Officials discuss motion seeking to improve Orange Line at media event in NoHo

Three Metro Board Members and other elected officials, activists and business leaders held a media event on Friday morning at the NoHo Orange Line station to discuss the Board’s passage Thursday of a motion calling for feasibility studies of improving the Orange Line and potentially connecting it to Burbank, Glendale and the Gold Line in Pasadena.

A video with some nuggets from the media event is above. Sorry about the shaky camera — I left a key piece of my tripod at home :(

I’ve had several people ask why is this an issue now and the answer is twofold:

Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, who represents Van Nuys and the surrounding area, wrote a bill reversing a 1991 bill that banned any kind of rail project on the old Southern Pacific rail corridor that became the Orange Line. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month.

•With a potential Metro ballot measure on the horizon in 2016, officials and activists realized that could be an opportunity to fund such a project but that having some studies done would help this effort.

I can’t emphasize enough that the motion only asks Metro to study possible upgrades for the Orange Line. Despite what may be said, at this time no decisions have been made about any possible improvements, nor is such a project funded or in Metro’s long-range plan.

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Other actions taken by the Board of Directors today, including motion on Orange Line upgrades

Other actions taken by the Metro Board at their meeting today:

•The Board approved a motion by Board Members Paul Krekorian, Eric Garcetti, Michael Antonovich, Zev Yaroslavsky, John Fasana and Ara Najarian directing Metro staff to study potential upgrades to the Orange Line, including adding more articulated buses, grade-separated crossings, improved traffic signal priority and rail conversion. The motion also calls for the study of extending the Orange Line to Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena, where it would connect or offer a transfer to the Gold Line.

As I’ve noted before, this is an unfunded project and that converting the Orange Line to rail is not in Metro’s short- or long-range plans at this time.Metro Board Member Paul Krekorian noted that only two of Metro’s 80 rail stations are in the San Fernando Valley, where nearly 20 percent of county residents live. He said that the Orange Line’s ridership demonstrates that Valley residents are willing to take transit. Metro staff said they will return to the Board this fall with more details on how they plan to proceed with the Orange Line study. Motion

An amendment to the motion by Board Members Pam O’Connor and Don Knabe directs Metro staff to develop protocols for adding unfunded projects to the long-range plan — a need brought in part by Metro studying future ballot measure that could potentially fund new projects. As the amendment notes, some Measure R road and transit projects remain underfunded or are facing higher expenses to build, adding to the difficulty of building projects that are not set to receive Measure R funds. Amendment

•A separate motion by Board Members Michael Antonovich, Ara Najarian, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Ara Najarian directs Metro to continue the planning process for expanding bus rapid transit to eligible corridors, including Vermont Avenue and a line connecting the Orange Line to the Gold Line. The motion asks for a report from Metro staff this fall with a staffing, funding and implementation plan on expanding BRT. Motion

In an amendment to that motion by Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti, Metro was directed to make such BRT projects the first priority when Metro pursues federal Small Starts or Very Small Starts funding. The amendment also asked for a center-running alternative where feasible in the study of the Vermont and Burbank-Pasadena BRT.

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In remarks, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti outlines his goals as Metro Board Chair

Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti delivering his remarks on Thursday morning. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti delivering his remarks on Thursday morning. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

As noted earlier, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is the Chair of the Metro Board of Directors for the next year. At the start of today’s Board meeting, Garcetti briefly outlined his goals as Board Chair. Here are some highlights from his comments.

•”When you’re talking about transportation, the top priority has to be reducing traffic.   Traffic, especially in Los Angeles, defines our lives. It keeps us from being with our loved ones and enjoying life’s daily moments. But it’s equally important that we provide good service for our customers and build for the future.

“The only way we can do that well is by working together as a region. We all know that traffic doesn’t care about borders. And none of us can serve our constituents well if we only care about what happens inside our city limits.”

