Today's Board of Directors meeting is underway

Good morning, Source readers.

The Metro Board of Directors meeting started a few minutes ago. As many of you know, the big item on today’s agenda is a vote on proposed bus service changes to take effect in June.

If you would like more information and background on the proposed changes, here is a memo to the Board of Directors from Metro chief operations officer Lonnie Mitchell.

Study on better connecting LAX to Metro Rail to be considered by Metro Board

[mappress mapid="9"]

It’s one of those planning questions that’s only — and I say ‘only’ sarcastically — several decades old: how to improve mass transit to Los Angeles International Airport?

A study to answer that question may soon be underway. The Metro Board of Directors on Thursday is scheduled to vote on a contract of about $4.7 million to STV/PB-ConnectLAX Joint Venture to conduct environmental studies for a transit project to connect the Green Line and Crenshaw/LAX Line to the terminals at LAX.

As the Metro staff report states, some of the alternatives to be considered — but not limited to — include light rail, bus rapid transit and an automated people mover. The city of Los Angeles agency that runs LAX is already studying a people mover as part of its airport modernization plans.

The Crenshaw/LAX light rail line will stop at Aviation and Century boulevards, to the east of the airport grounds (see the above map). It’s closer to LAX than the current Green Line Aviation/LAX station, but still about 1.8 miles to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. The Crenshaw/LAX Line will also allow westbound Green Line trains from Norwalk to turn north and continue to the Aviation/Century station on the new Crenshaw tracks.

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Metro officials discuss bus service changes

The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to vote Thursday on proposed bus service changes that would take effect in June.

On Tuesday evening, KCRW’s “Which Way L.A.?” featured a lengthy segment on the bus changes. Among the guests was Conan Cheung, who manages service planning and scheduling; Esperanza Martinez, a lead organizer with the Bus Riders Union, and; Brian Taylor, the Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA. Listen here.

In addition, Metro CEO Art Leahy wrote an op-ed piece that ran in the Daily News on Tuesday that puts the service changes he proposed in the context of the changing transit scene in Los Angeles County. Excerpt:

In approving Measure R, Angelenos voted with their pocketbooks for a new more balanced transit system that would move people cheaper and often faster than they could slog through congested streets and freeways. They voted to retain a solid bus program and fare subsidies, but they also voted for a massive expansion of rail. We need both.

It’s also time to recognize Metro is no longer the only game in town. Back in the 1980s, Metro buses carried about 85 percent of all transit users in the county. Today that percentage has shrunk to 61 percent thanks to more than 200 percent growth in service operated by the municipal bus operators plus the exponential growth of Metro Rail and the Metrolink commuter rail network.

There’s too much duplication of service and, as a consequence, Metro buses today overall are running less than half full.

That doesn’t mean the pendulum has swung back to rail. It means we must finally recognize the dynamics of transit here are changing. Rather than duplicating bus and rail routes and wasting scarce public resources, we must better integrate the various public transit services. And there should be an emphasis on quality not just quantity. Buses and trains should arrive on time and vehicles and stations should be clean. As a former bus operator, I know how important this is to our customers.

The Board of Directors meeting begins at 9 a.m. Thursday at Metro headquarters adjacent to Union Station. The Source will provide live coverage of the meeting and the discussion and vote on the service changes.

Metro's highway program ramps up for big year

Expanding the network of HOV lanes in L.A. County is a big part of Metro's highway program.

Metro issued a long news release today about its highway program — specifically the many projects either underway or in the planning stage.

As the release states, Metro’s highway program is often overlooked because of the agency’s transit programs. But the highway program is important. The most recent Census Bureau numbers show that almost 84 percent of workers in Los Angeles County drive to work.

Future transit projects may reduce that statistic. In the meantime, however, it also appears likely that given the sprawling nature of the county, its jobs and the affordability of vehicles and gas, people aren’t going to stop driving any time soon.

Here’s the release:

While public attention remains fixed on the dozen bus and rail projects mandated by L.A. County voters with the passage of Measure R, the half cent sales tax for transportation, Metro is working feverishly on a parallel track to accelerate its highway program.

This year that work will pay off as the agency launches an astonishing 18 new projects worth nearly $1.4 billion.

The goals are lofty but realistic, said Doug Failing, executive director of highway programs who joined Metro in 2009 following 30 years at Caltrans, most of the last decade as L.A./Ventura counties district director.

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Next round of Westside Subway Extension meetings begin tonight, including live webcast

From the project’s web page at

Metro is continuing work on the Final EIS/EIR for the Westside Subway Extension. Please join us for the second round of community update meetings for this last planning phase of the project.  At these meetings, Metro will provide feedback from the January community meetings, updates on the geotechnical investigations, status of the Station Area Advisory Groups, latest information about the project cost estimates and the status of the Century City station. Whether or not you have followed the project so far, you are encouraged to provide input on Metro’s progress with the Westside Subway Extension at any of these upcoming meetings!

Agenda (content at all meetings will be identical)
6:00 – 6:15PM
: Open House
6:15 – 7:00PM: Presentation
7:00 – 8:00PM: Public Comment

Monday, March 21
LACMA West – Terrace Room, 5th Floor
5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Served by Metro Lines 20, 720, 217 & 780

Validated vehicle parking is available in the Museum’s 6th Street underground garage.  Enter from 6th and Ogden.

Spanish & Korean translation will be provided.

For added convenience, we will offer a live webcast of this meeting that you can view from any computer simply by going to

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America Fast Forward and FrontLines: Could 30/10 work for Salt Lake City?

Existing transit network with planned extensions in dark blue and red.

Existing Utah Transit Authority transit network with planned extensions in dark blue and red.

This is the second story in our series examining how L.A. County’s 30/10 financing model could help other cities around the country.

On the eve of the 21st Century, the citizens of Salt Lake City cut the ribbon on their first light rail project, a 15-mile line connecting downtown to the city of Sandy to the south. The Salt Lake metro area was already booming and the 2002 Winter Olympics were soon coming to town.

From 2000 to 2009 the population of Salt Lake County grew over 15 percent and its southern neighbor Utah County grew a whopping 48 percent. Compare those to 3.4 percent for Los Angeles County. And despite the national economic downturn, New Geography notes, “one of the country’s largest downtown development projects is taking shape in Salt Lake City. The city’s center displays a landscape of cranes, cement-mixers and hard-hats — something all too rare in these tough times.”

The side effect of that growth — representing an additional 320,000 residents — is more people traveling around the region and more air pollution. Los Angeles and Salt Lake City are geographically kindred spirits. Both are surrounded by majestic, but smog-trapping mountains, and it usually takes a good storm to clean the air.

A light rail train bound for Sandy in the Salt Lake City area. Photo by vxla, via Flickr.

By 2006, residents had embraced the light rail line to the tune of 40,000 daily boardings. So, rather than tie their collective fate to ever-crowding freeways, residents voted that year to increase their local sales tax to pay for a dramatic expansion of commuter and light rail in the region.

FrontLines 2015, as the project is known, entails five new lines — four are light rail and one commuter rail — covering 70 miles. The four light rail lines are supposed to open by 2015 and two could debut as early as this August. Even when 2015 rolls around, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) won’t be done with its building program.

According to Gerry Carpenter, UTA Media Relations officer, once the initial commuter and light rail system is in place, the key will be increasing connections from homes and jobs to train stations. The UTA already has a list of bus rapid transit and streetcar projects, as well as bus enhancements, that it would like to roll out. Rough estimates suggest those additional 20 or so projects could cost a total of $3 billion.

The good news for the UTA is that the 2006 sales tax increase does not sunset (by contrast, the Measure R sales tax increase approved by voters here is scheduled to expire in July 2039). However, a substantial portion of that revenue source will be tied up in paying for FrontLines 2015.

But what if there were a way to borrow cheaply against those future revenues, so that those crucial projects could move forward right away? So that Utahans can immediately begin to reap the benefits of a clean and convenient transit system serving the all reaches of the Salt Lake metro area.


Light rail in the Salt Lake City basin. Photo by Nancy White, via Flickr.

That’s basically the essence of Los Angeles County’s 30/10 Program and its national counterpart, America Fast Forward: reward those cities that have taxed themselves by giving them expanded access to federal loan programs. Such loans make it possible for local areas to get the money they need to build now — before construction costs increase — and then use the sales tax revenues to pay off the loans over time.

