Transportation headlines, Thursday, February 5

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ART OF TRANSIT: The monorail tracks in front of City Center in Las Vegas. While driving back from Utah, I stopped there yesterday to walk the dog along the Strip, which I find fascinating in an apocalyptic sort of way. It was my first encounter with City Center (other than the TV commercials) and actually found the architecture sort of tasteful and was pleasantly surprised to see people using the monorail and the frequent bus service on freeway-like Las Vegas Boulevard.

ART OF TRANSIT: The monorail tracks in front of City Center in Las Vegas. While driving back from Utah, I stopped there yesterday to walk the dog along the Strip, which I find fascinating in an apocalyptic sort of way. It was my first encounter with City Center (other than the TV commercials) and actually found the architecture sort of tasteful. I was pleasantly surprised to see people using the monorail and the frequent bus service on freeway-like Las Vegas Boulevard.

Today’s Zocalo Public Square Metro rider profile: a student and skateboarder traveling from 23rd Street to Melrose Avenue.

Wilshire Boulevard will truly be a multi-modal street (in a decade) (Los Angeles Magazine) 

Actually in less than a decade in part of Wilshire! The article looks at two projects: the Purple Line Extension that is pushing the subway further west from its current terminus at Wilshire and Western and the peak hour bus lanes that are scheduled to fully open later this year in the city of Los Angeles portion of Wilshire.

The subway project is being built in three phases — Wilshire/Western to Wilshire/La Cienega, then to Century City and the third phase to the Westwood VA Hospital. The first phase is under construction and scheduled to open in 2023 and the second phase is scheduled for the mid-2020s. President Obama earlier this week included money for the second phase in his proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year, a very positive sign for Metro. Please see this earlier post for more about that.

The bus lane is a nice addition to help transit riders along Wilshire until the subway opens. After that, I think the lanes will help those who live/work between subway stations get to and from the train much more quickly.

Quasi-related observation: I’m surprised the copy editors at L.A. Magazine let the word “multi-modal” go forth in a headline. I don’t even like using that phase on this transit-themed blog. It’s too jargony and non-Plain Englishy-like for my tastes, FWIW.

L.A. tied for fourth in CALPIRG U.S. city wired transportation rankings (Streetsblog L.A.) 

Joe Linton takes a more critical look at the new report that ranks L.A. as tied for fourth in terms of its technology offerings to help people get around. Excerpt:

Unfortunately, with any 50-state comparison, some of CALPIRG’s analysis is somewhat broad-brush. 

A top ranking only signifies that a given city is doing well technologically, but not that a city is actually a great place to get around without a car. The report ranks Boston, Los Angeles, and New York City as all tied for fourth place. But a different picture emerges comparing other metrics, for example public transit modal share: NYC 55 percent, Boston 35 percent, L.A. 11 percent.

The tech tools are these days a must have — here’s a link to the Go Metro app for smartphones running Android or Apple software — but obviously it will be even better to have more transit. And it will certainly be interesting to see if the five Metro Rail projects currently under construction change the above numbers.

Is gentrification ruining Los Angeles or saving it? (LA Weekly) 

Interesting point-counterpoint article that’s not about transit per se, although the issue of transit comes up in the pro-gentrification argument. Excerpt:

Gentrification offers L.A. a historic opportunity to create more diverse schools. In a sense, gentrification is multiculturalism — a type of community cohesion in the form, for example, of improved public transportation that connects the creative class with the working class. The long-awaited Expo Light Rail, connecting DTLA to Santa Monica, will help. It isn’t about homogenizing the city into one giant shopping mall for white people; it’s about reconstructing L.A. into America’s greatest city — where the Wild West mentality of “sticking to your kind” is washed away into a metropolis where everyone can eat, drink and ride together. Without gentrification, L.A. would remain a sprawled-out mess that resembled nothing close to an authentic city.

I agree that building better transit is good for everyone — and that transit can, and should, bring together people from different walks of life.

As for the larger gentrification issue, I think this is a good piece that offers powerful arguments for both sides. This is certainly not an issue unique to our area and I think it’s terribly complex. Cities change as time goes by and investment is usually a good thing (especially in the form of transit). But let’s be real: rising real estate prices and rents has proven to be a very real concern in many cities.

