Transportation headlines, Thursday, August 21

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Hello, Source readers. I was away for a few days doing the active transportation thing: backpacking into the Hoover Wilderness of the Eastern Sierra. It’s one of the great bargains in California: wilderness permits are free, as are the campsites. Okay, not entirely active transportation as getting to the trailhead requires a long, CO2-emitting drive from L.A., but such are the tradeoffs in life. Interesting factoid: California has 14.9 million acres of designated wilderness (14 percent of the state’s land area) where the only way of getting around is walking or by horse. That’s mighty cool, IMO. Quick Source contest: any Source reader who correctly identifies the lake in the photo below will be hailed as the Most Geographically Adept Source Reader of All-Time in tomorrow’s headlines and on Metro’s social media.

Hint: the lake shares the name of a former resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Hint: the lake shares the name of a former resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Guest editorial: dreaming big about rail lines, grand boulevards, bus rapid transit and Measure R2 (StreetsblogLA)

The activist group MoveLA’s Denny Zane and Gloria Ohland opine in favor of a new half-cent transportation sales tax increase being put to Los Angeles County voters in 2016 to fund transportation improvements. While they say that rail expansion should be the centerpiece of any such ballot measure, they also propose that five to 10 percent of the funds be used for a grand boulevards program “to invest in reviving and reinventing several-mile, multi-community-long stretches of maybe 15-20 arterials around L.A. County as transit-oriented boulevards that promote economic development as they pass through more than one community.”

Zane and Ohland also propose that some of the grand boulevards money be used as a competitive grant program for cities that want to build housing along these streets. The idea, in short, is to bump up bus service on these streets while also adding housing and potential transit riders. Obviously not as sexy as a rail line, but an intriguing idea because it’s a way to bring better transit into more corners of the county — including neighborhoods and communities that may be beyond the reach of rail.

As regular readers know, Metro staff is exploring the possibility of a 2016 ballot measure that could possibly extend the half-cent Measure R sales tax (which expires in mid-2039) or another half-cent sales tax that would help fund new projects. Metro has also asked cities in L.A. County for a wish list of projects they would want funded by such a ballot measure. As Metro CEO Art Leahy has already said publicly, the list of projects is a long one and not everything could be funded. It will be very extremely super interesting to see how this evolves.

An underwhelming sidewalk repair day at L.A. City Hall (StreetsblogLA)

Joe Linton’s take on the sidewalk summit held at City Hall can be boiled down to one word: “yawn.” The gist of it: city staff is working to figure out how to spend $27 million in this year’s budget to fix bad sidewalks around the city of Los Angeles while also exploring long-term options for sidewalk repair.

UCLA’s Donald Shoup also penned an op-ed in the L.A. Times arguing that a point-of-sale program that requires homeowners to fix sidewalks at the time they sell their properties would be a good way to get thousands of miles of L.A. sidewalks fixed. The reason: properties tend to turn over on average once every dozen years, meaning that such a program could result in quicker gains than waiting for the city to have funding available.

Road and sidewalk repair has been an ongoing issue at L.A. City Hall for years. I recall writing a very short sidewalk repair story for the Times back seven or eight years ago that got buried even deeper in the print edition than most of my articles and I still got more readers response than most other stories. So it’s a big issue — and another item that could surface in discussions about Measure R2.

The 10 commandments of transit (transitcommandments.com)

These are great. My favorite: “thy shall keep their shoes on.” There are also helpful suggestions about giving up a seat for those in need and about the appropriate place to break bread (or some drippy mess from Carls Jr.). That place, in case you haven’t guessed, is at home and not the bus or train.

Supporters of closing Santa Monica Airport lose round in court (L.A. Times)

A Superior Court judge upheld a ballot measure that would require voter approval to close the controversial airport. But is this really a loss? I suspect a vote in Santa Monica on closing the airport would be close. I suspect that anyone who lives near the airport would rather it be gone (disclosure: I lived under the flight path for seven years and really disliked the frequent jet noise), but I also could see people voting to keep the airport out of fear that closing it would result in more commercial and/or residential development taking the airport’s place. FYI: the airport is about one mile south of the future Expo Line station at Exposition Boulevard and Bundy Drive. The Expo Line extension, funded by Measure R, is scheduled to open in early 2016.

Why your LA-to-Vegas commute just got slower (vegas seven)

A Caltrans project is underway to improve the 15-215 interchange at the base of the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County. It includes widening the 15 and a truck bypass. But until the project is done, expect delays. Of course, some of you may have no interest in taking the 15 to Unlucky Town, but may have their sights set on other joys further up the 15, such as Zion National Park.

Wires up on the Expo Line Phase 2!

