Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 19

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! 

L.A. should hike sales tax to pay for street repair, report says (L.A. Times) 

Two city of Los Angeles officials — the Chief Administrative Officer and the Chief Legislative Analyst — recommend asking voters in November to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for the repair of streets and sidewalks. The City Council will have to decide by July whether to put the tax hike to voters. If so, two-thirds of voters in November would be needed to increase the city’s sales tax, which is currently nine percent.

The office of Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Times that the mayor had not decided whether to support the tax or note. “Mayor Garcetti is committed to improving L.A.’s infrastructure and will continue assessing a range of options to determine the best way forward,” [a spokesman] said in an email. Garcetti, of course, also serves on the Metro Board of Directors and will chair the Board beginning July 1.

The issue has possible implications for Metro, where staff continue to explore the possibility of going to county voters in 2016 to ask them to either extend the Measure R sales tax increase beyond 2039 or possibly ask for a new tax to fund new projects. Voters in L.A. were among the largest supporters of Measure R. How would they respond to the possibility of sales tax issues appearing on their ballots in both ’14 and ’16? Stay tuned!

Metro fare change is needed to keep transit options rolling (Daily News)

The opinion piece by Metro CEO Art Leahy explains the need for the fare increase proposal by Metro staff. Excerpt:

In two years, Metro faces a $37 million operating deficit that will balloon to $225 million in 10 years. We’re squeezing every penny we can from local sales taxes and tapping dwindling operating assistance from state and federal coffers to make up the balance between what our riders pay and the cost of delivering service.

We cut overhead, eliminated non-contract jobs, beefed up efforts to curb fare evasion, and boosted productivity — but it doesn’t pencil out. And, no, we can’t legally siphon monies from voter approved Measure R street and highway projects or stop the rail program.

Without additional revenue, the momentum in delivering new transit and weaning solo drivers from behind the wheel will come to a screeching halt. Bus service would be cut and we couldn’t open new rail lines under construction.

Fare changes are necessary. Staff has proposed two options to gradually get us to a point in six years where riders would cover one third of our operating costs. Again, it’s not just about raising fares. Staff also is proposing free transfers within a 90 minute period instead of charging double for transfers as is now the case. This will encourage customers to more fully use their investment in the growing transit system.

 

There is a public hearing on the fare increases at 9:30 a.m.,  Saturday, March 29 in the board room at Metro headquarters that is adjacent to Union Station. More info on the increase proposals can be found on the fare change page on metro.net.

Anatomy of a near miss (Peninsula Moves, the Caltrain blog) 

The video is scary but it’s refreshing to see a government agency post it as a way to potentially save lives. In this case, the man went around a barrier that was down and almost gets hit by an express train on the San Francisco Peninsula.

First toll lanes in Contra Costa County to be installed along 680 freeway (Contra Costa Times) 

Twenty three miles of ExpressLanes will be up and running in 2016 in the East Bay. Tolls collected will help pay for an eventual 500 miles of similar lanes throughout the Bay Area. Officials are billing the lanes as a sort of “congestion insurance” for motorists — something they can pay to use when they positively, absolutely have to be somewhere on time.

 

 

 

Roundup of Thursday’s Metro Board of Directors meeting

A few items of interest tackled by the Metro Board at today’s monthly meeting:

•The Board approved Item 16 to provide $1.3 million for improvements to the Branford Street railroad crossing of Metrolink tracks in Los Angeles in the northeast San Fernando Valley. Improvements include pedestrian gates, roadway widening and additional warning signals.

•The Board approved Item 55 to rename the Blue Line’s Grand Station to Grand/L.A. Trade Tech and the Expo Line’s 23rd Street Station to 23rd St/L.A. Trade Tech. The Board also approved Item 56 to rename the Exposition/La Brea station to the Exposition/La Brea Ethel Bradley Station.

•The Board approved Item 58, a motion that asks Metro to implement an online database of previous Board of Director actions. At present, searching for motions and past actions is a crapshoot. The motion also asks for linking audio from Board meetings to reports — something that would, I suspect, be very useful to anyone who cares or is interested in actions taken by the Board of an agency with a multi-billion dollar annual budget.

•The Board approved Item 67, asking the Board to oppose AB 1941, which would add two members to the Metro Board to be appointed by the Assembly Speaker and the Senate Rules Committee, respectively. I included some background and thoughts on this legislation in a recent headlines — see the last item in this post.
•The Board approved Item 18.1, a motion asking Caltrans to report on difficulties that have emerged in the transfer of park-n-ride lots at Metro Rail stations from Caltrans to Metro. The motion begins: “Item No. 18 and Director Najarian’s accompanying Motion underscore the importance of Metro’s increasingly complex relationship with Caltrans.” If I am reading the remainder of the motion correctly, I think “complex” is a perhaps one way of saying “difficult,” at least on this issue.