Rail crossing accidents decline nationwide, but less so in New York region (New York Times)

The article was prompted by the horrific accident on Tuesday that killed six when a Metro North commuter train slammed into a vehicle that was behind the crossing gates and trying to cross the tracks. The decreasing nationwide numbers have occurred as rail-road crossings are eliminated (usually by building under- or over-passes for roads or train tracks). Yet the decline has been less steady in the New York region where three commuter rail lines — New Jersey Transit, the Long Island Railroad and Metro North) — are running on tracks that routinely have street crossings, especially in the ‘burbs.

One interesting excerpt:

Augustine F. Ubaldi, a railroad engineering expert who is not involved in the official inquiry, said investigators would examine, among other factors, whether the crossing was properly synchronized with the traffic light to keep traffic moving. Although the line of sight at the crossing was not ideal because of the curve in the road, he said the lights and the gate were sufficient to make it clear that a train was coming.

Mr. Ubaldi said he was more concerned with finding out why the woman stopped on the tracks. In such a situation, he said riders should break through the gates if necessary.

“The gates are designed to break,” he said. “If you get stuck at the crossing, floor it. Smash the gate. It’s a far less severe consequence than staying on the crossing.”

Pretty obvious advice. All Metro Rail lines and the Orange Line busway have intersections with roads. The best advice: drivers on those roads should always err on the side of caution. Don’t try to beat the gates and never stop in the area between the gates even when they’re up. Wait until there’s sufficient room to pull across them.

A look at Charles Cohen’s plans for the MTA lot in WeHo (WeHOville) 

The article features renderings of Cohen’s plans for the lot, although it’s far from clear that the project will ever go forward. Metro and Cohen in 2013 entered into a 24-month exclusive negotiating window to develop the 10-acre bus yard at Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente that once upon a time was home to a streetcar depot.


Things to listen to on transit:

Good Fresh Air interview with my former Times colleague Jill Leovy on her new book “Ghettoside” about murders in parts of Los Angeles that go unsolved and were historically under-reported by the media. My three cents: Jill, through a lot of grit and hard work, produced the kind of unique and hugely important local reporting that media should be investing in as a way to save itself.

Judge John Hodgman considers a case involving Jamie, who wants to turn an entire room in his new home into a shrine to the animated movie “Frozen.” Problem is, Jamie’s husband Sean disagrees with his plans. As always with this podcast, it’s pretty hilarious.



16 replies

  1. Of course, Metro could become their own retailer themselves too. Face it, it’s not rocket science that Walmart makes more money than LA Metro. So let LA Metro make money off of going into the retail business and channel their profits into running transit. Transit is the loss leader, make money elsewhere. That’s how businesses run today; provide service for cheap and make money elsewhere. Google doesn’t make money off of people using their search engines nor does Facebook make money off of posts, they make through online advertisements.

  2. “The best advice: drivers on those roads should always err on the side of caution. Don’t try to beat the gates and never stop in the area between the gates even when they’re up. Wait until there’s sufficient room to pull across them.”

    While this is good advice, the other correlation to that is from a taxpayer perspective, transit agencies should also stop taking the cheap way out with building railways at-grade to begin with.

    Just because LA used to run trolleys at grade six decades ago doesn’t mean you can apply the same logic in 2015 where there are more people and cars on the road today. Back in the 1950s, LA County had a population of just over 4 million. Today, we are over the 10 million mark. More people means more cars, more pedestrians, more dangerous environment to build trains at-grade.

    Money is a factor in building them at-grade opposed to more costly aerials or underground yes, but money can be procured in many ways, and by that, I don’t mean let’s keep on increasing taxes.

    • Alright…then how does Metro procure said money? Subway’s cost per mile (especially in earthquake prone areas) is far more expensive than light rail. And when a significant portion of Metro’s ridership is lower-income, raising fares substantially is not an option. I would be all for distance based fare, and I wish that is how Metro originally set up their system, but that would require a huge upfront investment, which Angelenos voters rarely support.

