Transportation headlines, Tuesday, January 13

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Today’s Metro rider profile at Zocalo Public Square: Lake Avenue to Vine Street

Light rail enters the West’s most sprawling metropolis (High Country News)

Light rail in Phoenix. Photo by Nick Bastian, via Flickr creative commons.

Light rail in Phoenix. Photo by Nick Bastian, via Flickr creative commons.

An interesting comparison of Phoenix to Denver — with Denver being held up as the example of what a light rail system can do compared to the Phoenix area’s nascent system. Excerpt:

The West’s cultural and economic landscape was largely shaped by wagon trains, railroads and the interstate system. And in Phoenix, Denver and nearly every other Western city, growth has followed freeways and streets. “The philosophy has been, build the roads, as an economic engine, and the communities will follow,” says Scutari. “Contractors, homebuilders, municipalities have lobbied hard for more roads out in the fringes in the belief that it would encourage more building and growth.” And for better or worse, it has, resulting in thousand-square-mile mazes of cul-de-sacs, clogged arterial streets and row after row of water-, energy- and desert-gobbling homes.

The writer comes to the conclusion that light rail may have helped Denver slow its sprawl. Or, to put it another way, from sprawling any more than it has. Excerpt #2:

Still, the world has changed, and a new Phoenix, and Denver, are rising from the ashes of the recession. People have more choices about how and where they want to live. Not that long ago, they were stuck with a single-family home on some placeless cul-de-sac, or maybe an exurban house with an agonizing commute. Thanks in part to light rail and transit-oriented development, an alternative has emerged, one that, in Scutari’s words, is a bit more “interesting” than nice weather and low taxes.

The question is whether that alternative will draw enough people in, or ripple outward far enough, to affect entire metro areas, not just the urban core. Just try strolling to the grocery store in suburban Denver or anywhere in Phoenix, and you’ll see how high the hurdles remain: The car is still king, the road its kingdom and the parking lot its castle. The pedestrian, meanwhile, is the lowly peasant, and sometimes feels expendable.

This is a well reported piece and is pretty long. Good read if you’ve got some time to kill on transit today, people. There’s a lot in here applicable to Los Angeles County, too. (Note: I listed this story in the headlines in early December when it was still behind the HCN pay wall; it’s now a free read).

American light rail systems mapped to scale (Greater Greater Washington)

Speaking of light rail systems around the country, check out this graphic. Metro’s light rail system looks to be one of the larger systems (it’s currently 70 miles) although the map doesn’t include so-called ‘heavy rail’ trains, meaning the Chicago ‘L’, New York Subway and L.A. Metro Red/Purple Line subways aren’t shown (among others). As discussed in the previous article, it’s nice to see the Western U.S. well represented for those of us who have vowed never to live east of the 100th Meridian ever, ever again.

Investigation beings into deadly Washington Metro incident that killed one, injured dozens of others (Washington Metro) 

A Washington Metro train stopped abruptly in a tunnel on Monday and then filled with smoke. One woman died and 80 other passengers were sent to hospitals. Officials believe that the smoke was caused by a short circuit that occurred along a stretch of track about 1,100 feet in front of the train — there was no actual fire. There are various accounts of how long it took rescuers to reach the train. A Washington Metro train crash in 2009 killed nine people.

We asked Metro’s rail safety officials about Metro’s ability to cope with smoke in its rail tunnels if something was ever to happen. Their response:

•Metro has a robust emergency ventilation system serving rail stations and tunnels. The system can be controlled from Metro’s Rail Operating Center, from station emergency equipment and from a local control panel. Metro has done numerous tests to clear smoke in the subway to demonstrate the abilities of the ventilation system, which Metro says is one of the most powerful in the country.

•There are car-floor level walkways in the tunnels between stations in case passengers need to be evacuated from trains.

•There are also tunnel cross-passages that allow evacuating passengers to move to a safe location away from the affected tunnel.

•There is emergency lighting in tunnels, stations and rail cars.

•Metro conducts frequent drills with the Los Angeles Fire Department.

•A radio system allows the train operator and the Rail Operations Center to communicate.

•And there is a rail car intercom that allows communications between passengers and train operator.

America’s most ambitious infrastructure project of the 21st century: why the high-speed rail launch is miraculous (Salon) 

Saying it’s a ‘miracle that shovels hit the ground” in Fresno last week, Salon argues that California’s bullet train project is the kind of ambitious project that once defined America but has virtually disappeared. Excerpt:

But building out high-speed rail has implications for more than California. Americans have effectively given up on a visionary politics, as the 2014 midterms exemplified. The country turned its back on activist government, mainly because they so rarely see anything come from it that they can touch and feel. They resist paying taxes because they can’t identify what they get in return.

I concur. I think that’s the hardest part about the bullet train project. As conceived by the Legislature, it’s a big project that is far from fully funded. And that has left the door open for a lot of second-guessing. But the promise of the thing is so substantial, it’s hard to not want it to happen. Can you imagine one that light rail, subway, commuter rail and bullet train all might converge at Los Angeles Union Station — meaning you could get an awful lot of places locally and beyond from one place? I know. Sounds like many cities in Europe and Asia.

How fast is the speeder in Star Wars VII? (Wired)

starwars_7speeder-660x285Remember all the math you didn’t understand in high school and/or college? A writer shows how that math could be applied to calculate the speed and acceleration of the speeder on Tattooine briefly shown in the new Star Wars trailer. Bottom line: you’d have to be a Jedi to survive the G-forces produced by the seemingly quick acceleration. But we all know that not everyone on Tattooine is a Jedi. Hmmm. As for mass transit on Tattooine, I believe the six movies thus far have been silent on the issue (if you count Episodes 1-3 as movies, implying they had acting, dialogue and comprehensible plots).


Things to listen to while riding transit for those with smart phones and headphones: 

The Current is streaming the new Sleater Kinney album that’s getting a lot of good press from the MSM.

All Songs Considered: Guest DJ Dave Grohl. Foo Fighters front man Grohl discusses their new album, “Sonic Highways,” which was the best album (by far) I purchased in 2014. Grohl is characteristically funny and insightful while talking about the musical heritage of the eight cities where the band recorded the album.

Fresh Air: Sarah Koenig. A fascinating discussion about the making of the first season of Serial, the popular podcast that revisited a 1999 slaying in Baltimore and whether the man convicted and sentenced to life actually committed the crime. Koenig and host Terry Gross discuss some of the many thorny issues confronted in reporting the series, including how to handle discussing Jay’s testimony.



4 replies

  1. Hmm. The Star Wars piece reminds me of a concept from the Star Trek franchise: Inertial Dampeners. Without them, the sort of acceleration involved (far worse than anything encountered to date in human spaceflight) would of course reduce the entire crew to brown smudges on the walls.

  2. I thought Metro’s current system was 70 miles, if one is only counting light rail. I think it will overtake Dallas next year when the Gold and Expo extensions open, and will safely be the largest light rail system in the country once the Measure R system is built out.