Transportation headlines, Thursday, October 2

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! 

Metro shouldn’t play the name game (L.A. Times)

The Times’ editorial board says that it’s unseemly for the Metro Board of Directors to name transit stations after members of the Board. “Is it really necessary to name stations after sitting board members? That has the appearance of legacy-building on the public dime,” writes the editorial board.

The Board today as part of the consent calendar approved motions by Board Members Pam O’Connor and Ara Najarian to rename the North Hollywood Station the North Hollywood/Zev Yaroslavsky Station and to rename the East L.A. Civic Center Station the East L.A. Civic Center/Gloria Molina Station. The motions ask Metro staff to report back in January on how the changes will be implemented.

Here is an earlier Source post about the renaming motions.

When transit agencies run short on cash, should they sell alcohol ads to get it? (Washington Post) 

A look at the pros and cons of allowing alcohol ads on public transit — something a few large agencies have embraces. The upside: much needed revenue. The downside: unlike other forms of ads, these type of ads can be hard to tune out for a captive audience, meaning young riders are exposed to them for longer periods of time.

Metro, by the way, prohibits advertising for alcohol and tobacco products. Read Metro’s advertising guidelines here.

World’s first bullet train turns 50 (Washington Post)

The first high-speed train rolled between Tokyo and Osaka 50 years ago — and a little more than 19 years after the end of World War II. Eight other countries today have bullet trains. The United States isn’t one of them.

Intermountain states seek to keep hope alive for high-speed rail (Salt Lake City Tribune)

Officials from several Western states gathered in Salt Lake to discuss the best way to stay in the high-speed rail game. Their verdict: support California’s bullet train efforts because if things go well here, high-speed rail could spread to surrounding states. Time travel oriented readers should set their DeLoreans for the year 2114 to see if the L.A.-Las Vegas-Salt Lake line has been built along Interstate 15 along with a leg along Interstate 80 connecting to Denver. Such a train would be a great way to reach some good skiing…if, in fact, there’s still skiing to be had in a potentially far warmer world.

Marty McFly should check the status of high-speed rail in 2114.

Curious minds want Marty McFly and Professor Emmett Brown to check the status of high-speed rail in 2114.

Helsinki has plans to get people to stop owning cars (Smithsonian)

Excerpt:

The Finnish city has committed to a concept called “mobility on demand,” in which a wide range of transportation options from buses to driverless cars to bikes would be meshed together into one system that a person could use to order any trip on a smartphone. The passenger would need to enter just an origin and a destination, and the mobile app at the heart of the program would do the rest, selecting the most appropriate modes of transportation and mapping the best route based on real-time traffic data.

Everything would be covered through one payment plan, either through a monthly charge, like the taxi service Uber, or a pay-as-you-go option. Users would be able to monitor their costs and adjust how they use different means of getting around.

The plan offers door-to-door service that would eliminate the first-mile and last-mile complications of getting to and from public transit.

Now that’s thinking big! Will it work? Depends, I suppose, on how willing people are to give up their cars — something that likely depends on how convenient other options are. Please read the entire article that goes on to explain the success of a small bus that people can order on demand and use to customize their transit trips.

405 construction heck already paying off in time saved on freeway (LA Weekly) 

UPDATE: I included this story at the top of an earlier version of the headlines, not realizing that the story was originally published in June 2013. Instead of deleting, I moved the item to the bottom of the headlines. 

The data comes from Inrix, a firm that measures traffic congestion comparing May 2012 to May 2013. Excerpt:

Measuring traffic from Imperial Highway to Getty Center Drive, the company found that drive times have been reduced by 20 minutes at 3 p.m., 9 minutes at 4 p.m. and 5 minutes at 5 p.m. INRIX is comparing May, 2012 to May 2013 here. Not bad.

As you likely know, the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project, added a northbound HOV lane to the 405 between the 10 and 101 freeways. The lane opened this spring and most work on the project is now complete.

Inrix also found that traffic has worsened 11 percent in the L.A. area and that the commute on the eastbound Santa Monica Freeway has significantly taken a turn for the worse. Does that echo your experiences, readers?

