Transportation headlines, Thursday, October 30

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.  

ART OF TRANSIT: The Dodger Stadium Express will hitting the gym this winter to prepare for some heavy lifting in April -- particularly the 27th through the 29th. Let's hope for a Bumgarner versus Kershaw game.

ART OF TRANSIT: The Dodger Stadium Express will hitting the gym this winter to prepare for some heavy lifting in April — particularly the 27th through the 29th. Let’s hope for a Bumgarner versus Kershaw game.

Bullet train just a blur in California’s governor’s race (L.A. Times)

The high-speed rail line planned to eventually link Los Angeles and San Francisco (and one day San Diego) has been mentioned scarcely in the race between incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown and Republican opponent Neel Kashkari. That surprises some observers, given that the bullet train is widely considered to be the nation’s largest infrastructure project and one that needs political attention.

The noise near Santa Monica’s airport is getting louder (New York Times)

Nice overview story about the ballot measures in Santa Monica that will decide who controls the airport’s future — residents or elected officials. Well, sort of control — the Federal Aviation Administration which continues to contend that the city of Santa Monica must operate the airport for the benefit of the public.

Of course, there’s another big question if the airport (described as like an aircraft carrier in a sea of homes) should ever close: what does the 227-acre site become? Whatever happens, the second phase of the Expo Line will be about a mile away — but on the other side of the Santa Monica Freeway.

BART’s Oakland Airport Connector on track for holiday debut (Chronicle) 

Which holiday — Thanksgiving or Christmas — is still in question. But officials say the people mover that will run for 8.5 minutes between the BART regional rail line and the airport is almost ready to go and just needs approval from the California Public Utilities Commission.

Attentive Source readers know, of course, that LAX is planning to build a people mover system to connect the airport’s terminals to a station at Aviation and 96th Street along the Crenshaw/LAX Line. Please see this Source post from June for much, much, much more about that.

 

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, October 29

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.  

Zombies attack

This begs the question: do the walking dead need to TAP? (Photo: Dan Cooke)

Don’t Believe the Headlines: Bike Boom Has Been Fantastic for Bike Safety (Streetsblog USA)

This article is in response to the Governors Highway Safety Assn. (GHSA) study released on Monday that showed bicycling fatalities on the rise within the past two years.  Among the issues the authors had with the study was its lack of perspective and resulting sensationalism, considering bike trips in the country have tripled since 1975, yet bicycling deaths — despite increasing the past few years — are still much lower than they were then.

Put those figures together, and what’s actually happening is that for an infinitesimal fraction of the cost of the nation’s transportation system, Americans are enjoying billions more bike trips every year than they were a generation ago. And because the sheer number of bikes on the street is teaching drivers to keep an eye out for bikes, every single bike trip is far, far safer than it was.

It’s worth adding that maintaining awareness of your surroundings, defensive bicycling and following simple safety precautions (like those from Metro’s Bike page) never hurt either.

L.A. area has many freeways that stayed on the drawing board (L.A. Times)

A look at the history behind Los Angeles’ freeway system and why some of those that were planned were never built. Two of the major causes of this, the author says citing UCLA urban planning professor Brian Taylor, were lack of funds, community opposition and rising costs due to the space required to build modern freeways. But 60 years ago, building highways was easy.

Initially, money for freeway building flowed. California gasoline taxes were raised in 1947 and 1953, and Congress passed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Seizing homes for freeways was astonishingly easy after World War II; Taylor writes it took less than three weeks for the state to begin tearing down homes along the 110 Freeway route south of downtown after asking a court for permission.

The last freeway project in L.A. County, the 105 Freeway, needed nearly 20 years to do the same.

Taking a look at the supplemental map of the “forgotten freeways,” I can’t help but think we’re far better off with most of those proposed highways never being built. After all, we were able to sprawl just fine without them. It might have also taken longer to realize freeways and cars were unsustainable long-term at the expense of many more communities.

Mapping London’s “Tube Tongues” (CityLab)

A researcher at the University College London made this interactive map of the London Tube based on census data that shows which languages other than English are most spoken near each station.

