Transportation headlines, Thursday, June 11

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ART OF TRANSIT: Killing time on the subway platform. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: Killing time on the subway platform. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

One iconoclasts’s blunt message on transportation funding (Governing) 

A provocative article about Charles Marohn, a Minnesota transportation planner who soured on his job and left to start Strong Towns. Excerpt:

The gospel according to Marohn is simple enough to put into a few words: We have built too many highways. We have built them in places that didn’t need them. We have built them in places that can’t afford to maintain them. That’s why the federal Transportation Trust Fund is going broke. And if Congress approves a new transportation bill under the old rules, we’ll just build more unneeded roads and force the communities that host them into a further cycle of debt.

Where does transit fit into this? Here’s an excerpt equally provocative blog post from Marohn from earlier this year:

I always tell transit advocates that, if you really want transit, build a place. Successful transit connects successful places (and sorry, Andy Card, but a park-and-ride is not a successful place). 

We build a lot of unsuccessful transit in this country because we too often treat transit as a substitute for the automobile. The thinking — and this comes from people who plan transit systems as well as those who fund them — is that transit is synonymous with equity. If you can’t afford a car, well…then we need to provide you with public transit. It is a social justice issue.

And because of this mindset, transit tends to become the exclusive providence of government. Funding mechanisms require that transit projects be huge, involve massive coalitions of public officials and be designed by teams of bureaucrats and consultants, few of which even use transit. The result is a wasteful approach that focuses on corridors and coverage area instead of places and people. 

I think where he’s coming from is this: if you build a really good, solid community that avoids the usual suburban sprawl, transit will be a successful byproduct. In other words, the community needs to come first.

That’s a hard point to argue. I think the challenge comes down to the chicken and the egg. In our region, it’s often difficult — if not politically impossible — to build that kind of density without transit coming first. Problem is, sometimes the transit comes and the development doesn’t really follow.

Complicating matters is this: the government agencies that build the transit often don’t have much say in development. Yes, an agency such as Metro may pursue development on a few Metro-owned parcels after transit construction is done. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds more parcels that may be within a short walk, bike or even drive to the station.

In our region, new road construction is usually not an issue — although it certainly comes into play on the SR-710 North Study involving the 710 gap. Most often (and perhaps even with the 710) the road projects involves attempts to improve what’s already here. I think Marohn’s criticisms here tend to come into play more on parking and development policies, which are the kind of things that impact livability and the chance for transit to work in any given place.

Google’s next project: fixing congested cities (Wall Street Journal) 

Not much in the way of details but Google says the effort will create technology to help manage issues such as transportation, traffic, energy use and other common urban challenges.

Credit: The Flintstones.

Credit: The Flintstones.

My three cents: I think there’s fortune and glory to be had for the engineer who develops the next generation of traffic light synchronization software that can quickly respond to real-time situations, i.e. making sure north-south and east-west lights are somewhat in synch and dealing with the need to keep transit buses and trains moving.

As some of you have heard me gripe before, the traffic lights in the 91106 remind me of something out of the Stone Ages (see photo). I’m certainly not for turning everyday streets into drag strips, but I also think that stopping cars (and bikes) at every intersection has its own set of deleterious impacts.

Korea’s eagle eye buses put an end to illegal parking (KoreaBANG)

Source: MBC video. Click above to see the video.

Source: MBC video. Click above to see the video.

Here’s how it works: if you park illegally and a pic of your car is captured twice within five minutes by cameras on two different buses, you get cited. Ha-ha!

Illegal parking has at times been an issue on the peak hour bus lanes on Wilshire, where Metro provides the transit service and the city of L.A. does the enforcement.

EPA takes step to cut emissions from planes (NYT)

Airplanes are thought to account for two percent of global greenhouse emissions. The concern is that any gains to date on the emissions and fuel efficiency front will be wiped out by increasing air travel in the future. It remains to be seen what kind of standards are set by the EPA but it’s worth noting that in 2012 the U.S. balked when the European Union tried to force U.S. airlines into a carbon trading market.


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18 replies

  1. Ridership will suffer if people are not allowed to park their cars at stations. I drive about 3 miles to the Harbor Freeway station and catch the 450 bus to downtown. Public transportation would not be an option for me if parking is not available.

