Transportation headlines, Tuesday, August 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost in America (New York Times)

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

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

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

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

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, July 30

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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’

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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

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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

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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.