High-Speed Rail Authority Board reviews alternatives for routing in Los Angeles area

On Thursday morning, the California High-Speed Rail Authority board of directors met in Los Angeles. The most prominent item on the agenda the was an update of the alternatives being considered for the bullet train’s route through the Los Angeles metro area.

The plan in this area is broken up in three segments: Palmdale to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Anaheim and Los Angeles to San Diego. For each segment, a slew of different alternatives have been studied. The authority’s job going forward is to hone in on a few that will be studied more rigorously in the Environmental Review process.

The first presentation, given by Palmdale to L.A. project manager Dan Tempelis, discussed how tracks would proceed from Los Angeles Union Station to the north end of the San Fernando Valley. You can view the full presentation here. What follows is a quick rundown of staff recommendations to the board.

San Fernando Valley Station Options (All photos are courtesy of the CAHSR Authority)

  • Proceed with studying stations in the San Fernando Valley at the San Fernando Metrolink Station, a Branford Street Station and a Burbank station at Buena Vista Street near Bob Hope Airport.
  • Remove stations at Pacoima Wash and downtown Burbank from further consideration.
  • Proceed with studying two deep bore tunnels traveling north from Union Station to SR 2 and one surface option along an existing Metrolink corridor.
  • Modify those three alignments to minimize local impacts to Los Angeles State Historic Park, the Los Angeles River and Rio de Los Angeles State Park.

The second presentation concerned the proposed alignment for the Los Angeles to Anaheim section, the southernmost section of the first phase of high-speed rail line between Anaheim and San Francisco. Dave Borger, a consultant on the project, narrated the the full presentation, which can be found on the authority website here.

The key takeaway was that the authority wants to pursue a “phased implementation” process. In English, this means that the

L.A. Union Station to Anaheim

authority will roll out a series of improvements to the existing rail corridor in advance of the “full build-out” of high-speed rail infrastructure. This will allow the authority to better coordinate with existing rail providers in the corridor, Metrolink and Amtrak, while making the necessary upgrades for high-speed service. The stages of phased implementation will involve:

  • Acquiring rights of way; building run-through tracks at L.A. Union Station for HSR, Amtrak and Metrolink; enhancing grade crossing safety; coordinating positive train control with local agencies; relocating existing track in key areas; modifying stations; and renovating utilities.

The last presentation reviewed various alignments for the Los Angeles to San Diego segment. Generally speaking, this route will travel east from L.A. Union Station to Ontario and Riverside before heading south to San Diego on a path roughly parallel to Interstate 15. Authority staff have considered a number of options for how to exit Union Station, which corridor to travel along and where to turn south. Today, the proposed alternatives for Los Angeles County were narrowed down to options that are depicted in the photo below.

L.A. Union Station to Riverside, and onwards to San Diego

Following a series of environmental reviews — including further community outreach and a detailed assessment of local impacts — the CAHSR board will select one route that will include one station in the San Gabriel Valley, another at Ontario International Airport and others in the San Bernardino and Riverside areas.

More broadly, high-speed rail in Southern California is coalescing from dozens of potential options into one or two in each corridor, giving everyone a clearer sense of what it will look like on the ground level. What struck me most about the hearing, however, was how much visionary transportation work is being done in this region.

At just about every point in the hearing, there was some discussion of how to make high-speed rail work within the existing and future transit network. Whether it’s the ARTIC transit center in Anaheim, Measure R in Los Angeles County or Metrolink investments in Riverside, a lot is going on in Southern California. And there seems to be a concerted effort to link high-speed rail to all these efforts.

Could the 30/10 Initiative work for the Denver area and other regions?

The FasTracks program would create 119 miles of rail connecting Denver and its surrounding communities.

As many of you already know, Metro is pursuing federal legislation to speed up construction of Measure R projects. The plan as originally conceived was called the 30/10 Initiative — meaning it seeks to build 30 years of Measure R projects in 10 years with the use of federal loans and other financing.

Some members of Congress have shown an interest in such a plan. So have many groups around the country, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That’s the reason that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has lately taken to calling the plan “America Fast Forward.”

The national interest is because 30/10 is not just a plan to help Los Angeles County. It could help transit agencies around the country that have raised local funds but need help getting enough money to actually begin construction of projects.

A light rail stop in downtown Denver. Photo by writRHET, via Flickr.

