Transportation headlines, Friday, July 11

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ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro local bus in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A Metro local bus in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Guest editorial: don’t destroy the Orange Line, improve it (Streetsblog L.A.) 

Annie Weinstock and Stephanie Lotshaw argue that there is no need to convert the Orange Line to light rail. A state bill was signed into law earlier this week that rescinded the ban on light rail in the corridor. As we have posted before, converting the Orange Line to light rail is not in Metro’s long-range plans nor has the agency studied the issue.

Excerpt:

First, simply increasing bus frequency would be an obvious improvement. While there have been concerns that increasing frequency will cause bunching at intersections, this appears to be due to a signal timing issue which favors cross street traffic over public transportation on the Orange Line corridor. Timing traffic signals to favor automobiles shows an outdated mode of thinking. It would take some political will on the part of the city to change the signal timings, but it is a simple solution, far cheaper and faster than upgrading to light railwhich would still be faced with signal timing problems.

Then, by raising the boarding platforms at stations to the level of the bus floor, buses could complete the boarding process more quickly, further increasing capacity by allowing more buses to pull into the station more quickly. The system could also phase in more passing lanes at stations, allowing for a quadrupling of capacity and a mix of service types.

In addition, changing the intersection regulations, which currently require buses to slow to 10mph from 25, would increase overall speeds along the corridor. The reduction in speeds was initially implemented because of several accidents which occurred at the start of operations in 2005. But most systems experience problems in the early years, particularly where new signals have been introduced. Now, after almost 10 years of BRT operations as well as extensive signage and education done by Metro, these restrictions are obsolete and only make the system less convenient for passengers.

This is just an excerpt — please read the entire editorial for discussion of other salient points about bus rapid transit in the U.S. and the Orange Line. As for the issue of signal timing, the traffic lights are controlled by the city of Los Angeles.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti supports Gold Line Whittier route, Azusa-to-Claremont extension (San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

(UPDATE, JULY 17: Mayor Garcetti told the Metro Board’s Executive Management Committee that the Tribune article was in error and that he did not say which potential alignment he supported at the meeting — and that a tape of the meeting shows that he did not state a preference).

At a transportation forum with San Gabriel Valley and San Bernardino County officials, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that he supports the Gold Line being extended to Whittier and that he would like to see it extended to both Whittier and South El Monte if funding can be found to build both. Metro will soon release the draft environmental study for the project; one alternative extends light rail to Whittier, another to South El Monte. Cities along both routes support the project.

Important note: an extension of the Eastside Gold Line is a project to be funded by Measure R and under the current schedule would be completed in 2035 unless funds are found to accelerate the project.

Garcetti also reiterated that he would like to see the Gold Line Foothill Extension built from Azusa to Montclair (something he said earlier this year) and would like to help find funding for the project whether or not it’s added to Metro’s short-range plan. The Pasadena-to-Azusa segment is under construction (it’s a Measure R-funded project) and scheduled for an early 2016 opening. Funding would need to be found for the Azusa-Montclair segment.

The greater context here is that Metro has been discussing a possible sales tax ballot measure in 2016 that could possibly be used to accelerate current projects or fund new ones. The Metro Board of Directors has not made any decision yet whether to take anything to Los Angeles County voters. But the agency is seeking feedback from cities in the county on what type of projects they would like to see funded. If — and it’s still a big ‘if’ –the agency seeks a ballot measure, the big decision to be made is whether the ballot measure would extend the current Measure R sales tax (which expires in mid-2039) or whether it would add an additional half-cent sales tax.

Work on big Pershing Square mixed-user to begin in mid-2015 (Curbed LA) 

The 600-unit residential building with commercial space would occupy the parking lots on the north side of Pershing Square and help densify a section of downtown L.A. that should be dense. The site, of course, sits adjacent to the Metro Red/Purple Line Pershing Square station and is a short train ride or walk to the 7th/Metro Center station that will eventually host trains headed to Long Beach, Santa Monica, Azusa and East Los Angeles.

