Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 18

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Is transit winning the transport battle in the U.S.? (Crikey) 

More reaction to the recent news from the American Public Transit Assn. that Americans took 10.7 billion rides on transit last year, the most since 1956. Alan Davies takes a closer look at the numbers and reports:

Without New York’s MTA, there would’ve been no increase in public transport patronage in the US between 2012 and 2013. The agency carried an extra 123 million passengers by rail and bus combined; more than the total national net increase in patronage of 117.2 million trips over the period.

Outside of New York, there was no net growth in public transport. A number of other cities certainly experienced some growth, but their increases in aggregate were offset by those cities that suffered falls in patronage.

He also points out that there were certainly some rail systems in the country that did see ridership increases — including Metro’s light rail and subway. He concludes with this graph:

As I’ve noted before many times (e.g. see herehere and here) getting travellers to shift out of their cars in significant numbers will only occur if cars are made less attractive compared to public transport. Making public transport more attractive is very important, but policy-makers also need to give much more attention to taming cars.

I haven’t double-checked his numbers but I think the point he makes is fair. There are a few places that are accounting for a lot of America’s transit rides. And while those numbers are pretty strong, there’s no getting around the fact that the vast majority of Americans are still using cars to get around.

Should we be making driving more onerous as an incentive to walk, bike or take transit? I don’t think there is a black-and-white answer but a combination of incentivizing walking/biking/transit and asking motorists to pay their fair share of the transit network (i.e. the thousands of miles of road) built and maintained for them.

Californians grow less reliant on cars, Caltrans survey finds (L.A. Times) 

Missed this interesting article, published last week and relevant to the article above. Between 2010 and ’12, the survey estimates that the percentage of all trips made by walking, biking or transit rose to 22 percent. That number was 11 percent in 2001.

The story’s lede nicely sums it up and puts the findings in perspective:

Californians aren’t depending quite as heavily on cars for commutes and errands as they did a decade ago, according to a new survey by Caltrans.

Although driving is still by far the most dominant mode of transportation across the state, accounting for about three-quarters of daily trips, researchers say a decrease in car usage and a rise in walking, biking and taking transit indicate that Californians’ daily habits could be slowly changing.

What is happening in California mirrors a nationwide decline in driving, experts say: The number of car miles driven annually peaked about a decade ago, and the percentage of people in their teens, 20s and 30s without driver’s licenses continues to grow.

 

4.4 quake a wake-up call on L.A.’s unknown faults (L.A. Times) 

The earthquake’s epicenter was on the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains near Sepulveda Boulevard on a fault the Times calls “little noticed.” The article points out that some recent large quakes have also occurred on faults that were unknown at the time. Of course, the known faults — i.e. Santa Monica, Inglewood, Newport, Hollywood — also pose the threat of big quakes in the future, too.

Paris car ban stopped after one day (The Guardian) 

Smog hanging over Paris as seen from an airplane on Sunday. Photo by F.Clerc via Flickr creative commons.

Smog hanging over Paris as seen from an airplane on Sunday. Photo by F.Clerc via Flickr creative commons.

In an effort to combat air pollution, officials only allowed license plates ending with odd numbers to drive — others were hit with fines of 22 Euros (ouch!). The ban only lasted a day, as officials said that most residents complied and that weather and air conditions were improving.

Los Angeles State Historic Park gets an overhaul (KCET)

Rendering by California State Parks.

Rendering by California State Parks.

Nice explanation and collection of renderings of the park that is adjacent to Chinatown and the Gold Line — the park has been open for several years but will be undergoing a dramatic overhaul in the next year. The plans look great and the completed park will continue the trend of nice new open spaces in DTLA, joining Grand Park and the Spring Street Park. Of course, it remains important that the park is tied to the Chinatown train station and Broadway, the heart of Chinatown.

They moved mountains (and people) to build L.A.’s freeways (Gizmodo) 

Great article by Nathan Masters on the amount of earth and people moved in order to build Los Angeles’ sprawling freeway system. Excerpt:

In mostly uninhabited Sepulveda Canyon, only the mountains could complain. But many Southland freeways bludgeoned their way through heavily urbanized areas, inflicting the same degree of trauma not to landscapes but to communities.

No area was more affected than L.A.’s Eastside, where transportation planners routed seven freeways directly through residential communities. Starting in 1948, bulldozers cleared wide urban gashes through the multiethnic but mostly Latino neighborhoods of Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, and East L.A., demolishing thousands of buildings and evicting homeowners from their property. And the freeways didn’t just displace people and businesses. They balkanized the community, making strangers out of neighbors and discouraging urban cohesion. A freeway can be an intimidating thing to cross on foot.

