Metro CEO Art Leahy letter to stakeholders on SR 710 North study

The letter from Metro Art Leahy was sent to stakeholders on Friday morning:

Dear Stakeholder,

As we approach the fall season, I wanted to provide you with an update on the release of the draft environmental impact document for the State Route 710 North Study.

Using Measure R funds, Caltrans and Metro are studying mobility and traffic congestion relief in the area between east/northeast Los Angeles and the western San Gabriel Valley.

Five alternatives are being equally evaluated: bus rapid transit, freeway tunnel, light rail transit, no build, and local street and intersection improvements.

Altogether, approximately 26 detailed technical studies are included in the draft environmental document that will be released in February 2015. The studies analyze traffic, noise, air quality, cost-benefit, health risk assessments, and other variables.

To provide the public with correct information on the Study, Metro has posted two new documents, Frequently Asked Questions and Fact vs. Fiction on the Metro website.

Caltrans and Metro are fully committed to an open and transparent process. To date, Metro has conducted 92 community meetings, participated in six city-sponsored community forums, and held over 200 briefings with community stakeholders — and we are not done.

In the next several months, Metro will continue to go out into neighborhoods and communities to talk to residents and businesses about the need to address traffic congestion in the area and about the alternatives being considered.

You can help us spread the word and raise awareness by talking to your neighbors, co-workers and fellow students, and by discussing the Study at your club and association meetings. These conversations will help increase public participation in the process and ensure that more people have a voice in this regional issue.

Thank you for your continued partnership in our effort to address traffic congestion. For continuous updates go to metro.net/sr710study, facebook.com/sr710study, or follow us on Twitter @sr710study.

Sincerely,

Arthur T. Leahy
Chief Executive Officer

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, July 9

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ART OF TRANSIT: The Metro 181 on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The Metro 181 on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

It’s now legal to build light rail in the Valley (Curbed LA)

The Valley could get its own Metro light-rail train (LAWeekly)

Light rail in the San Fernando Valley (Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian press release) 

Gov. Brown on Tuesday signed a bill by Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian that would make it legal to convert the Orange Line busway in the San Fernando Valley into light rail. The bill reverses the 1991 “Robbins” bill that outlawed light rail along the old Southern Pacific rail right-of-way that would eventually become the Orange Line.

So that’s interesting. Perhaps mostly because it shows how times have changed in the past 23 years. Whereas neighborhoods once upon a time went to great lengths to keep rail projects at bay — and a few still do — many more are actively lobbying for rail projects in their communities.

From LAWeekly:

Coby King of the Valley Industry & Commerce Association (VICA) says it’s his community’s turn to get a light-rail line that could run north-south from Canoga Park to Chatsworth:

The Metro Orange Line has been a victim of its own success, and is now so overcrowded and slow it has to turn away new passengers. Conversion to light rail is the best option for the Orange Line, with its significantly higher ridership potential and low cost relative to heavy rail and underground subways.

Nazarian himself says that having a train run though the Valley would “lead to greater connectivity to the Red Line and other transportation lines throughout Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley.”

There are some mighty tall hurdles to clear for the Orange Line to ever become a rail line. The Metro Board of Directors has not asked for a study of a conversion. Nor is a conversion in Metro’s long-range plan that was adopted by the Metro Board of Directors in 2010. The list of projects in the plan that are both funded and unfunded are below, including the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor and the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor:

LRTP1

LRTP2

All that said, a conversion certainly has its advocates in the Valley, which today boasts a population of 1.77 million, according to the Census Bureau. And the Orange Line has certainly proven popular, with almost 30,000 weekday boardings, according to the latest ridership estimates from Metro. The key questions, however, remain unanswered: how many more people could a train carry? Would a train definitely be faster? (the Orange Line currently takes 55 minutes to travel between NoHo and Chatsworth and 45 minutes between NoHo and Warner Center during the morning rush hour.) What is the cost? Where would the funding come from? Assuming money is in limited supply, what’s more important — this or a transit project connecting the Westside and Valley?

Discuss, please.

Caltrans to place homes in path of 710 freeway for sale (Star News) 

The agency has listed 53 properties purchased decades ago by the state in case a surface extension of the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena was ever built. That possibility is gone: Metro is currently studying five alternatives as part of its SR-710 Study including a freeway tunnel, light rail, bus rapid transit, traffic improvements and the legally-required no-build option. The state owns more than 500 properties in Pasadena, South Pasadena and Los Angeles — many of which will be sold after the project’s environmental studies are completed.

Who gets to buy the properties? Excerpt:

According to a draft set of rules Caltrans released last month for the sale of the houses, tenants who owned the house before Caltrans bought it through eminent domain will get the first shot. They will be asked to pay a fair market value.

