Transportation headlines, Wednesday, May 7

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Just a reminder, there’s a reason they haven’t begun digging the 710 tunnel (Streetsblog L.A.) 

The foremost reasons are that the environmental review process is still far from complete and the more expensive alternatives under study for the SR-710 project — in particular a tunnel or light rail line — are not fully funded. But Streetsblog editor Damien Newton says the real reason is lack of any kind of broad-based support for such a project. He also takes another shot at tonight’s Zocalo Public Square forum on the 710, intimating that it will be a Metro-sponsored rally for 710 expansion although conceding that “it’s possible that tonight’s discussion will take a different turn.” One correction: The event at MOCA in downtown L.A. is free and is near the Red/Purple Line’s Civic Center station and numerous Metro bus lines. It’s only $9 for those who choose to drive and to park at Disney Hall.

MTA may have tough time getting federal rail money past House GOP (L.A. Times) 

Republicans in the U.S. House are proposing spending cuts to the federal New Starts program that helps local agencies pay for large transit projects. That could impact $200 million in next year’s federal budget for Metro’s Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension projects. Excerpt:

Raffi Hamparian, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority director of federal affairs, said county officials would work to increase the amount when the House committee acts on the bill in coming weeks or to win approval for a higher amount from the Senate, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sits on the Appropriations Committee.

“It may be that the Senate is going to come in with a solid number that fully funds the program, and we don’t have a problem,” Hamparian said. “But the bottom line is, a low number adds uncertainty, and we don’t like uncertainty.” [snip]

“We’re determined to get these projects built, on time and on budget,” Hamparian said. “Los Angeles County voters have repeatedly stepped up to fund these projects, and we look forward to Congress meeting us halfway to get these great American infrastructure projects built.”

L.A.’s plan to make Figueroa a ‘complete street’ makes sense (L.A. Times)

The editorial backs the city of Los Angeles’ plans to put four miles of Figueroa on a road diet between downtown L.A. and Exposition Park, meaning that two traffic lanes could be lost and replaced, in part, with protected bike lanes and other improvements to help pedestrians and bus riders. Businesses, including USC, have pushed back. The Times says that’s a bad idea and that transferring some of the improvements over to Flower Street (which runs parallel to Figueroa) would be a bad idea.

How tolls could prevent a U.S. transportation crisis (The Atlantic Cities) 

With the federal Highway Trust Fund in perpetual crisis mode, Eric Jaffe writes that it’s encouraging that President Obama is proposing to allow states set tolls on their portion of the interstate system to pay for maintenance. The proposal would also allow some toll money to be used for public transit. My three cents: the interstates have been toll-free for so long that it’s going to be a mighty tough sell to get this past Congress and to get states to go for it, even if they have the permission to set tolls.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, May 6

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Here are two plans for an airport people mover (Curbed LA)

The Curbed post is based on tweets from L.A. Times transportation reporter Laura Nelson, who attended the Los Angeles World Airports Board meeting (if you’re not following Laura on Twitter, you should be). As Laura’s tweets show, it appears that LAWA is looking at two alternatives for getting an automated people mover into the terminal area and neither would be a loop.

As many of you know, Metro’s Airport Metro Connector study is also underway and Metro is working with LAX to identify the best way to connect the Crenshaw/LAX Line with the airport’s people mover and the location for a possible connection between light rail and a people mover. There are several possibilities, including a connection at the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s Aviation/Century station or the new transportation hub proposed by the airport that is west of the Crenshaw/LAX Line. Metro staff are expected to give their latest report to the Metro Board of Directors in June.

The L.A. Airspace blog by Brian Sumers that is published by the Los Angeles News Group also has an item on the LAWA Board discussion, as well as the full LAWA report with visuals on everything that is on the table including the people mover, future roadway changes and a consolidated rental car facility.

WeHo to consider efforts to lure a Metro line stop (WEHOville) 

The city of West Hollywood is considering hiring a lobbyist to help secure a Metro Rail line that would stop in West Hollywood. As CurbedLA notes, the timing is obvious as Metro considers pursuing a possible ballot measure in 2016 to raise money to accelerate the construction of transportation projects or perhaps secure funding for projects beyond the Measure R expenditure list.

The Purple Line Extension project did study a subway segment running from Hollywood through WeHo to Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. With funding limited, the Metro Board decided to pursue a subway alignment mostly under Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood that performed better in terms of expected ridership. A northward extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Line is in Metro’s long-range plan as an unfunded project and some activists have proposed that line run all the way to WeHo, Hollywood or both. Metro has not yet drawn up any firm plans for such a project.

