Transportation headlines, Monday, the 6th of January

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Hello and a belated Happy New Years to everyone. We took some time off during the holiday and also worked on some longer-term things, so we’re still in a bit of catch-up mode. And into 2014 we go….

Review: Tentative signs of progress in Metro’s transit network design (L.A. Times) 

Over the holidays, the Times published a news story on Metro’s new “kit of parts” approach to designing Metro Rail stations. The idea is to standardize station design to help provide the future system with a more consistent look, make it easier to maintain and help control costs. (The Gold Line Foothill Extension and the Expo Line Phase 2 will have station designs consistent with both lines’ current look).

Following on the news story, Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne’s well-written review can be boiled down to three words: be bold, Metro. Excerpt:

Meanwhile, the kit of parts has already faced enough challenges inside Metro to suggest how politically complicated it can be to pursue bold design at an agency of its size. To pick just one example, Sussman/Prejza suggested giant Ms, appearing to be partially sunk into the pavement, to mark the entrance to every station.

The letter would have been split into two parts, allowing it to operate as a sort of alphabetical gate. But some Metro officials balked, according to Welborne, fearing exiting passengers might have their view of cars and moving trains blocked by the giant signs.

The loss of the oversized M is emblematic of the various ways in which the kit-of-parts design risks being diluted before we see it in built form. The new stations, after all, don’t need less color or verve. They need a good deal more.

Christopher also touches on an interesting subject by suggesting that stations should reflect local architecture. The question is this: what exactly is L.A. architecture? There’s such a mishmash out here ranging from adobe houses to art deco to Craftsman.

If I was the king — and judging by my cubicle, I’m clearly not — I think rail stations deeply reminiscent of the old Spanish missions would be kind of cool.

A greenbelt future for South L.A. (L.A. Times) 

The Times’ editorial board looks at a proposal by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina: to transform 8.3 miles of the old Harbor Subdivision rail right-of-way into a pedestrian and bike path between the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Los Angeles River.

The editorial praises the idea while noting that a lot of work remains to be done — among them securing funding. Metro currently has a feasibility study underway of the proposal. The study is scheduled to be released this spring.

Bringing the underworld to light (New York Times)

A photo of work on the Second Avenue Subway from 2009. Photo by Patrick Cashin/MTA.

A photo of work on the Second Avenue Subway from 2009. Photo by Patrick Cashin/MTA.

Nice photo essay on New York MTA photographer Patrick Cashin, who has been chronicling the agency’s projects, including construction of the Second Avenue Subway.

The photos are just a small slice of the images that the New York MTA publishes on its excellent Flickr page.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, December 19

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ART OF TRANSIT: An oil rig in the Santa Barbara Channel with one of the Channel Islands in the background (I think Anacapa). Photo by Steve Hymon.

ART OF TRANSIT: An oil rig in the Santa Barbara Channel with one of the Channel Islands in the background (I think Anacapa). Photo by Steve Hymon.

An idea to get train safety on track (Daily News)

The editorial says it’s time to implement positive train control on America’s passenger railroads in order to prevent crashes — and not delay federal mandates to do so by 2015. Excerpt:

In the interest of getting PTC installed in the nation’s trains as soon as possible, American train passengers (and those who love them) should be willing to pay more of the price. If this means putting more federal taxpayer money into the project, so be it.

Californians can probably think of a chunk of money that would work nicely: the $3.3 billion in federal cash earmarked for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco-area high-speed rail project, a sum whose fate is uncertain after the bullet train’s latest legal setback.

What’s more valuable, perhaps the most significant rail safety feature that will be adopted in our lifetimes, or the California bullet-train plan that sounds more and more like a futurist’s fantasy?

Metrolink has been extremely proactive in installing PTC. But they’re the exception, not the rule.

L.A.’s Union Station in black-and-white (L.A. Times) 

Photographer Mark Bolster breaks out his Leica M6 and black-and-white film to shoot the venerable station. And the results are predictably beautiful. One of my dream cameras, btw: the Leica M Monochom, a digital camera that only shoots in black-and-white. Only problem is the price; the body alone costs about 8,000 boxes of ziti.

