Transportation headlines, Thursday, Oct. 23

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.  

Going off the rails on Metro’s rail cars (L.A. Times) 

Photo: Juan Ocampo/Metro

One of the new rail cars after delivery to Metro. Photo: Juan Ocampo/Metro

This editorial says there still could be a glimmer of hope that rail-car manufacturer Kinkisharyo — contracted by Metro to build new vehicles — will build a permanent light rail car manufacturing facility in Palmdale. The firm has said it will take the facility out of state because of a union-backed lawsuit challenging the factory on environmental grounds.

The union wants to organize workers at the new facility. Kinkisharyo wants a formal vote on unionization, which would allow the firm to make its case to workers that a union is not necessary. The Times’ editorial board says that a compromise is still possible:

Both the company and the unions are wrong, and their intransigence could cost L.A. County good jobs. Political leaders, including Metro board members Mayor Eric Garcetti, who chairs the Metro board, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has close ties to labor, should be working overtime with their colleagues to broker a deal to keep the jobs here.

The Times would like to see Kinkisharyo fully flesh out the environmental impacts of a new facility. The newspaper also suggests that some local union leaders are working on behalf of another rail car manufacturer.

Related: here’s a post with more pics of the first new light rail car delivered to Metro.

The fundamental rule of traffic: building more roads just makes people drive more (Vox)

A new study reaches an old conclusion that has now been long-debated in transportation and activist circles. Not surprisingly perhaps, the photo accompanying this blog post features our very own 405 freeway all gummed up with traffic. Excerpt:

Turner and Duranton have also found that public transportation doesn’t really help alleviate congestion either — even if it takes some people out of cars and puts them on buses or trains, the empty road space will be quickly filled up by new vehicle-miles. Other researchers have found exceptions to this rule (say, when a transit route parallels heavy commuting corridors) but it doesn’t seem to be a large-scale traffic solution, at least given the way US cities are currently built. (Note that transit can have other beneficial effects, like making a city more affordable. But it doesn’t seem to have much effect on congestion.)

So why does traffic increase when new road capacity is added? Turner and Duranton attribute about half of the effect to people’s driving decisions. “Think of it as if you made a bunch of hamburgers and then gave them all away,” Turner says. “If you make hamburgers free, people will eat more of them.”

Again, not exactly a shocking conclusion. Those who attended last month’s Zocalo Public Square forum on can-we-fix-traffic heard UCLA’s Brian Taylor explain:

Can traffic be fixed or seriously improved? The short answer: probably not much can be done unless the region embraces drastic and politically unpopular measures such as heavier tolling across all lanes on freeways to reduce peak hour traffic, passing laws to greatly restrict driving, building many billions of dollars of new freeways (which includes the challenge of finding places to put them) or going the Detroit route by shedding jobs, residents and the local economy.

If you would like to listen to the forum, please click here.

Does that mean all road projects are pointless? Well, no. There are places where roads can be made safer, bottlenecks can be fixed and capacity added via HOV lanes. Roads can be made more complete by adding pedestrian and cycling improvements.

More headlines are after the jump!

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Transportation headlines, Wednesday, October 22

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.  

Rail to River moves forward (Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas website)

The post concerns a motion by Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas that asks Metro to supply $2.8 million in funding for more planning and design work on a new walking and bike path in South Los Angeles. The motion will be heard at Thursday’s meeting of the Metro Board of Directors.

As envisioned by Ridley-Thomas, the path would convert the old Harbor Subdivision Right-of-Way owned by Metro and convert it to a walking and bike path between the West Boulevard Station of the future LAX/Crenshaw line and the Los Angeles River.

The article and the accompanying video on MRT’s website invokes New York City’s “High Line” as well as the Greenway Trail in Whittier as examples of projects that successfully have converted unused railway to assets that benefit the surrounding communities. Here’s a Source post from earlier this year about the concept.

This item from the Source’s Steve Hymon:

Times, ABC 7 and Metro’s parking stores are wrong and misleading (Streetsblog L.A.) 

Joe Linton responds to stories on parking — and the lack thereof — at some Metro transit stations (L.A. Times and ABC-7). Among his key points: 1) it’s often free parking that is in short supply at some stations stations while paid parking spaces may be available or could be available if managed better, and; 2) there may be other important reasons why people choose not to ride other than parking — such as frequency or quality of transit service.

