Transportation headlines, Monday, October 6

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

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

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

And on to the headlines….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottom up climate fix (New York Times)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actions taken today by the Metro Board of Directors

A gastropub is coming to the Fred Harvey Room at Union Station thanks to a lease approved today by the Metro Board of Directors. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

A gastropub is coming to the Fred Harvey Room at Union Station thanks to a lease approved today by the Metro Board of Directors. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

A few highlights from the meeting (agenda here) of the Metro Board of Directors on Oct. 2, 2014:

•Item 7: The Board approved a lease with Eric Needleman and Cedd Moses for a new gastropub for the Fred Harvey Room at Union Station. Staff report and earlier Source post.

•Items 5 and 6: The Board also approved leases for two kiosks in Union Station’s East Portal. One will serve bento boxes and the other kiosk will offer coffee.

•Item 23: The Board approved moving ahead with the design and environmental review of a new portal and pedestrian passageway between 7th/Metro Center Station and the shopping center across 7th Street now known as The Bloc. In plain English, this project will add an entrance to the busy 7th/Metro Center from the south side of 7th Street. Staff report

•Item 20: The Board approved a budget of $1.4 million to add approximately 200 parking spaces at the Red Line’s North Hollywood Station using “temporary parking surface material” in order to lower the cost and make the project more feasible. Staff report

•Item 77: The Board approved calling the new 788 Rapid Bus between the San Fernando Valley and Westwood the “Valley Westside Express” — the bus will use the HOV lanes on the 405 freeway to get across the Sepulveda Pass. Please see this earlier Source post for a map of the service, which begins Dec. 15.

•Items 74 and 75: The Board approved motions by Members Ara Najarian and Pam O’Connor calling for Metro to incorporate the names of two Board Members — Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina — into the names of the North Hollywood and East Los Angeles Civic Center stations, respectively. Item 74, Item 75 and earlier Source post.

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Transportation headlines, Thursday, October 2

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! 

Metro shouldn’t play the name game (L.A. Times)

The Times’ editorial board says that it’s unseemly for the Metro Board of Directors to name transit stations after members of the Board. “Is it really necessary to name stations after sitting board members? That has the appearance of legacy-building on the public dime,” writes the editorial board.

The Board today as part of the consent calendar approved motions by Board Members Pam O’Connor and Ara Najarian to rename the North Hollywood Station the North Hollywood/Zev Yaroslavsky Station and to rename the East L.A. Civic Center Station the East L.A. Civic Center/Gloria Molina Station. The motions ask Metro staff to report back in January on how the changes will be implemented.

Here is an earlier Source post about the renaming motions.

When transit agencies run short on cash, should they sell alcohol ads to get it? (Washington Post) 

A look at the pros and cons of allowing alcohol ads on public transit — something a few large agencies have embraces. The upside: much needed revenue. The downside: unlike other forms of ads, these type of ads can be hard to tune out for a captive audience, meaning young riders are exposed to them for longer periods of time.

Metro, by the way, prohibits advertising for alcohol and tobacco products. Read Metro’s advertising guidelines here.

World’s first bullet train turns 50 (Washington Post)

The first high-speed train rolled between Tokyo and Osaka 50 years ago — and a little more than 19 years after the end of World War II. Eight other countries today have bullet trains. The United States isn’t one of them.

Intermountain states seek to keep hope alive for high-speed rail (Salt Lake City Tribune)

Officials from several Western states gathered in Salt Lake to discuss the best way to stay in the high-speed rail game. Their verdict: support California’s bullet train efforts because if things go well here, high-speed rail could spread to surrounding states. Time travel oriented readers should set their DeLoreans for the year 2114 to see if the L.A.-Las Vegas-Salt Lake line has been built along Interstate 15 along with a leg along Interstate 80 connecting to Denver. Such a train would be a great way to reach some good skiing…if, in fact, there’s still skiing to be had in a potentially far warmer world.

Marty McFly should check the status of high-speed rail in 2114.

Curious minds want Marty McFly and Professor Emmett Brown to check the status of high-speed rail in 2114.

Helsinki has plans to get people to stop owning cars (Smithsonian)

Excerpt:

The Finnish city has committed to a concept called “mobility on demand,” in which a wide range of transportation options from buses to driverless cars to bikes would be meshed together into one system that a person could use to order any trip on a smartphone. The passenger would need to enter just an origin and a destination, and the mobile app at the heart of the program would do the rest, selecting the most appropriate modes of transportation and mapping the best route based on real-time traffic data.

