Transportation headlines, Thursday, August 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! 

ART OF TRANSIT: A cyclist on the bike path adjacent to the Orange Line -- this is the stretch just east of Hazeltine. More Orange Line stock photos free for anyone that needs them on our Flickr site. Just click above. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A cyclist on the bike path adjacent to the Orange Line — this is the stretch just east of Hazeltine. More Orange Line stock photos free for anyone that needs them on our Flickr site. Just click above. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

$11 billion later, high-speed rail is inching along (New York Times) 

The top of the story:

WASHINGTON — High-speed rail was supposed to be President Obama’s signature transportation project, but despite the administration spending nearly $11 billion since 2009 to develop faster passenger trains, the projects have gone mostly nowhere and the United States still lags far behind Europe and China.

The article goes on to explain that most of the money was spent on building or planning to increase train speeds on relatively short sections of track around the country. It would still take $15 billion and 26 years to bring the northeast corridor tracks between New York and Washington up to Japanese bullet train speeds, the Times reports. The article also notes that California’s high-speed rail project recently won a key legal ruling but has been controversial.

Bedbugs found on at least three N Line subway trains (New York Daily News) 

Three trains in New York City were yanked out of service and sent to maintenance yards for immediate fumigation. This 2008 article in the New York Times discusses whether bedbugs can survive in transit stations. Short (and unfortunate) answer: yes.

Time to tie pay to Muni’s on-time performance (San Francisco Examiner) 

Fares are soon increasing a quarter on Muni trains and buses to $2.25 and this Examiner editorial proposes two responses: 1) tie the salaries of Muni executives to Muni’s ability to meet a goal of having buses and trains on time 85 percent of the time (it was 57.2 percent in 2013), and; 2) Enforce a 1993 ballot measure that required politicians who oversee Muni to ride it twice a week.

California’s slow ride to transit (San Francisco Chronicle) 

In this op-ed, Ethan Elkind complains that transit projects across the state are taking far too long to plan, bid and build — and he proposes some solutions. Metro’s Regional Connector is one of the examples he uses, comparing it to the time and expense of building a streetcar tunnel in downtown in 1925. Hard not to agree that the environmental review process in California and elsewhere takes far longer than necessary.

Passengers help free man trapped between train and platform (ABC News)

Watch the video from Australia. And let it serve as a reminder that being around things such as train platforms and busy streets — in L.A. and around the globe — demands your full attention. Put down your phones for a moment, people!

*****

And a little mid-day music courtesy of Spoon, which is playing the Hollywood Forever cemetery on Friday night. For those who want to take the bus to the show, use the Metro 4 Line that runs along Santa Monica Boulevard. The stops at Santa Monica/Gower and Santa Monica/Bronson are both close to the cemetery’s entrance. Red Line riders can transfer to the 4 at the Vermont/Santa Monica Station.

 

Congress relents and funds Highway Trust Fund through next May

Here’s the update from Metro’s government relations staff:

Highway Trust Fund and Transportation Program Extension Bill is Sent to the President’s Desk

Last night, before the U.S. Senate departed Washington for a five week recess, Senators voted (81-13) to send the House’s bill to fund the Highway Trust Fund and extend authorization and appropriations for highway and transit programs to the President Obama’s desk for his signature. H.R. 5021 extends funding and programs until May 31, 2015. The Senate’s action comes after an attempt earlier this week to amend the House bill. Changes made by the Senate were rejected by the House yesterday and the bill was sent back to the Senate for reconsideration. As a previous White House Statement of Administration Policy expresses, the President supports H.R. 5021 and is expected to sign the legislation later this afternoon.

 

Transit agencies such as Metro rely on the Highway Trust Fund to provide money for maintenance and capital projects, among other important items. The House and the Senate have been bickering in recent days over how best to continue funding for the Highway Trust Fund without raising the federal gas tax, which was last increased in 1993.

In other words, this is a short-term fix. Here’s a Washington Post editorial published yesterday about the issue of the gas tax.

And how is Congress paying to keep the Trust Fund going? As CBS explains, through pension smoothing, a variety of U.S. Customs user fees and transferring money from a fund devoted to fixing leaking underground storage tanks.

 

Service alert: potential delays to bus and rail riders due to President Obama’s visit

President Barack Obama’s visit to Los Angeles continues today. There will likely be delays for Metro bus and train riders.

As per usual and due to security concerns, we can only release limited information about potential delays. According to this LAPD notice, there will likely be street closures on the Westside, Beverly Hills and the southern part of downtown Los Angeles on Thursday.

•On Thursday, bus routes that could be impacted include the 2, 302, 40, 81, 35 and the Silver Line.

•Beginning mid-morning Thursday — after the morning rush hour — expect intermittent delays to the Blue and Expo Lines in downtown Los Angeles. Here are the latest tweets:

 

Everything on the this list is subject to change. For the latest updates, please check the metro.net homepage, our general Twitter account or our service alert Twitter account.

U.S. Conference of Mayors backs America Fast Forward

The U.S. Conference of Mayors last week voted to back a resolution by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that “urges Congress to create a new category of qualified tax credit bonds to fund $45 billion over 10 years for transportation to stimulate infrastructure investment.”

Not exactly earth-shaking news. But it’s good news nonetheless.

Let me explain. Metro has been pursuing the America Fast Forward (AFF) initiative for four-plus years. AFF includes two parts: an expanded federal loan program and a new bond program.

The loan program — called TIFIA — was expanded by Congress in 2012. TIFIA loans help provide local transit agencies such as Metro with low-interest loans that can be used to help pay for big, expensive projects — and, in fact, TIFIA loans are being used to help finance the building of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the first phase of the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector.

The bond program has been garnering support, but Congress still hasn’t made it part of a multi-year transportation funding bill. In a nutshell: those who invest in transportation bonds receive federal tax credits instead of interest, a good way for investors to lower their tax burden and a good way for transportation agencies to save on interest costs.

america-fast-forward-bonds

Will Congress go for it? Hard to say as partisan politics have prevented Congress from approving of a truly long-term transportation funding bill since a four-year bill was signed into law by President Bush in 2005. That bill expired in 2009, was extended several times and then replaced by a two-year bill in 2012 that expires this year.

Earlier this year, President Obama released a bill proposal that embraced the AFF bond program as well as the TIFIA program. Congress hasn’t exactly embraced the President’s bill but there have been indications of support for the AFF bond program. In the meantime, mayors continue to push Congress to do something, as many cities are trying to expand transit systems and need help financing pricey projects.

As Mayor Garcetti wrote about the Conference, “As gridlock continues to paralyze our federal government, it’s America’s mayors who are increasingly leading the charge to improve quality of life across this country.”

Transportation headlines, Monday, Cinco de Mayo

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Jennifer Keith. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: Jennifer Keith of the Jennifer Keith Quintet performing in the Fred Harvey Room on Saturday during the Union Station 75th Anniversary celebration. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Union Station’s complexity grows 75 years down the line (L.A. Times) 

A super interesting essay by architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne on the history of Union Station and its future. As he points out, by the time that Union Station opened in 1939 — after several legal battles — rail travel already had taken a big hit and it was clear that auto and plane travel were the way that most people were going to be moving around the region and country, respectively.

Excerpt:

As a piece of urban design, however, Union Station was ruthlessly modern, a powerful engine for an urban-renewal plan that displaced hundreds of residents of L.A.’s original Chinatown and served as a precursor to later “slum clearance” efforts in Chavez Ravine and on Bunker Hill. In facing almost due west, the station not only announced the end of the line for American territorial expansion but helped the city turn its back on the Los Angeles River.

It didn’t seek to undermine the growing car culture. It actively supported it. The 200-foot gap between Alameda Street and the station’s front doors was a suburban distance, not an urban one, leaving plenty of room for parking.

More to the point, by going up when and where it did, Union Station influenced the location of key highway interchanges in and around downtown. As Matthew W. Roth writes in “Los Angeles Union Station,” a new book published by the Getty Research Institute, which has also organized an anniversary exhibition on the station at the Central Library, “the consolidation of track operations at Union Station set in motion the process of bridging the Los Angeles River with a freeway — and, in turn, the routing of the freeway network.”

As Christopher points out, Union Station is already far busier now than it was when built owing to the steady stream of Amtrak, Metrolink and Metro trains and buses (among others) that enter and leave the station each day. He praises Metro’s stewardship of the station (the agency purchased the station in 2011 from a private holder) and says crowds are likely to increase as the Metro system expands — not to mention the possible arrival of high-speed rail in the future.

Here is the Los Angeles Newspaper Group’s story on the 75th anniversary on Saturday.

Struck on the street: four survivors (New York Times) 

The harrowing tale of four New York Times staffers — including Executive Editor Jill Abramson — who have been hit by vehicles in the New York area. Excerpt:

We are the lucky ones and we know it. We all lived. We enjoyed the support of family, friends, colleagues and countless talented doctors, nurses and physical therapists. We had good health insurance. The first cop who stopped to help me said: “Lady, if the truck had rolled over you two inches higher, all of your major organs would have been crushed. You wouldn’t be here.”

Our stories share certain similarities: We looked up at faces looking down, asking if we were O.K. None of the drivers who hit us were charged by the police with any misdoing — significant because part of Mr. de Blasio’s plan is stricter enforcement of traffic laws. Passers-by, belying the reputation of our area, rushed to help. And we were all deeply moved by the support of our friends and co-workers.

Still, though we have all mostly recovered, we travel around our city with a sense of permanent vulnerability. Nearly four years after she was hit, Denise Fuhs, a news design editor, put it this way in an email account of her accident: “I still cannot cross very many streets without looking both ways about four times and looking over my shoulder a dozen times while crossing. If a car gets too close, or if I think a driver turning my way doesn’t see me, I panic, sometimes freeze.”

I’ll repeat what I have written many times in the past. I don’t think anyone could argue that enough is being done in our region — or any other — to protect people in crosswalks. Of course, many people struck by cars are not in crosswalks and that is a serious problem. But the crosswalk is the one place where we know that pedestrians will constantly appear and it must be treated as a sacred space given the thousands of pounds of difference between a vulnerable human being and a steel vehicle. I see far too many vehicles turning right through crosswalks with people in them and I see too many cars rolling across the white line. That should be a heavy fine — the kind of heavy fine that ensures that most people will not risk it or violate crosswalk laws more than once.

Environmental study on 710 freeway extension will be released in 2015 (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

A very short article that notes that the study will be released in February and that the public comment period has been doubled from 45 days to 90 days. Here’s Metro’s statement that was released on Friday.

New details on Los Angeles region’s 2024 Olympics bid (Inside the Games) 

As much detail as I’ve seen on the emerging bid for L.A. to host the 2024 Summer Games. The region must first win the right to be the bid city representing the United States and is up against six other regions, including San Diego, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas and Boston.

The big news is that the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games is proposing to use Exposition Park and a revamped Coliseum as the main Olympic Village. There would also be a cluster of activities on the Westside and along the L.A. River — a lot of venues are already, will be under current plans or could be transit adjacent depending on whether projects are accelerated. Check it out:

LA_2024_Map

The Expo Line already serves Exposition Park and the segment to downtown Santa Monica is forecast to open in early 2016 and the Regional Connector in 2020. The Red Line already goes to Hollywood, the LA Live is already served by the Blue and Expo lines and will be linked to the Gold Line by the Connector. The Blue Line already goes to downtown Long Beach. Perhaps the big questions involve the Purple Line Extension; the third segment to Westwood isn’t scheduled to arrive until 2036 unless the project is accelerated. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is scheduled to open in 2019 but the Airport Metro Connector not until the late 2020s unless it, too, is accelerated.

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Transportation headlines, Friday, May 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! 

Union Station: L.A.’s nearly perfect time machine (L.A. Times) 

D.J. Waldie has a nice op-ed piece on the eve of Union Station’s 75th anniversary celebration on Saturday. Excerpt:

Those who pause will see a nearly perfect public space meant to be both monumental and deferential, and designed to reassure as much as to impress. In the station’s concrete daydream of Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission, Moorish and Art Deco styles, the city’s imagined past and hoped-for future overlay seamlessly. Those faux wood beams were given a patina to look as if they had been there a century or more. The station’s streamlined details in aluminum and bronze pointed toward a triumphant, machine-age tomorrow. When Union Station was new, everything about it reflected the longing of Los Angeles to be both modern and nostalgic.

Union Station, like few of the city’s other architectural survivals, is a place where it’s possible for the patient sojourner to slip out of now and into an earlier time like a shadow passing.

John and Donald Parkinson, the station’s supervising architects, understood shadows and how pausing in them invites reverie. The station’s shadows are there by design: to give shelter from the Los Angeles sun in the long arcades and add movement through the day to the static surface of its exterior. Inside, transient light patterns the travertine walls and contrasts with the durable patterns laid in the 75,000 square feet of cement, marble, tile and linoleum flooring, as well as on the faience wainscoting and doorway surrounds and the parquetry of the patios’ brick walkways.

In addition, KPCC’s Take Two has a nice eight-minute segment on the station’s history.

And here’s the lineup of events for Saturday’s celebration at Union Station.

Gold Line bill hurt by lack of communication: guest commentary (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

The president of the San Bernardino Associated Governments board writes that a bill that would have allowed planning of a Gold Line segment between Montclair and Ontario Airport did not provide enough protections for San Bernardino County taxpayers. At this point it’s a moot point — the bill was withdrawn last week. Construction of the Pasadena-to-Azusa phase of the project continues, as does planning and engineering work for the unfunded segment between Azusa and Montclair.

The huge Obama transportation bill you heard nothing about (Time)

The President released the details of a four-year transportation funding bill earlier this week, a follow-up to a budget released earlier this year. The $300-million, four year bill would greatly include funding for transit and other worthy infrastructure programs, but Time says it’s non-news until the time comes when Republicans may agree to such a bill. Debate over the bill is likely to continue for the remainder of this year.