Whether to include parking at transit stations is a tough piece of public policy, especially given that free parking is subsidized by Metro for better or worse (depending on your point of view). I’ve heard good arguments on all sides of this debate. I’ll offer the same disclosure that I did in yesterday’s headlines: the $2 I pay to sometimes park at the Gold Line’s Del Mar Station makes my transit trip to work a little quicker.

Lyft, Uber secure SFO deal (S.F. Examiner)

The deal means that the three most used app-based rideshare services (or “transportation network companies“) can now legally pick up and drop off passengers at San Francisco International Airport as part of a 90-day pilot program. Sidecar, another popular service, reached an agreement with the airport last week. The terms of the deal will allow the airport to limit the number of vehicles available at the airport at a given time. SFO is the first airport in California and the second in the U.S. to reach an agreement with app-based ride services.

Meanwhile in L.A., Los Angeles World Airports last spring asked for comments on a draft agreement for a potential pilot program to allow transportation network companies at LAX. There’s been little news out of either camp regarding progress on granting permits since then.

In June, the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the fledgling rideshare industry in California, issued cease-and-desist letters to a handful of companies specifically citing unauthorized airport operations. Police at both LAX and SFO were reportedly cracking down on unlicensed drivers throughout the summer. But despite such a rough start, SFO and rideshare companies were still able to strike deals within a few months. So is it only a matter of time before similar agreements will be inked at LAX?

NYC sets one-day subway ridership record (WNYC)

Passengers board the New York subway in September. Photo by Jim Pennucci, via Flickr creative commons.

Passengers board the New York subway in September. Photo by Jim Pennucci, via Flickr creative commons.

There were 6.1 million boardings on Sept. 23, the most since records started being kept in 1985. Officials say the subway was only averaging 3.6 million boardings a day 20 years ago and credit the growth to the New York MTA’s efforts to improve the system’s efficiency and capacity.

Washington State traffic forecast finally recognizes reality (Sightline Daily)

The blog post by Clark Williams-Derry of the Sightline Institute cites a recently published forecast from Washington state that predicts traffic growth in the state will be modest and eventually decline. This trend is a striking change from the same orecast from last year which, like many other traffic growth forecasts across the country, indicated steady traffic growth. Williams-Derry calls the forecast a “refreshing change” because:

First, it reflects the growing empirical evidence of a long-term slowdown in the growth of vehicle travel, evident on major roads in Washington, for Washington State roads as a whole, for the US, and for much of the industrialized world.

Second, even if the forecast is wrong, assuming that traffic won’t grow much is the most fiscally prudent way to plan a transportation budget.

The article goes on to say a consequence of slowed traffic growth combined with unrealistically optimistic traffic forecasts (if more cars on the road is an optimistic prospect to anyone) is reduced revenue from gas tax and tolling, most of which the state of Washington is forced to use on debt repayment instead of much-needed infrastructure improvements.

It will be interesting to see if more agencies use the recent trend in declining traffic growth as a basis for predicting a long-term trend, especially considering per capita vehicle miles of travel in the U.S. declined for the 9th straight year in 2013. Even more interesting: whether funds will shift toward other ways of getting around.

 

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, Oct. 21: to park or not to park at Metro stations?

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.  

Lack of parking drives many away from mass transit (L.A. Times) 

Parking at the Expo Line's Culver City Station. Photo by Metro.

Parking at the Expo Line’s Culver City Station. Photo by Metro.

An updated look at a long-debated issue in transit circles: how much, if any, lack of parking at transit stations. Forty of Metro’s 80 stations have parking — and parking at some of the most popular stations is often gobbled up early on weekday mornings (Norwalk, NoHo, Universal City and Culver City are a few examples).

On the other hand, Metro has thousands of free spaces — as well as some paid ones — and I can definitely point to places where parking is relatively easy. This interactive map gives you an idea where the parking is located.

Excerpt from the Times article:

“Today I got lucky,” said Ashley Scott, 30, as she waited for her train to Hollywood on a recent Thursday morning. “I was this close to just getting on the 101.”