Cincinnati’s mayor: we’re going to have a streetcar (Cincinnati Enquirer)

The City Council voted 6-3 today to resume the city’s downtown streetcar project after earlier this month voting 5-4 to put construction on hold, a rare move. There were two items in play: an audit that found that stopping the project would cost more than resuming it and a $900,000-a-year commitment for 10 years from a private foundation to pay for streetcar operations.

I’m from Cincy and I think it’s a smart move to finish the project. The city has been bleeding population to the suburbs for decades and downtown desperately needs a way to help reinvent itself and lure more people back to the city beyond pro sports. No, the streetcar is not a panacea for Cincinnati’s ills — but if it lures development and jobs back to the city core, then it’s a good thing.

Chicago’s smart card debacle and privatization (The Nation)

The first of a two-part series on problems encountered by the Chicago Transit Authority when they adopted fare cards similar to TAP cards. The big question the article ponders is who profits from such efforts — and why public officials are allowing private companies to charge so-called ‘convenience fees’ to users of a public transit system.

U.S. Department of Transportation ranked eighth best place to work (USDOT)

That’s eighth best among federal agencies, that is. They ranked ninth last year, says the press release. May I humbly suggest that any workplace that devotes time to issuing news releases boasting about being eighth best….never mind.

Ten most ambitious subway projects ever (Jalopnik)

Some have been built, some not — such as the Transatlantic tunnel that ranks first on the list.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, December 17

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ART OF TRANSIT: We haven't had a boat pic in a while. So here's a boat pic taken from the beach in downtown Santa Barbara, easily accessible by Amtrak from Union Station, Glendale, Van Nuys and other area stops. Photo by Steve Hymon.

ART OF TRANSIT: We haven’t had a boat pic in a while. So here’s a boat pic taken from the beach in downtown Santa Barbara, easily accessible by Amtrak from Union Station, Glendale, Van Nuys and other area stops. Photo by Steve Hymon.

Buses are their route to a brighter future (L.A. Times) 

Really nice Steve Lopez column on a Bell Gardens family that typically makes eight bus trips spanning 15 hours away from home. The destinations include school, work and a dance class. Excerpt:

The city’s rhythms are different by bus. You move slower, but you take in more. There’s time to think, to read. You step off a bus and breathe the scent of flowers or sizzling food on a grill. You see people whose country of origin is hard to guess and hear languages you can’t identify.

[snip]

Mendoza reaches for the straps of her children’s backpacks, for safety, as they cross a street. They see people they know at stops and on buses, members of their rolling community.

Mendoza had a car until 18 months ago, when she got into an accident. She decided to get rid of her wheels altogether rather than pay for repairs, gas and maintenance. She also got hit by a cyclist while walking and needed surgery on her arm. The lingering stiffness makes driving difficult.

Traveling by bus has all the obvious challenges, she says, but there are advantages, too.

“We’re together,” she says.

On the bus, she can look her children in the eye, talk about their days, help them with their homework. If she went off to work each day while they attended neighborhood schools, they’d have too much idle time, she says.

Very thoughtful piece. Give it a read. One topic not directly broached is that many people need to take the Metro system multiple places and that often means multiple transfers in the course of a day. But the system doesn’t allow transfers except to those who have passes. That’s going to be something tackled in the fare restructuring next year.

L.A.’s over-the-line jaywalking crackdown (L.A. Times)

The editorial makes a reasonable argument: most people don’t know that it’s illegal to step off the curb into a crosswalk after the countdown begins on the pedestrian traffic signals. And, therefore, the LAPD shouldn’t be handing them $190 or $250 tickets during their current crackdown in DTLA. Sure would be nice to see that kind of enforcement on motorists who show little or no respect for crosswalks.

On a related note, I love how the LAT editorial mentions they learned of the crackdown in the Downtown News but doesn’t provide a link to the original Downtown News article. That’s just rude — but something the LAT does to try to keep readers on its site.

Streetcar funding plan a non-starter (Cincinnati Enquirer)

Cincinnati’s new mayor helped stop construction of a downtown streetcar earlier this month. And now he has rejected a plan that would involve having a regional transit agency and private partners pay for operating expenses — his big concern. The Federal Transit Administration says it will yank a $44.9-million federal grant if the city doesn’t decide to re-start the project by Dec. 19. About 2,000 feet of tracks are in the ground.

