Congestion pricing in L.A., beware the D-Backs, streetcars: HWR, Sept. 25

Things to read whilst transiting: this crazy long list of the many development projects and skyscrapers either proposed or in the pipeline for Figueroa Street in DTLA between 9th Street and USC and Exposition Park. One proposal calls for tearing down a 13-year-old apartment building and replacing it with a big tower. Well, as the song goes, the sky is a neighborhood.

Dept. of Dodger Stadium Express: The free bus to the ballpark from Union Station and Harbor Gateway will be rolling for the playoffs beginning Friday, Oct. 6, when the Dodgers are likely to host the D-backs, Rockies, Brewers or Cardinals. The chart below shows why it’s probably best that it not be the D-backs, especially in a five-game series when the margin for a bad game is nil.

Related note: How We Roll is officially rooting for a Dodgers-Indians series so A) the Robins/Dodgers can avenge their defeat in seven games in 1920, and; B) more sports heartbreak can be heaped upon the city of Cleveland. The Series that year is perhaps best remembered for the Tribe’s Bill Wambsganss turning an unassisted triple play in Game 5. With runners on first and second base, he caught a line drive, stepped on second base and tagged out a careless Robins/Dodgers runner from first base. It’s the only triple play in WS history, so says Wikipedia.

Ebbets Field crowd for the 1920 World Series. Credit: Library of Congress.

Editorial: Everyone hates tolls, but drastic times may call for drastic measures to fix L.A.’s traffic (LAT)

The editorial takes the less-than-bold stand that congestion pricing should be “considered” in our region to help ease or fix traffic. The idea is to charge motorists to enter certain parts of town to hopefully discourage some cars, ease congestion and use the money raised to provide better transpo options. (Metro’s ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways are a type of congestion pricing that toll part of a roadway, whereas congestion pricing would toll a part of the region).

I think the LAT would better serve the public by actually proposing something — rather than armchairing it and saying it should be merely considered. That feels like a cop out so they can later oppose whatever gets proposed.

Why is the LAT writing about this now?

Because the Southern California Assn. of Governments (SCAG) has launched a “100 hours” campaign to help reduce the number of hours that the average So Cal resident loses to traffic each year (according to some studies). Among one of their proposals is a “decongestion fee,” otherwise known to practitioners of Plain English as a “toll.”

From SCAG:

A decongestion fee is a mobility management tool that aims to combat the negative impacts of traffic and provide congestion relief. Drivers would have the option to pay for less congested arterial roadways during peak times when congestion is at its worst. By charging a fee to enter and use the streets within a highly-congested area at peak periods, drivers would be incentivized to make more informed travel choices and explore mobility alternatives.

A decongestion fee system has been proven to reduce traffic enough to make a significant difference. In other cities with high levels of congestion, adding a decongestion fee system during peak hours has eliminated gridlock. For example, Stockholm saw an 18%-22% reduction in traffic with a decongestion fee of approximately $1.50 to $3.00 (in U.S. dollars). A smart system can be customized to the context and geography of Los Angeles with discounts on the fee for low-income households, zone residents and higher occupancy vehicles.

​Although the primary purpose of a decongestion fee is to reduce traffic congestion, it also generates revenue that could be used to fund transit, biking and safer streets that create mobility options into and within a Go Zone.​

I’m not super wild about the phrase “mobility management tool” — the kind of thing that should be targeted by the War on Government Jargon. But I think it’s good that SCAG is tossing some ideas out there as they are the regional planning agency for So Cal.

Still, let’s think this through. If you’re going to charge a toll to enter a certain part of town, that part of town will probably require some good transit alternatives. At this time, DTLA is the Most Transity as it’s the hub of the Metro Bus and Rail system and Metrolink’s commuter rail network.

But is there enough transit? And would tolling DTLA impact the freeways heading into DTLA enough to merit the charge?

Don’t worry. There’s no proposal currently on the table for any part of our region. But do you think congestion pricing could work here? If yes or no, why or why not? And where? Bring forth your comments, please.