Scott’s daily dilemma illustrates an often overlooked but significant choke point in the ambitious growth of L.A.’s light-rail system. Metro’s six-line network, which has seen steady ridership gains over the last five years, now carries about 350,000 people on work days. Parking shortages could complicate Metro’s goal of shifting hundreds of thousands more drivers to public transit in coming decades.

Planners say it’s impractical, perhaps impossible, to build enough free parking. Train station lots have low turnover because most commuters leave their cars all day. To meet demand, Metro lots would have to sprawl far beyond the station—or, in dense urban areas, rise several stories.

It’s a tough issue as many planners believe that it’s far wiser in the long-term to build developments with more jobs and/or residences near transit. Their belief is that promoting density near transit will ultimately produce more riders than sprawling parking lots and also lead to building cities with a higher quality-of-life.

On the other hand, it’s undeniable that — at least for now — parking is the carrot that makes taking transit possible for some of our riders.

And then there’s the issue of expense and space. For example, there is no parking planned along the Purple Line Extension subway, which largely follows densely developed Wilshire Boulevard. On the other hand, the Gold Line Foothill Extension — in the more suburban San Gabriel Valley — will eventually have parking at each of its six new stations.

As it happens, I just got off the phone with Andrew Young, who recently co-authored a study with David Levinson at the University of Minnesota that ranked Metro areas according to their transit accessibility to jobs. The Los Angeles area ranked third, so I asked Andrew what he thought about the parking conundrum.

“You can build parking lots that makes transit useful to those who live some distance away from stations or you can build housing and destination adjacent to that station that will be used by those in future who will work and live there,” he said. “The question is: do you want to build for an existing constituency or do you want to build for a currently nonexistent constituency that one day will live next to the station. In many places, building for the future is hard for current politicians….people like the status quo and people in the status quo are the ones who vote and it’s always hard to change that.”

Well said.

Of course, there’s a related issue here, too — whether parking, where it exists, should be free? Streetsblog L.A. has written about that, criticizing Metro for offering free subsidies for auto users that it doesn’t necessarily offer for those who get to stations on foot, bikes or even transit.

Personal disclosure on this item: I often pay $2 to park at the Gold Line’s Del Mar station, where there is always plenty of parking to be had. I could ride my bike, walk or try to snare a ride from the Domestic Partner (when not working herself), but I’ve found driving to be quicker.

More headline funtivitity after the jump! 

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Go Metro to Lit Crawl LA: NoHo this Wednesday night

Photos from last year's LA Lit Crawl: NoHo by Rosalind Helfand.

Photos from last year’s Lit Crawl LA: NoHo by Rosalind Helfand.

The second-ever Lit Crawl LA: NoHo returns this Wednesday evening, Oct. 22, from 7 p.m. to midnight–and getting there via Metro is as easy as A-B-C!

Over 170 writers, literary organizations, and series will offer free readings and cultural events at 30 venues along Lankershim and Magnolia Boulevards. Each Lit Crawl location is within walking distance of the other, and of course, the entire NoHo Arts District is reachable by Metro Red Line, Orange Line, or bus. Simply hop on the Red or Orange Line to North Hollywood Station, or bus lines 152/353, 156/656, or 183 to Lankershim/Chandler.

Lit Crawl LA is organized into three 45-minute phases. At each phase, visitors chose from a diverse program of 10 to 12 events. The night ends with a “speakeasy” party at the Federal Bar at 10 p.m. All events are free to attend, however, food and drink are not included. That’s where Metro can help again: present your valid TAP card at the Federal Bar or Bow and Truss restaurant and save 10% and 15% on food, respectively. Just keep in mind that Metro Rail and Orange Line close around midnight Sunday through Thursday.

Transportation headlines, Monday, October 20

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.  

No winners in this MTA train wreck (L.A. Times)

In his opinion column, Jim Newton looks at the dispute between rail car manufacturer Kinkisharyo and a local union that resulted in Kinkisharyo announcing that it won’t build a permanent manufacturing facility in Palmdale. Excerpt:

That won’t be quite the end of it, of course. Kinkisharyo will still do assembly work in Palmdale as long as its MTA contract lasts and will still employ almost 200 people in its existing assembly plant, but the company says it’s finished with the idea of a long-term manufacturing plant in the area. Labor leaders maintain that the company has an obligation under its contract to create these jobs in Los Angeles County, but the MTA disagrees. Officials at the agency say that while Kinkisharyo had committed to doing the rail car assembly locally, the agency cannot, under federal law, force the company to build in the area. Lawsuits already are being filed, and courts will sift through the arguments for months, maybe years.

