Transportation headlines, Wednesday, July 30

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: Very nice photo of the under-photographed Green Line, which runs mostly down the middle of the 105 freeway. Photo by Matthew Grant Anson, via his Flickr stream.

ART OF TRANSIT: Very nice photo of the under-photographed Green Line, which runs mostly down the middle of the 105 freeway. Photo by Matthew Grant Anson, via his Flickr stream.

Metro fare increase postponed, will take effect September 15th (Streetsblog LA)

The fare increases and changes approved by the Metro Board in May will begin on Sept. 15, a couple weeks behind the originally targeted date, reports Joe Linton. At that time, the regular fare will increase from $1.50 to $1.75 and also include two hours of free transfers. The cost of regular daily, weekly and monthly passes also increases — meaning that riders really need to consider whether it’s a better deal to pay per trip or still purchase a pass. Students who pay the discounted cash fare — which will not increase — don’t get the free transfer, according to a Metro staff report.

Senate tees up last-minute showdown on transpo funding (Streetsblog Network)

The Senate and the House continue to bicker over a short extension of the federal transportation funding bill. The House has a plan to keep it limping along until May, the Senate wants to shorten that time until December and get rid of some financial tricks — such as “pension smoothing” — that would keep the Highway Trust Fund from becoming an empty balloon.

Long story short: neither bill really tackles the main problem, which is that the federal gas tax — which hasn’t been raised since 1993 — doesn’t cover the nation’s transportation funding program anymore.

California high-speed rail project considering a tunnel under San Gabriel Mountains (Daily News) 

In its ongoing studies of the Palmdale-to-Burbank segment of the bullet train line, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will study a tunnel under the San Gabes in addition to a route that largely follows the 14 freeway. The tunnel would be a more direct shot but, presumably, would come at a higher cost. It currently takes Metrolink trains about two hours to travel between Union Station and Lancaster — that’s a two-hour train trip that never leaves Los Angeles County!

83-year-old good Samaritan scores rare victory in fight against City Hall (L.A. Times) 

Columnist Steve Lopez gets the bat squarely on the ball in a column that efficiently chronicles the difficulty in getting a curb painted red in a no parking zone and a certain major utility letting its sprinklers run all day in a drought before….just read it.

Op-Ed: is bicycling the new rude (Glendale News-Press)

Peter Rusch isn’t too thrilled with spandex-clad cycling groups that run stop signs, saying he doubts they would behave that way if behind the wheel of a car. No doubt there are some cyclists who flout the law. And that’s wrong. But pleeeeeeeease. There’s equally no doubt it would easy to write a column every day about motorists who blow through red lights, stop signs and who illegally nose their cars into crosswalks — and who far outnumber cyclists on the road.

MBTA adding wi-fi to commuter rail system (Metro)

Free wi-fi will be available on 14 commuter rail lines in the Greater Boston area, including some stations. A contractor is installing it for free — they hope to make money by getting people to pay $15 a month for premium wi-fi that would allow customers to stream video.

 

Transportation headlines, Monday, July 21: preparing for the ‘Century Crunch’

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! 

Photo: Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

ART OF TRANSIT: The clock tower that will soon be installed at the Arcadia station for the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Foothill Extension Construction Authority officials say the project that will extend the Gold Line 11.5 miles from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border is almost 75 percent complete. Photo: Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

Century Crunch could make journey to LAX worse (Daily Breeze)

Coverage of the closure this weekend of the intersection of Aviation and Century boulevards near LAX in order to demolish an old railroad bridge to make way for the Crenshaw/LAX Line. The closure begins at 9 p.m. Friday and is scheduled to last through 6 a.m. Monday. Excerpt:

“We anticipate there is going to be a lot of congestion in and about the airport,” said Dave Sotero, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “We just don’t want to see people missing their flights because they are affected by the extended time frames.”

For weeks, LAX and MTA officials have worked to spread the word, sending notices to the media to alert the public, to airlines and other transportation companies to warn their employees, and to hotels along Century Boulevard to alert their guests.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti even starred in a YouTube video, asking airport travelers to plan ahead.