    • Alternative view:

      You can afford a car, you can afford a little parking fee. Ridership will suffer? Yes, but you will not make a huge impact because you do not constitute the majority of Metro riders.

      The recent statistics stated that 80-85% of Metro riders are below the poverty line and the average trip on Metro bus is only 3 miles.

      You’re in the privileged class who takes advantage of the poor by getting free parking and paying the same $1.75 fare to go all the way from Harbor Freeway to DTLA.

      The poor who cannot afford cars, end up paying for your free parking and subsidizing your trip. They pay the same $1.75 price for shorter trip averaging only 3 miles, while you pay the same $1.75 for the 13.5 miles between Harbor Gateway and DTLA.

      You can afford a car, you can afford a parking fee. You can also afford a little fare hike for longer trips.

      Don’t like it? Go back to driving on the congested freeways. I don’t care.

    • I’m with you Mary, you’re not the only one. all of the other vehicles looking for a free parking spot feel the same way. The only thing I can suggest is sharing your feelings with them, trust me, they all feel like you! I remember Metro tried to cut service on a little tiny shuttle line- the 620 line- look it up, it services the General Hospital and White Memorial and it goes in a loop. through poor neighborhoods. Metro cited Low ridership, but as you probably figured out the patrons banded together, showed up in force to the Metro Board Meeting and reversed the cancellation. The Media showed, poor old, sick people that needed the service to basically survive. Power to the People-

      • Richard Lopez,

        The new way of thinking is that the poor people who can’t afford a car and will never use free parking use the 620 only travels an average of 3 miles and they pay the same $1.75 as someone who is given free parking at a Metro Rail station and is able to travel 10 or more miles for the same $1.75 fare.

        The next generation concept that Metro is exploring is to make fares a range depending on how far on travels. A bus rider who only travels 3 miles pays $0.50, while another who travels 20 miles pays $3.00. This concept of pay-by-the-distance is already been proven to work better in Europe and Asia and can be implemented with our existing TAP technology.

        Free parking also needs to go away because people who can afford cars are better off than the vast majority of Metro riders many of them who do not own a car. Even a $1.00 per day will go a long way and even with $1.00 for parking plus the fare, it’s still cheaper than parking at DTLA.

        I for one, support these measures and I say that as a car driver who uses free parking and use Metro. I’m more well off, I can pay a little extra for parking and willing to pay more for longer trips.

  2. Speaking of the Metro Green Line Crenshaw Station, this empty land that is currently being unused can easily be annexed by Metro to build something nice, would be a perfect place to build a condo tower or an adjunct shopping mall specifically for Metro Green Line users.

    Let me guess, there’s some stupid regulation no one cares about saying you can’t do that, right? Yet lots of land adjacent to freeway onramps/offramps in LA remain unused with brown trees and dirt.

  3. I find the idea that traffic will be improved by messing with traffic light timing as laughably absurd. Los Angeles already has the worlds most comprehensive and sophisticated traffic signal monitoring and signal control system on the planet. The reality is that traffic lights cause congestion, as doe road design paradigms that let drivers feel safe getting up to highway speeds in between red light. When roads are flooded with more cars than they can handle at rush hour, one person checking their text messages, or picking their nose, can destroy any light snychronization scheme.

    • With all due respect, I didn’t write that traffic light timing would improve traffic. I do think that needlessly stopping vehicles and cyclists — especially when there is no cross traffic — doesn’t amount to much good. Unless you like lower fuel efficiency and slower bus trips.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. “I think where he’s coming from is this: if you build a really good, solid community that avoids the usual suburban sprawl, transit will be a successful byproduct. In other words, the community needs to come first.”

    This is as concise and accurate a summation of what I’m trying to say as anything I’ve said or written. Bravo!

    • Hey Charles,

      Thank you and keep up the great work! It’s really important for the welfare of the country. If you’re ever out this way, would love to get together and chat.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. The fact that Google is pushing a driver-less car, which will have zero positive impact on cities and may even congest them more, tells me that this is more of a PR stunt than anything else, and if not that, almost certainly a new way to feed at the public trough.

    • “zero positive impact on cities”

      Disagree. Driverless technology also has their positives

      1. Humans suck at driving, computers are better. Accidents currently caused by driverless technology under beta-testing all have been when there was a human behind the wheel.