Residents did fight back, flooding public meetings and picketing construction sites. But unlike the mostly white and politically powerful neighborhoods that killed plans for a Beverly Hills Freeway, L.A.’s Eastside couldn’t stop the bulldozer. By the early 1960s, all seven of the planners’ freeways crisscrossed the community.

Five of them tangled together at the East Los Angeles Interchange. Built to provide northbound motorists with a bypass around central Los Angeles, this imposing (and for drivers, often confusing) complex of 30 bridges occupies 135 acres of land—including part of once-idyllic Hollenbeck Park. At the time of its completion in 1961, it was the largest single project ever undertaken by the state’s division of highways. Yet somehow, despite its grand scale and enormous cost, the interchange—like much of the freeway system—is often paralyzed today with traffic, as a procession of trucks and automobiles crawls along the old urban scars.

In some ways, it makes you appreciate the relative smallness of rail construction compared to large swaths of land consumed by freeway building. Definitely check out this post and the many historical photographs accompanying it.

Transportation headlines, Monday, March 17

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Buildings slated for tear-down were rich part of Little Tokyo’s history (L.A. Times) 

Nice article about the brick buildings on 1st Street between Alameda and Central that Metro must demolish to build the Regional Connector’s new Little Tokyo station. One of the buildings dates to 1898 and the once well-known Atomic Cafe was on the site. Senor Fish, one of the current occupants, is moving to 7th and Mateo in downtown L.A. The article concludes with this nice quote:

“That’s the thing about L.A. It constantly tears itself down,” [Sean Carrillo, one of the Troy Cafe owners] said. “The building has been here a long time. It’s a great building. And it’s done its job.”

Can L.A.’s streets be great? Deputy Mayor Rick Cole opines (The Planning Report)

The answer is yes, says Cole, although the city doesn’t have big amounts of money to spend on making the city’s streets more pedestrian, transit and bike friendly. The more likely solution will involve the city putting some seed money into streets that lure private investment.

Muni route overhaul speeds up, with route changes ahead (S.F. Chronicle) 

San Francisco’s city buses and trains average eight miles per hour for a variety of reasons — frequent traffic signals, stop signs, traffic and operating on busy streets. The agency is in the midst of trying to create more bus lanes, increase train speeds and create different levels of service (express, rapid, frequent, etc.). But some residents complain that will lead to less service in their neighborhoods, thereby betraying the Muni’s mission to bring transit to every corner of the city.

Although the particulars may not mean much to readers here, the story hits on some themes that are universal to transit planners. Namely, what’s the best way to serve a big city?

Should cities reject bad transit until something better comes along? (Next City)

Provocative last graph:

Those promoting certain transit plans often argue that it’s either now or never: Best not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But Zurich has shown that holding out for better, more cost-effective projects that leave money for more expansive networks can sometimes be the best decision. Or, at least, not a totally irredeemable one. The key — whether in Zurich, New Jersey, Austin or elsewhere — is making sure that something better does indeed happen.

The post never really answers the question posed in the headline. But it offers a few interesting examples that suggest that perhaps it’s better to do something right than get it wrong and suffer through the consequences.

Biking by the numbers (San Francisco Bike Coalition) 

The cost of one mile of protected bikeway is $455,000, according to the Coalition — far less than one mile of roadway, bridge or subway. The idea is to counter criticism that new bike infrastructure costs too much. It’s sort of a no brainer that bike infrastructure is, in fact, relatively cheap when it comes to transportation spending. That said, the more troublesome criticism that bike advocates likely will have to deal with is the allegation that some bike infrastructure is not being used much compared to vehicle lanes and transit. My own three cents: if a bike lane is not being used much, I want to know why and what can be done to get people to use it.

Final Update: Blue Line resuming normal service

UPDATE 7:47 p.m.: Issues with the overhead power system supply near Wardlow Station have been resolved. The Metro Blue Line is resuming normal service at this time. Metro again thanks all those affected for their patience this evening.

UPDATE 7:00 p.m.: Work continues on repairs to the damaged section of the overhead power supply system near Wardlow Station. Metro Blue Line delays have been reduced to up to 12 minutes.

Since approximately 4:30 this afternoon, the Metro Blue Line has been experiencing delays of up to 20 minutes due to an issue with the overhead power supply system near Wardlow Station.

The issue is occurring specifically on the Northbound track, requiring both Long Beach-bound and Downtown L.A.-bound trains to share the Southbound track as they navigate around the incident track. Trains are also holding at Del Amo Station for a few minutes for equipment inspection necessitated by the power supply system issue.

