Transportation headlines, Wednesday, May 28

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

Editor’s note: Hello Source readers. I’m traveling this week and will be mostly away from the blog — but wanted to catch up to the news of late. Regular programming resumes next Monday!

Metro fares will increase despite protests of low-income riders (L.A. Times)

Good story covers all the bases in last Thursday’s vote by the Board of Directors to raise the base fare from $1.50 to $1.75 this fall while including two hours of free transfers — meaning some riders may see a fare decrease. Many others, of course, will not. Excerpt:

Riders’ advocates said the increase will disproportionately hurt minority passengers, who make up about 80% of bus ridership. More than 90% of Metro riders are low-income, with an average household earning less than $20,000, according to agency data.

“Do you even understand how much we’re struggling day by day?” said Hee Pok Kim, a 92-year-old woman who could barely see over the public comment lectern. She spoke in Korean through a translator. “When we reach out to you for help, you shouldn’t push us away. You should grab our hands.”

We received a lot of comments and questions on the fare increases on The Source. I’ve answered the inquiries that I could. Metro officials are preparing answers to other questions and we will have all the information on the blog soon.

Northbound car-pool lane opens on the 405 over the Sepulveda Pass (Daily News) 

Coverage of the opening of the northbound HOV lane on the 405 on Friday. Excerpt:

As many as 300,000 cars and trucks pass over the 405 Freeway each day — a number that may rise by 50 percent to 447,000 by 2025, federal transit officials say.

The car-pool lanes have become the primary tool for adding capacity to such aging freeways with little room to grow, according to Caltrans. The state has 1,400 miles of car-pool lanes, or 40 percent of the nation’s total, with more than 800 miles in Southern California.

Similar car-pool lanes are being added along the 5 Freeway between Santa Clarita and downtown, with plans for continuous HOV lanes through Orange County.

In Los Angeles, each average car-pool lane can ferry 3,100 people in 1,300 vehicles per hour — nearly double the number of motorists than in a regular lane, MTA officials say. Together, some 322,000 cars containing 750,000 people car-pool across Los Angeles County each day, making it the busiest HOV lane system in the country.

Officials hope those numbers will grow as more car-pool lanes are added and more commuters opt to share rides as the legendary traffic worsens across the region. A new express bus may be in the works between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside.

 

We’ll be keeping tabs on the studies for the express bus. As for the numbers above about increases in traffic, it will be very interesting to see if those kind of numbers come to pass. They certainly make a good argument for the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project, which aims to provide transit across — or perhaps under — the Pass.

LA gets Purple Line transit money but will Angelenos leave their cars? (KPCC)

The headline doesn’t quite match the story, although there’s some of the usual skepticism about investing in transit in a city renowned for getting around by car. Elected officials from our region point out — rightfully, I think — that building an alternative to sitting in So Cal’s infamous traffic seems like the smart and kind of obvious thing to do.

I also think the last four graphs are the most important. Excerpt:

Transit construction is booming across LA County. By years’ end, there will be a record five rail lines under construction, funded in part by $3.5 billion in federal grants and loans.

The competition for future federal dollars to finish those projects will be tougher. LA got one in ten TIFIA loan dollars over the past two years. Measure R gave the region a head start, but now states and local communities across the nation are also competing for the loans. In fact, attending the Wednesday press conference was a public radio reporter from Alaska who says her state wants a shot at TIFIA money for a major bridge project.

Senator Feinstein says there’s another “boogeyman” out there that could prevent LA from getting future funding: sequestration. If Congress returns to its cost-cutting solution that mandates across the board cuts, funding for future transportation projects – including extension of the Purple Line to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Westwood – will be in jeopardy.

The Purple Line is scheduled to reach La Cienega Blvd. by 2023. It won’t reach the VA until 2035. The project is projected to cost $2.8 billion.

There is, of course, Measure R money available to complete the Purple Line Extension to Westwood. But federal loans and grants profoundly help and it won’t be good news if those things end up being in short supply.

The myth of the magic bus: the weird politics and persistently weird logic of the Orange Line (Streetsblog L.A.)

Writer Roger Rudick argues the Orange Line should have been a rail line and is not the success that some claim it to be as it’s often running at capacity. He argues that for the same cost — $324 million or $23 million per mile — the Orange Line could have been rail, citing the cost of a couple other rail projects in the U.S., including the Sprinter in northern San Diego County. Lots of interesting debate in the comments.

As far as light rail construction goes in Los Angeles County (the chosen rail technology here thus far), the cost has proven in recent times to be a lot more than $23 million a mile. The least expensive of the ongoing projects is the Gold Line Foothill Extension with a $735-million budget for 11.5 miles of rail and some of the cost of building the rail car maintenance campus in Monrovia.

Planning for Expo Line in Santa Monica (Santa Monica Daily Press) 

Officials are planning to modify traffic signals along Colorado Avenue to give Expo trains priority and allow them to run every five minutes eventually. That’s potentially good news for those who plan on taking the train all the way to downtown Los Angeles (and beyond) and want speedier commutes and less waiting time for trains. It’s refreshing to see cities give signal priority to transit — as signal priority has proven to be an issue on the aforementioned Orange Line and the first phase of the Expo Line.

Remembering the designer who changed the way that we think about transit maps (The City Lab)

A nice tribute to graphic designer Massimo Vignelli, who died Tuesday at the age of 83. He was known for more minimalist designs and his map of the New York City Subway endured for most of the 1970s before being replaced with a more literal design.

Google’s next phase in driverless cars: no brakes or steering wheel (New York Times) 

With progress slow on cars that allow humans to take over driving from the computer, Google is exploring another strategy: smaller, slower cars that lack a steering wheel, brake and gas pedals and gear shifts. Most interesting sentence in the article: “The front of the car will be made from a foamlike material in case the computer fails and it hits a pedestrian.” Hmm.

No MetroCard needed (New York Times) 

A good story about the relationship between real estate and bicycling in New York City. Excerpt:

As the search for more affordable real estate in New York City pushes deeper into neighborhoods that were once considered out of the way, bicycle lanes are taking on new importance. Since 2007, the city has carved out more than 350 miles of bike lanes in the five boroughs, according to the Department of Transportation. As a result, the distance from the nearest subway or bus stop has become less of a drawback for the two-wheeled set, particularly in transit-challenged areas of Brooklyn like Red Hook, Greenpoint and parts of Bushwick. In a twist to the real estate catch phrase, location, location, location, brokers say, bicycling is beginning to influence some real estate decisions.

“Your housing options change when you buy a bike and use it,” said Lyon Porter, a sales and leasing director of Town Residential, who relied heavily on a fixed-gear Dutch cruiser when living in Williamsburg several years ago and continues to cycle frequently around the city. “People get so much more for their money in this tight, compressed market,” when freed from the need to be near a train line, he said. “Your definable boundaries are different on a bike.” Without one, he said, “your map changes.”

Southbound 405 closure between Getty Center Drive and Wilshire Boulevard night of May 28

Here’s the press release from Metro:

The I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project contractor is scheduled to conduct a nighttime freeway closure on the southbound I-405 between Getty Center Drive and Wilshire Boulevard the night of May 28, 2014 to facilitate permanent striping of general purpose lanes and to grind and overlay new asphalt from the Sepulveda undercrossing near the Getty ramps to the Wilshire Boulevard off-ramp.  Closure information is as follows:

  • Midnight, May 28 to 5 a.m. May 29
  • Ramps will begin to close at 7 p.m. and lanes will begin to close at 10 p.m.

Ramp Closures:

Southbound on-ramp from Getty Center Drive

Southbound on-ramp from Westbound Sunset Boulevard

Southbound on-ramp from Eastbound Sunset Boulevard

Detour: Exit southbound Getty off-ramp, head southbound on Sepulveda Boulevard, make a right going west on Wilshire Boulevard to westbound Wilshire on-ramp.

What to expect:

Northbound HOV lane opened today on 405 over the Sepulveda Pass!

The HOV lane on the northbound 405 opened earlier this morning. A media event has just begun at Getty Center — we’ll have photos and video later today. Here’s the news release from Metro:

Paving the Road to a Better 405

L.A. Metro, Caltrans, Kiewit Open 10-Mile Northbound I-405 Carpool Lane between I-10 and U.S. 101

Los Angeles, Calif. – Just in time for the busy Memorial Day travel weekend, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and contractor Kieiwit Infrastructure West today officially opened the new 10-mile northbound carpool lane between the I-10 and U.S. 101, adding needed capacity to one of the nation’s busiest freeways and closing the last remaining gap in the entire I-405 carpool lane network.

The lane opening is the capstone for the massive $1.141 billion I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project which began construction in 2009. Project partners have committed to opening parts of the project as soon as they’re ready for public use.  The contractor will continue to perform some additional project work and landscaping on the freeway alignment and city streets. Key project deliverables are now open and operational.  

“Carpool lanes are a vitally important part of L.A. County’s transportation infrastructure, and nowhere are they needed more than here on the I-405, which suffers from some of the worst traffic congestion in America,” said Diane Dubois, Metro Board Chair and City of Lakewood Council Member.  “While construction has been challenging for both motorists and neighboring communities, we have now successfully paved the road to a better 405.  The northbound 405 will operate more efficiently, will help reduce the duration and severity of congestion, and help us better meet the future vehicle demands within this corridor.”

The project area provides the only direct freeway connection between the San Fernando Valley and Westside. This corridor currently serves major destinations along busy Ventura Boulevard, the Getty Center, Skirball Cultural Center, Westwood, UCLA and Los Angeles International Airport, among others.  Approximately 300,000 vehicles travel on this portion of the I-405 every day,  That number is expected to grow with future vehicle demands.  

“This project is a testament to how Caltrans and Metro worked together to address a critical transportation need. The new carpool lanes on the 405 link more than 70 miles of carpool lanes from Orange County through Los Angeles County,” said Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. “Instead of being stuck in traffic – burning gasoline and polluting the air – drivers can use the carpool lanes and pocket their savings for more important things.”

Continue reading

New HOV lane on northbound 405 opened this morning

First look at the newly improved northbound 405. Photo: Dave Sotero/Metro

First look at the newly improved northbound 405. Photo: Dave Sotero/Metro

The contractor for the Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project opened the northbound HOV lane on the 405 between the I-10 and U.S. 101 at approximately 4:30 a.m. today. Stay tuned for more info and the press release from Metro later today.

In the meantime, here’s an excellent roundup of the project.

405-Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project: it’s more than adding the HOV lane

As most of your know, the new northbound HOV lane on the 405 freeway between the 10 and 101 is opening Friday. There will finally be an HOV on the north side of the freeway to match the one on the southbound side that was completed in 2002.

Obviously traffic due to construction over the past four-and-a-half years has not been a treat. The good news: the key project work is finally open and available for Memorial Day weekend travelers and regular commuters.

The work involved has been considerable since the project got underway in 2009. The work also extends far beyond adding the HOV lane. Three bridges over the 405 have been rebuilt to seismic standards and widened. And many ramps on the 405 between the 10 and 101 have been lengthened, widened and in some cases moved to better locations.

Some interesting stats, according to Metro: Enough concrete was used on the project to build four Staple Centers, enough dirt was moved to fill 100,000 dump trucks and enough rebar installed to build 15,000 Volkswagen beetles.

I know there are people reading this who will argue that it’s pointless to improve freeways because they will inevitably fill with traffic. That’s a point well taken.

On the other hand, there’s a pretty good counter-argument to be made. The first is that the 405 has not been substantially improved since it was built across the Sepulveda Pass in 1963 — when L.A. County only had six million or so residents. The county today has more than 10 million people, not to mention the growth in surrounding areas. Look at Orange County, which is traversed by the 405. In 1960, it had about 700,000 residents. It has about 3.1 million people today, according to the Census Bureau.

The status quo on the 405 prior to work beginning in 2009 was certainly not good and logic dictates that traffic conditions would just keep getting worse in coming years as the region’s population grows. Metro and Caltrans say that project capacity improvements will help meet future traffic demands in our region.

Let’s run through some of the improvements:

•Prior to the work, there was an HOV on the southbound side of the 405 between the 10 and the 101. But the northbound side didn’t have an HOV lane due to lack of funding. There will now be HOV lanes on the 405 for 36 miles in both directions between the Orange County line and the northern San Fernando Valley, where the 405 merges into the Golden State Freeway.

Metro is also studying a new express bus that would run between Westwood and the northern San Fernando Valley using the HOV lane on the 405.

Measure R also provides $1 billion in seed money for a separate transit project that would span the Sepulveda Pass. Initial studies are underway and among the alternatives being evaluated is a transit tunnel under the pass, perhaps to be accompanied by a tolled tunnel for motor traffic.

•The on- and off-ramps at Wilshire Boulevard were rebuilt with flyover ramps to eliminate bottlenecks from cars exiting the 405 mixing with cars trying to enter. The ramps were also expanded to hold more vehicles. For example, the ramp from eastbound Wilshire to the northbound 405 is 3,129-feet long — 500 feet longer than the ramp it replaced — and has 280 percent more capacity. The southbound off-ramp from the 405 to eastbound Wilshire now has 134 percent more capacity.

•The new Sunset Boulevard Bridge is higher, longer and significantly wider at 120 feet — approximately 30 feet wider than before the project. It features two additional traffic lanes and higher capacity on- and off-ramps to improve area traffic flows and reduce congestion on local streets. Motorists will now enjoy dedicated turn lanes to access freeway ramps, and motorists traveling east/west through the bridge will be able to do so more quickly.