Times intern recounts traffic challenges on way to Dodger Stadium (L.A. Times) 

It took Everett Cook 90 minutes to travel the two miles from the Times (at 2nd/Spring) to Dodger Stadium on Thursday thanks to traffic en route. “For what it’s worth, the vast majority of the traffic police and Dodgers employees were as helpful as can be. There might not even be a solution to this — too many cars in too small a stretch will be a problem anywhere,” he writes.

As I’ve written many times before, ballpark traffic is the price everyone pays for the decision in the 1950s to build the stadium atop a hill and away from the city grid — and the transit that goes with it. No one wants to move the ballpark into downtown, so it’s likely that traffic will remain an issue. The Dodger Stadium Express provides bus service between Union Station and the stadium is an alternative to driving. It’s free for those holding game tickets.

ART OF TRANSIT 2: There are many reasons why a train may go out of service, including the planet being taken over by apes. Credit: 20th Century Fox.

ART OF TRANSIT 2: There are many reasons why a train may go out of service, including the planet being taken over by apes. Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Thanks for riding to the L.A. Kings victory parade, hockey fans! A few pics for you…

Thanks everyone for riding Metro today to the victory parade and celebration for the Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup Championship. Looked to me like a big turnout — perhaps more people than for the 2012 parade.

If you would to download full resolution versions of any of the above photos of the Kings, they’re available on Metro’s Flickr page. To download, click on the “….” on the right side of the screen and then choose “download/all sizes” and then select the size.

See you in September, hockey fans!

Transportation headlines, Monday, April 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: Looking north to the San Gabriel Mountains from the bridge that will carry the Gold Line Foothill Extension over Foothill Boulevard in Azusa. Awesome photo by Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

ART OF TRANSIT: Looking north to the San Gabriel Mountains from the bridge that will carry the Gold Line Foothill Extension over Foothill Boulevard in Azusa. Awesome photo by Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

Move LA’s Measure R 2 proposal, including their rail fantasy map (Streetsblog L.A.) 

A look at the activist group’s “strawman proposal” for a half-cent sales tax increase they would like to see on the Nov. 2016 ballot; please note that Metro hasn’t decided to pursue such a tax yet although is surveying cities about their own desired projects. In any case, Move LA wants to see a 45-year sales tax increase with 30 percent of the funds dedicated to new rail and bus rapid transit projects — which they say would raise $27 billion over the life of the tax.

As Streetsblog notes, Move LA says their proposal is intended only to spur discussion and they include some projects for potential funding. Some are projects receiving seed money from the present Measure R (Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, South Bay Green Line Extension) while others are new such as converting the Orange Line to a rail line, extending the Green Line to a junction with Metrolink in Norwalk, extending the Gold Line to San Bernardino County, extending the Crenshaw/LAX Line to Wilshire Boulevard, extending the Purple Line to Santa Monica from its future terminus at the West LA VA Hospital and extending the Eastside Gold Line Extension to both South El Monte and Whittier instead of just one of those.

If such a tax goes forward it will certainly be interesting to see how much is allocated to paying for new transit projects and which projects. As Move LA’s list shows, there are certainly some worthy candidates out there that would travel through many different parts of the county. And there are certainly parts of the transit network with holes in it. Stay tuned!

The real reason that mass transit fares are rising across the U.S. (The Atlantic Cities) 

Writer Eric Jaffe points out that several large agencies in the U.S. are currently pursuing fare increases (including Metro). And that’s not surprising: using data from a new federal report, Jaffe says that most agencies have seen the cost of providing bus and rail service rise substantially since 2000 while allowing fares to lag behind — often for good reasons (affordability, mobility, etc.). A lot of the cost appears not to come from employee salaries but rather the cost of employee benefits, which I’m guessing really means health care. It’s a national problem, Jaffe writes, and there doesn’t appear to be a neat solution on the near horizon outside of fare increases.

Dan Walters: bullet train faces withering set of issues (Sacramento Bee)

The political columnist concludes his column by asking whether construction should even begin on a project this year that may never have the funds to complete a link between L.A. and San Francisco or even the San Joaquin Valley. He also neatly lays out some of the current issues on the table, many involving legal challenges as to whether the project fulfills requirements in a 2008 bill that allowed the bond measure to go to state voters. Obviously this bears watching with one interesting but little publicized side issue: if the bullet train project hits more obstacles what happens to the part of the state bonds to help local projects connect with the bullet train? Both L.A. and San Francisco are using some of that money to fund local projects (the Regional Connector, to be specific).

What the Internet thinks of the world’s subways (Mashable) 

Fun pros and cons of 10 big subway systems around the globe (Los Angeles’ is not included) as gleamed from online reviews. Warning: the language used is not always delicate.

Musicians to celebrate Bach’s birthday March 21 with free public performances

Musicians around the world will be celebrating Johann Sebastian Bach’s 329th birthday this Friday, March 21, with free performances in subways and other public spaces. The idea is to bring a little music into people’s daily lives and hopefully inspire some future classical music lovers!

Several performances will be taking place near the plaza entrances of the following Metro Rail line stations.

  • Universal City, 7:30 – 8:30 a.m.
  • Civic Center/Grand Park , 11 a.m. – Noon
  • Civic Center/Grand Park, 1 – 2 p.m.
  • Civic Center/Grand Park, 4:30 – 5:30 p.m.  
  • Universal City, 6 – 7 p.m.
  • Civic Center/Grand Park, 7 – 8 p.m.  

These performances are free and open to the public. At this time, event organizers are no longer accepting performer submissions. Those who would like to stay and listen, please be mindful of the pedestrian traffic around you. Also, please be reminded that musical performances are not allowed inside Metro stations.

Graphic: New Starts funding for Metro over the years — and finally on the rise again!

New Starts Appropriations Graph

The above graphic is certainly worth a look. It shows the amount of federal New Starts money received by Metro on an annual basis since 1993. New Starts is a federal program that helps local transit agencies pay for big, expensive projects and most of the money shown above went to the existing Red/Purple Line subway and the Eastside Gold Line.

The graphic is also missing a critical piece of good news. President Obama’s proposed transportation budget for fiscal year 2015 (which begins Oct. 1, 2014), which was announced today, includes $100 million for the Regional Connector and $100 million for the Purple Line Extension. If the budget is approved by Congress, the $200 million in New Starts money for Metro would be the most received in any given year.

The $100 million for the Regional Connector is part of the eventual $670 million in New Starts money that the project will receive. That was the big news a couple of weeks ago when Metro and the U.S. Department of Transportation finalized the New Starts deal. A similar deal for $1.25 billion in funding for the Purple Line Extension project should also be completed soon. Both projects are also drawing on funds from Measure R, the local sales tax increase approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008.

Stepping back, let’s look at the big picture. The Connector and Purple Line Extension also plan to use federally-backed TIFIA loans that will help Metro get lower interest rates than if they borrowed money for construction at market rates. That’s significant because it shows the degree to which the federal government under President Obama is getting involved in helping local areas build transit. It may not all be grant money — i.e. money Metro doesn’t have to pay back — but the loans still help Metro take on less debt and thus spend less on already pricey projects.

The loans are part of Metro’s America Fast Forward [AFF] proposal that has found its way into President Obama’s proposal for a multi-year transportation funding bill. AFF would expand the loan program and also create federally-subsidized bonds that local agencies could use when building projects. And that’s what I want readers to understand: the loans, the bonds, the New Starts money and Measure R combined — that’s the big kahuna here, folks. Those four things together give Metro the resources to build the expanded transit network many readers here want.

Finally, and on a very related note, I wanted to pass along a thank you from Metro officials to President Obama and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein for helping Metro secure the federal funds and advocating for expanded transit funding in Los Angeles and other cities across the nation.

Transportation headlines, Monday, March 3

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Have bike, will ride train — if only Metro will provide bike lockers (L.A. Times) 

Good opinion piece by Nicolas Goldberg. His dilemma: he wants to bike to the Wilshire/Western Purple Line Extension and take the train from there to work sans bike, which he doesn’t need to bring all the way downtown L.A. But there are only 16 bike lockers at Wilshire/Western and there’s a waiting list to get one. And thus the headline — he argues for more bike lockers at busy stations.

Obama turns to light rail to salvage transit legacy (The Hill)

Bad headline — I’m not sure any recent President has a “transit legacy” given the relative paucity of federal dollars available to build transit across the U.S. (about $2 billion a year to be shared by many different agencies). This blog post argues that Republicans have been largely successful at blocking high-speed rail projects touted by the President in his first term. As a result, his Department of Transportation may step up efforts to help fund light rail and streetcar projects around the country.

Why does downtown Los Angeles have parking minimums? (Better Institutions) 

The writer argues, in essence, that a chronic shortage of street parking in L.A. guarantees that developers in downtown will build parking. And, thus, there’s no need for zoning laws that mandate certain amounts of parking get built — instead it would be better for the markets to decide so that those who don’t need parking don’t have to pay to build it for those who do.

Google sets roadblocks to block distracted driver legislation (Reuters) 

The internet giant, Reuters reports, is lobbying against potential laws that would prohibit driving while wearing devices such as glasses embedded with small computer screens. The article doesn’t specify Google’s exact concerns with the laws, although Google already tells customers to comply with existing distracted driving laws. Will be interesting to see who prevails on this one — I’m hoping common sense, but not betting on it.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, February 4

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ART OF TRANSIT: Metro headquarters, the Union Station train platforms and the Palos Verdes Peninsula as seen from Elysian Park on Monday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: Metro headquarters, the Union Station train platforms and the Palos Verdes Peninsula as seen from Elysian Park on Monday evening. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Yes to an Arts District subway stop (Downtown News) 

The editorial praises Metro CEO Art Leahy for directing Metro staff to study adding subway stations at 1st Street and 6th Street along existing Metro tracks. As some know, the tracks for the Red/Purple Line subway continue south from Union Station to a rail maintenance yard along the Los Angeles River and adjacent to the emerging Arts District.

This idea has been kicking around for years — and has been pushed in the past by L.A. Councilman Tom LaBonge. Excerpt:

The neighborhood has become one of the hottest communities in Los Angeles and is seeing a blitz of development. The 438-apartment One Santa Fe is rising east of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and Legendary Development is preparing to break ground this year on a nearby 472-unit rental complex. Other housing projects already exist throughout the area, including three buildings developed by the firm Linear City in the southern portion of the district. Being able to get these people from their homes to the center of Downtown, or other neighborhoods throughout the region, without climbing into a car has obvious benefits.

Then there is the biggest project coming to the area: In 2015, work will start on a $401 million replacement of the Sixth Street Viaduct. The project will improve connections between the Arts District and Boyle Heights, and include recreation areas on the banks of the Los Angeles River.

All of this activity means that the district could wind up in a traffic crush. That is a serious concern, considering that stakeholders have already experienced the first pangs of congestion and parking shortages. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to be in front of a problem rather than play catch-up later?

We’ll see what happens — the obvious challenge is figuring out how to get people from a presumed street level train platform safely into the Arts District. I don’t believe anything is imminent but it sounds like an exciting idea, especially with the subway extension soon to start construction along Wilshire Boulevard.

Editorial: planning for the future (Santa Monica Daily Press) 

The newspaper urges the Santa Monica City Council to approve plans tonight for the Bergamot Transit Village, located near the future Expo Line 26th/Bergamot station (it’s at 26th and Olympic). Excerpt:

Growth is inevitable. Santa Monica and the rest of the region will continue to attract more people. Whether it’s the 22-year-old graduate from MIT looking to strike it big with her next smartphone application, the New Jersey native stepping off the bus with dreams of Hollywood stardom or the young couple about to start a family, population growth cannot be stopped. Therefore, we must find ways to accept it and manage it as best we can. Without building more housing or more office space, Santa Monica will be unprepared to deal with the increase in demand. Rents will skyrocket, young families will be pushed out and this city will be further strangled by gridlock and falter from a lack of diversity.

The Hines project, with its combination of office space, retail and housing, helps create the community of the future, one in which people can live, work and shop all within their own neighborhood, and without getting into their cars. It’s what innovative, visionary urban planners are calling smart growth, and we agree. We can no longer afford to be car-centric. Change must come and it will be painful for some, but you cannot have progress without some discomfort.

Hines is offering to provide affordable and market rate housing that is sorely needed, plus the creative office space to keep us competitive and attracting the high-wage jobs that make our local economy strong. There is a dedication to preservation, child care and green space. The project, if approved, would be built adjacent to public transit in the form of the Exposition Light Rail line. This is what is envisioned in the Land Use & Circulation Element, a planning document that was debated for years by the community, one that protects traditional residential neighborhoods but allows for growth along transit corridors to meet future demand.

Growth has been everything but inevitable in Santa Monica for decades — the population has barely grown in the past half-century compared to the rest of the region. A lot of that is due to lack of development. And how has that worked out? Well, real estate prices are sky high — unless a rental unit is rent controlled — and traffic is widely agreed to be terrible because of people commuting to jobs.

The Daily Press calls for tweaks to the project — mostly more green space — but opines that a better deal or development is unlikely to come along. Whatever happens, I hope something gets built because putting development near transit makes a lot of sense.

LAX expects to spend $3 million to study consolidated rental car facility (Daily News)

The study would look into building a single facility for rental cars at Manchester Square, the old residential neighborhood west of the 405 and north of Century Boulevard. The airport has bought up most of the properties there and is collecting a ticket fee to help pay for a project should it come to pass.

Train-related excerpt:

Under the plan expected to be approved Monday, Kansas City, Mo.-based TranSystems Corp. will receive about $3 million to study building the car rental facility. Many other airports, including Phoenix Sky Harbor and Chicago Midway, have centrally located rental buildings, in which many companies share one garage. Eventually, L.A.’s facility likely would be linked to the Central Terminal Area with an automated train. If built, in 20 years it might also be linked via the same automated system to Metro’s Green and LAX/Crenshaw lines.

I suppose the key phrase there is “20 years.” The automated train — i.e. the people mover — would presumably first travel from the terminals to a “Intermodal Transportation Facility” the airport hopes to build where light rail would meet the people mover

. Here’s the airport map showing how it all comes together:

Staff20Recommended20Alt20130110_72dpi

Transportation headlines, Thursday, November 7

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20131107-142342.jpg

ART OF TRANSIT: The old streetcar depot on the VA campus in West Los Angeles. It was built in 1900 — and looks like it was last painted around that time — and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Here is a story that ran in the L.A. Times today about a new study alleging that the VA is putting hundreds of historic properties at risk of demolition by failing to maintain them. It’s not really related, but the Purple Line Extension’s station at the VA Hospital will be near the trolley stop, but on the south side of Wilshire Boulevard.

Will Los Angeles ever get a bike share program? (Downtown News)

Metro’s Board of Directors in October voted to begin exploring a countywide bike share program — in effect, ending the city of Los Angeles’ efforts to start a program through BikeNation, a private firm. The Downtown News reports that problem with the city’s effort, and one that could plague the countywide effort, is a contract the city of L.A. has with two outdoor advertising firms that gives them exclusive rights through 2021 to the kind of ads that would presumably be used to help fund a bike share program. Other cities aren’t encumbered with these kind of deals, allowing them to seek exclusive advertisers for their programs — for example, the CitiBikes in Gotham.

What does it take to map an earthquake fault? (KPCC)

A very well-written explanation of how earthquake faults are mapped in California and the efforts underway to better map the Hollywood Fault. The issue in Hollywood involves development: two skyscrapers are proposed for a site that critics say is on top of the fault. The bigger issue is that due to state budget cuts, many fault maps need updating, the reason Metro had to perform its own set of tests to determine the location of the Santa Monica Fault and the West Beverly Hills Lineament when planning the Purple Line Extension.

Purple Line project gets Maryland approval to seek public-private partnership (Washington Post)

The $2.2-billion project would build 21 miles of light rail through the busy D.C. suburbs in Maryland, providing connections to Washington Metro rail lines and commuter rail. The deal would involve getting $900 million in federal funds and then have a private firm or firms provide up to $900 million of the cost in exchange for receiving $100 million to $200 million annually for 30 to 35 years to operate and maintain the line. It will be interesting to see if they can make it work. These deals always sound plausible on paper but often prove difficult to engineer in the real world.

Do bike lanes fuel gentrification? (Utne Reader)

A very interesting article about efforts to install protected bike lanes on Chicago’s South Side and the somewhat mixed reaction by African-American churches in the area who feared loss of parking. But the Utne Reader dives deeper and looks at the views by some that bike lanes — sometimes known as ‘white lanes’ — are the prelude to the kind of gentrification that could change their neighborhoods in profound ways, and not all of them for the better.

A really fascinating and fair piece of journalism. Read it.

Cincinnati streetcar in jeopardy as new mayor threatens to stop it (Next City)

20131107-141540.jpg

Photo by David Cole

The mayor-elect of the Queen City doesn’t like Cincy’s effort to build a downtown streetcar. Construction has begun and a half-mile of track may be built by the time he takes office — and the cost of stopping it may be more than building it. One of the often heard complaints about the project (one of many similar projects around the country) is that the money would be better spent on improving bus service in town.

Great video of Purple Line Extension….in Moscow

Grab your Troika Card and check out this great video of construction work on the Purple Line Extension in Moscow — only thing missing is “Eye of the Tiger” from the soundtrack. Of course, Metro is gearing up for construction of the 3.9-mile first phase of the Purple Line Extension between the existing Wilshire/Western station and Wilshire/La Cienega in Beverly Hills.

With car traffic in Moscow having taken a turn for the much, much worse since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Moscow subway is undergoing a tremendous expansion this decade with additional mileage and stations being added to several lines.  Wikipedia (to be taken with an appropriate grain of salt) says there are 15 tunnel boring machines currently at work, which sounds plausible.

Three-month progress report on gate latching shows increased revenue for Red/Purple Line

A three-month report on the progress of gate latching and the TAP fare media on the Red/Purple Line subway will be presented to a Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) board committee Thursday, including preliminary data showing that more people are paying the proper fare, resulting in increased revenue for Metro.

Sixteen gates on the Red/Purple Line subway were latched between June 19 and August 5 this past summer.

“The increase in revenue during the study period indicates that passengers holding valid fare are tapping and riders who previously were not paying had bought TAP cards and fare or stopped using the Red/Purple Line subway altogether,” said David Sutton, Deputy Executive Officer. “Increased revenue to the Red/Purple Line may be as high as $6 million per year, which could offset additional costs of installing the system.”

Sutton stressed that while this is an encouraging sign, data from a three month sample isn’t enough to verify a trend in terms of more revenue or previous rates of fare evasion.  “When latching is completed on the light rail system we will be able to compile a larger sample to help tell us the level of success of latching the gates,” Sutton said.

Gate latching at five Gold Line stations was completed on September 16. Latching is scheduled to be completed for six Blue Line stations by Dec. 9 and 14 Green Line stations by January 13, 2014.

Gate latching and the use of the TAP fare media are integral to the development of a seamless, regional transit network.

Metro, Metrolink, Access Services and nine municipal transit systems are currently on the TAP network. By the end of 2014, 26 operators will recognize TAP as fare media. TAP is the largest and most successful smartcard fare media in North America with 1.2 million passes sold monthly. TAP is used for 22 million boardings per month and is accepted on at least 3,800 buses in the region.