Notes on transit: the 2024 Olympics, Measure R and project acceleration

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As summer winds down, just wanted to post a few notes from Source Planetary & Universe Headquarters, conveniently located next to Union Station and the county jail:

•The International Olympic Committee on Saturday picked Tokyo to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, spurning Istanbul (again) and Madrid. In 2017, the IOC will select the site of the 2024 Summer Olympics, with Los Angeles possibly in the running.

The above video was part of Tokyo's bid for the games. I think it's interesting for a couple of reasons. One, it emphasizes the walkability to many of the Olympic venues in Tokyo. Two, it doesn't emphasize transit, perhaps because Tokyo's subway is notoriously crowded.

With that thought in mind, allow me to backtrack for a few paragraphs.

In a rare foray into the Wild West that is reddit, I was asked recently when Metro might take a Measure R extension back to voters. An extension failed at the polls in November despite receiving 66.1 percent approval — just shy of the two-thirds necessary for a victory.

Short answer: no decision to go back to voters has been made by the Metro Board, the ultimate decider on such matters.

Long answer: In June, the Metro Board adopted an acceleration strategy. Part of that strategy was asking Metro staff for a report on when it would be best to return to voters — either 2014 or 2016. It's fair to say that's an acknowledgment that it will be difficult to accelerate anything without extending Measure R past its current 2039 expiration date. Why? There's likely not enough federal funding otherwise without a big local match.


I could be wrong, but my sense is that one factor in any future acceleration decision is whether the Los Angeles region seriously pursues the 2024 Summer Olympics. Earlier this year, then-Mayor Villaraigosa wrote the U.S. Olympic Committee, saying L.A. is interested. On his first day in office in July, Mayor Garcetti wrote USOC, saying much the same thing. (More info on the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games website)

If so, pursuing transit upgrades could become part of an overall infrastructure upgrade. Cities almost always promise key infrastructure upgrades as part of their Olympic bids. And there are a couple of Measure R projects that I'm guessing Olympic officials might be interested in: the Purple Line Extension to Westwood and the Airport Metro Connector, currently scheduled to be done in 2036 and 2028, respectively.


UCLA sits at the end of the third phase of the Purple Line Extension and some of the school's facilities could be used as an Olympic venue. Pauley Pavilion hosted gymnastics in 1984, back in the pre-Staple Center days.

The Airport Metro Connector seeks to connect the LAX terminals to the Crenshaw/LAX line via bus rapid transit, people mover, light rail or some combination of those three. If L.A. is going to compete for an Olympics, L.A. also needs to realize that many other metro areas across the globe have managed to breach the gap between their airport and their transit systems.

Of course, there is also the matter of Olympic politics. Tokyo also hosted the 1964 Summer Games. Who knows if the IOC would want to put the next Olympics in a city such as L.A. that has already twice hosted them. On the other hand, the U.S. last hosted a Summer Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta.

The hope here is that L.A. will be a strong contender because so many facilities are already here, assuming the Coliseum or Rose Bowl could be retrofitted with a running track.

Even without Measure R projects being accelerated, our region can still boast of a serious transit expansion since the 1984 Olympics — when there was no Metro Rail or Metrolink. Metro now runs 87.7 miles of rail and Metrolink service spans six counties. Even without acceleration, Metro is still planning to open five projects in the next decade: the second phase of the Expo Line, the Gold Line Foothill Extension, the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Regional Connector and the first phase of the Purple Line Extension before 2024. That would make it far easier to travel around to different events.

•After years of evasive action, I was selected for a jury earlier this year. As the judge said at the outset of the trial, many reluctant jurors end up finding it a rewarding experience — and she was absolutely right.

It was great to see how the wheels of justice really work and also provide a measure of fairness to defendants entitled to a fair trial and victims who deserve justice. Plus, the criminal courts building in downtown L.A. has pretty decent wi-fi to help get things done when outside the courtroom.

All that said, I was surprised at how many of my fellow jurors drove to the courthouse, which is one block from the Red/Purple Line Civic Center station. In fact, many of the courthouses in L.A. County are close to Metro Rail and Metro bus lines: Pasadena and East L.A. are near the Gold Line and the Compton courthouse is across the street from the Compton Blue Line station.

Perhaps one day a jury summons will arrive in the mail with a shiny new TAP card inside imprinted with a special scales of justice logo. If the idea is to lower the annoyances of jury duty, then giving prospective jurors an alternative to sitting in traffic may be a good idea.

•I'd like to remind everyone that Metro has an increasingly active presence on Twitter — after a gentle (read: very slow) start the past couple of years, we're finding that Twitter is 1) a great way to converse with the taxpaying public in real-time, and; 2) an equally great way to give boring old government a little — GASP — personality.

Government for too long has been too unwilling to crack a smile, tell a joke, apologize or flagellate itself. Well, we're going to try a different approach on our Twitter feed. And while I don't expect it to persuade everyone that Metro is crazy awesome, I do hope it lends a little bit of humanity to an agency that you're paying for.

