Transportation headlines, Wednesday, July 23

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Metro opens command center for Century Crunch (KPCC) 

The $1.2-million command center — which resembles a big RV painted black — will be parked near the intersection of Aviation and Century this weekend while the old railroad bridge is demolished. The idea is that it allows Metro and other law enforcement officials to push the latest traffic information out ASAP. More info on the Century Crunch closures is here.

Seven innovations to make L.A.’s Metro better (Neon Tommy)

Suggestions include a comprehensible intercom system, maps that show riders where the trains are located at present time, the ability to use a credit card or cell phone as a TAP card, better sealing off train tracks to prevent suicides, underground cell phone and wi-fi service (the cell phone service is on its way but no firm date when it will be completed) and more secure turnstiles.

LA’s new Olympic bid team, many rivers to cross (3 Wire Sports) 

Looks like businessman Casey Wasserman, 40, is heading up the Los Angeles bid attempt at the 2024 Summer Olympics. As the article notes, there are challenges. The first is that the U.S. Olympic Committee hasn’t decided yet to bid on the 2024 Games — they’re waiting to see how some Olympic reform attempts play out.

The other challenge is that Boston, San Francisco and Washington D.C. may be competing with L.A. for the right to be the American representative in the international competition. Los Angeles, of course, has already twice hosted the Games while the others would be rookies. I don’t see D.C. as being realistic — fair or not, the city is too intertwined with American politics to be appealing. But I can see Beantown and San Francisco being strong competitors. Boston has pretty good infrastructure and sports facilities at the many colleges in the region while San Francisco is, well, San Francisco. One knock on them: the nicest arena in the area is in San Jose, whereas L.A. has Staples Center, the Honda Center and other smaller areans that could easily host events (Galen Center, Pauley Pavilion, Sports Arena).

I mention all this because infrastructure always is discussed as part of bid efforts. On that front, Los Angeles is at the center of a Metro Rail and Metrolink system that did not exist in 1984 and will be growing considerably between now and 2024, with the second phase of the Expo Line and Gold Line Foothill Extension scheduled to open in 2016, the Crenshaw/LAX Line in 2019, the Regional Connector in 2020 and the first phase of the Purple Line Extension in 2023.

Just in Olympic terms, think about what that means. The Crenshaw/LAX Line gets Metro Rail closer to LAX and will include a transfer to the airport people mover that LAX is going to build. The Expo Line connects downtown Los Angeles and the USC campus to downtown Santa Monica and the Westside (where there are many hotels), the Gold Line Foothill Extension will stop next to Azusa Pacific University and Citrus College and better connect the San Gabriel Valley to the Metro Rail system, the Regional Connector makes travel on the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines faster throughout the region without as many transfers and the Purple Line Extension brings the subway to the Miracle Mile, one of the cultural centers of our region.

The above is on the current Measure R schedule and doesn’t include the possibility of project acceleration if Metro pursues another ballot measure in 2016 (the agency is contemplating it).

Some bumps in the road on the way to a bike-friendly L.A. (L.A. Times) 

The editorial builds off the recent flap over bike lanes on Figueroa in northeast L.A. and Highland Park.

Excerpt:

Unless some demonstrable miscalculation was made in the bike plan, or unless there’s a real safety issue, individual City Council members should not be tinkering with the plan, which was designed carefully with the whole city in mind. Currently, Los Angeles has 337.62 miles of dedicated bike lanes. Cedillo is looking at alternatives to the Figueroa corridor, but the city planners chose these designated routes for specific reasons; nearby streets, they say, won’t work. The idea is to create a seamless network of bike lanes that allow cyclists to travel continuously from one point to another.

No one said it would be easy to make legions of drivers in car-obsessed Los Angeles relinquish a fraction of their lanes to bicycles. No driver wants to be slowed down by even 47 seconds. And it’s understandable that drivers are frustrated when they see congested roads and empty bike lanes.