The map is great. Knowing very little about London, I was able to get a sense of the geography and diversity of London’s neighborhoods in one quick look. Any takers on creating a similar map for L.A.?

29 vintage photos from 110 years of the New York subway (Time Out)

Some old-timey photos of the New York subway from the past century…

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, October 28

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.  

ART OF TRANSIT: The turkeys are out, but it's not even holiday yet. Hmm. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The turkeys are out, but it’s not even holiday yet. Hmm. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Gold Line lays final tracks in Azusa, project 80 percent complete (San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

Coverage of the completion of track work for the Measure R-funded 11.5-mile extension of the Gold Line between eastern Pasadena and the Azusa/Glendora border. The article provides a nice overview of the project and its long history along with a look forward:

Monrovia is betting that $25 million in Metro and state funding for a transit plaza, a promenade for live music and food trucks, and a new park with an amphitheater will connect the south part of town and Gold Line station to its vibrant north Myrtle Avenue location.

Duarte, not to be outdone, has plans for a hotel and a movie theater, said Mayor Liz Reilly, both amenities Monrovia has had for years. “We will be closer to the Gold Line station than they (Monrovia) are,” she said.

The Duarte station lies across the street from its largest employer, City of Hope, a nationally known research and cancer treatment hospital that employs 4,300 people, many of whom she hopes will take the train to and from work.

But as the mountains sat down at the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon, the tracks reached APU/Citrus College station at the doorstep of the 1,250-home Rosedale planned development. It may be the first suburban housing project built train-station ready with a plaza to be built within walking distance.

Go get ‘em, Duarte! :) The Monrovia Station will be interesting as the tracks are on the south side of the 210 and the city’s very nice downtown sits about a mile away on the north side of the freeway. It’s not a crazy long distance between the two, but it’s a walk or bike ride through a more commercial area. It will be very interesting as the years go by to see what kind of linkage develops.

One other note: the views of the San Gabriel Mountains from the Foothill Extension tracks should be crazy good. Metro is currently forecasting an early 2016 opening for the line.

How commute times stack up (L.A. Times) 

The graphic compares 2013 median commute times to the previous year’s times (I think), with much of our region hovering around the national average of 25.4 minutes. Any readers care to hazard a guess why more centrally located Alhambra and East L.A. have greater average times than Santa Clarita, a northern ‘burb?

An accompanying story on the annual Texas Transportation Institute rankings for traffic delays, says our region has climbed back to the No. 2 position behind only the Washington D.C. area. I’m not a huge fan of such rankings — which seem to suggest that city dwellers should expect blissful quick commutes all the time — but an accompanying article has some interesting observations:

The good news, in the long view: Annual congestion-related delay for Greater Los Angeles is still below the peak of 79 hours per motorist reached in 2006, when gas prices were low and the economy was booming. The rise in average commute times is only a few minutes more than in 1990.

Wachs said it’s likely people are adjusting their work and travel habits to avoid commuting during rush hour. They work at home, change hours, move closer to their jobs and otherwise try to travel during off-peak periods.

Brian Taylor, an urban planning professor at UCLA, agreed with Wachs and Pisarski but cautioned that rising commute times may involve factors beyond street and highway congestion.

For example, longer travel distances and greater use of bicycles and public transit can increase trip times. Such a shift might be underway in the Los Angeles area, where the portion of those driving to work has dipped by as many as three percentage points since 1990.

 

My own three cents: most of my friends and acquaintances have pretty normal commutes whether driving, taking transit or walking and/or biking. The folks I know with the really long commutes tend to take Metrolink to travel from outlying ‘burbs to downtown L.A., although I have one friend who has a long-ish drive between Claremont and Riverside. Whereas in the ’90s I knew some people driving crazy long distances (San Juan Capistrano to DTLA, for example) on a daily basis, many people I know seem to be giving more thought to their commutes and transit that may be available when picking places to live, work and play.