With that in mind, this is the first in a series of posts about other regions that are trying — much like Metro — to expand their transit systems. We’re going to start in Colorado, where there are some striking similarities to efforts to fully realize Measure R here.

On Election Day in November 2004, Denver-area voters approved a $4.7-billion investment in their mobility and future called FasTracks.

At the time, the metropolitan area was sprawling along the Front Range of the Rockies and freeways were becoming increasingly congested. Air pollution was getting worse too, fouling the very reason so many have chosen to live in Colorado. In 1995, a new airport opened on the prairie 25 miles east of the city center, requiring a long drive to reach for residents and visitors alike.

FasTracks was an attempt to dramatically revamp how the region got around. The plan — at the time the largest in America — was to add 119 miles of light rail, commuter rail and busways by 2017 to link otherwise disconnected suburbs to one another and to downtown Denver. And do it in 12 years.

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Metro's innovative free school field trip test begins

Here’s the news release from Metro:

Testing began today on the innovative new Metro Student Field Trip Pilot Program for grades 1 through 5. The test will allow L.A. Unified school field trips — students, teachers and chaperones — to travel for free on established Metro trains and bus routes during non-peak hours following authorization by both the school district and Metro. The goal is to help teachers continue to offer enriching educational and cultural experiences, even during these tough economic times for education.

For the test, schools will select from one of 10 L.A. Unified-sanctioned field trip destinations in or near downtown Los Angeles. Destinations include the California Science Center, Chinatown, City Hall, Civic Center, Central Library, the Performing Arts Center, Olvera Street, the Los Angeles Times, the Wells Fargo History Museum and the Museum of Natural History. No custom trips will be offered, nor will trips to sporting events.

“The test will help us see if we can make this program work for the benefit of the children and still serve Metro customers who have paid for their rides,” said Metro Transit Safety Education Manager Barbara Burns. “We need to remain particularly mindful of the children’s safety and service for Metro customers. Our hope is that the test will be successful and we can make this project work to everyone’s benefit.”

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More of your thoughts on Union Station

With the news that Metro is purchasing Los Angeles Union Station, I asked Metro followers on Twitter and Facebook yesterday for their suggestions on how to improve the train station. Here’s the first batch that I posted yesterday and below are a bunch more:

From Twitter:

SabrinaDeep @metrolosangeles we need cabs in LA!

markvalli @metrolosangeles A green grocer and/or produce carts so union station can be a hub for healthy food

MiguelLopez @metrolosangeles A train to the Westside.

sbytof @metrolosangeles WiFi

writerLyn @Metrolink @metrolosangeles free internet would be amazing.

RedEbbm @metrolosangeles suggestion for Union Station: “nextbus” signage for the gold line in the red line & vice-versa to show us so we don’t run.

munin @Metrolink @metrolosangeles Properly maintained signage and fixing the leaks in the concourse roof

chuljin @metrolosangeles Security guards more interested in protecting paying passengers from agressive panhandlers than red curbs from pax loading.

theendLXXIV @Metrolink @metrolosangeles F units, Pullman’s and an open Harvey House.

JambaJuiceJay @metrolosangeles @metrolink union station needs working outlets for charging electronic…it could also use a ticket machine right next to the tracks,and a jamba juice would be good too.

BlazinNathan @metrolosangeles Lockers in the terminal. Cool Olvera St/Chinatown restaurants inside. Walkalators in that long hallway to the Amtrak gates

More tweets and Facebook comments, after the jump. Continue reading

Ridership gets a bump in right direction in January

Metro has released system-wide ridership data for January 2011 and there is some good news — ridership is up.

Compared to Jan. 2010, average weekday boardings increased from 1,324,006 to 1,385,083 in Jan. 2011 on all Metro transit lines combined (bus and rail). This represents a 4.6 percent increase over a year ago.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the year-over-year ridership numbers for average weekday boardings on various Metro lines. Go here for a link to all the raw data on Metro’s website and here for a PDF with useful graphs.

