Transportation headlines, Wednesday, February 25

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Today’s Zocalo Public Square profile of a Metro rider: Blogging on the bus (Fairfax Avenue to Grand Avenue)

Work begins beneath Crenshaw Blvd. (Photo: Joseph Lemon/Metro)

Station excavation work begins beneath Crenshaw Blvd. Photo by Joseph Lemon/Metro

New Metrolink rail cars’ safety probably reduced casualties (L.A. Times) 

Officials are still trying to sort out exactly what happened when a Los Angeles-bound Metrolink train collided with a pickup truck towing a trailer early Tuesday in Oxnard. The truck had apparently turned onto the tracks, reports the Times. As the article also notes, new rail cars better designed to withstand collisions did come off the tracks but largely remained intact, which probably reduced injuries or their severity. Metrolink has spent $263 million on the cars in recent years.

Of course, other issues remain in play — and this good article covers a lot of ground. The train was being pushed by a locomotive — a practice that some critics have questioned. The anti-collision system that Metrolink has been installing, as the article notes, is intended to prevent collisions with other trains, not vehicles. And, as we noted yesterday, street-railroad crossings in our region — as in the rest of the U.S. — are the rule, not the exception and as with all things infrastructure in our country, money to build more rail-road grade separations has been very limited to date.

The myth that everyone naturally prefers trains to buses (CityLab)

This article written by Ben Jaffe seems to be a response to a New York Times Upshot article by Josh Barro that argued improving people’s perception of bus service was mostly a matter of marketing. Jaffe believes people’s preferences for rail transit has more to do with the quality of bus service than a bias against buses — a conclusion hinted at in our own response to the article. Excerpt:

For sure, some people have an almost ideological preference to certain modes of public transportation. But as with so much else we take on faith, that blind commitment breaks down in the face of exposure.

Jaffe cites multiple studies suggesting that exposure to bus transit with quality service or public transit in general can improve perceptions about buses. Specifically referencing Barro’s Upshot article, which used Metro’s Orange Line as an example, Jaffe said:

Barro points to the success of L.A.’s Orange Line, for instance, as evidence that it’s is possible to overcome anti-bus bias with the right amenities and marketing.’ But in doing so, he mistakes the Orange Line’s integral service improvements, such as high frequencies and dedicated lanes, for amenities at best or marketing ploys at worst, when in fact they represent a fundamentally stronger system. To suggest that reliable service and exclusive lanes are a product of savvy marketing is to suggest that Michael Jordan jumped high because Nike said so.

Our upshot: if it’s quality service, people will ride it.

More new jobs are in city centers, while employment growth shrinks in the suburbs (N.Y. Times)

Another article on the N.Y. Times Upshot blog looks at the recent trend of employers moving back to city centers — areas within three miles of central business districts. That’s a reversal of a trend over the previous half-century when many employers left the city for suburban campuses. The shift was likely accelerated by the 2008 recession, but likely will continue going forward. Excerpt:

People increasingly desire to live, work, shop and play in the same place, and to commute shorter distances — particularly the young and educated, who are the most coveted employees. So in many cities, both policy makers and employers have been trying to make living and working there more attractive.

Austin, Charlotte and Oklahoma City led the way in city center employment growth between 2007 and 2011, but the articles notes not all cities are following the trend. According to Census Bureau data, Los Angeles appears to be one of them. In L.A., both suburban and city employment declined during the same period, but the decrease occurred more in the city center.

As a city with multiple central business districts, I suspect L.A.’s numbers may need a closer look — some other big employment centers in the city/region may be growing such as the Westside. Or perhaps other things are happening. Perhaps the growth in DTLA is mostly residential or perhaps employers are shunning our region due to its expense (particularly on the housing and real estate side). Spend some time on Zillow comparing home prices in L.A., Oklahoma City, Austin and Charlotte and you’ll see what we mean.

Then again, you can’t do this in Oklahoma City, Austin or Charlotte in December:


Sunset at Arroyo Burro in Santa Barbara in Dec. 2013. Photo by Steve Hymon.


It’s not your imagination: Muni’s on-time performance is getting worse (SF Gate)

San Francisco Muni’s on-time performance is getting worse, according to a city controller’s report. Muni buses were early or late 56 percent of the time between October and December. According to the agency, a shortage of drivers and vehicle breakdowns are likely culprits. The other possible reason: increased congestion — something Metro isn’t immune to either.

Amsterdam has officially run out of space to park its bicycles (CityLab)

Of all the mobility issues L.A. must tackle, chalk this one up as one we won’t have to deal with for a very long time (unfortunate, really). With 43 percent of Amsterdam’s residents biking to work, bicycle parking supply in the Netherland’s largest city can’t keep up with demand.  The city’s response to the shortage is an innovative one:

The city has just announced a plan to excavate a 7,000-space bicycle garage under the Ij, the former bay (now a lake thanks to the construction of the Afsluitdijk barrier) that forms Amsterdam’s waterfront. The lake forms a sort of moat around the city’s Central Station, its main transit hub and a place where it could be possible to connect a subaquatic bike catacomb directly via tunnel to the city’s metro system.

Stacking a total of 21,500 new bike spaces around the station by 2030, Amsterdam also plans to create two new floating islands with space for 2000 bikes each. Add this to the 2,500 spaces already in place and you have what will comfortably be the largest bike parking accomodations [sic] in the world.


In response to a few comments about public transit’s safety image being tarnished because of the recent string of train accidents across the country, including yesterday’s Metrolink train derailment, here’s some data worth sharing: according to a 2013 study, out of an annual average of 43,239 transportation related deaths between 2000 and 2009, 59 (.0017%) involved passengers on a transit bus or train, whereas 30,689 (70.9%) solely involved private vehicles. The fact is, you’re still much safer taking the train to work than hopping in your car.

7 replies

    • Thanks Allen but my colleague Joe shot that one! 🙂

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • Oh actually I was referring to the Santa Barbara sunset picture. But the bus over the excavation cover is a cool one too!

  1. At least in the northeast US virtually the entire length of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is grade separated. Boston’s MBTA- Connecticut DOT’s Shore Line East, New York’s Metro-North, New Jersey Transit’s Northeast Corridor Line, Philadelphia’s SEPTA, and Baltimore & Washington’s MARC also use parts of the nation’s busiest rail line.

    As far as bicycle parking lots in Amsterdam are concerned, they’re a whole lot friendlier to the environment than any vehicular parking lot will ever be!

  2. Leave it to our local, state and federal politicians to be penny wise and pound foolish. The colossal amount of taxpayer money spent on those new ‘crash resistant’ Rotem cars and (indirectly) the Positive Train Control mandate should have been spent on grade separations, which more directly protect us from driver incompetence.

  3. Cyclists in L.A. do already deal with a lack of bike parking. At the day before yesterday’s Live Ride Share conference at the Japanese American National Museum, I had to walk a half-block away from the museum to find a pole that wasn’t already full of locked bikes.

  4. Push-pull operation is common on I would hazard to say most American commuter rail systems. The practice is based on there usually not being room to turn around trains or move locomotives from one end of the train to the other at downtown terminals–or money to purchase a locomotive for each end of a train. To change the practice in most places is probably not possible without enormous investment, if at all.