Transportation headlines, Thursday, Sept. 18: Valley-Westside Express Bus begins Dec. 15

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Metro is running a nice promotion with the Music Center -- if you Go Metro with a TAP card, you can save 20 percent on The Australian Ballet's performance of Swan Lake at the Music Center Oct. 9 to 12. As part of the promotion, four members of the XX performed at Union Station last week. The above photo was taken in the East Portal with an assistance from some great light filtered through the glass ceiling. I'll post some more pics soon.  Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Metro is partnering with the Music Center — if you Go Metro with a TAP card, you can save 20 percent on The Australian Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake at the Music Center in October (click on the photo above for more details). As part of the promotion, the Music Center recruited four local ballerinas — Michelle Lemburg, Bella Hoy, Jolie Moray and Katie Brady —  to perform parts of Swan Lake last week at Union Station. The above photo was taken in the East Portal with a big assistance from some great light filtered through the glass ceiling. I’ll post some more pics soon.
Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Valley-Westside express bus is a go (Zev Web)

Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky’s website has some very good news for bus riders. Excerpt:

Taking advantage of those brand-new 405 carpool lanes, Metro later this year will launch an express bus through the Sepulveda Pass, offering transit riders on both sides of the hill a speedier way through one of L.A.’s gnarliest commuting challenges.

On December 15, Line 788 will begin offering express nonstop service from UCLA in Westwood to the Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley. It then will continue north on Van Nuys Boulevard, stopping at major intersections on its way to Panorama City. Because it will connect to the Orange Line rapid transit busway, the line will give people in places like North Hollywood, Woodland Hills and Chatsworth a faster path to the Westside.

Metro officials say the new bus could save riders up to 20 minutes from existing 761 Rapid Bus service. The article on ZevWeb has many more details.

In addition, Yaroslavsky submitted this motion today to the Board’s Executive Management Committee that would give the 788 the brand name Valley-Westside Express:

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Will a new law make drivers bicycle-friendly (Which Way LA?)

The KCRW program tackles California’s new three-foot passing law that requires motorists to give a three-foot buffer when passing bikes. Guests include Joe Linton of Streetsblog LA, an LAPD officer and Los Angeles County Bike Coalition’s Joshua Cohen. Good to see the topic and law getting attention it deserves on the airwaves — and a good listen for those riding transit who have a smartphone and can get a good cell signal.

Electric vehicles are cleaner, but still not a magic bullet (New York Times)

A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists says that electric vehicles are responsible for less greenhouse gas emissions than hybrid-powered cars in 60 percent of the country — i.e. the parts of the U.S. that don’t rely on coal-burning power plants to create electricity. “An electric vehicle in New York achieves the equivalent of 112 m.p.g., according to the scientist group’s data, while in California the number is 95 m.p.g,” according to the article.

Where does power come from in California? Almost 19 percent is from renewables and another nearly eight percent from large hydroelectric (which, of course, has its own environmental issues related to changing the ecosystems of rivers). The more renewables used, the cleaner electric cars will get — and the cleaner that transit powered by electricity (including all of the Metro Rail lines) will be.

Check out this chart from the state:

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 8.54.40 AM

As we’ve noted before, studies have found that taking transit usually results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions per rider because transit uses electricity more efficiently than most gasoline-only powered vehicles with one or two passengers in them.

Agency again seeks to refinance struggling toll road (L.A. Times)

The restructuring of the debt used to build the road means that motorists may have to pay tolls until 2050 — eight years longer than expected — in order to pay off the debt. The 73 is intended in part as an alternative to the 405 and to serve coastal communities but usage has generally been lower than originally projected.

Thousands diverted onto 110 ExpressLanes then fined by toll operator (L.A. Times)

A police shootout closed a stretch of the regular lanes on the 110 for more than 9.5 hours and motorists — many without transponders — were diverted to the ExpressLanes. They did receive fines, but those are (obviously) being refunded by Metro due to the extraordinary circumstances.

