Five things I'm thinking about transportation

This is a new feature for The Source in which I express actual opinions while working for government. Members of the media: please take any of these ideas and run with them — we could use the coverage!

1. I’m still a little surprised that of all the media stories written about the Westside Subway Extension’s route, almost no attention was paid to the issue that there will be little or no parking provided by Metro at the stations. There will certainly be a lot of connecting bus service, bike racks and drop-off zones for subway riders, as well as some private lots for cars that are near the route. But this is still auto-centric Southern California and parking is almost always an issue when it comes to development. Readers of this blog don’t seem to think it’s much of an issue, judging from our own poll. And I personally don’t believe it’s a big deal — the current subway doesn’t have much parking from Metro. Still, I think it’s interesting that the media didn’t show much interest.

2. I think that something routinely overlooked in the debate over high-speed rail and whether it should be built at great cost in California is this: there are still large swaths of the state with little or no passenger rail service. In the year 2010, it’s not possible to take a train from Los Angeles to Bakersfield — Amtrak only offers bus service. Or from Bakersfield to Sacramento. Both of those trips require the Amtrak bus to complete them. And there are still considerable stretches of single-track in the state — meaning that service between Los Angeles and San Diego is slower than it should be, for example (it takes about 2 hours, 45 minutes each way). Don’t get me wrong. I think bullet trains would ultimately be great for California. But we’re building rail from the ground up. Continue reading

Board of Directors to consider increasing budget for phase one of Expo Line

At their meeting on Thursday, the Metro Board of Directors will be asked to increase the budget of the first phase of Expo Line by $28 million to settle claims made by the design-build contractor.

If the increase is approved, the total cost of the Expo Line project would rise to about $927 million.

Here is the full report to the Board.

Metro Board of Directors agenda now online

The Board of Directors have their final meeting of the year on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at Metro headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. Here’s the agenda.

A few items of interest that the Board will tackle:

•(Item 15) The Board is scheduled to vote to approve the final environmental impact report for the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit project — i.e. the rush-hour bus lanes for Wilshire between Centinela Avenue and just west of downtown L.A. Here’s a post looking at the project. Keep in mind that the final environmental study also needs to be approved by the city of L.A. and L.A. County.

Another decision before the Board is whether to remove the planned bus lane from about a one-mile stretch of Wilshire in the Condo Canyon area of Wilshire. Residents there have argued that putting the bus lane in one of the general traffic lanes will hinder traffic in the area as well as exits and entrances to residential buildings. Here’s a recent post about the federal funding issues involved. The Brentwood Neighborhood Council has asked that no bus lanes be built west of the 405. Here’s L.A. Streetsblog’s coverage.

•(Item 4) The Board is scheduled to vote on a motion by Board member Richard Katz, asking Metro to develop a green building strategy. The idea is to find a way to build big transit projects with equipment that pollutes less. Continue reading

Metrolink debuts new rail cars as part of Whistlestop tour

Metrolink Board Chairman Keith Millhouse showers the new safety-enhanced rail car with confetti as transit officials launch the first of Metrolink’s new Guardian fleet, which will eventually total 137 rail cars equipped with state-of-the-art safety technology. Also on board for the launch is, background from left, Metro’s CEO Art Leahy, Director Richard Katz, Republic of Korea Consul General Jae Soo Kim, Hyundai Rotem Co. President Minho Lee, MTA Chairman and L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe and Metrolink CEO John Fenton. Photo by Gary Leonard.

Metrolink publicly debuted its first Hyundai Rotem railcars at Union Station this morning. The cars are equipped with crash absorption technology. The agency has ordered 137 of the cars to be part of its “Guardian” fleet.

Among the cars’ safety features, according to Metrolink:

* Crush zones that absorb impact at each end of the car

* Enhanced bumpers to absorb, balance and dissipate force if an impact were to occur

* Couplers that absorb energy and help to keep cars in line and upright

* Work tables designed to dissipate the force of a collision

* Reconfigured seat placement in each car

* Comfortable seats with higher seat backs, provide more neck and back support

* Illuminated and marked pathways and exits

* An elevated train operator compartment

* Preinstalled inward and outward facing video cameras

* Sleek, stainless steel exterior

In addition, and as a response to the deadly Metrolink crash of Sept. 2008, the agency recently awarded a contract to implement a positive train control system that uses GPS technology to monitor of trains across the five-county Metrolink system and to keep them at safe distances from one another.