 

 

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, October 1

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Art of Transit: New Metro Rail light rail vehicles being assembled in Palmdale. In this pic, two halves of a light rail car are being joined together. Photo: Metro.

Art of Transit: New Metro Rail light rail vehicles being assembled in Palmdale. In this pic, two halves of a light rail car are being joined together. Photo: Metro.

Metro breaks ground on key downtown L.A. subway link (L.A. Times)

Officials break ground on $1.4-billion Regional Connector (Downtown News)

Coverage of yesterday’s groundbreaking for the Regional Connector project that will tie together the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines in downtown L.A., making for a quicker ride to and through downtown for Metro light rail passengers. Officials emphasized that the Connector will reduce the need for transfer and should hopefully make taking the train into DTLA more convenient and possibly even quicker than driving.

I thought it was interesting that no one at the event noted, however, that the Pasadena Gold Line was originally intended to connect to the Blue Line. That was cut from the project in the 1990s due to budget woes, with officials figuring the subway could be used to bridge the gap between Union Station and 7th/Metro. Complicating matters, the Gold Line platform and subway platforms aren’t exactly adjacent — something I’m not sure you would appreciate unless you’re the one walking it day after day, month after month and year after year.

Metro’s Union Station Master Plan a significant shift (L.A. Times)

Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne takes a look at the Union Station Master Plan that the Metro Board will consider in its October round of meetings (the Board delayed taking action in September). Overall, he likes many elements of the plan and considers some of the challenges — such as how new development adjacent to the station will blend in with the historic station structure. One note from Metro: officials emphasize that raising the tracks at Union Station as part of the run-through project and providing room for the concourse below would not impact nearby bridges over the Los Angeles River.

Making Los Angeles streets safe, zero pedestrian deaths are mayor’s and LADOT’s goal (Daily News) 

LADOT’s bold new strategic vision: eliminate L.A. traffic deaths by 2025 (Streetsblog L.A.)

A look at the “Great Streets” document released by the city of Los Angeles earlier this week. The goal of ending pedestrian deaths and all traffic fatalities in the city by 2025 is certainly commendable — and will certainly be a challenge given the size of the city and the amount of traffic within it. As the article notes, there were 80 deaths last year and that number hasn’t moved much in recent years. My humble request: improving the often lousy pedestrian environment on sidewalks near the Blue Line would be a great place to start.

From Damien Newton and Joe Linton at Streetsblog:

There have long been holistic thinkers at LADOT, but they’ve been in the minority, squeezing in opportunistic improvements in the midst of a departmental culture that prioritized car convenience. In the past half-dozen years, under the leadership of previous General Manager Jaime de la Vega and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LADOT has warmed up to a broader mission that balances the needs of all road users.

But today’s plan is a quantum leap forward.

I couldn’t agree more.

 

The document from the city is below — looks like it has some interesting facts and figures, although I haven’t had a chance to read yet in its entirety.

A high-frequency bus network: is it worth the cost? (Edmonton Journal)

Excellent intro to a longer series about an ongoing discussion in the city: should high-frequency bus service be the goal or should the city continue to spread bus service around so everyone has at least a little service? Transportation planner Jarrett Walker was hired to help city officials make some decisions — see his blog for more coverage.

Of course, this is a hugely relevant conversation in Los Angeles County, where Metro and many other municipal agencies provide bus service. Some of it is certainly high frequency (at times) and much of it dives deeply into the ‘burbs and has low ridership but is obviously critical for the mobility of those who do ride. The catch: funding for bus service is never unlimited, meaning that to some degree the number of high-ridership, high-frequency lines are limited by the number of low-frequency bus lines.

 

 

Transportation headlines, Monday, September 29

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No, Carmageddon is not inevitable (Zocalo Public Square)

In advance of tonight’s panel discussion at the Petersen Automotive Museum on “How to Speed Up Traffic in L.A.?”, Zocalo Public Square asks several experts for their advice. Congestion pricing (i.e. tolling freeways and roads at peak hours to spread out demand), concentrating more housing and jobs near transit, charging non-residents more for parking than residents (encouraging more residents to shop locally perhaps) and making the ‘burbs more friendly to pedestrians, cyclists and transit are among the suggestions. In other words, a lot of ideas that have been widely discussed for many years — but never really fully implemented either because of local opposition, lack of political will, lack of money or a combination of all the above.