Just FYI, there's a parallel effort at Metro to beef up staff in order to get service alerts to riders more quickly via Twitter and electronic signs. More on that soon, I hope.

•Speaking of social media, Metro has debuted on Instagram. If you ever wondered what government-issued egg salad look like, here's your big chance. Hint: It somehow manages to look worse than it tastes.

•And, finally, I'm pleased that The Source will soon be entering the world of podcasting. I think it will be a fun way to hear from people in the world of transportation and planning, both inside and outside of Metro. If you have an idea for someone who may be a good guest, email me.


17 replies

  1. I agree with L.A. Libertarian that the taxpayers will be on the hook for centuries if a U.S. City is selected to host the Games. The only way out is that if gas is $10 a gallon and people are forced to ride public transit. If this occurs, the transit system in that city may be able to make a profit in order to sustain its operations and service its debts without any external assistance. The chance for this to happen by ‘2024 is very slim.

  2. LA Libertarian, interestingly what I Googled was a debunking of the exodus by an academic. I especially like Prof Myers’s dubbing Joel Kotkin “the contrarian writer on urban matters”.

    I am well aware of the realities as to the cost to build capital projects and operate them. Much to the consternation of some I have spoken out when I don’t think a project makes sense. So attempts to paint me as overly permissive won’t hold water.

    The farebox recovery is mostly a product of decisions made by the Metro Board. And it is likely fare policy will be a topic of discussion next year as even this blog has noted. Which should be a interesting bit of political theater with the wild card of a new L.A. Mayor in the thick of things.

  3. Dana,

    “Local funding” is another word for “taxes.” Someone has to foot the bill and money doesn’t grow on trees. And that’s just for projects alone.

    Day-to-day operation costs also have to be factored in as well. You need money to run Metro once it’s built and money for that doesn’t grow on trees either. Over 70% of Metro operational costs has to be run on taxpayer funds because of a very dismal farebox recovery ratio.

    So we have two problems. Building Metro projects require taxes. Running Metro day-to-day also requires more taxes. And once the projects are built, we’re going to need more taxes to keep them running and working in good order.

    You keep up that way of “let someone else pay for it” mindset, people are going to say forget it because of ever increasing taxes and they’re just going to start moving out from LA.

    Doesn’t take too much to Google up “California exodus” to see what the reality is like.

  4. Thanks Yatate for pointing out that Harajuku Station is not part of the subway system. I only saw it from a bus when I believe we visited the Meiji Shrine. I agree with you–I think we should send some of our Metro guys to Tokyo to see what the greatest of the world’s transit systems looks like and how it is run and then adapt it to LA’s needs or at the very least learn from it. Even if the system is now overcrowded during rush hour, the Japanese will most likely adapt their own schedules so that the Olympics are a success.

  5. Tokyo Metro subway system is only a small part of Tokyo’s excellent mass transit system. But even their subway alone beats the heck out of LA. They have 9 lines with 179 stations for their subway system alone.

    But IN ADDITION to that, they also have an additional 36 over ground lines run by JR East (the formerly nationalized train service that was privatized in the 1980s) serving the Kanto region. The Harajuku Station shown in that video is part of JR East railway network, not part of their subway system.

    Plus IN FURTHER ADDITION to that, they also have additional private rail lines like the Keio, Keisei, Seibu, Keikyu Lines that addtionally serves as part of their network.

    In MORE ADDITION to that, they also have the Tokyo Monorail, The Keisei Skyliner, The Narita Express, which all connect to their two main international airports: Tokyo-Haneda and Tokyo-Narita.

    ON TOP of that, they have an extensive network of buses serving the area. (72MB pdf warning)

    IN FURTHER SURPRISE, all of their subways, private rails, monorails, high speed trains, buses, taxis, all run the same fare model under the same Suica/PASMO card system. All you need is one card for the entire region and you can go anywhere. And they all come on time, all the time with absolutely no delays. The maximum wait time for a train to come is 3 minutes.

    And THE MOST SURPRISING of all is that they are all run for profit with hardly any government subsidies needed to run their excellent, always on-time transit system. Even their municipally run Tokyo Metro subway system makes profit. No government or taxpayers funds are needed to run them because they all make profit.

    With that in mind, Tokyo doesn’t have to spend a single cent (yen?) on building and running mass transit for the Olympics. They already have the best transit system in the world and they are all run profitably without any government assistance. All they need to focus on is building new sporting venues and upgrading and renovating their older venues from their 1964 Olympics. Tokyo, despite their population density, seems to have got it all figured out financially.

    So if LA is serious about 2024 and needs a great mentor on how to create a good, efficient, futuristic, and profitable transit system, they should just learn from Tokyo.

  6. The walkability to the venues in Tokyo is that they are easily reached from their metro stations. One of the metro stations was shown in the beginning of the video. Perhaps the Japanese assumed that the Olympic Committee was already familiar with their exceptional metro system, whereas LA would have to convince that committee and the public that we really do have somewhat of a metro system. People not from our area do not even know that we have a couple of subways (perhaps some people also who actually live here).