“Because we planned ahead, Carmageddon never happened on the 405. So let’s plan ahead again,” Garcetti said. “Avoid the area if you do not need to be there and, if you must, allow for extra travel time and use public transit.”

The airport is expecting its usual heavy air traffic through the weekend and almost 93,000 vehicles pass through the Aviation/Century intersection on the average day — airport officials say it’s the busiest entrance and exit to the airport.

Please consider taking the Flyaway bus or public transit if traveling to or from the airport this weekend. If driving, the detour map is below and using Sepulveda Boulevard is one choice for avoiding Century Boulevard.

CrenshawDetourMap

Report to Metro: pay attention (L.A. Register)

Tough audit sparks reforms (ZevWeb)

The Register looks at an internal audit of the of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which is under contract by Metro to patrol the agency’s buses, trains and stations, and contract oversight by Metro. Excerpt from the Register:

“The results of the audit are disappointing,” said County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who sits on the Metro Board of Directors. “The Sheriff’s Department should have done a better job in meeting the requirements of our contract and MTA executive staff failed to manage the contract competently or effectively.”

The report noted some recent improvements, however.

“More citations have been written, the number of fare checks has increased, officer morale has generally increased, and plans to address staffing issues and other improvements are underway,“ the audit said.

Spokespeople for both Metro and LASD said the organizations agreed with most of the recommendations and said that actions were already underway to increase performance. As a result, there was a persistent decline in violent crime over the past year.

Serious crimes incidents are below 4 incidents per 1 million boardings, and the numbers have improved since last year, according to Metro spokesperson Marc Littman.

 

As the article on Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky’s website notes, “The audit comes as the sheriff’s Metro contract—by far the department’s largest—is up for renewal. The new contract will likely be worth more than $400 million over five years, the report said. The department currently is working under a $42 million six-month contract extension that expires on Dec. 31.”

Kicking the can down the road: a habit that is hard to kick (NPR)

Good piece that attempts to answer why Congress will only offer temporary fixes for the Highway Trust Fund and other budgetary matters. The answer: it’s hard to do anything decisive when there’s another big election looming.

Museum row losing tenant to Metro (L.A. Register) 

No new news here, but a reminder that the Architecture and Design Museum on Wilshire Boulevard has to be move to make way for construction of the Purple Line Extension’s Wilshire/Fairfax station. Museum officials are looking for a new location — with downtown Los Angeles one possibility. Meanwhile, the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday is scheduled to consider approving a $1.6-billion contract with Skanska, Traylor and Shea to build the project’s 3.9-mile first phase with new stations at Wilshire/La Brea, Wilshire/Fairfax and Wilshire/La Cienega.

 

Transportation headlines, Thursday, July 17

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! 

House passes interim fix for Highway Trust Fund (New York Times) 

The U.S. House voted on Tuesday for a short-term fix to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent and to avoid a massive cut in federal construction funding. Instead of relying on a gas tax increase (politically unpopular for the past 21 years), the House is relying on some budgetary maneuvers (“pension smoothing”) to keep the Fund going — and the Senate and President Obama are likely to go along with it. The fate of the President’s four-year, $302-billion transportation bill proposed this year remains unknown, but things aren’t looking good.

Jon Stewart and the Daily Show took on the Highway Trust Fund last night — as usual he offers a good (and funny) primer for those who don’t know much about the subject. Warning: mildly adult language. Meanwhile, the L.A. Times editorial page says that Congress should just bite the bullet and raise the gas tax.

Over at the Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, President Obama gets two Pinnochios for his repeated claim that 700,000 jobs are at risk if Congress doesn’t take action on the Highway Trust Fund. The Post says the number of jobs truly at risk is far lower and that it would be more accurate to say the Highway Trust Fund helps support 700,000 jobs.

And here’s our explanation of why all this matters to agencies such as Metro.

Halted Figueroa bike lane project riles cyclists (L.A. Times) 

A plan by the city of Los Angeles to install three miles of bike lanes to Figueroa through Highland Park has hit a bump-in-the-road in the form of Councilman Gil Cedillo, who says the lanes will impact traffic and slow emergency response times. Activists counter that the lanes will make Figueroa safer (reducing the number of emergencies) and will have little impact on vehicle travel times. Making the debate more interesting: Cedillo said that he supported the lanes during his campaign and has used campaign-style tactics to get more people to public meetings to help counter views of bike activists who don’t live in the 1st district.

