Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 20

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! 

Just in case anyone needs help with their bracket, here's mine. Copy at your own risk!

Just in case anyone needs help with their bracket, here’s mine. Copy at your own risk!

Construction concerns over LA subway (NBC 4)

The segment on the Purple Line Extension suggests that Metro is seeking to perform work on the subway 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To clarify: Metro has one application currently before the Los Angeles Police Commission for construction work on the first phase of the Purple Line Extension. It asks for a six month extension of a permit that expires April 17 for utility relocation night work from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. with the stipulation that the noisiest work be performed before 11 p.m. The work would be done five nights at week — Monday through Friday at Wilshire/La Brea and Sunday through Thursday for Wilshire/Fairfax.

Metro has also met with the Police Commission to discuss an upcoming application for station box pile drilling work in 2015, which would be done between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. This work will occur after all the utility relocation has been completed.

UPDATE, MORE INFORMATION: In January, Metro submitted three applications to the Police Commission to allow night-time work involving noise at Wishire and Western, Wilshire and LaBrea and Wilshire and Fairfax that would include pile installation, street decking and yard work at those locations beginning in August 2014. Metro has asked the Commission to not act on that request while the agency worked on providing more details. Metro is currently working on resubmitting these applications.

Interested readers may want to review the project’s Construction Fact Sheet for more information on how this will all occur.

The plan that could finally free New York City from traffic congestion (The Atlantic Cities) 

The group Move New York is proposing a congestion pricing plan for Manhattan that toll all bridges and tunnels (some are and some aren’t currently) and impose a toll on motorists heading into Manhattan south of 60th Street. Traffic is always a big issue in New York, but doing anything about it is politically difficult. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg pursued congestion pricing. When that fell through, a federal grant instead went to Metro, which used the funds to start the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways.

LAPD seeking suspects in DASH bus shooting (L.A. Times) 

A woman and boy were wounded either when they were grazed by a bullet or by shattered glass at 42nd and Avalon in South L.A. early Wednesday evening. An accompanying photo shows the boy standing and getting treatment for his injuries.

First poll on L.A. sales tax hike for street and sidewalk repairs (KABC 7)

A proposed half-cent sales tax increase in the city of Los Angeles for street and sidewalk repair was supported by 40 percent of those surveyed by Channel 7 while 55 percent said they would against an increase. Such an increase would need two-thirds support for passage. The City Council has until July to decide whether to put a proposed increase to voters on the November ballot.

California still failing to invest in sustainable transportation choices (NRDC)

The environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council takes a closer look at projects to be considered for funding by the California Transportation Commission. And the group doesn’t like what it sees, with the majority of money going to road projects at a time when walking, biking and transit use in the state has increased.

 

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 19

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L.A. should hike sales tax to pay for street repair, report says (L.A. Times) 

Two city of Los Angeles officials — the Chief Administrative Officer and the Chief Legislative Analyst — recommend asking voters in November to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for the repair of streets and sidewalks. The City Council will have to decide by July whether to put the tax hike to voters. If so, two-thirds of voters in November would be needed to increase the city’s sales tax, which is currently nine percent.

The office of Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Times that the mayor had not decided whether to support the tax or note. “Mayor Garcetti is committed to improving L.A.’s infrastructure and will continue assessing a range of options to determine the best way forward,” [a spokesman] said in an email. Garcetti, of course, also serves on the Metro Board of Directors and will chair the Board beginning July 1.

The issue has possible implications for Metro, where staff continue to explore the possibility of going to county voters in 2016 to ask them to either extend the Measure R sales tax increase beyond 2039 or possibly ask for a new tax to fund new projects. Voters in L.A. were among the largest supporters of Measure R. How would they respond to the possibility of sales tax issues appearing on their ballots in both ’14 and ’16? Stay tuned!

Metro fare change is needed to keep transit options rolling (Daily News)

The opinion piece by Metro CEO Art Leahy explains the need for the fare increase proposal by Metro staff. Excerpt:

In two years, Metro faces a $37 million operating deficit that will balloon to $225 million in 10 years. We’re squeezing every penny we can from local sales taxes and tapping dwindling operating assistance from state and federal coffers to make up the balance between what our riders pay and the cost of delivering service.

We cut overhead, eliminated non-contract jobs, beefed up efforts to curb fare evasion, and boosted productivity — but it doesn’t pencil out. And, no, we can’t legally siphon monies from voter approved Measure R street and highway projects or stop the rail program.

Without additional revenue, the momentum in delivering new transit and weaning solo drivers from behind the wheel will come to a screeching halt. Bus service would be cut and we couldn’t open new rail lines under construction.

Fare changes are necessary. Staff has proposed two options to gradually get us to a point in six years where riders would cover one third of our operating costs. Again, it’s not just about raising fares. Staff also is proposing free transfers within a 90 minute period instead of charging double for transfers as is now the case. This will encourage customers to more fully use their investment in the growing transit system.

 

There is a public hearing on the fare increases at 9:30 a.m.,  Saturday, March 29 in the board room at Metro headquarters that is adjacent to Union Station. More info on the increase proposals can be found on the fare change page on metro.net.

Anatomy of a near miss (Peninsula Moves, the Caltrain blog) 

The video is scary but it’s refreshing to see a government agency post it as a way to potentially save lives. In this case, the man went around a barrier that was down and almost gets hit by an express train on the San Francisco Peninsula.

First toll lanes in Contra Costa County to be installed along 680 freeway (Contra Costa Times) 

Twenty three miles of ExpressLanes will be up and running in 2016 in the East Bay. Tolls collected will help pay for an eventual 500 miles of similar lanes throughout the Bay Area. Officials are billing the lanes as a sort of “congestion insurance” for motorists — something they can pay to use when they positively, absolutely have to be somewhere on time.

