How We Roll, Friday, August 21

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Edmonton Transit Systems’ latest to promote riding the bus:

communal•Idle Thoughts: There’s a nice new bar and restaurant in South Pasadena next to the Gold Line Station: Communal Food & Drink in the old Firefly building. It’s a nice addition to the neighborhood immediately around the train station, which also includes Mike & Annes, Crossings, Buster’s, Heirloom Cafe, Bistro de la Gare, Senor Fish, Mix-n-munch, Aro and Griffins. I’m probably forgetting one or two — and there are some other good places a short walk away on Fair Oaks (Gus’s Barbecue and the Fair Oaks Pharmacy, to name two).

The neighborhood near the train tracks has always been nice but I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go since the Gold Line opened in 2003. It seems like things have stabilized. Perhaps it helps that the South Pas station is one of the busiest on the Gold line. Perhaps it also helps that a handful of new residential buildings have been added to the mix in recent years providing potential customers for the new restaurants and other businesses.

Fun Facts: In 2000, South Pas had 10,850 housing units, according to the Census Bureau. The latest Census Bureau numbers show South Pas had an estimated 10,983 housing units in 2013. That’s hardly a dramatic change — statistically it’s basically unchanged — although the city’s population has gone from 24,292 in 2000 to an estimated 26,156 today.

I don’t live in South Pas but it will be fascinating to see how the city keeps changing, especially near the Gold Line as the Metro Rail network grows. As with many cities in So Cal, there’s always going to be tension about growth and traffic and density — and I think there will certainly be more pressure for South Pas to grow. We’ll see how it plays out.

Move LA’s Long Range Transportation Plan strawman #44 (Move LA)

The advocacy group’s latest proposal for the potential Metro long-range plan update and potential ballot measure next year. They propose a half-cent sales tax increase for 45 years (Measure R was a half-cent sales tax for 30 years and expires in mid-2039) with 35 percent of the funds going to rail transit and 25 percent of revenues being returned to cities on a per capita basis for their own projects. That’s a notable departure from Measure R, which returns 15 percent to local cities.

As for transit projects, the group backs extending the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the Red Line in Hollywood, a Sepulveda Pass train, light rail on Van Nuys Boulevard to Sylmar, Orange Line upgrades (but not to rail), extending the Eastside Gold Line to both South El Monte and Whittier, extending the Gold Line to Claremont and extending the Green Line to Torrance. Some of these are projects with some Measure R funding.

POINT OF EMPHASIS: Metro is in the midst of looking at long-range plan update and ballot measure. The agency may decide to pursue them. It may not. But the agency hasn’t released an expenditure plan with particular projects and that won’t happen until next year. If it does, the Metro plan may or may not bear resemblance to what MoveLA proposes. The obvious public policy question raised here is whether the MoveLA plan — or any plan, for that matter — is financially sound and will build what it says it will build.

Op-Ed: Can our transit system get any worse? (New York Times) 

Work on the new Second Avenue subway in Manhattan. Photo: New York MTA.

Work on the new Second Avenue subway in Manhattan. Photo: New York MTA.

Transit in New York metro area is sky-high. But delays are common and New York Metro is seeking more than 26 billion for an array of fixes and upgrades. What went wrong? Thomas K. Wright argues that too much political intrusion hasn’t helped.

And these graphs, which should send some of our anonymous commenters into unbridled joy that may even cause them to get up from their computers and break into song and dance:

We can learn from others. London and Stockholm have “congestion pricing” that generates revenue for mass transit while limiting the flow of cars in their central business districts. Hong Kong’s transit agency, the MTR, is a for-profit company in which the government holds a majority stake. Because it is publicly traded, it can avoid patronage hiring. By purchasing real estate and leasing property, it acquires revenue while keeping fares low.

Those examples — superior to any American model — recognize that it is appropriate for a transit system to have diverse sources for funds. Their decision-making structures are responsive to constituents, yet insulated from politicians. They allow long-term planning.

Metro’s ExpressLanes does send money back to the agency — enough, for example, to add Dodger Stadium Express service from Harbor Gateway. It remains to be seen whether more congestion pricing lanes will be added in our county — and how much money they can raise.

