Expo Line praise, Orange Line rail, streetcar fever: HWR, Aug. 9

Art of Transit: 

L.A. — the city of traffic jams — finds a way to get people out of their cars (Washington Post)

The WaPo discovers a rail line in the Southland! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Cliche alert! The story about the Expo Line begins “Los Angeles, of all places, has taken a bold step forward on mass transit.” The second paragraph includes a funny Fran Liebowitz quote from 1981 about the lack of transit in L.A.

That said, it’s nice to see that someone outside our region noticed that Expo is popular (the Gold Line, btw, just had its largest ridership month in July) and already meeting future ridership projections.

The reporter also makes a point lower in the story that our region is relying heavily on light rail instead of heavy rail (i.e. the Red/Purple Line subway) and that could lead to slower trains. That’s a fair point, although the light rail here can run at a pretty good clip when there are grade separations, crossing gates and traffic lights give priority to trains.

Give the story a read and discuss. I’m interested to hear what you think. LAT transpo reporter Laura Nelson and her followers offer some thoughts on her Twitter stream.

Can the Valley’s Orange Line—the nation’s most successful BRT—get any respect? (Curbed LA)

Writer Patrick Sisson asks whether the bus rapid transit line across the SFV should be converted to rail, as eventually planned under Measure M. An earlier M-funded project seeks to build grade separations or other improvements to speed up buses and add capacity to the Orange Line.

Most of the experts or officials quoted in the blog post praise the BRT line with mixed views on how it could be better — some say BRT improvements would go a long way, others say rail would do the trick.

In the meantime, Metro has been working to speed up travel times by getting buses across intersections in a quicker fashion (25 mph instead of 10 mph at some crossings). See this post from earlier this year. Plans are underway to use only electric buses on the Orange Line by 2020 with the Metro Board approving the purchase of 35 60-foot electric buses last month.

The real reason streetcars are making a comeback (Vox)

The video suggests that many cities are seeking streetcars to support economic development and not necessarily for mobility. Measure M supplies funding for the city of Los Angeles’ streetcar project in DTLA, but the funds won’t be available until the 2050s.

16 replies

  1. Now that rail is in everyone seems to wants one. I sorta agree that the promoters of conversion are people who don’t use it. The San Fernando Valley has only itself to blame, they had their chance. Big projects need to be better planned. I understand that the urgency leads them to make lots of concessions and we end up with a quick fix, well problem is at some point you’ll have to fix it costing more money and interruptions.

    Here’s my two cents: Separate the Orange Line consider expanding service, the Blue/Expo line however needs to stay underground from Little Tokyo to Washington. Time is the only thing you can never get back the more Metro can save us the better we’ll all be.

  2. If you pull out BRT for a rail line, how will you reroute the existing riders? How many minutes of delays, and for how long, will they suffer for, all for a marginally faster trip, and possibly worse headways during middays and nights, when more buses are required due to ridership? It’s like the 405 project, when arguably the amount of congestion caused by the project was not worth it for adding one lane in the northbound direction. It’s better to beef up service on parallel streets like Sherman Way, Roscoe, and Ventura instead with bus lanes and prepaid boarding, which would serve many more people instead of forcing them to take an infrequent north south bus to the new rail line.

    • One thing to keep in mind: the Orange Line rail conversion is slated to begin construction in fiscal year 2051 under the Measure M spending plan. Yes, it could be accelerated but at this time it’s a project pretty far into the future.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • Steve, It only takes long only because Metro seems to not want to build it fast enough. In many other major cities, rail construction is faster.

  3. That first article – yes, the light rail in Los Angeles is excellent and I always use it when I’m there. I do regret, though, the fact that LAX – downtown is and will continue to be a 3-seat ride by light rail. The Flyaway bus is good, but runs through traffic – a source of delay.
    On your wider question about speed – there’s a bit of a trap when building a light rail network. You build the first segment as a 2-track railway, then you extend it, then you extend it again. But very rarely do you build passing places so that trains can overtake, giving people from farther out a faster journey. This needs foresight!
    An example is in Lyon, France, where the express tram from the airport runs fast through open country then, when it hits the built up area, runs on existing city tram tracks. These were built with passing places, so that the airport tram can run through non-stop, overtaking the local trams serving just the built-up area.

  4. There are 3 intersections that really slow the Orange line down and the traffic signals should be adjusted to speed up the trip. The signal at the intersection right next to the North Hollywood station, The one crossing Chandler Blvd and the one where the buses make a left turn from the Canoga station on to Canoga Ave.

  5. I would think Metro relies more on light rail just because more heavy rail hasn’t been built yet. Light rail is less expensive, quicker to build, and planning must’ve been much easier with the existing abandoned Southern Pacific corridors. I’m sure the Purple line extension and other heavy rail in Measure M plans will be met with instant popularity, and increase people’s reliance on the new public transit options. If you build it, they will come, right?

  6. Joe Matthews is quoted in the article complaining it took him 2.5 hours to go from Pasadena to Santa Monica. What’s your response to that?

    • I believe that was door-to-door from his job in SaMo to home near Sierra Madre Villa. With some bad luck — a service delay, just missing one or more trains — that’s certainly possible. Google Transit calls it a one hour, 53-minute trip during peak hours. The Regional Connector project will help shave a few minutes from that — a rider from Santa Monica will need to transfer to an Azusa bound train at one of five stations in DTLA. No need to walk to another platform — just wait for the next train. That eliminates the need to transfer to the subway for the trip between 7th/Metro and Union Station. It’s certainly a long time to get from one place to another but by rail DTSM Station and Sierra Madre Villa are also a long ways apart — about 30 miles.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  7. The Expo line, while running well ahead of ridership expectations, will not realize its full potential until there is full grade separation and an improved junction with the Blue on Flower.

    The Curbed piece successfully argues that changing the Orange to light rail itself will not improve service. By adding some grade separations, select signal priority and increased service, the Orange has room to grow as BRT. There may be a compelling argument to do a heavy rail extension of the Red line to Sepulveda (especially if that line is also heavy rail). Rail would not enhance service west of Sherman Oaks.

    Finally, the streetcar should remain low on Metro’s list, or be done in a public/private development.

    • The issue I have with the Orange line is that the buses are simultaneously too small and too big. Too small because, when getting on at North Hollywood, you are likely sitting with 30-50 others who pile on the bus and fit inside uncomfortably, often having to stand. Too big because the drivers are typically hitting speeds much faster than on normal streets and the double length of the Orange line bus creates an accordion effect, bouncing you around no matter if you are sitting or standing. Frankly, it often feels unsafe. Light rail would solve both these problems as well as the issue with many who feel riding buses is low brow and prefer to drive across the Valley instead.

      As far as heavy rail, I would advocate a new line down Ventura Blvd., starting at Universal City station and following Ventura (travelling through the transit deserts of Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino, Tarzana, etc.) all the way to Calabasas. Yes, it’s a pipe dream, but connecting the commercial corridor of the Valley makes more sense for heavy rail than the more residential Orange line corridor. If only there were some $10-$20 billion lying around somewhere. . . .

  8. “although the light rail here can run at a pretty good clip when there are grade separations, crossing gates and traffic lights give priority to trains.’

    That’s true, but Metro seems to care very little about those things. I know there are studies underway for Blue Line grade separation, but the study for the junction portion didn’t even include a two-directional, fully underground option.

    Think how popular the Expo line would be if 23rd to 7th/metro was fully grade separated and there were crossing gates from Crenshaw to Vermont! Throw in an extension of the trench from Fig to Vermont and it’d reliably be under 40 mins end-to-end. Then you’d really see a surge in ridership.

    • I fully agree with the lack of study of the underground single wye option. If Metro feels a single underground wye junction is sufficient at the Little Tokyo end of the Regional Connector, it should be perfectly fine for the opposite end at Pico. Either way there’s a slight bottleneck inherent with the shared track, but it would be considerably less if underground.

  9. The Metro has to make adjustments, I used the Metro for my commute to work and weekends for 4 years and on and previously for more than 8 yeas,I stop because at Norwalk green line station the parking is full by 7.30 in the morning, same next station Lakewood , I parked on the streets like 4blocks away after many years I could not afford to spend all that time,LA need free fair for students instead of free rides for Dodgers costumers, more frequent trains late at night etc

    • Juan, you mentioned that students need to use our Metro Rail and Bus system for free, I agree with you on this point. It is silly that we are funding buses for Dodgers Stadium Attendees. However, I think the issue is that Metro at times doesn’t make the best agreements with the local colleges and universities. U-PASS was implemented, but it has the high price tag that often scare away the local institutions from making or continuing such agreements.