•The Board approved Item 70, a motion asking Metro to seek ways to improve lighting and pedestrian access to/from the Universal City over-flow parking lot for the Red Line station.

Item 9, a motion to eliminate the monthly maintenance fee for ExpressLanes accounts that infrequently use the lanes and substitute a flat $1 fee on all accounts, was held and will be considered by the Board in April.

Agenda for Thursday’s Metro Board meeting: it’s going to be a long one, folks

UPDATE: The gavel has dropped on the meeting and it’s now underway.

This is a big meeting, folks, with tons of interestingness (relatively speaking) and a lot of important items. For those attending and media: might be a good idea to have a few Red Bulls along with your coffee for breakfast.

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Three of the tall ones, please!

You can also view the agenda with hyperlinks on metro.net or view or download it as a pdf. The meeting is, as always, open to the public and begins at 9:30 a.m. at Metro headquarters adjacent to Los Angeles Union Station. To listen to the meeting on the phone, please call 213-922-6045.

Some of the more interesting items on the agenda:

•Item 76, asking the Board to set a public hearing on March 29 to review two fare restructuring proposals released by Metro staff on Friday. Important to note: THE BOARD IS ONLY CONSIDERING SETTING A PUBLIC HEARING; THEY ARE NOT VOTING ON THE FARE CHANGES. At this point, the Board is scheduled to vote on the changes at its meeting on May 22. Source post including charts and staff report.

•Item 15, asking the Board to narrow the list of options to four for the Airport Metro Connector, the project that seeks to connect Metro Rail to the airport terminals via a combination of light rail and people mover. A motion by Board Members Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas seeks to restore two options that Metro staff wanted to eliminate that would build light rail directly to the airport terminals. Staff report and earlier Source post with the four proposals favored by Metro staff and another Source post on the Knabe-Ridley-Thomas motion.

•Item 6, a motion by Board Members Paul Krekorian and Zev Yaroslavsky directing Metro to investigate adding gates or partial gates to the Orange Line to reduce fare evasion. Motion and Source post with staff report on two December crackdowns on fare evasion on the Orange Line.

•Item 67, asking the Board to approve the development of two options for ballot measures to take to voters in 2016 to accelerate existing Measure R projects — either an extension of Measure R or a new sales tax, which may also include new projects. Staff report and earlier Source post.

•Item 39, establishing a $33.4-million budget to refurbish Blue Line stations, including new canopies. Staff report.

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The Source’s big, honkin’ 2013 roundup post has landed; take it, it’s yours

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UPDATE TUESDAY, 12:55 p.m.: I added a few items concerning Metro’s bike program that are worth putting on the record! :) 

Above is the very nice rainbow seen Thursday afternoon over East Los Angeles and County-USC Medical Center. Will there be a rainbow over Metro in 2014? Stay tuned for that, folks.

As for 2013, here are some of the highlights:

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Metro debuted a new “under construction” map in June, which proceeded to skip happily across the internet. Metro currently has 87 miles of rail lines and that number will pass 100 once the projects shown on the map are completed.

•In February, the ExpressLanes projected opened on the 10 freeway between downtown Los Angeles and the 605 freeway, joining the lanes that had opened on the 110 in Nov. 2012.

Perhaps the big news on the ExpressLanes front was the Metro Board of Director’s decision last spring to suspend account maintenance fees. Although the fees applied to relatively few existing customers at the time, there seemed to be a positive reaction from the public — by late summer more than 200,000 transponders had been issued, twice the number expected before the lanes opened on the 10 and 110.

Next year will be a big one for the ExpressLanes as the Metro Board is scheduled to decide whether to continue the pilot program or not.

In a pronounced nod to transit etiquette, Metro introduced platform decals in February in an effort to get passengers boarding trains to stand aside in order to allow passengers to disembark from the train.

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The reaction by many Metro customers: that’s nice but what about decals to show people to stand on the right on escalators?

•It was a big year for one of those Metro Rail projects, with the Metro Board of Directors approving a $1.27-billion contract in June to for the final design and construction of the 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX Line light rail line. Earlier in the year, the Board — in a deal brokered by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — had decided to add two optional stations to the project — one serving Leimert Park and the other at Hindry Avenue to serve nearby Westchester.

•The second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension both are about halfway complete with work proceeding smoothly on both of the Measure R-funded projects.

Track work near Overland Avenue earlier this fall. Photo by Expo Line Construction Authority.