Gordo, the dog hit by van during police chase, may lose a leg (L.A. Times)

The dog shouldn’t have been wandering in the street (obviously). Nonetheless, hard to overlook even more carnage from the pursuits that seem to plague this region more than most — see this New Yorker story about that (full article is behind a pay wall). I suppose you could argue that local TV stations are doing a public service showing how scary these chases are. Just like you could argue the local TV stations are just pursuing ratings while glorifying/promoting/encouraging something that comes at the expense of public health and avoiding the expense and difficulty of reporting real news.

Sort of quasi-related but not really: my current transit read is “The Lost Dogs” about the fate of the pit bulls used as part of NFL player Michael Vick’s dog fighting operations. A really great piece of journalism and an interesting read — and very helpful as my partner and I rescued a pit bull earlier this year.

Rant related to previous quasi-related commentary: with the NFL sort of in the news these days — and not for the Bengals pleasantly surprising 2-0 start — it’s fair to wonder out loud why Commissioner Roger Goodell decided Vick is allowed to play in the league considering some of the things he and his underlings did to dogs.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, September 17

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Union ploy may throw Kinkisharyo off track (Antelope Valley Press)

The firm hired by Metro to build new rail cars wants to build an assembly plant in Palmdale. This editorial chastises the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11 and other Antelope Valley residents for using legal tactics to try to force Kinkisharyo to hire union workers or do a full blown environmental impact report for the facility — which may mean the facility has to be located elsewhere. The new light rail vehicles are needed sooner rather than later for the second phase of the Expo Line, the Gold Line Foothill Extension and as replacement cars for the Blue Line.

Kuehl, Shriver square off in L.A. County Supervisor debate (L.A. Times) 

Coverage of last night’s debate in the race for the third district, currently held by Zev Yaroslavsky. The Purple Line Extension was one issue discussed.

An eye in the sky, accessible to the hobbyist (New York Times)

A new drone with camera attached sells for about $1,300 — meaning these things are just going to get more popular. I recently watched a photographer use a drone at CalTech to photograph wedding pics and I’m curious how long it will be when drones are used to either photograph transit and/or the transportation industry.

On the hunt for fireflies in Utah (High Country News)

Not a transportation article, but a good read for those interested in or fascinated by the American West. Scientists have known for 30 years that fireflies — most often seen in the Midwest — were in Utah, but it wasn’t until recently that they secured proof.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, Sept. 16

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Metro riders take fare hikes mostly in stride (L.A. Times)

The bright side: most passengers seemed aware that fares were going up. The down side: not as many knew about the new two-hour free transfer policy. There was also this:

Perhaps the largest hiccup happened at the 7th Street / Metro Center rail station, where some ticket scanning machines didn’t honor the new free-transfer policy and charged passengers twice. The software glitch was fixed and those customers will receive automatic refunds within 48 hours, Sotero said.

 

I spent much of the day camped on Metro’s Twitter account and it seemed to me that reaction to the fare hikes was mixed. Some positive, some negative and a lot of questions. Several riders were pleased that Metro was finally offering free transfers, as many other large transit agencies already do.

For those who haven’t seen it before, here is the link to transportation planner Jarrett Walker’s 2009 post on why transferring is good for you and your city.

California’s 3-foot buffer for cyclists takes effect today (L.A. Times)

The Golden State becomes the 24th state to enact a three-foot passing law. Motorists who don’t obey the law can be fined $35 or $220 if they collide with a cyclist. Over at StreetsblogLA, there are some suggestions about how to improve the law. All in all, I thikn the law is a good thing — but it really depends on how vigilant local police are about enforcing it. Police can sit at an intersection and, for example, enforce red light laws — but interactions between cyclists and motorists happen everywhere and often not in any kind of concentration that makes it easy for police to witness. The best hope is that when they see a bad interaction, the motorist (or cyclist if they violate a traffic law) gets pulled over.