Beverly Hills battles Metro over Purple Line Extension (Neon Tommy) 

The article provides a basic review of Beverly Hills’ legal fight against Metro over tunneling under part of the Beverly Hills High School campus. A Superior Court judge earlier this year ruled that Metro adequately studied the issue in the environmental documents for the project. The Beverly Hills Unified School District and the city of Beverly Hills have appealed.

Meet Seleta Reynolds, the new head of LADOT (Downtown News) 

A brief interview with the new general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation; Reynolds was hired by Mayor Eric Garcetti earlier this summer. Reynolds talks a little about the differences between L.A. and San Francisco, where she formerly worked on a number of active transportation projects. She has never lived in L.A., but accurately notes how the politics of transportation work here (or don’t work depending on your POV) — they’re divided up between a number of agencies and elected officials.

L.A. and S.F. dogfight over transport visions (Cal WatchDog.com)

The headline doesn’t really describe the post which briefly — but interestingly — makes some comparisons and contrasts between the two cities. The focus of the piece is on the “Great Streets” initiative in L.A. versus the difficulty of getting a bus rapid transit project completed on busy, and often congested, Van Ness Street in San Francisco. I thought this description of L.A. was worth excerpting:

Los Angeles, in other words, is relatively distinct among America’s largest cities. Rather than an industrial-age city planned out block by block, constrained by geography, contemporary L.A. is a post-modern patchwork — a veritable network of villages that lacks a single core where residents routinely cluster on foot.

 

Transportation headlines, Thursday, July 10

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: Nice colors in DTLA. As for the movie ad, I know who I'm rooting for. #ApesTogetherStrong

ART OF TRANSIT: Nice colors in DTLA. As for the movie ad, I know who I’m rooting for. #ApesTogetherStrong

Dueling highway funding plans moving ahead in Congress (Bloomberg) 

Both the House and Senate plans would shore up the Highway Trust Fund through next May; the Senate plan includes some changes to the tax code that could generate revenue for the plan. It doesn’t appear that any kind of long-term plan is on the horizon and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner said as much today. In other words, we can probably look forward to more “woe the withering Highway Trust Fund” stories next spring. Bon appetit!

More here on why the Highway Trust Fund is important to Metro and other transit agencies.

Voices of public transit systems (Not Of It) 

Nice post revealing the voices being train, station and public service announcements at some large transit systems and airports in the U.S. The post includes video snippets from various media about the voices.

And what about the voice you hear on Metro trains and buses? Stephen Tu, in Metro operations, answers:

The announcements are pre-recorded and automated based on vehicle progress. Back in 2004, as the article notes, there was a hodgepodge of automated and manual announcements, are some of our trains had the capability and others did not.

It mentions the Gold and Green Lines in 2004 and that is because those were the newest (at the time) Siemens P2000 vehicles. We did not have the Breda P2550’s (Gold Line stainless steel cars) until 2009. The old Nippon Sharyo (Blue Line) and Breda A650 (Red Line) were from the early 1990s and never had automated announcements, until Rail Fleet Services engineered an in-house automated system that queues announcements by distance.

There is literally a sensor that detects wheel revolutions to determine when to play “Next Stop” and “Now Arriving” station announcements. They are all now standardized with the same voice from a professional studio we send the script to. It’s the same voice you hear when you’re placed on hold on the Metro telephone network or PSA announcements in stations. However, this voice is not used on bus announcements — there is a different person for that.

However as you can see, while the voice is now standardized, each announcement package is slightly different because of the limitations/nuances each vehicle has.  For example, P2000 can only make an eight second announcement. So we have to be very quick in calling out stations and transfer connections, whereas we have much more time on our in-house system. The P2550s can only make a “Now Arriving” station announcement when the doors actually open at the station, which means we have replaced it with “This is… (South Pasadena Station)” because you are already there.