Unfortunately, field personnel have confirmed repairs will be fairly complicated, meaning the Blue Line will continue to experience delays of 20 minutes through this evening.

Metro would like to thank customers for their patience as we work to restore regular Blue Line service as fast as possible. For continued updates, check back here at The Source or follow Metro on Twitter @metrolosangeles or @metroLAalerts.


Metro and Caltrans hold ribbon cutting ceremony for I-605 Soundwall Project

Photos: Juan Ocampo/Metro

Metro and Caltrans officials held a ribbon-cutting celebration for the completion of the I-605 Freeway Soundwall Project in the City of Whittier earlier today.

Metro funded the entire $14 million cost of the I-605 Freeway Soundwall Project. This project consists of approximately three miles of soundwalls along the north and southbound 605 in the City of Whittier and unincorporated L.A. County areas, from Slauson Avenue to Oregon Street.

This long-awaited soundwall will provide noise mitigation to nearby residents along the I-605 freeway.

Transportation headlines, Friday, March 14

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On Expo and Gold Line projects, light rail cars could be in short supply (KPCC)

Media coverage of the story posted on ZevWeb about the possibility of there not being enough light rail cars at Metro once the Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extensions are complete. Excerpt:

Metro is in this bind because of a deal gone bad with AnsaldoBreda, the Italian contractor originally hired to make its rail cars.  That deal fell through in October of 2009, and the agency spent two more years settling on and signing a deal with a new contractor — Kinki Sharyo of Japan. Metro spokesman Marc Littman said Kinki Sharyo is essentially playing catch-up, setting a very aggressive schedule to make sure rail cars begin to arrive in the middle of 2015.

“They have a great reputation for being on time,” Littman said “They’re doing everything they can to get us the cars as quickly as they can.”

Littman said Metro expects to have 24 new rail cars by the end of 2015, with four more arriving each month after that.  He adds that once construction on the Expo and Gold Line extensions is complete, Metro must spend months testing each for safety and training operators before opening them to passengers.   Metro expects to open phase two of the Expo line in January of 2016 and the Gold Line’s Foothill Extension two months later.

Still, Metro is considering options for dealing with a potential railcar shortfall when the two new extensions open.

“One of things that we could do is shift all of our maintenance work to night so that we can squeeze more capacity out of our existing fleet during the day,” Littman said.  “It’s possible we might have to run shorter trains, or we might have to truncate service.”

I also offered a little history of this issue in yesterday’s headlines.

How many people get to work without a car in your neighborhood? (Better Institutions)

Nice series of maps by Shane Phillips that break it down by census tract in Los Angeles County. The results aren’t exactly a shocker: the tracts with the highest transit use tend to be close to downtown and the ones with fewest transit users tend to be on the county’s fringes (Malibu, Palos Verdes). Interestingly, some of the areas with low transit use will soon be getting new transit options — such as a very nice Gold Line station. I’m talking to you, Arcadia! :)

Paris offers free public transport to reduce severe smog (BBC)

A lack of wind and unseasonably warm days for late winter have conspired to produce Beijing-like smog in Paris, at times obscuring views of the Eiffel Tower. In response, officials have offered three days of free rides on transit from today through Sunday and also made bike sharing free.

TAPtogo.net log in currently unavailable on latest version of Safari

Heads up, Apple product users: if you’ve recently updated your operating system, your Safari browser may no longer be able to run TAPtogo.net‘s secure log in system.

You can still view TAPtogo.net, but if you try to log in to your account, you may encounter this page.

You can still view TAPtogo.net, but when you try to log in to your account, you may encounter this page.

This goes for Safari on both OS and iOS.

While Metro’s TAP team works on this issue, we suggest you download the free Google Chrome browser as a workaround. Our apologies for this inconvenience, and we’ll let you know when you can return to checking your TAP card balances on Safari.

Full northbound I-405 directional closure between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles planned Friday night, March 14

14-1653_map_I405-Sepv_NightWkend_Mar14.indd

Here’s the press release from Metro:

The I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project contractor is scheduled to conduct a full northbound I-405 freeway closure the night of Friday, March 14, 2014 from midnight to 5 a.m. on Saturday, March 15 between Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard. This closure will facilitate the re-striping of lanes, and work at the freeway median.

Closure information is as follows:

  • Ramps will be closed as early as 7 p.m.
  • Lanes will begin to close at 10 p.m.

Detour: From the northbound I-405, exit at Santa Monica Boulevard, turn right to eastbound Santa Monica Boulevard, turn left to northbound Sepulveda Boulevard, turn right to eastbound Wilshire Boulevard and turn right onto the northbound I-405 on-ramp.

