How We Roll, April 20: a tale of two cities and two approaches to signal priority for trains

Things to read whilst transiting: A Pulitzer went earlier this week to the great New Yorker article about the Pacific Northwest’s earthquake challenges and the lack of response to it by public officials. The gist of the article: the Pacific NW seems likely to have a bigger quake than anything that the San Andreas Fault in California may trigger.

The new train to the beach faces a bottleneck downtown (LA Weekly) 

An Expo Line test train getting a green light at Colorado Avenue and 11th Street in Santa Monica. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

An Expo Line test train getting a green light at Colorado Avenue and 11th Street in Santa Monica. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Great story by Gene Maddaus that builds to this point: on street-running segments for the Expo Line, trains in Santa Monica tend to get more green lights than in the city of Los Angeles. Why?

“The local jurisdiction decides what it wants,” says Paul Gonzales, an MTA spokesman. “LADOT does not favor preemption. Santa Monica has a different viewpoint. We work with both cities to accomplish goals, even though on this issue their viewpoints are a bit different.”

[Transit advocate Gokhan] Esirgen points out that the DOT could change its mind, if there were enough political pressure to speed up the train.

As Gene also points out, there are likely times when the train will be faster than traffic between DTLA and Santa Monica — just as there will likely be times when driving will be quicker. Would a ride a few minutes quicker make a difference in terms of ridership? We’ll see. Ridership has been strong on the Expo Line, but it will soon grow from 8.5 miles to 15 miles, meaning longer trips are possible.

It’s worth noting that the Expo Line to Culver City has been open since 2012 and, thus far, signal priority has never gained much traction as a political issue. Another excerpt from the LA Weekly’s story:

The train runs at street level through downtown, and it stops for cross traffic, almost like a bus. It’s not uncommon for the train to sit at Jefferson Boulevard, or Adams Boulevard, or 23rd Street, or 18th Street, or 12th Street, for 20 or 30 or 40 seconds waiting for the light to change. It’s not as if these are all major thoroughfares. At USC, the trains stop at Watt Way, which is a campus entrance road, and at Trousdale Parkway, a pedestrian crossing.

To a transit advocate, this is craziness. Why should a three-car train, with maybe 250 people on it, sit and wait for vehicle traffic, which carries 1.1 persons per car?

Related: check out the new marketing video for the Expo Line extension. It shows some great views of the line.

Discover the social and economic benefits of transit (All Transit) 

Kinda fun new tool has debuted online that allows users to crunch transit data from across the U.S. — and compare transit in different cities and regions. Most notably, I think, users can easily see how many residences and jobs are located near transit.

And, yes, there are rankings!



Perhaps the only thing surprising about the above map is that seven of the nation’s top 10 cities population-wise are west of the Mississippi River. Among those, L.A. ranks higher but still trails the eastern cities with older, more established transit systems.

Here’s something neat you can do with All Transit that shows that 96.1 percent of commuters in the city of Los Angeles live within a half-mile of some type of transit — although obviously it may not be a type of transit that gets those commuters directly to their jobs.


As with other online tools that depend on tons of data from other places, I have my quibbles. For example, the site seems to vastly undercount the number of jobs near the Gold Line’s Duarte/City of Hope Station, which is adjacent to a sprawling hospital and research campus and office/warehouse park. Also, the site defines “high frequency” transit as transit that runs at least every 15 minutes on average around-the-clock. In many areas, that definition probably excludes transit routes that don’t run at night but are high-frequency for many hours of the day.

I encourage you to play around with the site and please post anything interesting you find in comments or mail me a map/chart and I’ll try to include in the next How We Roll.

Beverly Hills City Council creating an autonomous vehicle program (Beverly Hills press release)

Obviously resolutions are not the same as actually doing something — especially something that will likely require some legislative lifting from the state and some insurance hurdles.

That said, it’s interesting to see that the city of Beverly Hills is hoping to eventually create a program that would allow residents to summon a self-driving municipal shuttles. “A.V. shuttles would provide on-demand, point-to-point transportation within the City, with users requesting a ride using their smart phones,” says the release.

The release also notes, correctly, that the two Purple Line subway stations to be built in Beverly Hills will not have parking (actually, none of the new Purple Line stations will have parking), and that the new shuttles could help serve first-mile/last-mile connections. If so and the price is right for consumers, the plan sounds good to me.

Related: the federal lawsuit brought by the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District against Metro over the Purple Line Extension’s environmental studies is still in court. The latest update is here (scroll down).


8 replies

  1. Good advice. Unfortunately I live at the other end of the Expo Line, so I’m not in the downtown district that I assume has jurisdiction over those signals. I signed the petition anyway, for what it’s worth.

  2. When LA hired Seleta Reynolds from SF to run the LADOT I hoped that she would bring a progressive agenda and prioritize transit in the city, including signal priority for the trains. Then I heard that she didn’t have the power to impose such a policy because of resistance from the City Council. The LA Weekly article doesn’t mention anything about the City Council and places all of the responsibility on the DOT.

    • Exactly. Staff works for the elected officials. Demand more of your elected officials, go to the forums when they start trolling for votes and ask these questions, and if they don’t respond, vote them out of office or recall them.

  3. Last week I was in downtown Santa Monica, and saw one train at the station as another one was pulling in. I turned and walked up Colorado as one of them zipped past me.The second one left at just the right moment to stop at all the red lights on 6th, 7th, Lincoln, and 11th. I actually caught up with it on foot for a while, walking at a reasonable pace, until just after I crossed the street on Lincoln. While I forget how many at-grade crossings they have in LA, signal priority there might potentially shave off a few minutes – but not a huge amount of time.

    Also, the LA Times today has an article on the Expo line. Previously someone here had asked if they’d be doing free rides on opening day, and it looks like that might be the case (this was also mentioned in the Santa Monica Daily Press a few days ago):

  4. The Expo line. The newest and one of the least convenient at the moment. Wilshire/Normandie to 26th street Station in 40 mins during rush hour at times. So Santa Monica in 46 minutes sounds a bit mythical. Yes, Ideally, but have we forgotten Los Angeles Counties lack of “I get the big picture types.” The same people that put their bags in seats, hold doors and delay trains, wait until the last minute to exit the train or bus (and have a back door fit when this happens)? The same county where people will cut off a bus full of 100 passengers to get a parking spot so they can go get KBBQ?

    46 minutes to wait at Pico station and miss my transfer? I challenge metro to 46 minutes. I want 46 minute ride EVERYTIME. No apologies for inconveniences. Does it beat the freeway? In theory, but is someone gonna have their butt in my face without saying excuse me? Am I gonna listen to Drake coming out of a cell phone speaker, or hope that people arent to excited and rowdy on their way home from a beach day… Will we endure that for 46 minutes?

    Can DOT work something out? Can Santa Monica stop counting their eggs before they hatch…. Love Santa Monica, but its not as great as everyone makes it out to be…. Seriously, your traffic still sucks, and the residents will still call the cops on you (Not WHITEY Bulger) if you get my drift.

    Excuse me however, since I do not want to seem unexcited about this; I really am. But as we get closer, its really becoming a bit much. Expo is not going to catapult our system to the world class stage just yet. The Beach, yes i get it, but lets be real… The Blue Line goes to Long “beach” and the green to Redondo “beach” (anyone seeing a pattern?) Now its time to actually do it, and it sounds long, will be long, and probably disappoint a few. Lets manage expectations properly.

    Rant over, excuse me again. Cant wait.