BTW, sounds like there are still a few spots open for anyone interested in attending tonight’s forum — Metro CEO Art Leahy is one of the panelists. Click here for more info. Metro’s 720 Rapid Bus and 20 Local Bus on Wilshire Boulevard stop at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax next to the museum. For those coming via Fairfax Avenue, the 780 Rapid Bus and the 217 Local Bus also stop at Wilshire/Fairfax.

No! Wrong way! U.S. carbon emissions rising again (KCET)

Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States rose about 2.7 percent in the first half of 2014 compared to the same time period in 2013. Experts blame the rise on last winter’s polar vortex that prompted many a Midwesterner and East Coaster to try to keep their homes warm — in those parts of the country, a significant portion of electricity is created by burning coal. One of the nice things about California is that our milder weather means less heating in the winter and the state is less dependent on coal than other regions. Of course, we find other ways to make up for it (in a bad way) — such as sprawling into the desert and sitting alone in idling cars in traffic. One easy solution there: try taking transit every so often, walking or biking or some combination of all three.

Guest post: planning to sprawl (The Last Word on Nothing)

Nice post by Erica Schoenberger on how to explain to students that while individual choices matter when it comes to things that impact the environment (such as traffic), it’s equally important to explain the collective decisions that influence the way individuals act.

Excerpt:

Here’s what I’m trying to help the kids understand.  We’ve been making messes for a very long while and we have known pretty much all along that we were doing so.  The histories of our mess-making really matter.  Getting at the details lets you see how a trajectory was constructed piece by piece, opening up some possibilities and forclosing others.  Further: We may have very good intentions as individuals, but the options we have available to choose among are structured by larger, impersonal forces.  Huge collective investments have supported and promoted all those unfortunate individual decisions and have made it hard for people to make good choices.  To me, this suggests that huge collective investments in support of good decisions are needed.  If a capitalist system must grow to survive, let’s grow toward, not away from, the world we want.   

This is why I hope everyone watches closely as plans evolve for various Metro projects and a potential ballot measure in 2016. These kind of big projects and/or plans will influence the decisions that people make transportation-wise for many decades to come, not to mention the scarce public funds that will be used on them. If you don’t like the choices facing you as an individual, please pay attention to these group decisions — one very much has to do with the other, as Erica writes.

Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct: king of the boondoggles (Streetsblog Network)

A less than optimistic view of the project that involves tearing down an elevated highway and putting it in a tunnel underground. Rising construction costs, a tunnel boring machine (named Bertha) that got stuck and falling toll projections are among the problems thus encountered. That said, the tunnel machine’s Twitter feed is entertaining/informative as these things go although Bertha’s taste in football teams is questionable at best.

Transportation headlines, Friday, September 25

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ART OF TRANSIT: Panelists speak at the Social Media Week forum hosted by Metro earlier this week on the agency's use of social media and other rider issues. Click above to listen to the panel!

ART OF TRANSIT: Panelists speak at the Social Media Week forum hosted by Metro earlier this week on the agency’s use of social media and other rider issues. Click above to listen to the panel!

The Valley deserves to be part of L.A.’s transit revolution (L.A. Times) 

In this opinion piece, Matthew Fleischer says that it makes sense to upgrade the Orange Line to rail — as an increasing number of people say is necessary. But it would be expensive, he notes, and that it may make more sense to simply run express buses similar to the express subway trains in New York (and elsewhere).

Excerpt:

Buses, unlike trains, have the maneuverability to pass one another easily. To hop on at Chatsworth and take the bus all the way to North Hollywood means making 16 time-consuming stops. An express route could potentially save huge amounts of time for riders at the tail end of every route. An express bus from North Hollywood, for instance, could potentially skip right to Reseda, while another local bus leaving at the same time could service the stations it passed over. If the express bus catches a local bus in front of it, it can simply pass by and continue on its direct route — unlike a train.