But the more the city continues to implement its bike plan, the more extensive the network of bike lanes becomes. The hope is that over time, those lanes will begin to fill up — and maybe some drivers will get out of their cars and onto bikes.

That neatly distills what’s happening. I think you could say the same thing about the transit network. Networks are more powerful than individual lines. There are some other challenges when it comes to bikes but hopefully more people will use the lanes and the backlash will die down.

 

Bill could allow bike share users to pay with pre-tax dollars (New York Post)

A Congressman from Queens is introducing a bill that would allow bike share users to have the cost of bike sharing deducted from their paychecks on a pre-tax basis, just as is currently allowed for transit passes. The Post sounds a tad skeptical, but that is to be expected.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, July 22

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Reward to be offered in fatal beating at Blue Line station (L.A. Times)

TEMPLATE Board

The Board of Supervisors has approved a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of two women who assaulted artist John Whitmore at the Blue Line’s Willowbrook station early in the afternoon of Friday, June 13. Whitmore, 65, died one week later of his injuries. Anyone with information regarding the slaying is asked to call detectives at (323) 890-5500.

Funding feud means end of the line for four Metrolink trains between L.A. and San Bernardino (Mass Transit) 

After the San Bernardino Assn. of Governments refused to provide the full funding request from Metrolink, the commuter rail agency has cut four trains between Union Station and San Bernardino. They’re all off-peak hours and include the 11 p.m. train from L.A. Metrolink says they targeted low-ridership trains. Each of the five counties served by Metrolink — Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura — contribute funds to the agency each year.

Metro Committee OKs dismal walk/bike plan now, funding report later (StreetsblogLA)

I missed this post last week, when it was first published. The Metro Board’s Planning Committee moved a draft of the agency’s short-range transportation plan (which covers the next decade) to the full Board for its consideration on Thursday. Advocates for active transportation — i.e. walking and biking — partially filled the Board room and protested that the short-range plan lacks a dedicated funding stream specifically for active transportation.

Members of the committee were sympathetic and Mike Bonin introduced a motion calling for Metro to develop an active transportation funding strategy by Jan. 2015. The issue here is that Metro does supply funding for pedestrian and bike projects — but this is mostly done on a discretionary basis. For example, 15 percent of Measure R receipts are returned to local cities for use on transportation-related projects, which may include active transportation. It’s obviously an important issue, given that Metro recently released a first-mile/last-mile strategy that places emphasis on better connecting transit stations to surrounding neighborhoods.

Uber takes credit for drop in drunk driving, but police are skeptical (KPCC)

Interesting story. The ride-sharing service cherrypicks some statistics — including the number of times patrons vomited in their cars — to argue that drunk driving has been cut as Uber has grown more popular. The police say that’s a very hard thing to prove and some of the drops in DUIs in places such as Seattle may be attributed more to concerted crackdowns by law enforcement. Excerpt:

In Los Angeles, KPCC found DUI citations over the last five years issued by the California Highway Patrol peaked the year before Uber arrived and have fallen both years the company has been on the roads here. (Uber started operating in Los Angeles in April 2012. The low-cost UberX expanded here a year after that, along with competitor Lyft.)

Interesting, but anecdotal. The drop roughly coincides with Metro also offering more light night rail service on weekends — but I don’t think you can draw any firm conclusions from that. I suspect some of this also involves the fact that young people are driving less, according to numerous studies and statistics.

Perhaps what matters most is that there are viable options — taxis, ride-sharing and transit — for those who are too tipsy to drive. Metro Rail and the Orange Line operates until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights; timetables are here.

 

Transportation headlines, Monday, July 21: preparing for the ‘Century Crunch’

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Photo: Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

ART OF TRANSIT: The clock tower that will soon be installed at the Arcadia station for the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Foothill Extension Construction Authority officials say the project that will extend the Gold Line 11.5 miles from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border is almost 75 percent complete. Photo: Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

Century Crunch could make journey to LAX worse (Daily Breeze)

Coverage of the closure this weekend of the intersection of Aviation and Century boulevards near LAX in order to demolish an old railroad bridge to make way for the Crenshaw/LAX Line. The closure begins at 9 p.m. Friday and is scheduled to last through 6 a.m. Monday. Excerpt:

“We anticipate there is going to be a lot of congestion in and about the airport,” said Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “We just don’t want to see people missing their flights because they are affected by the extended time frames.”

