How We Roll, August 10: the politics of transit and Expo Line vs induced demand

Things to not watch whilst transiting or lunching: 


Meh. Anyone having better luck than me? NBC’s prime time coverage is terrible beyond words: they only show a few sports and spend too much time on talking heads, features and boring interviews. Less swimming, gymnastics and beach volleyball and more air pistol, canoe/kayak and judo please!

Things I Just Got Around to Hearing: Sometime this fall, a Groundworks coffee is going to open in the historic Lankershim Depot that is adjacent to the NoHo Orange Line and Red Line station.

You don’t see this in Gotham:

Art of Transit: 


L.A.’s prop 13-driven Christmas tree (California Planning & Development Report)

Back in days of yore (the 1970s), California voters approved Prop 13 that curtailed property taxes and other types of taxes in the state. One of the Prop 13 requirements: sales tax increases needed two-thirds approval to pass, the idea being to make such tax hikes have broad appeal in order to get enough votes.

Josh Stephens takes a look at Metro’s sales tax ballot measure to see how that’s played out. He writes:

The great thing about planning is that plans on paper cost nothing. Therefore, it costs Metro nothing — at least not up-front — to heap on project after project to appeal to different jurisdictions and different interests groups. Measure M has something for everyone: drivers, transit advocates, bike advocates; city people, valley people, South Bay people, even high desert people.

Metro’s hope is that if people don’t vote for the interests of the county as a whole, they’ll at least vote for their own parochial interests. That’s why even small jurisdictions and institutions — some as as specific and localized as Cal State University, Northridge — are keeping score. As the Los Angeles Daily News reports, not everyone is happy, especially cities in south and southwestern L.A. County. Metro just hopes that enough people are happy. (Note: Now that it’s on the ballot, Metro cannot directly lobby for the measure.)

You could call it politicking, but Metro is doing nothing if not playing by the rules.

But Josh’s other big point comes later when he asks what the ballot measure (likely to be called Measure M) would look like if it only needed a simple majority vote to pass. “[It] would likely be smaller. It also might be more efficient. It might, for instance, omit a rail line from Torrance to West Hollywood or a highway to Palmdale, willfully sacrificing voter support in favor of projects that will be more cost-efficient and/or serve more people. It might be able to put more money into active transportation in the urban core and less money into highways serving the suburbs.”

It’s a thoughtful piece and probably on target with its analysis. From a public policy perspective, it’s up to voters to take a look at the projects and programs in the ballot measure plan and decide whether it makes sense. One thing to gnaw on: transportation planning in L.A. County has always been a political game because of the county’s enormity. And there is, I think, something to be said for trying to provide projects to different localities.

More trains on the Expo Line may not solve crowding problem (KPCC)

Longer trains and more frequent trains will only increase demand, so says one expert. Just like ‘induced demand’ on the freeway when adding a lane only attracts more traffic.

Well, perhaps. Attracting riders is kind of the idea. I’ll still take longer and more frequent trains over shorter and more infrequent trains.

For first time in 40 years, transpo sector biggest greenhouse gas polluter (U.S. Public Interest Research Group)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

This U.S. Census Bureau graphic is for the entire United States.

Up to now, those hound dogs in the energy sector were the ones burping out the most greenhouse gases (the U.S. relies heavily on burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas to generate electricity). The wind up and the pitch from PIRG’s John Olivieri with the stuff in bold added by yours truly:

“It is increasingly clear that there is no path to combating climate change that doesn’t adequately address carbon pollution and other greenhouse gas emissions from transportation,” said Olivieri. “Over reliance on single-occupant vehicle travel and a failure to prioritize non-driving modes of transportation like transit, biking, and pedestrian alternatives is having a profound impact on the health of our planet and the health of our citizens,” he added.

Let’s talk about that ‘over-reliance’ on the automobile part. Actually, there’s not much to talk about. There just isn’t that much funding available at any level of government to expand transit in the U.S. Some places — like L.A. County — have more dollars than other places because we’ve chosen to impose three different sales taxes to build more transit.

On the other hand, nearly every single home in America is connected to our road network. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I have a car. I drive it. But I do think that in urbanized America we could certainly do better when it comes to giving people options so that they don’t have to rely entirely on their cars. Which are expensive. I should know. I just forked over a painful amount of Benjamins for a new timing belt, hoping to keep the Subaru running another nine years.

There’s something else at play here. While the fuel economy of American cars and light trucks has certainly improved in recent years — and must improve a lot more by 2025 — a lot of people are still purchasing vehicles that aren’t exactly sipping gasoline. I’m not without guilt: the Subaru does okay on the highway but is a gas hog on the slow drive to the Del Mar Gold Line station, thanks in part to Pasadena unique traffic light synchronization.*

Train to nowhere (The Verge) 

Credit: Wikipedia.

Credit: Wikipedia.

A deeper dive, pun intended, than usual on an old story: the three miles of subway tunnels built in Cincinnati in the early 20th century. But, alas, the subway plan was abandoned before the line was ever opened and the tunnels have sat unused for the better part of a century. It is, as noted, America’s largest “ghost subway.”

I’m from Cincy and used to live right near the old tunnels. How big of a mistake was not building the subway? Wow. Really hard to say. It was never going to be a big system and my hunch is that it wouldn’t have done much to prevent what really ailed Cincy most later in the century: love of the automobile, rampant segregation and white flight to the suburbs.

The city of Cincy’s population peaked in 1950 and today stands at less than 300,000 (it has climbed a little in recent times). While the city has struggled to retain people, the metro area has boomed and, as I’ve noted here before, gobbled up considerable farm land for ‘burbs, ‘burbs and more ‘burbs.



8 replies

  1. Metro needs to get rid of the front and rear facing seats and use bench seats along the sides to make more room. Like Trains in New York, Toronto, and Tokyo.

  2. 3 car trains may fill up quickly due to induced demand, but increasing the frequency from 12 to 6 minutes is what will likely provide the much needed relief in terms of capacity. Do you know if this will be a sudden change to the schedule in December, or if they’ll transition to it by providing a few more frequent trains during rush hours?

    Also, you did post about Groundwork while it was in the planning stages. I don’t know how I remember such random things as replying to a post here from as far back December 2015 (though I did have to look it up on Google to get the date) – but my memory’s funny that way. Glad to hear it’s been finalized – commuters need good coffee.

  3. When enough new rail cars are available to provide 3-car service on all peak trains, Expo ridership will grow to accommodate peak loads of ~300 people per train, or 100 passengers per rail car (30 standing). So ridership will increase (to over 50,000 average weekday), but the crowding problem won’t be nearly as bad as it is now.

  4. The KPCC article states that there are 13 new train cars currently being tested by Metro. If Metro is receiving one new light-car a week and it takes one week to complete testing of each one, then having 13 train cars that are being tested now probably means that some new rail cars were pulled out of service due to reliability problems.

  5. The 405 analogy in the KPCC article is very appropriate. Just as traffic demand on the 405 reaches an equilibrium at the minimum operating speed that commuters are willing to tolerate, transit demand on Expo reaches an equilibrium at the maximum loads that transit riders are willing to tolerate, which currently seems to be ~250 people per train, or more than 120 passengers per rail car (65-70 seated and more than 50 standing) on the two-car trains that are currently in operation.

  6. I didn’t take any vacation, aside from the 4th, so I can state from personal experience that Expo has been operating at capacity for the last two months. The only difference is that the capacity was higher in June when there were significantly more 3-car trains in service.

  7. Regarding Expo crowding, I prefer the term “under-served demand” to “induced demand”. The demand is there, but it doesn’t show up as ridership because there isn’t enough capacity to serve it, or at least to serve it with a tolerable level of comfort. I cite the ridership drop from June to July on Expo. Metro was providing mostly 3-car trains at the end of June, and the average daily ridership rose to almost 46,000. When Metro cut train lengths in July to mostly 2-car trains ridership fell to 43,000.

    • I’m still trying to decide what to think about July. We know that ridership tends to soften a bit in the height of summer when a lot of folks go on vacation and most people are out of school. And July began with a holiday week with the 4th falling on a Monday, giving a lot of people good reason (including yours truly) to bolt town for the week. That said, perhaps some riders in June decided to hold off riding until capacity was added. So I don’t know. I don’t want to say ridership is not important. Because it is. But I keep returning to the fact that this is a project intended to run for many decades and that we’re going to have to weather the rail car availability issue and then go from there. The upside is that there is clearly a lot of interest in the line and no shortage of people who want to take it.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source