Almost every way of getting to work is better than driving (Fast Company)

Is there a link between the overall well-being of a person and the way they commute? British researchers think so. I think there are undoubtedly some great benefits to walking, biking or taking transit to work but studies (or the accompanying media coverage) like these always leave me suspicious of their sweeping generalizations. A few years back, there were a lot of studies linking living in the ‘burbs to obesity. The thinking on that has started to change, with some people saying bad diets and lack of exercise can be found in a lot of different neighborhoods.

A field guide to the future former birds of L.A. (LAObserved) 

Good follow to the recent Audubon study that found that half the birds in the U.S. could be squeezed out of their habitat by climate change. Among the species seen in the L.A. metro area that could be in trouble are Allen hummingbirds, mountain bluebirds, golden eagles, eared grebes, western gulls, red-breasted sapsucker and purple finch. If global warming concerns you, taking transit is one way to reduce your carbon footprint — transit is generally more efficient than driving alone.

Transportation headlines, Monday, September 15

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MTA bus and train fares to rise on Monday (L.A. Times)

Transportation reporter Laura Nelson does a good job of breaking down the new fare structure that went into effect earlier today — with the regular fares rising to $1.75 (with two hours of free transfers) and weekly passes now $25 and monthly passes now $100. Please click here for charts showing the new fares as well as a useful Frequently Asked Questions on the fares.

The article also offers useful context about the finances and politics that drove the fare hike. Two key graphs:

Metro staff members estimate that ridership will drop by 3% to 4% during the first six months of the increase, but that fare revenue will grow by $21 million this fiscal year and $28 million in subsequent years.

That will not be enough to correct the agency’s long-term financial problems. Metro analysts have pushed for a series of three fare increases over eight years, saying more income is needed to offset an expected cumulative deficit of $225 million over the next decade. Agency directors approved the fare hike that begins Monday but postponed two subsequent increases proposed for 2017 and 2020, saying they needed more information about the agency’s financial outlook.

The Metro Board earlier this year asked staff to report back on other sources of revenue — so that’s something to keep an eye on. The other question looming over the issue of fares is a possible ballot measure in 2016 and what it may or may not include (no decision has yet been made on the ballot measure or its contents). Measure R did include a temporary fare freeze.

As for the basics on the fare increase, the $1.50 regular fare went up to $1.75 today but now includes two hours of free transfers.

Poll: 68 percent want more transit spending (The Hill)

Speaking of transportation funding, the Mineta Transportation Institute’s poll for the American Public Transportation Assn. shows slightly more Americans want more spent on public transit. Putting aside the not-so-small issue that both groups benefit from more dollars spent on transit, I’m guessing there is significant support in most metropolitan areas in the U.S. for transit. In Los Angeles County, 68 percent is a key number as 66.6 percent of voters are needed to approve transportation ballot measures. Measure R in 2008 was approved with 67.9 percent of the vote and Measure J in 2012 failed with 66.1 percent approval.

LAWA’s Gina Marie Lindsey: investments in LAX continue (The Planning Report) 

The general manager of Los Angeles World Airports — a city of Los Angeles agency — talks about the challenges and difficulties of installing remote baggage check-in at LAX and the automated people mover that will take passengers from the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the airport terminals. While the people mover’s route is pretty much settled outside the terminal horseshoe, Lindsey says the important matter of deciding its route and station locations should be decided within the next few months. Earlier this year, LAX was looking at configurations that included two stations or four stations.

Perris Valley Line taking shape (Press-Enterprise)

Nice to see some progress on the 24-mile extension of the Metrolink line from Riverside into the Perris Valley. Officials say the line is forecast to open near the end of 2015. It’s the first major Metrolink expansion in more than a decade, reports the Press-Enterprise.

Meet Seleta Reynolds, the safe streets advocate running LADOT (Streetsblog LA)

Damien Newton interviews the new general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, which manages traffic signals and the city’s DASH and Commuter Express buses, among other things. A lot of the conversation focuses on bike policy and Reynolds is mindful to (correctly) remind everyone that the City Council has pretty much the final say in everything.