 

 

 

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Paris car ban stopped after one day (The Guardian) 

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

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

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

Los Angeles State Historic Park gets an overhaul (KCET)

Rendering by California State Parks.

Rendering by California State Parks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation headlines, Monday, March 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Provocative last graph:

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

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

Biking by the numbers (San Francisco Bike Coalition) 

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

Transportation headlines, Friday, March 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 13

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Looming train shortage at Metro (ZevWeb) 

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3026727-slide-rsaudpg28

 

 

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 11

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Dodgers to increase parking fees (KPCC)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 5

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! 

Obama’s budget is a populist wish list and an election blueprint (New York Times) 

The $3.9-trillion budget for fiscal year 2015 is designed to draw contrasts with Republicans and gets rid of comprises the President made last year, the Times reports. More than half the budget would go to mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the federal debt) and about $1.2 billion is spending directly controlled by the President and Congress. Excerpt:

Mr. Obama again proposed to overhaul the corporate tax code, by ending various business tax breaks and using the savings to reduce the maximum 35 percent tax rate for corporations. With about $150 billion in additional one-time revenues that businesses would pay in the transition from one tax system to another, Mr. Obama would finance half of a $302 billion, four-year plan for work on highway, bridge, rail and mass transit projects, as he first suggested last summer.

The budget, as we posted yesterday, also includes $100 million apiece in New Starts funding for the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector projects.

And some Twitter commentary from Yonah Freemark of the excellent Transport Politic blog:

Recent trends in bus and rail ridership (Transport Politic) 

Speaking of Yonah, here’s an interesting post about bus service and rail service — and which may contribute more to overall ridership gains by transit agencies around the country. As the post explains, there are limitations to the data, but some number-crunching indicates that rail seems to have a better chance of building ridership than does bus service. “Riders respond when they’re offered better service!,” writes Yonah, who also points out that we don’t know how bus rapid transit would attract more riders because there aren’t that many BRT projects in place.

I think there’s one other issue here: rail is pretty easy for new riders to figure out. Bus service in many metro areas — including ours — can be complicated with dozens of bus lines, each running on multiple streets, with different service frequencies and sometimes different fares and line names that seem to be random numbers. It’s not intuitive, yet overhauling bus service in many areas is a massive chore likely to upset as many riders as attract new ones.

Apple’s CarPlay: the smart car wars are getting serious (Washington Post)

Apple’s operating system will be running the mapping-texting-music playing systems in Volvos, Mercedes and Ferraris — and the hardware/software giant has agreements with other vehicle manufacturers. “Cars have long been pegged as the next major battleground for consumer tech companies looking to bring their smart technologies to more parts of consumers’ lives,” the Post says. Hmm. I remember the Days of Yore when I was excited to get a Subaru with a jack for my iPod.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, March 4

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! 

Blue Line train strikes vehicle–at least 12 injured (L.A. Times)

Initial reports are that a mini-van ran a red light and was struck by a Blue Line train on Washington Boulevard and Maple Street in downtown Los Angeles. Metro officials said that 10 people aboard the train were injured — none life-threatening and mostly described as cuts. The Los Angeles Fire Department said that 12 people overall were hurt. The train runs down the middle of Washington Boulevard and train and car traffic are both controlled by traffic signals. Therefore, there are no crossing gates.

Earlez Grill relocates to make way for Crenshaw/LAX Line (Intersections South LA)

The popular restaurant that used to be a stone’s throw from the Expo Line’s Crenshaw station has to move south. The new address will be 3864 Crenshaw Boulevard, about a half-mile south of the Crenhaw & Exposition intersection and an easy walk.

Los Angeles redoubles its efforts to win 2024 Olympics (Daily News)

The big question among the experts: what the International Olympic Committee will ultimately want from a host city: an effort starting from scratch requiring billions of dollars in investment or a more modest effort using existing buildings and infrastructure? The latter would seemingly favor a bid from the Los Angeles area. As I’ve written before, one thing our area can boast to the IOC (if it comes to that): in 1984 there were ZERO miles of rail serving the area. By 2024, there will be 117 miles of light rail and subways (and possibly more if projects are accelerated by America Fast Forward, etc.) and another 512 miles of commuter rail provided by Metrolink.

How Buenos Aires unclogged its most famous street (The Atlantic Cities) 

The answer: Avenida 9 de Julio saw three lanes of car traffic converted to bus rapid transit lanes in the middle of the street — even with a subway that runs below. A lot of opposition surfaced before the change and apparently melted away after the world didn’t end.

Cities move to help those threatened by gentrification (New York Times)

With cities enjoying a renaisance in some parts of the U.S. and property values rising thanks to new market-priced development, cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Boston (to name a few) are changing laws to freeze or lower property taxes of long-time residents who stuck out the hard times. The property tax issue is not really an issue in California thanks to Prop 13 which greatly limits the amount that property taxes can be raised year-over-year. That said, there isn’t much in place to regulate the actual price of housing, the reason that affordable housing advocates fret (rightfully, in my view) that some parts of California cities will become off-limits to anyone but the wealthy.

Iron Maiden singer planning on circumventing the globe twice in world’s largest airship (Salon) 

Looks like a nice way to travel. Hopefully passengers don’t have to listen to Iron Maiden, a band who reminds me of a broken jackhammer.

Photos from the California drought (PolicyMic)

A little off-topic, but pretty amazing photos of two depleted reservoirs, Oroville and Folsom.