LACMA, Metro discussing new tower across from LACMA (L.A. Times) 

LACMA is exploring building a new high-rise adjacent to the Purple Line Extension’s future station entrance at Wilshire and Orange Grove. It might include galleries, condos and a hotel, according to museum officials. In a statement, Metro’s chief planner Martha Welborne said: “We are continuing to negotiate with the individual property owners to acquire or lease property needed for the Fairfax subway station, and we are also exploring, with the property owners, the possibility of a large mixed-use project above the station.”

Excerpt:

[LACMA Director Michael] Govan declined to say how tall the tower might be, admitting that any talk of high-rise development in the area might worry nearby residents who are already girding themselves for a decade of construction as the subway is extended west along Wilshire and LACMA builds the 410,000-square-foot Zumthor building.

The question of height, he said, “is where you get neighbors all charged up. So I don’t go out there and say I want the biggest, tallest skyscraper. But we know that density is the key to urban living and to the maximization of mass transit — and key to the environment. And so for all the right reasons, this is the right place” for a high-rise.

Big Blue Bus fixing the fancy stops that riders hated (Curbed LA)

The headline may be a little strong, but it looks like Big Blue Bus may be adjusting the new stop designs it recently rolled out to provide more comfortable seats and more shade at some stops. Curbed has renderings and photos. I was in SaMo over the weekend and it struck me that the shade shields (for lack of better term) would work best if either the sun, Earth or both stopped moving.

The California High-Speed Rail debate: kicking things off (The Atlantic) 

This is the first in a series of posts by James Fallow in which he will argue that California should — and needs to — build the bullet train as planned to secure a better economic future. In this post, Fallows takes a look at some historic infrastructure upgrades that he thinks proved to be good investments, including the Panama Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the interstate highway system and the U.S. aviation system.

I think there are a lot of people, including me, who agree the bullet train can do great things for the state. The skepticism tends to come from those (including me) who are troubled by the lack of a dedicated funding source that can cover the expense of what is currently estimated to be a $68-billion project for the L.A.-to-S.F. leg.

Transportation projects don’t need to take as long as they do (Atlantic CityLab) 

The post asks a perfectly good question but doesn’t really provide an answer about ways to speed up the really big transpo projects (the post includes some persuasive arguments about dealing with smaller but important projects such as bus routing).

As I tell folks often, one issue with big transit projects is the long ramp up time. It usually takes three to five years to complete the necessary environmental studies and another year in procurement to vet and select contractor. Construction, too, often has to be staggered for both logistical, safety and practical reasons, not to mention financial ones — for example, federal funds for construction are granted on a yearly basis and don’t all flow to agencies such as Metro at the beginning of construction.

Metro report explains potential impacts of Highway Trust Fund being further depleted

Above is a report prepared by Metro CEO Art Leahy and Metro staff for the agency’s Board of Directors. The short of it: Metro would eventually have to cut service if the federal Highway Trust Fund continues to wither.

The bigger issue is this: Congress is due this year to approve a long-term transportation funding bill to replace the one that expires in 2014. The new bill needs to tackle an ongoing issue: the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is funded by the federal gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993 (it’s 18.3 cents per gallon). Vehicles are more fuel efficient and people aren’t driving as much or using as much gas — thus, the HTF is struggling to keep up with expenses that have risen over time.

One of those expenses is helping supply funds to transit agencies across the country for items such as maintenance and construction projects. Local agencies tend to spend most of their funds on providing daily service and, thus, need the help of state and federal government for big expenses.

How to save the Highway Trust Fund from eventually going broke — it’s nowhere near that, yet — has been a source of considerable discussion in Washington D.C. for many years now. One idea that is constantly batted around is imposing a vehicle mileage tax that would tax motorists based on how many miles they drive instead of by the gallon.

But nothing has happened. Politics in D.C. are tough and the two-year election cycle in the House of Representatives makes things tougher. Hopefully this is just another threat to transportation funding that never comes to pass. Time will tell.

Leg update: Highway Trust Fund still going broke but three-position bike racks bill in good shape

Two pieces of legislative news below from Metro CEO Art Leahy and the agency’s government relations team.