Meanwhile, two Los Angeles City Council members — Joe Buscaino and Tom LaBonge — are urging that a light rail line be built that that connects Wilmington and San Pedro to the Blue Line, perhaps via the Harbor Subdivision right-of-way that is owned by Metro, according to Build Los Angeles. That project has been talked up by Move LA, the activist group urging Metro to pursue a “Measure R 2″ in 2016.

The bigger story here — and it’s a good one, reporters — is that with the possibility that Metro will go to the ballot in 2016, many cities and other stakeholders across the region are starting to push for their projects to be included. There is certainly no shortage of projects that have been talked about for years that are not funded. Look at the funded and unfunded list in Metro’s long-range plan (pages 30 and 31). The interesting part, of course, is that the Metro Board has not made any decision yet whether to go forward with a measure, nor do we know what the Board may even pursue or whether there would be any money for projects outside Measure R.

Climate change study finds U.S. is already widely affected (New York Times) 

A wide range of scientists overseen by the federal government developed the report, including representatives from two oil companies. Here’s the first graph:

The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, scientists reported Tuesday, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects. [snip]

And, more notably, here are the last two graphs — which perhaps are two of the most important graphs in the story:

Historically, the United States — with its large cars, large houses and high per capita consumption of energy — was responsible for more emissions than any other country. Lately, China has become the largest emitter over all, though its emissions per person are still far below those of the United States.

The report pointed out that while the country as a whole still has no comprehensive climate legislation, many states and cities have begun to take steps to limit emissions and to adapt to climatic changes that can no longer be avoided. But the report found that these efforts are inadequate compared with the magnitude of the problems that are coming.

Of course, you don’t have to wait around for the government to do something if this is an issue you care about. Walking and biking are emissions free! And taking transit has been shown as a way to reduce your carbon footprint when compared to driving alone or even with passengers. Please see this UCLA study on how the Gold Line and Orange Line both produce fewer greenhouse gases in the near- and far-term than driving, especially driving alone.

The Federal Transit Administration also published this report in 2010 on public transit’s role in how the country responds to climate change. To quote the report: “National level data show significant greenhouse gas emission savings by use of public transportation, which offers a low emissions alternative to driving.” And a graphic from the report:

greenhousegas

Did Metro build a perpetual motion machine (Streetsblog L.A.) 

And on the subject of clean energy….this is a critical look at the MACE project that we posted about recently. The $600,000 test project aimed to determine if energy could be captured by placing a wind turbine in a Red Line tunnel. The idea is that wind from a passing train would turn the turbine and then create energy.

Experts interviewed by Roger Rudick on Streetsblog, however, are dubious. They say that passing trains likely meet resistance from the new turbine and thus must use more power to maintain their speed — meaning that any energy captured is canceled out by the extra energy needed to push trains down the track.

According to the test, the wind turbine could capture $6,000 in energy annually. Streetsblog says a turbine that could be switched on and off may perform better but that Metro may reap more energy by regenerative braking similar to what hybrid cars use (and this is something Metro is pursuing).

Good article and I encourage you to read. I think the question really comes down to whether the wind turbine is something worth pursuing and whether it can be improved to the point where it’s economically useful.

Transportation headlines, Monday, Cinco de Mayo

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Jennifer Keith. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: Jennifer Keith of the Jennifer Keith Quintet performing in the Fred Harvey Room on Saturday during the Union Station 75th Anniversary celebration. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Union Station’s complexity grows 75 years down the line (L.A. Times) 

A super interesting essay by architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne on the history of Union Station and its future. As he points out, by the time that Union Station opened in 1939 — after several legal battles — rail travel already had taken a big hit and it was clear that auto and plane travel were the way that most people were going to be moving around the region and country, respectively.

Excerpt:

As a piece of urban design, however, Union Station was ruthlessly modern, a powerful engine for an urban-renewal plan that displaced hundreds of residents of L.A.’s original Chinatown and served as a precursor to later “slum clearance” efforts in Chavez Ravine and on Bunker Hill. In facing almost due west, the station not only announced the end of the line for American territorial expansion but helped the city turn its back on the Los Angeles River.

It didn’t seek to undermine the growing car culture. It actively supported it. The 200-foot gap between Alameda Street and the station’s front doors was a suburban distance, not an urban one, leaving plenty of room for parking.

More to the point, by going up when and where it did, Union Station influenced the location of key highway interchanges in and around downtown. As Matthew W. Roth writes in “Los Angeles Union Station,” a new book published by the Getty Research Institute, which has also organized an anniversary exhibition on the station at the Central Library, “the consolidation of track operations at Union Station set in motion the process of bridging the Los Angeles River with a freeway — and, in turn, the routing of the freeway network.”

