Transportation headlines, Monday, October 6

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

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ART OF TRAFFIC: A gas station in Hollywood in April 1942. Click above for a great new online tool from Yale University that makes it easier to view photos in the Library of Congress taken across the U.S. between 1935 and 1944 and intended to chronicle the Great Depression and life in America. Photo by Russell Lee/Library of Congress.

Editor’s note: Good morning, readers! As was the case earlier this year, I’m back in Ohio for a couple weeks to deal with some family business. I’ll be doing some posting — but if it sounds like I’m roughly 2,100 miles removed from the local scene, I am. In the meantime, here’s some advice based on an overheard conversation in the Blue Ash Starbucks: never ever begin a sentence with this phrase: “Oh my God, I was walking down Michigan Avenue with one of my bridesmaids….”

And on to the headlines….

Vice President Joe Biden to visit L.A.; road closures to jam commutes (L.A. Times) 

West L.A. is on the docket for later this afternoon and downtown Los Angeles and East Los Angeles for Tuesday morning. Please follow our Twitter account for updates on bus detours.

Metro to rename rail stations after Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina (L.A. Times) 

Coverage of yesterday’s vote by the Metro Board. A Metro spokesman says the Metro Board has the right to amend an existing station naming policy that discourages facilities from being named after living people.

The High Desert Corridor project’s environmental document was released by Caltrans earlier this week and the cover — as noted by Streetsblog LA and Times reporter Laura Nelson — is a little different than the usual EIR. The study contemplates a new 63-mile freeway between Palmdale in Los Angeles County and the town of Apple Valley in San Bernardino County, along with a possible high-speed rail line, bikeway and green energy transmission corridor. BTW, the federally-threatened desert tortoise lives in the Mojave Desert; the document explains impacts and mitigations for the tortoise.

New AQMD study finds much lower air pollution levels across L.A. County (Daily News) 

Bottom line: cancer causing toxins are down by 65 percent but the air is still often a hot mess of pollutants, with emissions from trucks, ships, trains (most of which are freight in our region) and planes largely to blame.

Bottom up climate fix (New York Times)

Former EPA official Daniel C. Esty helped negotiation the United Nations’ first climate treat in 1992. Now he’s skeptical that top-down agreements will really help lower the greenhouse gases that are triggering global warming. Excerpt:

As one of those who, as an official at the Environmental Protection Agency, negotiated that first United Nations treaty in 1992, I believe we need to shift gears and try something new. Relying on national governments alone to deliver results is not enough, as the last two decades have shown. The real action on climate change around the world is coming from governors, mayors, corporate chief executives and community leaders. They are the ones best positioned to make change happen on the ground. Accordingly, we need to move from a top-down strategy to a bottom-up approach.

Mayors in Barcelona, Melbourne and the Brazilian city of Curitiba, for instance, are trying to expand public transportation. New York City’s former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg worked with pipeline companies to increase natural gas access so residents could shift from dirty fuel oil furnaces to cheaper and cleaner natural gas ones.

British Columbia and Quebec have introduced cap-and-trade programs that put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, making it more expensive to pollute and encouraging innovation. California has done the same thing. So have nine states in the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic.

You can certainly add the Los Angeles region to the list of places trying to expand transit. Metro currently has four rail lines under construction and a fifth — the first phase of the Purple Line Extension — is soon to begin. If Metro pursues a ballot measure in 2016 to accelerate and/or expand the building of new transportation projects, it will be interesting to see if climate change is part of a political campaign. If memory serves, traffic relief and rail safety were part of the Measure R campaign.

Quasi-related sort of: Is Denver the Houston of the Rockies — again? (High Country News)

Denver has boomed in recent years and behind their 2004 transit sales tax, has been on a rail and BRT building boom. But new economic stats reveal the extent to which the ‘new economy’ in Denver is tied to the fossil fuel industry. Smart story.

New Muni-only lanes streamline bus trips (Streetsblog SF)

Check out the pics of the new lanes, which are painted red. They do stand out. The lanes aren’t very long, but are intended to help buses get through parts of town where traffic has traditionally added unnecessary minutes to bus trips.

Metro becomes first transit agency in U.S. to apply flywheel technology for rail energy savings

Metro officials met with representatives from the Federal Transit Administration and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory last week to review promising results of the agency’s first-of-a-kind use of flywheel technology to recycle power generated from rail cars.

Officials met at the Westlake/MacArthur Park Metro Red/Purple Line Station to see firsthand how the Wayside Energy Storage Substation works. The pilot project started in August and is now saving Metro up to 18 percent of the energy normally used to power subway trains entering and leaving the station. That, in turn, helps lower Metro’s electricity bills.

The project is managed by Metro’s Project Engineering Department and uses a state-of-the-art flywheel system built by Vycon of Cerritos. The brain of the system, which assures the precise control of the flow of power, was developed by Turner Engineering of Venice. Metro performed its installation in-house, without external contractors.

The system was therefore entirely developed and implemented with resources local to the Los Angeles County. It is estimated that Metro will eventually save approximately $100,000 per year in electricity costs because of the project.

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Transportation headlines, Monday, September 29

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

No, Carmageddon is not inevitable (Zocalo Public Square)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

Transportation headlines, Friday, September 25

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

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

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

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

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

Excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transportation headlines, Thursday, September 25

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

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

Infographic_HighShift_ITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Metro CEO to step down (Washington Post) 

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

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, September 23

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. Pick your social media poison! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good essay by Jonathan Thompson. Excerpt:

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

 

Atomic gaffes (New York Times) 

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

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

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

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram

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:

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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.