For weeks, LAX and MTA officials have worked to spread the word, sending notices to the media to alert the public, to airlines and other transportation companies to warn their employees, and to hotels along Century Boulevard to alert their guests.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti even starred in a YouTube video, asking airport travelers to plan ahead.

“Because we planned ahead, Carmageddon never happened on the 405. So let’s plan ahead again,” Garcetti said. “Avoid the area if you do not need to be there and, if you must, allow for extra travel time and use public transit.”

The airport is expecting its usual heavy air traffic through the weekend and almost 93,000 vehicles pass through the Aviation/Century intersection on the average day — airport officials say it’s the busiest entrance and exit to the airport.

Please consider taking the Flyaway bus or public transit if traveling to or from the airport this weekend. If driving, the detour map is below and using Sepulveda Boulevard is one choice for avoiding Century Boulevard.

CrenshawDetourMap

Report to Metro: pay attention (L.A. Register)

Tough audit sparks reforms (ZevWeb)

The Register looks at an internal audit of the of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which is under contract by Metro to patrol the agency’s buses, trains and stations, and contract oversight by Metro. Excerpt from the Register:

“The results of the audit are disappointing,” said County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who sits on the Metro Board of Directors. “The Sheriff’s Department should have done a better job in meeting the requirements of our contract and MTA executive staff failed to manage the contract competently or effectively.”

The report noted some recent improvements, however.

“More citations have been written, the number of fare checks has increased, officer morale has generally increased, and plans to address staffing issues and other improvements are underway,“ the audit said.

Spokespeople for both Metro and LASD said the organizations agreed with most of the recommendations and said that actions were already underway to increase performance. As a result, there was a persistent decline in violent crime over the past year.

Serious crimes incidents are below 4 incidents per 1 million boardings, and the numbers have improved since last year, according to Metro spokesperson Marc Littman.

 

As the article on Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky’s website notes, “The audit comes as the sheriff’s Metro contract—by far the department’s largest—is up for renewal. The new contract will likely be worth more than $400 million over five years, the report said. The department currently is working under a $42 million six-month contract extension that expires on Dec. 31.”

Kicking the can down the road: a habit that is hard to kick (NPR)

Good piece that attempts to answer why Congress will only offer temporary fixes for the Highway Trust Fund and other budgetary matters. The answer: it’s hard to do anything decisive when there’s another big election looming.

Museum row losing tenant to Metro (L.A. Register) 

No new news here, but a reminder that the Architecture and Design Museum on Wilshire Boulevard has to be move to make way for construction of the Purple Line Extension’s Wilshire/Fairfax station. Museum officials are looking for a new location — with downtown Los Angeles one possibility. Meanwhile, the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday is scheduled to consider approving a $1.6-billion contract with Skanska, Traylor and Shea to build the project’s 3.9-mile first phase with new stations at Wilshire/La Brea, Wilshire/Fairfax and Wilshire/La Cienega.

 

Transportation headlines, Friday, July 18

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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.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, July 17

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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.

 

Transportation headlines, Friday, July 11

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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

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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.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, July 9

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ART OF TRANSIT: The Metro 181 on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The Metro 181 on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

It’s now legal to build light rail in the Valley (Curbed LA)

The Valley could get its own Metro light-rail train (LAWeekly)

Light rail in the San Fernando Valley (Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian press release) 

Gov. Brown on Tuesday signed a bill by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian that would make it legal to convert the Orange Line busway in the San Fernando Valley into light rail. The bill reverses the 1991 “Robbins” bill that outlawed light rail along the old Southern Pacific rail right-of-way that would eventually become the Orange Line.