Everything would be covered through one payment plan, either through a monthly charge, like the taxi service Uber, or a pay-as-you-go option. Users would be able to monitor their costs and adjust how they use different means of getting around.

The plan offers door-to-door service that would eliminate the first-mile and last-mile complications of getting to and from public transit.

Now that’s thinking big! Will it work? Depends, I suppose, on how willing people are to give up their cars — something that likely depends on how convenient other options are. Please read the entire article that goes on to explain the success of a small bus that people can order on demand and use to customize their transit trips.

405 construction heck already paying off in time saved on freeway (LA Weekly) 

UPDATE: I included this story at the top of an earlier version of the headlines, not realizing that the story was originally published in June 2013. Instead of deleting, I moved the item to the bottom of the headlines. 

The data comes from Inrix, a firm that measures traffic congestion comparing May 2012 to May 2013. Excerpt:

Measuring traffic from Imperial Highway to Getty Center Drive, the company found that drive times have been reduced by 20 minutes at 3 p.m., 9 minutes at 4 p.m. and 5 minutes at 5 p.m. INRIX is comparing May, 2012 to May 2013 here. Not bad.

As you likely know, the I-405 Sepulveda Pass Improvements Project, added a northbound HOV lane to the 405 between the 10 and 101 freeways. The lane opened this spring and most work on the project is now complete.

Inrix also found that traffic has worsened 11 percent in the L.A. area and that the commute on the eastbound Santa Monica Freeway has significantly taken a turn for the worse. Does that echo your experiences, readers?

 

 

Transportation headlines, Friday, September 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! 

ART OF TRANSIT: Four swans visiting Union Station last week. Check out Metro's promotion with the Music Center for tickets to "Swan Lake" by clicking on the photo.

ART OF TRANSIT: Four swans visiting Union Station last week. Check out Metro’s promotion with the Music Center for tickets to “Swan Lake” by clicking on the photo. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Metro removes “Red Band Society” ad over offensive language (The Wrap)

Metro staff announced they were pulling the ad on Wednesday after receiving numerous complaints about the way that Octavia Spencer’s character was described in the ad.

Metro officials said that the contractor who sells ad space on buses didn’t properly vet the ad with Metro before it went up. Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti apologized for the ad at a Board committee meeting yesterday and Board Members said there’s a need to better oversee which ads end up on Metro buses. Also, coverage in the L.A. Times.

Who’s on board? (TransitCenter)

Perhaps the most interesting finding of this new survey is:

Americans under 30 are 2.3 times more likely to ride public transit than Americans age 30-60, and 7.2 times more likely than Americans over 60. Even after controlling for other factors, older people are less likely to ride transit than younger people.

That certainly jibes with trends in recent years that have received a lot of media attention — with millennials less interested in driving than their parents and more interested in living in cities. The question: what will transit agencies do about it? The findings certainly suggest, at the least, that transit agencies need to have their act together on social media and that other little thing — offer service that complements the lifestyle of those 30 and under.

How’s Metro doing on that front, people? Comment please.

At continent’s edge, an epic rail ride concludes (Grist)

The concluding post by Heather Smith on her recent cross-country ride on Amtrak. These two graphs are great and relate to the previous item in today’s headlines:

Stories like this, about rehabilitated towns, fascinate me: I spent my teens and early twenties feeling like a member of a subculture of a subculture of subculture, all because I loved walkable cities and hated driving. Where was the place for surly punks who wore all black and read Jane Jacobs? Where was the place, come to think of it, for anyone who read Jane Jacobs?

It’s a surreal feeling to realize how my teenage ideas aren’t that out-there any more, and that a lot of cities in America are places where I’d be happy living. I know from experience that this could all disappear, like the road bike fad of the ’70s, but I hope that it lasts.

Why do planners love charging for parking and not congestion? (Urban theory and practice)

Lisa Schweitzer of USC asks a provocative question and offers an answer: charging for parking is relatively easy and contributes to depleted municipal coffers whereas congestion pricing is a much more difficult sell politically. The discussion continues in the comments.

