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:

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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:

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 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! 

Good afternoon, Source readers! I’m back from a few days off and in catch-up mode, so please forgive if some of this news isn’t so new….

Mass transit ridership grows from pathetically low to just low (Grist) 

Analyst Ben Adler takes a look at the latest APTA numbers that boast that Americans took 10.7 billion transit trips in 2013, the most since 1956. Ben’s point:

But the [New York] Times neglects to point out the larger relative term: Compared to 60 years ago (when mass transit systems were actually less comfortable; the New York City subway wasn’t even air-conditioned), transit ridership is way down. The important number, after all, isn’t total transit trips taken, it’s total transit trips divided by population. Since our population has nearly doubled since 1956, that means our transit use has been cut in half.

Americans made a series of disastrous decisions in the 1950s through roughly 2005, moving us heavily toward suburban sprawl and driving. And we kept on making them even in the face of gathering evidence that they were contributing to the environmental catastrophe of climate change. A shift back toward a better system is worth celebrating, but keep the champagne corked until we’ve actually increased the percentage of Americans taking mass transit, not just improved slightly from a terrible low point.

 

I agree with Ben — it’s good to see ridership on the rise in many places and I think it’s smart to build more transit. But I don’t think the latest numbers show anything has fundamentally changed in how Americans get around. In case you’re wondering, the latest numbers from the Census Bureau shows that 7.1 percent of commuters in Los Angeles County use public transit. About 72.2 percent drove alone and 10.9 percent carpooled while 2.9 percent walked and 2.1 percent reached work by other means. Almost five percent of people worked at home.

I think the big question for everyone in the public transit world and for elected officials is this: what does it take to keep nudging that 7.1 percent number upward?

Blind man survives being run over by a Metro train (L.A. Times)

A blind man apparently walked off the edge of the platform at the Wilshire/Vermont subway station as a train was approaching on Thursday afternoon — and survived and is thankfully expected to make a full recovery. As way of background, the yellow pylons on Metro Rail platforms were installed as a way to prevent visually-challenged people from walking off platforms and falling between rail cars (which unfortunately happened on the Blue Line in early 2009).

Dodgers to increase parking fees (KPCC)

The fee is back to the Frank McCourt-era $15 unless fans go online and buy a parking ticket in advance for $10. Team officials say the move is intended to alleviate traffic congestion at the gates, where money transactions take longer than simply handing a ticket to the attendant. Sounds reasonable enough to me. On a related note, we’ll have more info soon about Dodger Stadium Express service for the 2014 season, which will surely be the year for my Cincinnati Reds :)

As downtown L.A. grows, big money investors rush in (Downtown News) 

DTLA seems to be attracting a wider variety of developers these days — beyond the usual flow of money from Asia, the Downtown News reports. The article also has this interesting observation: it’s seemingly easier for developers from elsewhere to see the potential of DTLA over long-time residents and developers, who can’t look beyond the ghost town years of the 1980s and ’90s. I’m sure part of it, too, is that developers from elsewhere must be struck by the number of old buildings waiting to be rehabbed or the number of half-filled surface parking lots just sitting there and doing little good for anyone but their owners.

The race is on for the transit ticket of tomorrow (The Atlantic Cities) 

Smart story looking at the dilemma faced by many large transit agencies when it comes to choosing a fare payment system that is accessible to all riders but uses the latest technology (such as paying with smart phones). The answer isn’t so simple but linking fare cars to smart phones seems to the answer for some agencies.

 

APTA reports record ridership on U.S. public transportation in 2013

The demand for public transportation rose last year as Americans took 10.7 billion trips, the highest transit ridership in 57 years, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). This was the eighth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide.

Metro Rail saw an overall ridership increase of 5.4% in 2013, mostly due to the popularity of the Expo Line.

Here’s the press release from APTA:

In 2013 Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation, which is the highest annual public transit ridership number in 57 years, according to a report released today by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). This was the eighth year in a row that more than 10 billion trips were taken on public transportation systems nationwide. While vehicle miles traveled on roads (VMT) went up 0.3 percent, public transportation use in 2013 increased by 1.1 percent.

“Last year people took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation. As the highest annual ridership number since 1956, Americans in growing numbers want to have more public transit services in their communities,” said Peter Varga, APTA Chair and CEO of The Rapid in Grand Rapids, MI. “Public transportation systems nationwide – in small, medium, and large communities – saw ridership increases. Some reported all-time high ridership numbers.”

Some of the public transit agencies reporting record ridership system-wide or on specific lines were located in the following cities: Ann Arbor, MI; Cleveland, OH; Denver, CO; Espanola, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Fort Myers, FL; Indianapolis, IN; Los Angeles, CA; New Orleans, LA; Oakland, CA; Pompano Beach, FL; Riverside, CA; Salt Lake City, UT; San Carlos, CA; Tampa, FL; Yuma, AZ; and New York, NY.

Since 1995 public transit ridership is up 37.2 percent, outpacing population growth, which is up 20.3 percent, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which is up 22.7 percent.

