Transportation headlines, Friday, July 18

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! 

ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro bus rolls down a very quiet Spring Street shortly after rush hour on Thursday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro bus rolls down a very quiet Spring Street shortly after rush hour on Thursday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Dodger Stadium Express: Metro nightmare or game day savior? (Neon Tommy) 

One reporter boards the free shuttle bus from Union Station to the ballpark. The other reporter drives. Who gets there faster? The reporter on the bus, who along the way apologizes to a couple from Iowa about the poor state of public transit in L.A. only to have them respond that they think transit here is “fine” and they use it during their visits to L.A. Always fun when the source doesn’t take the bait, eh? :)

Click here for more info on the Dodger Stadium Express.

Good start at Metro LA: call for active transportation funding strategy (SM Spoke) 

Santa Monica Spoke is pleased with a new motion before the Metro Board that could potentially create a steady funding stream for active transportation projects — i.e. projects that would benefit pedestrians and cyclists. There was a big activist turnout at the Metro Board’s Planning Committee on Wednesday, prompted by the Board’s consideration of a short-range plan that activists say does not supply enough funding for walking and biking.

Metro considering rail link from Valley to Bob Hope to Pas (Curbed LA)

Coverage of the the motion before the Metro Board of Directors asking for study of improving the Orange Line, including a possible rail conversion and an extension of some sort — presumably rail or bus rapid transit — to Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.

The full Board is scheduled to vote on the motion at its meeting this coming Thursday. The motion also asks for study of using more articulated buses on the line, improving traffic signal priority and grade separations. Important to know: converting the Orange Line to rail is not funded by Measure R, nor is it in Metro’s long-range plan although an undefined project linking the Orange Line to the Gold Line’s Del Mar station in Pasadena is a tier 2 unfunded project. The new motion included an amendment on creating a process to add projects to the long-range plan. Read the motion here.

San Francisco sets bond vote for aging transportation system (Bloomberg) 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors — i.e. their City Council — voted to send the $500-million bond measure to voters in November. The money, which would be borrowed, would be used to pay for upgrades to the local transit system that will be used, in part, to speed buses and trains. The measure needs two-thirds approval to pass even though it doesn’t involve raising taxes.

Proposal to allow state tolls on interstates hits roadblock (NPR)

With lawmakers pretty much refusing to consider raising the federal gas tax to keep the Highway Trust Fund in the black, President Obama is proposing to allow states to collect tolls on federal interstates to raise funds for road maintenance and other transportation projects. But there’s pushback, including from an array of corporations who say that tolls + gas tax = double taxation.

New York can’t afford to build the Second Avenue Subway, and it can’t afford not to (CityLab)

The problem is that the subway is costing more than $2 billion per mile to build, including three new stations. The two-mile first phase is due to be completed in 2016, but the remaining three phases aren’t funded and in total the project could reach a $20-billion price tag. The current subway line serving Manhattan’s Eastside is running at capacity, traffic is at its worst on the Eastside and New York is expected to add one million residents. FWIW, the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension — including three new stations has a budget of $2.77 billion. The Metro Board is expected to vote on a $1.6-billion construction contract at its meeting this coming Thursday.

Uber, Lfyt and a road map for reinventing the ride (New York Times)

Interesting piece in the Sunday Review section from last week about Uber dropping the cost of a ride in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles to try to encourage more volume and get more people in the habit of using Uber. The key quote:

“The whole point of price cuts is to get UberX pricing below the cost of owning a car,” Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, told me. “Let’s say you take three or four trips a day on average. If we can get the price of UberX low enough, we can get to where it’s cheaper to take Uber than to own a car.”

The article also mentions transit with the author pointing out that Uber may cost more than taking a train or bus for a routine errand, but would be faster and more convenient. My three cents: I don’t see Uber or similar services as much of a threat to transit, although they could certainly harm the existing taxi or car service industry. As for denting the sale of cars…maybe, although the costs of using Uber all the time could certainly rack up fast.

Perhaps it’s something in which a family could forgo a second car if living in a city with a variety of Uber-like services, a good transit system and neighborhoods that are walkable and bike-friendly. All those choices could mean — emphasis on could — families with fewer second cars.