Next in line will be current tenants who have lived in the house for more than two years and qualify as having low to moderate income. Then come tenants who have lived in the house for five years and do not earn more than 150 percent of the area median income, which is $64,800, according to the federal government.

Both of those situations would have the tenant purchase the home at an affordable rate or the “as is” fair market value, which is derived from the comparative home sales.

After that, a public or private affordable housing organization could purchase the home at a reasonable price. Then the current tenant — if they make more than 150 percent of median income or have lived in the house less than 2 years — can buy at fair market value. Last in line are former tenants at fair market value. After that, if the house is still on the market, it will go up for auction for anyone to buy.

 

The draft environmental study for the project is scheduled to be released in February.

Balancing cars, cash and congestion: Metro Silver Line BRT in ExpressLanes (Streetsblog LA)

A good overview of the history of the Silver Line bus service that runs between El Monte Station and Harbor Gateway Station using the ExpressLanes on both the 10 and 110 freeways as well as surface streets in downtown Los Angeles.

The post also looks at the issue of too much traffic in the ExpressLanes on the 10 freeway between Union Station and Cal State L.A. — where there is only one of the tolled lanes in each direction. According to Metro, there has been a marginal reduction in speeds on that segment in recent months (which the agency hopes to correct through by adjusting tolls) although the overall average speed of the ExpressLanes remains above the federally-mandated 45 mph.

Streetsblog also went out and looked at that segment firsthand on several occasions and found:

After hearing from our tipster and from Metro, Streetsblog visited the 10 Freeway ExpressLanes three times. All on rush-hour mornings on weekdays in mid-June 2014. The good news is that there wasn’t any bumper to bumper traffic. The lanes work. Plenty of buses, carpools, and solo drivers were commuting smoothly toward downtown Los Angeles.

The only slowing observed was that transit buses would often develop a “tail” of cars lined up behind them.  It appears that buses, driving the speed limit, marginally reduce the speed of other vehicle in the ExpressLanes.

Most likely, the toll lanes are experiencing the dip in traffic congestion that generally occurs in Los Angeles during summer months. Gas prices are generally higher in the summer. Fewer students are commuting to school. Some residents go on vacation. And, lately, according to Mayor Garcetti’s video here, drivers may be playing hooky to watch World Cup soccer.

The comments include some interesting debate about the Silver Line and the ExpressLanes. I’ll echo Streetsblog’s request for any feedback from readers here who use the bus or drive in the ExpressLanes.

Bicycling can be deadlier in L.A. than in Mumbai, Shanghai and other big traffic cities (LAWeekly)

Writer Chris Walker argues that he felt safer on a bike in the chaos of the aforementioned cities (and many others in Asia) than he does in L.A. He offers some statistics to back up his argument but much of what he says is anecdotal (not that I entirely disagree with his points). His main point: drivers in L.A. have very, very little regard for cyclists.

Video and podcast from Zocalo Public Square’s forum last night on the 710 freeway

Above is both video and a podcast from Zocalo Public Square’s forum at MOCA on Wednesday evening that was titled “What does Southern California need from the 710 freeway?”

The forum — which was sponsored by Metro — focused on the 4.5-mile gap in the 710 freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena and the ongoing study by Caltrans and Metro that seeks to improve traffic congestion in the area.

The project’s draft environmental document is scheduled for release next February and is considering five alternatives: a freeway tunnel to close the gap, a light rail line between East Los Angeles and Pasadena, bus rapid transit between East L.A. and Pasadena, traffic signal and intersection improvements in the 710 area and the legally-required no-build option. The project is scheduled to receive $780 million in Measure R funding, although additional money would be needed to build some of the more expensive alternatives — if, in fact, the Metro Board of Directors ultimately decides to build anything.

NBC-4’s n moderated the panel that included Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency Linda S. Adams, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) executive director Hasan Ikhrata and UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies director Brian Taylor. I thought Nolan framed the 710 issue well, calling it a “Gordian knot” and that “I’ve never seen a transportation issue as convolutedly complicated as this one.” 

As the panelists pointed out several times, the 710 discussion goes back to the 1950s and original state plans to complete the 710 between Long Beach and Pasadena. Less than half of the state’s original freeway plans for our region was built — the reason, for example, that the 2 freeway ends at Glendale Boulevard and the Marina Freeway only exists west of the 405. As Brian Taylor noted, however, the 710 remains somewhat unique among the unfinished freeways because while there are uncompleted segments, there are very few areas where there is such a pronounced gap.

What to be done about it? Both Toebben and Ikhrata said that closing the gap made the most sense and would take traffic off surface streets in the western San Gabriel Valley, help improve air quality (the freeway would keep traffic moving instead of sitting and idling) and would likely also ease congestion on other freeways that motorists use to skirt the 710 gap, most notably the 110 and 5 freeways. “It’s more expensive to do nothing,” Ikhrata said, adding that billions of dollars were lost in travel delays.

