How We Roll, March 14: skeptical look at Gold Line ext, housing in SaMo, ballot measure buzz

Things to listen to whilst transiting 1: what if you went online, looked up the guy who bullied you in grade school and discovered he was in Oakland running a motorcycle club called the East Bay Rats? If you’re Alex Abramovich, you travel west and reunite with your childhood tormentor and write about it. An extremely entertaining Fresh Air interview — especially for those watched “Sons of Anarchy” and wondered how a real biker club operates.

Things to listen 2: Another Fresh Air episode, this time with the actor Sarah Paulson, who plays prosecutor Marcia Clark in the new FX mini-series on the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Good insights into the acting process and Hollywood.

Art of Transit: 

We don't post enough photos about goods movement. Sunset + beach + Port of Long Beach. Photo by Steve Hymon.

We don’t post enough photos about goods movement. Sunset + beach + Port of Long Beach. Photo by Steve Hymon.

Santa Monica loses another opportunity for much needed housing growth (Santa Monica Next) 

One of the new residential buildings in downtown Santa Monica. Photo by Steve Hymon//Metro.

One of the new residential buildings in downtown Santa Monica. Photo by Steve Hymon//Metro.

Really interesting story by Jason Islas. The city of Santa Monica has added only 10,000 people to its population since 1960 (the city has about 92,000 currently) and rents are among the highest in the region. Jason says that new housing is desperately needed but new housing has also become difficult to build because of community opposition.

Why? Traffic concerns, of course.

To prove his point, Jason points to a parcel on Wilshire Boulevard that until recently had a liquor store and parking lot. Since 2010, two development proposals have come and gone — one for 26 units, the other for 83. The site was recently sold to a retail developer, the previous owner apparently having given up. Jason has other similar examples of development proposals that went belly up.

In the past decade, Santa Monica has seen new development, particularly in the downtown area near the Expo Line extension (which opens May 20). A lot of that has skewed toward the high-end price-wise. Little of the new stuff appears remotely affordable to the masses.

The inevitable question: will the Expo Line’s arrival in SaMo ameliorate the traffic concerns? Probably not. I think the train will be a nice alternative to traffic — and SaMo has done a great job adding bike lanes and keeping the city walkable. But it’s also an insanely popular place with an ocean and too many attractions, jobs and parking. I think building there will remain tough sledding despite there being room to do some neat stuff.

Related: check out this post from late last year looking at 12 local communities — including SaMo — before and after transit.

Related: LAObserved reports that Santa Monica is on the verge of getting its 20th Starbucks outlet.

Faulty part causes Foothill Gold Line crossing gates to malfunction (SGV Tribune)

The problem is not safety-related. The gates come down as they should. Problem is, they are staying down too long after a train has passed, needlessly tying up traffic.

Metro says they’re working to replace the 98 faulty mechanisms by June or possibly sooner. A Metro spokesman said the manufacturer is providing replacement parts at no cost to Metro.

Some MTA honchos are not happy with L.A.’s new transit plan (LA Weekly)

Metro says that it is releasing the spending plan for its potential sales tax ballot measure on Friday. The article quotes some Metro Board stay-tunedMembers who have been briefed on the plan and other sources. The issue of geographic equity is raised — unsurprisingly, as it has always been the issue in previous county transit plans.

One thing to remember: this is a draft plan by Metro staff. There will be a public comment period and the Board will have final say on what’s in the plan. The media articles are educated guesses about what’s in the plan. See image at right please 🙂

Here’s Metro’s statement on the plan, which the agency says will be released Friday.

Streetsblog LA editor Damien Newton posts his initial reaction. The comment thread has a lot of rumination.

One local transit observer, Mickey Labrador, has already drawn a future rail and busway map based on what’s rumored to be in the plan. Is it accurate? We’ll know in a few days.

How politics built L.A.’s Gold Line at the expense of a smarter system (LAT)

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Ethan Elkind wasn’t a fan of the Gold Line extension to Azusa in his book “Railtown” and he’s still not of the opinion it was a smart investment when it comes to building transit. He says it was built because of politics and the need to get votes from the San Gabriel Valley. Excerpt:

Better mass transit is necessary across the region. But not every part of the county has the population to support rail. In the case of the Gold Line, we’ve brought expensive train technology to a generally low-density area that could be more economically served by bus rapid transit or commuter buses running in the [rail] right-of-way.

It’s probably worth considering two things:

•As of today, Metro just added some longer rush hour trains to accommodate the many new Gold Line riders, as well as the existing ones. Parking has been filling up at most of the new stations, too.

•Politics played a role in everything in Measure R — and geographic equity is always a concern in a county the size of ours and, quite frankly, should be a concern.

