How We Roll, March 31: tough times at Washington Metro

War Games: just like the video game Mission Control but with higher stakes!

War Games: just like the video game Mission Control but with higher stakes!

Things to listen to whilst transiting: In 1983, President Ronald Reagan watched the movie “War Games” at Camp David. Returning to the White House, he asked the leaders of the U.S. military if a computer game could really launch a nuclear war. The answer: “it’s worse than that.” This Fresh Air podcast looks at the issue of cyber security over the years, with a focus naturally on the recent dispute between the FBI and Apple. Really fascinating stuff that goes well beyond the daily headlines.

Art of Transit:

Washington Metro could shut down entire rail lines for extended maintenance (Washington Post)

Photo: Washington Metro.

Photo: Washington Metro.

In the wake of the recent one-day shutdown this month, the Chair of the Washington D.C. Metro Board says that entire lines or segments of them could sit idle in order for needed repairs to be made. Excerpt:

“The system right now, in order to do the maintenance that needs to be done, cannot be done on three hours a night and on weekends. It just can’t,” said Evans, who also is a D.C. Council member (D-Ward 2).

“So in order to do repairs that are necessary, it may come to the point where we have to close the entire Blue Line for six months. People will go crazy. But there are going to be hard decisions that have to be made in order to get this fixed,” Evans said.

Although he twice singled out the Blue Line as a candidate for closure, Evans said any of Metro’s six lines could be shuttered in full or in part.

To emphasize: we’re talking about the transit agency in D.C., not here in L.A. One big problem is the DC Metro doesn’t have a dedicated source of funding only for state of good repair.

Neither does LA Metro but the agency has proposed that two percent of revenues from the potential ballot measure go to State of Good Repair programs. That could amount to $120 billion under a 40-year sales tax increase or even more if the LA Metro Board decides to pursue a ballot measure good for 45 or 50 years. The LAT Editorial Board recently wrote about the issue.

Climate model predicts West Antarctic ice sheet could melt rapidly (NYT)

A view from a NASA airplane of large icebergs that have broken from the calving side of Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica in November 2014. A disaster scenario of West Antarctic ice sheet disintegration could occur much sooner than previously thought, new research suggests. Credit Jim Yungel/NASA

A view from a NASA airplane taken in 2014. Credit Jim Yungel/NASA

New research says that the vast ice sheet — larger than Mexico — could be melted by a relatively little amount of global warming. In the worst case scenario — with seas rising five to six feet by the year 2100 and then even more thereafter:

New York City is nearly 400 years old; in the worst-case scenario conjured by the research, its chances of surviving another 400 years in anything like its present form would appear to be remote. Miami, New Orleans, London, Venice, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney, Australia, are all just as vulnerable as New York, or more so.

As we’ve mentioned before, generally speaking taking transit instead of driving alone is a good way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And those crowded trains? You may not like sharing space with those other people — but those trains are more efficient because they’re moving so much humanity.

Carpooling helps Uber and Lyft go the extra mile (NYT)

Farhard Manjoo takes an Uber carpool ride through San Francisco and marvels at a single car ride that lasted nearly an hour and involved picking up nine different passengers over 10 miles — with more than one rider often sharing the car. Excerpt:

In total, Uber collected about $48 for the ride, of which the driver kept $35. The company had collapsed five separate rides into a single trip, saving about six miles of travel and removing several cars from the road. For riders, the discounts amounted to savings of at least half of a standard Uber trip. For the driver, an hourlong trip with no idle time resulted in steady earnings (Uber drivers make money only when riders are in the car). And though Uber made less from the single ride than it would have from multiple rides, the company benefited by installing itself as a fixture in people’s lives.

In other words, Uber and Lyft looked at the old taxi cab company business model and innovated it forward. Both companies say carpooling is profitable, although not as big a moneymaker as old school style single rides from Point A to B.

One other aside: one common response we’ve heard to the potential ballot measure is a reluctance to plan too far ahead because we don’t know what lies ahead transpo-wise and tech-wise. My own feeling is that there’s still only so much room on our roads and there will always be a big place for buses and trains that charge relatively little to ride. That said, I’m an Old Goat and perhaps clinging to a notion (personal car ownership) floating toward the sunset.