Women take the wheel in Saudi Arabia (New Yorker) 

Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world in which women are banned from driving although, as the above video shows, some are courageously defying that ridiculous law.

Semi-related: there is a terrific two-part series in the New Yorker Dec. 16 and 23rd editions called “The Lost World.” The story, by Elizabeth Kolbert, looks at historical waves of extinctions that have swept across our planet and uses that to put into context the current and expected future wave courtesy of climate change. The article is (appropriately) behind the New Yorker’s paywall — this kind of journalism should not be free — so either buy the digital edition for tablets or pick up the magazine at a library or newsstand.

Even an 85-mph toll road can’t fix Austin’s traffic tangle (NPR)

As the metro Austin area has ballooned to 1.8 million people in the past 20 years, traffic has (surprise!) grown appreciably worse. One study finds that if nothing is done, the current 45-minute, 19-mile commute from one ‘burn will take 2.5 hours in the year 2035.

A toll road was built east of town but it’s so far east that no one is using it and the speed limit was jacked up to 85 mph in hopes of luring some motorists. Thus far, many in Austin seem to agree the region has a problem and big-time behavior change is the only solution — but details on how that will be done are lacking.

Well, it’s Texas and if you’re going to have a problem, go big! Dallas, btw, responded to its traffic problem by building 85 miles of light rail in the past 17 years.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, December 12

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Judge deals major blow to Hollywood growth plan (L.A. Times)

Wow. A Superior Court judge has ruled a new zoning plan for the Hollywood area doesn’t comply with state environmental law. That likely means it’s back to the drawing board for the city of Los Angeles’ planning agency, which spent years revising the plan that promoted smart growth by allowing larger buildings near transit stops.

There are dozens of zoning plans that cover the city of L.A. The problem is that many of them are old and most developers seek exemptions by negotiating with the local council office and neighborhood stakeholders. Planning on a case-by-case basis makes it harder for the city to ever implement any kind of grand vision for any of its neighborhoods — and definitely makes it harder to cluster development near transit, something other cities have been adept at doing.

Delayed train? Skeptical boss? M.T.A. will give passengers a late note? (New York Times) 

A New York Subway customer can always ask for a note that their train was delayed — but that doesn’t mean that they’ll get one. Except:

Since June 2010, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has given more than 250,000 such notes, titled Subway Delay Verification, to riders, determining whether their trains had in fact come in behind schedule, or if, perhaps, the agency had been unjustly scapegoated by a harried commuter.

Passengers are asked to provide information like their subway line and the times and locations of their entries and exits. And then, maybe hours later, maybe days, the authority returns with its judgment — the transit equivalent of a doctor’s note, if a bit more bewildering.

“There was a disruption in service, specifically signal trouble, sick customer, brakes in emergency and track circuit failure, which caused massive service delays, reroutes and/or trains to be discharged on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, A, B, C, D, F, J, L, M, N, Q and R lines,” one recent response read, in part. “As a result, any one delay lasted up to 82 minutes.”

Metro, of course, has its share of service delays. Delay verifications can be obtained by contacting Customer Relations at Call Customer Relations at 213.922.6235 or by fax at 213.922.6988. Click here for the online customer comment/complaint form.

Proposed 2040 Metrorail network (PlanItMetro)

The blog for the Washington Metro’s Planning Department explains a new proposal to build three new rail lines as part of the agency’s long-range plan — including two lines to serve the city core and (finally!) a station in Georgetown. This is obviously a plan that would cost many billions of dollars and it will be interesting to see where the funding comes from. Then again, it probably doesn’t hurt that the lines would serve the Capitol Hill area. :)

Final-Rail-Network

Metro’s bike-share crisis (The Atlantic Cities) 

Bike rentals are down by a third compared to 2012 and a major sponsor — Barclays Bank — is ending its partnership in 2015. The program launched in 2010 with great fanfare; the blog post thinks a price hike for bike rentals combined with an increased number of cycling deaths in London has turned off potential customers.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, December 11

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EatonCanyonDec7-6519-3

 

ART OF TRANSIT: Sunset this past Saturday at Eaton Canyon in Altadena. There’s a nice one-mile hike along the Eaton Wash that connects to the Mt. Wilson Fire Road. And it’s transit accessible. From the Gold Line’s Sierra Madre Villa station, take the 264 Bus to the stop at Altadena and Washington and then walk one block north and turn right into the entrance of the Eaton Canyon Natural Area. The trail begins at the end of the parking lot. The 264 Bus runs about once an hour, so plan accordingly. Photo by Steve Hymon.