But that’s all squabbling over the wreckage. The undisputed fact is that a stubborn company and a stubborn union went to war, and because of it, the residents of Palmdale, who could have had a couple of hundred good new jobs, instead will be looking at a vacant lot. Who won that battle? No one. But there are plenty of losers, including California, Los Angeles County, Palmdale and the of men and women who would have built and staffed the manufacturing facility.

 

As Newton writes, the real story here is probably the difficulty of doing business in California. In the meantime, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich — also a member of the Metro Board of Directors — held a news conference this morning at the County Hall of Administration to discuss the situation.

Photo by Paul Gonzales/Metro.

Photo by Paul Gonzales/Metro.

Antonovich called again on Gov. Jerry Brown to ask the union, the IBEW Local 18, to drop its state lawsuit against Kinkisharyo. He also accused the union of supporting a different rail car manufacturer during the bidding process with Metro and that this is a back door attempt by that firm to gain business with Metro. The union is perhaps best known recently for its significant financial support for the losing candidate in last year’s election for mayor of Los Angeles.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said that he was devastated by the news and that it reinforces the notion that California is not business friendly. He reiterated that Palmdale is very open to working with local businesses to keep and create job and that he remains committed to building the new permanent facility for Kinkisharyo.

Officials celebrate Gold Line milestone in Azusa (San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Coverage of the last piece of track work being completed in Saturday for the 11.5-mile Gold Line Foothill Extension between Pasadena and the Azusa/Glendora border. Azusa officials say they are using a Metro grant to study the best ways to use and/or develop land around the two stations in Azusa — one is downtown and the other is adjacent to Citrus College, Azusa Pacific University and the Rosedale development.

Streetsblog L.A. also had a four-part series over the summer on the Gold Line Foothill Extension which includes a ton of photos. Part one, part two, part three and part four. Just to give you an idea how quickly the track work was done, here’s a pic I took back in February when the work was getting underway:

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Did diversity miss the train in Union Station’s architecture (Denver Post) 

A bar in the refurbished Union Station in Denver. Photo by Misty Facheux, via Flickr creative commons.

A bar in the refurbished Union Station in Denver. Photo by Misty Facheux, via Flickr creative commons.

Post architecture critic Ray Mark Rinaldi has been visiting the newly revamped Union Station in downtown Denver and by his own counts found the place to be filled with white faces. He finds that troubling, given that 47 percent of Denver’s population are minorities.

His take: the local transportation agency, the RTD, put too much emphasis on restoring the building to its older European roots and put too much emphasis on attracting businesses that catered to an exclusive, upscale and white clientele. Excerpt:

Still, something is missing. There’s no traditional Mexican restaurant, no soul-food restaurant, no sushi bar, as if no one noticed that the Mexican-American, African-American and Asian-American families that own and operate those places across the city are also our best food purveyors.

This country is full of union stations, old train depots, once the center of civic life, that fell out of use in the auto era. St. Louis fixed up its station by adding a mall. It’s not as successful, but it’s diversified. Kansas City filled its hall with a science center, and kids from across the city’s neighborhoods are regulars there.

Washington, D.C.’s train station now has swank shops, but also a food court. It has, notably, a B. Smith’s restaurant, part of a small, African-American-owned chain that is a touchstone in the black community.

Interesting article and worth a read. I haven’t been to the station in 20 years and have no idea what it’s like now — so it’s hard to form an opinion about the article. Obviously with our Union Station on deck for a major refurbishment and expansion, it’s worth considering such opinions.

The emptying of New York City (Salon)

Manhattan has gotten taller in the past century. But it has also gotten much less dense. The suspected reason: wealth, with fewer people taking up more space. Reminds me of a recent item here on a new Gotham skyscraper that will be the tallest in the city (1,396 feet) and will house only 104 residential units.

Again, something to chew on as development continues in downtown.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, October 16

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! 

Why the 405 isn’t any faster with more lanes (KPCC Take Two)

An economist says expanding a road — 405 over the Sepulveda Pass included — will probably mean an increase in the number of vehicles that use the road. His answer to quickening commutes: congestion pricing, a la the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeway that help discourage everyone from driving at the same peak hours.