      2. Computers are far more efficient in finding shorter and ecological routes than people so there’s a big environmental impact there.

      3. Driverless cars can actually decrease congestion, if such cars were to be taken up by share-ride services such as Uber and Lyft. Nothing stopping them from changing their model from existing Uber/Lyft drivers to driverless cars. Then, they’ll have no more problems about complaints from their consumers about “rude” drivers.

      4. Who says driverless cars cannot be applied or lead to driverless vans, trucks, and buses? There’s not much technological difference between a car or a bus, if a computer can drive a car, a computer can drive a bus also. Perhaps even a lot more safer. Soon, you might actually be boarding a Metro Bus that’s run by Google driverless technology than those driven by rude bus drivers. I say that’s a huge plus in itself, don’t you think?

  6. I use Metro’s parking from time to time and I think its a mistake to make it free. Think about the irony: a transit system that charges more to park yourself on transit than it does to park your car! Metro is missing out on money that should be going to make a better transit system. Charge something based on demand, even if it’s not much.

  7. You can add the wasteful use of the free parking lot at the Metro Green Line Aviation/LAX station today.

    What Metro does: gives it away as free parking

    What Japan does: builds an outdoor shopping mall out of it

    Of course, I’m sure there might be some ridiculous zoning law codes here that say one can’t build building right underneath aerials or freeway pylons due to earthquake precautions of whatever, but somehow, Japan manages to do that well despite they have the similar earthquake dangers as Southern California.

    Considering how the area surrounding Aviation/LAX Station along Imperial Hwy is full of business and commercial buildings, a much better use of the station would be to use it as an outdoor mall or the sort.

  8. “Complicating matters is this: the government agencies that build the transit often don’t have much say in development. Yes, an agency such as Metro may pursue development on a few Metro-owned parcels after transit construction is done. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds more parcels that may be within a short walk, bike or even drive to the station.”

    You’re forgetting “lead by example.”

    If Metro themselves wastes valuable land space dedicated to free parking spaces instead of pursuing more profitable ventures like erecting a high rise condo there instead to solve first mile/last mile problems, the fault lies on your agency in also being stuck in the automobile centric mindset.

    You made the decision to develop the Culver City Station with a free parking lot when otherwise could’ve been put to better use. Not my problem the surroundings don’t develop themselves.

    • That’s a very fair point. The parking lots certainly take up space. They also certainly attract riders (many are filled daily). In fairness, many of the lots are in places that are far from central business districts (see: Green Line) that seem most ripe for the building of real neighborhoods. Still, your point is well taken and it’s a bit of a conundrum.

      That said, it will be very interesting to watch the Purple Line Extension project. No parking is being built at any of the stations. Same with the Regional Connector’s three stations. And the parking at Expo 2 (and even Expo 1) is quite limited. I need to dig out the Crenshaw/LAX Line numbers to see what they look like.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • “In fairness, many of the lots are in places that are far from central business districts”

        Depends if Metro sees themselves as nothing but an entity that provides transportation to existing areas but not looking themselves as looking forward to becoming residential/commercial property developers themselves.

        Nothing is stopping Metro to change their mindset to start “leading by example” by developing commercial or mixed use residential properties to create NEW business areas near stations all over LA Cおunty, rather than just looking at themselves as being a transit provider to shuttle people from suburban areas to CURRENT EXISTING commercial areas (i.e. DTLA, Mid-Wilshire).

        For example, look at the Metro Green Line Crenshaw Station for example. This lot is wasted as parking space.

        SpaceX/Tesla Motors and Hawthorne Municipal Airport is right across the street, likely attracting business travelers who have dealings with SpaceX/Tesla Motors who need a place to stay while on business trips. Don’t you think a commercial structure, perhaps say, a hotel would be worth to be built here instead? Wouldn’t Metro be making a lot more money by being operating a hotel instead of giving away a free parking lot? Couldn’t Metro work a public-private partnership with hotel chains like Hilton, Hyatt or Marriott to build a hotel here?

        And if you build a hotel, perhaps the strip mall directly to the east will benefit from business travelers looking for places to eat? And if so, wouldn’t the areas surrounding Hawthorne Station start attracting new commercial/residential properties?

        What else can you do with your existing properties instead of just wasting them as parking lots?