Guest editorial: urban change in L.A., too little too slow (Streetsblog LA)

Thoughtful article by architect and urban designer Gerhard Mayer. His main point: while L.A. is certainly changing, it’s changing a lot more slowly than other cities and far too much of the city is devoted to roads and/or parking lots. The key paragraph:

L.A.’s land use imbalance is acute. In a “normal” city, only approx. one-fifth of the city’s land is dedicated to transportation. Four-fifths of that city is used for buildings that generate revenue – or for open space. Not in LA; here, as much as 60 percent of our land – three-fifths – is used to accommodate our automobiles. Only two-fifths of LA has buildings that generates revenue to maintain, renew and expand our public services.

Of course, it’s hard to come up with averages like that on such a sprawling city but the statistics sound about right for some parts of the city. I just drove to Oregon and back and L.A. is hardly alone. Driving through Klamath Falls I was struck with a downtown that appeared to be on life support while outside of town, the usual shopping malls with the usual big box stores were surrounded by vast parking lots and a lot of traffic.

Coming to the rescue of riders who drop treasures on the tracks (New York Times) 

Interesting article about the transit workers in the New York subway who use a variety of tools to scoop up belongings that riders have dropped on tracks below the platforms. This includes a bag of blood, a variety of artificial limbs, engagement rings and stuffed animals. Of course, we implore all riders to NEVER try to retrieve such items themselves on our transit system or any other. If you drop something valuable, please contact our Customer Relations department.

Regulator slow to respond to deadly vehicle defects (New York Times) 

A long and deeply reported article that is extremely critical of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The nut graphs:

An investigation by The New York Times into the agency’s handling of major safety defects over the past decade found that it frequently has been slow to identify problems, tentative to act and reluctant to employ its full legal powers against companies.

The Times analyzed agency correspondence, regulatory documents and public databases and interviewed congressional and executive branch investigators, former agency employees and auto safety experts. It found that in many of the major vehicle safety issues of recent years — including unintended acceleration in Toyotas, fires in Jeep fuel tanks and air bag ruptures in Hondas, as well as the G.M. ignition defect — the agency did not take a leading role until well after the problems had reached a crisis level, safety advocates had sounded alarms and motorists were injured or died.

Not only does the agency spend about as much money rating new cars — a favorite marketing tool for automakers — as it does investigating potentially deadly manufacturing defects, but it also has been so deferential to automakers that it made a key question it poses about fatal accidents optional — a policy it is only now changing after inquiries from The Times.

 

The article includes many anecdotes and examples. Perhaps the hardest thing to stomach: the agency declines to directly answer many of the Times’ questions, none of which seem unreasonable to ask.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, Sept. 11

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Gov. Brown signs bills allowing three-bike racks on transit buses (StreetsblogLA) 

“This new law allows 40-foot-long buses to be equipped with folding bike racks that can carry up to three bikes,” reports Streetsblog, in a bit of good news for some Metro bus riders. A few agencies had previously been using the triple racks due either to loopholes or exemptions in the law.

Efforts to change the law, however, had run into various roadblocks in recent years — including resistance from unions representing bus operators. The bill was authored by Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) and pushed heavily by Metro.

About half of Metro’s bus fleet is comprised of 40-foot buses, so hopefully this will help accommodate cyclists using those buses. As the article explains, there are still hurdles to converting to triple racks on longer buses.

Santa Monica Council picks Worthe as developer for Bergamot Station (Santa Monica Daily Press) 

The City Council on a 5 to 1 vote on Tuesday night selected the developer to pursue adding 44,000-square-feet of “creative space” and possibly a boutique hotel to the Bergamot Station arts complex in Santa Monica. The vote followed four hours of public comment that made it clear there was still considerable opposition from gallery owners and residents to further developing the site, where an Expo Line station is under construction (the line is forecast to open in early 2016).