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Photo courtesy Ron Miller

Nice view of the new overhead wires that will deliver power to trains along Expo Line Phase 2. The photo was taken on the stretch of track between the 10 freeway and Overland Avenue.

The six-mile rail project will extend the Expo Line from Culver City to downtown Santa Monica with seven new stations. The project is forecast to open in early 2016 and is funded primarily by the Measure R half-cent sales tax approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

Exciting new video: work on joining Expo Line Phase 1 to Expo Line Phase 2

It may not quite be the Golden Spike, but it’s still a nice sign of progress: above is a short video taken this week from the Culver City Station platform showing welding work where tracks from the existing Expo Line meet tracks from the second phase of the Expo Line. There is a lot more to be done to truly join the two projects — work is expected to be completed late this year — but it’s still exciting to see the present meet the future.

Below are a couple of nice photos in West L.A. of the Expo Line alignment taken by Darrell Clarke (who founded Friends4Expo and currently advocates for transit on behalf of the Sierra Club) from the top of the parking garage for Bed, Bath & Beyond in West L.A. The top photo is looking west toward the Bundy Station and the bottom photo is looking east toward the Expo Line bridge over Pico Boulevard and the undercrossing of the 405 freeway.

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The second phase of the Expo Line will extend the tracks for six miles from Culver City to downtown Santa Monica with seven new stations. The Measure R-funded project is currently scheduled to open in early 2016.

Many more construction photos can be found on Expo Line Fan’s photo page.

And speaking of photos, an important public service announcement: Metro is very happy folks are excited about the many transportation projects under construction around Los Angeles County. And we’re happy that people want to take photographs. Our one request: please, please, please take those photos from vantage points outside the construction work zone. We don’t want anyone to get hurt and we don’t want to expose contractors and/or Metro to unnecessary litigation that will ultimately cost taxpayers. Work zones are covered by all sorts of laws and rules to keep workers safe. We really appreciate everyone’s cooperation especially with an unprecedented four Metro Rail projects currently under construction and a fifth on its way. Thank you!

 

Transportation headlines, Friday, June 20

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A stowaway on Expo 2 (ZevWeb)

Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky got a lift along part of the Expo Line Phase 2 alignment in one of those trucks that can ride the rails. Nice essay accompanies the video at Zev’s website. Keep in mind that he has been tracking this project for the better part of two decades as it moved from the dream phase to talk phase to planning phase to lawsuit phase to construction phase.

Dialed-in with Don Knabe

Supervisor and Board Member Don Knabe talks with Metro CEO Art Leahy about the agency and some of Metro’s ongoing projects. This is a nice primer on the agency and both the Airport Metro Connector study is discussed, as well as the recent fare increases.

Carmageddon in L.A.: the sizzle and the fizzle (Access)  

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Interesting chart and article by Brian Taylor and Martin Wachs — two transportation experts — about how motorists responded to the two Carmageddon closures on the 405 in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Not surprisingly, motorists were more reluctant to hit the road during the first closure.

Excerpt:

Travelers were not the only people who learned from Carmageddon I. Given how few travelers chose public transportation as an alternative to the closed freeway, officials did not waste money on transit enhancements for the second event. Concerned public officials had informed the public of likely nightmarish traffic impacts during the first weekend closure of one of the nation’s busiest freeways. The media, without much in the way of supporting evidence, trumpeted doomsday predictions of congestion stretching to the Mexican border 150 miles away and of patients dying en route to hospitals while stuck in traffic. None of these dire predictions came to pass. In fact, the contrast between the perceived threat and reality was so stark that it left the media scratching their heads. One headline read: “Carmageddon in Los Angeles: So what was the big deal anyway?” Another read: “True-life ‘disaster’ doesn’t live up to hype.”

During the second weekend closure, transportation officials and elected leaders again appealed for public cooperation, but tempered the messaging. There were many fewer predictions of chaos and more calls for the sort of civic responsibility that had made the first closure a stay-at-home, holiday-like event. The public responded by adjusting travel plans but foregoing far fewer trips than they had during the first closure. Despite fears that the public might ignore pleas to limit travel during the second closure because they were jaded by the lack of traffic chaos the first time, it appears that travelers used the information they were provided to respond appropriately.

Transportation planners can learn much from the two Carmageddons. It’s helpful to carefully plan traffic flow patterns by scheduling closures on days when volumes are lower and trips are likely to be discretionary. But disseminating information can also be enormously effective—even more effective than providing alternative travel modes. As real-time information becomes more available to travelers, that information can complement system capacity to reduce cost and delay. Finally, crying wolf presents a dilemma and should be employed judiciously. Going overboard to scare people off of the roads ensures that the promised chaos will fail to materialize, but encourages the traveling public to take future dire warnings with a grain of salt.

