Tunnels, turkeys, real-time transit arrival data: give the people what they want!; HWR, Nov. 22

Dept. of Soul Crushing Traffic / Media Hype

Dept. of Projects

Dept. of How Hard Is It Really to Provide Real-Time Rail Arrival Data?

Click above and follow the thread. Julia also points out that inaccurate info about wait times for the next train is one of those small things that deters many people from riding. I will not argue with that hypothesis.

Metro’s real-time data arrival info for Metro Rail relies on data collected from track circuits. As Curbed LA explained it:

Al Martinez, senior IT director for Metro, says the major cause of inaccurate predictions is service disruptions, anything from malfunctioning doors at MacArthur Park to police activity at Hollywood/Highland to a traffic accident in South Pasadena. If a train car is sitting still on a section of track without the embedded location-tracking circuits, it effectively becomes a ghost train. There’s no way to see its exact location. Depending on how drastic the disruption is, Metro will choose whether or not to disable the ETA predictions entirely.

There’s definitely awareness at the agency that this needs to be improved but I don’t have a timeline for that happening.

Art of Transit: 

Self explanatory, I hope.

Elon Musk’s tunneling company wants to dig through L.A. (LAT)

Nice scoop by reporter Laura Nelson. Musk’s firm — called the “Boring Company” — has asked for permits from the city of L.A. to begin digging tunnels for a private project that would run under the path of the 405 between Hawthorne and Westwood. The video above explains the concept.

Yes, this is pie-meets-sky, for sure. And there are few details that have been made public. Has such a system been tested anywhere? Is it safe? How many cars can it carry compared to a freeway? If it’s too popular, wouldn’t there be lines on surface streets for the elevators to the tunnel? Would it be tolled? How much?

I’ve been dismissive of Musk in the past as a master of hype. Then again, new ideas are often mocked and Tesla has cracked an American car market not easy to crack. So maybe there is something to this, although it feels as if this project is trying to make the leap from chalkboard to reality in a ridiculously expedited fashion.

It’s also interesting that Musk seems intent on staying private with his projects. As far as I know, he hasn’t show much interest in partnering with government on any of his transit/tunnel proposals (Metro, FWIW, does have an unsolicited proposal policy where companies can submit such ideas). If anything, Musk has shown an impatience for the time it takes government transpo projects to get studied, designed and built — a good 10 to 20 years, at least, in many cases.

Finally, this: As Laura notes, Metro has its own transit project along the 405 between the Orange Line in the SFV to LAX. I don’t see either of these projects as exclusive. Metro’s project is for trains, Musk’s for cars.

Will the city of L.A. give him the permits? Stay tuned!

That’s the tunnel in Hawthorne, btw.

Driverless Cars Won’t Save Us (Citylab)

Richard Florida, an expert on cities and planning, takes Jon Stewart’s advice to say something if you smell something. And what Florida sniffs coming from self-driving car advocates is, well, fairly reminiscent of the fragrance offered along stretches of the Golden Street Freeway in the Central Valley.

Florida’s two big points:

•Whether a human or robot, roads only have room for so many cars — even if the robots can drive them closer together.

•Robot cars will “extend the commuting range of blue-collar workers, service workers, and the poor” who will increasingly find themselves living in the boonies (cheap land) while the wealthy enjoy urban life.

I like the skepticism! I think self-driving cars are a cool idea — I heart my Subaru’s adaptive cruise control. But I don’t see robot cars as fundamentally changing the way we get around, although they could make it more pleasant (and probably more slower). If anything, they could make owning a car even more popular than car ownership already is.

Many urbanists feel otherwise. They see shared robot cars as reducing the need to own a car and, thus, reducing the need for so many traffic lanes, parking lots, etc. I think that’s a naive notion as the companies that want to supply shared cars are going to want to cram as many of them as possible on our roads.

And finally…

Alternatively, some feasting music courtesy of Mr. Davies and the Kinks…


8 replies

  1. About a couple of years ago, Metro drastically SLASHED the night-time frequency of its trains (formerly 10-minute headways). NOW, after mid-evening (anywhere from 8:30 – 10 p.m., depending upon the line), the frequency of ALL MetroRail lines has plummeted to 20-minutes headways.

    Consider how terribly inconvenient this drastic reduction of Metro’s previous evening service already has been for passengers trying to use Metro to commute to or from a second-shift job–or even just to get home after a mid/late-evening movie, concert, play, social evening (at a nice restaurant, say), etc.!

    Add in the high likelihood of having to switch among DIFFERENT MetroRail lines (say, Red to Blue and/or Gold, or vice versa) and/or between one or more Metro buses and one or more MetroRail lines (and even back to bus), and the passenger can spend easily an hour or more just waiting various Metro trains and buses.

    Then add in the fact that Metro trains often DO NOT even begin their runs on time from their STATION OF ORIGIN (even when they are sitting in that station fully loaded with passengers (and, remember, a full 20 minutes behind the previous train at that time of night), and it is a wonder that anyone would try to “go Metro” after mid-evening.

    Now consider that anyone who instead decides to use a private auto to get home from a late evening job or entertainment must also use that same auto to go TO that same job/entertainment–MOST LIKELY DURING PEAK EVENING TRAFFIC–and it begins to seem that Metro may have made a big mistake in slashing MetroRail frequencies in mid-evening!

  2. I can’t recall of the top of my head whether it’s the Boston “T” or the Chicago “L,” but I distinctly recall seeing posted schedules in stations on at least one line that I ride regularly while on vacation.

    Oh, and now that I think about it, BART has both posted schedules AND automated “approaching train” announcements. As does MUNI Metro.

    And what do you mean, “If a train car is sitting still on a section of track without the embedded location-tracking circuits”? Surely the entire system has automatic block signals to protect following movements, and absolute/permissive block to keep opposing movements out of single track.

  3. A couple reactions here. Another reason for an affinity for private projects is you build where there is demand, not where there is political pressure. Measure M is a great example of public infrastructure inefficiencies. Instead of prioritizing projects in the populated center city first, Measure M has projects early in the project list that (a) aren’t in heavily populated areas and (b) aren’t in areas where there is the worst traffic. Building up projects in the center of the city would make for a top-class viable transportation network in a smaller area which is far preferable than the alternative we are getting under Measure M–a mediocre transportation network that happens to go to very far flung places. Metro has had declining ridership, yet Metro decided not to prioritize high-ridership corridors–that is inefficiency at its worst.

    As for train frequencies again Metro has chosen the mediocre. With 20 minute frequencies Metro will never have a top-tier transportation system and with funding that is pretty much unparalleled other than NYC, what is Metro’s excuse for that?

  4. Re: Real Time Info
    Why can’t the light rail stations get at lest the scheduled arrivals posted in a prominent location?

    While waiting 10 minutes for an Expo train this morning, I became aggravated that the LED signs had to keep me reminding me that it’s Wednesday, instead of telling me the estimated or scheduled time of the next train. Seems like a waste of energy.

    • Fully agree. I don’t understand why the LED signs at the ends of the platforms (the ones angled perpendicular to the track) don’t show the next arriving train and destination on that side of the platform. Instead, arrival times are only displayed on the TV screens that are only visible in limited locations on the platform. And those screens are often not working correctly (either a blurry image or not even turned on). It seems like future service disruptions should be on the TV screens and next arrival times should be on the LED screens, right now we have it completely backwards.

    • I agree other transit companies show arrival times and Metro has shown it could be done when they premiered the Rapid (I wonder what happen to that?). But in Metro defense they do have the schedule posted, usually in the center on a glass display. Just remember big wheels turn slowly.

  5. I think what Julia was trying to convey is that 20 min on nights (and weekends) is unacceptable! Last Sundays I went from NoHo to Long beach in a little under 3 hours… 50min of that was wasted on waiting for trains…. 20 min at NoHo (I must have just missed the train both ) and then another 30min at the 7MC platform… i mean I guess it just is what it is seems extreme to me though and I could totally understand why people dont want to embrace rail when 50 min of their time is wasted

    • Hi Daniel;

      Good point. I think she was expressing frustration with the quality of the info AND the frequency of trains.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source