Advisory: seating area in Union Station now open only to Amtrak and Metrolink passengers (The Source) 

As expected, this item posted yesterday is getting a lot of eyeballs. Excerpt:

Union Station is owned by Metro and agency officials say the change was prompted by an increased number of homeless individuals who have been using Union Station as shelter — an average of 135 per night in recent weeks (numbers were higher over the summer). That, in turn, has at times created extremely unpleasant sanitary issues in the seating area that in some cases posed a health threat to passengers using the station.

A lot of interesting comments from readers on this one.

O.C. officials vote to widen 405 freeway without toll lanes (L.A. Times)

Missed this one earlier in the week. On Monday the OCTA Board voted 11 to 4 to widen a 14-mile stretch of the 405 freeway by one lane in each direction, thereby avoiding an alternative that would have put two toll lanes in each direction. The state could override the decision in an attempt to speed up traffic in the existing carpool lanes. One official says that congestion pricing lanes could be added in the future. Construction is expected to begin in 2015.

I-5 widening will connect L.A. to Orange County in a bigger way (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

A good look at the construction work underway to add two lanes in each direction to the 5 freeway between the 605 and the Orange County line. The current freeway only has three lanes in each direction, the reason why speeds are often 25 mph or lower, according to Caltrans. Metro is using some Measure R funds to help pay for the project, which is expected to be complete in late 2017 or early 2018. Will it help traffic? I think so — this section of the freeway is old and outdated.

Two options for the new Arts District park design (Curbed LA)

That parking lot immediately south of Urth Cafe in downtown Los Angeles? It’s going to be a half-acre park! Great idea! L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar’s office shares two potential designs; I like them both. I think the Arts and Industrial districts are going to be very different places in 50 years — more like the Pearl District in Portland than the existing setup here in L.A. So it’s good to see parks on the way. The other big question involves transit — I still think a case could be made in the future for building a streetcar on the eastern half of downtown.

Semi-related: Curbed also has an item on a new one-third acre park in Highland Park at York Boulevard and Avenue 50. The 83 Bus, btw, runs down York Boulevard on its extremely circuitous route between Eagle Rock and downtown Los Angeles.

One more Curbed item: love the idea for the duck boat tours of the Los Angeles River from Councilmembers Tom LaBonge and Mitch O’Farrell.

How the Big One would destroy Southern California’s infrastructure (Daily News)

This editorial was triggered by a recent speech that USGS seismologist Lucy Jones gave titled “Imagine America Without Los Angeles.” The gist of it: a big earthquake here may not  kill as many people or knock down as many buildings in the past. But it could, Jones says, still absolutely cripple all sorts of older infrastructure not built to withstand big temblors. The Daily News says that’s a message we should be heeding while rebuilding the building blocks of our region. Hard to argue with that.

 

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, December 10

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ART OF TRANSIT: A nice wintery scene, courtesy of Amtrak’s Instagram feed.

Rail to River: a Vision (Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas website)

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is proposing to take 8.3 miles of the old Harbor Subdivision railroad right-of-way and turn it into a greenway and park connecting South Los Angeles to the Los Angeles River. Metro is currently studying what might be done with the right-of-way, which runs from 26 miles from south of downtown Los Angeles to Wilmington near the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles; a few miles of the right-of-the-way is being used for the Crenshaw/LAX Line.

The greenway idea is certainly interesting — although, of course, a major challenge that would involve securing funding and real estate. Check out the video about the proposal on Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ website that shows some other rail corridors converted to parks, most notably the High Line elevated tracks in lower Manhattan.

CurbedLA has also posted about the proposal. The comments are interesting, with several readers saying that transit may be the best use of the Harbor Subdivision.

Report: 21st Century transportation (U.S. Public Interest Research Group)

The new study offers a more detailed look at the decline in vehicle miles driven in the U.S. in recent years. These bullet points offer a good quick summary:

Transportation trends are changing in America’s biggest urbanized areas.