Labor dispute kills Kinkisharyo’s AV plant (San Fernando Valley Business Journal)

The rail car manufacturer under contract by Metro to produce new light rail vehicles has decided not to build a $50 million, 400,000-square-foot facility in Palmdale. The firm had said it would build the new facility as part of its contract with Metro. But a labor-supported residents group — specifically the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 — tried to hold up a needed zoning change unless Kinkisharyo agreed to be a “card check” facility. “Card check is a process by which a workplace can unionize if 50 percent or more of workers sign cards stating they want to be represented for collective bargaining,” reports the Business Journal.

Excerpt:

Agency spokesman Marc Littman said he was disappointed by the company’s decision but added it would not affect the delivery of Metro’s cars.

“This is a real loss,” Littman said. “We wanted them here to help the local economy but we cannot require Kinkisharyo do (manufacturing) here.”

IBEW Local 11 was in the news in 2013 when it got heavily involved in the campaign for mayor of Los Angeles. It didn’t work. Eric Garcetti, now the chair of the Metro Board of Directors, easily won the election without the union’s support.

Metro moving forward with flawed ‘Complete Streets’ policy (Streetsblog L.A.)

Joe Linton takes a look at the Complete Streets policy being considered this month by the Metro Board of Directors. While parts of it are commendable, he opines, other parts are vague with no assurance that the policies will be enforced to encourage roads where walking and biking are safe and desirable. While street design is usually up to local cities (or the county in unincorporated areas), Metro may have the ability to influence street design in rail corridors or with projects that involve Metro funding.

California high-speed rail wins big round in state Supreme Court (Sacramento Bee)

The California Supreme Court turns away a lawsuit challenging the issuance of state bonds needed to help pay for construction of the first segment of the high-speed rail line that is eventually planned to run between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s good news for the project but there are other remaining legal challenges that assert the project doesn’t live up to what was promised voters in Prop 1A in 2008.

The self-driving Tesla may make us love urban sprawl again (Slate)

The key graph — and something I’ve pondered in this space before:

As driving becomes less onerous and computer-controlled systems reduce traffic, some experts worry that will eliminate a powerful incentive—commuting sucks—for living near cities, where urban density makes for more efficient sharing of resources. In other words, autonomous vehicles could lead to urban sprawl.

In other words, if you can sit in your own car and not have to drive or pay much attention to the road, would your commute seem less onerous? Yes, there still could be a lot of traffic with self-driving cars. But perhaps the door-to-door attractiveness of a car coupled with technology (i.e. playing PacMan, Asteroids or Missile Command) on your tablet will trump the yuckyness of traffic.

 

Sneak peek into fabrication for artwork at future Expo/Sepulveda Station

Susan Logoreci inspecting color in ceramic tile sections at artwork fabricator's shop. Photo: Mosaika Art & Design

Artist Susan Logoreci inspecting color in ceramic tile sections at artwork fabricator’s shop. Photo: Mosaika Art & Design

Detail of artwork rendered in ceramic tile pieces.  Photo: Mosaika Art & Design

Detail of artwork rendered in ceramic tile pieces. Photo: Mosaika Art & Design

This is the third in a series of Source posts providing a behind-the-scenes look at the artwork fabrication process for each of the seven new Metro Rail stations under construction along the second phase of the Expo Line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica.

The artworks will create a welcoming environment for future riders and connect the stations to surrounding neighborhoods. Commissioned artists include Constance Mallinson, Shizu Saldamando, Abel Alejandre, Susan Logoreci, Nzuji de Magalhães, Carmen Argote, and Judithe Hernandez.

This post introduces the artwork of artist Susan Logoreci, which will be featured at Expo/Sepulveda Station. Logoreci’s original artwork, Right Above The Right-Of-Way, uses colored pencil drawings to express the area’s urban form and housing. The original drawings were translated into hand-cut ceramic tile pieces that were kiln fired. The eight hand-glazed, hand-cut ceramic mosaic panels will be installed in overhead structures at Expo/Sepulveda Station entries and throughout the platform, highly visible to transit customers and the general public.

Logoreci is integrally involved in the process to ensure that the ceramic tile artwork matches the color and hue of her original drawings.

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