High Desert Corridor, DTLA transit upgrades, microtransit: HWR, Feb. 26

Art of Transportation: My exile to Cincinnati has entered its 22nd day (parents versus old age versus the American health care system) so if you notice a certain tone of distance and detachment on the blog, please forgive.

My stay has coincided with a remarkable run of foul weather. All the rain has resulted in the Ohio River reaching its highest level since 1997.

The photo below was taken Sunday from Covington, which is across the river from Cincy. The Cincinnati Reds ballpark, btw, is easily reached via foot, bike, streetcar or motorcar. Next door are a great riverside park and restaurants because the Reds’ ballpark is, unlike Dodger Stadium, not entirely surrounded by a 15,000-space parking lot.

Photo courtesy Steve Hymon.

L.A. County set to build its first highway in 25 years, despite misgivings (LAT)

L.A.’s 20th century dream of building freeways refuses to die, even now (LAT)

This one is from the department of catching up. With Caltrans set to begin buying land later this year, the LAT takes a look at the High Desert Corridor project, which proposes to build a new 63-mile freeway from Palmdale and Lancaster in the Antelope Valley to Victorville in San Bernardino County.

Proponents say the road would serve as a safer and faster alternative to Highway 138 and allow a faster bypass for traffic between the Central Valley and destinations east of the L.A. metro area. Opponents say the freeway will trigger more sprawl and irreparably damage fragile desert habitats.

A couple of major caveats here. There is early money flowing to the project from Measure M. But the majority of the funds aren’t coming until much later with the project due for a 2063 groundbreaking under the Measure M timeline unless the project is built as a public-private partnership (far from certain at this time). The high-speed rail line that could run in the corridor has no funding at this time. Neither do the high-speed rail lines it would would connect with (L.A. to Bakersfield and Victorville to Las Vegas).

The second link above comes from LAT planning/architecture writer Christopher Hawthorne, who has a novel take on the High Desert Corridor being included in Measure M. His take:

If new road projects are — at least in the view of some transportation planners and elected officials — the price to be paid for Metro expansion, it’s also true that no ballot measure involving freeways alone would likely come anywhere close to two-thirds’ support from voters today.

So maybe we’ve been sold a bill of goods. Maybe the road projects tossed into ballot measures like M aren’t sweeteners for certain groups of voters as much as efforts to piggyback on the growing electoral support for mass transit. It’s telling in that sense that funding sources for the San Bernardino County portion of the freeway — beyond the reach of Measure M funding, which is limited to L.A. County — have yet to be pinned down.

A couple of thoughts:

1) I think the Measure R and M ballot measure campaigns made it clear there was funding for roads and transit. In fact, I recall in 2008 how the Measure R campaign was reluctant to even use the word “subway” in their TV ads even though the Purple Line Extension was the transit project set to receive the most R funding. Could Measures R and M have passed if they were only transit? Great question. I don’t know the answer.

2) I liked both LAT articles and thought they were smart and fair. That said, I would also like to hear from more L.A. County residents in the Antelope Valley about this project — or anyone for that matter.

City wants to fund Flower Street, Arts District rail projects (Red Line Reader) 

The Blue Line along Washington Boulevard. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Scott Frazier has reeled in a nice little scoop. The city of Los Angeles is exploring using an Enhanced Infrastructure Finance District in DTLA to fund transit improvements — including an Arts District rail station and major improvements to the Blue and Expo Lines along both Washington Boulevard and Flower Street.

What is an EIFD? Take it away, Scott:

EIFDs are relatively new instruments established by the state legislature in 2014 following Governor Brown’s decision to wind down the redevelopment agencies. The districts can be used to create Joint Powers Authorities with the power, like the old CRA, to collect and spend marginal tax growth resulting from increases in assessed property value. This makes the EIFD an ideal financing mechanism in locations where real estate development is intensifying.

To emphasize “exploring” is not the same as “doing.” But it’s still interesting, given that the major Blue/Expo Line upgrades and an Arts District Station were not granted funding via specific Measure M projects, although there’s a lot of interest in both.

The city also lists another project that could get funding: improvements to 7th street from the DTLA core all the way to the L.A. River. Attentive Source readers have, like me, probably found themselves walking on 7th Street and wondering why a street attracting so much new business doesn’t have brighter street lights, nicer sidewalks and better bike lanes.

Microtransit: what I think we know (Human Transit)

Transit planner Jarrett Walker has seen the spate of articles about microtransit, the on-demand shuttles agencies are pursuing (including Metro) as an alternative to fixed-route service in some areas. Jarrett writes:

The microtransit movement, like so many fads that have blown over transit agencies during my 25-year career, appears to be an example of elite projection, the tendency of fortunate people to assume that whatever they personally like will be good for society as a whole.  An urban elite has seen their lives transformed by ride-hailing services, and understandably wants to believe that this transformation can be brought to transit too.  This helps to explain why so much talk of microtransit is so dreamy, so obviously stated in the tone of a sales pitch rather than an analysis. To think clearly in this context, you need to lean into the wind, being skeptical but not cynical about ideas that obviously serve someone’s commercial interest.

We did a Q&A on microtransit on the blog last year. Here’s an excerpt that I think looks at the other side of the coin:

Why not leave on-demand services to those who already provide them? Does Metro really think it can out-Uber Uber or out-Lyft Lyft?

We don’t see Uber, Lyft and other ridesharing companies as competitors.

There’s a place for private mobility services to operate alongside publicly provided services. We see a new transportation technology that has changed how many people travel, and we owe it to our customers and the taxpayers to be asking whether it, or any new technology, can play a positive role in Metro’s overall service.

We can potentially take advantage of that technology to serve our broader social goals – focusing on pooled rides and connections to other transit, accessibility for passengers with disabilities and service for those without smartphones or bank accounts. Finally, we intend to provide this service using Metro employees, not contract employees.

Three far-flung cities offer clues to unsnarling Manhattan’s traffic (NYT)

Key sentence:

In London, Singapore and Stockholm the [congestion pricing] fees were met with skepticism and outrage by commuters and civic and business leaders, though they later proved effective in reducing traffic, congestion and air pollution.

Congestion pricing gets bandied about here in LaLaLand, but the question is when do we have enough alternatives to driving to give people a way to avoid the tolls?

Dept. of Movie Reviews: Saw “Black Panther.” I thought it was great and should be required viewing in high school government/history/social studies classes (check out this curriculum). If Wakanda is, in fact, sharing its technology in the world, I’m sure Metro’s Office of Extraordinary Innovation would welcome a few unsolicited proposals.

If Shuri doesn’t mind a little paperwork, I’m sure Metro would love to have a zero-emission, floating bus made of vibranium. Credit: Marvel Studios.

14 replies

  1. The High Desert Corridor is a freeway project that actually makes sense. Between the Gold Line Montclair segment and this freeway, San Bernardino County has some challenges finding funding sources.

  2. Freeways, the bringer of destruction. Nothing good can come of adding MORE highway space in rural parts of the high desert (or anywhere for that matter..)

    Between the two regions, 5 cities hold about 610,000 residents with combined area of about 560 square miles. Jerusalem, one of the most efficient cities on the planet, technological powerhouse with similar climate and landscape holds 860,000 people in only 48 square miles!!

    WHY do we as Americans continue to accept substandard, deceptively high cost of living that comes with cheap stucco boxes in the middle of nowhere? To stop sprawl, we must stop the veins that feed it, these freeways have proven to bring nothing but bad news and the invitation to exactly what America DOES NOT need.

  3. This is one of those freeway projects that makes sense. Currently the drive between the 14 and 15 freeways isn’t the fastest. And far too many times there are many fatal accidents along 138/18. Build it now while it’s easy instead of later. Also when it’s complete why not make this and the southern half of the 14 Freeway the same number. The 14 between the AV and Santa Clarita angles more east-west already. I-515 would be a good suggestion. Since it would go from the 5 to 15.

      • I can grab a bunch of straws from one of the many fast food places here and connect them together for 2,000 miles although the up and over Rocky Mountains part sounds tricky!

        Kidding aside, even though I grew up here I had forgotten how wet it is compared to L.A. area!

        Steve Hymon
        Editor, The Source

  4. It’s not the highway that concerns me. It’s the economic future of the half-mile of land on either side of the freeway that concerns me. To see why, have a look at the several miles-long mega-sprawl of chain restaurants on the 15 through the region North of the pass into the Apple Valley. It’s an endless sea of chain restaurants servicing the Las Vegas weekend travelers.

    This is the sort of development that thrives by tax incentive and “new development” subsidy. But which then collapses into a debt disaster. As the sewer lines, power, water, and roads in this area age, there won’t be enough revenue coming in to repair them. Instead, the dollars will flee to the newly built High Desert Corridor, where the same cycle will start anew. We don’t need to know how the story ends, because suburbs across the country are already dealing with the exact same scenario today.

    Aggressive planning could fix this problem by limiting sprawl and allowing development only in tight areas. That will not happen. That has never happened. No matter how many cities are saddled with collapsed mega-malls, no lessons will be learned. The incentives for new development are too strong.

  5. I may disagree with you Steve, however I only wish you and your aging parents only the best and a long healthy life. Enjoy them while you can. Miss mine a lot…

    • Hi Al C,

      Thank you very much — really appreciate it! And feel free to disagree — it would be kinda scary if everyone agreed with me all the time! 🙁

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  6. Honestly for some of these areas, it’s either microtransit or service cancellation. Metro has many routes which average under 10 passengers per hour – not all day thankfully, but certainly in certain parts of the day. Jarrett may think that canceling service to outer areas improves equity, but why not make something flexible to get people to a transit center and onto the rail or bus? I hope they announce the pilot locations soon because it will show whether Metro just wants to duplicate high frequency service or use this as an opportunity to provide better service in outer areas (many of whom are Title VI impacted) while simplifying the overall network.

  7. grade separate the flower junction !!!!!!! Make it happen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it would increase speed , reliability, and shave minutes of communtes