  • The proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle – either alone or in a carpool – declined in 99 out of 100 of America’s largest urbanized areas between 2000 and 2007-2011.[i]

  • The proportion of residents working from home has increased in 100 out of the 100 largest urbanized areas since 2000.

  • The proportion of households without cars increased in 84 out of the 100 largest urbanized areas from 2006 to 2011.

  • The proportion of households with two cars or more decreased in 86 out of the 100 largest urbanized areas from 2006 to 2011.

There is additional evidence of declining driving in those urbanized areas with standardized data on vehicle-miles traveled.

  • The average number of vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita declined in 54 out of the 74large urbanized areas whose trends could be analyzed between 2006 and 2011.[ii]

  • New Orleans has seen the largest drop in per-capita VMT – 22 percent – since 2006, possibly a result of Hurricane Katrina. The urbanized areas containing two Wisconsin cities, Milwaukee and Madison, saw the second and third biggest drops in per-capita VMT – 21 percent and 18 percent, respectively. Two Pennsylvania urbanized areas, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, saw the fourth and fifth biggest drops in per-capita VMT – 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

Based on the data, U.S. PIRG has a number of recommendations including — and not surprisingly — more investments in transit and infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

Cincinnati streetcar supporters announce ballot initiative to continue project (WCPO)

The plot continues to thicken in the Queen City, where the new mayor and several new council members last week voted to suspend a downtown streetcar project that was under construction. In turn, the Federal Transit Administration has given Cincinnati officials until Dec. 19 to decide to continue the project or forfeit a $44.9-million federal grant to help build the line.

Five project supporters now say they aim to collect the thousands of signatures needed to call an election within the next 60 to 120 days that would ask voters to approve the project — thereby possibly over-riding a threatened mayoral veto of the streetcar. It remains unclear if such an election could salvage the federal grant if it is lost.

As I wrote last week, this is a pretty crazy story — and not just because it’s unfolding in my hometown. The story basically concerns one set of elected officials trying to undo the work of previous officials who began the streetcar project. The story is relevant because transportation infrastructure takes many years to plan and build, meaning projects almost always span multiple sets of elected officials and even voters.

In other words, are we going to make decisions via elections and then stick with them? Or continually vote for something, then vote against it, then vote back for it and so on — resulting in nothing ever getting done? Stay tuned, people.

Transportation headlines, Monday, December 9

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ART OF TRANSIT: From our Instagram feed.

Taking the train to LAX — it’s a connection we can’t afford to miss: Eric Garcetti and Mike Bonin (Daily News)

In this op-ed, Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti and Councilman Bonin — both members of the Metro Board of Directors — reiterate what both have been saying publicly in recent months. Excerpt:

On the local front, Metro and LAX have been working together. In October, we met with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in Washington, D.C. He and other key transportation officials understand and agree that connecting LAX to our rail system must happen.

They are watching us. They are eager to help. And that’s the reason we can’t squander the opportunity to act now.

One of the myths that we both despise about Los Angeles is that we are beholden to traffic and that we can’t build big things. Or that we can’t do them right, symbolized by the Green Line veering south of the airport.

This project is a chance to shatter that myth, move Los Angeles into the future, and to build a transit system that connects our region to the rest of the world.

As the op-ed states, Metro is currently studying six options to connect LAX to the Crenshaw/LAX Line via either light rail, a people mover or a combination of the two. Garcetti and Bonin also say that one promising alternative involves building a rail spur from the Crenshaw/LAX Line to a new transportation facility where passengers could check into flights and transfer to the people mover.

The Airport Metro Connector project has some Measure R funding but will need more to build any of the more expensive options. In related news, the Metro Board last week approved a Memorandum of Understanding between Metro and Los Angeles World Airports for changes to the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s Aviation/Century project that could help improve connections to future airport facilities such as a consolidated rental car facility or a people mover:

screen-shot-2013-12-05-at-10-18-44-am

 

And here is the project homepage on metro.net.

Whoa! A sea change in Metro’s TAP system (CityWatch LA)

I should have posted this in late November when it was first published. The article by Matthew Hetz is a follow-up to an earlier piece in which he was critical of the TAP system — in particular the taptogo website and difficulties he encountered both purchasing a new card and adding stored value to an existing one.