The post reminded me of something UCLA Brian Taylor said during the Zocalo Public Square forum earlier this year on the SR-710 Study and a possible freeway tunnel for the 710 between Alhambra and Pasadena. Brian’s point: congestion in our region could be fixed today if there was congestion pricing that tolled the freeways to discourage everyone from trying to drive somewhere during peak hours. He’s probably right, as is Lisa: that’s like ask our local pols to climb Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen or Sherpas.

Fun video posted last month:

 

 

Metro Board to consider changing official names of two rail stations

I know readers are always interested in station naming news — and there are two station naming motions before the Metro Board of Directors this month:

•To rename the Gold Line’s East Los Angeles Civic Center Station the East Los Angeles Civic Center/Gloria Molina Station.

•To rename the Red Line’s North Hollywood Station the North Hollywood/Zev Yaroslavsky Station.

The motions are posted above. They were authored by Metro Board Members Ara Najarian and Pam O’Connor. The Board’s Construction Committee approved the motions this morning and the full Board will consider them at its Oct. 2 meeting.

Here is Metro’s property naming policy. It’s worth noting that even when station names are named after people, the geographic names are the ones commonly used in announcements on buses and trains and on maps and agency literature.

Staff report on short- and long-term improvements to Orange Line

The Orange Line is Metro’s second-busiest bus line behind only the 720, the Rapid bus service along Wilshire Boulevard. With the Orange Line often crowded at peak hours, the Metro Board in July approved a motion asking Metro to investigate short-term fixes to speed up the Orange Line and add capacity, the feasibility of a possible bus rapid transit line between North Hollywood, Bob Hope Airport and the Gold Line in Pasadena and a possible conversion of the Orange Line to rail.

The above Metro staff report explains how the agency plans to go forward.

The gist of it: as for the question of rail conversion and extending bus rapid transit to Burbank and Pasadena, Metro plans to have those issues studied as part of an ongoing “mobility matrices” process. Yes, that’s a mouthful. In plain English, the matrices are evaluating potential transportation projects around Los Angeles County to see which should be included in an update of Metro’s long-range plan.

An update of Metro’s long-range plan, in turn, could be used to select projects to be funded by a possible ballot measure in 2016 that Metro is considering, as this report explains.

The matrixes are currently scheduled to be presented to the Metro Board in April.

The staff report also lists some possible immediate, short-term and long-term improvements that could be made to the Orange Line (see pages 3-4 of the staff report) and are in need of more study and/or work.

Among those: getting bus operators to maintain a more consistent speed to get more green lights, possibly extending peak hour service, possibly adding service between North Hollywood and Reseda stations, possibly increasing bus speeds across intersections from 10 mph to no more than 25 mph, possibly removing some seats on the bus to accommodate more bikes, studying whether buses longer than 60 feet can be used and investigating grade separation of some of the larger Orange Line intersections.

From the Department of From What It’s Worth: I spent the better part of a day in August riding and photographing the Orange Line. I think the bus is a very comfortable way of getting around, but it’s also obvious that the bus has mixed success hitting green lights consistently (some of the red lights did quickly turn green). Some pics I took on one ride between Sepulveda Station and Warner Center:

 

 

 

Transportation headlines, Monday, September 15

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

MTA bus and train fares to rise on Monday (L.A. Times)

Transportation reporter Laura Nelson does a good job of breaking down the new fare structure that went into effect earlier today — with the regular fares rising to $1.75 (with two hours of free transfers) and weekly passes now $25 and monthly passes now $100. Please click here for charts showing the new fares as well as a useful Frequently Asked Questions on the fares.

The article also offers useful context about the finances and politics that drove the fare hike. Two key graphs:

Metro staff members estimate that ridership will drop by 3% to 4% during the first six months of the increase, but that fare revenue will grow by $21 million this fiscal year and $28 million in subsequent years.

That will not be enough to correct the agency’s long-term financial problems. Metro analysts have pushed for a series of three fare increases over eight years, saying more income is needed to offset an expected cumulative deficit of $225 million over the next decade. Agency directors approved the fare hike that begins Monday but postponed two subsequent increases proposed for 2017 and 2020, saying they needed more information about the agency’s financial outlook.

The Metro Board earlier this year asked staff to report back on other sources of revenue — so that’s something to keep an eye on. The other question looming over the issue of fares is a possible ballot measure in 2016 and what it may or may not include (no decision has yet been made on the ballot measure or its contents). Measure R did include a temporary fare freeze.

As for the basics on the fare increase, the $1.50 regular fare went up to $1.75 today but now includes two hours of free transfers.