I think it’s interesting — and somewhat predictable — that people didn’t shift to transit during the closures. If there was a rail line traversing the Sepulveda Pass I expect that would be a different story. There is $1 billion in seed money for the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project in Measure R and Metro is studying ways that the project may be built and funded as a public-private partnership.

 

 

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, June 17

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Report urges new light rail station, circulator for LAX travel (L.A. Times)

Good coverage of the Metro staff report released yesterday recommending a new light rail station at Aviation and 96th that would connect with a people mover the airport would build to connect to LAX terminals and a few ground transportation hub. The new rail station would serve the Crenshaw/LAX Line trains and some Green Line trains. Please see our post for the staff report, maps and charts.

Valley coalition formed to advocate for rail (Post-Periodical)

The Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., a group representing business interests, has formed a group called “Valley on Track” to push for conversion of the Orange Line to light rail and using rail on two Measure R projects, the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor (bus rapid is also being considered) and the Sepulveda Pass Corridor. Of the trio, the Orange Line conversion is perhaps the toughest one. There is a pending state bill to lift the restriction on using rail in the corridor, but it’s a project with no funding presently in Metro’s long-range plans.

Bergamot Station’s tenants at odds over its future as Expo Line arrives (L.A. Times)

Many of the smaller art galleries at Bergamot Station are concerned that the three development proposals being reviewed by the city of Santa Monica — which owns the site — could lead to them being squeezed out. The most expensive of the proposals would cost $92 million and keep some of the old warehouses but also add non-art retail, a new hotel and underground parking. I like the present station but a lot of the land is under-utilized — it’s basically a series of galleries with a big parking lot in the middle. As for the Expo Line, a new station will sit on the northern part of the site next to Olympic Boulevard.

Editorial: a three-phase purple money eater (L.A. Register) 

They say the Purple Line Extension will cost too much and not fix traffic. They forget to mention the part about it serving as an alternative to traffic and that 68 percent of voters in 2008 voted for a package of transit projects, including the Purple Line Extension, as part of the Measure R sales tax increase. They also forget to mention that transit hasn’t “fixed” traffic in places such as San Francisco, Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Tokyo, etc.

20 before-and-after Google Street views show downtown L.A.’s dramatic changes (LA Weekly)

Great idea for a post using a new feature on Google Maps that lets you see past street views. It’s nice to see some of the buildings that were virtually abandoned get a new lease on life.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, May 14

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Hines repealed (Santa Monica Daily Press)

The development approvals for a massive residential and commercial project near the future Expo Line were rescinded by the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday — just three months after narrowly approving the plan. Excerpt:

Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who criticized the vitriolic nature of the public discourse, opted to abstain, as did Mayor Pam O’Connor. Mayor Pro Tempore Terry O’Day cast the lone vote in opposition to the project’s repeal, lauding the residents’ referendum drive but noting that he believes in the policy of the plan.

The Hines project consists of five roughly 80-foot-tall building and 765,000 square feet of office, housing, retail, and restaurants.

Opponents point first to the estimated 7,000 daily car trips that the project could add to an already congested area. They say, among many other things, the project was ill conceived and needs more housing.

Advocates point to the $32 million in community benefits over 55 years and the city’s current shortage of creative office space. They note that the land is private and that the developer could simply choose to reoccupy the space. The proposed project, they say, is better for the city.

It will be interesting to see what happens as there is certainly room for development in Santa Monica and, in particular, near the second phase of the Expo Line that will have three stations in the city (the project is current forecast to open in early 2016). The city surely could use more housing — the big westbound traffic jams on the Santa Monica Freeway each morning are due, in part, to a big workforce descending on the city that has built relatively few residential units over the past several decades and has seen rents for new units and home prices skyrocket.

5 things to know about cash-free toll roads (OC Register) 

Goodbye cash payments on The Toll Roads in Orange County. As of this week, all vehicles using the toll roads need a FasTrak transponder. If you have a transponder issued through Metro’s ExpressLanes account, it will work on the Toll Roads in the OC.

Biking to work increases 60 percent over last decade, Census Bureau reports (U.S. Census Bureau news release) 

In raw numbers, the number of people riding bikes to work has gone from 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in 2012. Some highlights from the Census Bureau:

  • The West had the highest rate of biking to work at 1.1 percent, and the South had the lowest rate at 0.3 percent.
  • Among large cities, Portland, Ore., had the highest bicycle-commuting rate at 6.1 percent.
  • The median commute time for those who bike to work was about 19.3 minutes.
  • Men were more likely to bike to work than women were. The rate of bicycle commuting for men was more than double that of women, 0.8 percent compared with 0.3 percent.
  • Those with a graduate or professional degree or higher and those with less than a high school degree had the highest rates of biking to work, at 0.9 and 0.7 percent, respectively.
  • 1.5 percent of those with an income of $10,000 or less commuted to work by bicycle, the highest rate of bicycle commuting by any income category.
  • African-Americans had the lowest rate of biking to work at 0.3 percent, compared with some other race or two or more races who had the highest rate at 0.8 percent.