When Toebben was asked if motorists would be willing to pay a toll to use the tunnel, his answer was a simple “yes.” He later noted that he lives near Orange Grove Avenue in Pasadena and sees motorists each day use it as a way to close the 710 gap by using Orange Grove, the 110 freeway and the 5 freeway to get back to the 710. “Am I willing to pay three, four bucks — I don’t know what the cost will be — to avoid those other routes and get off those freeways so that others who need to travel those freeways, can? Yes, I’m willing to do that. I’d venture to say that every single person who lives anywhere close to this freeway, and I’m including myself, will see less traffic on their streets if a tunnel was built than they see right now.”

UCLA’s Taylor took the most nuanced and expansive view, first explaining the basic mechanics of freeway traffic congestion when commuters and those running errands compete for too little physical space on roadways (go to the 29 minute mark of the video). The result: throughput of the roads drops dramatically and a traffic jam ensues. He also pointed out that Measure R half-cent sales tax increase spreads the cost of mobility to everyone, whether they are using the mobility or not.

With that in mind, Taylor said that solving traffic congestion on a regional level could be done today if the area so choose with congestion pricing — i.e. tolling roadways so that motorists paid the true cost of driving (air pollution, freeway expansion, travel delays). That would drop demand for road space down to reasonable levels and allow traffic to free-flow instead of idle along. “Let’s argue about whether to close the gap or not, because we want to make sure that we never want to price people’s travel…if we did we would have a free flowing system,” Taylor said. “[But] that’s politically unacceptable.”

There was a brief Q&A session after the main discussion and it was pretty clear that some in the audience felt their view was missing: that closing the gap with a freeway tunnel would ultimately lead to more traffic and air pollution. And some of the questions revealed (yet again) the depth of the disagreements over this issue: when one audience member asked why building a rail line for freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach was not being considered, SCAG’s Ikhrata replied that building a freight rail line to Pasadena made little sense as most freight from the ports moves east, not north.

Here’s an article on Zocalo Public Square’s website. And here’s the SR-710 Study home page.

 

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, May 7

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Just a reminder, there’s a reason they haven’t begun digging the 710 tunnel (Streetsblog L.A.) 

The foremost reasons are that the environmental review process is still far from complete and the more expensive alternatives under study for the SR-710 project — in particular a tunnel or light rail line — are not fully funded. But Streetsblog editor Damien Newton says the real reason is lack of any kind of broad-based support for such a project. He also takes another shot at tonight’s Zocalo Public Square forum on the 710, intimating that it will be a Metro-sponsored rally for 710 expansion although conceding that “it’s possible that tonight’s discussion will take a different turn.” One correction: The event at MOCA in downtown L.A. is free and is near the Red/Purple Line’s Civic Center station and numerous Metro bus lines. It’s only $9 for those who choose to drive and to park at Disney Hall.

MTA may have tough time getting federal rail money past House GOP (L.A. Times) 

Republicans in the U.S. House are proposing spending cuts to the federal New Starts program that helps local agencies pay for large transit projects. That could impact $200 million in next year’s federal budget for Metro’s Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension projects. Excerpt:

Raffi Hamparian, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority director of federal affairs, said county officials would work to increase the amount when the House committee acts on the bill in coming weeks or to win approval for a higher amount from the Senate, where Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sits on the Appropriations Committee.

“It may be that the Senate is going to come in with a solid number that fully funds the program, and we don’t have a problem,” Hamparian said. “But the bottom line is, a low number adds uncertainty, and we don’t like uncertainty.” [snip]

“We’re determined to get these projects built, on time and on budget,” Hamparian said. “Los Angeles County voters have repeatedly stepped up to fund these projects, and we look forward to Congress meeting us halfway to get these great American infrastructure projects built.”

L.A.’s plan to make Figueroa a ‘complete street’ makes sense (L.A. Times)

The editorial backs the city of Los Angeles’ plans to put four miles of Figueroa on a road diet between downtown L.A. and Exposition Park, meaning that two traffic lanes could be lost and replaced, in part, with protected bike lanes and other improvements to help pedestrians and bus riders. Businesses, including USC, have pushed back. The Times says that’s a bad idea and that transferring some of the improvements over to Flower Street (which runs parallel to Figueroa) would be a bad idea.

How tolls could prevent a U.S. transportation crisis (The Atlantic Cities) 

With the federal Highway Trust Fund in perpetual crisis mode, Eric Jaffe writes that it’s encouraging that President Obama is proposing to allow states set tolls on their portion of the interstate system to pay for maintenance. The proposal would also allow some toll money to be used for public transit. My three cents: the interstates have been toll-free for so long that it’s going to be a mighty tough sell to get this past Congress and to get states to go for it, even if they have the permission to set tolls.