Expect intermittent closures on I-110 9th Street off-ramp through August

Here’s the press relase from Caltrans:

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will be removing debris, sediment and trash from the storm drain at the northbound I-110 9th Street off-ramp.  Construction crews will be working from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday leaving one lane open. This project is expected to be completed by mid-August. Intermittent closures should be expected.  Major delays are expected.

There will be no work between July 26 – July 30, 2014

Detours will be posted for motorist convenience.  United Storm Water, Inc. of La Puente, California is the contractor on this $80 thousand project.

Caltrans advises motorists to “Slow For The Cone Zone.”

Transportation headlines, Thursday, July 17

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! 

House passes interim fix for Highway Trust Fund (New York Times) 

The U.S. House voted on Tuesday for a short-term fix to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent and to avoid a massive cut in federal construction funding. Instead of relying on a gas tax increase (politically unpopular for the past 21 years), the House is relying on some budgetary maneuvers (“pension smoothing”) to keep the Fund going — and the Senate and President Obama are likely to go along with it. The fate of the President’s four-year, $302-billion transportation bill proposed this year remains unknown, but things aren’t looking good.

Jon Stewart and the Daily Show took on the Highway Trust Fund last night — as usual he offers a good (and funny) primer for those who don’t know much about the subject. Warning: mildly adult language. Meanwhile, the L.A. Times editorial page says that Congress should just bite the bullet and raise the gas tax.

Over at the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, President Obama gets two Pinnochios for his repeated claim that 700,000 jobs are at risk if Congress doesn’t take action on the Highway Trust Fund. The Post says the number of jobs truly at risk is far lower and that it would be more accurate to say the Highway Trust Fund helps support 700,000 jobs.

And here’s our explanation of why all this matters to agencies such as Metro.

Halted Figueroa bike lane project riles cyclists (L.A. Times) 

A plan by the city of Los Angeles to install three miles of bike lanes to Figueroa through Highland Park has hit a bump-in-the-road in the form of Councilman Gil Cedillo, who says the lanes will impact traffic and slow emergency response times. Activists counter that the lanes will make Figueroa safer (reducing the number of emergencies) and will have little impact on vehicle travel times. Making the debate more interesting: Cedillo said that he supported the lanes during his campaign and has used campaign-style tactics to get more people to public meetings to help counter views of bike activists who don’t live in the 1st district.

Beverly Hills battles Metro over Purple Line Extension (Neon Tommy) 

The article provides a basic review of Beverly Hills’ legal fight against Metro over tunneling under part of the Beverly Hills High School campus. A Superior Court judge earlier this year ruled that Metro adequately studied the issue in the environmental documents for the project. The Beverly Hills Unified School District and the city of Beverly Hills have appealed.

Meet Seleta Reynolds, the new head of LADOT (Downtown News) 

A brief interview with the new general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation; Reynolds was hired by Mayor Eric Garcetti earlier this summer. Reynolds talks a little about the differences between L.A. and San Francisco, where she formerly worked on a number of active transportation projects. She has never lived in L.A., but accurately notes how the politics of transportation work here (or don’t work depending on your POV) — they’re divided up between a number of agencies and elected officials.

L.A. and S.F. dogfight over transport visions (Cal WatchDog.com)

The headline doesn’t really describe the post which briefly — but interestingly — makes some comparisons and contrasts between the two cities. The focus of the piece is on the “Great Streets” initiative in L.A. versus the difficulty of getting a bus rapid transit project completed on busy, and often congested, Van Ness Street in San Francisco. I thought this description of L.A. was worth excerpting:

Los Angeles, in other words, is relatively distinct among America’s largest cities. Rather than an industrial-age city planned out block by block, constrained by geography, contemporary L.A. is a post-modern patchwork — a veritable network of villages that lacks a single core where residents routinely cluster on foot.

 

Southbound 405 closure between U.S. 101 and Getty Center Drive planned nights of July 17, 18

Here’s the press release from Metro:

The I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project contractor is scheduled to conduct nighttime freeway closures on the southbound I-405 between U.S. 101 and Getty Center Drive on-ramp the nights of Thursday, July 17, and Friday, July 18, 2014 to install electrical loops on the southbound freeway.