New York MTA told it must focus on repairs, not growth (New York Times) 

Some back and forth between the New York MTA — which operates the busy New York Subway system — and the watchdog Citizens Budget Commission. The agency says its capital plan includes money for improvements that riders want, along with a second phase of the Second Avenue Subway (the first phase is under construction). The group points to increasing ridership on the subway and says modernizing the system and maintenance should be the first priorities.

The lost navigator (High Country News) 

Touching essay by Jane Koerner on her father succumbing to Parkinson’s Disease.

After church, he took us on drives into the country, navigating the gravel roads by instinct and the position of the sun. No street signs for guidance, acres and acres of plowed prairie the color of daylight, an occasional farmhouse with a bleached barn — nothing like my mountainous Colorado home. Dad never needed to consult a road map…He was fascinated by trains. From the comfort of his easy chair, with the TV chattering nearby, he’d plot a course across the Western United States and Canada, using the railroad timetables and histories that crowded his bookshelf.

Today’s fun, easy article to read on transit that doesn’t involve transit: Why fast food chains’ love (and deny) having secret menus (New Yorker) I knew about In-N-Out’s animal style fries but I really didn’t know about the 3×3. Which now I want. And certainly don’t need.

Transportation headlines, Monday, October 27

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Art of Transit: 

Bicycle traffic deaths soar; California leads nation (L.A. Times)

Sobering news from a new report by the Governors Highway Safety Assn.: bicycle deaths across the U.S. rose 16 percent between 2010 and 2012. California led the nation with 123 deaths; California, of course, is the nation’s most populous state. For perspective, 2,816 motorists were killed in California in 2012.

Perhaps one of the most notable trends bicycling-wise is that adults 20 or older are now most often the victims compared to the 1970s, when most victims were 19 or younger. Alcohol and not wearing a helmet continue to be major factors in bike accidents these days. Experts also say there may be more bike commuters these days.

Does this mean that biking is unsafe? Of course not — plenty of people use their bikes every day with no incident. As with most other things in life, there are some good safety precautions worth taking. Please see the bike page on metro.net, which has plenty of commuting and safety tips and links to other sites. It’s especially important as daylight savings time ends this weekend, meaning it will be getting dark out during many peoples’ afternoon commutes.

Niall Horan took London Underground and his fans can’t handle it (BuzzFeed) 

The One Direction singer takes a selfie on a train. Most of the people around him seemingly fail to notice or care or experience a life-changing moment. On social media…it’s a different story.

Our highways’ toll on wildlife (New York Times) 

Spring and fall are usually the time when most animal-vehicle collisions occur, owing to wildlife migrations. This op-ed offers some useful advice — be careful, especially on two-lane roads in rural areas — and argues that more specialized wildlife crossings (i.e. bridges and tunnels) should be built to get critters across the road. Caltrans and the National Park Service are talking about a wildlife crossing under the 101 to help mountain lions and other animals migrate between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills — although lack of funding will be a big challenge.

Obviously we have our share of wildlife, often living in or near the L.A. metro area. So please be careful driving on mountain and suburban roads where everything from deer to raccoons to coyotes may be common. I was hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains on Sunday and came around a curve (slowly!) near Dawson’s Saddle and encountered a pair of bighorn sheep, one of which is shown below:

Photo by Steve Hymon.

Photo by Steve Hymon.

Quasi-related: The Angeles Crest Highway, shown above, may not offer transit service but there are plenty of trails and hikes reachable via transit in our area. In fact, we did a series of “Trailhead Hunter” posts in the past about this. Check ‘em out: Griffith Park, L.A. State Historic Park (currently closed while being renovated) and Temescal Canyon. Also, you can reach Eaton Canyon Nature Center by taking the Gold Line to Sierra Madre Villa Station and transferring to the Metro 264 Bus and exiting at the intersection of Altadena Avenue and New York Drive. From there, it’s a relatively short walk to the Nature Center, which includes trails and access to the Mt. Wilson Toll Road.