So that’s interesting. Perhaps mostly because it shows how times have changed in the past 23 years. Whereas neighborhoods once upon a time went to great lengths to keep rail projects at bay — and a few still do — many more are actively lobbying for rail projects in their communities.

From LAWeekly:

Coby King of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA) says it’s his community’s turn to get a light-rail line that could run north-south from Canoga Park to Chatsworth:

The Metro Orange Line has been a victim of its own success, and is now so overcrowded and slow it has to turn away new passengers. Conversion to light rail is the best option for the Orange Line, with its significantly higher ridership potential and low cost relative to heavy rail and underground subways.

Nazarian himself says that having a train run though the Valley would “lead to greater connectivity to the Red Line and other transportation lines throughout Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.”

There are some mighty tall hurdles to clear for the Orange Line to ever become a rail line. The Metro Board of Directors has not asked for a study of a conversion. Nor is a conversion in Metro’s long-range plan that was adopted by the Metro Board of Directors in 2010. The list of projects in the plan that are both funded and unfunded are below, including the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor and the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor:

LRTP1

LRTP2

All that said, a conversion certainly has its advocates in the Valley, which today boasts a population of 1.77 million, according to the Census Bureau. And the Orange Line has certainly proven popular, with almost 30,000 weekday boardings, according to the latest ridership estimates from Metro. The key questions, however, remain unanswered: how many more people could a train carry? Would a train definitely be faster? (the Orange Line currently takes 55 minutes to travel between NoHo and Chatsworth and 45 minutes between NoHo and Warner Center during the morning rush hour.) What is the cost? Where would the funding come from? Assuming money is in limited supply, what’s more important — this or a transit project connecting the Westside and Valley?

Discuss, please.

Caltrans to place homes in path of 710 freeway for sale (Star News) 

The agency has listed 53 properties purchased decades ago by the state in case a surface extension of the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena was ever built. That possibility is gone: Metro is currently studying five alternatives as part of its SR-710 Study including a freeway tunnel, light rail, bus rapid transit, traffic improvements and the legally-required no-build option. The state owns more than 500 properties in Pasadena, South Pasadena and Los Angeles — many of which will be sold after the project’s environmental studies are completed.

Who gets to buy the properties? Excerpt:

According to a draft set of rules Caltrans released last month for the sale of the houses, tenants who owned the house before Caltrans bought it through eminent domain will get the first shot. They will be asked to pay a fair market value.

Next in line will be current tenants who have lived in the house for more than two years and qualify as having low to moderate income. Then come tenants who have lived in the house for five years and do not earn more than 150 percent of the area median income, which is $64,800, according to the federal government.

Both of those situations would have the tenant purchase the home at an affordable rate or the “as is” fair market value, which is derived from the comparative home sales.

After that, a public or private affordable housing organization could purchase the home at a reasonable price. Then the current tenant — if they make more than 150 percent of median income or have lived in the house less than 2 years — can buy at fair market value. Last in line are former tenants at fair market value. After that, if the house is still on the market, it will go up for auction for anyone to buy.

 

The draft environmental study for the project is scheduled to be released in February.

Balancing cars, cash and congestion: Metro Silver Line BRT in ExpressLanes (Streetsblog LA)

A good overview of the history of the Silver Line bus service that runs between El Monte Station and Harbor Gateway Station using the ExpressLanes on both the 10 and 110 freeways as well as surface streets in downtown Los Angeles.

The post also looks at the issue of too much traffic in the ExpressLanes on the 10 freeway between Union Station and Cal State L.A. — where there is only one of the tolled lanes in each direction. According to Metro, there has been a marginal reduction in speeds on that segment in recent months (which the agency hopes to correct through by adjusting tolls) although the overall average speed of the ExpressLanes remains above the federally-mandated 45 mph.