Closure information is as follows:

  • Night of Thursday, July 17, from midnight to 5 a.m., Friday, July 18
  • Night of Friday, July 18, from 1 a.m. (Saturday morning) to 6 a.m., Saturday, July 19

Ramp Closures:

Ramps begin closing as early as 7 p.m. and lanes begin closing at 10 p.m.

-         US 101 southbound connector to the southbound I-405

-         US 101 northbound connector to the southbound I-405

-         Southbound Burbank Boulevard on-ramp

-         Southbound Ventura Boulevard on-ramp

-         Southbound Valley Vista Boulevard on-ramp

-         Southbound Skirball Center Drive on- ramp

Detour:

From I-405 south: exit Burbank Boulevard and travel east to Sepulveda Boulevard, and southbound on Sepulveda Boulevard to the southbound Getty Center Drive on-ramp.

From US 101 south: exit Van Nuys Boulevard, south on Van Nuys Boulevard, west on Ventura Boulevard, south on Sepulveda Boulevard to the southbound Getty Center Drive on-ramp.

From US 101 north: take I-405 northbound and exit Burbank Boulevard, east on Burbank Boulevard, south on Sepulveda Boulevard to the southbound Getty Center Drive on-ramp.

What to expect:

Just in time for Century Crunch: new FlyAway service between Santa Monica and LAX

Prep work for Century Crunch weekend. Photo: Jose Ubaldo/Metro

Prep work for Century Crunch weekend. Photo: Jose Ubaldo/Metro

Century Boulevard, one of the main access roads to the airport, will be closed to traffic at the Aviation Boulevard intersection beginning 9 p.m. Friday, July 25, through 6 a.m. Monday, July 28 for the demolition of Century Boulevard Bridge. The old railroad bridge needs to be demolished to allow for the future construction of a new Century/Aviation light rail station.

Plan ahead to avoid traffic congestion in the LAX area during the closure. One transit option is to take FlyAway, which will be operating new bus service between Santa Monica and LAX starting tomorrow, Tuesday, July 15. The FlyAway bus stop will be located in front of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, 1875 Main Street, just north of Pico Boulevard. Bus service will operate hourly from 5:45 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. daily and one-way fare is $8.

Keep reading for the press release from Los Angeles World Airports:

Continue reading

Transportation headlines, Friday, July 11

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! 

ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro local bus in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro local bus in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Guest editorial: don’t destroy the Orange Line, improve it (Streetsblog L.A.) 

Annie Weinstock and Stephanie Lotshaw argue that there is no need to convert the Orange Line to light rail. A state bill was signed into law earlier this week that rescinded the ban on light rail in the corridor. As we have posted before, converting the Orange Line to light rail is not in Metro’s long-range plans nor has the agency studied the issue.

Excerpt:

First, simply increasing bus frequency would be an obvious improvement. While there have been concerns that increasing frequency will cause bunching at intersections, this appears to be due to a signal timing issue which favors cross street traffic over public transportation on the Orange Line corridor. Timing traffic signals to favor automobiles shows an outdated mode of thinking. It would take some political will on the part of the city to change the signal timings, but it is a simple solution, far cheaper and faster than upgrading to light railwhich would still be faced with signal timing problems.

Then, by raising the boarding platforms at stations to the level of the bus floor, buses could complete the boarding process more quickly, further increasing capacity by allowing more buses to pull into the station more quickly. The system could also phase in more passing lanes at stations, allowing for a quadrupling of capacity and a mix of service types.

In addition, changing the intersection regulations, which currently require buses to slow to 10mph from 25, would increase overall speeds along the corridor. The reduction in speeds was initially implemented because of several accidents which occurred at the start of operations in 2005. But most systems experience problems in the early years, particularly where new signals have been introduced. Now, after almost 10 years of BRT operations as well as extensive signage and education done by Metro, these restrictions are obsolete and only make the system less convenient for passengers.