Related: Lyft and the MTC — the regional transit agency in the Bay Area — have announced a carpooling partnership that will use the region’s 511 phone number for people to summon rides. Metro has a data-sharing arrangement with Lyft to learn more about how riders get to and from transit stations.

Where’s the lane? Self-driving cars confused by shabby U.S. roads (Reuters)

Take that, self-driving car! Pic was taken in London, via Flickr creative commons.

The headline neatly describes the story, which perhaps not by coincidence has a “Los Angeles” dateline. Of course, every city claims their potholes are the worst thing ever. Faded lane markings are a problem, too. Watch the video.

Farewell to a friend, Councilman Rosendahl who declared “era of L.A. car culture has come to an end” (Streetsblog LA)

Bill Rosendahl 1945 – 2016 (Councilman Mike Bonin)

Two really nice tributes to L.A. Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, who passed away on Wednesday at 70 after a four-year battle with cancer. Bill was a longtime Mar Vista resident and also represented parts of West L.A., Venice, Pacific Palisades and Westchester, meaning he was constantly grappling with issues of traffic, development, homelessness and LAX.

As Damien notes at Streetsblog, as the chairman of the Council’s transpo committee, Bill pushed for more bike safety laws, for more transit and for reforming a city department that had a long history of single focus on moving cars, cars and more cars through the city. He also, somewhat infamously, called for the Metro Board in 2008 to make Measure R a full penny sales tax increase instead of the half-penny it was to build more transit. I vividly remember him yelling at me about it while we both stood in a men’s room.

Eight years later, Metro is looking at that other half-cent to build more transit.

I covered Bill’s first campaign for Council and his first two years on the Council. Boy, could he talk! Please read the above articles, but I’ll offer one anecdote: sometime during his first year on Council, some issue involving Westside development came before the Council. Bill, naturally, stood up and said something rather impolitic about a development in his district that the Council had approved before he was elected.

Several members of the Council didn’t like Bill’s suggestion that perhaps they were a little too cozy with a big Westside developer. So one of those Council Members — after the meeting concluded — sat with Bill in the Council pews in full view of anyone who wanted to watch and explained to him why it was important for the Council to work as a “team” on such issues. Much to Bill’s credit, that advice never really took hold.

Our condolences to Bill’s many friends.





4 replies

  1. Picture of the “poor road” used is not even on this continent. WtG Metro! Great attention to details!

  2. I hope Metro is thinking hard about global warming. Most of its bus fleet appears to run on CNG, which, although better than diesel, is still a fossil fuel. It’s really interesting to look at what cities like San Francisco have done with electric trolleybuses that pull power from overhead wires. With overhead wires you don’t have to worry about battery range, but you probably would have to redesign your bus yards. I’m thinking of starting with your major bus lines like the Orange Line, Silver Line or the 20/720 on Wilshire. If we ever get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which we absolutely should, CNG isn’t going to be adequate. Also, electric trolleybus lines are much cheaper to build and maintain than light rail lines, since you can use existing streets. Some corridors just don’t have the residential or employment density (existing or planned) to justify the cost of light rail. In a world where most electric cars are either too expensive for most people or are affordable but have limited range, it’s really exciting to be able to say “Hey, for $1.75 you can afford electric transportation!” Electrification of your fleet has to go beyond the rail system, since the bus system is where most of your ridership is.

    • Hi Chewie;

      The entire bus fleet is now running on compressed natural gas except for the few electric buses that Metro has (I don’t think they’re in service yet). I think CNG was a great improvement over diesel but you’re right, there is hopefully some technology — whether electrification or something else — that will keep reducing greenhouse gas emissions from buses, here and in other metro areas.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • CNG is not necessarily a fossil fuel. Pipeline gas can come from a variety of sources other than just out of the ground. Gas from landfills can and is (at some locations) scrubbed and split to provide pipeline quality gas which is injected into the pipeline system. Gas from wastewater sludge treatment can (and is in some places) also be cleaned and put into the system. Gas from manure digestion and from yard waste is also used. And there are some specific biogas plants that take plants that are specifically grown to make biogas or bio diesel. There are some big energy players that are paying for gas from specific biogas projects. Metro could buy their gas from an Iowa pig farmer.