I caught some of the meeting on KCRW on Tuesday night and among the concerns I heard were lack of parking, traffic and rising rents that could eventually squeeze out the galleries. It’s certainly an interesting story, given that the arts complex will include an Expo Line station with relatively easy connections to downtown Santa Monica and points east. The current complex is a very nice public space, although I’ve never been crazy about the big parking lot in the middle of the complex that occupies about half the space.

Bill Boyarsky also offers commentary on the Council vote at LAObserved.

Metrolink goes for animal attraction (L.A. Register) 

Why four farm animals took a ride from Union Station to the Los Angeles County Fair. Hint: it was a promotion to boost ridership! As promotions go, I like it.

Major changes discusses to expand, renew Union Station (Chicago Sun Times)

Chicago's Union Station is a little more workmanlike than Union Station here in L.A. Photo by Jeramey Jannene, via Flickr creative commons.

Chicago’s Union Station is a little more workmanlike than Union Station here in L.A. Photo by Jeramey Jannene, via Flickr creative commons.

I didn’t realize the Sun Times was still around (I worked at the rival Trib many, many moons ago)! Chicago is looking at big changes to its primary downtown rail station — expanding platforms, public space, etc. Denver already updated its Union Station and, of course, Metro is putting the finishing touches on its Union Station Master Plan. I believe there are some other similar efforts underway around the country — nice to see train stations being revived and prepped for a hopefully busy future.

 

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, August 27

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ART OF TRANSIT: An Expo Line train leaving 7th/Metro Station last week. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: An Expo Line train at 7th/Metro Station last week. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

City nears purchase of key parcel for L.A. River revitalization (Streetsblog LA)

The city of Los Angeles is moving along the purchase of a 41-acre piece of property that sits between Rio de Los Angeles State Park and the Los Angeles River, reports Joe Linton. The site of former railroad yards, the property has been in limbo for years and has some soil contamination issues. Still, it’s a key acquisition as the federal Army Corps of Engineers likely would not do river restoration work on privately-owned land. This really helpful post includes aerial views, maps and renderings.

This is really great news — this is a big chunk of land along the river and it’s great to see the city moving forward on acquiring such parcels. Although this isn’t directly a transit-related story, I can also imagine a future for the area — perhaps a couple decades off — with a partially restored river between downtown L.A. and Glendale lined with parks and perhaps some new residential units. The area could be connected to DTLA via bike paths, Metrolink (Glendale Station) and the Gold Line’s existing Chinatown and Lincoln/Cypress stations.

BART discusses ending free lifetime travel perk for Board Members (MassTransit)

Actually, the headline is a little inaccurate: the family members of Board Members get free travel for life, too! The Board is going to consider ending that perk at its meeting Thursday. Some say it’s a little over the top, others say it gives them the chance to ride the system and see how it’s performing.

Obama pursuing climate accord in lieu of treaty (New York Times)

In an effort to steer around Congressional approval of a treaty — which has proven nearly impossible — President Obama is trying to forge an “agreement” between nations to lower their greenhouse gas emissions. It’s uncertain how much an agreement would be legally binding and how much would be voluntary. In the U.S., the transportation sector is responsible for about 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. As we’ve noted before walking, biking and taking transit instead of driving alone are good ways to lower your carbon footprint.

Eyes on the street: ‘Mad Men’ writer Tom Smuts bikes to the Emmys (StreetsblogLA)

The best part: he did it to raise awareness of the need for better bike infrastructure and to promote cycling. And he did it in a suit.

BBB benches not coming back (Santa Monica Daily Press)

The old aluminum benches won’t be returning says the bus agency — as they encourage loitering. The new bus stops that Big Blue Bus has been rolling out in Santa Monica have inspired some complaints. The agency says they’ll be refining the design.

Grizzlies gain ground (High Country News)

America has been sliced and diced by roads and development and the grizzly bear that graces California’s state flag is pretty much relegated to the areas around Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. A small population is also still present in the northern Cascade Mountains of Washington State and the federal government is beginning a process of deciding whether to boost populations by possibly transplanting bears from elsewhere.