As Christopher points out, Union Station is already far busier now than it was when built owing to the steady stream of Amtrak, Metrolink and Metro trains and buses (among others) that enter and leave the station each day. He praises Metro’s stewardship of the station (the agency purchased the station in 2011 from a private holder) and says crowds are likely to increase as the Metro system expands — not to mention the possible arrival of high-speed rail in the future.

Here is the Los Angeles Newspaper Group’s story on the 75th anniversary on Saturday.

Struck on the street: four survivors (New York Times) 

The harrowing tale of four New York Times staffers — including Executive Editor Jill Abramson — who have been hit by vehicles in the New York area. Excerpt:

We are the lucky ones and we know it. We all lived. We enjoyed the support of family, friends, colleagues and countless talented doctors, nurses and physical therapists. We had good health insurance. The first cop who stopped to help me said: “Lady, if the truck had rolled over you two inches higher, all of your major organs would have been crushed. You wouldn’t be here.”

Our stories share certain similarities: We looked up at faces looking down, asking if we were O.K. None of the drivers who hit us were charged by the police with any misdoing — significant because part of Mr. de Blasio’s plan is stricter enforcement of traffic laws. Passers-by, belying the reputation of our area, rushed to help. And we were all deeply moved by the support of our friends and co-workers.

Still, though we have all mostly recovered, we travel around our city with a sense of permanent vulnerability. Nearly four years after she was hit, Denise Fuhs, a news design editor, put it this way in an email account of her accident: “I still cannot cross very many streets without looking both ways about four times and looking over my shoulder a dozen times while crossing. If a car gets too close, or if I think a driver turning my way doesn’t see me, I panic, sometimes freeze.”

I’ll repeat what I have written many times in the past. I don’t think anyone could argue that enough is being done in our region — or any other — to protect people in crosswalks. Of course, many people struck by cars are not in crosswalks and that is a serious problem. But the crosswalk is the one place where we know that pedestrians will constantly appear and it must be treated as a sacred space given the thousands of pounds of difference between a vulnerable human being and a steel vehicle. I see far too many vehicles turning right through crosswalks with people in them and I see too many cars rolling across the white line. That should be a heavy fine — the kind of heavy fine that ensures that most people will not risk it or violate crosswalk laws more than once.

Environmental study on 710 freeway extension will be released in 2015 (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

A very short article that notes that the study will be released in February and that the public comment period has been doubled from 45 days to 90 days. Here’s Metro’s statement that was released on Friday.

New details on Los Angeles region’s 2024 Olympics bid (Inside the Games) 

As much detail as I’ve seen on the emerging bid for L.A. to host the 2024 Summer Games. The region must first win the right to be the bid city representing the United States and is up against six other regions, including San Diego, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and Boston.

The big news is that the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games is proposing to use Exposition Park and a revamped Coliseum as the main Olympic Village. There would also be a cluster of activities on the Westside and along the L.A. River — a lot of venues are already, will be under current plans or could be transit adjacent depending on whether projects are accelerated. Check it out:

LA_2024_Map

The Expo Line already serves Exposition Park and the segment to downtown Santa Monica is forecast to open in early 2016 and the Regional Connector in 2020. The Red Line already goes to Hollywood, the LA Live is already served by the Blue and Expo lines and will be linked to the Gold Line by the Connector. The Blue Line already goes to downtown Long Beach. Perhaps the big questions involve the Purple Line Extension; the third segment to Westwood isn’t scheduled to arrive until 2036 unless the project is accelerated. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is scheduled to open in 2019 but the Airport Metro Connector not until the late 2020s unless it, too, is accelerated.

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Transportation headlines, Friday, May 2

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Union Station: L.A.’s nearly perfect time machine (L.A. Times) 

D.J. Waldie has a nice op-ed piece on the eve of Union Station’s 75th anniversary celebration on Saturday. Excerpt:

Those who pause will see a nearly perfect public space meant to be both monumental and deferential, and designed to reassure as much as to impress. In the station’s concrete daydream of Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission, Moorish and Art Deco styles, the city’s imagined past and hoped-for future overlay seamlessly. Those faux wood beams were given a patina to look as if they had been there a century or more. The station’s streamlined details in aluminum and bronze pointed toward a triumphant, machine-age tomorrow. When Union Station was new, everything about it reflected the longing of Los Angeles to be both modern and nostalgic.

Union Station, like few of the city’s other architectural survivals, is a place where it’s possible for the patient sojourner to slip out of now and into an earlier time like a shadow passing.