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.

Continue reading

Zocalo Public Square to host forum pondering the 710 gap and regional mobility

Photo: Zocalo Public Square

Photo: Zocalo Public Square

Here’s something different: Zocalo Public Square is holding a forum next Wednesday evening at 7:30 p.m. at MOCA on the 710 freeway gap and regional mobility issues.

Of course, the ongoing SR-710 project is looking at the same issue with five alternatives under consideration: a freeway tunnel, light rail, bus rapid transit, traffic signal and intersection improvements and the legally-required no-build option. The project is funded with $780 million from the Measure R sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters in 2008 — a lot of money but not enough for some of the more expensive options.

Here is a description on the forum from the Zocalo website:

The 710 is one of the most important freeways in Southern California. It’s also shorter than originally planned: For nearly 50 years, legal and environmental challenges have stalled the freeway in Alhambra, 4.5 miles short of its intended destination, Pasadena. Over the decades, discussions about extending the freeway have cast its future as a local issue. But the 710 causes traffic, produces pollution, and affects commerce across Los Angeles and even beyond. How broad are these impacts, and what role might the stalled extension play in them? What would the five options now being debated for dealing with the Alhambra-to-Pasadena gap–implementing new surface traffic technology and strategies, new rapid bus transit, light rail transit, a freeway tunnel, or building nothing at all–mean for our region? UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies directorBrian Taylor, Clean Tech Advocates senior advisor and former California Environment Secretary Linda S. Adams, L.A. Chamber of Commerce president Gary Toebben, and Southern California Association of Governments executive director Hasan Ikhrata visit Zócalo to discuss what these proposals mean for all of us.

 

The forum is hosted by NBC-4 reporter Conan Nolan.

The forum is free. Click here to make a reservation. MOCA is located at 250 S. Grand Street and is a short walk (although uphill) from the Metro Red/Purple Line’s Civic Center station or via numerous Metro bus lines, including the Silver Line and Lines 70, 71, 76, 78, 79, 96 and 378. For those driving, there are numerous lots in the area and parking is $9 at Disney Hall.

Metro is expected to soon announce the release date of the draft environment study for the project. Click here to visit the project’s home page on the Metro website.

 

Transportation headlines, Monday, April 21

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! 

Editor’s note: I’m blogging this week (again) from Cincinnati, where I’m attending to some unexpected family business. I hope to soon be back in L.A. assuming I don’t tumble into a giant pothole or drown in a four-way. 

Mayor calls delayed 710 report a significant setback (Pasadena Now) 

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard says that he believes that a tunnel to close the 710 gap is still under consideration despite the announcement last week that the draft environmental study for the project will be delayed to accommodate new computer modeling. The mayor has in the past said that he’s against a tunnel. Other alternatives under consideration include light rail, bus rapid transit, intersection and traffic signal improvements and no build.

11 simple ways to speed up your city’s buses (Streetsblog USA)

The headline could have easily been 11 common sense things to do to speed up buses. Among the suggestions: moving stops to the far sides of intersections (so buses don’t stop twice — once for passengers and again for a red light), consolidating stops, streamlining routes, using more bus lanes and using more traffic signal priority. It’s a smart post and I hope that it’s read by the many cities that are served by Metro and muni buses in Los Angeles County — as they have a big say in this.

Train nearly takes out elected official at press event promoting train safety (San Francisco Examiner) 

Bottom line: don’t stand on the yellow line at the edge of the platform, even if you’re deemed an important person.

How to travel the West on $10,000 per day (High Country News) 

One idea: the “Earthroamer” a 10-ton RV complete with its own array of solar panels that probably don’t help prevent it from being a greenhouse gas machine.

Cincinnati streetcar foes have a new target: bus lanes (Streetsblog USA)

An attempt to stop the city’s streetcar project failed. The new enemy of the public: a proposed bike lane in downtown on Central Parkway, which could rob businesses of free employee parking, so says Cincinnati’s mayor. Semi-irony: Spending money on the bike lane was previously approved and underneath Central Parkway is a subway that was partially built in the 1920s but never completed. Construction of a streetcar along the Parkway was halted and almost suspended last winter but work has resumed. Hey Cincy: try finishing what you started!

Not really related but for those who didn’t understand the above reference, below is what a “four-way” plate of Cincy chili looks like. Four way as in cheese on top of chili, onions and spaghetti. Chili John’s on Burbank Boulevard and Keystone in Burbank serves a very similar and tasty dish and Metro’s 154 bus stops right in front for the culinarily curious and adventurous.

photo (5)