•”How we do that? Innovation and technology. That’s not only the obvious things — like having cell service in our stations or creating an app where riders can load their tap cards on their phones so they don’t have to wait in line at the ticket machine.”

•”We must always be looking at where there is new demand and build projects in our most heavily traveled corridors. We must complete projects like the Exposition line all the way to Santa Monica. We must plan to build the Gold Line extension to Claremont. We must improve service between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside. We must make sure the Blue Line is fixed, and our highest [ridership] rail line runs like it once did. And we must find a way to open the train to the planes by the time the Crenshaw Line starts running.”

•”I’m committed to keeping the momentum going on our construction projects — and making sure they’re done on time and on budget. We cannot repeat the cost overruns and sinkholes of the 1990s.

“When I became Mayor, I was told the new lane on the 405 project wouldn’t be open until the fall. So I called an old friend, Nick Patsaouras, and asked him to volunteer his time and talents to get it done sooner. He came through big for us. As Chair, I am calling on him to now lend his expertise and provide construction oversight of the Crenshaw Line.”

•”Over the last year, we were successful in securing over three billion dollars from the federal government. I’m confident that success will continue if we work together across the region to get our fair share from Washington and Sacramento. But we also need to think creatively about public-private partnerships and innovative financing. People are impatient, people can’t wait.”

Transportation headlines, Friday, July 18

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: A Metro bus rolls down a very quiet Spring Street shortly after rush hour on Thursday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro bus rolls down a very quiet Spring Street shortly after rush hour on Thursday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Dodger Stadium Express: Metro nightmare or game day savior? (Neon Tommy) 

One reporter boards the free shuttle bus from Union Station to the ballpark. The other reporter drives. Who gets there faster? The reporter on the bus, who along the way apologizes to a couple from Iowa about the poor state of public transit in L.A. only to have them respond that they think transit here is “fine” and they use it during their visits to L.A. Always fun when the source doesn’t take the bait, eh? :)

Click here for more info on the Dodger Stadium Express.

Good start at Metro LA: call for active transportation funding strategy (SM Spoke) 

Santa Monica Spoke is pleased with a new motion before the Metro Board that could potentially create a steady funding stream for active transportation projects — i.e. projects that would benefit pedestrians and cyclists. There was a big activist turnout at the Metro Board’s Planning Committee on Wednesday, prompted by the Board’s consideration of a short-range plan that activists say does not supply enough funding for walking and biking.

Metro considering rail link from Valley to Bob Hope to Pas (Curbed LA)

Coverage of the the motion before the Metro Board of Directors asking for study of improving the Orange Line, including a possible rail conversion and an extension of some sort — presumably rail or bus rapid transit — to Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena.

The full Board is scheduled to vote on the motion at its meeting this coming Thursday. The motion also asks for study of using more articulated buses on the line, improving traffic signal priority and grade separations. Important to know: converting the Orange Line to rail is not funded by Measure R, nor is it in Metro’s long-range plan although an undefined project linking the Orange Line to the Gold Line’s Del Mar station in Pasadena is a tier 2 unfunded project. The new motion included an amendment on creating a process to add projects to the long-range plan. Read the motion here.

San Francisco sets bond vote for aging transportation system (Bloomberg) 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors — i.e. their City Council — voted to send the $500-million bond measure to voters in November. The money, which would be borrowed, would be used to pay for upgrades to the local transit system that will be used, in part, to speed buses and trains. The measure needs two-thirds approval to pass even though it doesn’t involve raising taxes.

Proposal to allow state tolls on interstates hits roadblock (NPR)

With lawmakers pretty much refusing to consider raising the federal gas tax to keep the Highway Trust Fund in the black, President Obama is proposing to allow states to collect tolls on federal interstates to raise funds for road maintenance and other transportation projects. But there’s pushback, including from an array of corporations who say that tolls + gas tax = double taxation.