Dubai: gold prizes offered for public transport users (BBC)

One million dirham in prizes (equivalent to about $272,000) are being given away as part of a promotion to entice residents to take transit. Included in the prizes are nearly nine pounds of pure gold. The BBC says car ownership rates in Dubai are some of the highest in the world at 2.3 vehicles per family. That said, car ownership rates in the U.S. overall are far higher than in the United Arab Emirates.

Cars remain king and barrier to economic opportunity (Brookings Institution)

The think tank crunched Census Bureau numbers and found that in many metro areas, zero-vehicle households are still driving to work, often in great numbers by borrowing cars or carpooling. Excerpt:

Our work has found that nearly all zero-vehicle households live in neighborhoods with transit service, but those routes only connect them to 40 percent of jobs within 90 minutes. On the flip side, the Urban Institute found vehicle availability can improve economic outcomes for housing voucher recipients, especially in terms of neighborhood choice. Little wonder then that many car-less commuters find a vehicle to get to work.

The big goal for policymakers at all government levels is to improve access to jobs, for all workers and across all transportation modes.

Brookings also notes the recent work by the University of Minnesota that ranked large metro areas by access to the most jobs via transit. The Los Angeles metro area fared well, ranking third in the country. Hard to argue with Brookings’ conclusion that improving mobility across all modes is a worthy goal — the more options, the better, I think.

Transportation headlines, Friday, Oct. 24

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Basics: the math of park-n-ride (Human Transit)

Boy, Laura Nelson’s article in the Times earlier this week on parking and the lack thereof at some Metro transit stations got people talking. That’s a good thing as parking at transit stations is an interesting public policy issue. The latest to chime in is transportation planner Jarrett Walker who says he doesn’t believe parking is needed in many cases to attract people to transit. Excerpt:

The claim that Park-and-Ride is needed to attract riders is true only in the earliest phases of development, or on transit services with limited utility like peak-only express service.   Once land value rises in response to transit access, the highest source of ridership is also the economically highest use of the land: dense, transit-oriented development around the station combined with good provision for the space-efficient forms of access (i.e. everything but Park-and-Ride).  This is why Park-and-Ride is often a logical interim use of land, but not one that you should plan on having forever.  Once a city has grown in around a transit system, there may be little Park-and-Ride left at rail stations, and only massive, distorting subsidies will make it free.

Read his entire post — it offers more context and there are some situations in which Walker feels that parking is appropriate.

LADOT pilots pedestrian-first signal timing on Broadway (Streetsblog LA)

Some good news: it’s an experiment, but the city of Los Angeles has been tinkering with the timing of walk signals on Broadway in DTLA. The walk signal now comes on several seconds before the green light for cars, the idea being to give pedestrians a head start so they’re more visible to motorists who may otherwise quickly turn right or left into a crosswalk. I think they’ve been doing the same thing in Pasadena near City College and I love it — after spending years avoiding students who are driving too fast or too dumb-dumbly.

Faces of transportation (AASHTO)

The American Assn. of State Highway and Transportation Officials shows off their annual photo contest winners. A few nice pics in there if you’re into this sort of thing. Some even nicer transpo photos on the Mobile Photography Awards’ website — not sure when they were first published, but they’re really good.

Speaking of mobile photography, I’m a big fan of Hipstamatic and have been giving their new TinType app a whirl. It’s designed for portrait photography, but folks I’ve taken pics of say it makes them look bug-eyed. Took this one on the Gold Line yesterday. It’s a little dark, but I do like the effect:

Santa Monica Airport could save us from alien invasion (Streetsblog Lite) 

So says one letter writer in the Santa Monica Daily Press, suggesting the airport could be used for a military staging area to fight the outer-space people/things/creatures. Hmmm. But what if the alien invaders are friendly and just want to borrow some earthling stuff for a while?:

Take note, aspiring directors. It’s hard to do much better than that.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, Oct. 23

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

Photo: Juan Ocampo/Metro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More headlines are after the jump!

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Transportation headlines, Wednesday, October 22

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.  

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

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

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

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

This item from the Source’s Steve Hymon:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYC sets one-day subway ridership record (WNYC)

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

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

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

Washington State traffic forecast finally recognizes reality (Sightline Daily)

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

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

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

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

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