The first is bad news. Due to Congress’ inability to pass a long-range transportation funding bill, the Highway Trust Fund is going broke and states on average could lose 28 percent of federal funding if nothing is done. Blah. If this keeps up, we’ll have more soon on potential impacts to Metro.

In case you’re wondering about a solution: Congress needs to either raise the federal gas tax (it hasn’t been increased in two decades) or find other revenues to keep the Highway Trust Fund in the black.

The second is good news: state legislation that would allow bike racks that could hold three bikes on 40-foot buses is moving along nicely.

The update:

U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Planned Cuts In Highway Trust Fund Payments

As shared in a Legislative Alert yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office is estimating that it will take over $8 billion in additional revenues to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund solvent through December 31, 2014.

Earlier today, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx issued letters to major transportation stakeholders around the nation outlining how the U.S. Department of Transportation anticipates Highway Trust Fund payments will be distributed if Congress does not act to make the fund solvent in the coming weeks.

Secretary Foxx stated that the Federal Highway Administration will begin implementing cash management procedures starting August 1, 2014. No specific date has yet been set to implement cash management procedures for the Mass Transit Account.

States will receive their first notice of available funds on August 11, 2014 and thereafter every two weeks as the federal gas tax receipts are deposited into the Highway Trust Fund.

According to Secretary Foxx, “on average, states will see a 28 percent drop in federal transportation dollars. Depending on how they manage the funds, each state will feel the effects differently, but everyone will feel the impact sooner or later.”

To read the correspondence from Secretary Foxx on the federal Highway Trust Fund please click here. We are currently compiling a document that will be shared with all Board members, that includes an assessment of what a slowdown in federal transportation funds would mean for our agency.
State Legislative Update

AB 2707 (Chau) – Three Position Bike Racks
Yesterday the Assembly approved AB 2707, Metro’s sponsored bill, which would allow three position bike racks to be installed on our 40’ buses, passed the Senate floor unanimously 36 to 0. The bill now heads back to the Assembly floor for concurrence vote.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, June 10

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! 

There are many reasons that the Los Angeles Kings are up three games to none over the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals. One big reason is that the Rangers don’t know how to defensively cover the most dangerous part of the ice in terms of allowing opponents to take shots. Top photo is Jeff Carter’s first goal in last night’s game and the bottom photo is Justin Williams taking the overtime winner in Game 1. Notice any similarities?!!! Game Four is Wednesday night in New York and Game Five, if necessary, Friday afternoon at Staples Center, located conveniently near the Pico Station served by the Blue Line and Expo Line and a pleasant stroll from the Red/Purple Line station at 7th/Metro Center.

House rejects cuts to Amtrak (The Hill)

Perhaps the source of the cuts — an outgoing Georgia politician — were the issue. Still pretty amazing, given the un-love that some Congress members have heaped on Amtrak in the past.

Why Chicago’s botched privatization of parking meters is bad for the environment (Next City) 

A while back, Chicago leased its parking meters to a private firm for $1 billion for 75 years. The idea was that the city would get an instant cash shot-in-the-arm in exchange for the revenue stream from its meters. The deal has had its critics and this article certainly takes a dim view of it — including examples of how the deal is getting in the way of other goals. Example: installing bus lanes is now more difficult as it’s more difficult to remove meters.

Eric Garcetti endorses funding mass transit with cap-and-trade revenues (L.A. Times)

Coverage of the media event held at Metro’s Division 13 last week about pending state legislation to use revenue from California’s cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions to help fund mass transit. In related news, the New York Time’s Thomas Friedman published an interesting interview with President Obama about climate change, with the president saying that putting “a price on carbon” is crucially important.

More on the Westwood Boulevard bike lane issue (Biking in LA)

Some interesting background on the bike lanes that the city of Los Angeles is not going to install of Westwood Boulevard. I mention it here because two future Metro Rail projects will have stations on the street: the Expo Line will stop just south of the Westside Pavilion and the Purple Line Extension will stop at Wilshire and Westwood. Bike connections from both stations could help with first mile/last mile issues, I suppose.