As for a transit agency completely changing its structure to be more like Hong Kong…that’s a heavy lift and I don’t see it happening quite yet in the U.S. If it does happen, I think it’s more likely to happen in a smaller metro area that is more willing to take risks and more willing to experiment with something that seemingly makes government a lot bigger and more powerful. And that metro area is where?

Highlights from Metro CEO speaking at Zocalo (Streetsblog LA)

Joe Linton listened carefully and notes three things in particular: that Phil Washington didn’t make it sound like another round fare increases were imminent; that Washington was somewhat skeptical about the need for further gating at stations, and; that Washington doesn’t want Metro judged simply on its ability to get cars off the road — i.e., ‘fix traffic.’

Places where I don’t want to sit (Strong Towns) 

Smart post about cities and/or businesses putting public benches in all the wrong places.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti talks #BikeLA with Ryan Seacrest (KIIS)

Deejay Ryan Seacrest is an avid biker and discusses some recent bike lane developments with Garcetti, who is also a member of the Metro Board of Directors.

Op-Ed: Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm (L.A. Times)

Stockholm: not L.A. Photo by Arild, via Flickr creative commons.

Stockholm: not L.A. Photo by Arild, via Flickr creative commons.

Santa Monica business owner Bruce Feldman writes that reducing car lanes to accommodate more bus and bike lanes will simply create more traffic because the L.A. region doesn’t have enough transit yet to provide an alternative to driving. He also argues that L.A. should not strive to be more like European cities that do have popular central business districts bustling with transit and residential properties.

Bruce’s idea: get rid of street parking, use the former parking lanes for things like bus and bike lanes, build more small parking lots to make up for lost street parking and run extremely frequent bus service on major corridors — with buses arriving every three to seven minutes.

As I’ve written many times before, there’s a reason that we don’t have more bus lanes around the region — losing a traffic lane is a very tough sell and I don’t think that’s going to change. That said, I think Bruce’s ideas are actually pretty compatible with some of the things that the city of L.A. is trying to do with its new mobility plan and I personally believe there are higher, better uses for many parking lanes. But let’s be real: losing a parking lane is also a really tough sell, with merchants often the first to complain.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier this week, Metro is looking at revamping its bus system to add more frequent service on some busy corridors while reducing service on low ridership lines. More about that soon.

Wait….a real final thought: I don’t like it when people say L.A. can’t be this or that, and that we’re forever fated to be a sprawling collection of single-family bungalows connected by cars. Folks, L.A. can be whatever it wants to be. Sure, the region’s past is important and constrains some decisions. But the region’s future, in my view (perhaps dim), is an open book to be written by you, the voters and taxpayers.

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11 replies

  1. I think raising fares further so that transit fares take up a similar percentage of a person’s income here as it does in Hong Kong can be done (much) later on. Right now, we should focus on making sure transit is accomplishing its current missions: 1) to provide those with no other means of transportation a way to get to work and run errands, and 2) provide an attractive option for those with cars so that they drive less, resulting in less congestion and pollution. Because of the unfair competition with the automobile here, and because of all the benefits it provides over automobile usage, I think it is fine that we have a subsidized (low fare) system that doesn’t turn a profit the way they do in Asia (keep in mind that Tokyo and Seoul have populations similar to the entire state of California, in an area smaller than Los Angeles County). As Metro continues to pursue a tax increase, I hope they consider keeping a portion of it for increasing service (as opposed to maintaining the same service) rather than just constructing new rail lines that eventually will draw from the same pool of operating hours that we have now, forcing a reduction in service elsewhere. I don’t think Metro has increased bus operating hours since a series of slashes that happened starting 2009.
    Regarding Metro’s plan to increase service on a core network while slashing service on lower performing routes, I find two of the criteria conflicting. One is to increase service on core routes, including significantly increasing service on certain lines that currently run every 30 minutes. At the same time, Metro hopes to increase the load factor, reducing service where the load factor is too low. It sounds like some current high-frequency routes are going to get service cuts while current lower-performing routes would either be cut or won’t be able to meet the load factor requirement to have frequent service. I’m confused about this.