But things have started to change, Matthew writes. Excerpt:

After that article was published I was very surprised that the article remained in transit cyberspace terra firma, and was read by an expanding readership. I was even more surprised when David Sutton, Deputy Executive Officer, TAP, Metro, contacted me with a list of changes he implemented on the TAP system, and he invited me, and other transit writers and bloggers, for a meeting at Metro Headquarters to discuss TAP. This was a sea change in Metro’s relationship to its riders. However, until the meetings, I was very skeptical Metro would listen or accomplish any meaningful changes.

Since then I have attended three meetings with David Sutton, and other Metro executives and managers who have been gracious and understanding in the frustrations I and others face with the current TAP system. These frustrations are shared by Metro itself. The current management, from what I understand, did not implement the TAP system, but are left is the collateral damage. Their frustrations seem evident and true. They want a system which assists transit riders, and makes their jobs less stressful in dealing with the frustrations of transit riders.

[snip]

Sutton and the managers in the meetings at Metro headquarters presented their prototypes for changes to the TAP vending machines and their ideas for a modern, functioning website. As is the case with governmental agencies, things move slowly. Metro must wait for the contract to expire before moving forward with a new website, and they must follow governmental rules and regulations in calling for bids, the submitting bids, the reviews, and then awarding the new contract. This is time consuming.

While pleased with some of the changes, Matthew says Metro is not yet completely out of the woods when it comes to TAP cards and taptogo.net. Fair enough. He also says he will be writing about some other issues he has with the system and how it could be more user-friendly. Also fair enough. Easier = Better = More Riders.

Is TriMet trying to boost revenue by pushing low-income Portland riders away from unintended round trips? (Oregonian) 

With fare restructuring on the horizon for Metro, this is an important — albeit wonky — read. The issue: the debate over whether Portland TriMet’s current fare system allows round-trips or not on a single fare.

Portland currently charges a fare of $2.50 that allows riders to use their bus and light rail system for two hours. Some people have been using that time to make round trips, but lately the agency has been saying the fare only allows transfers on a trip to a single destination. That means riders trying to make round-trips have to instead buy a $5 day pass.

The TriMet Board is about to consider a change in policy that would extend fares to cover transfers beyond two hours. It sounds like there’s resistance, given budget problems. Over at the Human Transit blog, Jarrett Walker says that extending the time would be a bad idea because it would benefit only some riders and deny the system the revenue it needs to restore good service for everyone.

My year without a car (Salon) 

 

Wayne Scott made a New Year’s resolution coming into 2013: to retire his car and bike everywhere. And despite an ambivalence about biking, he has thus far held true to his resolution. Yes, it helps that he lives and works in Portland, one of the nation’s largest bike-friendly cities. But there’s also the little matter of conquering six months of often cold rain and a job that requires a fair amount of public speaking in dry clothes.

Transportation headlines, Friday, December 6

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ART OF TRANSIT: From our Instagram feed.

Metro hopes to stop public urination near the Orange Line (L.A. Times) 

Well that’s certainly a no-nonsense headline! The article is about the motion approved by the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday to study ways to stem complaints about public urination near the Pierce College station. That includes possibly building restrooms at Pierce College and other Metro stations. Excerpt:

The Orange Line opened in 2005; urinating in public has been illegal in Los Angeles since 2003. But a patchwork of jurisdictions has made enforcing the law near the Orange Line more difficult, Lewis said. Metro owns the busway, which is patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. But the surrounding area, including the alleys, is the purview of the Los Angeles Police Department.

“If you gotta go, you gotta go,” Lewis said. “But it sure would be nice if you could plan ahead a little better and go a few hundred yards to the south.”

Even if a portable toilet is installed, Lewis said, education will be another issue. If riders don’t know where to look for a bathroom, the solution will be ineffective.

I didn’t realize public urination was legal in L.A. until 2003 — or to put it another way, legal urination in L.A. actually made it into the 21st century. Here’s the story on that.

Gold Line basket bridge over 210 freeway gets record fifth award (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

The bridge over the eastbound 210 in Arcadia that was built for the Foothill Extension project has picked up another award, this time from Engineering News-Record, a trade journal. The bridge’s design and construction was overseen by the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, the agency that is building the project.

