Transportation headlines, Thursday, December 5

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Opinion: inching down L.A.’s freeways in the dark (Daily News)

Good column by Mariel Garza, who often finds herself on the region’s roads visiting the Los Angeles Newspaper Group’s various offices. That has made her reliant on the Sigalert app in order to avoid the worst of the area’s traffic jams.

Not so fast. Take it away, Mariel…

Not only has it not sigalerted me to terrible traffic snarls, but in some cases it leads me right into them with promises of traffic flowing like a Sierra stream in the springtime.

Here’s an example from Sunday: Everyone who escaped to the desert for the holiday weekend, it seemed, tried to get through the Interstate 10 Whitewater-Cabazon pass at the same time. This is not unusual, and not wholly unexpected. And it was an epic traffic jam visible to anyone in it.

But it simply didn’t exist to my app, no matter how many times I refreshed it. In fact, it indicated that heavy traffic on the westbound 10 loosened up — going from red to green — at the Highway 62 junction, where I was getting on. But that’s where the worst jam actually started, as the cars, trucks and RVs from Joshua Tree and other high-desert vacation spots emptied into the heavy flow of the 10. Stop and go — mostly stop — all the way west to Banning. Not that I could have avoided this particular snarl without getting off the freeway and trying to find out how to get across to the frontage road. But I was still surprised my Sigalert app couldn’t pick it up. Also, it would have been helpful to know where it ended. I had dinner plans in L.A.

One big problem is that the app pulls traffic data from the 27,000 sensors embedded in freeways in California – and a third of which no longer work. Mariel has an idea: perhaps it’s time to spend some Measure R data to install new sensors and help motorists avoid traffic.

Editorial: high-speed rail proceeds in fits and starts (Sacramento Bee)

The editorial says that there’s no sugar-coating that two recent court rulings were a setback for the state’s high-speed rail project that is initially seeking to Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the rulings are more likely to result in delays issuing bonds and are not likely to kill the project as a few die-hard opponents are trying to do, the Bee says.

Here’s what you need to know: at their core, the rulings involve when the state can issue the voter-approved bonds that will help pay the state’s share of the first segment, as well as work on the bookends of the project in L.A. and S.F. The California High-Speed Rail Authority had wanted to sell all the bonds — $8.6 billion worth — at once but the court rulings make that difficult.

The Bee suggests instead that $4.7 billion in bonds be issued, which would provide money for the first segment of the project as well as work in L.A. and S.F. — which includes some money for the Regional Connector project.

Cincinnati Council pauses streetcar but battle will continue (Cincinnati Enquirer)

Work on the Cincy Streetcar project in front of Music Hall. Photo by David Cole.

Work on the Cincy Streetcar project in front of Music Hall. Photo by David Cole.

At the urging of a newly elected mayor and Council members, the City Council voted 5 to 4 on Wednesday to suspend construction of a streetcar project intended to tie together downtown neighborhoods. Proponents of the project have argued that stopping work will actually cost more than to continue building the streetcar while opponents say there simply is not enough funds to operate it. In the meantime, the Federal Transit Administration has put on hold a $45-million grant to help fund the $147.8-million project.

The story caught my eye for several reasons. I happen to be from Cincinnati and lived there until 1990. Also, and more important, it’s unusual for a project to begin construction and then have work halted while elected officials continue to argue over whether the project should have been built in the first place.

Unusual — except in Cincinnati, where a subway was started in the 1920s but never completed. The old tunnels, including train platforms, are now locked up except for the occasional tour. 

I dispatched a few tweets about this on Metro’s account this a.m., also adding that this is “so typically Cincy.” Those tweets subsequently pinballed around the Internet for a few hours, resulting in me getting a phone call from a reporter at the Cincinnati Enquirer, asking me — among other things — what I meant by “so typically Cincy.”

Here’s the Enquirer’s blog post. Needless to say, as a former/rehabilitated former journalist, I wouldn’t shut up. Here’s a paraphrase of what I told her, emphasizing that this is my opinion, not the opinion of Metro:

I said that if I was in charge of a city that had been steadily losing population since 1950 and that if I was in charge of a city that had about 10 percent of the population of its greater Metropolitan area, I’d be very concerned that the city was on track to losing its relevancy to the surrounding ‘burbs. 