Track work near Overland Avenue earlier this fall. Photo by Expo Line Construction Authority.

Work crews working on the bridge over Palm Drive in Azusa. Photo: Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

Work crews working on the bridge over Palm Drive in Azusa. Photo: Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

•Meanwhile, utility relocation and other exploratory work continued in advanced of construction on the Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension subway.

Metro contractors in October looking for tiebacks -- anchors that help support building foundations.

Metro contractors in October looking for tiebacks — anchors that help support building foundations.

•Early in the year, the Board approved a contract to provide cell phone service in underground stations. The contract was recently signed and work will soon begin; complete installation is expected to take 24 months.

•In March, a new ‘share the road’ poster debuted and was widely praised by the cycling community. A T-shirt with the design on it is available in the new Metro store that opened in December.

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Metro released draft alternatives for the Los Angeles Union Station master plan in May. In October, the Metro Board approved going forward with a concept that would construct a greatly expanded east-west passenger concourse while relocating the bus plaza to a north-south configuration closer to Alameda Street that would also consolidate many of the bus stops around Union Station. The final master plan is scheduled to be considered by the board in the latter half of 2014.

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Zipcars finally landed at Union Station in March.

Gate latching finally got underway in June, beginning with the Red/Purple Line. By year’s end, five Gold Line and five Blue Line stations were also latched. Gates on the Green Line will be latched in early 2014.

More frequent late night service was added to the Expo, Gold and Orange lines in June.

•Los Angeles got a new mayor on July 1, meaning the Metro Board also got a new member — Mayor Eric Garcetti. He subsequently announced his three appointees to the Board: Councilman Mike Bonin, Councilman Paul Krekorian, and Jackie Dupont-Walker.

•The 2014 Metro Call for Projects (CFP) grant cycle awarded approximately $199 million to highway, transit, and active transportation projects across Los Angeles County. A record 43 applications were submitted for bike projects and about $27 million was awarded to 17 of them in L.A. County and the following cities: Los Angeles, Redondo Beach, Burbank, Pico Rivera, Culver City, Calabasas, Whittier, Long Beach, Rosemead, La Verne, Arcadia, Lawndale, Temple City, Santa Monica and El Monte.

•In October, in an introductory video for the annual Mobility 21 conference, Mayor Garcetti said that another transportation ballot measure is possible in Los Angeles County and that connecting Los Angeles International Airport to Metro Rail is among his highest priorities.

•In July, Metro released its review of a Beverly Hills Unified School District consultant memo that challenged the agency’s rationale for choosing the Constellation site for the Purple Line Extension ’s Century City station. The gist of it: Metro defended its prior work that determined that Santa Monica Boulevard was an inappropriate location for a subway station due to the location of active earthquake faults.

In the meantime, lawsuits by the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District against Metro and the Federal Transit Administration challenging the project’s environmental studies continue to proceed through the courts.

•Rail cars with a new exterior design debuted in August on the Blue and Expo lines.

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•Metro held a media event in September in hopes of stopping a rash of suicides along the Blue Line over the past couple of years. Signs were also installed along the Metro Rail system with information on where people could get suicide crisis help.

•In October, the Board approved 40 percent of the funds generated from the ExpressLanes project to be invested in active transportation projects within three-miles of the project area. The projected $16 to $19 million will help to improve transportation options, air quality, congestion reduction, and improved access for all users.

•Metro staff this fall issued a report that refined the alternatives for the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor project. They are: peak hour bus lanes along the curb of Van Nuys Boulevard, a bus lane in the center of Van Nuys Boulevard, a low-floor light rail line in the middle of Van Nuys Boulevard and a light rail line that would require passenger platforms in the middle of Van Nuys Boulevard. The draft environmental study for the project is expected to be complete in 2014.

•In September, the Metro Board approved spending $2 million annually for events similar to CicLAvia throughout Los Angeles County. The funds will be available beginning next year on a competitive basis.

•The I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project managed to open several components of the project this year, including a 1.7-mile segment of the new northbound carpool lane, the new Wilshire flyover ramps and the new northbound off-ramp to Sunset Boulevard – just this past week — the new Mulholland Bridge, the direct descendent of Carmageddon I and II.

The new eastbound Wilshire to northbound 405 flyover on-ramp. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

The new eastbound Wilshire to northbound 405 flyover on-ramp. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

The new Mulholland Bridge. Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

The new Mulholland Bridge. Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

•In November, a Metro Board committee discussed the need for fare restructuring, which is expected to be formally proposed and considered in the first half of 2014. Among options that agency staff discussed are unlimited rides on a single fare for a certain time period (for example, an hour or 90 minutes), different fares for peak and off-peak hours and a simplified zone structure and/or offering flat fares for zoned buses.