I think the bridge looks great — and will look even better once there are trains upon it. At this point, Metro is forecasting an early 2016 opening for the extension that will bring the Gold Line to Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale, Azusa and within a few feet of Glendora.

San Antonio can’t decide if it’s building light rail or a streetcar (The Atlantic Cities)

The top of the story:

In 2004, San Antonio residents overwhelmingly approved a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for local transportation projects. The money could be used for any number of purposes — from road upgrades to “advanced transit services” — with the exception of light rail. Voters shot down a light rail project several years earlier, and VIA Metropolitan Transit, the agency in charge of the funds, promised not to pursue another one.

Fast-forward a decade. That decision is at the heart of a bewildering debate over whether “streetcars” and “light rail” are the same thing. VIA has planned a 5-mile streetcar system for downtown San Antonio that’s scheduled to open by 2017. Opponents contend that none of the sales tax funds (known as Advanced Transportation District funds) should help pay for it under the original “light rail” stipulation.

Surprise, surprise: the issue has landed in court, preventing the local transit agency from selling bonds to fund the streetcar project.

There’s probably a good, larger story here about the newfound popularity of streetcar projects and how controversial they are in many quarters. Los Angeles, of course, is trying to figure out how much a streetcar would cost here while Cincinnati just halted construction because of money concerns. I bet there are other similar tales out there as American cities try anything to continue reviving their urban cores.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, December 5

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Opinion: inching down L.A.’s freeways in the dark (Daily News)

Good column by Mariel Garza, who often finds herself on the region’s roads visiting the Los Angeles Newspaper Group’s various offices. That has made her reliant on the Sigalert app in order to avoid the worst of the area’s traffic jams.

Not so fast. Take it away, Mariel…

Not only has it not sigalerted me to terrible traffic snarls, but in some cases it leads me right into them with promises of traffic flowing like a Sierra stream in the springtime.

Here’s an example from Sunday: Everyone who escaped to the desert for the holiday weekend, it seemed, tried to get through the Interstate 10 Whitewater-Cabazon pass at the same time. This is not unusual, and not wholly unexpected. And it was an epic traffic jam visible to anyone in it.

But it simply didn’t exist to my app, no matter how many times I refreshed it. In fact, it indicated that heavy traffic on the westbound 10 loosened up — going from red to green — at the Highway 62 junction, where I was getting on. But that’s where the worst jam actually started, as the cars, trucks and RVs from Joshua Tree and other high-desert vacation spots emptied into the heavy flow of the 10. Stop and go — mostly stop — all the way west to Banning. Not that I could have avoided this particular snarl without getting off the freeway and trying to find out how to get across to the frontage road. But I was still surprised my Sigalert app couldn’t pick it up. Also, it would have been helpful to know where it ended. I had dinner plans in L.A.

One big problem is that the app pulls traffic data from the 27,000 sensors embedded in freeways in California – and a third of which no longer work. Mariel has an idea: perhaps it’s time to spend some Measure R data to install new sensors and help motorists avoid traffic.

Editorial: high-speed rail proceeds in fits and starts (Sacramento Bee)

The editorial says that there’s no sugar-coating that two recent court rulings were a setback for the state’s high-speed rail project that is initially seeking to Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the rulings are more likely to result in delays issuing bonds and are not likely to kill the project as a few die-hard opponents are trying to do, the Bee says.

Here’s what you need to know: at their core, the rulings involve when the state can issue the voter-approved bonds that will help pay the state’s share of the first segment, as well as work on the bookends of the project in L.A. and S.F. The California High-Speed Rail Authority had wanted to sell all the bonds — $8.6 billion worth — at once but the court rulings make that difficult.

The Bee suggests instead that $4.7 billion in bonds be issued, which would provide money for the first segment of the project as well as work in L.A. and S.F. — which includes some money for the Regional Connector project.

Cincinnati Council pauses streetcar but battle will continue (Cincinnati Enquirer)

Work on the Cincy Streetcar project in front of Music Hall. Photo by David Cole.

Work on the Cincy Streetcar project in front of Music Hall. Photo by David Cole.