Earlier this year, the group The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition asking the feds to consider that viable bear habitat remains throughout the West, including California. I can’t imagine grizzlies ever being reintroduced to populous California — grizzlies are far more aggressive than the black bears living here now. Nonetheless, this is an interesting story raising questions. As our urban areas continue to grow in the Western U.S., the question remains how much room will there be for native wildlife in the sections of the West that are owned by the federal government (National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, state parks).

I doubt the folks who regularly comment on this blog could care less, but I suspect there’s a much larger readership here that likes to mull the big picture.

 

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, August 26

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Jimmy Kimmel wasn’t the only person attending the Emmy Awards on Monday who took Metro to the Nokia Theatre. The above photos were taken at the Pico Station shared by the Blue Line and Expo Line and located one block from Staples Center and L.A. Live. Photos by Josh Southwick/Metro.

Jimmy Kimmel takes the subway to Emmy Awards in downtown L.A. (L.A. Times)

Pretty amazing to see the social media hoo-ha that breaks out when a celeb steps onto mass transit, particularly in a city that (undeservedly, IMO) is not exactly known for its local rail system. That said, it’s a nice shot of free PR for Metro and if Jimmy Kimmel can be an urban pioneer and figure out how to get a TAP card from the ticket machines, so can many others! See our post with his tweets and some reaction from riders.

BART’s early warning earthquake system could have broader applications (San Francisco Appeal)

The system that has been in testing since 2012 provides a 10-second warning that a temblor will occur, which agency officials say is enough time to significantly slow trains to help prevent derailments. Funding a broader system could also help slow motorists, warn surgeons and give just enough time to others to make a difference, say supporters of the system. Seems to me that any kind of warning is better than none.

Reworked projects to bring 320 apartments to the Arts District (Downtown News) 

The development was actually downsized after community members protested that it was too large for the Arts District. If the project near the intersection of Santa Fe Avenue and 7th Street gets built, it’s another big boost in the number of people living in the Arts District — particularly with the large One Santa Fe development nearing completion. Reporter and transit activist Roger Rudick responded to the news on Facebook with this: “If we don’t get that subway station in the Division 20 Yards and 6th Street we’re going to be trapped back here.”

As some folks know, Metro’s subway maintenance yards are along the Los Angeles River in the Arts District — that’s where the trains go when they’re out of service at Union Station. There has been occasional talk over the years about building a platform for the subway in the yards to serve the Arts District. Nothing has happened yet but as the neighborhood grows, I’m guessing there will be more demand for subway service — it could be an easy ride through Union Station to the rest of downtown and beyond — along with some inevitable concerns about the subway bringing too many people into the neighborhood. We’ll see… :)

L.A.’s demand-based parking moving in exactly the right direction (KCET)

City of Los Angeles officials say that their ExpressPark Program in DTLA is resulting in slightly lower average prices and more parking spaces being occupied. There’s some doubt as to whether that’s because of the demand-based system that adjusts meter prices or a reflection of an improving local economy and more people driving downtown. Nonetheless, the system will soon expand to Westwood and it’s the kind of thing that academics such as UCLA’s Donald Shoup have long been advocating.

Lost in America (New York Times)

Columnist Frank Bruni riffs on recent survey results showing that Americans have record low views when it comes to the federal government. More troubling, Bruni writes, is that Americans no longer believe that their children’s generation will fare better than their own, a reversal of a long-held American dream. Excerpt:

And it suggests that this isn’t just about the economy. It’s about fear. It’s about impotence. We can’t calm the world in the way we’d like to, can’t find common ground and peace at home, can’t pass needed laws, can’t build necessary infrastructure, can’t, can’t, can’t.

In the Journal/NBC poll, 60 percent of Americans said that we were a nation in decline. How sad. Sadder still was this: Nowhere in the survey was there any indication that they saw a method or a messenger poised to arrest it.

It’s a tough one. I’m 48 and feels to me that the world has been in some type of turmoil at very regular intervals throughout my life. On the home front, feels to me that most people I know have very little interest or enthusiasm when it comes to Washington D.C.