  7. Henry is right; Superior Court does have a jury transit pass but it is only issued after the first day when you actually report to a court room. When I lived in Culver City, I was forever called to jury duty in the Civic Center and I took Metro Rail. This was before tap cards and for three weeks I paid for day pass tickets for jury duty. You are right there is the Civic Center Station for the purple and red lines. However, between the station and the court buildings it is a rather long walk and having to maneuver steps and hills. It can be rather challenging for senior and disabled jurors.

  8. I’m really struggling to comprehend your dismissal of walkability in terms of enabling a village as opposed to a spiderweb over a canal system that is our transit compared to our car serving roads. Underserving demand is not measured by congestion, we don’t have any transit to speak of in Los Angeles so bragging about having less congestion is specious. When you actual serve a decent percentage of the public, only then, can any comparison be fair. I’m no fan of high density- but if you want to have a large number of people able to attend a large number of huge facilities from a central core then it really rocks. Shorter much fatter pipes, for transit, even or _especially_ more congested ones would make the most compelling argument for charging more for road access. It’s not about tracks anymore. It’s about square yards and seconds and speeds and distances and durations and making users pay equitably. Because roads are subsidized it’s ok to reward efficiency- so a car is required to pay ten times as much as a transit user even if it only hogs twice as much real estate in it’s commute. That’s ok. What’s not ok is spending twice as much on roads because without such subsidy less then two percent use transit. Congested transit beats congested roads doesn’t it? Congested roads are failed transit!

  9. LA Los Angeles definitely needs to build a world class RAPID Metro System if it wants to host the Olympics in 2024 in the future!! We need a DIRECT Rail connection link to LAX Terminals 1-7 i.e. build a North-South Rail Line from the Valley to LAX and Long Beach alongside the busy and always crowded 405 freeway by 2020!!

    Build an East-West Rapid Line alongside Venice Blvd from Downtown LA to Venice and Santa Monica currently served by bus line 33 and 733 with stops at Crenshaw, La Brea, Venice/Fairfax, Culver City Station-change for the Expo Line, Palms, Sepulveda-Change for the LAX Line, Centinela, Lincoln-Change to the Lincoln Blvd line, and Venice beach!! No one enjoys sitting in LA traffic…

    The Expo Line needs a better design… Let’s build the future of RAPID Public Transport here in LA!! If the rest of the world has RAPID Public Transport LA deserves a great world class Metro System as well…

  10. Dana,

    I doubt using Greece as an example is a good idea. Greece may had a short lived boom, but it’s now in deep in bankruptcy requiring more bailout from Germany and the rest of the EU. Greece is now abound with so much financial problems that the far-right and white supremacist Golden Dawn movement is gaining popularity and increasing their seat counts in the Greek Parliament. The situation has deteriorated to levels where the U.S. State Dept. is issuing a security warning to travelers to Greece if they do not look white.

    I do not want my city to go the way of Greece. Nor do I want to see LA go the way of Detroit either. With that in mind, I’d rather take a more fiscally conservative and independent approach to mass transit than the same old “gimme more money” welfare from the Feds all the time. Besides, you really think the buffoons in Congress can get their act together? We’re better than those jokers in Capitol Hill.

  11. With regards to jury duty, the Metropolitan Courthouse on Hill Street is within walking distance of the Expo Line’s 23rd street station and the Blue Line’s Grand Station. Came in handy when heading Downtown for lunch breaks during the trial.

  12. I don’t think many people know that you can take the Dash from across Union Station right to the courthouse, avoiding going on the subway.

  13. The Tokyo transit system is the absolute tops and I believe crowded only during morning rush hour. People work quite late in Tokyo so the evening going-home hour varies. I felt like I was in the future when I was in Tokyo because of its transit system. One day I was on the bullet train to Tokyo Station, then on the subway to another station, and finally on the driverless monorail across Tokyo Bay to my hotel. The subway stations are very large and contain many shops, almost like underground cities. They also are fully staffed. No one looks at you on the transit system–the Japanese don’t even look at each other–so as a single woman, I felt safe at all times, even at night. Then I came back to LA and knew that we would never get to where Tokyo already is transportationwise.

  14. Salt Lake City made out like a bandit for its Winter Games — the light rail system start-up base system was funded 100% by the federal government basically on a national pride basis. Athens spent tons on improving its subway system. Olympics can push large investments in infrastructure.

    • Hi Dana;

      I think you raise a great point: An Olympic games could certainly help the federal funding situation here — or perhaps speed it up.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  15. At the very least, jury duty can and should reimburse a flat rate of $6 minimum for the cost of a TAP card and day pass. There is a Metro jury pass – – but it is only issued at the end of the first day of service. It also does not include express lines like the Silver Line, nor municipal carriers, when the Downtown jury pool extends all the way out to El Monte and Gardena.