At the urging of a newly elected mayor and Council members, the City Council voted 5 to 4 on Wednesday to suspend construction of a streetcar project intended to tie together downtown neighborhoods. Proponents of the project have argued that stopping work will actually cost more than to continue building the streetcar while opponents say there simply is not enough funds to operate it. In the meantime, the Federal Transit Administration has put on hold a $45-million grant to help fund the $147.8-million project.

The story caught my eye for several reasons. I happen to be from Cincinnati and lived there until 1990. Also, and more important, it’s unusual for a project to begin construction and then have work halted while elected officials continue to argue over whether the project should have been built in the first place.

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Transportation headlines, Wednesday, December 4

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ART OF TRANSIT: Now that’s a well composed photo!

Silver Line coming to Tysons but don’t look for lots of new parking (Washington Post)

A garage at the Washington Metro's College Park station. Photo by Bossi, via Flickr creative commons.

A garage at the Washington Metro’s College Park station. Photo by Bossi, via Flickr creative commons.

The story is about the lack of giant parking garages at four new Washington Metro Silver Lane stations opening soon in Fairfax County, Virginia. Excerpt:

Parking garages — and the large surface parking lots that have long dominated the Tysons landscape and suburban Metro stations elsewhere — don’t fit with the new vision of an area seeking to swap its congested, car-centric image for that of an urban, pedestrian-friendly enclave.

And so Fairfax officials did not include parking garages at the four Silver Line stations in Tysons.

That decision has been cheered by “smart growth” advocates, but some residents are concerned that their streets will become de facto Metro parking lots. And some potential Silver Line riders — accustomed to driving to Metro stations to board their trains — wonder how they’ll get to the new rail line if they can’t drive.

“The plan did not originally include parking because there were advocates that claimed that having parking garages would draw cars into Tysons,” Fairfax County Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) said. “In my opinion, those cars are coming anyway, and they’re going to be driving around looking for a place to park.”

We discussed the issue of parking at transit stations in a post yesterday about a motion to study expanding parking at the Red Line’s NoHo and Universal City stations.

Detroit to study removing freeway in favor of walkable street (Detroit Free Press)

The 375 freeway in Detroit. Photo by gab482 via Flickr creative commons.

The 375 freeway in Detroit. Photo by gab482 via Flickr creative commons.

The mile-long 375 freeway, which sits in a trench, would be converted to a surface street and sit at the same level of surrounding roads and buildings. The idea is to better connect neighborhoods to downtown Detroit but the plan may anger suburbanites who use the freeway to quickly zip into and out of Detroit proper.

Madrid’s big plan to swear off cars (The Atlantic Cities)

Traffic in Madrid in a photo taken last month. Photo by Grey World, via Flickr creative commons.

Traffic in Madrid in a photo taken last month. Photo by Grey World, via Flickr creative commons.

With much of Spain’s economy stuck in low gear, Madrid is updating its general plan to focus on revitalizing the central city. Excerpt:

So the plan calls for 24 major Madrid streets to be radically overhauled, with car lanes removed, bike lanes added and trees planted to make them cool and shady. A new hierarchy will be in place: pedestrians come first, then public transport, then bikes, then cars.

Overall, 66 percent of the affected street surface will be given over to people on foot. The irony is that before car-friendly policies reshaped central Madrid, many of these streets were just the sort of leafy, broad-sidewalked avenues the city wants, but they were remodeled to add extra motorist lanes.

Now chastened by years of fumes and grime, the city is coming full circle back to its old ways. The use of the word boulevard (“Bulevar” in Spanish) may suggest Parisian influence, but the real model seems to be La Rambla, the central pedestrian avenue in Madrid’s great rival city, Barcelona.

Will it work? As the article notes, the city’s last update didn’t really go anywhere and this one is likely to be met with skepticism and opposition. Nonetheless, can you imagine someone marching into L.A. and saying two-thirds of street surface will be given over to pedestrians — i.e. the same pedestrians who are often treated more as annoyances than as people?

Delta bumps passengers off flight and gives seats to college basketball team  (Gainesville Sun) 

When the University of Florida’s usual plane wasn’t available to them last weekend, Delta decided to use another plane. Another plane with paying passengers, who were given vouchers and booked on other flights. I know there’s a lot of good to be said for college sports, but at times — and often at its highest levels — it really just comes off as kind of a really, really skeezy enterprise.