Transportation headlines, Tuesday, April 14

Have a transportation-related article you think should be included in headlines? Drop me an email! And don’t forget, Metro is on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

ART OF TRANSIT (Photo via Instagram @socal_tokyo.)

ART OF TRANSIT (Photo via Instagram @socal_tokyo.)

Today’s profile of a Metro rider by Zocalo Public Square: We had nice conversations, and that was it Westwood Plaza to Rosecrans Avenue

Metro to study converting busy Orange Line busway to a rail line (L.A. Times)

The Times’ Laura Nelson reviews a report going to Metro Board members this week that outlines potential improvements to the Metro Orange Line in the San Fernando Valley. The big ticket option to improve capacity and travel times would be to convert the line, which currently utilizes articulated buses on a dedicated right-of-way, to light rail.

This option would be the most expensive to implement but would drastically increase capacity and make the largest impact on travel times. However, Laura also notes there are other alternatives that are being considered:

Those include buying more or larger buses and adding overpasses at the busway’s busiest intersections. Currently, long, articulated buses run in their own transit way, but in some locations they still can be required to stop for traffic lights. Upgrading the bus service on the line would cost up to $350 million, less than a third of the cost of replacing it with rail, according to the MTA analysis.

The report also looked at extending the Orange Line east to connect to the Gold Line in Pasadena. You can read the full receive and file report here.

RTD’s Phil Washington, bound for big L.A. job, talks about Denver’s next big challenge (DBJ)

Some good background on Phil Washington, Metro’s incoming CEO, during his time at Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD). The article details Washington’s success in developing public-private partnerships to fund the ambitious FasTracks program in Denver.

Most of the program is either completed or under construction with the remaining projects expected to be complete in the next few years. The program fully realized would add 122 miles of new rail in the Denver area. It also supported the $480 million transformation of Denver’s Union Station and an 18-mile express bus line.

On coming to L.A., Washington said this:

“It’s a car-centric culture and we have to break through that culture of driving everywhere…it’s LA and LA County, with 10.9 million people, when you get an opportunity to help transform a region like that, you don’t turn away from an opportunity like that. There’s no resting on your laurels, at least not for me.”

Washington is set to start with Metro in mid-May.

The case for driverless trains, by the numbers (CityLab)

Automatic train control was activated on the WMATA Red Line on Monday, marking the first time in 2009 the technology was used on any rail line in the system. Automatic train control sounds exactly like what it is: in a fully automated mode, a train is capable of operating by itself without the need of an operator in a cab. In Washington, operators will still be present to open and close doors and do other tasks, but they won’t control the movement of the train.

In light of this, CityLab dived into the numbers from a recent study that highlighted the benefit of using automated train control. Some of these benefits include increased train capacity, improved reliability and more efficient headways. The cons are the potential loss of jobs and increased technology costs.

The article explains the “grades of automation” for trains, which run from type 1 to type 4. Excerpt:

Type 1 trains have automated elements but are manually driven. Type 2’s have automatic train operation (ATO) but a driver in the cab to operate doors and get the train started. Type 3 trains have an attendant in a passenger car to operate doors. And Type 4 ATOs, the highest, are capable of going totally driverless (though occasionally these, too, have an official on board for other purposes).

In L.A., the Metro Green, Red and Purple Lines are type 2. Trains on these lines automatically communicate with the signaling system to ensure adequate spacing and protection.  All other rail lines are type 1, so though they have automated components, they’re still manually operated.

(For those interested, the aviation industry is in a constant discussion about the pros and cons of automation and human operation.)

Micromobility: the key to melding transit and urban design? (GreenBiz)

Here’s an interesting read on what “mobility designer” Dan Sturges believes will be the future of transportation. What he describes is a future with more transportation options built for shorter, local commutes.

Sturges believes bicycles, scooters and smaller, narrow (and possibly autonomous) vehicles will rule the day. In an urban environment, conventionally-sized cars would only be needed for longer trips — or not at all. Sturges envisions a future where cars are parked on the outskirts of communities with non-motorized zones in the middle.

Even though transportation like bus and rail is completely overlooked as part of the future transit equation in the article, Sturges is right on point in some areas. Excerpt:

Let me be very clear. We currently have an automobile monoculture on this planet, and it’s not good for us. Today, the billion cars and light trucks we have on the planet look virtually the same when looking down on them. They are rectangles with four wheels in the corners and roughly the same size. They are constructed out of 25,000 parts and cost $32,000, on average, in the US. Why would anyone need all that to travel a mile or two for a meeting at a coffee shop?

The perspective is an interesting one, but it’s probably too car-centric. It’s tough to call it a holistic view when mass transit — which isn’t going away anytime soon — isn’t mentioned, especially when transit projects are encouraging the type of development needed for the future urban environment Sturges describes.

For downtown L.A. pedestrians, citations send a “don’t walk” signal (L.A. Times)

Speaking of car-culture. On the active transportation front, this L.A. Times article takes a look at the large amount of jaywalking citations given to pedestrians in downtown L.A., even with the growth of downtown as a walker’s paradise. The downtown police district leads the city in jaywalking citations. Tickets for the offense are just under $200.

Urbanists and residents believe the heavy enforcement — as well damaged sidewalks and unfriendly construction zones — are only perpetuating L.A.’s car culture, which is less prevalent downtown. The LAPD, on the other hand, believes vigilant jaywalking enforcement is important to keep pedestrians safe and traffic flowing.

My two cents: this debate coming to the forefront will likely pave the way for future change. The car-first paradigm, at least in certain parts of L.A. like downtown, has already shifted. But unlike other cities where walking, biking or taking transit are engrained in their urban fabric (and where jaywalking is usually less enforced) we’re playing catch-up. Excerpt:

Los Angeles leads the nation in new rail transit infrastructure, says Christopher Leinberger, a business professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and co-author of a 2014 study, “Foot Traffic Ahead.” It’s also adding bike lanes and converting one-way “mini-freeways” in downtown into two-way streets with parking on curbs, seating areas and bike lanes, slowing traffic.

Still, Boston, Washington, D.C., Portland, Seattle and New York are the current models of this new urbanism, Leinberger says. While gaining fast, L.A., he says, “is maybe 10, 15 years behind.”