  • Bus system-wide: Total increase of 36,652 riders — from 1,050,250 riders in Jan. 2010 to 1,086,902 riders in Jan. 2011 — representing an increase of 3.4 percent.
  • Red and Purple Lines: Total increase of 4,225 riders — from 139,409 riders in Jan. 2010 to 143,634 riders in Jan. 2011 — representing an increase of 3.03 percent.
  • Blue Line: Total increase of 9,126 riders — from 70,583 riders in Jan. 2010 to 79,709 riders in Jan. 2011 — representing an increase of 12.93 percent.
  • Green Line: Total increase of 5,355 riders — from 35,536 riders in Jan. 2010 to 40,891 in Jan. 2011 — representing an increase of 15.07 percent.
  • Gold Line: Total increase of 5,720 — from 28,227 riders in Jan. 2010 to 33,947 riders in Jan. 2011 — representing an increase of 20.26 percent (note that the Eastside Extension had already opened before Jan. 2010).

While this appears to be good news for Metro, it is important to remember that this is just one slice of data. It’s not a trend. Yet.

It’s also not immediately clear what is causing the increase: It could be the improving economy, higher and increasing gas prices in the Southland or more commuters wanting a way to avoid driving in traffic. In all likelihood, it’s some combination of all of these and more.

The overall increase from Jan. 2010 to Jan. 2011 represents only a partial recovery of the 100,000 average weekday riders that Metro lost from Jan. 2009 to Jan. 2010 as the American economy continued to falter.

As the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics notes [PDF], for much of 2009 the U.S. was still losing hundreds of thousands of jobs each month. And when people don’t have a job to commute to, they certainly aren’t going to be taking the bus, train, rideshare — or drive — as often. This trend in 2009 was borne out nationwide. In the year, an American Public Transit Association (APTA) survey showed a national decline in transit ridership of 3.8 percent.

We’ll keep you updated more often on ridership numbers and hopefully will continue to have more good news tor report.

Metro to purchase Los Angeles Union Station

Metro headquarters sits directly east of the 38-acre site of Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Aerial photo by Gary Leonard

Metro headquarters sits directly east of the 38-acre site of Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Aerial photo by Gary Leonard

In closed session, the Metro Board of Directors voted Thursday afternoon to purchase Union Station for $75 million. Here’s the news release:

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today announced that it has successfully negotiated the purchase of Los Angeles Union Station from Catellus Operating Limited Partnership for $75 million, a move that sets the stage for future expansion of the “last of the great railway stations” built in North America.

The direct purchase includes 38 acres of land and 5.9 million square-feet of entitlements that provide Metro the right to build on the property and draw lease revenues from both transit operators and businesses. Currently, the station is home to Amtrak, Metrolink, Metro Red and Purple Lines, Metro Gold Line, L.A. FlyAway and numerous Metro and municipal bus lines serving Los Angeles County and beyond.  The station is also home to several new retail businesses.

The purchase enables Metro to better meet the station’s current and future transportation needs.  Union Station has experienced a boom in the number of transit patrons and others who travel through it on a daily basis.  Use of the station is expected to experience strong growth through a combination of factors, including planned construction of the Regional Connector transit project through downtown, the future Metro Silver Line express bus station on Patsaouras Transit Plaza, a growing retail presence and future high speed rail plans for Los Angeles.

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Metro Board of Directors take action on several items, including Expo Line Phase 2

The Metro Board of Directors met in downtown Los Angeles for their monthly meeting Thursday morning and took action on several items of interest below. As of 11:45 a.m., the meeting is still in progress and the Board still has items to discuss in closed session.

Please note that Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge substituted for Board member Jose Huizar — as he has done in the past. And new Board Member Mel Wilson — an appointee of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — served at his first meeting, replacing Rita Robinson, the former chief of the city’s transportation agency.

•(Item 12) The Directors approved a $1.5-billion funding agreement with the Expo Line Construction Authority for the second phase of the light rail line between Culver City and Santa Monica. The agreement could allow construction of the line to begin later this year.

•(Item 2) The Directors received and filed a preliminary report on the hypothetical costs of building a tunnel in the area of the 710 gap. The report was requested by Board Member Ara Najarian, who at the meeting objected to the report’s methodology. Other Board members and Metro CEO Art Leahy defended the report, noting that no decision has been made to build any project in the area of the 710 gap.

•(Item 10) The Directors approved a motion calling for implementation of a master plan for commercial and residential development at the Rosa Parks/Willowbrook Blue Line station. I’ll post some renderings later today.

•(Item 3) The Directors received and filed a status report on development of a regional fare system. The gist of it: progress is being made on two big issues — converting paper tickets to fare media that will work with the TAP system and creating a system to distribute money collected to all agencies that accept fares paid for by TAP cards.