John and Donald Parkinson, the station’s supervising architects, understood shadows and how pausing in them invites reverie. The station’s shadows are there by design: to give shelter from the Los Angeles sun in the long arcades and add movement through the day to the static surface of its exterior. Inside, transient light patterns the travertine walls and contrasts with the durable patterns laid in the 75,000 square feet of cement, marble, tile and linoleum flooring, as well as on the faience wainscoting and doorway surrounds and the parquetry of the patios’ brick walkways.

In addition, KPCC’s Take Two has a nice eight-minute segment on the station’s history.

And here’s the lineup of events for Saturday’s celebration at Union Station.

Gold Line bill hurt by lack of communication: guest commentary (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

The president of the San Bernardino Associated Governments board writes that a bill that would have allowed planning of a Gold Line segment between Montclair and Ontario Airport did not provide enough protections for San Bernardino County taxpayers. At this point it’s a moot point — the bill was withdrawn last week. Construction of the Pasadena-to-Azusa phase of the project continues, as does planning and engineering work for the unfunded segment between Azusa and Montclair.

The huge Obama transportation bill you heard nothing about (Time)

The President released the details of a four-year transportation funding bill earlier this week, a follow-up to a budget released earlier this year. The $300-million, four year bill would greatly include funding for transit and other worthy infrastructure programs, but Time says it’s non-news until the time comes when Republicans may agree to such a bill. Debate over the bill is likely to continue for the remainder of this year.

Madrid’s smart parking meters charge more for most polluting cars (The Guardian)

About one in four motorists — those with the most polluting cars — will pay 20 percent more for parking. Meanwhile, those in the least polluting cars will pay 20 percent less. Great idea!

Want to be more creative? Take a walk (New York Times) 

A new Stanford study aims to show that people who walk show more signs of creative and innovating thinking. Not exactly a surprise — creative types have been singing the praises of going for a stroll for ages. No one is exactly sure the mechanism at work that boosts creativity — one idea is that walking simply puts people in a better mood and good moods translate to more expansive thought.

The train tunnel in this film is now part of PCH (Southland) 

Great footage shot in 1898 of a train rumbling through what is now the McClure Tunnel that connects the Santa Monica Freeway to Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica.

 

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, April 30

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L.A., Central Valley have nation’s worst air (L.A. Times) 

The latest American Lung Assn. rankings show that Los Angeles leads the list of American cities with the worst air when it comes to pollution from ozone and fine particulate matter, according to data from 2010 through 2012. The triumverate of Bakersfield, Visalia and Fresno have the worst spikes in particulate matter in the country — owing to farm work and construction — with L.A. fourth behind them.

Gold Line to Ontario airport off track; bill withdrawn by its author (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

Assemblyman Fred Rodriguez withdrew a bill that would have given the Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority the authority to begin studies of a third (and currently unfunded) segment running between Montclair and the airport. But officials in San Bernardino County have been lukewarm to the idea, saying there may be other ways to reach the airport via transit — and some officials there want money spent on other projects. Ontario Airport served about four million passengers in 2013 compared to 66.6 million at LAX.

The rise of protected bike lanes in America (people for bikes) 

Nice video showing what bike lanes can and should look like — protected from road traffic by something more than a thin white line of paint.

How EZ Pass lanes could make premature births less common (The Atlantic Cities) 

Transponders that enable motorists to travel through toll plazas in New Jersey and Pennsylvania without stopping may have also reduce the number of premature births according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University. The reason: less pollution from idling cars, so says the study. Hmm. I’m not crazy about idling cars — obviously — but not sure I’m buying into this study quite yet.

Semi-related to transit: Tonight we’re all Captain Quints, with the exception of that last scene. Assuming we prevail, go Metro to Game 3 and 4 of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs!

Jaws_081Pyxurz

 

 

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, April 29

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ART OF TRANSIT: Okay, this isn't the train station we've been featuring prominently on this blog in recent weeks. Union Terminal in Cincinnati was completed in 1931 -- eight years before our Union Station opened -- and is also Art Deco but obviously very different from our station. Also different from L.A. Union Station: Cincy's station is now a museum, served only by a single Amtrak train that runs a somewhat odd route between Chicago and New York. Photo by Steve Hymon.

ART OF TRANSIT: Okay, this isn’t the train station we’ve been featuring prominently on this blog in recent weeks. Union Terminal in Cincinnati was completed in 1931 — eight years before our Union Station opened — and is also Art Deco but obviously very different from our station. Also different from L.A. Union Station: Our station is busier than ever in its 75-year history while Cincy’s station is now a museum, served only by a single Amtrak train that runs a somewhat odd route between Chicago and New York. Related reminder: National Train Day is Saturday with associated Union Station and train events. Click here for the rundown of events. Photo by Steve Hymon.