New York can’t afford to build the Second Avenue Subway, and it can’t afford not to (CityLab)

The problem is that the subway is costing more than $2 billion per mile to build, including three new stations. The two-mile first phase is due to be completed in 2016, but the remaining three phases aren’t funded and in total the project could reach a $20-billion price tag. The current subway line serving Manhattan’s Eastside is running at capacity, traffic is at its worst on the Eastside and New York is expected to add one million residents. FWIW, the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension — including three new stations has a budget of $2.77 billion. The Metro Board is expected to vote on a $1.6-billion construction contract at its meeting this coming Thursday.

Uber, Lfyt and a road map for reinventing the ride (New York Times)

Interesting piece in the Sunday Review section from last week about Uber dropping the cost of a ride in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles to try to encourage more volume and get more people in the habit of using Uber. The key quote:

“The whole point of price cuts is to get UberX pricing below the cost of owning a car,” Uber’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, told me. “Let’s say you take three or four trips a day on average. If we can get the price of UberX low enough, we can get to where it’s cheaper to take Uber than to own a car.”

The article also mentions transit with the author pointing out that Uber may cost more than taking a train or bus for a routine errand, but would be faster and more convenient. My three cents: I don’t see Uber or similar services as much of a threat to transit, although they could certainly harm the existing taxi or car service industry. As for denting the sale of cars…maybe, although the costs of using Uber all the time could certainly rack up fast.

Perhaps it’s something in which a family could forgo a second car if living in a city with a variety of Uber-like services, a good transit system and neighborhoods that are walkable and bike-friendly. All those choices could mean — emphasis on could — families with fewer second cars.

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.

 

“Notice to Proceed” granted for construction of Regional Connector project!

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It’s official: there are now four Metro Rail projects currently under construction after the Metro earlier this week gave its contractors — the Regional Connector Constructors, Joint Venture — the official “notice to proceed” on building the line. Until recently, Metro never had more than two rail projects underway at the same time.

The Regional Connector will be a 1.9-mile underground light rail line that will connect the Gold Line to the Blue Line and Expo Line in downtown Los Angeles. With a scheduled opening of 2020, the Regional Connector will allow trains to run directly between Santa Monica and East Los Angeles on an east-west line and between Azusa and Long Beach on a north-south line.

That should pass along several benefits to Metro Rail riders: faster and more frequent trains through downtown Los Angeles; fewer transfers for most riders; three new stations in Little Tokyo, Civic Center and 2nd/Hope, and; eliminating the need to turn around every Blue Line and Expo Line train at 7th/Metro Center, where both lines currently dead end.

Utility relocations and other advance work on the project began last year.

The three other Metro Rail lines under construction are a 6-mile extension of the Expo Line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica, an 11.5-mile extension of the Gold Line between eastern Pasadena and the Azusa/Glendora border and the 8.5-mile Crenshaw/LAX Line that will run between the Expo Line and connect to the Green Line south of the airport.

The Expo Line and Gold Line Foothill Extension projects are currently scheduled to open in early 2016. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is scheduled to open in 2019; it will eventually connect to a people mover to be built by Los Angeles World Airports to connect the Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line to terminals at the airport.

The Metro Board is also scheduled to consider awarding a construction contract later this month for the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension subway between the existing Wilshire/Western station and Wilshire/La Cienega. When work begins, there will be five Metro Rail projects under construction.

All five of these projects are receiving funding from Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by two million Los Angeles County voters in Nov. 2008. Measure R included funds for 12 transit projects and a number of highway projects, as well as money for operations and funds for smaller transportation projects in cities in Los Angeles County.

Transportation headlines, Monday, July 7

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! 

Thanks for riding on Friday, everyone! How was transit service to the various firework events around town? Comment please.