No longer for punks, skateboards cater to yuppie commuters (Wall Street Journal) 

Speaking of first mile/last mile…here is how a few people are solving the problem — by riding. The private sector is responding with electrified skateboards to tackle hills, skateboards with fat tires to handle bumpy and rocky city pavement and other contraptions that are skateboard-like. I don’t see a ton of commuters on skateboards but I’ve definitely see more skateboards in bike lanes than in the past.

 

Transportation headlines, Thursday, June 5

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

Congress detours from common sense on the Highway Trust Fund (Washington Post) 

The editorial takes a dim view of lack of efforts to keep the Fund funded. Excerpt:

BOTH PARTIES want to do nothing but squabble before this year’s election. Not much will stop them — except, perhaps, this dose of reality: If political point-scoring is all they accomplish over the next several weeks, work on the nation’s roads, bridges and rails will come to a halt.

The federal Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money this summer. Without a fix, federally backed transportation projects all over the country — not just highways — would be in danger of severe disruption or cancellation. That translates into high costs now to stop and restart projects once funding comes through, higher costs in the future as contractors build the risk of funding holdups into their prices, downward pressure on construction jobs and unnecessary delay for anyone who uses the infrastructure. Failing to shore up the fund in time would be plain legislative malfeasance.

The Post thinks two obvious funding sources would be a higher federal gas tax or a vehicle mileage fee. The current federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon and hasn’t been raised since 1993.

America’s invisible trolley system (Newsweek) 

A look at some of the many light rail projects that have been proposed across the U.S. but never built for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most interesting paragraph in the article:

Compared with Europeans, Ross says, ”Americans have much greater interest in sorting out different people of different incomes into different neighborhoods.” When it comes to mass transit, he says, “the classic argument is that it’s gonna bring crime. The fashionable one right now is that it will gentrify our neighborhood and make poor people suffer. I’ve seen people make both of these arguments in the same paragraph.”

San Francisco transit workers call in sick for a third day (San Francisco Chronicle) 

About 70 percent of the San Francisco Muni’s bus and rail service was running Wednesday — an improvement over the previous two days. Union workers rejected a new contract last Friday that they said would result in a pay cut. At this time, the union isn’t allowed to strike but members are allowed to call in sick.

 

Transportation headlines, Thursday, April 24

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! 

The people mover at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Photo by David Wilson, via Flickr creative commons.

ART OF TRANSIT: The people mover at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Photo by David Wilson, via Flickr creative commons.

Freeway toll lanes seem to speed things along, somewhat (L.A. Times) 

Here’s the top of the story, which provides a good summary of the preliminary analysis of the ExpressLanes that was released this week:

The first comprehensive analysis of Los Angeles County’s experimental toll lanes indicates the pay-to-drive routes made some rush-hour commutes faster and less painful, both in the toll lanes and in the free lanes, but made little to no difference for many drivers battling morning traffic.

According to an independent report prepared for federal transportation officials, the toll lanes along the 110 and 10 freeways didn’t significantly change overall traffic speeds during peak periods for drivers using either the tollway or the general lanes.

But for individual drivers on the freeways at certain times, the experimental lanes may have made a significant difference: Drivers heading west on the 10 Freeway toll lanes at 7:30 a.m. may have driven up to 18 mph faster than they could have before the tollway opened, the report said. But on the northbound 110 Freeway at 8 a.m., commuters in the free lanes crept toward downtown Los Angeles at 21 mph, the same speed as before the lanes opened.

The Metro Board is scheduled to today to consider whether extending operation of the ExpressLanes beyond January 2015.

In related news, the Los Angeles Newspaper Group has an editorial saying it’s too soon to continue the ExpressLanes. Excerpt:

As it is now, the MTA has authority to run toll programs along the two freeways through January 2015. There’s a bill in the Legislature that would extend that authority and open the possibility of proposing more toll roads.

The legislation by California Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, could be a game changer for the MTA, which has previously floated the idea of a toll lane on the 405 Freeway.

It’s going before some key legislative committees next week, so there’s a push by MTA staffers to get the board to back an extension. An affirmative vote would bolster the bill, SB 1298, which has already gained the support of the board.