Los Angeles is in the midst of a public transportation revolution. Rail projects like the Expo Line and the “subway to the sea” may one day reinvent the way Angelenos interact with their city. The San Fernando Valley absolutely deserves to be part of this revolution.

The Metro Board this summer approved a motion asking Metro staff to explore a number of improvements, including a potential rail conversion. Metro staff responded with this preliminary report outlining some short- and long-term fixes that should be studied further. Not on the list: express buses.

The short-term fixes, not surprisingly, largely involve trying to get more green lights for the Orange Line, which often finds itself having to stop at station platforms and most cross north-south cross streets. If you’re interested in this issue, see the staff report at the above link. Pretty interesting discussion and it will be intriguing to see if the issue of express buses is raised by others.

Sepulveda Pass and LAX transit (Let’s Go LA)

Intriguing post about a potential transit tunnel under the Sepulveda Pass and the many possible future transit and/or light rail lines that it may serve. A lot of what is shown on the map are project that aren’t in Metro’s long-range plan — meaning there’s no funding or planning in the works — but it’s still fun to contemplate. The blog post certainly hits the nail on the head by saying that a Sepulveda Pass transit tunnel would only get chance to get it right, meaning it really needs to be able to accommodate whatever the future holds, transit wise.

As many of you know, the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor is a project set to receive about $1 billion from Measure R. But it’s also a project not scheduled to be completed until the late 2030s and vastly more funding would be needed to build a tunnel, if that option is pursued. Metro has done some preliminary studies of possible concepts and is looking at a public-private partnership to fund the project, although nothing is for certain at this point.

Continue reading

Transportation headlines, Thursday, September 25

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Global shift to mass transit could save more than $100 trillion and 1,700 megatons of CO2 (UC Davis)

Infographic_HighShift_ITS

Interesting new study from UC Davis that concludes that a massive expansion of mass transit could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by getting people to switch from driving alone to taking transit. As we’ve posted before, transit tends to burn fewer greenhouse gases because it’s more efficient than driving alone.

The report says bus rapid transit is likely the best way for the nation to greatly expand transit because buses are the dominant type of transit in the U.S. and BRT is generally far less expensive to build than new rail lines.

I think there’s certainly room for transit to grow in the U.S. and attract more riders. The key question is whether that would reduce car trips enough to make an impact on emissions. I’m not sure about that. The following item is also quasi-related.

Of course, greatly expanding transit, BRT or otherwise, requires funding. And this chart from a new report on transportation funding by Pew Charitable Trusts shows that spending on highways still outpaces spending on transit at every level of government in the U.S.

HighwayvsTransit

Flat fare no longer fair? Agency studies distance-based fares (Salt Lake City Tribune)

Posting by popular demand. The Utah Transit Authority — which has long been charging a flat fare to ride its buses and trains (like most agencies, including Metro — says it has the technological ability to charge less for short rides and more for long rides. So it will study distance-base fares to see if they can be implemented without losing ridership or revenue.

Distance-based fares have been discussed frequently over the years on our comment board and there’s a segment of our readership who feel they should be implemented here. Among their arguments: Smaller fares for short rides would greatly encourage ridership for those who want to make short trips but don’t want to pay the full fare and may even help reduce traffic in congested parts of town. They also argue that it’s not fair that some Metro riders can ride long distances for the same flat fare and should pay their fair share.

As I’ve written in the past on the comment board, distance-based fares don’t really turn my turnstile, so to speak. I think getting everyone to tap in and tap out is a big hurdle (just getting people to tap in has been a challenge, as we know) and I’m not convinced fares for short trips would ever shrink that much given Metro’s financial challenges. I also think hitting long-distance riders with higher fares would hurt those who depend on Metro the most for their mobility — i.e. low-income workers and residents who must travel great distances from their neighborhoods to jobs. Finally, I don’t think any fare system is going to impact traffic given the convenience and affordability of privately-owned cars. Transit provides an alternative to traffic and perhaps helps it from growing worse. Transit doesn’t fix traffic. If it did, there would be more of it in L.A. and elsewhere.

