Five things I’m thinking about transportation, Feb. 1 edition

What the world probably doesn't need: more lengthy reports on transportation projects. Photo by unk's dump truck, via Flickr.

ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW: There has been talk lately about reforming the environmental review process for transportation projects. It’s something, I think, should happen.

Look at the current process. It often takes five years and many millions of dollars to complete environmental studies for transportation projects. It’s a boon for transportation planners and consultants — cha-ching! — but are we really getting better projects as a result?

If an agency wants to build, for example, a light rail line along an existing railroad right-of-way in a developed urban area, is it really necessary to study not building the project? Or building it in many other places? Or exhaustively explaining why it’s needed (standard reason: traffic stinks)? And is it necessary to study every conceivable impact in an area already highly impacted by all the things that go with being in an urban area? And do we really need to study the air quality benefits of electrified rail over gasoline powered travel?

I don’t think so. And this is where current law fails: all big infrastructure projects are treated equally. A few years ago the city of San Francisco wanted to expand its network of bike lanes and had to perform an environmental review of the project because car traffic would be impacted to some degree. That’s not exactly the same thing as, say, drilling for oil on land inhabited by migratory caribou — but nonetheless a lengthy and costly environmental review was necessary.

I’m not saying that environmental reviews are not important. They are. It’s good for agencies such as Metro to have to justify their projects and explain their impacts. But there has to be a better way to protect the public good than the current setup which is often an exercise in paralysis by analysis.

ENVIRONMENTAL LAWSUITS: On a similar topic, there have been some recent erroneous media stories about a proposed bill, AB 1444,  in the state Legislature by Assemblyman Mike Feuer.

Some media are reporting that the bill would forbid legal challenges to environmental studies of transportation projects — and specifically the Westside Subway Extension. That is incorrect.

The bill seeks to speed up the review legal challenges to environmental documents for rail projects so these legal challenges can’t be dragged out forever in the courts. Resolution of such challenges means projects can be built faster.

At this juncture, the bill only includes intent language — basically it’s saying “we’re going to write a bill to this effect.” No particular projects are mentioned. Nor is it even certain that such a bill — if written and approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor — would even apply to the subway project. Why? The subway is about to release its final environmental study and who knows if a bill could retroactively apply to the project.

We’ll have to wait and see how the bill evolves — we’re talking Sacramento after all. It seems to me that the concept is reasonable and worth discussing. There are only two reasons to keep projects in courts forever: enrich lawyers or kill the projects.

ORANGE LINE EXTENSION MEDIA TOUR: It was great Monday morning to see the progress made on the Orange Line Extension that will connect the Chatsworth train station to Warner Center in the western San Fernando Valley.

Bottom line: Canoga Avenue is going to look a lot better with the busway and parallel bike and pedestrian path and the new landscaping that will be planted. The old railroad right-of-way was blighted and an eyesore.

I like the project because it ties the region’s commuter rail network, Metrolink, better into the Metro system. Commuters on Metrolink’s Ventura County trains will be able to step off a train at Chatsworth station and then enjoy a fairly quick Orange Line ride to Warner Center, one of the major job destinations in L.A. County. Or continue east on the Orange Line to many destinations in the Valley. There are also a fair number of industrial, warehouse and office jobs along the Canoga corridor — see photo below.

The old rail right-of-way on the east (right) side of Canoga Avenue will be home to the Orange Line Extension busway.

To put it another way, it’s yet another linkage in the area’s emerging transit system. The more linkages, the better — and the more that the transit network can replicate the linkages that have made the freeway network here so appealing.

WILTERN THEATER & WILCO: I caught Wilco at the Wiltern Theater last week. After the show ended, I was on a moving Purple Line train back to downtown within 10 minutes — and I wasn’t in any big hurry. That’s how convenient the subway is for those going to shows at the Wiltern.

In fact, all three Wilco shows in town were near Metro Rail: the Hollywood Palladium, on Sunset Boulevard, is a couple of blocks from the Red Line’s Hollywood and Vine station and the Los Angeles Theatre, on Broadway, is a block-and-a-half from the Red/Purple Line’s Pershing Square station. Not to mention the many bus lines serving all three venues. Concerts + Transit = Good Thing.

As for Wilco, I’ve been listening to them for years but had never seen them play before. Jeff Tweedy and company were great — and then some. So good in fact, I barely noticed that they didn’t play Jesus Etc., a song I consider to be in the top 10 of all-time great pop/rock songs. Watch and listen below.

Oh, and here’s a very nice Norah Jones cover of the song.

ART OF TRANSIT: Once again, here’s my regular plea for readers to submit photos of the transportation scene in L.A. County. The Source has plenty of words. But there’s nothing like a good photograph to capture a moment or a mood and that’s the reason I like to post “art of transit” on most days.

I don’t really care whether the photos are of buses, trains, cars, freeways, pedestrians or cyclists. I just want images that help tell the story about how in 2012 people get from Point A to Point B. And there’s no better source than the folks who use Metro every day.

If you need some inspiration, here’s a wealth of good images in the Chicago Transit Authority’s Flickr group. And if you’re not enjoying sitting in front of a computer today, here’s a little inspiration from the Ansel Adams gallery in Yosemite National Park.


3 replies

  1. Thanks for the reminder about ART OF TRANSIT. I snap pictures on my phone all the time and rarely tweet them. I guess I’m hoarding images for myself for future use on my blog, but I’m willing to share for the greater good. Let’s document transit 2012, everyone! 🙂

  2. I’m kind of surprised that you got on a Purple Line train to downtown… it seems like whenever I’m on there on late nights or weekends, the Purple Line is only running Vermont-Western shuttles because of trackwork going on.

  3. I agree that the environmental review process could use some streamlining.

    However, at the same time, I do think that the Regional Connector ended up as a better project because the MTA held lots of meetings, workshops and open houses and because they listened to the concerns, complaints and suggestions of the community.

    For a project such as this one, there’s really no need to study “what if we used shuttle buses instead” or the impact light rail construction would have on wildlife in a downtown area.

    However, I think that the public comment section of the EIR/ EIS needs to remain in place. Requiring public input gave Metro a chance to show that they can answer questions, respond to proposals and show some respect for the historic nature of the community.