Ramp Closures:

  • Northbound Santa Monica on-ramp
  • Northbound Olympic/Pico on-ramp at Cotner
  • The northbound I-405 will be accessible from the eastbound Wilshire northbound on-ramp

What to expect:

Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 13

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Looming train shortage at Metro (ZevWeb) 

Metro is in a race against time. Literally. The big question tackled by this story on Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website: will there be enough rail cars to operate enough train service on two projects under construction — Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension — and more than halfway complete?

Excerpt:

So, with a likely initial shortfall of about 50 train cars, the issue presents some tough decisions for Metro, all of which are likely to be unpopular with the traveling public. It could delay the new lines’ openings, operate them with shorter, more crowded trains, offer less frequent service, or redeploy cars from elsewhere in the system, thus spreading the pain more broadly.

The shortage is expected to be most severe in the first months of operation for the two new extensions, with steady improvements coming as new rail cars arrive throughout 2016. But even the prospect of a relatively short-lived disruption has been enough to strain the relationship between Metro, which will operate the lines, and the two construction authorities charged with successfully completing the projects.

Samantha Bricker, chief operating officer for the Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority, expects Expo Phase 2 to be ready for testing in the summer of 2015, which would make it possible for the line—running from Culver City to Santa Monica— to serve the public as early as December, 2015. But she’s worried that the train car shortage could impede that schedule and disappoint passengers looking forward to jumping aboard the westernmost phase of a light rail line that’s already attracting large numbers of riders.

“If these projects are done on time and there are no trains there, the public is going to go nuts,” Bricker predicted.

Metro’s Gold Line Foothill Extension, running from Pasadena to Azusa, is expected to open just two months later.  Habib Balian, chief executive officer of the Foothill Construction Authority, said he, too, is worried that his line’s opening will be delayed or marred by diminished service in the early months.

“It’s going to sit there and cobwebs are going to grow until Metro starts service, or they are going to put wimpy service on all the rail lines,” Balian said, referring to the possibility of importing rail cars from elsewhere in the system.

The problem dates back to November 2009 when negotiations between Metro and  rail car manufacturer AnsaldoBreda on a deal for new rail cars finally collapsed. Metro staff and some Metro Board members were never happy with the firm (including Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Mike Antonovich, perhaps most prominently) which had previously delivered flawed rail cars to Metro under an earlier contract. Despite this poor track record with Metro, the city of L.A. delegation of the Metro Board were hoping that the firm would build a manufacturing facility in downtown Los Angeles to provide much needed jobs during the Great Recession. That, of course, would have been a significant political victory.

The rail car contract then had to be re-bid and it wasn’t until April 2012 that the Metro Board — with great urging from Metro staff — finally approved a contract for 78 new rail cars with Kinkisharyo. That firm is presently building an assembly facility for the rail cars in Palmdale and company officials say that it will be very difficult to accelerate delivery of the vehicles.

In the meantime, Metro is sending a delegation to the company’s headquarters in Japan later this month to see if there is any way to get more vehicles quicker. Deliveries are currently scheduled to begin in September 2015 and continue through 2017. As for the Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension, Metro has been forecasting that both will open in early 2016. The projects together add 17 miles of track to the Metro system, meaning more trains are needed to cover that turf and maintain existing schedules.

Bottom line: this is really a story about politics and the awarding of big contracts.

UPDATE: Metro officials say they do not believe that the agency will be 50 rail cars short assuming the projects open on time — which, of course, remains to be seen. Officials also say they may be able to shift maintenance schedules around so that more rail cars will be available to operate at any given time.

Southern California Transit Advocates takes position on fare increases (SO.CA.TA website) 

The group isn’t large but they do pay close attention to transit in our region and, in particular, serve as watchdogs over Metro and other agencies. The group says it generally supports the fare increases proposed by Metro but would like to see some changes.

In particular, SO.CA.TA wants to see the free transfer period extended from 90 minutes to two hours and for TAP cards to be sold for single rides on buses for the same price as they’re sold from ticket machines at rail stations ($1). The group also declined to support the second option for fare increases that focuses on separate fares for peak and off-peak times. That, the group said, is a poor idea that would only make taking transit more confusing.

Fossils unearthed by Metro reveals L.A.’s watery past (KPCC)

A nice look at the reasons why that marine fossils are being found in the exploratory shaft for the Purple Line Extension project. The main reason: the beach wasn’t always located at its present location in L.A. :)

Becoming a biker in L.A.: buying a bike (KCRW)

A rookie cyclist dives into the world of bikes and bike gear to try to determine what she really needs. The gist of it: the proliferation of bike gear and fancy bikes has made things a lot more difficult than when Old Goats such as me bought bikes in decades past.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 12

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Attorney convicted in stealing nearly $2 million in MTA money (L.A. Times) 

James Vincent Reiss defended Metro as a contract attorney in injury cases. Reiss had pleaded no contest to two felony counts of grand theft. Excerpt:

Karen Gorman, acting inspector general for Metro, said a State Bar of California investigation into problems with Reiss’ other clients in 2012 tipped off the agency to the potential for trouble, and officials immediately began auditing his cases.