      In the end it is nearly always the better idea to spend the construction money and planning expenses early and do the project right the first time. But if voters won’t give Metro that money, would Metro be better off building nothing?

      I have said countless times LA’s first rail investments should have been a subway from Santa Monica to Downtown along Wilshire and a subway from Los Feliz to the port along Vermont. Then connect the two perpendicular lines with a circular subway line. Any future light rail or commuter rail lines could then have been built cheaply and connected to the main system.

      ***I personally can’t stand at-grade light rail and normally opt for the bus over it (obviously bus takes a bit longer, but I am located 100 feet away from rapid bus lines and 1.5 miles from light rail lines).

      • I prefer rail, but to make rail work to its full effectiveness it should be the core of a grid, with frequent service buses running perpendicular to the rail lines and timed to allow easy transfers.

      • How can Metro make money?

        For starters, they can start utilizing their stations more to a mixed use complex so that they’re not used just as a place to stand and wait for a train. That is what most for-profit mass transit corporations in Asia does to gain extra revenue, aside from a more logical distance rated system. They not only operate the trains, they are also real estate developers and rent out market space to businesses within their stations. There is no reason why Metro can’t allow shopping mall type kiosks to operate businesses within their Metro stations and collect monthly rent from businesses.

        Here’s an example of a train station kiosk in Japan:

        Here’s how Taipei builds their rail stations:

        Here’s a train station in Busan, South Korea, where they built them like a huge shopping mall

        All of these business activities promotes several things: collection of sales taxes from goods sold, as well as providing better business opportunities for business owners to where the people are. In addition, the rail operator collects rent and makes huge investments in real estate development, whose additional income can be used to gain additional sources of revenue instead of waiting for handouts from the government.

        The LA Metro stations in contrast, there’s nothing going on. All it is is just dead, empty space just used to wait for the train and nothing else. It’s like a gas station that only sells gas and doesn’t offer a convenience store.

        Why not put in a 7-Eleven inside the Red Line stations? Why isn’t there a Starbucks right at the Blue or Green Line stations? Why not promote business activity and collect rent? The concept is working in Asia and that’s how they procure funding to operate and build transit there instead of taxes.

  3. Try looking up Trulia or Zillow on how much homes in the LA County region go for today and you’ll see the problem why the housing market is so out of reach for middle class families here and why 60% of LA County residents are renters.

    How do you justify a home built in the 1920s before modern earthquake standards and probably covered with lead paint costs over $700,000 here? It’s getting to a point that it’s not the home that’s worth the price, but it’s the land that it’s sitting on it that is more valuable. But they never get around to demolishing them or building newer homes or modern residential structures because of all the bureaucratic red tape involved in doing so.

  4. Bummer, just realized that the newly built and yet to be premiered Wilshire BRT will be disrupted by the Purple Line construction, essentially, I’m guessing, eliminating the BRT from most parts between Western and La Cienega…is that correct?

    • It’s interesting to see West Hollywood arguing for light rail, again. But if they’re arguing that a future Crenshaw Line extension should be run along San Vicente – which is between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills – that’s going to run the line too far out of the way (it should terminate at Hollywood/Highland ideally) and on top of it invites more opposition from Beverly Hills. My personal favorite for the routing of a future Crenshaw Line extension would follow San Vicente from Rimpau to Fairfax, then underground along Fairfax, Santa Monica and Highland before ending at Hollywood/Highland.

      Perhaps West Hollywood would be better served with a more local option focused on their needs. Looking at the Downtown Streetcar project for inspiration, is there any reason why West Hollywood couldn’t build their own streetcar? There are some prime areas that would be well served by streetcars (especially with dedicated right of way), considering the nightlife and how packed traffic tends to be:

      The Sunset Strip – full of bars and nightclubs, which you really don’t want people driving to anyway
      Santa Monica Blvd – same
      San Vicente – connects the Beverly Center, Santa Monica Blvd, and the Sunset Strip
      Crescent Heights Blvd – another former PE right of way, would also connect Santa Monica to the Sunset Strip

      Santa Monica would be the obvious core of the system, since it would allow connections between a “WeHoTrolley” and Metro buses (or future rail) at La Cienega, Fairfax and La Brea.