While Measure R set aside about $2 billion for potential Gold Line extensions (the other to South El Monte or Whittier) in the SGV, Measure R also set aside about $5 billion for Westside rail projects, not including the $1 billion in seed money for whatever the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project turns out to be. I think that’s money well spent, now and into the future.

I agree that the cities served by the new extension should do everything possible to get people to and from the stations. Quite frankly, I can say the same thing about a lot of existing rail stations, including those on the Westside and in other cities.

What’cha think readers? I know I spent a healthy chunk of the past week reading about and experiencing heavy ridership on the Gold Line.

Will Metro’s tunneling under Los Angeles spur a 710 tunnel? (Los Angeles Newspaper Group)

Short answer: it very much remains to be seen. As the article points out, tunneling is nothing new and has been accomplished successfully in our region and around the world. I hope this does not come as surprising news.

A draft environmental impact study was released last year for the SR-710 North project that seeks to improve traffic in the area around the gap in the 710 between El Sereno/Alhambra and Pasadena. A freeway tunnel is one alternative. Caltrans and Metro are working on responding to public comments. A Board vote on any alternative is not currently scheduled.

One thing is for sure: Metro has said time and again that there will be no funding for the project in the potential ballot measure.

Recent How We Rolls

March 11: another Gold Line Foothill Extension review, more ballot measure talk.

March 10: take our poll — have you ever seen police give a ticket to driver for a crosswalk violation?

March 2: once again, we write of transit vs traffic (this time in the 210 corridor)

March 1: with the new Gold Line extension, what changes will come to the Foothill cities?

Feb. 29: American commute times keep inching up.


20 replies

  1. I even have a copy of Mr. Elkund’s book, even though I don’t agree with his “westside” bias. I think it was Supv. Yaroslavsky who made some enemies here in the San Gabriel Valley when he implied that our area was still mostly cow pastures and citrus groves. I remember trying to convince some fellow SGV residents to vote “yes” on Measure R, and they were skeptical, saying that “LA will take all our tax money and we won’t get a thing out of it.” I rode a Gold Line train leaving Arcadia at about 2 PM to check it out to the APU-Citrus terminal, and there were qute a few passengers on board. It does the 9 miles from Arcadia to Citrus in 15 minutes, which is quite speedy for a public transit line. Although Metro might not go along with this thought, the extension from Citrus to Claremont could probably be done with a single track with passing sidings layout–not sure how much construction cost this would save. One example of this track configuration is the Sacramento RT Metro line to Folsom.

  2. wondering when I-605 Norwalk station will have a sufficient parking spaces. For the past 12 years the parking lot is full by 7.15-7.30 AM thousands of cars are going back into the freeway everyday just from this station alone. Green Line the orphan line.

    • Parking structures cost about $50,000 per parking space. Using a sales tax increase paid by everyone in the county for parking spaces for a small fraction is a gross inequity.

      • Phantom, OP was complaining about lack of parking in the surface lot. Expanding that would mean building a garage at $50k per space, which I agree is a waste of money. Better to extend the line to Norwalk Metrolink & add connectivity (including more bus transfers) – better for everyone.

    • Bridging the gap between the Green Line Norwalk Station and Metrolink’s Norwalk Station would finally provide a car-free connection for Orange County commuters. That should be a much higher priority than expanding the parking lot at a station that was never supposed to be a terminus anyway.

      • Gee, that logic can apply to San Franciscans, San Diegans, or any number of tourists from all over the world that come here and pay LA County sales taxes when they buy stuff here, so I guess with your logic, we should extend Metro all the way around the world and give it to them for those rides from so far away for $1.75 paid for with Angeleno tax payer dollars?

        Just because OC residents buy things in LA (besides, why would they, sales taxes are cheaper in OC than LA) doesn’t justify the reason why we should look after OC residents needs to commute into LA.

        • Tourists don’t come to LA 5 days a week, 51 weeks/year. They don’t go to restaurants near their workplace for lunch with colleagues on a frequent basis.

          As for complaining about Metro fares, I’d support a move to distance-based fares to make things more fair between long-distance commuters and local transit-dependent residents.

          Finally, I see you’re ignoring my argument that reverse commuters – those living in LA and working in OC – might also find an easier connection appealing.

    • Thank you to Juan and crayz for two great ideas to spend tax revenue collected from LA County residents to serve the transportation needs of those folks down in the OC. I don’t know how those poor people would survive without the neoliberal assistance that we provide to them.

      • You do realize that OC commuters working in LA County pay sales tax on purchases here too, right? Let’s not forget reverse commuters working in OC and living in LA, either. The more we can fix the gaps in our transportation grid, the better off we’ll all be.