    • “I think raising fares further so that transit fares take up a similar percentage of a person’s income here as it does in Hong Kong can be done (much) later on…”

      You really have no idea how the fare system in Hong Kong is vastly different from LA or the rest of the US do you? Why do these people think they know more than UCLA professors and transit experts in this field? Talk about selective reasoning! I support climate change because all the scientists and experts say they are happening, but when it comes to different fare models that work, I’ll disregard those despite the scientists and experts saying we should be looking at that. Sheesh.

      “keep in mind that Tokyo and Seoul have populations similar to the entire state of California, in an area smaller than Los Angeles County…”

      The other perspective is that Tokyo and Seoul didn’t wake up one morning with 30+ million people living in the size of LA County either. At a certain point in their metropolis’ history, they had 10 million+ in the size of LA County as well and faced the same issues as we do and overcame it. Now logically, wouldn’t it be through deductive reasoning that LA County should be asking Tokyo and Seoul how they managed to do it when they were at 10 million decades ago?

      Furthermore, your assessment “area smaller than LA County” is up to debate. One can argue that LA County is big spanning 4000 square miles, about half of that is undevelopable because of water or natural barriers like the Angeles National Forest or the Santa Monica Mountains. All things considered, we’re trying to fit in 10+ million population (and growing) in an area size that’s realistically, only 2,000 square miles of developable space.

      To give you a geography lesson, look at the LA County map. Approx half can’t be developed.

      “As Metro continues to pursue a tax increase…”

      And I’m voting no on it.

  2. Naysayers would probably like to point out that LA is nothing like Hong Kong so HK ideas will never pan out here. But then again, they also cannot explain why then a NYC cannot operate like HK either despite similar area size, population density, population, and high uses of mass transit.

    So then it becomes the question of why then is LA following a NYC model when the NYC model is such a failure in itself? Wouldn’t then it be safe to say that if LA has been trying to model after NYC (which make no sense at all either considering LA resembles nothing like NYC anyway) for a while now as this age old east vs west coast rivalry thing that no one cares about, why shouldn’t we look beyond NYC and see what other cities are out there in the world that actually runs transit better than NYC and adapt some of their ideas here too so that we become the best city in the US and perhaps set our goals up there to become among the best in the world leagues?

    I say we can learn a lot from the HK and Asia model by ditching the flat rate system, at least on our Metro Rail system to start with, especially with the Regional Connector, Expo Phase II and Foothill Extension opening that one will be able to have a 50+ mile single seat ride for $1.75 while another will be paying the same $1.75 price for only one or two station stops. At least that has a specific background here in the US that there are rail operates on a distance based fare system (i.e. Caltrain, BART, Metrolink, DC Metro) and certainly no one can argue with that.

    And once everyone has gotten use of the concept, we can then gradually phase it in for our BRTs like the Orange and Silver Lines as well. And then if it works on BRT, we can finally phase it in for our buses at that point.

    BTW, to the people who say Metro isn’t interested in this option, I take it they don’t actually listen into Metro Board meetings. Here’s the recording from March’s APTA review panel in which four members of the Metro Board asked specifically about distance based fares to UCLA Professor Brian Taylor, an expert in mass transit.

    City of LA Councilman Mike Bonin

    City of Duarte Councilman John Fasana

    LA County Supervisor 5th district Hilda Solis

    LA County Supervisor 3rd district Sheila Kuehl

    Suffice to say, I say the words from an UCLA professor whose life long research and expertise is in mass transit is far more credible than any politician or the special interest groups backing them.

  3. There are probably more dining/boozing options around the South Pasadena Gold Line station than in the entire state of Montana, just saying.

    • Well duh.

      We have more people living in this one county than the entire State of Georgia. If LA County were it’s own state, we’d be somewhere between Ohio (#7 in the nation) and Georgia (#8 in the nation)

      Keep it up, it won’t be long where LA County may have more people living here than the entire State of Pennsylvania or State of Illinois (pop. 12.8 million); and that’s a big indicator that LA County Board of Supervisors can’t keep operating Metro like any other place in the US because there’s no one in the US to compare LA Metro issues without looking for inspiration beyond our nation’s borders.

  4. “As for a transit agency completely changing its structure to be more like Hong Kong…that’s a heavy lift and I don’t see it happening quite yet in the U.S.”

    By certain scale, it already is starting to happen, right here in Los Angeles even.