Metrolink is taking its new rail cars on a “whistle stop” tour this week. After the jump are the dates and times you can see them at cities around the region. Metro is one of the five county transit agencies in Southern California that helps fund the commuter rail agency. Continue reading

Planning for Eastside Access project kicks off

Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar, at left, and Metro CEO Art Leahy at today's press event in Boyle Heights.

Los Angeles City Councilman and Metro Board Member Jose Huizar held a press event this morning to discuss the Eastside Access project, which aims to make streetscape improvements in Boyle Heights and the Eastside near the Gold Line and help a burgeoning arts district in the area.

Like many parts of L.A. County, this is an area that could use better sidewalks and street lighting, to name just a couple of fixes on the way.

Serious planning for the project — which is funded by Measure R — is now getting underway and a Community Advisory Committee was recently formed to help advise Metro and the city of Los Angeles on the improvements. Construction is expected to begin in a year.

Details are in the following press release from Councilman Huizar’s office:

First Measure R Eastside Project Kicks-Off

Boyle Heights Arts District enhancements key to Mariachi Plaza section of $30 million Eastside Access Project — streetscape improvements to increase pedestrian/bicycle access in communities surrounding the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension

LOS ANGELES (Dec. 3, 2010)—Metro CEO Art Leahy and Councilmember José Huizar were joined Friday by First Street merchants and artists to announce the kick-off of a $12 million section of the voter-approved Eastside Access Project, a Measure R plan that will bring sidewalk, lighting and streetscape improvements along First Street in Boyle Heights.

Part of the larger $30 million Eastside Access Project, which will focus on multi-modal transit-related improvements at or near the Metro Eastside Gold Line Extension route, the Boyle Heights component will improve access along Boyle Heights’ four stations (Indiana, Soto, Mariachi Plaza and Pico Aliso) and is expected to enhance the burgeoning Boyle Heights Arts District along First Street, which features galleries, theaters and a local bookstore. Continue reading

Project update: 710 south corridor improvements

I wanted to provide a quick update on one of the many road projects involving Metro: improvements proposed for the 710 corridor between Long Beach and the 60 freeway.

In 2008, Metro launched an environmental study on how to improve this part of I-710. As many battle-tested motorists already know, that segment of the freeway is often very congested.

The main problem is that the freeway is just three lanes wide between Long Beach and the 405 freeway and four lanes wide between the 405 and 60. In addition, the freeway is often clogged with both commuters and truck traffic that is traveling to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Among the alternatives being studied for the project is widening the freeway to 10 lanes (five lanes in each direction); adding four elevated truck-only lanes adjacent to the 710 (two lanes in each direction); restricting the truck-only lanes to be used by trucks with zero tailpipe emissions; and possibly tolling the truck-only lanes.

That’s obviously quite a road widening and one of the few still possible in the region, where freeways are often hemmed in by development. In the case of the 710 south, such a project is possible because of the utility corridor that exists between the 710 and the Los Angeles River.

This is not just a project about improving traffic, Metro officials say. Neighborhoods near the ports and the 710 freeway have long pointed to studies that show very bad local air pollution in the corridor from vehicles, trains and ships. The air is so bad that it likely leads to premature deaths in the region.

Here’s a link to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency web page on air pollution from diesel emissions in the freight corridor north of the ports. Continue reading

Agency selects first segment to be constructed on high-speed rail line

The Board of Directors of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) voted today that a 65-mile stretch of track between Madera and Corcoran in the San Joaquin Valley will be the first to be built for the state’s bullet train project. That stretch also includes Fresno.

The vote was hardly a surprise. The staff of the CHSRA had recommended that segment be built first and the federal government had said that all funds it has provided to the government thus far must be used to construct track in the San Joaquin Valley.

