Bakersfield-Fresno-Oakland line stopped there.

  12. And, finally, this: if lawmakers had the will, they could easily spend some $s create some incentive programs to get more people in electric cars and transit.

    The problem is that far too many lawmakers have “the will” to IMPEDE transportation progress, and keep people driving around in cars that turn valuable hydrocarbons into noisome smog.

  13. Metro, LA and Pasadena are kidding themselves if they think that “0.74 bike share trips per bike per day” is anywhere close to a reasonable productivity target! The national average for existing bike share systems is approximately 2 trips per bike per day, and the most successful systems average more than 4 trips per day (and the statistics for many of those systems include operations during inhospitable winter conditions). Statistics for Santa Monica show that they are approaching the 2 trips per day threshold.
    Metro Bike Share should reallocate the bikes in their system so that each bike share station has one bike for every two daily trips using that station. They should then build new bike share stations to house the bikes that are freed up. These new stations could be used to either improve the station spacing in existing coverage areas (DTLA, Pasadena) or to serve new neighborhoods, such as Koreatown or USC.

  14. The paid parking at the El Monte station started today. Until today, I used to park in a parking lot behind employee parking structure. I was told that that that parking lot and entire parking structure is for the Metro Employees only. The structure and the lot were mostly empty. This is a lie told by attendants. I was turned away and had to park further away in car dealership parking lot. Needless to say I was late for the work. I hope tomorrow the parking structure and the lot behind it will be available for the “paying” customers. No wonder the ridership for the bus is falling and Metro resorts to inconveniencing the passengers for more revenue rather than improving the service.