Art for the Expo Line's La Cienega/Jefferson station: Engraved in Memory by Daniel González

Artisans at the artwork fabricator, Mosaïka Art & Design, working on Gonzalez’s art panels. Highly skilled artisans translated the artist’s original black and white linoleum prints into pieces of hand-carved, hand-glazed porcelain.

Daniel González’s artwork for La Cienega/Jefferson Station illustrates the history of the Ballona Creek and the surrounding environs, including the people who have called the area home.

The art panels reference the Mission and Californio periods, the film industry and contemporary art scene, as well as the Baldwin Hills dam break of 1967. The Ballona Creek flows through several art panels, constant and recognizable, visually linking the images across time. (Here’s a link to more information about Gonzalez’s work for La Cienega/Jefferson Station.)

Detail of Engraved in Memory at La Cienega/Jefferson Station

Artisan at Mosaïka Art & Design working on an art panel

More photos of the artwork are after the jump.

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How do they do that? Remove graffiti from the buses

Andre Williams peels off film being tested to protect bus windows from graffiti. Photo by Jose Cordova/Metro

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do they do that? Remove graffiti from the buses

How much does graffiti removal cost Metro each year? In fiscal year 2011, bus and facilities maintenance spent $8.23 million to clean up graffiti. And that doesn’t include the cost of the Sheriff’s deputies needed to protect the buses and property and pursue graffiti vandals.

Every evening and into the night, about 160 Metro employees over two shifts work to remove graffiti from the buses because that’s when the buses are free for clean up.

Although we tend to think of graffiti vandalism as something that occurs in the dark of night, on buses the vandals often work during the day when the bus operators are busy driving and assisting passengers.

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What makes this Westside Subway proposal different from all the others?

A proposal from 1961 would have linked El Monte to Westwood via downtown. The threat of a Soviet nuclear attack meant planners could pitch subway stations as fallout shelters too.

It’s a simple idea: Connect the jobs-rich and traffic-choked Westside of Los Angeles County to downtown L.A., the heart of the region’s economy and public transit network. Yet, as of this moment, I can’t hop on the subway in Westwood and make it to downtown in about 25 minutes — though that’s the future when the current Westside Subway Extension comes to fruition.

It’s well known — part of the city’s legend, really — that there have been seemingly a dozen proposals for such a transit line, many dating back to the middle of the last century. With such an illustrious history, I’m sure many of you are wondering skeptically: What makes this Westside Subway proposal different from all those others?

That’s a fair question. Before traipsing back in time through the various iterations of the Westside subway concept, we’d like to highlight a key difference between then and now: The current Westside Subway Plan has funding both through the Measure R sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008, as well as federal dollars. The Metro Board of Director’s vote on the final environmental study for the project later this year will clear the way for finalizing the engineering and then putting actual shovels in the ground.

All other subway plans for the Wilshire Boulevard have died on the vine at various phases. So I sat down with Metro Librarian Matthew Barrett to get the story on each of the erstwhile proposals that have paved the way for the Westside Subway Extension.

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How do they do that? Tweet service alerts

Stephen Tu ^ST. Photo by Gayle Anderson/Metro

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do they do that? Tweet the service alerts

Since 2010 when Metro began tweeting service alerts @metroLAalerts, more than 2,100 tweets have been posted — and it remains the best way for Metro riders out and about to get information. Alerts have ranged from “Wet weather safety tips-Do NOT run on train platforms or next to buses. Use handrails & onboard handholds. ^ST” to “Blue Line Update: Trains every 20 min to all stations. Bus shuttles cancelled. Harbor Transitway upcharge is waived today. ^ST” to a notice that the trains have been paused for examination following an earthquake.

To send out service alert Tweets the only equipment necessary is a Twitter account (available for free at Twitter.com), a computer, a smartphone, accurate information and a person to collect that information and write a post in 140 characters or less.

Service alerts on metro.net home page

Most Tweets report service disruptions — planned or unplanned — that will delay customers. They include scheduled maintenance procedures like track grinding, new train testing or power systems work. They could be equipment malfunctions caused by severe weather damage, power outages or jammed doors. They might be police activity due to suspicious packages, trespassers on the tracks, medical emergencies or passenger disruptions. They could be due to traffic accidents, blocked lanes or tracks or protests. Or they could be the result of planned changes in traffic. This Sunday’s L.A. Marathon is an example.

