Transportation headlines, Wednesday, April 1

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The east end of Union Station and surrounding streets in a game of Google Maps Pac-Man. It needs some work but is still fun.

The east end of Union Station and surrounding streets in a game of Google Maps Pac-Man. It needs some work but it’s still fun.

Today’s profile of a Metro rider by Zocalo Public Square: I’d rather look at palm trees,  5th Street to Hooper Avenue

L.A. Votes to Move Santa Monica “Closer” (L.A. Weekly)

In a landmark move poised to cut billions off transit infrastructure and operations costs and drastically cut commute times, L.A. Weekly reports that the city of L.A. City Council voted 12-3 on Monday to physically move the city of Santa Monica closer to Los Angeles. The motion was championed by those who found the Santa Monica Pier to be a little bit too far from Studio City.

According to the plans, which consists of a map of West L.A. and a hand-drawn arrow, the oceanfront city will be moved somewhere near downtown L.A. The move is expected to begin in early 2016 with esteemed architect Frank Gehry as the lead.

There’s no word yet on what will replace the empty void left by the city and its 90,000 residents.

Angelenos spend an extra 92 hours each year in traffic study says (LAist)

Definitely not an April Fools’ headline, nor much of a surprise that yet another study has determined the L.A. region has a lot of traffic (our region also has about five percent of the American population). The report from GPS-maker TomTom ranks L.A as No. 10 in the world for the worst traffic, at least according to their GPS-based data. All the more reason to take public transit to get back some of that time for things that matter.

Stuck in Seattle: the aggravating adventures  of a gigantic tunnel drill (Bloomberg)

Poor Bertha. A really interesting read (with neat graphics) on the background and complexities of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project, which is now two years behind schedule because the $80 million tunnel boring machine (TBM) deployed for the project has been stuck underground for more than a year.


Bertha, the nickname of the mired TBM, was being used to tunnel an underground highway beneath downtown Seattle to replace the seismically unsound elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct. Interestingly, the article points out there were concerns prior to construction about the conditions Bertha would be working in. Excerpt:

Tunneling machines like consistently firm conditions across the drilling face. “The risk is very much associated with how you expect the ground conditions to vary,” says Andrew Whittle, a soils expert who heads Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s civil engineering department. The wider the tunnel, the more likely it is for one part of the drill to encounter little resistance while another meets tougher stuff. Initially the Seattle plan called for two smaller bores, one in each direction, but that was too costly. Making one tunnel with two levels of traffic was cheaper but meant pushing the diameter to an unprecedented 57.5 feet.

…the tunnel’s path also runs so deep, up to 215 feet below ground, that it faces groundwater pressures about four times greater than at sea level. There are even pressure variations between the top and bottom of the boring machine. At five stories tall, it’s like the difference between being able to snorkel or needing scuba gear. The state, guided by an army of consulting firms, said it was aware of and could prepare for the risks.

Even with efforts underway to get Bertha up and running again, questions about contingency plans and even calls for the project to be stopped permanently are surfacing. Undoubtedly, no matter how or even if the project goes forward, a legal battle will ensue over the increased costs and delays.

A surprisingly high number of commuters would prefer not to teleport to work (CityLab)

Also surprising this isn’t an April Fools’ headline (I think). The article looks at a number studies over the past 15 years that asked respondents if they would teleport to get to their destination if the technology was available. The answer isn’t an unanimous yes, and points to a concept that will probably surprise a lot people (especially those with treacherous commutes): no commute may not be the most desired commute.

The idea is that when focusing on the positive aspects of a commute, like how it can be used to get things done, daydream, or prepare or unwind from work, a reasonable commute — the consensus is it should be somewhere around 15-20 minutes — appears to be more desirable than no commute at all.

The article doesn’t clarify if people also said they would not teleport for a reason that I thought was obvious: the high likelihood the new and untested technology might scramble the molecular structure of the person using it, resulting in said person arriving at their destination as a quivering blob. Just saying.

What mass transit can learn from elitist buses like Leap (Wired)

An interesting article from Wired, that attempts to look at what large public transit agencies can learn from private transit companies. It highlights a private San Francisco bus company called Leap that runs a bus route for workers in Silicon Valley offering free Wi-Fi, premium coffee and leather seats as an example of what public transit agencies should strive to be.

Obviously, leather seats and premium coffee on Metro buses and trains are a long shot (Wi-Fi is coming), but when looking at Leap’s convenient tech-based features like virtual ticketing and demand-based route scheduling, these are real services public agencies should strive to emulate and adapt quickly.

The article acknowledges there are ingrained processes that make this difficult for government agencies. For example, unlike private companies, public agencies, must cope with constantly changing funding dynamics as well as cater to a host of constituents. Excerpt:

“Agencies have a lot of process they have to go through to make any changes to their service,” says Ratna Amin, director of transportation policy at the Bay Area planning nonprofit SPUR. There are reasons for that process—including everyone’s right to voice their opinion and taking the time to weigh benefits and disadvantages—“but often the rider suffers.”

Then there are jurisdictional and engineering limits, funding often languishes and services get cut when things get tight. Federal, state, and local laws dictate what kind of service agencies have to offer. Because these are public agencies spending public money, there’s a lot of public scrutiny—which really means criticism. “There’s really an expectation that things shouldn’t fail,” Amin says. “So it’s hard to launch a totally new way of doing things.”

Ah, the pros and cons of democracy. But the article goes on to suggest a few things public agencies can take away from the private industry — like shedding their risk-averse nature and becoming more willing to experiment and take risks on a smaller scale. This requires clear communication with the public about the nature of the experimental projects and a public understanding of these projects as a way explore service improvements, even though they may not always succeed.

Littering says a lot about you (Ad Teachings)

A fine message out of Toronto. To underline the point specifically to transit: have some decency, take your trash with you (and throw it out)!