Opinions — everyone’s got a few, traffic versus U2; HWR, May 16

Art of Transit


Well, I certainly enjoyed by journey to Chavez Ravine on Friday night. Then again, attentive readers know I can’t help where I was born. FWIW, Los Rojos have returned to their losing ways since departing Los Angeles. As for the Dodgers, I predict that the Diamondbacks, come September, will regret their inability to finish off L.A. in May.

Metro Estimates West Santa Ana Branch Surface Heavy Rail Could Cost More Per Mile Than Purple Line Subway (Streetsblog LA)

Metro staff has recommended three northern route options for further study for the Artesia to downtown Los Angeles light rail project (here’s the staff report and a Source post). The Metro Board will consider those recommendations this month.

Streetsblog LA has advocated the project be heavy rail — and opined that Metro’s estimated cost for heavy rail, which ranged from $12.3 billion to $18.4 billion, is too high.

Metro has asked Streetsblog to clarify two points in this article. Streetsblog has declined and my comment on their site was sent to the spamcatcher. Our points:

•Metro never said its cost estimate for heavy rail for the West Santa Ana Branch was for a surface heavy rail project. The cost estimate was based on a heavy rail line that would have to largely be grade separated due to safety and other potential impacts. 

Streetsblog wrote: “Metro’s WSAB heavy rail estimates show a cost of $0.67 billion to $1 billion per mile. That means, on a per-mile basis, Metro is estimating that WSAB surface heavy rail could cost Metro more than it currently costs to tunnel heavy rail subway below Wilshire Boulevard.”

The only heavy rail project that Metro is currently building is the Purple Line Extension — with sections 1 and 2 under construction. Section 1 is 3.92 miles long and has a budget of $3.154 billion. Section 2 is 2.59 miles and has a budget of $2.53 billion. That works out to $873 million per mile, which is more than the low end of the cost estimate ($670 million) for WSAB Streetblog complains about. (BTW, you can find current project budget estimates in this monthly presentation to the Metro Board’s Construction Committee: http://metro.legistar1.com/metro/attachments/070651a3-65df-4d48-a5cf-163c72692353.pdf)

Streetsblog has added another post, this time alleging that Metro should have provided cost estimates for the exact project that Streetsblog wants — surface heavy rail. As we wrote to Streetsblog the other night, Metro doesn’t believe heavy rail at street level in this corridor is practical or a good idea. The Metro Board of Directors will consider this item at the Planning Committee today at 2 p.m. and their Construction Committee on Thursday at 10:15 a.m., as well as their full Board meeting at 9 a.m. on May 24. Listen online here or show up in person to comment or contact the Board.

Parking snafus, traffic cause many fans to miss U2 show at Forum entirely (TicketNews)

Hard to say exactly how many — or few — actually missed the show. Or whether fans’ chances would have been better if arriving earlier. Still, sounds like the parking lots closed before everyone was in and vertigo-inducing traffic was the order of the not-so-beautiful day.

I caught the band at the Rose Bowl last year — nice walk from the Gold Line — but sat this one out. Maybe not such a bad thing.

Q&A: Anti-density leader Jill Stewart answers questions about LA’s future development (Curbed LA)

Jill — who ran the campaign last year for Measure S (which lost and would have slowed development in the city of L.A.) — has some choice words for Metro. She says that building rail is a symptom of a particular type of envy that will not be identified on a government blog. Key excerpt:

We have a starved bus system that goes everywhere. And you’ve got a few hundred stops for rail. So rail can never ever match the bus system, and yet rail gets all the expenses; rail gets the kudos; and rail is failing in Los Angeles.

I agree the bus system is expansive — most of L.A. County is served by either Metro buses or buses belonging to other transit agencies. I also agree that bus stops vastly outnumber rail stations and that the Metro Rail system will not in the foreseeable future be as large as our bus system in terms of routes, mileage or stops.

But it’s the second half of that second sentence that’s kind of a word wedgie.?

I don’t think rail is “failing” — plenty of people still ride. It’s certainly fair to say that rail ridership in the past five years has been flat whereas there have been losses on the bus system (you can slice+dice ridership numbers here). Also true: other large transit agencies across the nation have also seen ridership losses in recent times. Metro is in the midst of its NextGen Study to restructure the bus system to better serve existing riders and attract new ones.

In terms of cost, Metro spends more operating the bus system than rail system, according to the 2019 proposed budget — not including the $769 million Metro will provide to other bus agencies in L.A. County. It is fair to say that Metro’s transit expansion program will cost a little less than overall rail and bus operations in the next fiscal year with several rail projects under construction, including the Crenshaw/LAX Line, Purple Line Extension of the subway, the Regional Connector and the Gold Line extension to Claremont and Montclair.

Jill also suggests that Metro is spending “massive amounts” on building luxury housing. The agency does have a joint development program to build transit-oriented developments on Metro-owned properties. The agency also has a policy outlining its development goals, including  that 35 percent of units be affordable housing. The majority of developments near Metro transit lines are private developments.

Again, I don’t mind arguments for or against transit expansion. But I think some of the arguments in the Curbed interview are very, very broad strokes.

Bird scooters are ruining Venice (LAT) 

To put it lightly, this op-ed by Nate Jackson has inspired some disagreement.

Why are readers cheesed? They don’t think scooters are the big problem when it comes to transpo — rather, their beef is with motor vehicles and the havoc that they can wreak.

Look through the thread, if you wish. Of course, it goes both ways. Others have complained about motorized scooters in bike lanes, unsafe riding on sidewalks and scooters being left in inappropriate places. Both Bird and Lime had to pull their scooters off Austin streets until they were permitted and other issues dealt with.

That said, the electric scooters do strike me as a capable first/last mile solution — as with bikes, I wish there more places to safely ride them. I also like the fact that the scooters are small and individually don’t take up a ton of space. The fact they’re electric obviously appeals to people.

Your thoughts?

The American Renaissance Is Already Happening (NYT)

I thought it might be nice to end today’s HWR with a little positivity. Columnist David Brooks expresses admiration for the many cities reinventing themselves across the US of A. California towns Fresno, Redlands and San Bernardino get mentions.


17 replies

  1. “Heavy rail requires a third rail electrified track.” Umm… no. Not in the slightest. That’s usually it’s implementation but its certainly not a requirement. Cleveland’s entire red line and Boston’s blue line (which switches power sources mid-route) are two notable examples just here in the US not to mention worldwide.

    • This comment was meant to be a reply to Mannyo’s comment above not to the article itself.

  2. Um…. heavy rail requires a third electrified track. Never mind adults. What if a child walks into the ROW on accident and touches the rail. Hello.. this is a no brainer. HRT would be nice but it won’t work at grade. It would, however, work in a freeway median like DC’s metro. I will admit though, it’s really loud on those stations; but I’ve digressed.

    • Chicago converted an at-grade line (Yellow Line/”Skokie Swift”) to 3rd Rail operation in 2004, so it can be done.

      Alternatively, as above, you get cars like those on Boston’s Blue Line or the London Overground that can switch from 3rd Rail to Pantograph (overhead) collection.

      Let’s please not be like Elon Musk and ignore what has already happened in the rest of the world please!

  3. Hi Steve,

    The audio for the board meetings that took place this week don’t seem to be working. Could you put in a request to fix those links/files?


    • Hey Andrew —

      On my screen the links aren’t up yet. If you see something different can you email me a screen grab at hymons@metro.net? Thanks much!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. Another point here – probably beating a dead horse: When, in January 2018, The Source wanted to show that Metro builds cheaper than NYC, The Source cited some lower cost construction costs (see http://thesource.metro.net/2018/01/03/109270/ ). Then when SBLA quoted those exact numbers straight from The Source, less than 6 months ago, you criticize SBLA, rolling out higher construction numbers to justify the agency’s excessively high 20-mile WSAB tunnel cost estimate. (Yah – we all use somewhat selective frames to prove our points… but to me it feels hypocrtical for The Source to criticize SBLA for quoting The Source.)

    • The numbers in my Jan. 3 blog post were wrong. I cited the PLE section 1 as costing $2.82 billion — it should have been $3.154 billion. I cited the Regional Connector as costing $1.75 billion and it should have been $1.81 billion. I apologize — I was working off the wrong set of numbers at the time. The numbers I used are wrong, but not dramatically different.

      I didn’t criticize SBLA. I asked for clarification on two points and you declined, as is your right to do. You have every right to allege that Metro’s cost estimates are too high, just as we have every right to point out that our cost estimates were not for the surface heavy rail line that Streetsblog wants. The implications that I am being dishonest or hypocritical are getting tiresome.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. A good point made on the streetsblog article comments was that if metros new order of heavy rail cars haven’t been built yet, then pantographs can and should still be added to them now before they are finalized and delivered. There’s no reason metro shouldn’t want this kind of added flexibility and ought not to be so closed minded about these things. This wouldn’t even be some new fangled innovative feature, just a basic practice which has been done elsewhere for ages.

  6. This is crazy. “Metro doesn’t believe heavy rail at street level in this corridor is practical or a good idea.” Why not? Because the phony cost estimates Metro comes up with (which we just clarified _aren’t_ for heavy rail at street level) are too expensive?

    So let me try to get this straight: Metro staff provides cost estimates for something which isn’t the thing Streetsblog is proposing, then uses those numbers as a reason why the thing Streetsblog IS proposing is impractical and not a good idea. If we’re arguing it’s impractical and not a good idea, shouldn’t the cost estimate be of the actual proposal?

  7. Metro can’t come up with figures for surface-running HRT both with and without at-grade-crossings for the WSAB?

    The Streetsblog idea not only saves the cost and risk of tunneling through the center of Downtown Los Angeles (and therefore allows the use of Prop A and C funds which still cannot be used for tunneling), it also potentially saves the cost of having to build an entirely new “Division” (Maintenance Facility) as is being proposed for the City of Bellflower in the WSAB project documents.

    C’mon Steve, surface heavy-rail is not some foreign concept to North America. If BART, yes BART, can extend their odd-ball Indian Railway Gauge surface HRT from Fremont to Warm Springs for only $146 Million per mile ($790M for 5.4 miles including a 1 mile subway under Lake Elizabeth!), why shouldn’t Metro look at an option like this instead of paying the $290 Million per mile that higher-end Concepts E and G will cost?

    • Umm, maybe it’s because BART only built one station on that 5.4 mile stretch of railway? (By the way, the actual cost was $890M.)
      Another HUGE difference between BART WSX and WSAB is that the UPRR corridor that WSX uses was already fully grade separated before WSX was built, whereas there are dozens of at grade crossings along WSAB that will need to be mitigated before they can operate HRT, especially with a third rail.
      But yes, I agree that Metro should look into the feasibility of building HRT at grade before they dismiss the concept out of hand.

    • I agree, but to be fair, BART still has full grade separation wherever it crosses streets, which, if done on WSAB would cost far more than just having crossing gate preemption for HRT (like LRT would) and there are more intersections. But Metro seems to want to just toss out that option altogether due to unspecified safety and “other impacts” concerns and doesn’t seem to want to explain what those are in detail. Equity was also mentioned but thinking about that more, it could mean two things; Metro doesn’t want to seem biased in where it provides the highest capacity transit if the areas don’t meet a minimum density right along the ROW. Or, they’re afraid that the cities of southeast LA county would complain that they’re getting an inferior form of HRT from the other existing and under construction HRT lines. Either way, this isn’t a reason to not improve a transit line when given the chance. I would think they would appreciate the higher capacity and one seat ride possibilities so maybe its the former.

      • “Equity” is a loaded word. There are pluses and minuses, and clearly at-grade running HRT is more disrupting to a community than completely grade separated HRT. We’re only advocating that Metro LOOK AT IT FAIRLY. The pluses seem pretty good: one ticket rides to BOTH Union Station and the center city. Cheaper costs because of reduced tunneling. Higher capacity. The positive tradeoffs don’t seem that bad.

      • Densitry is a Chicken and Egg question.

        HRT is always going to be a better product than LRT, even the high-platform LRT that Metro builds because as it stands right now, Metro LRT can only run 3-car trains while Metro HRT can run 6-car trains. And one would expect that the CPUC would require full cross-buck/wig-wag and arm gates at any HRT crossings, while they seem to be okay with street running LRT that gets caught by traffic signals as seen on the Expo and Blue Lines in DTLA, the Blue Line in Long Beach and the Roybal Gold Line in East Los Angeles.