Related: the NYT editorial page backs tolls for motorists entering Manhattan south of 60th Street. This has been discussed for years. My four cents (everything costs more in Metropolis/Gotham): if the idea is to ease traffic, perhaps toll anyone who dares drive south of 60th Street — not just folks entering from the other boroughs or Long Island, New Jersey or Connecticut. Unless they’re from Weehawken or Ronkonkoma, perhaps. 

Metro Studying Several Train Station Changes: Claremont, Northridge, El Monte and More (Streetsblog LA)

The Metro Board on Thursday will consider a motion to launch a study on whether the Claremont Metrolink station should remain open after the Gold Line is extended to Claremont and Montclair. The motion reads:

SAN BERNARDINO LINE STRATEGIC STUDY

WE THEREFORE MOVE that the Board direct the CEO and the Regional Rail Unit to:

A. Prioritize the scope of the proposed San Bernardino Line Strategic Study to evaluate the benefits and/or impacts related to eliminating the Metrolink Claremont Station. At a minimum, the study shall provide a comprehensive understanding of the following:

  1. Current and projected ridership growth under existing conditions;
  2. Total parking spaces and current parking utilization rate;
  3. Impacts and potential mitigations to Metrolink riders that currently board at the Claremont station;
  4. Impacts to Metrolink operations, travel times and fare box revenues.
  5. Cost savings associated with the construction of the Gold Line Phase 2B;
  6. Impacts and potential mitigations to the City of Claremont if it becomes the Gold Line terminus with and without a Metrolink Station scenario.

B. Determine the formal process by which to eliminate a Metrolink station, should that local station city agree.

C. Report back to the board within 60 days with a final report, findings and recommendations.

The issue is that the Gold Line extension will parallel Metrolink between Pomona and Montclair and the Claremont station will need to be moved to accommodate the Gold Line station. Plus, as the crow flies the Claremont and Montclair stations are close to one another. It’s worth mentioning the Gold Line isn’t scheduled to open to Claremont until 2027 and this is just a study.

Metro staff also have completed studies about relocating Metrolink stations in El Monte and Montebello and adding a station near Rio Hondo College. Staff recommended against moving forward at this time, citing lack of funds and other concerns. Here’s the staff report. Staff also recommended moving forward now on relocating the Northridge Station due to lack of funds. Staff report.

How to build a streetcar that works (NYT)

Yonah Freemark takes aim at the proposed streetcar in New York, saying as proposed it will be too slow to attract many riders. Problem is, speeding up streetcars — or light rail or buses — often means taking space from cars. And that’s hard to do.

Dept. of Questions About Things Riders Might Be Watching Whilst Transiting: Finally saw “Wonder Woman.” Thought as superhero movies go it was better than most of recent vintage but “War of the Planet of the Apes” had much more interesting things to say about humanity and such. Totally didn’t understand the point of Ares given world history since 1918. If you got it, please explain in a comment.

16 replies

  1. Hi Steve,

    I’m trying to get the audio file for the Executive Management Committee meeting on 9/21 but nothing has been posted. Can you assist in tracking down this file? Thanks!

  2. What in the world does “HWR” mean? I never see it described anywhere in the body of the text. I see it frequently in the headings. Elaborate please.

  3. Regarding that LA Times toll piece: it seems like you sidestepped an opportunity served on a plate to promote (and preview future phases of) Metro’s highly successful congestion pricing program: Express Lanes. These work today, and Metro is looking to expand them to the 105 soon, too.

    • Good point. I do see them a little differently as ExpressLanes is tolling a part of a freeway to provide faster trips (including transit) whereas the type of congestion pricing discussed in LAT is about tolling an entire area with no opting out for motorists — unless they switch to transit, walking, biking.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. This AVL segment is a good candidate for upgrades to 125mph, the maximum allowable speed for lines with grade crossings. Per Goggle Earth, there are significant stretches of straight track, i.e., tangents, that could be converted to double track.

    In addition, the study should include the possibility of extending the service to Mojave.