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Art for the Expo Line: LA Metro Lotería by Jose Lozano

Jose Lozano standing in front of an art panel before it’s installed

Jose Lozano presents a series of Lotería cards, based on a Mexican game of chance, in his artwork for Expo/La Brea Station.

Similar to Bingo, Lotería uses images on a deck of cards instead of numbers. In text at the bottom of the cards, Lozano plays with the station name “La Brea,” keeping the Spanish language prefixes “La,” “El,” or “Los,” and substituting “Brea” with passenger interactions commonly encountered while riding Metro.

Each of the eight art panels portrays a different scene: “El Luggage” shows a smiling man surrounded by overstuffed luggage, “La Prisa” (the hurry) shows a mother and child walking quickly across a platform. (Here’s a link to more information about Lozano’s work for Expo/La Brea Station.)

Original design for one of the 8 art panels (seen above with the artist) comprising LA Metro Lotería at Expo/La Brea Station

Detail of LA Metro Lotería, displaying “Los Stairs” and “La Nurse,” at the artwork fabricator, Winsor Fireform.

Detail of LA Metro Lotería, displaying “Los Romantics” and “Los Metro Guys,” at the artwork fabricator, Winsor Fireform.

More photos of the artwork being installed at the station are after the jump.

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How do they do that? Power the trains

Expo Line test train pulling into 23rd Street Station. Photo by Gayle Anderson/Metro

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do they do that? Power the trains

In politics the third rail is an issue so powerful, politicians do their best to avoid it. In the subway the third rail is a line of track so powerful, patrons make sure they avoid it.

And rightly so, since Metro’s trains run on 800 volts – enough to propel a packed rush-hour train at speeds of up to 70 mph through the Red Line tunnel between Hollywood/Highland and Universal City station.

On subway trains, the third rail is the source of the electrical delivery system. The same power is delivered to light-rail lines such as the Blue, Gold, Green and Expo lines via an overhead catenary system. No petroleum gas for the trains. No CNG (compressed natural gas). Just good old-fashioned electricity.

Where does the electricity come from? Like petroleum gasoline and compressed natural gas, Metro buys it. Electricity can be a product of nuclear, coal, gas, oil, water, wind or solar farm sources. In Metro’s case, the intermediary source is utility companies, including LADWP and Pasadena Water and Power — the same companies that supply power to many of our homes.

Although Metro buys many millions of dollars a year in electricity to power the rail lines, electricity is a whole lot less expensive than petroleum gasoline or even CNG. And CNG, as we’ve said in the past, is much less expensive than petroleum gas.

Like the CNG used to power its bus fleet, the electricity Metro buys is produced in North America, which means it escapes the pricing spikes of petroleum produced by unstable countries. And this, of course, is a good thing, especially right now, with gasoline prices rushing upward.

A Federal Transit Administration chart from 2010. Click to view larger image.

The other benefit to electricity is that Metro’s train lines will become greener as utilities develop more renewable power sources. Subways and light rail already produce fewer greenhouse gases per passenger mile than most cars — and should improve as more wind, solar and geothermal power plants come online.

Also, electricity as a power source is generally quite reliable, both in terms of supply and in terms of subway and light-rail performance. But it does have its weaknesses.

While the third rail on subway track is installed in a protected environment inside the subway tunnel, light rail can be subject to weather. Light-rail cars are linked to the power source via catenary wires installed overhead 12 to 16 feet above ground. (Catenary, for those of you who took and remember physics, is the curve assumed by a cord or chain – or even a spider web — that hangs freely between two fixed points.)

But back to the weather issue. Remember the massive storm of January, 2010 that tipped a tree onto the Gold Line catenary lines in South Pasadena? The line was closed for hours while a bus bridge ferried passengers around the spot where electricity was shut down. South Pasadena is a perfect example of what happens when the power is cut off … although in that case a tree was also blocking the tracks.

Despite occasional stoppages ordered by Mother Nature the catenary system seems to work pretty well. Maybe that’s in part because the system has had more than 100 years of refinement. The first tram with overhead lines was presented by Warner von Siemens (yes, the same company that constructed some Metro Rail cars) at the International Electric Exposition in Paris in 1881. The installation was removed after the event but the light-rail thought persisted. And we’re glad it has.