“There is a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities. People in record numbers are demanding more public transit services and communities are benefiting with strong economic growth,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.

“Access to public transportation matters,” continued Melaniphy. “Community leaders know that public transportation investment drives community growth and economic revitalization.”

Another reason behind the ridership increases is the economic recovery in certain areas.
When more people are employed, public transportation ridership increases since nearly 60 percent of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes.”

“The federal investment in public transit is paying off and that is why Congress needs to act this year to pass a new transportation bill,” said Melaniphy.

To see the complete APTA 2013 ridership report, go to: http://www.apta.com/resources/statistics/Documents/2013-q4-ridership-APTA.pdf

2013 Ridership Breakdown

Heavy rail (subways and elevated trains) ridership increased by 2.8 percent across the country as 8 out of 15 transit systems reported increases. Heavy rail in Miami, FL, saw an increase of 10.6 percent that was mostly due to increased frequency during peak service. Other heavy rail systems with increases in ridership for 2013 were in the following cities: Los Angeles, CA (4.8%); New York, NY (4.2%); and Cleveland, OH (2.9%).

Nationally, commuter rail ridership increased by 2.1 percent in 2013 as 20 out of 28 transit systems reported increases. With a new rail line that opened in December 2012, commuter rail in Salt Lake City, UT, saw an increase of 103.3 percent. The following five commuter rail systems saw double digit increases in 2013: Austin, TX (37.3%); Harrisburg-Philadelphia, PA (33.9%); Anchorage, AK (30.0%); Lewisville, TX (23.0%); Stockton, CA (19.9%); Minneapolis, MN (12.5%); and Portland, OR (10.3%).

Light rail (modern streetcars, trolleys, and heritage trolleys) ridership increased 1.6 percent in 2013 with 17 out of 27 transit systems reporting increases. Systems that showed double digit increases in 2013 were located in the following cities: New Orleans, LA (28.9%); Denver, CO (14.9%); and San Diego, CA (10.4%). Ridership in the following cities also saw increases in 2013: Seattle, WA – Sound Transit (9.8%); Pittsburgh, PA (7.5%); Salt Lake City, UT (6.8%); Los Angeles, CA (6.0%); San Jose, CA (3.6%); and Philadelphia, PA (3.5%).

Bus ridership increased by 3.8 percent in cities with a population of below 100,000. Nationally, bus ridership in communities of all sizes remained stable, declining by 0.1 percent.
Large bus systems with increases were located in the following areas: Washington, DC (3.5%); Houston, TX (3.4%); Cincinnati, OH (3.4%); and Seattle, WA (3.1%).
Demand response (paratransit) ridership increased in 2013 by 0.5 percent.

Full northbound I-405 closures between Getty Center Drive and Greenleaf planned nights of March 11, 12

Here’s the news release from Metro:

The I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project contractor is scheduled to conduct a full night-time only closure of the northbound I-405 between Getty Center Drive and the Greenleaf onramp on the night of Tuesday, March 11 from midnight to 5 a.m. (morning of Wednesday, March 12) and the night of Wednesday, March 12  from midnight to 5 a.m. (morning of Thursday, March 13).  The closure will accommodate shifting k-rail from the inside lanes to the outside lanes and shifting traffic to the west. A restriping of the freeway lanes in this area will take place.

Closure information is as follows:

  • Full northbound I-405 closure from Getty Center Drive to the northbound Greenleaf on-ramp
  • Additional Closures
    • Ramps begin closing at 7 p.m.
    • Lanes begin closing at 10 p.m.
    • Northbound I-405 connector to US 101 north
    • Northbound Sunset Boulevard on-ramp
    • Northbound Moraga Drive on-ramp
    • Northbound Getty Center Drive on-ramp
    • Northbound Skirball on-ramp

Detour Routes

From I-405 northbound: take the northbound Getty off-ramp, head north on Sepulveda Boulevard to the northbound Greenleaf Street on-ramp.

What to expect:

  • Work is dependent on favorable weather conditions.
  • Emergency access will be maintained at all times.

For a listing of daily closures and latest updates visit our website at www.metro.net/405 or follow us on twitter: www.twitter.com/I_405 and Facebook at www.facebook.com/405project.

Final Update: Gold Line resuming normal service

Final Update 7:27 p.m.: Metro Gold Line is resuming normal service with minor residual delays expected through 8 p.m. Metro thanks affected customers for their patience and wishes everyone a great weekend.

The Metro Gold Line is currently experiencing delays of up to 20 minutes due to a car that struck a Southbound train at Pico/Aliso Station around 6:56 p.m. this evening.

Trains are sharing the Pasadena-bound track between Little Tokyo/Arts District and Pico/Aliso stations. Due to rail congestion, some trains heading south to East L.A. from Pasadena are turning back north at Union Station. Metro Gold Line customers should please follow all station announcements.

For up-to-the-minute status updates, follow Metro on Twitter @metrolosangeles or @metroLAalerts.