Here’s a link to the press release with more details from the CHSRA. The goal of the agency is to first build an Anaheim-to-San Francisco segment before expanding the system to include Sacramento and San Diego.

FTA gives go ahead to remove Condo Canyon stretch from Wilshire bus lane project

The Federal Transit Administration on Thursday gave approval to Metro to remove a nearly one-mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from the Wilshire bus lane project without jeopardizing a federal grant for the project.

The decision whether to keep a bus lane on that part of Wilshire — between Comstock and Selby avenues in Westwood — will be up to the Metro Board of Directors. They are scheduled to take up the issue at their Dec. 9 meeting when the Board also must approve the project’s final environmental impact report.

Most of the 8.7 miles of rush hour bus lanes on Wilshire will be in the parking lane. But in this stretch of Wilshire, Metro staff recommended keeping the parking lane and the curbside jut-outs that have trees and grass. As a result, the bus lane was to go in the righthand general traffic lane — of which there are three in both directions in this part of Wilshire.

Residents complained that would make it difficult to exit and enter driveways to their buildings and could also pose a safety problem while backing up traffic on Wilshire. The Board of Directors’ planning committee agreed and asked Metro staff if eliminating the bus lane in this stretch of Wilshire would threaten a $23-million grant for the project from the FTA, which is about three-fourths of the bus lanes’ $31.5-million cost.

Here’s the letter that Metro sent to the FTA.

FTA asked about Wilshire bus lane through Westwood

As we reported recently, the Board of Directors’ planning committee recently asked whether a nearly one-mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood should be removed from the rush hour bus lane project being planned along Wilshire.

The concern is that the bus lane in that stretch between Selby and Comstock avenues would not be the parking lane — as is the case elsewhere. Instead, it would be one of the three general purpose traffic lanes and that has led residents of the area to fear that the bus lane will badly impact traffic and make entering and exiting driveways and garages difficult and potentially unsafe.

The full Board of Directors could make a decision on Dec. 9 on whether to include that stretch in the bus lane project. But one big question looms: would removing that area from the project jeopardize the $23 million in funding that the Federal Transit Administration has said it will provide?

Here’s what Metro CEO Art Leahy wrote in his daily email to staff:

FTA Requested to Approve Removal of Wilshire BRT Segment Near Westwood

The Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment (EIR/EA) was presented to the Planning and Programming Committee on November 17th. The Committee expressed its overall support for the project, but directed staff to seek Federal Transit Administration (FTA) approval to remove a one-mile segment east of Westwood to address community concerns. The project is funded from a federal Very Small Starts grant, and FTA is being asked to approve this change to the project. Attached is the letter that was sent to FTA. We have requested FTA to respond before the December 9th Board meeting where the Wilshire BRT EIR/EA is scheduled for Board action.

It should be an interesting discussion on the 9th, whichever answer is provided by the FTA. The project in its current form is expected to cost $31.5 million and it’s far from clear that the project would be possible without that money. On the other hand, Metro is offering to reduce the overall cost of the project and the FTA’s contribution if the Comstock-to-Selby stretch is not included.

Reminder: bus service changes coming Dec. 12

Metro issued a news release on Monday about the upcoming bus service cuts and changes going into effect on Sunday, Dec. 12. Here’s the release:

Effective Sunday, December 12, Metro is making bus service changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Metro system through better use of resources.

Four local lines are set to be discontinued and five Metro Rapid lines will be cancelled with service realocated to limited and local service operating along those corridors. In addition some Saturday and Sunday service will be cancelled with some of the service being augmented by local service on the weekends.

The bus service changes are being made to reduce unproductive service, reduce duplication of service along key travel corridors and to rightsize the Metro Rapid Corridor service. Metro staff looked at several Metro Rapid corridors where the average passengers trip length on the service were not much longer or faster than the local service currently being provided. For these specific corridors, Metro Rapid service (Lines 711, 714, 715, 753 & 920) will be discontinued and replaced with additional trips on the Local/Limited service (Lines 311, 14, 115, 53 & 720) as warranted to meet demand. Continue reading