  5. “Cities change as time goes by and investment is usually a good thing (especially in the form of transit). But let’s be real: rising real estate prices and rents has proven to be a very real concern in many cities.”

    The core of the problem I believe, is outdated zoning laws and anti-high density NIMBYism that inhibit higher density development which in the end, squeezes out the high demand for residential areas. It’s not that hard, it’s basic Econ 101: high demand but low supply, drives up prices. Supply of housing is limited, but demand for residences remain high.

    In order to solve this issue, you have to get rid of outdated zoning laws, stop pandering to NIMBYs against higher density and tall residential structures, and increase the supply of the housing market. By increasing the housing market, it doesn’t mean let’s keep sprawling 100 miles all the way out to neighboring countiesand let them commute by freeways anymore as it has been in the past. That’s not what the people want today. It means we must demolish old and dilapidated single family homes and buildings right here in the urban core areas and start building modern, taller, high rise condos.

    High rent prices is one thing, but the real thing people want is full ownership of their own place of residence. People can’t even afford rent, let alone buy a home in LA anymore. I think I speak for everyone that I’d settle for putting down a mortgage on a $150,000-$200,000 condo if there was one right in the middle of LA, a price within the reach of the middle class, that I own than continuously paying over $1,500 a month for an one-bedroom apartment.

    • Hi Supply and Demand;

      Great points. A condo in that price range seems a more than reasonable request — and there are plenty in many other parts of the country. But certainly not here. I think the interesting question is: how much would you need to increase supply to hit that price target? Or is there a way to use zoning plus legislation to ensure that kind of housing gets built?

      One other thought: I think there’s plenty of room to develop in So Cal outside of existing single family home neighborhoods. I would argue that many of our commercial corridors are drastically under-developed with most/all of the land consumed by parking (often because it’s a zoning requirement). Put some housing above retail along with good transit on those corridors and it may be a drastically different ballgame!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • I don’t believe more zoning laws and more legislation is the answer. If not, we need to be looking at easing and even getting rid of zoning laws altogether as the way forward. In the broad spectrum of US history, zoning laws are relatively a new idea, it was first introduced in the 1920s in the US and the only reason it exists today is because of the 1926 SCOTUS ruling from Euclid v. Ambler Realty that zoning laws are ok. Until then, people were free to develop whatever they want in that land that they owned without government intervention.

        Flash-forward to today, what has zoning laws accomplished? For the City of LA, all it did was create a bigger headache that started off with 84 pages in 1946 to one that today spans over 600 pages long, with confusing and conflicting information, with immensely understaffed department who they themselves don’t know what’s ok and what’s not.

        At least LA is looking to fix that with recode:LA, so I guess that’s a first step forward. But there needs to be more done than just fixing the zoning codes. The other part of the equation as you state is aggressive construction of residential buildings to put the housing costs levels back to sane levels so that the middle class can actually afford a place of their own instead of being practically being a modern form of indentured servants who remain renters forever.

        “Put some housing above retail along with good transit on those corridors and it may be a drastically different ballgame!”

        Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. There are lots of strip malls all across LA County, but what business owner is going to be for the idea of shutting down their business for 1-2 years as they build residences above their place of business or demolishing their parking lots? You can’t just say “ok, we’ve decided to build a 15 storey condo above the strip malls with small businesses, it’ll take 2 years to build, so move away while we build it.”

        The old saying still stands: build something without proper planning for the future, deal with the headaches later. We should’ve built mixed use high-rise residential/commercial properties like that from the start, but we never did and just built strip malls all over the region with large parking lots. Now we pay the consequences because now it’s going to be a tremendous headache to do that with the existing properties who have razor thin profit margins as it stands today and cannot afford to lose 1-2 years of no business as construction is going on.

  6. RE: Weho redevelopment, article states “That agreement, signed in 2013, gives Cohen the exclusive right to negotiate with MTA for redevelopment of the property. Those negotiations have taken place privately without public input.”

    Didn’t we just see what happened when Metro tried to build on Mariachi Plaza without public input? Why isn’t there more public input on major developments on Metro owned properties? I’m all for TOD and smart development, but the residents need to be more involved in the process.