•(Item 14) The Directors decided not to renew a contract worth $51,000 a month with the firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips for lobbying services in Washington. Board member Zev Yaroslavsky praised some of the work done by the firm but said that the money would be better spent on other things.

•(Item 15) The Directors approved a motion by Board members Mark Ridley-Thomas and Pam O’Connor asking for a report on how Metro can expand the renewable energy to power existing and new transit lines. Supervisor Thomas said the goal was to make Metro the leader in renewables among transit agencies in the U.S. and several public speakers noted that renewables could save money for Metro.

Mayor Villaraigosa's testimony to federal transportation hearing

Below is the written testimony submitted to the Congressional transportation funding hearing this morning by Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Member Antonio Villaraigosa.

I think it’s worth noting that both Mayor Villaraigosa and Supervisor Don Knabe — here is his testimony — emphasized that changes in federal law sought by Metro could help many local transit agencies that have passed sales taxes or bonds that could be used to repay low-interest federal loans.

In Metro’s case, the idea is to use federal loans and other financing to quickly build Measure R projects and then repay the loans with Measure R revenues, which flow into local coffers over many years. It’s called the 30/10 Initiative, although that name is specific to L.A. — the effort underway is actually much broader and could help many regions get transportation projects built now, not later.

Joint Field Hearing before the House Committee on Transportation and
Infrastructure and the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Written Testimony of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa
February 23, 2011

Thank you Chairman Boxer, Chairman Mica, Ranking Member Inhofe, Ranking Member
Rahall, and members of this joint committee for the opportunity to provide testimony at
the “Improving and Reforming our Nation’s Surface Transportation Programs to Support
Job Creation and the Economy” hearing.

America continues to suffer from high unemployment, and unemployment here in Los
Angeles is even higher. Simply put: Americans need jobs and cities and states across
the nation need a federal partnership to help us put people back to work, which can be
done through smart, innovative investments in our transportation infrastructure.
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Metro Board Chairman Don Knabe calls for key federal legislation to advance construction of Measure R projects

A joint hearing was held in Westwood this morning of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

The respective chairs of those committees, Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. John Mica, were both in attendance. Both will play big roles in shaping the next multi-year federal transportation spending bill and they visited Los Angeles to ask officials and other parties what should be in that bill, which may be voted on later this year.

The answer from Metro: The 30/10 Initiative, which seeks to accelerate construction of Measure R projects and transit projects in other regions by using federal loans and other financing. The 30/10 plan was originally proposed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — who also testified at today’s hearing — and then adopted by the Metro Board. (I’ll post the mayor’s remarks in a few minutes).

The very good news is that both Boxer, a Democrat, and Mica, a Republican, seem eager to make 30/10 the law by reforming and expanding existing loan and bond programs. And both indicated — yet again — they want to see more mass transit in the L.A. region.

Below are the remarks made at the hearing by Metro Board Chairman and County Supervisor Don Knabe, who spells out exactly what Metro is seeking:

Good morning Chairman Boxer and Chairman Mica.

On behalf of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), I appreciate the opportunity to join you today at this historic hearing to outline our agency’s perspective on our nation’s next surface transportation bill.

Before delivering my testimony, allow me to very briefly describe the agency for which I serve as Chairman. Metro is the third largest public transportation agency in the United States. We are responsible for transportation planning, coordination, design, construction and operation of bus, subway, light rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services for the 10 million residents of Los Angeles County. We are also partners with Caltrans and Metrolink and Metro helps to support an extensive HOV and commuter rail network. We are also undertaking major improvements to our region’s highway system. Our highways form the backbone of our economy and are an important part of the nation’s goods movement system. Metro also funds street construction, bike paths, manages the freeway service patrol, among a number of other projects and services. Metro serves a 1,433 square mile service area with approximately 200 bus routes, over 75 miles of rail lines, and over 400 miles of carpool lanes that crisscross Los Angeles County. We have over 9,000 dedicated employees and an annual budget that exceeds $3.5 billion.

Today we are at an important crossroads on federal transportation policy. The solutions designed more than 60 years ago are no longer sufficient to meet our needs. The federal program for surface transportation funding no longer works to solve the many transportation challenges we face as a nation and no other region demonstrates that as well as the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The bottom line is that our transportation network is the engine of our economy and our ability to compete worldwide will depend on our ability to move goods and people with greater efficiency – both in terms of cost and speed.

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