Art for the Expo Line: Urban Dualities by Samuel Rodriguez

Original design for one of the 20 art panels comprising Urban Dualities at Jefferson/USC Station. Unusual juxtapositions—an arm sticking out of a car window, a man riding a bike and a mythical amphibian-like creature—are intended to capture both literal images seen while traveling on public transit and those inside riders’ daydreaming minds.

Samuel Rodriguez presents images with fragments of building facades, vintage rail cars, human figures, and fictional characters in his artwork for the Expo Line’s Jefferson/USC Station.

Each of the 20 art panels is visually divided by the silhouette of bike frame parts, resembling the layout of a comic book. The artist chose bicycle imagery to emphasize the human-powered modes of transportation alongside the rail line. Each panel is an invitation to engage the mind in a playful fantasy along the route between starting point and destination.  (Here’s a link to more information about Rodriguez’s work for Jefferson/USC Station.)

Hand-glazed ceramic tiles are matched to the artist’s original artwork designs at the mosaic fabricator, Mosaïka Art & Design.

Highly skilled artisans at Mosaïka Art & Design cut each piece of hand-glazed ceramic tile into tiny mosaics and place them into art panels.

Many more photos are posted after the jump…

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How do they do that? Detour buses quickly

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How does Metro detour buses to avoid unplanned traffic snarls?

Unlike yesterday’s advance-planned bus detours around the Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland, adjusting bus routes on the fly to avoid traffic snarls or police activity can be tricky business. Where’s the snarl? What’s the cause? How long is the snarl expected to remain? How do you let the public know the bus stop has been moved one block south because the street where it normally sits is shut down? It’s all part of life for Metro’s bus operations team that plans routes, watches traffic and follows every single bus in operation 24/7.

Is there ever a day when all 2,000 buses run without interruption and on exactly the same routes they are intended? Nope.

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How do they do that? Find the right routes

A call center agent at Metro.

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do Metro’s call center agents find all the right trip planning answers for 8,000 customers per day?

The men and women of Metro’s call center at 323-GOMETRO (323-466-3876) always seem to have the right answers. The weird thing is that they are using the Metro Trip Planner — the same tool that we use — and coming up with much better routes.

Each day, Metro’s 20 to 55 (depending on the time of day) customer information agents answer about 8,000 calls, plus 200 texts from riders seeking assistance with bus and rail trip planning. The most common question, not surprisingly, is how to get from point A to point B. The second most common: When will the next bus arrive … the same information available on Metro’s Nextrip tool.

Questions are answered in English and Spanish but there also are staff members who speak German, French and Tagolin and the call center is currently working to increase the number of languages spoken to help additional customers.

Monday through Friday the call center is open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The best times to call are generally midday, since peak question periods generally run 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Text message queries are answered between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

The call center staff is located at Metro Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles but handles calls from all over the region. Not only do they answer questions about Metro’s 183 bus routes and five rail lines, but call center agents provide route, schedule and fare information for approximately 70 transit agencies in and around Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. These include the Big Blue Bus, Foothill Transit, Santa Clarita Transit, Orange County Transit, San Bernardino Omnitrans, Riverside Transit Authority and Simi Valley Transit.

And they do all this in less than 2 minutes and 30 seconds — the average length of each phone call.

How do they find great routes we can’t seem to find on our own? The answer is education, plus a handy tool that lets them override the Trip Planner computer’s answer if they want to try something creative or that integrates a particular customer route request.

Agents also undergo an extensive four- to six-week training period, both in class and on the job. And — not a small thing — they are searching and studying the streets and pathways of L.A. County all day, every day, and in the process learning the easiest and best travel routes. The good news for the rest of us is that they are happy to share.

Art for the Expo Line: The Intimacy of Place by Christofer Dierdorff

Art panel above seating area picturing James Achucarro, a boy from the neighborhood, and Soon Cho, owner of Cho Orchids. The reverse side of the panel shows the back and front of their respective heads.

The Intimacy of Place features a sea of faces representing a broad cultural mix of individuals who live and work in the 23rd Street station area. Taking advantage of the double-sided art panel configuration, Dierdorff populated the station with intimate portraits of fronts and backs of heads. His intent is to comment on the nature of public transportation, where people from many walks of life find themselves in close physical proximity with strangers.

The artwork portrays twelve individuals who were photographed in locations that describe their role within the larger community. A variety of professions are represented, including a hat maker, baker,firefighter and mechanic, among others.

Here’s a link to more information about Dierdorff’s work for 23rd Street Station and more photos are after the jump.

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