Streetsblog also went out and looked at that segment firsthand on several occasions and found:

After hearing from our tipster and from Metro, Streetsblog visited the 10 Freeway ExpressLanes three times. All on rush-hour mornings on weekdays in mid-June 2014. The good news is that there wasn’t any bumper to bumper traffic. The lanes work. Plenty of buses, carpools, and solo drivers were commuting smoothly toward downtown Los Angeles.

The only slowing observed was that transit buses would often develop a “tail” of cars lined up behind them.  It appears that buses, driving the speed limit, marginally reduce the speed of other vehicle in the ExpressLanes.

Most likely, the toll lanes are experiencing the dip in traffic congestion that generally occurs in Los Angeles during summer months. Gas prices are generally higher in the summer. Fewer students are commuting to school. Some residents go on vacation. And, lately, according to Mayor Garcetti’s video here, drivers may be playing hooky to watch World Cup soccer.

The comments include some interesting debate about the Silver Line and the ExpressLanes. I’ll echo Streetsblog’s request for any feedback from readers here who use the bus or drive in the ExpressLanes.

Bicycling can be deadlier in L.A. than in Mumbai, Shanghai and other big traffic cities (LAWeekly)

Writer Chris Walker argues that he felt safer on a bike in the chaos of the aforementioned cities (and many others in Asia) than he does in L.A. He offers some statistics to back up his argument but much of what he says is anecdotal (not that I entirely disagree with his points). His main point: drivers in L.A. have very, very little regard for cyclists.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, July 8

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ART OF TRANSIT: The new platform for the Arcadia station along the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The new platform for the Arcadia station along the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Why cars remain so appealing even in cities with great public transit (Washington Post) 

This is one of the smartest posts I’ve read in a while about the challenges facing transit in big cities in the U.S. The article is based on maps produced by MIT that allow for comparisons in travel time in a variety of cities (unfortunately, there’s no map for L.A. yet). The gist of it: cycling and driving in many cities are a more efficient and faster way of getting around than transit.

Riffing on those maps — if they’re correct — the Post’s Emily Badger writes:

Another takeaway is that these maps illustrate why people make rational calculations to drive so much of the time, even in cities where decent transit does exist. The total financial cost per trip of driving somewhere is likely higher than taking transit (or biking), once you factor in car payments, insurance, and maintenance. But we tend to treat those as sunk costs. And so we often make travel decisions with a time budget in mind, not a financial one. By that metric, it’s clear here why people who can afford to drive often chose to. It’s also clear on these maps that people who can’t afford a car pay a steep penalty in time to get around.

Transit advocates spend a lot of time worrying about the lack of appeal of transit for “choice riders,” or commuters who have other options for getting around. It’s important to recognize that the decisions they make are often weighed in time.

That means that a big part of the challenge here for cities is to make transit a more efficient travel mode, relative to cars, for more people….

[snip]

But outside of New York — with its extensive subway system — this is an extremely difficult task, particularly given that most of these maps reflect the fact that we’ve built cities to be traveled by cars (by, for instance, routing highways through them). But it’s possible to increase the relative efficiency of transit by creating dedicated lanes and signal priority for buses at stoplights, or increasing forms of express transit service. Transit networks could even compress what feels like the time cost of riding transit by adding cell service and WiFi that enable passengers to use time spent commuting productively — and in ways that aren’t possible from the driver’s seat of a car.

I hope every transit advocate, planner and elected official in our area reads this. I realize some people may not agree, but it certainly struck a chord with me and articulated what I’ve been trying to say for quite a few years: many commuters — including nearly all that I know — consider time the biggest factor in their commutes. They like the idea of transit, but time usually trumps things such as “liking the idea,” cost and the do-gooder factor.

Two other thoughts:

•This article indirectly implies that slowing down transit with extra traffic signals is a great way to dampen ridership and the investment made in transit in the first place.

•The MIT maps are a great argument for a healthy expansion of cycling infrastructure. As Emily writes, there probably is a cap on the number of people who will commute by bike, but there’s probably reason to believe most cities can grow the number of bike commuters somewhat.