“We aggressively began to investigate … and working with the district attorney’s office we were able to bring Mr. Reiss to justice for his crimes.”

According to a Metro lawsuit filed against Reiss’ law firm in January for suspected malpractice, forgery and negligence, Reiss cost the agency as much as $2.5 million.

In 2011, Reiss allegedly told the MTA that it had negotiated a $2.5-million jury award down to $1.765 million. But when the Metro board authorized the settlement and ordered that two checks totaling $1.765 million be written, Reiss kept the money, according to the suit.

 

Sentencing is scheduled for March 26. The Times reports that he is expected to receive 10 years in state prison.

Los Angeles to launch nation’s largest interactive trail network (Gizmodo) 

The app will help tie together the many walking paths and trails that criss-cross the city — and many of which are not commonly known to the masses. Even more interesting is that key content about the trails on the app (scheduled to debut next month) won’t be unlocked unless the user is actually on the trail. The app is being produced by the Interpretive Media Library, a collaboration between UCLA and California State Parks — and it’s novel enough to get the attention of U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, who was in town yesterday for a media event.

What yesterday’s Supreme Court decision means for rails-trails (Streetsblog Network)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 on Tuesday that land granted the U.S. government granted to railroads doesn’t necessarily revert back to government property after railroads abandon their tracks. The ruling has implications toward rail-to-trail projects planned for government land — the problem being the land may instead belong to someone else. The post is an interesting interview with Kevin Mills, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s senior vice president of policy and trail development.

As he says, the ruling may have a deeper impact in the Western U.S., where railroad land grants were more common than in the east. Pretty interesting stuff. I personally want to see as many rail-trail projects as possible; on the other hand, the original government land grants dating back to the mid 1800s were often seen as blatant taxpayer giveaways to privately run railroads.

Wharf extension push surfaces as Central Subway crews dig on (San Francisco Chronicle) 

Transit advocates, neighborhood groups and others are starting to advocate for the Central Subway project in San Francisco to be extended to Fisherman’s Wharf. The project is extending the city’s light rail system (partially via a subway tunnel) from the Caltrain commuter rail station to the intersection of Stockton and Washington in Chinatown — about a mile shy of the popular and heavily visited Fisherman’s Wharf.

There are no plans on the books to extend the tracks any further — nor are there funds (at least not yet). I think it will be very interesting to see if there is any kind of similar push here on the Purple Line Extension project, which will eventually have a terminus in Westwood in front of the VA Hospital, just west of the 405 freeway (as far as Measure R funded the project). I imagine there will be some people in Brentwood and eastern Santa Monica who will want the subway closer to their homes, just as I expect there will be people in Brentwood and eastern Santa Monica who will not :)

Four designs to cleverly re-invent the suburban parking lot (Co.exist) 

With enough large lots on Long Island to cover an area the size of Central Park several times over, four architectural firms were asked to imagine a way to keep some parking but also make better uses of the land. Here’s one of the drawings:

3026727-slide-rsaudpg28

 

 

Full southbound 405 closure between Santa Monica Boulevard and National Boulevard in West Los Angeles planned nights of March 13, 16

Oh 405, oh 405…here’s a press release from Metro:

The I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project contractor plans to fully close the southbound I-405 between Santa Monica Boulevard and National Boulevard in West Los Angeles on the following dates and times to facilitate the installation of a full-span freeway overhead sign:

  • The night of Thursday, March 13 from midnight, to 5 a.m. on Friday, March 14.
  • The night of Saturday, March 15 from midnight, to 5 a.m. on Sunday, March 16.

Other Closures:

  • Lanes will begin to close at 10 p.m.
  • Ramps will begin to close at 7 p.m.
  • Southbound Santa Monica on-ramp
  • Southbound Sunset on-ramps
  • Southbound Wilshire on-ramps
  • Southbound I-405 to eastbound I-10 connector
  • Southbound I-405 to westbound I-10 connector

Detour: From the southbound I-405, exit at Santa Monica Boulevard, turn left to eastbound Santa Monica Boulevard, turn right to southbound Sepulveda Boulevard, turn right to westbound National Boulevard, and turn left on to the southbound I-405 on-ramp on National Boulevard.

What to expect: