Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 20

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! 

Just in case anyone needs help with their bracket, here's mine. Copy at your own risk!

Just in case anyone needs help with their bracket, here’s mine. Copy at your own risk!

Construction concerns over LA subway (NBC 4)

The segment on the Purple Line Extension suggests that Metro is seeking to perform work on the subway 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To clarify: Metro has one application currently before the Los Angeles Police Commission for construction work on the first phase of the Purple Line Extension. It asks for a six month extension of a permit that expires April 17 for utility relocation night work from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. with the stipulation that the noisiest work be performed before 11 p.m. The work would be done five nights at week — Monday through Friday at Wilshire/La Brea and Sunday through Thursday for Wilshire/Fairfax.

Metro has also met with the Police Commission to discuss an upcoming application for station box pile drilling work in 2015, which would be done between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. This work will occur after all the utility relocation has been completed.

UPDATE, MORE INFORMATION: In January, Metro submitted three applications to the Police Commission to allow night-time work involving noise at Wishire and Western, Wilshire and LaBrea and Wilshire and Fairfax that would include pile installation, street decking and yard work at those locations beginning in August 2014. Metro has asked the Commission to not act on that request while the agency worked on providing more details. Metro is currently working on resubmitting these applications.

Interested readers may want to review the project’s Construction Fact Sheet for more information on how this will all occur.

The plan that could finally free New York City from traffic congestion (The Atlantic Cities) 

The group Move New York is proposing a congestion pricing plan for Manhattan that toll all bridges and tunnels (some are and some aren’t currently) and impose a toll on motorists heading into Manhattan south of 60th Street. Traffic is always a big issue in New York, but doing anything about it is politically difficult. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg pursued congestion pricing. When that fell through, a federal grant instead went to Metro, which used the funds to start the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways.

LAPD seeking suspects in DASH bus shooting (L.A. Times) 

A woman and boy were wounded either when they were grazed by a bullet or by shattered glass at 42nd and Avalon in South L.A. early Wednesday evening. An accompanying photo shows the boy standing and getting treatment for his injuries.

First poll on L.A. sales tax hike for street and sidewalk repairs (KABC 7)

A proposed half-cent sales tax increase in the city of Los Angeles for street and sidewalk repair was supported by 40 percent of those surveyed by Channel 7 while 55 percent said they would against an increase. Such an increase would need two-thirds support for passage. The City Council has until July to decide whether to put a proposed increase to voters on the November ballot.

California still failing to invest in sustainable transportation choices (NRDC)

The environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council takes a closer look at projects to be considered for funding by the California Transportation Commission. And the group doesn’t like what it sees, with the majority of money going to road projects at a time when walking, biking and transit use in the state has increased.

 

A bird’s eye view of the exploratory shaft for the Purple Line Extension

Above are a collection of photos of the exploratory shaft near the intersection of Wilshire and Odgen that has been built for the Purple Line Extension project. All the photos were taken from a workbox hoisted by the crane being used to lift excavated soil from the shaft; the first photo was taken this morning, the remainder over the last several weeks.

The L.A. Times just posted an interesting story and video about the shaft and the fossils found in it while digging has been underway. And here’s our post from last week about the shaft.

Mayor Garcetti’s news release on $200 million in federal funding in next year’s budget for Metro projects

Here’s a news release from the office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on the good news in President Obama’s recently-announced budget for the next fiscal year:

GARCETTI ANNOUNCES FEDERAL FUNDING IN PRESIDENT’S BUDGET; URGES CONGRESS TO PASS MULTI-YEAR FEDERAL TRANSPORTATION BILL

LOS ANGELES–Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today that President Obama’s FY 14-15 budget contains $200 million for critical Los Angeles transportation projects — $100 million each for the Regional Connector and the Westside Subway Extension. He also urged Congress to take immediate action to pass a multi-year Federal surface transportation bill.

“Especially in these tough economic times, you have to prove to Washington that you’re going to deliver real results,” Mayor Garcetti said. “This funding represents the White House’s recognition that our transit program will spend money wisely, create thousands of jobs, and make a real difference for L.A. commuters. Now, it’s time for Congress to act and pass a multi-year Federal surface transportation bill.”

The President’s proposed budget funding follows Los Angeles’ recent win of a $670 million Federal New Starts Full Funding Agreement Grant for the Downtown Regional Connector, which brings together the city’s various rail lines to make transfers convenient, dramatically improving the rider experience.

The Westside Subway Extension project will extend the subway from the current Wilshire and Western station terminus 3.9 miles to Wilshire and La Cienega. The subway project will create 25,000 jobs.

 

The funding in the budget is from the federal New Starts program, which helps local transit agencies pay for expensive transit projects. The deal for Regional Connector funding from New Starts was finalized last month and the agreement for the Purple Line Extension should be soon completed. New Starts money is awarded by the government over several years, thus the $100 million in next year’s budget for each of the projects.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, March 13

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Looming train shortage at Metro (ZevWeb) 

Metro is in a race against time. Literally. The big question tackled by this story on Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s website: will there be enough rail cars to operate enough train service on two projects under construction — Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension — and more than halfway complete?

Excerpt:

So, with a likely initial shortfall of about 50 train cars, the issue presents some tough decisions for Metro, all of which are likely to be unpopular with the traveling public. It could delay the new lines’ openings, operate them with shorter, more crowded trains, offer less frequent service, or redeploy cars from elsewhere in the system, thus spreading the pain more broadly.

The shortage is expected to be most severe in the first months of operation for the two new extensions, with steady improvements coming as new rail cars arrive throughout 2016. But even the prospect of a relatively short-lived disruption has been enough to strain the relationship between Metro, which will operate the lines, and the two construction authorities charged with successfully completing the projects.

Samantha Bricker, chief operating officer for the Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority, expects Expo Phase 2 to be ready for testing in the summer of 2015, which would make it possible for the line—running from Culver City to Santa Monica— to serve the public as early as December, 2015. But she’s worried that the train car shortage could impede that schedule and disappoint passengers looking forward to jumping aboard the westernmost phase of a light rail line that’s already attracting large numbers of riders.

“If these projects are done on time and there are no trains there, the public is going to go nuts,” Bricker predicted.

Metro’s Gold Line Foothill Extension, running from Pasadena to Azusa, is expected to open just two months later.  Habib Balian, chief executive officer of the Foothill Construction Authority, said he, too, is worried that his line’s opening will be delayed or marred by diminished service in the early months.

“It’s going to sit there and cobwebs are going to grow until Metro starts service, or they are going to put wimpy service on all the rail lines,” Balian said, referring to the possibility of importing rail cars from elsewhere in the system.

The problem dates back to November 2009 when negotiations between Metro and  rail car manufacturer AnsaldoBreda on a deal for new rail cars finally collapsed. Metro staff and some Metro Board members were never happy with the firm (including Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Mike Antonovich, perhaps most prominently) which had previously delivered flawed rail cars to Metro under an earlier contract. Despite this poor track record with Metro, the city of L.A. delegation of the Metro Board were hoping that the firm would build a manufacturing facility in downtown Los Angeles to provide much needed jobs during the Great Recession. That, of course, would have been a significant political victory.

The rail car contract then had to be re-bid and it wasn’t until April 2012 that the Metro Board — with great urging from Metro staff — finally approved a contract for 78 new rail cars with Kinkisharyo. That firm is presently building an assembly facility for the rail cars in Palmdale and company officials say that it will be very difficult to accelerate delivery of the vehicles.

In the meantime, Metro is sending a delegation to the company’s headquarters in Japan later this month to see if there is any way to get more vehicles quicker. Deliveries are currently scheduled to begin in September 2015 and continue through 2017. As for the Expo Line Phase 2 and the Gold Line Foothill Extension, Metro has been forecasting that both will open in early 2016. The projects together add 17 miles of track to the Metro system, meaning more trains are needed to cover that turf and maintain existing schedules.

Bottom line: this is really a story about politics and the awarding of big contracts.

UPDATE: Metro officials say they do not believe that the agency will be 50 rail cars short assuming the projects open on time — which, of course, remains to be seen. Officials also say they may be able to shift maintenance schedules around so that more rail cars will be available to operate at any given time.

Southern California Transit Advocates takes position on fare increases (SO.CA.TA website) 

The group isn’t large but they do pay close attention to transit in our region and, in particular, serve as watchdogs over Metro and other agencies. The group says it generally supports the fare increases proposed by Metro but would like to see some changes.

In particular, SO.CA.TA wants to see the free transfer period extended from 90 minutes to two hours and for TAP cards to be sold for single rides on buses for the same price as they’re sold from ticket machines at rail stations ($1). The group also declined to support the second option for fare increases that focuses on separate fares for peak and off-peak times. That, the group said, is a poor idea that would only make taking transit more confusing.

Fossils unearthed by Metro reveals L.A.’s watery past (KPCC)

A nice look at the reasons why that marine fossils are being found in the exploratory shaft for the Purple Line Extension project. The main reason: the beach wasn’t always located at its present location in L.A. :)

Becoming a biker in L.A.: buying a bike (KCRW)

A rookie cyclist dives into the world of bikes and bike gear to try to determine what she really needs. The gist of it: the proliferation of bike gear and fancy bikes has made things a lot more difficult than when Old Goats such as me bought bikes in decades past.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 12

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Attorney convicted in stealing nearly $2 million in MTA money (L.A. Times) 

James Vincent Reiss defended Metro as a contract attorney in injury cases. Reiss had pleaded no contest to two felony counts of grand theft. Excerpt:

Karen Gorman, acting inspector general for Metro, said a State Bar of California investigation into problems with Reiss’ other clients in 2012 tipped off the agency to the potential for trouble, and officials immediately began auditing his cases.

“We aggressively began to investigate … and working with the district attorney’s office we were able to bring Mr. Reiss to justice for his crimes.”

According to a Metro lawsuit filed against Reiss’ law firm in January for suspected malpractice, forgery and negligence, Reiss cost the agency as much as $2.5 million.

In 2011, Reiss allegedly told the MTA that it had negotiated a $2.5-million jury award down to $1.765 million. But when the Metro board authorized the settlement and ordered that two checks totaling $1.765 million be written, Reiss kept the money, according to the suit.

 

Sentencing is scheduled for March 26. The Times reports that he is expected to receive 10 years in state prison.

Los Angeles to launch nation’s largest interactive trail network (Gizmodo) 

The app will help tie together the many walking paths and trails that criss-cross the city — and many of which are not commonly known to the masses. Even more interesting is that key content about the trails on the app (scheduled to debut next month) won’t be unlocked unless the user is actually on the trail. The app is being produced by the Interpretive Media Library, a collaboration between UCLA and California State Parks — and it’s novel enough to get the attention of U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewel, who was in town yesterday for a media event.

What yesterday’s Supreme Court decision means for rails-trails (Streetsblog Network)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 on Tuesday that land granted the U.S. government granted to railroads doesn’t necessarily revert back to government property after railroads abandon their tracks. The ruling has implications toward rail-to-trail projects planned for government land — the problem being the land may instead belong to someone else. The post is an interesting interview with Kevin Mills, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s senior vice president of policy and trail development.

As he says, the ruling may have a deeper impact in the Western U.S., where railroad land grants were more common than in the east. Pretty interesting stuff. I personally want to see as many rail-trail projects as possible; on the other hand, the original government land grants dating back to the mid 1800s were often seen as blatant taxpayer giveaways to privately run railroads.

Wharf extension push surfaces as Central Subway crews dig on (San Francisco Chronicle) 

Transit advocates, neighborhood groups and others are starting to advocate for the Central Subway project in San Francisco to be extended to Fisherman’s Wharf. The project is extending the city’s light rail system (partially via a subway tunnel) from the Caltrain commuter rail station to the intersection of Stockton and Washington in Chinatown — about a mile shy of the popular and heavily visited Fisherman’s Wharf.

There are no plans on the books to extend the tracks any further — nor are there funds (at least not yet). I think it will be very interesting to see if there is any kind of similar push here on the Purple Line Extension project, which will eventually have a terminus in Westwood in front of the VA Hospital, just west of the 405 freeway (as far as Measure R funded the project). I imagine there will be some people in Brentwood and eastern Santa Monica who will want the subway closer to their homes, just as I expect there will be people in Brentwood and eastern Santa Monica who will not :)

Four designs to cleverly re-invent the suburban parking lot (Co.exist) 

With enough large lots on Long Island to cover an area the size of Central Park several times over, four architectural firms were asked to imagine a way to keep some parking but also make better uses of the land. Here’s one of the drawings:

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Photos of the exploratory shaft being dug in preparation of Purple Line Extension construction

Click on any photo to see larger.

My colleague Dave Sotero and I had a chance today to visit the exploratory shaft being dug as part of the Purple Line Extension subway project. If you’ve been to LACMA recently, you may have noticed the big wall covered with Metro posters across the street. That’s the exploratory shaft.

It’s quite a feat. The shaft is already 65 feet deep and is being dug to learn more about soil conditions in the area and validate what is already known. The work is an important step in preparing for station excavation and tunneling for the subway.

Quite a few fossils have already been found, including clams, sand dollars and parts of the cone and seeds for digger pine trees. While we were there, in fact, a rock was found that appears to have a sea lion skull within it that is perhaps two million years or more old. Metro is working with the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits to identify and preserve the fossils found.

We’ll post lots more about the shaft soon. In the meantime, Channel 7 should have a segment on the work being done as part of tonight’s newscast. See KABC 7’s story here. 

Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

Kim Scott, Director of Paleontology for Cogstone, a Metro project consultant, holds a rock that appears to contain the skull of a sea lion, perhaps two million years or more old. It was unearthed Tuesday afternoon during excavation of the exploratory shaft for the Purple Line Extension subway project. Photo by Dave Sotero/Metro.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, March 5

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! 

Obama’s budget is a populist wish list and an election blueprint (New York Times) 

The $3.9-trillion budget for fiscal year 2015 is designed to draw contrasts with Republicans and gets rid of comprises the President made last year, the Times reports. More than half the budget would go to mandatory spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the federal debt) and about $1.2 billion is spending directly controlled by the President and Congress. Excerpt:

Mr. Obama again proposed to overhaul the corporate tax code, by ending various business tax breaks and using the savings to reduce the maximum 35 percent tax rate for corporations. With about $150 billion in additional one-time revenues that businesses would pay in the transition from one tax system to another, Mr. Obama would finance half of a $302 billion, four-year plan for work on highway, bridge, rail and mass transit projects, as he first suggested last summer.

The budget, as we posted yesterday, also includes $100 million apiece in New Starts funding for the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector projects.

And some Twitter commentary from Yonah Freemark of the excellent Transport Politic blog:

Recent trends in bus and rail ridership (Transport Politic) 

Speaking of Yonah, here’s an interesting post about bus service and rail service — and which may contribute more to overall ridership gains by transit agencies around the country. As the post explains, there are limitations to the data, but some number-crunching indicates that rail seems to have a better chance of building ridership than does bus service. “Riders respond when they’re offered better service!,” writes Yonah, who also points out that we don’t know how bus rapid transit would attract more riders because there aren’t that many BRT projects in place.

I think there’s one other issue here: rail is pretty easy for new riders to figure out. Bus service in many metro areas — including ours — can be complicated with dozens of bus lines, each running on multiple streets, with different service frequencies and sometimes different fares and line names that seem to be random numbers. It’s not intuitive, yet overhauling bus service in many areas is a massive chore likely to upset as many riders as attract new ones.

Apple’s CarPlay: the smart car wars are getting serious (Washington Post)

Apple’s operating system will be running the mapping-texting-music playing systems in Volvos, Mercedes and Ferraris — and the hardware/software giant has agreements with other vehicle manufacturers. “Cars have long been pegged as the next major battleground for consumer tech companies looking to bring their smart technologies to more parts of consumers’ lives,” the Post says. Hmm. I remember the Days of Yore when I was excited to get a Subaru with a jack for my iPod.