Transportation headlines, Friday, August 1

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ART OF TRANSIT: Nice pic taken last month on the Blue Line. Photo courtesy Matthew Grant Anson, via Flickr.

ART OF TRANSIT: Nice pic taken last month on the Blue Line. Photo courtesy Matthew Grant Anson, via Flickr.

The value of fast transit (Transport Politic)

As our very own Joe Lemon recently noted after a visit to the Twin Cities, the new light rail line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul is a crawler, taking 48 minutes to an hour to travel 11 miles. Yonah Freemark, in this new post, writes:

Of course, the Twin Cities are hardly alone in their predicament. Recent transit lines elsewhere in the country feature similarly leisurely travel times. The new Houston North Line, for example, is averaging 17 mph. Los Angeles’ Expo Line is slightly quicker at 18 mph. Bus rapid transit and streetcar projects popping up virtually everywhere are often significantly slower. Only the Washington, D.C. Metro Silver Line, which will extend that region’s subway deep into the Virginia suburbs, will speed commuters along at an average of 32 mph. It will do so while only stopping at 5 stations, all of which will be located in the middle of expressways.

With speeds like those light rail lines or services like the Silver Line, it’s little wonder that it’s so difficult to convince people to get out of their cars in so many places. The fact of the matter is that services like this often do not provide much mobility improvement over the bus services they replace. That’s particularly true for large regions where too many destinations are simply too far away to be accessible by transit that averages such slow speeds.

The post goes on to note, very correctly, that the problem is that fast transit usually means putting transit on bridges or underground and that makes it prohibitively expensive at a time when there is only so much help the federal government in the U.S. will provide. As a result, less expensive and slower versions of transit get built.

Meet the worst transit project in America (Vox)

Writer Matthew Yglesias wags his finger at a streetcar line in Washington D.C. that’s under construction. Not only will it share a traffic lane with cars, the streetcar will likely block faster buses. This kind of slow transit project, Yglesias writes, not only harms the low-income riders who most rely on public transit (i.e. they’re stuck on transit instead of doing something else useful), but also creates a backlash against expensive transit projects that turn out to be of little use to motorists seeking an alternative to driving. Concur.

The missing link: exploring the Regional Connector transit corridor (KCET)

Nice summary of the neighborhoods and sights along the future Connector’s 1.9-mile route through downtown Los Angeles between Little Tokyo and the 7th/Metro Center Station. The Connector, as the name implies, will connect the Gold Line to the Blue Line and Expo Line. That will allow trains to run straight through downtown and should allow for faster rides and fewer transfers for most riders.

L.A. is working on a major zoning code revamp (L.A. Times) 

Good primer on efforts to revise the citywide code and, more importantly, the community plans that really dictate how neighborhoods look and what kind of development is allowed. This has been in the works for quite some time and looks like there are several years to go. At the end of the day, these plans will decide what gets built near transit.

Does Eric Garcetti have a big enough vision for L.A.? (Governing)

Very interesting profile on the mayor of Los Angeles, who is also the Chair of the Metro Board of Directors for the next 11 months. Garcetti makes a persuasive case that a back to basics approach is the best way to persuade people to believe in government again. Not much on transportation until the final graph. Excerpt:

Eric Garcetti wants to win big — he just believes that the way to do it is to bring the city’s fundamental management processes under control as a first step. Not until 2016 do most observers expect to see Garcetti himself put a controversial proposal before voters: That’s when he is expected to back an updated version of Measure R, the 2008 sales tax initiative that jump-started construction of the so-called Purple and Crenshaw subway lines.


The Metro Board has been discussing the possibility of a ballot measure in 2016 and the agency has asked local cities for their input. Nothing has been decided yet, including whether Metro would ask voters to extend Measure R or seek a new sales tax increase in order to accelerate projects and fund new ones. This is obviously one of the big storylines this blog will be following for the next two years.

10 replies

  1. The speed of the so called LTR lines can be significantly increased if or when the trains are given priority access on intersections that are not guarded. Priority access means that the normal cycle of traffic lights are interrupted by an oncoming train giving the train the immediate right of way. After the train has passed the traffic lights continue in their normal cycle.Traffic lights turn LTR trains into streetcars and that pulls down the time performance. In most US cities that are car centric like Los Angeles the DOT does not have any experience or willingness to change this.