California screaming (New Yorker) 

A good story — albeit behind a paywall — about the ongoing gentrification and spectacular rise in real estate prices in San Francisco due to a booming tech industry in the Bay Area. If you can get your paws on a July 7 edition, it’s worthy of a role. Transit plays a role as the article discusses the controversy over private tech industry buses ferrying workers between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Proponents say the buses help get commuters out of cars while opponents argue that tech firms should have never been allowed to use public bus stops for free and that the buses make it too easy for wealthy young workers to drive up housing costs in the city of San Francisco while working outside the city.

The median household income in S.F: $73,802. In L.A.: $49,745, according to the Census Bureau’s latest numbers. That’s a big difference!

A very interesting story because some of the things happening in San Francisco seem to be good and enviable: jobs are being created, infrastructure is being improved upon. On the other hand, and as the article makes clear, there remains serious debate over much the tech industry workers — with their new wealth — are really contributing to the city where they reside. And it’s pretty clear that San Francisco’s leaders efforts to build and encourage the development of affordable housing are, at best, painfully slow.

City of Pasadena studies protected bike lanes (Pasadena Complete Streets Coalition) 

The city hired a contractor to look at the possibility of protected bike lanes — i.e. ones protected from traffic by more than a thin white stripe of paint — on six east-west streets. A couple could help cyclists reach Gold Line stations, most notably on Del Mar and Villa. Del Mar is a bit of a bad joke at present: the city has it marked as a bike route even though car traffic is very heavy and there are stretches where cyclists have no choice but to take a whole lane because space along the curb is either lacking or used by parked motor vehicles. Pasadena has been talking about improving bike infrastructure for quite some time now but that hasn’t resulted in any real action. I should know. I live and bike there.

Cash free buses (Transport for London) 

Buses in London no longer accept cash fares. Riders can pay with an Oyster card (their version of Metro’s TAP card) or use contact-less cards such as debit or credit cards. The transit agency says very few people were using cash on buses anymore and the move will save the agency money.

Riverside: streetcars may roll in the city’s future (Press-Enterprise)

The city is studying a potential 12-mile streetcar line with a first phase that would connect downtown to UC Riverside. I haven’t been to Riverside in forever; would this work, readers?

Hell must look like this: a grueling year for a train-struck town (NPR) 

A look back at the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, where last July the brakes of an unattended train failed. The 72-car train — complete with tanker cars filled with oil — rolled downhill, overturned and exploded in Lac-Megantic’s downtown, killing 47 people. Much of downtown is still abandoned due to rubble and contamination from the fire. An unbelievable story of neglect. The New York Times Magazine also published a short piece in December about those in a tavern next to the tracks when the train derailed.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, June 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! 

Do all roads to Century City’s future lead to more traffic? (L.A. Times) 

Very interesting story — easily could have been longer and there’s some fascinating video of the old 20th Century Fox backlot being demolished to make way for the Century City development.

The original vision for Century City was a place where Westsiders could work, live and play (my words, no theirs). But it didn’t turn out that way. The number of workers is double original projections and the number of residents is nowhere close to what was expected. Without mass transit or the Beverly Hills Freeway being built, the result has been twofold: lots of traffic and a lot of office space that competes directly with real estate downtown Los Angeles. In fact, vacancy rates in Century City are lower than in DTLA, which is served by transit.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky is quoted as saying that such a large development would never be allowed today without transit being built alongside it. That’s probably right and the article, unfortunately, needed more space to explain the delays in getting transit to Century City. On the upside, the Purple Line Extension subway is scheduled to arrive at the center of Century City in 2026.

Muffler shops or cafes? East L.A. plans for the future (Eastsider LA)

A new zoning plan for East L.A. is working its way through the process. As proposed, it would allow for more transit-oriented development along the past of the Gold Line on 3rd Street and other commercial corridors in the area. It would be great to see more new development along 3rd Street, in particular.

LAX to expand FlyAway service to Santa Monica and Hollywood (L.A. Times) 

Good news for those looking for an alternative to driving to the airport. The fares will be $8 for a one-way trip and the new locations will join existing FlyAway service between LAX and four locations: Union Station, Westwood, Van Nuys and Expo/La Brea.