Washington Metro CEO to step down (Washington Post) 

Richard Sarles took the job in the aftermath of a subway crash that killed nine people in 2009. The Washington Metro is the second-busiest subway system in the country behind New York and Sarles in 2013 put the agency on a path to rebuild and greatly expand the system if funding can be found. Officials were surprised by the announcement.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, September 24

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Cloverfield TPSS Lift 2

For those who like heavy construction (literally) here’s a pic from earlier this month of a substation being lifted into place for the Expo Line. The substations supply voltage to the overhead wires that, in turn, deliver power to the tracks. The substations were manufactured in Virginia and traveled a week cross-country to the Westside. The last two substations for the second phase of the Expo Line will arrive by mid-November.

Are toll lanes elitist or progressive? (L.A. Times)

With Orange County officials still considering toll lanes for the 405 freeway, the Times’ editorial board publishes its very interesting internal discussion on whether to back congestion pricing lanes or not. The fascinating part: they can’t reach agreement while writers on both sides of the debate make some very good points. Kerry Cavanaugh has this to say:

Also, when we looked at Metro’s fare increase a few months ago, we urged the agency to consider more tolling. So who should be bearing the burden if not riders? To start, Metro should look at ways to shift some transit system costs onto drivers, which may sound unfair until you consider that they’re getting a heavily subsidized ride on publicly built and maintained roads. If added fees make it less appealing for people to drive, that’s a good thing; fewer cars on the road reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Metro should lobby for higher fuel taxes to fund mass transit, look at expanding tolling or congestion pricing to help pay for bus and rail rides, and charge for Metro parking lots.

One of the other points debated is whether it’s best to toll just some lanes — as Metro does on the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 (the HOV lanes to be exact) — or all the lanes. In some places such as Chicago and New York, everyone pays tolls to travel certain parts of the freeway. Does it raise money? Yes. Does it cut down on traffic? Hard to say, as traffic can be pretty hideous but possibly it would be more hideous without the tolls. The other part of the question: what if the tolls were dynamic and reflected supply-and-demand?

What the latest Census data says about L.A. city bicycle commuting (Streetsblog LA)

With an assist from Jeff Jacobberger, the latest American Community Survey numbers get crunched, leading to the conclusion that about 1.2 percent of commuters in the city of L.A. are biking to work, 3.6 percent are walking, 10.8 percent are riding transit, 67.1 percent are driving alone and 9.9 percent are carpooling.

As Jeff and Streetsblog point out, these are work trips only — so the numbers aren’t fulluy capturing the folks who ride their bikes to transit or those who may use their cars for work trips but are using their bikes to run errands and such.

All that said, the number of those people biking to work appears to be up in L.A. in recent years, but many more men are willing to ride than women.

Very interesting post and it’s worth noting that a higher percentage of commuters take transit in the city of L.A. than across the entire county. That’s not a huge surprise, given that a lot of Metro’s existing service is within the boundaries of Los Angeles. That said, the numbers probably also reflect that the city has the kind of population density and geographical layout that best supports transit at this time.

Don’t count out L.A. as transit-friendly choice (Boston Globe)

This letter to the editor is about Boston’s purported transit advantage over Los Angeles when it come to bidding to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Not so fast, says the reader — having Olympic venues in Long Beach would work because of the Metro Blue Line, she says, and there are plans underway to make our region more walker, biker and river friendly.

Nice to see L.A. getting some love on the East Coast. Of the other cities interested in the 2024 Games, I do think Boston is the most formidable opponent, given their transit system, many existing sports facilities (thanks to all their colleges) and the fact they’ve never hosted an Olympics and the region isn’t as spread out as here. On the plus side for us, there remains a decent chance no one will be able to understand anything Boston reps say when arguing for the games :)

Finally, a big welcome back aboard, Kings fans! This one — from Monday night’s pre-season game — is about as pretty as it gets:

I couldn’t care less about the phone used to film the above video. But the scenery is great, not silly far from L.A. and sort of involves transportation. If nothing else, some nice eye candy to get you past Wednesday.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, September 23

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North Hollywood/Zev Yaroslavsky Station? Stop the political madness! (L.A. Times) 

Op-ed writer Kerry Cavanaugh says renaming two Metro Rail stations after two current Metro Board Members is a sour idea that “smacks of self-congratulatory back-slapping among politicians.” She urges the two Board Members to be honored — Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky — to say ‘no thanks.’