Poll: 68 percent want more transit spending (The Hill)

Speaking of transportation funding, the Mineta Transportation Institute’s poll for the American Public Transportation Assn. shows slightly more Americans want more spent on public transit. Putting aside the not-so-small issue that both groups benefit from more dollars spent on transit, I’m guessing there is significant support in most metropolitan areas in the U.S. for transit. In Los Angeles County, 68 percent is a key number as 66.6 percent of voters are needed to approve transportation ballot measures. Measure R in 2008 was approved with 67.9 percent of the vote and Measure J in 2012 failed with 66.1 percent approval.

LAWA’s Gina Marie Lindsey: investments in LAX continue (The Planning Report) 

The general manager of Los Angeles World Airports — a city of Los Angeles agency — talks about the challenges and difficulties of installing remote baggage check-in at LAX and the automated people mover that will take passengers from the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the airport terminals. While the people mover’s route is pretty much settled outside the terminal horseshoe, Lindsey says the important matter of deciding its route and station locations should be decided within the next few months. Earlier this year, LAX was looking at configurations that included two stations or four stations.

Perris Valley Line taking shape (Press-Enterprise)

Nice to see some progress on the 24-mile extension of the Metrolink line from Riverside into the Perris Valley. Officials say the line is forecast to open near the end of 2015. It’s the first major Metrolink expansion in more than a decade, reports the Press-Enterprise.

Meet Seleta Reynolds, the safe streets advocate running LADOT (Streetsblog LA)

Damien Newton interviews the new general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, which manages traffic signals and the city’s DASH and Commuter Express buses, among other things. A lot of the conversation focuses on bike policy and Reynolds is mindful to (correctly) remind everyone that the City Council has pretty much the final say in everything.

Guest editorial: urban change in L.A., too little too slow (Streetsblog LA)

Thoughtful article by architect and urban designer Gerhard Mayer. His main point: while L.A. is certainly changing, it’s changing a lot more slowly than other cities and far too much of the city is devoted to roads and/or parking lots. The key paragraph:

L.A.’s land use imbalance is acute. In a “normal” city, only approx. one-fifth of the city’s land is dedicated to transportation. Four-fifths of that city is used for buildings that generate revenue – or for open space. Not in LA; here, as much as 60 percent of our land – three-fifths – is used to accommodate our automobiles. Only two-fifths of LA has buildings that generates revenue to maintain, renew and expand our public services.

Of course, it’s hard to come up with averages like that on such a sprawling city but the statistics sound about right for some parts of the city. I just drove to Oregon and back and L.A. is hardly alone. Driving through Klamath Falls I was struck with a downtown that appeared to be on life support while outside of town, the usual shopping malls with the usual big box stores were surrounded by vast parking lots and a lot of traffic.

Coming to the rescue of riders who drop treasures on the tracks (New York Times) 

Interesting article about the transit workers in the New York subway who use a variety of tools to scoop up belongings that riders have dropped on tracks below the platforms. This includes a bag of blood, a variety of artificial limbs, engagement rings and stuffed animals. Of course, we implore all riders to NEVER try to retrieve such items themselves on our transit system or any other. If you drop something valuable, please contact our Customer Relations department.

Regulator slow to respond to deadly vehicle defects (New York Times) 

A long and deeply reported article that is extremely critical of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The nut graphs:

An investigation by The New York Times into the agency’s handling of major safety defects over the past decade found that it frequently has been slow to identify problems, tentative to act and reluctant to employ its full legal powers against companies.

The Times analyzed agency correspondence, regulatory documents and public databases and interviewed congressional and executive branch investigators, former agency employees and auto safety experts. It found that in many of the major vehicle safety issues of recent years — including unintended acceleration in Toyotas, fires in Jeep fuel tanks and air bag ruptures in Hondas, as well as the G.M. ignition defect — the agency did not take a leading role until well after the problems had reached a crisis level, safety advocates had sounded alarms and motorists were injured or died.

Not only does the agency spend about as much money rating new cars — a favorite marketing tool for automakers — as it does investigating potentially deadly manufacturing defects, but it also has been so deferential to automakers that it made a key question it poses about fatal accidents optional — a policy it is only now changing after inquiries from The Times.

 

The article includes many anecdotes and examples. Perhaps the hardest thing to stomach: the agency declines to directly answer many of the Times’ questions, none of which seem unreasonable to ask.