•In December, a connection was built linking the newly renovated El Monte Station and the popular Rio Hondo Bicycle Path, making it far more easier for walkers and cyclists to reach one of Metro’s primary transit hubs.

And that’s pretty much the highlights as the sun sets on 2013 — please leave a comment if I left anything significant out.

A profound thank you to everyone for reading, riding and writing us with your questions, concerns and comments this past year. After our usual holiday breather, we’re looking forward to explaining what YOUR government is doing in 2014.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year,

Steve

A lovely November evening as seen from the Metro mothership. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

A lovely November evening as seen from the Metro mothership. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Metro Live call-in show set for Thursday, Oct. 17 on TV and streaming on the web

Here’s an opportunity to offer your opinions and ask questions of Metro officials. Metro will host a one-hour call-in TV show on Thursday, Oct. 17 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Called Metro Live, the show also will stream on the web at citytv.org.

Discuss Metro’s on-going and future street and highway projects with new Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois — Councilmember for the city of Lakewood — and Doug Failing, Metro Executive Director of Highway Projects.

The show will focus on Metro’s multi-pronged approach to battling traffic congestion — specifically as it pertains to major street and highway projects it is funding in partnership with Caltrans (the California Department of Transportation).

Metro Live will be accepting advance questions from the web but they must include a name and city location. Send questions to livechat@metro.net.

Metro oversees one of the largest bus and rail networks in the nation. But it also oversees three half cent sales taxes that provide funding for streets and highways. With this funding, the highway program is tackling some of the region’s thorniest traffic problems.

Viewers are invited to call in questions about on-going construction, like the I-405 and the I-5 widening, gridlock, potholes and efforts to better manage traffic flow between major streets and freeways.

Find out what projects are quickly headed for completion. (And which aren’t.) Learn why the modernization of goods movement from the ports is essential to our health and our pocketbooks as it creates millions of jobs locally and elsewhere. Ask questions about the ExpressLanes project on the I-110 and I-10 freeways and find out why tollways could be part of future highway construction and funding plans … and which highways might make sense.

Metro Live will air on Santa Monica City TV 16 and L.A. County TV 36 and will stream live on the web at citytv.org. Metro Live is co-produced by Metro and Santa Monica CityTV.

Metro releases latest report with preliminary data on ExpressLanes’ performance on 10 and 110 freeways

ExpressLanes Performance Update-Prelim Report, July 2013

The Metro ExpressLanes pilot project publicly released its second performance report Monday morning, offering a statistical look at how the project is faring on the 10 and 110 freeways. This is a follow-up to the first report, released in March.

I’ll offer the same caveat we did in March: Metro and Caltrans officials stress that the data is preliminary and subject to change. The U.S. Department of Transportation has hired the Battelle Memorial Institute, a private nonprofit research firm, to conduct a full and thorough evaluation of the ExpressLanes and their overall effectiveness after they’ve been opened at least one year.

That independent evaluation won’t be issued until mid-2014. In the meantime, Metro will be releasing preliminary performance reports such as the one below in order to provide everyone a general idea of how the ExpressLanes are doing.

A few highlights from the new Metro report:

•In April, the average speed in the ExpressLanes on the 10 freeway was 64 mph during the weekday morning peak commute between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. The average speed in the ExpressLanes on the 110 freeway was 65 mph.

•In April, the average speed of the general lanes on the 110 was 48.3 mph during the same morning peak commute. In April 2012 before the ExpressLanes opened, the average speed was 48.4 mph. The average speed of the general lanes on the 10 freeway was 51.6 mph between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m.; the average speed for the general lanes before the ExpressLanes opened is still being evaluated.

•Average work week trips were 57,256 on the 110 ExpressLanes in late April, exceeding the average volume of about 54,000 trips before the ExpressLanes opened. On the 10, the average work week trips were 24,613 at the end of April. That’s 88 percent below the pre-opening average volume of 28,000 but Metro expects the number of trips in the ExpressLanes to continue rising and exceed the pre-opening volumes sometime later this year.

•On the 110, 59 percent of those using the ExpressLanes are carpoolers and 41 percent are solo drivers. On the 10, users are 57 percent carpoolers and 43 percent solo drivers.

•There were 152,787 FasTrak transponders issued through the end of April.  As of June, the number has grown to 180,901. Some of those transponders are being used in multiple vehicles.