The motions proposing the station renaming are by Metro Board Members Ara Najarian and Pam O’Connor. Read the motions by clicking here. A Board Committee supported changing the station names last week and the full Board will consider the motions at its Oct. 2 meeting.

Portland will still be cool but Anchorage may be the place to be (New York Times)

A variety of scientists take educated guesses about cities that will remain comfortable later this century. No one sounds too optimistic about East Coast cities or Southern California — way too hot, they say. The strip of land along the coast between San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest, however, may remain buffered with cooler temperatures because of the proximity to the ocean and little impact from rising sea waters because of already steep terrain. In other words, Sasquatch and Mendocino may be two big winners!

As we’ve noted before, reducing the number of car trips by walking, biking and taking transit is one way to reduce your carbon footprint — all better than driving alone in the average vehicle.

In other climate change news, I forgot to include coverage of the climate change marches this past week in yesterday’s headlines. Jon Stewart does a funny job catching up with the news and explaining displacement, although I have to offer the usual warning: there’s adult language and Congress is insulted. If those sort of things bother you, don’t click on the link!

And this: the number of wildfires in California is — not surprisingly — up this year, according to the L.A. Times. Fire officials blame the ongoing drought.

Kushner pulls the plug on L.A. Register effective immediately (LAObserved) 

The new newspaper covering Los Angeles croaks before reaching its six-month birthday. Too bad. More eyeballs on our region, the better. That said, the Register’s transpo coverage was mostly a low-grade mix of old news or news releases rehashed in short stories and/or columns and it never looked like the publisher got around to actually creating a plan for what the Register would cover and how it would be covered.

Your electric car isn’t making California air any cleaner (Grist) 

Government subsidies for purchase of electric cars is mostly going to wealthy zip codes in big metro areas, Grist reports — and not necessarily the zip codes where there is the most air pollution (i.e. in the San Joaquin Valley). Fair enough point, but the headline is a bit misleading — seems to me it’s still better to have an electric car on the road than one with a conventional gasoline-powered engine.

A cyclist’s plea to motorists (High Country News)

Good essay by Jonathan Thompson. Excerpt:

Cyclists must take some responsibility here. We need to abide by the rules of the road, not ride like idiots and ride defensively, as if we were invisible. The one time I got hit by a car, it was probably my fault as much as the driver’s. More caution on my end could have prevented the accident. Still, 40 percent of fatal bike/car collisions entail the car hitting the bike from behind. Those bikers, now dead, never saw it coming. They were powerless to save themselves. So, motorists, a plea: Pay attention, slow down and remember that, as annoying and gaudy as those lycra-clad bikers might be, they are dads, moms, daughters and sons. And that car you drive, no matter how much you adore it, is a deadly weapon. Treat it that way.

 

Atomic gaffes (New York Times) 

Review of my next transit read, “Command and Control” by Eric Schlosser on some of the accidents and perils involving America’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. I picked up a copy at the great Vromans (Metro Bus 180/181, 256, 687/686 to Colorado & Oak Knoll in Pasadena) over the weekend, largely because I read the first chapter standing in the aisle and it managed to scare the transit pass out of me, so to speak. Feel free to share a transit read recommendation in the comments or on our social media (links above).

I’ll hop right on it as soon as I finish up the excellent “The Lost Dogs” by Jim Gorant on the fate and rehabilitation of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs. Quasi-related: it’s accepted fact that the New York Jets are a historically repulsive enterprise (even worse than the Ravens, Browns and 49ers, IMHO) and the fact that they are paying Vick a lot of Benjamins to hold a clipboard makes them somehow even more unlikeable. Go Patriots, Bills and Dolphins!