This is just an excerpt — please read the entire editorial for discussion of other salient points about bus rapid transit in the U.S. and the Orange Line. As for the issue of signal timing, the traffic lights are controlled by the city of Los Angeles.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti supports Gold Line Whittier route, Azusa-to-Claremont extension (San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

(UPDATE, JULY 17: Mayor Garcetti told the Metro Board’s Executive Management Committee that the Tribune article was in error and that he did not say which potential alignment he supported at the meeting — and that a tape of the meeting shows that he did not state a preference).

At a transportation forum with San Gabriel Valley and San Bernardino County officials, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that he supports the Gold Line being extended to Whittier and that he would like to see it extended to both Whittier and South El Monte if funding can be found to build both. Metro will soon release the draft environmental study for the project; one alternative extends light rail to Whittier, another to South El Monte. Cities along both routes support the project.

Important note: an extension of the Eastside Gold Line is a project to be funded by Measure R and under the current schedule would be completed in 2035 unless funds are found to accelerate the project.

Garcetti also reiterated that he would like to see the Gold Line Foothill Extension built from Azusa to Montclair (something he said earlier this year) and would like to help find funding for the project whether or not it’s added to Metro’s short-range plan. The Pasadena-to-Azusa segment is under construction (it’s a Measure R-funded project) and scheduled for an early 2016 opening. Funding would need to be found for the Azusa-Montclair segment.

The greater context here is that Metro has been discussing a possible sales tax ballot measure in 2016 that could possibly be used to accelerate current projects or fund new ones. The Metro Board of Directors has not made any decision yet whether to take anything to Los Angeles County voters. But the agency is seeking feedback from cities in the county on what type of projects they would like to see funded. If — and it’s still a big ‘if’ –the agency seeks a ballot measure, the big decision to be made is whether the ballot measure would extend the current Measure R sales tax (which expires in mid-2039) or whether it would add an additional half-cent sales tax.

Work on big Pershing Square mixed-user to begin in mid-2015 (Curbed LA) 

The 600-unit residential building with commercial space would occupy the parking lots on the north side of Pershing Square and help densify a section of downtown L.A. that should be dense. The site, of course, sits adjacent to the Metro Red/Purple Line Pershing Square station and is a short train ride or walk to the 7th/Metro Center station that will eventually host trains headed to Long Beach, Santa Monica, Azusa and East Los Angeles.

Times intern recounts traffic challenges on way to Dodger Stadium (L.A. Times) 

It took Everett Cook 90 minutes to travel the two miles from the Times (at 2nd/Spring) to Dodger Stadium on Thursday thanks to traffic en route. “For what it’s worth, the vast majority of the traffic police and Dodgers employees were as helpful as can be. There might not even be a solution to this — too many cars in too small a stretch will be a problem anywhere,” he writes.

As I’ve written many times before, ballpark traffic is the price everyone pays for the decision in the 1950s to build the stadium atop a hill and away from the city grid — and the transit that goes with it. No one wants to move the ballpark into downtown, so it’s likely that traffic will remain an issue. The Dodger Stadium Express provides bus service between Union Station and the stadium is an alternative to driving. It’s free for those holding game tickets.

ART OF TRANSIT 2: There are many reasons why a train may go out of service, including the planet being taken over by apes. Credit: 20th Century Fox.

ART OF TRANSIT 2: There are many reasons why a train may go out of service, including the planet being taken over by apes. Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, July 10

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! 

ART OF TRANSIT: Nice colors in DTLA. As for the movie ad, I know who I'm rooting for. #ApesTogetherStrong

ART OF TRANSIT: Nice colors in DTLA. As for the movie ad, I know who I’m rooting for. #ApesTogetherStrong

Dueling highway funding plans moving ahead in Congress (Bloomberg) 

Both the House and Senate plans would shore up the Highway Trust Fund through next May; the Senate plan includes some changes to the tax code that could generate revenue for the plan. It doesn’t appear that any kind of long-term plan is on the horizon and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner said as much today. In other words, we can probably look forward to more “woe the withering Highway Trust Fund” stories next spring. Bon appetit!

More here on why the Highway Trust Fund is important to Metro and other transit agencies.

Voices of public transit systems (Not Of It) 

Nice post revealing the voices being train, station and public service announcements at some large transit systems and airports in the U.S. The post includes video snippets from various media about the voices.