LAX Transit Plan Part 2 — people mover and ground access (Let’s Go L.A.)

This blog post looks at the ongoing studies by Los Angeles World Airports for the people mover at the airport and how it will connect with the future Crenshaw/LAX Line, which will have a station at the intersection of Aviation and Century boulevards. The blog doesn’t believe the connection problem has yet been solved and is particularly critical of one alternative that would build an addition to the Crenshaw/LAX Line that would connect with the people mover at a planned transit hub. The complaints: it would slow trains, dead-end the Green Line at the transit hub, split the Crenshaw/LAX Line between two routes and require expensive modifications to the Crenshaw/LAX Line under construction.

Obviously, not everyone agrees. Proponents say the transit hub would offer an easier and more seamless connection to Metro Rail. While LAWA continues to study people mover routes, Metro and LAWA continue to work together on studies for the ongoing Airport Metro Connector project, which will determine the best way to connect Metro Rail to the LAX terminals.

Houston: transit, reimagined (Human Transit)

Transportation planner Jarrett Walker writes about a plan that he helped produce. Without adding operating costs, it would dramatically increase the number of bus lines that have frequent service. It would also cut down on bus lines that are duplicative and routes that are expensive to run but serve few people. In other words, Walker suggests, transit planners in the Houston region have been willing to make some hard choices.

Excerpt:

The huge no-cost expansion of useful service may remind you of a plan I worked on two years ago for Auckland, New Zealand, where it was also possible to massively expand the frequent network by redeploying duplicative services.   Not all  transit agencies have this much waste, so your city’s mileage may vary.  But if you suspect that transit could be doing more in your city, read all about the Houston plan.  You’ll be amazed, as we were, about how much is sometimes possible.

 

Metro CEO Art Leahy has certainly spoken about the issue of better integrating the rail and bus system to create a more efficient and useful system for customers. Click here to read his message to riders from this past January.

To stave off transit cuts, Seattle plans to go at it alone (Streetsblog Network) 

And the battle between cities and the ‘burbs continues. A recent regional transit measure failed at the polls. It received enough support to pass in Seattle, but lost in the suburbs. City officials in Seattle are now prepping another measure that would only go to city voters to spare cuts from happening in Seattle while starting a fund to help preserve routes that cross city lines.

Free metro travel spreads the peak load (Railway Gazette) 

Travelers who exit the transit system in Singapore ride for free, which has encouraged seven percent of riders to shift their commutes to an earlier hour. That has reduced crowds during the peak morning rush after 8 a.m.

More pics of recent work on the Expo Line Phase 2

Retired Metro scheduler Alan Weeks was gracious enough to send along the above photos that he has taken recently of construction along the six-mile alignment of the second phase of the Expo Line between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica.

The project is funded by Measure R and at this time is forecast to open in early 2016.

The Expo Line Construction Authority — an independent agency — is building the project. Metro will take ownership of the line when it is complete and operate it. The Authority estimates that it will be a 46-minute ride between downtown Santa Monica and 7th/Metro Center.

Metro currently has three rail projects under construction: the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the second phase of the Expo Line and the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Utility relocations on two more rail projects, the Regional Connector and Purple Line, are underway and heavy construction is expected to begin later this year on both. All are funded in part by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2008. In addition, Metro has begun receiving the first of 550 new state-of-the-art buses and is spending $1.2 billion to overhaul the Metro Blue Line, including the purchase of new light rail vehicles.

Lincoln Boulevard open again to traffic in Santa Monica after Expo tracks installed

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The photos were taken last week of the ongoing work to build tracks for the Expo Line across Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica. I’m sure bus riders and motorists in the area have been keenly aware of the work over the last week and the accompanying related detours, which ended today. The top photo shows Lincoln Boulevard again open to traffic this afternoon.

Progress on the Measure R-funded project continues at a steady clip with work about 60 percent complete. The current forecast has the new six miles of track between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica opening in early 2016.

The Expo Line is one of three Metro Rail projects now under construction, joining the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Gold Line Foothill Extension and soon the Regional Connector. The Purple Line Extension contract is expected to be awarded this summer and it will be the fifth rail project in Los Angeles under construction because of Measure R. In addition, Metro has begun receiving the first of 550 new state-of-the-art buses and is spending $1.2 billion to overhaul the Metro Blue Line, including the purchase of new light rail vehicles.