•The new Mulholland Bridge is 10 feet wider than the one it replaced and built to modern seismic standards. A new sidewalk was added on the south side of the bridge.

•The ramp from the westbound 10 to the northbound 405 was widened and other improvements were made to ramps at the extremely busy 10-405 junction.

•The 405 on- and off-ramps that serve Skirball Center Drive were demolished and rebuilt 2,000 feet south of their former location. This should help ease the traffic crunch at the intersection of Skirball Center Drive and Mulholland and make it easier to exit and enter the freeway. The new ramps also hold more than 200 additional vehicles.

•Among other improvements: new turn lanes for those entering the 405 from Sepulveda Boulevard, new sidewalks, curbs and gutters along Sepulveda Boulevard, new bike lanes for parts of Sepulveda Boulevard, an addition of 1,200 feet to the off-ramp to Cotner, the street that motorists use to access Santa Monica Boulevard (the ramp is now 2,300 feet long).

Metro Board votes to raise most fares in September but postpones further increases in 2017 and 2020

The Metro Board of Directors voted Thursday to raise Metro bus and train fares no earlier than September 1 but declined to impose the agency’s staff recommendation for additional increases in 2017 and 2020. The Board also decided to freeze fares for students.

Under the new fares, the regular fare will rise from $1.50 to $1.75. The cost of a day pass will increase from $5 to $7, the weekly pass from $20 to $25, the 30-day pass from $75 to $100 and the EZ Pass from $84 to $110.

However, the new fares will include free transfers for two hours for those using TAP cards. This is unlike the current base fare which is only good for a single ride on a bus or train, no matter the length of that ride. For example, a rider who currently rides two buses to reach their destination and pays $3 (the cost of two $1.50 fares) would only pay $1.75 under the new fares as long as the second bus ride begins within two hours.

Metro CEO Art Leahy, who began his job in 2009, and many experts outside the agency have said that encouraging transfers is a far wiser and efficient way to run a transit agency, given that about half of Metro’s riders must transfer to complete their trips. The Metro Board voted to drop transfers in 2007 as a way to reduce fraud and raise revenues.

On Sept. 1, the senior/disabled regular peak-hour fare is scheduled to rise from 55 cents to 75 cents, with the non-peak senior/disabled fare rising from 25 cents to 35 cents. (However, the Board will again consider senior/disabled fares at the June meeting.) The day pass will change from $1.80 to $2.50, the 30-day pass from $14 to $20 and the EZ Pass from $35 to $42.

This is the fourth fare increase since 1993, when Metro began operating as a new agency. The last fare increase was in 2010 when the regular single-ride fare was increased from $1.25 to $1.50. Fares for seniors, disabled riders and students have not changed since 2007; the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008 froze those fares through mid-2013 and they remain at 2007 levels.

There were two key votes on Thursday.

First, the Board voted 12 to 0 with one abstention (by Board Member Gloria Molina) for a motion by Board Members Mark Ridley-Thomas, Eric Garcetti and Zev Yaroslavsky to postpone the 2017 and 2020 round of fare increases pending further analysis that also asks Metro to identify potential revenues that could offset the need for any more fare hikes.

In the second vote, the Board voted 12 to 1 to accept Metro’s staff proposal for fare increases for 2014. The vote against came from Gloria Molina.

Metro staff have said that fare increases were necessary to keep pace with rising operating costs and to avoid a budget deficit of $36.8 million beginning in 2016 and potentially rising to more than $200 million within a decade because of inflation and the increase cost of operating a transit system with more than 2,000 buses, 87 miles of rail (and many more miles on the way), van pools and other services.

Staff also have repeatedly pointed to two statistics: the average Metro fare — when discounts are factored in — is only 70 cents. And each fare only covers 26 percent of the cost of providing service. Metro officials say that they want that number to reach 33 percent to better cover expenses and to ensure that the agency continues to receive needed federal grants.

Metro currently has three rail lines under construction. Both the second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension are scheduled to open in early 2016 while the Crenshaw/LAX Line is forecast to open in 2019. Two other rail lines — the Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension of the subway — will soon begin construction and are forecast to open in 2019 and 2023, respectively.

Discussion among members of the Metro Board revealed that many were highly uncomfortable with raising fares given the $16,250 median household income of the agency’s bus riders and $20,770 for rail riders. 

Board Member Eric Garcetti expressed disappointment that many low-income riders do not get discounted fares for low-income riders even though they qualify.