•Account holders by house income bracket are evenly distributed: 8.5 percent make less than $35,000, 19.9 percent make $35,000 to $49,000, 35.6 percent make $50,000 to $74,999, 21.3 percent make $75,000 to $99,000, 12.2 percent make $100,000 to $149,999 and 2.4 percent make over $150,000. In other words, it’s pretty much a bell curve and suggests the notion that the ExpressLanes are “Lexus Lanes” — i.e. only used by those with very high incomes — is not correct.

•Transit ridership on the bus routes using the 110 freeway was 14,137 boardings in April 2013. In April 2012– it was 12,920. In addition, there have been 58 new vanpools formed to use both corridors.

For those interested in getting a transponder in order to use the ExpressLanes, please click here. Through Labor Day, tolls during non-peak hours have been lowered to as low as 15 cents per mile, 10 cents lower than the usual base toll of 25 cents per mile.

Any thoughts on the ExpressLanes, Source readers? Please feel free to comment — and please keep comments brief and to the point so that other readers will actually read them!

Detours on I-10 ExpressLanes due to overturned big rig

Overturned big rig blocking ExpressLanes on I-10. Photo: Metro

Overturned big rig blocking ExpressLanes on I-10. Photo: Metro

The I-10 ExpressLanes near the I-5 interchange has been blocked by an overturned big rig. The California Highway Patrol expects to clear this incident and resume normal operations around 4:30 p.m.

The Silver Line, 485 and 487/489 are currently detouring via a combination of local streets and I-10 general purpose lanes. Customers at LAC+USC Med Center or Cal State LA should board detoured buses on the upper street level. Metro supervisors have been dispatched to these stations to assist patrons. Silver Line customers along the I-110 ExpressLanes portion may experience residual delays as a result of the incident.

Customers are encouraged to consider using alternate service: Bus Line 70, 71 serve LAC+USC Med Center, Line 71 and Metrolink San Bernardino Line serve CSULA.

Those wishing to use the I-10 ExpressLanes this afternoon can enter at the I-710 interchange. However, the ExpressLanes entrance at Alameda is closed until the incident is cleared.

Metro extends period to pay ExpressLanes violations

Metro has become aware of an issue impacting those who receive violation notices for the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways: some people are receiving the notices in the mail very close to the due date. Metro is also aware that many people don’t open their mail right away — by the time they do, the notices are due.

As a result, Metro is extending the time when payment (without penalties) is due to 14 days. Example: Let’s say you were traveling in the ExpressLanes without a transponder today and are cited. The notice takes three to six days to be mailed. If it’s mailed on June 11, you would have until June 25 to pay it, either online, over the phone (call 511 and say “ExpressLanes”), at an ExpressLanes customer service center (see below) or by U.S. mail (see instructions on the violation notice).

Harbor Gateway FasTrak Walk In Center
500 West 190th Street, Gardena, CA 90248

Hours: Monday-Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday 9am-1pm

El Monte FasTrak Walk In Center
3501 Santa Anita Avenue, El Monte, CA 91731

Hours: Monday-Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday 9am-1pm

Reminder: why Election Day matters in Los Angeles if you care about transportation

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Click above to find your polling place.

As you may have heard, there’s a runoff Tuesday in Los Angeles to elect the next mayor of the second-largest city in the nation — a city with about 3.8 million inhabitants and some well-known transportation challenges.

I ran the following post on March 4, the day before the primary election in Los Angeles. I’m running it again today as a reminder to vote in tomorrow’s mayoral election between Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel because whichever succeeds Antonio Villaraigosa will likely have a hand in many important transportation decisions, including project acceleration, the future of congestion pricing projects, the construction of five rail projects and possible changes in Metro’s fare structure in the future.

Look up your polling place here.

Metro is a county agency and is overseen by a 13 member Board of Directors who serve as the deciders on most significant issues. The Mayor of Los Angeles gets a seat on that board and gets to fill three other seats with his appointees.

A majority of the Metro Board — i.e. seven votes — is required to approve most items. Four of those seven votes are controlled by the Los Angeles mayor. That means that the mayor controls more than half the votes needed to approve items that have impacts across Los Angeles County and the region.

Here are some items that are likely to confront the Metro Board in the next four or so years, meaning they’re items likely to confront the lucky soul (if luck is the right word) who becomes the next mayor of the City of Angels and/or Parking Lots:

•There is the not-so-tiny issue of whether to accelerate the building of Measure R projects and, if so, how best to pay for it and which transit and road projects are included. The next mayor may also choose to use their bully pulpit to persuade Congress to adopt the full America Fast Forward program, which would greatly expand funding for transportation projects.

•Although Metro CEO Art Leahy has already said there will be no changes to Metro’s fares in the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, he also said it’s an issue that will likely have to be revisited sooner rather than later in order to help Metro keep up with its expenses.

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