L.A. is a pedestrian death capital (LA weekly)

Newly released federal statistics show that Los Angeles is second only to New York City when it comes to pedestrian deaths involving motor vehicles. Excerpt:

Nationwide, pedestrian deaths comprised 14 percent of all traffic fatalities. In L.A., pedestrian deaths accounted for a whopping 41 percent of all killed in car crashes. For New York, it was 47 percent, according to the NHTSA stats.

Los Angeles’ per-100,000 pedestrian fatality rate wasn’t at all the highest, at 2.57 percent. But it beat out New York’s 1.52 percent.

Scary stuff perhaps attributable to the volumes of cars and people here. While the LAPD’s crackdown on jaywalking in downtown Los Angeles has received considerable media attention, I’m curious how much attention local police — in L.A. and elsewhere — are paying to vehicular encroachments on crosswalks. I see it happen all the time, I can’t recall ever seeing any one pulled over for it in my 20 years living in the L.A. area.

Semi-related: transportation accounts for 42 percent of worker deaths in the U.S. including road worker incidents, trucking accidents and even fishing incidents on boats.

The MTA has declared us a class-based society (CityWatchLA)

Writer Bob Gelfand despairs the Metro Board’s decision last week to extend the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 beyond next January (which also requires state legislation). He doesn’t like Lexus Lanes, saying they are more likely to be used by higher income motorists. His solution: have tolls based on the value of the car. That strikes me as fraught with problems, namely that the price of a vehicle doesn’t always correlate with a person’s income level. There has also been some evidence that transponder accounts have been opened from a variety of zip codes and census tracts representing a variety of income levels. As for the “class-based society,” it’s probably worth pointing out that Silver Line ridership has increased since the ExpressLanes opened.

Amtrak to test allowing pets on trains (Amtrak)

The pilot program in Illinois would allow pets 20 pounds or under in exchange for a $25 surcharge. Pets would have to be in carriers. Smart move, I think as Amtrak works to speed up its trains in some Midwest carriers and possibly compete with the airline and driving industries. Disclosure: I have dogs and have traveled with dogs frequently in recent years, usually by car.

Transportation headlines, Monday, April 28

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Art of Transit: Downtown Chicago, freeways and transit lines as seen from United Airline's Yoda-sized seats on Saturday morning as I made my way back to L.A. Photo by Steve Hymon.

Art of Transit: Downtown Chicago, freeways and transit lines as seen from United Airline’s Yoda-sized seats on Saturday morning as I made my way back to L.A. Photo by Steve Hymon.

Metro adds monthly fee for toll road drivers (L.A. Times)

As part of an approval to continue the ExpressLanes beyond next January — pending approval of the state Legislature — the Metro Board also approved a new $1 monthly for everyone with ExpressLanes accounts. The fee is intended to help cover the cost of maintenance, as Metro must pay its contractor $3 for every transponder put into service; it is estimated the new fee will raise $700,000 annually. As both the Times and coverage in the Los Angeles Newspaper Group notes, the Metro Board vote and passage of the state bill could potentially pave the way toward other freeways getting the ExpressLanes treatment in the future.

For whom the lane tolls (Santa Clarita Valley Signal) 

This op-ed piece argues it’s wrong to keep the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways because taxpayers have already paid taxes to build the roads — and that the tolls only exist as a new government revenue stream. Interestingly, the writer never bothers to mention the HOV-toll lanes proposed for the 5 freeway in the Santa Clarita Valley. Nor does the writer mention that taxpayers have to pay fares or entrance fees for many things built with taxpayer dollars, ranging from mass transit to national parks to publicly-financed sports venues.

York Boulevard bike lane extended (LADOT Bike Blog)

The city of Los Angeles is extending the bike lanes on York Boulevard in Northeast L.A. toward South Pasadena, including lanes on the bridge over the 110 freeway. York is a key corridor and can be used to help reach two Gold Line stations — Highland Park and South Pasadena.

The first look at how Google’s self-driving car handles city streets (The Atlantic Cities)

Eric Jaffe goes for a ride in a self-driving car and gets a look at the computer software guiding the car’s decision making while in traffic. Very interesting post with some good visuals and video.

Sky-high cost of BART Oakland airport link (San Francisco Chronicle) 

A wee bit of hype in the headline in this article about BART trying to figure out the fares for the new 3.2-mile automated rail line (you can call it a people mover) that will run to the airport terminals. Fares could run from $3 to $6 one way with a $2 discounted fare for airport workers. The fares aren’t expected to cover the entire cost of running the service; then again, fares in the U.S. almost never cover the cost of operations.