      • Thanks crayz. I actually agree with your main premise, that its better to fill the transit gap than to divert scarce funds to expanding the parking lots. My objection is that the main benefits of either of these improvements (Green Line extension or larger parking lots) will accrue to residents of OC, and that they should pay their fair share of the cost for these benefits. As it is, all we get from them now is the freeway traffic that they cause by expanding their freeways up to the border of LA County. Oh yeah, and the airline passengers who have to use LAX because they refused to build an airport to serve the travel demands of their residents.
        P.S. I make the same argument in regards to extending the Gold Line further to Montclair in San Bernardino County. Regardless of the merits of that project, we (LA County) shouldn’t pay the full cost, they need to buy in.

  3. “The inevitable question: will the Expo Line’s arrival in SaMo ameliorate the traffic concerns? Probably not. I think the train will be a nice alternative to traffic”

    Perhaps if Metro would consider this as their slogan rather than festoon the west side with billboards claiming “Metro Eases Traffic”. Who came up with those things and who are they trying to kid propagating a message like that?

  4. What is now the Foothill Gold Line was proposed for diesel multiple unit service a couple of decades ago. Although it was novel at the time, these trains have been successfully used in North County San Diego (Sprinter) and Portland (WES) and would have been a more appropriate technology than stringing wire and running empty trains every 12 minutes. You probably could have done it for half the cost, but then you get perceptions of second class service since the Pasadena-LA portion does get enough demand to run regular light rail service.

    • Adding DMUs to the Metro Rail mix would have added yet another technology to maintain. At least Metro’s LRT fleet is compatible and interchangeable across the entire system (with the notable exception of Breda’s overweight P2550).

      Second, the freight tracks were in poor shape and would have had to be replaced and re-graded anyway, much like the situation in the Valley with SP’s abandoned Burbank Branch, now the Orange Line. Comparing costs to NCTD’s Sprinter really doesn’t work well because that was (and still is) an active freight line, while the AT&SF Second District was abandoned as far as Arcadia and today doesn’t see much use besides the MillerCoors brewery in Irwindale. So while average DMU system costs seem to run around $20m/mile average, it’s hard to say how much of the difference in cost is strictly due to hardware for electrification vs. simply rehabilitating derelict rights of way as opposed to active tracks.

      Finally, while the Gold Line extension is going to be pretty empty at off-peak hours, that’s typical of commuter-oriented rail. Morning inbound trains are jam-packed, and as noted in the article above, Metro’s had to add cars at peak to handle the crush.

      Honestly, in the whole lead-up to Measure R2 planning, the one concept I wish Metro had looked at was extending the Purple Line along the current Metrolink right of way in the I-10 median. SB line trains could be re-routed along the UP Alhambra Branch with some accommodations in the plans for the San Gabriel Trench. I suspect such a plan would be more cost-effective (and serve more riders) than the current SR-60 alternative for the Gold Line Eastside extension.

      • I guess you have not ridden the foothill extension during off peak times. Needless to say , the trains are pretty much full. No your roll or shut hour mouth before speaking incorrectly.

      • @BradTom, I’ve seen the eastbound AM trains. They’re relatively empty, which is pretty much expected from this sort of urban-suburban link. The good news is, now that frequent service exists, it will spur more development of city centers in the SGV and thus encourage more balanced ridership. .

        Already around half of the Gold Line riders get off at the several downtown Pasadena stations, compared to the majority of Metrolink’s SB line riders getting off at Union Station. The SGV is already multicentric, and anything we can do to encourage that will help the region.

      • I just rode the Foothill extension yesterday evening around 7 pm. The trains were not full. The DMU would have possibly allowed the entire extension to be open, Claremont to Pasadena, albeit with a transfer, because the cost would have been a lot lower.

        • How much of the cost of the Gold Line was due to electrification, and how much was due to the need to rebuild tracks and bridges? The Iconic Bridge Structure alone cost $18 million.

  5. Happy to hear about the 710 tunnel being left off the potential ballot measure. A project so divisive could break the entire measure which would, undoubtedly, be disastrous for the county. Here’s to a comprehensive and expedited plan to catch up LAC with the rest of the world!

  6. I think that when buses — especially noisy, smelly, Diesel buses — are the only choice for transit, people tend to ride transit only because they HAVE to.

    Whereas, when you have a trolley line, a subway line, an el line, a commuter rail line, a regional rail line, you also get people who ride transit because they WANT to.

    (And of course, when a system includes heritage trolleys [e.g., the McKinney Avenue “M” line in Dallas, the MUNI “E” and “F” lines in San Francisco, Philadelphia’s SEPTA “15” line, and the entire New Orleans system], or cable cars [the MUNI “PM,” “PH,” and “C” lines], people will ride the system with no destination in mind, essentially paying joyriders.)

    Urban and interurban rail may not always be the most cost effective form of public transportation. But they ARE one of the best ways to get people excited about public transportation.