How We Roll, Jan. 24: will city life remain popular, ridership & feds vs infrastructure

It was also a busy day for many Metro bus lines on Saturday. Above the 92 Line en route to DTLA. Photo by Doreen Morrissey/Metro.

ICYMI: Metro says there were 592,000 Metro Rail boardings on Saturday, which included the well-attended Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles. That compares to the average of 231,897 boardings on Saturdays during 2016. Here’s the news release.

Some Twitter reaction:

Laura Nelson is the Los Angeles Times’ transportation reporter — if that’s an issue that interests you, her Twitter feed is very informative. A lot more rider reaction to our service on Saturday on our Facebook (scroll down) and Twitter pages.

Art of Transit:

A side view of the tunnel boring machine (“Angeli”) resting in the 1st/Central Station box in DTLA before it starts digging the first of two rail tunnels for the Regional Connector project. Click above for the album of pics from last week’s media event.

Senate Democrats unveil a Trump-size infrastructure plan (Washington Post)

The plan calls for direct federal spending, including:

Their 10-year blueprint included $75 billion for schools, $210 billion for roads and bridges, $110 billion for aging water and sewer systems, $180 billion for expanded rail and bus lines, $70 billion for deeper ports and upgraded airports, $100 billion for an updated electrical grid, $10 billion for VA hospitals, and $20 billion for broadband installations.

The plan also includes $200 billion for unspecified “vital infrastructure projects” and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank to “unlock” private capital by providing loan guarantees or low-cost loans.

President Trump’s infrastructure plan has not yet been released but the Post reports that his plan will rely on federal tax credits and public-private partnerships. Congressional leaders from both political parties met with Trump on Monday and infrastructure was discussed, according to one source who said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) brought up the issue of how to pay for it considering the U.S. has nearly $20 trillion in national debt.

As I’ve noted before, Metro is also looking at public-private partnerships for its larger projects through the agency’s unsolicited proposal process. Here’s the latest on that effort.

And wait…this just in….

Trump team compiles infrastructure priority list (McLatchy DC)

The list — obtained exclusively by McLatchy — includes about 50 projects that the White House is considering as priority projects. Three are in California: the Cadiz groundwater capture project in the Mojave Desert, a desalinization plant for Huntington Beach and statewide electrical grid and electricity storage upgrades.

There are notable transit projects on the list, including the Second Avenue Subway in New York City, increased capacity for Amtrak and commuter rail between New Jersey and Manhattan, high-speed rail in Texas, upgrades to a pair of El lines in Chicago and an expansion of Union Station in Washington D.C., which (shocker!) is just steps from the halls of Congress.

Number two on the list surprised me: the long overdue replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge that carries Interstates 71 and 75 over the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky (my hometown). The bridge has looked ready to fall down for years and is known for frequent delays owing to road work and accidents.

Expo Line highlights a year in which overall ridership declines (Urbanize LA)

The Expo Line’s extension to Santa Monica opened last year and, as expected, ridership on Expo grew by leaps and bounds. After train frequencies this fall were bumped up to every six minutes during peak hours, ridership also saw nice bumps in both November and December, as Urbanize’s Scott Frazier notes.

And this just in from official Friend of the Source, Darrell Clarke — who, attentive readers may recall, started the group Friends of Expo back in the late 1980s before many of its future riders were yet to be a twinkle in anyone’s eyes. From Darrell:

For comparison the Mid-City/Westside Transit Corridor Draft EIS/EIR, released 4/6/2001 — the last Metro document to estimate full-length ridership for Expo LRT — projected 51,400 daily boardings in 2020 (Table 5-5). So Expo exceeded its long-term target only seven months after opening to Santa Monica.

As Scott notes, Expo also experienced some issues, including Expo and Blue Line trains (they share a stretch of track in downtown L.A.) sitting at traffic lights controlled by the city of Los Angeles. That, too, is an issue frequently raised by our readers.

Here’s what LADOT chief Seleta Reynolds wrote on the subject during a reddit AMA last month:

Yes – lots of questions about this, and I agree. Without dragging you down a rabbit hole of technical definitions and tales of the PUC, I’ll say this: we are absolutely into prioritizing trains over private cars. They are the most efficient way to move people through our city. Here’s the trick, though, blue line and expo line trains share those tracks and they back up as they are all trying to enter or exit the downtown tunnel. If we prioritize trains over everything else, we might never be able to let people walking cross the streets. The balance is what we’re after to get everyone to and from the trains as safely as possible. We have a few new ideas that we’ll be testing early next year, like having the signals “talk” to the train operator so that they can time their runs better. We’re not giving up!

I’m not trying to pin the tail on the LADOT. Metro sometimes holds trains on the Flower Street stretch of tracks to prevent train congestion.

Overall, Metro ridership declined 5.7 percent in 2016 from 2015, largely driven by declines in bus ridership. I don’t have the full numbers from across the country yet — the American Public Transportation Assn. only has through June 30 on its website — but at the midpoint of 2016 other large transit agencies also saw similar declines in ridership.

What’s happening? To some degree transit ridership has been cyclical over the years. My three cents: at this time, there are probably many factors in play and as far as I know, no one has ever pinpointed with certitude an exact cause or causes.

Among reasons often cited: the popularity of Uber, Lyft and other ride hailing services; the local economy (the better it is, the more people buy cars); service reliability and frequency; rider safety concerns; a new California law that allows undocumented workers to get driver’s licenses; greater fare enforcement; gas prices, and; traffic that impacts bus speeds.

21 L.A. County bike/ped projects receive state grants (Streetsblog LA)

Nice list of projects includes intersection safety projects, enhanced sidewalks and protected bike lanes. As Joe Linton notes, the money tends to be approved a few years ahead of when it actually becomes available — so ribbon cuttings may still be a ways away.

From the Department of Government-Issued News: The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is not updating its blog or issuing media releases or social media updates. Buzzfeed News is reporting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research division has a similar prohibition in place. The NYT notes that someone at Badlands National Park went rogue and then the rug went out from the rogue. Obviously a topic of interest here given the Source is child of the internet.

Maybe the reason the super wealthy are not shown in ‘The Walking Dead’ is that they all got out in time and are all on the beach in New Zealand. Credit: The Walking Dead.

Things to read whilst transiting: over the last decade or so, some of Silicon Valley’s and America’s super wealthy have quietly begun preparing for doomsday and/or the apocalypse, reports the New Yorker. That includes stockpiling of food, weapons and real estate, often in remote places such as New Zealand. What’s driving the fear? The article notes that ‘elite anxiety’ cuts across political lines and is mostly inspired by income inequality and what might happen if the little guy/gal rises up.

Peak millennial: cities can’t assume continued boost from the young (NYT) 

The gist of it:

There are already some signs that the inflow of young professionals into cities has reached its peak, and that the outflow of mid-30s couples to the suburbs has resumed after stalling during the Great Recession.

As a result, some say that demand for urban living will stall at the same time — especially in our region — there are dozens of new residential buildings in the development pipeline. In addition there are serious transit improvements such as the Regional Connector and Purple Line Extension that should make getting around the city a lot easier (plus things like ride hailing, bike share, better sidewalks and bike lanes, etc.)

I’m not so sure cities are going to get unpopular any time soon. I tend to think some older Americans will pick up the slack, trading their suburban lifestyles for a more urban one that also may be cheaper if they are downsizing, getting rid of the lawn, not driving as much, etc. Another view from the article:

For these reasons and others, Joe Cortright, director of the City Observatory, an urban think tank in Portland, Ore., is predicting that cities will continue to swell with young people coming in and older people staying longer. The decline in births between millennials and the generation after them — often called Generation Z — is more like a slight grade than a cliff, so even as millennials age there will be a new, though smaller, supply of 25-year-olds coming behind them, he said.

One big ‘x’ factor in all this is expense: if all the new developments in DTLA, for example, are ultra high-end or carry ultra-high prices, many people may flee back to the ‘burbs or happily stay there.

Quasi-related: Curbed has a post on 10 American cities making smart moves transpo-wise. L.A. is one of them.