And what about the voice you hear on Metro trains and buses? Stephen Tu, in Metro operations, answers:

The announcements are pre-recorded and automated based on vehicle progress. Back in 2004, as the article notes, there was a hodgepodge of automated and manual announcements, are some of our trains had the capability and others did not.

It mentions the Gold and Green Lines in 2004 and that is because those were the newest (at the time) Siemens P2000 vehicles. We did not have the Breda P2550’s (Gold Line stainless steel cars) until 2009. The old Nippon Sharyo (Blue Line) and Breda A650 (Red Line) were from the early 1990s and never had automated announcements, until Rail Fleet Services engineered an in-house automated system that queues announcements by distance.

There is literally a sensor that detects wheel revolutions to determine when to play “Next Stop” and “Now Arriving” station announcements. They are all now standardized with the same voice from a professional studio we send the script to. It’s the same voice you hear when you’re placed on hold on the Metro telephone network or PSA announcements in stations. However, this voice is not used on bus announcements — there is a different person for that.

However as you can see, while the voice is now standardized, each announcement package is slightly different because of the limitations/nuances each vehicle has.  For example, P2000 can only make an eight second announcement. So we have to be very quick in calling out stations and transfer connections, whereas we have much more time on our in-house system. The P2550s can only make a “Now Arriving” station announcement when the doors actually open at the station, which means we have replaced it with “This is… (South Pasadena Station)” because you are already there.

LACMA, Metro discussing new tower across from LACMA (L.A. Times) 

LACMA is exploring building a new high-rise adjacent to the Purple Line Extension’s future station entrance at Wilshire and Orange Grove. It might include galleries, condos and a hotel, according to museum officials. In a statement, Metro’s chief planner Martha Welborne said: “We are continuing to negotiate with the individual property owners to acquire or lease property needed for the Fairfax subway station, and we are also exploring, with the property owners, the possibility of a large mixed-use project above the station.”

Excerpt:

[LACMA Director Michael] Govan declined to say how tall the tower might be, admitting that any talk of high-rise development in the area might worry nearby residents who are already girding themselves for a decade of construction as the subway is extended west along Wilshire and LACMA builds the 410,000-square-foot Zumthor building.

The question of height, he said, “is where you get neighbors all charged up. So I don’t go out there and say I want the biggest, tallest skyscraper. But we know that density is the key to urban living and to the maximization of mass transit — and key to the environment. And so for all the right reasons, this is the right place” for a high-rise.

Big Blue Bus fixing the fancy stops that riders hated (Curbed LA)

The headline may be a little strong, but it looks like Big Blue Bus may be adjusting the new stop designs it recently rolled out to provide more comfortable seats and more shade at some stops. Curbed has renderings and photos. I was in SaMo over the weekend and it struck me that the shade shields (for lack of better term) would work best if either the sun, Earth or both stopped moving.

The California High-Speed Rail debate: kicking things off (The Atlantic) 

This is the first in a series of posts by James Fallow in which he will argue that California should — and needs to — build the bullet train as planned to secure a better economic future. In this post, Fallows takes a look at some historic infrastructure upgrades that he thinks proved to be good investments, including the Panama Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the interstate highway system and the U.S. aviation system.

I think there are a lot of people, including me, who agree the bullet train can do great things for the state. The skepticism tends to come from those (including me) who are troubled by the lack of a dedicated funding source that can cover the expense of what is currently estimated to be a $68-billion project for the L.A.-to-S.F. leg.

Transportation projects don’t need to take as long as they do (Atlantic CityLab) 

The post asks a perfectly good question but doesn’t really provide an answer about ways to speed up the really big transpo projects (the post includes some persuasive arguments about dealing with smaller but important projects such as bus routing).

As I tell folks often, one issue with big transit projects is the long ramp up time. It usually takes three to five years to complete the necessary environmental studies and another year in procurement to vet and select contractor. Construction, too, often has to be staggered for both logistical, safety and practical reasons, not to mention financial ones — for example, federal funds for construction are granted on a yearly basis and don’t all flow to agencies such as Metro at the beginning of construction.