Already, Salt Lake and Utah County residents are leading the way on local transportation investment, literally remaking a metro area that like many others in the Western U.S. has seen dramatic growth — but growth tied to the automobile. As Congress considers ways to finance the next six-year surface transportation bill that could make America Fast Forward possible, here’s hoping that legislators get inspired by the innovative solutions that local governments are spearheading.

Previously in this series: Denver’s efforts to rapidly add light rail, commuter rail and busways.

National transit group supports legislative proposals to speed funding of infrastructure projects

Metro CEO Art Leahy, in Washington for a transit conference, reported growing support for the 30/10 Initiative, also known as “America Fast Forward.” This time the endorsement comes from the  American Public Transportation Assn., a Washington-based nonprofit which represents transit agencies (including Metro) and private firms involved in building and operating transit.

Leahy sent this message home in a briefing memo to staff:

APTA Board of Directors Endorses Legislative Proposals to Accelerate Construction of Highway and Transit Projects

This weekend, I joined the American Public Transportation Association’s Board of Directors in Washington, DC in endorsing our innovative financial legislative proposals. APTA has now integrated our TIFIA enhancement proposal and qualified transportation bond proposal into their official legislative program.

Our two legislative proposals, which we collectively call America Fast Forward, will also be considered by other major transportation associations in the months to come.

APTA’s endorsement of our legislative efforts is clear proof that we are advancing content rich ideas that merit serious consideration by the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration.

The campaign is gaining momentum on all fronts. America Fast Forward was also featured recently in a Time video.

Metro Board members seek master plan for Union Station

I know there was a lot of reader interest — understandably — in the recent news that Metro intends to purchase Union Station. Many readers were pleased with the news, saying the station needs more amenities as the number of rail users increases.

The deal is scheduled to close shortly and in the meantime three members of the Metro Board — Richard Katz, Supervisor Gloria Molina and L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — have written a motion asking Metro to draw up a master plan for Union Station. The motion asks that Metro hold a design competition leading to conceptual plans for a “world class Union Station inter-modal station.”

The motion will be heard at the Board’s Executive Management & Audit Committee meeting on Thursday and then, presumably, at the full Board meeting on March 24.

The full motion is posted after the jump.

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Transit group says spike in fuel prices will lead to massive increase in transit ridership a la 2008

The U.S. Energy Information Administration is set to update the above numbers later today -- and pricese are likely to go up.

The report comes from the American Public Transportation Assn. (APTA), a group that represents transit agencies and private firms involved in the transit business. So it’s not exactly a surprise they predict ridership to soar — although that’s exactly what happened when gas prices topped $4 a gallon in the summer of 2008.

Check out the latest data on gas prices from the U.S. Energy Information Administration — the average in California for a gallon of regular was $3.87 as of last week. Here’s the press release from APTA:

$5 a Gallon Gas Could Spur Up to 1.5 Billion Additional Passenger Trips on U.S. Public Transportation Systems

Congress needs to provide long-term investment in public transit to address impending demand

Washington, DC- A study released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) predicts that as gasoline prices continue increasing, Americans will turn to public transportation in record numbers.  APTA is calling on Congress to address this impending demand by providing a greater long-term investment in public transportation.

The analysis reveals if regular gas prices reach $4 a gallon across the nation, as many experts have forecasted, an additional 670 million passenger trips could be expected, resulting in more than 10.8 billion trips per year. If pump prices jump to $5 a gallon, the report predicts an additional 1.5 billion passenger trips can be expected, resulting in more than 11.6 billion trips per year.   And if prices were to soar to $6 a gallon, expectations go as high as an additional 2.7 billion passenger trips, resulting in more than 12.9 billion trips per year.

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Making a transit point with Legos: watch this video!

Nearly every proposed transit project involves asking the public: what do you think? Most often, the public submits written comments or maybe makes an official statement at a public meeting.

A group of stakeholders in Detroit decided to try something different when it came to commenting on the Woodward Avenue Light Rail project: they produced a video that incorporates both rap and Lego-mation. According to Joel Batterman, of Transport Michigan, his group faced this challenge:

“The informational materials provided by the City and consultants didn’t always state things in layman’s terms, and even Transport Michigan’s forthcoming posts on the subject aren’t much more likely to be read by a mass audience than the 149-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement.”

Metro, of course, has a number of projects in the environmental study process. It goes without saying that many of the issues involved are serious and demand serious comment. Still, this video demonstrates that it’s always, always possible to make things easier for the general public to understand.