Furthermore, I told her that I had visited my folks in Cincy a couple years ago and treated myself to a hockey game played in the downtown arena on a balmy Saturday night. And that I was shocked at how dead downtown Cincy was.

Thus, my bigger point: if my city was dying and downtown was stuck in a long slumber, I’d probably be interested in any kind of project that might revive it. Including a streetcar project, which as regular readers here know are seen as economic development tools as much as they’re seen as transportation tools.

I also mentioned that in recent years other Midwestern cities have become renowned for thinking big and reviving their downtown areas. Example #1: Pittsburgh. Example #2: Indianapolis, which when I was a kid in the 1970s was known pretty much only for the annual running of the Indy 500. Not anymore. The downtown area is quite lovely, the city has become a hotspot for amateur sports and Indy even landed a Super Bowl in 2011.

All this is my very long-winded way of saying that perhaps Cincinnati is not thinking big in a time in this country when cities need to think big. Which happens to be one of the things I like about working at Metro in Los Angeles: we’re thinking big, with two rail projects under construction and three more warming up on deck.

Here is the original Twitter exchange:

14 replies

  1. Low floor cars will not need platforms and to meet ADA regulations a ramp folding out like on low floor buses should be used. Those ramps are deployed automatically but can be deployed and stowed manually when needed.

    The MTA mission is to transport passengers not build elaborate stations.

  2. I would not be critical of MTA’s light rail cars and the platforms if the platforms were not so expensive. Why something that could be built with concrete blocks and a canopy should not cost over a million dollars each seems ridicules and not cost effective. A simple platforms like the ones on the “F” line in San Francisco seems a lot more practical. I realize they were built many years ago and are not that attractive but they serve their purpose.

  3. Politicians here in Ohio at the state level are extremely anti-public transportation. Many of these folks come from metro Cincy, actually. I do live in Cleveland (moved here from LA back in 2005), which has a decent rail system (albeit not expanding like SoCal’s).

  4. Mike Dunn: San Diego looks good to you today because of the availability of low-floor cars. Remeber that when both the LA Metro Blue Line and what is now the San Diego Blue Line (Downtown to San Ysidro) the only vehicle option available to purchase was/were high-floor cars, like the current metro Light Rail fleet, and the soon to be retired Düwag U2s (1000-series) that San Diego bought. In the case of Metro, the platforms meant that there were no ADA issues with loading passengers. In San Diego, the U2s had to have lifts installed to comply with the ADA and anytime a person needing help getting into the train, the lift would have to be deployed and there would be a noticable delay in train service. Portland got the first low-floor cars in the USA in the mid-1990’s

  5. @mike dunn

    San Diego has platforms. Have you been to Qualcomm Stadium or Mission Valley? And those are just two and not the only “platforms” in San Diego.

  6. I enjoy reading the posts, but I find the gray font on white difficult. Could you make it a darker gray, or black?

    Thank you. Matthew Hetz

    • Hey Matthew;

      Which part of the post do you mean? The comments – on my screen those are gray boxes with black type. Feel free to email me a screen grab at

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  7. The CAHSR has to be built but just like everything, NIMBYs have to ruin everything.

  8. James: Actually, the Blue Line platforms already were lengthened from 2 to 3 cars in length!

  9. Instead of sensors in the road bed….
    How about traffic cameras linked to systems that calculate the vehicle speed. You get a 2 for 1. The cameras with which to observe traffic and the issues -and- highway speed. There are systems that track and count cars at lights (with cameras). The technology is out there. And they aren’t effected by repaving projects.

    For the Pasadena Fwy (no matter what it is called), they could be mounted on the over passes.

  10. They should have not desiged it with platforms in the fist place. San Diego is doing great without them and they have been since the begining a leader in light rail construction and operation.

  11. Or maybe Mariel can just download Waze and save our Measure R dollars for something more useful…?

  12. I remember what the naysayers were saying while the Blue Line was being built: nobody in his right mind would get on a trolley that ran through the middle of Watts and Compton, and for the few who would, it would be cheaper to pay them to drive the freeways than to operate the thing.

    And then we find out, a few years later, that we should have made the platforms 50% longer.