Madrid’s smart parking meters charge more for most polluting cars (The Guardian)

About one in four motorists — those with the most polluting cars — will pay 20 percent more for parking. Meanwhile, those in the least polluting cars will pay 20 percent less. Great idea!

Want to be more creative? Take a walk (New York Times) 

A new Stanford study aims to show that people who walk show more signs of creative and innovating thinking. Not exactly a surprise — creative types have been singing the praises of going for a stroll for ages. No one is exactly sure the mechanism at work that boosts creativity — one idea is that walking simply puts people in a better mood and good moods translate to more expansive thought.

The train tunnel in this film is now part of PCH (Southland) 

Great footage shot in 1898 of a train rumbling through what is now the McClure Tunnel that connects the Santa Monica Freeway to Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica.

 

Transportation headlines, Thursday, April 24

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! 

The people mover at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Photo by David Wilson, via Flickr creative commons.

ART OF TRANSIT: The people mover at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Photo by David Wilson, via Flickr creative commons.

Freeway toll lanes seem to speed things along, somewhat (L.A. Times) 

Here’s the top of the story, which provides a good summary of the preliminary analysis of the ExpressLanes that was released this week:

The first comprehensive analysis of Los Angeles County’s experimental toll lanes indicates the pay-to-drive routes made some rush-hour commutes faster and less painful, both in the toll lanes and in the free lanes, but made little to no difference for many drivers battling morning traffic.

According to an independent report prepared for federal transportation officials, the toll lanes along the 110 and 10 freeways didn’t significantly change overall traffic speeds during peak periods for drivers using either the tollway or the general lanes.

But for individual drivers on the freeways at certain times, the experimental lanes may have made a significant difference: Drivers heading west on the 10 Freeway toll lanes at 7:30 a.m. may have driven up to 18 mph faster than they could have before the tollway opened, the report said. But on the northbound 110 Freeway at 8 a.m., commuters in the free lanes crept toward downtown Los Angeles at 21 mph, the same speed as before the lanes opened.

The Metro Board is scheduled to today to consider whether extending operation of the ExpressLanes beyond January 2015.

In related news, the Los Angeles Newspaper Group has an editorial saying it’s too soon to continue the ExpressLanes. Excerpt:

As it is now, the MTA has authority to run toll programs along the two freeways through January 2015. There’s a bill in the Legislature that would extend that authority and open the possibility of proposing more toll roads.

The legislation by California Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, could be a game changer for the MTA, which has previously floated the idea of a toll lane on the 405 Freeway.

It’s going before some key legislative committees next week, so there’s a push by MTA staffers to get the board to back an extension. An affirmative vote would bolster the bill, SB 1298, which has already gained the support of the board.

Also, RAND’s Martin Wachs (a senior researcher) and UCLA’s Brian Taylor (Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies) have an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Register arguing that the Metro Board should make the ExpressLanes permanent. Excerpt:

HOT lanes carry more people with less delay than other lanes, and can be added at lower cost and disruption than most alternatives. An independent consultant to the Federal Highway Administration issued a report last week showing that these lanes have improved transit service and given drivers more choices. Unlike other new highway lanes, they also raise needed revenues for transit improvements from drivers voluntarily paying tolls. Most importantly, HOT lanes increase the choices available to travelers, who can drive in regular lanes for free, pay for faster and more reliable driving during rush hours, opt for the improved express bus service financed by the tolls, or join new toll-subsidized van pools.

The FHWA study found that during the short demonstration period, in addition to those already having them, nearly 260,000 new drivers were issued transponders. While average driving speeds changed only slightly in both the express lanes and general lanes during the peak hours, travel time reliability was a principal benefit for HOT lane users.

Bait bikes ready to nab S.F. bike thieves (SFist) 

Gotta love this:

The bike theft unit of the San Francisco police department took to Craigslist on Tuesday with a post titled, “We Have Our Bait Bikes Out.” Complete with a snazzy decal of a creepy cycling skeleton, the ad warns of GPS-laden bikes that the cops will track. And if you sell a stolen bike, the po-po threaten to toss you in jail and plaster your face “all over social media.” 

The SFPD isn’t saying how many bikes actually have GPS devices installed in them. Nor does it say if clever thieves can de-activate or destroy the GPS. The idea is to instill a kernel of doubt in those who steal.

Off the bus, but pressing on (USDOT Fast Lane blog) 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says that President Obama will soon release a detailed proposal for a multiyear federal transportation spending bill. The current bill expires this year and Congress hasn’t yet agreed on the next one. Metro is certainly watching this one closely, hoping the bill includes both a loan and bond program that are key to the America Fast Forward program to expand federal funding for transportation projects.

Security cameras help transit agencies fight crime (Transit Wire) 

A short and unskeptical article but with some interesting info about efforts to use cameras to deter crime or enforce rules in both Portland and Chicago.