Also, RAND’s Martin Wachs (a senior researcher) and UCLA’s Brian Taylor (Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies) have an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Register arguing that the Metro Board should make the ExpressLanes permanent. Excerpt:

HOT lanes carry more people with less delay than other lanes, and can be added at lower cost and disruption than most alternatives. An independent consultant to the Federal Highway Administration issued a report last week showing that these lanes have improved transit service and given drivers more choices. Unlike other new highway lanes, they also raise needed revenues for transit improvements from drivers voluntarily paying tolls. Most importantly, HOT lanes increase the choices available to travelers, who can drive in regular lanes for free, pay for faster and more reliable driving during rush hours, opt for the improved express bus service financed by the tolls, or join new toll-subsidized van pools.

The FHWA study found that during the short demonstration period, in addition to those already having them, nearly 260,000 new drivers were issued transponders. While average driving speeds changed only slightly in both the express lanes and general lanes during the peak hours, travel time reliability was a principal benefit for HOT lane users.

Bait bikes ready to nab S.F. bike thieves (SFist) 

Gotta love this:

The bike theft unit of the San Francisco police department took to Craigslist on Tuesday with a post titled, “We Have Our Bait Bikes Out.” Complete with a snazzy decal of a creepy cycling skeleton, the ad warns of GPS-laden bikes that the cops will track. And if you sell a stolen bike, the po-po threaten to toss you in jail and plaster your face “all over social media.” 

The SFPD isn’t saying how many bikes actually have GPS devices installed in them. Nor does it say if clever thieves can de-activate or destroy the GPS. The idea is to instill a kernel of doubt in those who steal.

Off the bus, but pressing on (USDOT Fast Lane blog) 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says that President Obama will soon release a detailed proposal for a multiyear federal transportation spending bill. The current bill expires this year and Congress hasn’t yet agreed on the next one. Metro is certainly watching this one closely, hoping the bill includes both a loan and bond program that are key to the America Fast Forward program to expand federal funding for transportation projects.

Security cameras help transit agencies fight crime (Transit Wire) 

A short and unskeptical article but with some interesting info about efforts to use cameras to deter crime or enforce rules in both Portland and Chicago.

 

Both parts of America Fast Forward initiative are in President Obama’s proposal for four-year transportation bill!

Earlier today in Minnesota, President Obama announced his proposal for a four-year transportation spending bill that would include both parts of Metro’s America Fast Forward initiative. If Congress was to vote the bill into law — and that’s a big ‘if’ — that could be a boon to Metro and other transit agencies around the nation that would have new financial tools to use when building big, pricey transportation projects.

Photo: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Photo: Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

America Fast Forward includes two components. The first is a federally-backed loan program called TIFIA that is designed to give agencies access to loans with interest rates lower than can be found on the open market.

The second part is a bond program described in the graphic below. In a nutshell: those who invest in transportation bonds receive federal tax credits instead of interest, a good way for investors to lower their tax burden and a good way for transportation agencies to save on interest costs.

america-fast-forward-bonds

The hope at Metro is to potentially use a combination of TIFIA loans, America Fast Forward bonds, some federal New Starts money (New Starts is a grant program in which the federal government matches local funds to help build big projects) and Measure R tax revenues to accelerate transit projects — in particular the second- and third-decade Measure R projects. Some of those projects: an extension of the Eastside Gold Line, the Airport Metro Connector, the South Bay Green Line Extension and the second and third phases of the Purple Line Extension.

Of course, it should be noted that President Obama’s bill proposal is just that — a proposal.  Transportation bills are designed to guide spending over several years but they have been contentious in Congress in recent years. A four-year bill that expired in 2009 was temporarily extended more than 10 times before Congress in 2012 voted to approve a new two-year bill, which expires at the end of September.

So we’ll see — getting bills approved by Congress is never an easy task. Nonetheless, the fact that President Obama has included both parts of America Fast Forward into his proposal is good news for Metro and officials I spoke with here today expressed their extreme gratitude for the President’s recognition of the program.

Click here to see the entire bill proposal on the White House website.