    We are starting to see some aspects of Asian approaches to mass transit such as focus on private-public partnerships, value capture of Metro owned real estate properties, transit oriented development of several stations, diversification of funding sources, alternative ideas such as expanding the uses of TAP cards, talks about ending free parking, adding retail spaces to stations, gating the stations, and so forth. And they are showing positive results than the traditional American way of developing public transit.

  5. I was very heartened to see that the Westside cities prioritized 4 transit projects out of their subregional pot. The crenshaw north line, purple line SaMo extension, Lincoln brt/LRT and Sepulveda LRT which will also be funded out of the SFV cog.

    That is an impressive list of projects. Good luck R2!

  6. “metro area that is more willing to take risks”

    Everything is a risk. Constructing the Blue, Green, Red, Purple, Gold, and Expo Lines were all a risk. Metro buying out Union Station, installing Metro ExpressLanes project, ending the honor system and installing fare gates, moving to TAP payments, fare hikes, service cuts and tax increases all have their risks too.

    If you ask me, LA is and has always been a big risk taker that has beaten all the skepticism that it’ll never work out by conservative naysayers and anti-transit skeptics.

    People once said LA will never have a successful transit system, that no one will use it because people are too addicted to their cars. Well, we’ve started seeing many changes since the 1990s ever since the Blue Line first opened.

    “As for a transit agency completely changing its structure to be more like Hong Kong…that’s a heavy lift and I don’t see it happening quite yet in the U.S.”

    Is there any reason to say why LA can’t take an another risk to lead that nation in showing the rest of the nation, perhaps even up-nosing NYers that LA figured out a way to make transit even better than New York, by studying methods used in Hong Kong, Seoul or Tokyo?

    Is there any reason why LA should sit and wait before some other city in the US does it before us? If you ask me, why settle for number two when we can become number one?

    • I remember one naysayer in particular declaring (back when the Blue Line was still being built) that it would be cheaper to pay the few people who actually want to ride the thing to drive the freeways instead.

      Certainly there were some mistakes made in the Blue Line. Like leaving out a high-mount central headlight (with only the two original headlights that were little more than ditch-lights). The biggest mistake of all was underestimating the ridership, and only building the station platforms long enough to accommodate 2-car trains. What a glorious, wonderful mistake THAT was: sure, it was expensive to expand every single station, but IT PROVED HOW WRONG THE NAYSAYERS WERE IN THEIR PROJECTIONS ABOUT THE POPULARITY OF THE LINE.

      It’s been years since I drove to Hollywood Bowl on a concert night. Maybe even a full decade. I don’t even drive all the way there during my annual pre-season ticket run. I always figured I was paying a penalty in transit time for the privileges of saving 2 gallons of gas, not having to pay for parking, and NOT HAVING TO DRIVE. I was firmly convinced that I’d get there quicker by driving direct. Then, last night (Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, freshly promoted from Assistant Conductor to Associate Conductor, conducted a program of Bernstein and Bizet [the latter by way of Rodion Shchedrin, in a suite for strings and LOTS AND LOTS of percussion]), the elderly couple sitting next to me mentioned that they’d driven from Long Beach, and that it had taken them OVER TWO HOURS (as opposed to my typical hour-and-15 minute average trip time from Wardlow to Hollywood/Highland).

  7. Steve: Congrats on being the first blogger ever to write a transpo related article about South Pasadena without mentioning the 710!

  8. I like the look of Move LA’s plan. I used to think LRT conversion was the best option for the orange line but i’ve come to the conclusion that LRT would have been a better option to begin with but now that its a BRT, money would be better invested in grid separation than in a complete conversion. Reduding end to end travel time will make the orange line more attractive to choice riders and more safe. It will also allow for money to go towards LRT in other parts of the valley. I know this is way beyond our budget but It would be nice to see a frequent light rail service with DMU similar to the Sprinter in san diego run into the valley to chatsworth using the same tracks as metrolink. It would be cheaper than building out a completely new light rail system and would give frequent rail service to the valley. I completely agree with your last point steve; we do have options and they have the potential to make this city greater. Its up to us to demand the LA in our future. Although we may not get everything we wish we had, by demanding more, we’ll get something exceptional!