Your thoughts, readers?

Bill Ford on the future of more cars: we can’t simply sell more cars (Wall Street Journal) 

Well, that’s certainly an eye-grabbing headline given that Bill Ford happens to be the Big Cheese at one of the world’s largest automakers. Unfortunately the op-ed is behind the WSJ pay wall. If you read it, please leave a comment summarizing the article. Thanks!

Gold Line Foothill Extension photo tour: transit-oriented development (Streetsblog L.A.) 

Photos and text look at some of the development plans in Monrovia, Duarte and Azusa adjacent to the project that is extending the Gold Line from eastern Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border. Looks like Monrovia is the most ambitious thus far with its Station Square plans; I think there are some great opportunities up and down the 11.5-mile alignment.

Why the Highway Trust Fund is running out of funds in five graphs (Washington Post) 

Or to put it in one sentence: the federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in 21 years, cars are more fuel efficient, people aren’t buying as much gas, people are driving less. Why does it matter? The Highway Trust Fund helps pay for road work and transit projects across the country and agencies such as Metro rely on those dollars. More on that later today.

Transportation headlines, Monday, July 7

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Thanks for riding on Friday, everyone! How was transit service to the various firework events around town? Comment please.

California screaming (New Yorker) 

A good story — albeit behind a paywall — about the ongoing gentrification and spectacular rise in real estate prices in San Francisco due to a booming tech industry in the Bay Area. If you can get your paws on a July 7 edition, it’s worthy of a role. Transit plays a role as the article discusses the controversy over private tech industry buses ferrying workers between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Proponents say the buses help get commuters out of cars while opponents argue that tech firms should have never been allowed to use public bus stops for free and that the buses make it too easy for wealthy young workers to drive up housing costs in the city of San Francisco while working outside the city.

The median household income in S.F: $73,802. In L.A.: $49,745, according to the Census Bureau’s latest numbers. That’s a big difference!

A very interesting story because some of the things happening in San Francisco seem to be good and enviable: jobs are being created, infrastructure is being improved upon. On the other hand, and as the article makes clear, there remains serious debate over much the tech industry workers — with their new wealth — are really contributing to the city where they reside. And it’s pretty clear that San Francisco’s leaders efforts to build and encourage the development of affordable housing are, at best, painfully slow.

City of Pasadena studies protected bike lanes (Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition) 

The city hired a contractor to look at the possibility of protected bike lanes — i.e. ones protected from traffic by more than a thin white stripe of paint — on six east-west streets. A couple could help cyclists reach Gold Line stations, most notably on Del Mar and Villa. Del Mar is a bit of a bad joke at present: the city has it marked as a bike route even though car traffic is very heavy and there are stretches where cyclists have no choice but to take a whole lane because space along the curb is either lacking or used by parked motor vehicles. Pasadena has been talking about improving bike infrastructure for quite some time now but that hasn’t resulted in any real action. I should know. I live and bike there.

Cash free buses (Transport for London) 

Buses in London no longer accept cash fares. Riders can pay with an Oyster card (their version of Metro’s TAP card) or use contact-less cards such as debit or credit cards. The transit agency says very few people were using cash on buses anymore and the move will save the agency money.

Riverside: streetcars may roll in the city’s future (Press-Enterprise)

The city is studying a potential 12-mile streetcar line with a first phase that would connect downtown to UC Riverside. I haven’t been to Riverside in forever; would this work, readers?

Hell must look like this: a grueling year for a train-struck town (NPR) 

A look back at the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, where last July the brakes of an unattended train failed. The 72-car train — complete with tanker cars filled with oil – rolled downhill, overturned and exploded in Lac-Megantic’s downtown, killing 47 people. Much of downtown is still abandoned due to rubble and contamination from the fire. An unbelievable story of neglect. The New York Times Magazine also published a short piece in December about those in a tavern next to the tracks when the train derailed.