  2. Concerning average speeds: why don’t LRT systems use skip-stop express service?

  3. Isn’t the worst transit project in America right here where we wasted billions of dollars in expanding the freeway system when the money could’ve been used for mass transit improvements?

  4. Metro, don’t laugh at other cities’ transit projects! Metro could suffer the same fate if it does not nudge other cities and the county to optimize their traffic signals. Metro really needs to install more tap card validators inside the buses (including the Orange Line) in order to capture as much data and revenue as possible while reducing the dwell time of the buses.

    Mayor Garcetti and other politicians need to go back to basics to manage the region’s utility infrastructures to prevent any damage and potential tragedies into the region. It only takes one water main break and a gas leak to cripple a region. Now, L.A. is the laughing stock to the Olympic Committees because L.A. cannot even manage a water main. How can L.A. build a transit system to accommodate the Olympics?

  5. I just returned from a vacation in Montana visiting my brother. While those here in Southern California rely on expensive railroad crossings for both railroad and light rail at every crossing it appears those who live in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana don’t require these devices as much. Many crossing where the U.P. and BNSF fast freights operate are only guarded by a simple wooden RR Crossing signs. Are we in Southern California able to admit those in rural America have better sense? There is no reason with the high tech crossings we have to limit the speed of our Light Rail Lines. Even in years long ago the most high tech crossing devices used by the P. E. were wig-wags with no gates and people seemed to get the message.

    I rode Line 761 from Westwood to Sylmar yesterday. The detour used for northbound buses in Westwood was extremely flawed. The 761 is supposed to be Rapid service. Along Van Nuys Bl. it seemed to be almost local service with stops just a few blocks apart. The Line 233 bus that departed it’s terminal at I believe Moorpark had no trouble keeping up with the Rapid bus I was on. It wasn’t the operators lack of training but the fact he had to stop so often. I can only guess that the reason for so many stops is political pressure.

    Added to the extended bus ride was a extremely rude female passenger with two children who started screaming at the bus operator because he requested fares for the three of them. When a disabled homeless female boarded and requested that the rude woman and her kids vacate their disabled seats not only did the rude female start yelling at the disabled patron but encouraged her children to join in. She then began a tirade about disabled Viet Nam Veterans and Hispanic passengers on the bus. Mother and children then demanded to alight on Wilshire and Westwood because she did not like the detour route which took us around several blocks passing just south of our original point of boarding.

  6. “Los Angeles’ Expo Line is slightly quicker at 18 mph”

    Having ridden on the Expo Line a handful of times, I found it odd that the train would wait 5+ minutes at street-grade crossings. Why do the trains not have crossing priorities? Doesn’t the Rapid Bus implement something to this affect? I imagine it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to implement signal prioritization.

  7. Looking at LA County:
    In 1940, the population of LA County stood at 2.7 million.
    In 1950, with the Baby Boomer generation, the population LA County jumped to 4.1 million
    In December of last year, the population of LA County surpassed 10 million.

    Looking at City of LA only:
    In 1940, the population of City of LA stood at 1.5 million.
    In 1950, with the Baby Boomer generation, the population LA County jumped to 2.0 million
    By the end of 2014, it is estimated LA will surpass over 4.0 million

    These population changes are a significant milestone that comes with new challenges, one that is unfit for zoning laws made in 1946.

    What LA needs to do is a huge reality check for all residents living here. The population will keep on growing, yet the City and County is dealing with zoning laws that was created at a time when the population of LA were far fewer people than today.

    Something has to give. But, it’s a “quality of life issue” isn’t going to cut it anymore. LA is now the most populous and densely populated county in the US. Los Angeles of 2014 and beyond is a whole new animal and we need (or don’t need at all) a zoning law that best fits the 21st century growth of LA.

  8. The LA Times article in LA’s outdated zoning laws hit it spot on.

    “Opening a corner Starbucks before 7 a.m. requires a conditional use permit,” said Edgar Khalatian, a land use lawyer with Mayer Brown who’s co-chairing the recode project’s advisory committee. “That means $20,000 to $30,000 in application fees, six months of process and hiring an architect and expediter. It just doesn’t make sense.”

    This is just one small part of the iceberg of LA’s arcane bureaucracy that’s moving jobs away from LA. Whatever happened to simple times? You buy the land, do whatever you want with it. You want to demolish that lead paint ridden home built in the 1910s and turn it into a ten story condo? Go for it.

    That’s what LA needs today. Get rid of the outdated zoning laws and start fresh and new.