    I foresee a possibility where Amtrak would extend its San Joaquin Service to LA taking advantage of this line and the Tehachapi two-track project currently under construction. This service would be complimentary to the CA High Speed Rail Service. In fact, perhaps this segment could be adapted to be a blended system in conjunction with the CA High Speed Rail system.

  5. Congestion pricing for neighborhoods or sub-regions might not pass a constitutional challenge. For the same reason a train must serve the neighborhood it passes through, congestion neighborhood pricing could be considered discriminatory.

    • Not as long as the regions under a congestion charge aren’t chosen arbitrarily. Meaning regions in a congestion fee zone can be justified by the amount of congestion they have. Now if a city or metro chose to just impose an arbitrary congestion charge on a minority dominated Neighborhood that isn’t congested (or if it is congested but not as congested as other neighborhoods not subject to a toll or a scenario where other, wealthier and whiter neighborhoods that are similarly congested aren’t tolled, while minority neighborhoods are) then you’d run into some constitutional problems. But I highly doubt any city would impose such an arbitrary charge.

      In New York for instance the discussion is on imposing a charge on travel to or through the most dense area of Manhattan where the city’s main central business districts are located (Midtown and Downtown), specifically travel into Manhattan south of 60th Street. The charge can be easily justified by that regions huge traffic (as anyone who has driven through midtown or downtown on a work day can attest to). It’s a relatively small area where hundreds of thousands of cars from outside this region enter or drive through every single day.

      To pass constitutional scrutiny a city or state or transportation agency must just show that the charge isn’t arbitrary and is rational (which one could easily do if it’s a charge imposed on a congested region and applied uniformly) If one argues the charge was imposed for a racially discriminatory purpose the courts would apply a strict scrutiny test where I would think a city could still justify the fee.

  6. Regarding improvements of or near Northridge station: I’m not really sure why the Metrolink project to complete the missing double tracked segments through this part of the valley was stopped but I’m a little disappointed that plans were given up so quickly. The Ventura county line has enough issues because Ventura refuses to tax themselves to improve transportation. (loosing out on matching federal and state funds if you ask me). Within LA county lines, however these ROW’s seem like great opportunities to improve capacity and reliability to reduce commute times on Metrolink/amtrak. I’m a student at CSUN and I’ll be honest I’d prefer not having to wait 15minutes half way between Chatsworth and Northridge stations for the late train passing through single track segment. Those stops, even if short, always seem like an eternity. Not sure if I’m alone on that one but nevertheless, a shiny new station on reseda would be great but double tracking and double platform stations would probably do more at least short term. I like taking transit to school because when everything working well it saves me time and money, but unreliability is a pretty huge turnoff which Im sure many of us can probably agree on. I have faith in our system though and look forward to having an improved system in my later years. Transiting via all modes in LA require patience and I understand it can be worse. Just a thought from a daily commuter out this way.

  7. Don’t most of the congestion pricing plans in New York do just what your advocating, impose a toll on vehicles crossing south of 60th street (using fastrack like sensors on cars and automatic photo enforcement at the intersections of Manhattan that cross 60th street)? I know some of the most talked about plans do just that in addition to instituting a charge on the east river crossings south of 60th street which are currently free as well as imposing a surcharge on taxi and ride sharing company (uber, Lyft, etc) trips that begin in, drive through or end in Manhattan south of 60th street.

  8. Has there been any discussion to eventually turn the current express lanes to ‘bus-only’ lanes? Maybe Los Angeles isn’t ready for this, but bus-only express lanes would probably rarely suffer from congestion and make buses a much more appealing option. If one has both options and cost in no concern, why take a bus if you’ll just sit in traffic anyway? Environmental concerns incentivize very few. I think our bus system could be much more useful and widely supported with some kind of infrastructural priority.

    • Hi Matti;

      I have heard of no such proposal. I think the feeling is that the ExpressLanes are popular and are working well at speeding up many trips most of the time although there has been congestion on the 110 ExpressLanes at the peak of the peak.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source