San Gabriel Valley business leaders urge Metro to build promised Gold Line extension to Claremont (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

The biz leaders say they want funding for an Azusa-to-Claremont for the Gold Line Foothill Extension segment in Metro’s Short-Range plan, which details funding for transit projects in the next decade. At present, the only projects listed in the plan are projects already receiving Measure R funding; the Azusa-Claremont segment is outside the bounds of Measure R, along with other unfunded projects in Metro’s long-range plan. The Pasadena-to-Azusa segment is under construction and is scheduled to open in early 2016.

Senators Murphy (D) and Corker (R) propose 12 cents gas tax increase (Streetsblog Network) 

In an attempt to stave off the Highway Trust Fund going broke, a bipartisan proposal to raise the current 18.4 cents a gallon by 12 cents over the next two years. The federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in 20 years.

TAP validator test at entrance to Gold Line at Union Station

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Those entering or exiting the Gold Line at Union Station recently may notice something different: there are TAP validators now arranged across the bottom of the stairs. The validators, up until now, have been against both walls and next to the ticket machines.

What’s going on? Metro’s TAP team is trying a different arrangement of the validators to see what works best at the entrance to the stairs leading to the train platform. As you know, it’s an area that can get quite crowded at peak hours with people headed both up and down the stairs.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have a preference!

More details and renderings on the evolving Union Station Master Plan

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A rendering of the Union Station property in the future after the Master Plan is implemented. Click above to see larger.

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This rendering shows the new concourse and bus plaza, which would move from the eastern to western side of the station. Click above to see larger.

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Near-term plans involve replacing the parking lot at the front of Union Station with a civic plaza and streetscape improvements along both sides of Alameda Street.

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Far-term plans could include expanding the civic plaza, opening up access to the site along the corner of Cesar Chavez and Alameda and closing part of Los Angeles Street. Click above to see larger.

Progress continues on finalizing the Union Station Master Plan. As you may recall, the Metro Board of Directors last fall approved a basic concept for the station that included a greatly expanded concourse to run under the existing train platforms and both relocating and consolidating the bus plaza to the west side of the current tunnel under the tracks.

Metro provided a media briefing for reporters Monday afternoon that included much of the information that will be provided to the public at a community workshop this Thursday, June 5, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Union Station Board Room. No RSVP is necessary for those who wish to attend. 

First, some basic background: in 2011 Metro purchased the Union Station property, including about 47 acres of land from Catellus, the private firm that owned the facility. With nearly 70,000 people currently using the station on the average weekday — a number expected to grow to 100,000 by 2020 and to 140,000 by 2040 — Metro has been working on a master plan to improve how the station functions as a transit facility. The Master Plan would also expand green space at the station, accommodate potential development that would work alongside a bus and train station, preserve its historic architectural character and make Union Station more of a destination for everyone in our region.

Here are some of the refinements to the Master Plan:

•The new passenger concourse will greatly expand the existing passageway. The concourse will be significantly wider than the existing (and often crowded) pedestrian tunnel and there will be elevators and stairs accessing each of the rail platforms above. Those rail platforms will be spaced out differently and widened from their existing 23 feet to around 30 feet. The location of the current entrance to the Red/Purple Line will remain the same.

Here are three renderings of the new concourse.

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•Metro also plans to eliminate a long-standing bottleneck in a project separate from the Union Station Master Plan but moving forward in coordination with the plan. At present, Union Station is a dead end for Metrolink and Amtrak trains — all trains must enter and exit via tracks on the north side of the facility. Metro’s SCRIP project — now in its environmental and engineering phase — would allow trains to enter and exit the station via its south side by running four tracks over the 101 freeway and connecting to the existing tracks along the Los Angeles River.

The tracks would improve train capacity at Union Station by 40 to 50 percent, according to Metro. The project also gives Metro the chance to make improvements to the rail yard and concourse below.

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