Gloria Molina offered the most pointed criticism of Metro, as she has in the past. Molina said that Metro has far more low-income riders than in other metro areas with vast transit systems. She criticized the agency’s efforts to reduce its subsidies for riders, saying it’s inappropriate in a region with so many low-income riders, many of which are making the minimum wage or less.

Instead, Molina offered a motion asking the agency to trim its operating budget by 1.5 percent, which she said would prevent the need for fare increases. That motion failed to secure a second from other Board Members. However, it was folded into the Ridley-Thomas-Garcetti-Yaroslavsky motion a request for Metro staff to determine what cutting 1.5 percent of the budget would entail and if it could be used to defer any fare increase.

And she said that Metro is not running a bus system effective enough to attract a diverse ridership that would raise more revenues. “You can’t ghettoize our buses,” Molina said.

The Board heard nearly two hours of public testimony before casting their votes. The prevailing sentiment from speakers — many from the Bus Riders Union — ran against raising fares.

One key factor in the fare discussions is a potential ballot measure that Metro is considering taking to Los Angeles County voters in 2016. Such a ballot measure — if approved, which is no easy task — could potentially raise more money for operating buses and trains, which the Ridley-Thomas-Garcetti-Yaroslavsky motion cites as funds that could possibly be used stave off the need for more fare increases.

On the other hand, the same ballot measure could also fund the acceleration and/or construction of more Metro transit projects, which in turn would raise operation costs. And a fare increase in close proximity to a potential ballot measure requiring two-thirds voter approval (under current law) could also be politically tricky.

Metro Board adopts fiscal year budget for 2014-2015

The Board unanimously approved a $5.5-billion budget for the fiscal year running from this July 1 through June 30, 2015.

Here is the updated news release from Metro to reflect the fare changes the Board also adopted today:

The Board of Directors of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) today approved a balanced $5.508 billion Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget, set to begin July 1, 2014. The budget includes continued commitment to the largest highway and rail building program in America, bus headway improvements and $283.4 million in maintenance expenditures to keep the system in top form.

The FY15 budget enhances many services while keeping fares at low levels, however, a base fare increase of 25 cents, from $1.50 to $1.75, goes into effect as early as September 1, 2014 to help offset a projected Fiscal Year 2017 operations budget deficit of $36.9 million. Fares for students will be frozen at current levels and the Board next month also will consider keeping fares for seniors and disabled persons at current levels. Free transfers in a two hour period also will be offered.

As part of the $283.4 million targeted at maintenance, Metro will spend $192.7 million on bus service including the purchase of 550 new clean-burning CNG buses and about $50 million for rail improvements on the Blue Line and the Red Line subway in the next fiscal year.

Safety is critical to Metro passengers and the FY15 budget contains $48.7 million to keep the system as safe as possible. Enhancements include improvements to cameras and video monitoring, security kiosks at various rail stations, signal system rehabilitation on the Metro Blue and Green lines and pedestrian safety improvements on the Metro Red Line with an underpass and overpass bridge planned for Universal City and North Hollywood stations.

Metro continues construction on the most comprehensive public works program in America with Measure R and other funding sources. In FY15, Metro will have five major rail projects either under construction or prepared to begin including the Metro Gold Line extension to Azusa, the Metro Expo Line extension to Santa Monica, the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Regional Connector. The Metro Purple Line extension to Westwood has received a $1.25 billion Federal Full Funding Grant Agreement and $856 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan.

In terms of highway projects, the mammoth undertaking of modernizing and expanding capacity of the I-405 will be completed in FY15 and other projects are moving forward including I-5 widening from Orange County to the I-605, the I-710 South Corridor, the North SR-710 study and a variety of other improvements including continuation of countywide sound wall construction and the Freeway Beautification Pilot Project designed maintain landscape and remove graffiti and debris.

The Metro ExpressLanes Project continues to provide travel options on the I-10 and I-110 freeways with future expansion of ExpressLanes to be studied. The Kenneth Hahn Countywide Callbox System continues operation along with development of the Motorist Aid and Travel Information System (MATIS).

Metro will continue to contribute both operations and capital funding to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority with FY15 capital projects including the Bob Hope Airport/Hollywood Way station, Van Nuys Second Platform, Vincent Grade/Acton and Lancaster Stations, Doran Street Crossing design, Raymer to Bernson Double Track and Southern California Regional Interconnectivity Program (SCRIP), which will increase Union Station Capacity.

Stay informed by following Metro on The Source and El Pasajero at metro.net, facebook.com/losangelesmetro, twitter.com/metrolosangeles and twitter.com/metroLAalerts and instagram.com/metrolosangeles.

Here is the Metro staff report on the budget: