The end of the 2010s is upon us.
Although I’m not one who thinks history fits neatly in 10-year boxes, this is a good chance to mull what has happened transpo-wise in our region in the past decade.
One spoiler to start. For the most part, we’re getting around in late 2019 the same way we did in 2010. That is, by driving. Nonetheless, I think this decade resulted in some important groundwork for what comes next.
So let’s get to it. The 2010s in a few neat bullet points…
•After the last of our region’s streetcar lines expired in 1963, the region embarked on an advised 27-year vacation from rail transit as pols squabbled over plans and voters rejected four(!!!) ballot measures. Meanwhile, rail transit proved to work pretty well in other parts of the planet until the A Line (Blue) opened in 1990.
Rail lines were subsequently added but rail construction was turned up a notch in the past decade.
The Eastside Gold Line opened in the last days of the aughts (Nov. 2009) followed by the Expo Line to Culver City (2012), the Gold Line extension to Azusa (2016) and the Expo Line addition to Santa Monica (2016).
The latter half this decade also saw construction launch on the Crenshaw/LAX Line, Purple Line Extension sections 1 (to Wilshire/La Cienega) and 2 (downtown Beverly Hills and Century City), the Regional Connector and the Gold Line to Pomona.
All those are forecast to open in the first half of the 2020s and add about 26 miles to the rail system. More significantly, I think, is where those miles are going.
Via a new station (the Airport Metro Connector) on the Crenshaw/LAX Line, there will finally be a good transit connection to LAX — via the airport’s new people mover. Think of it this way: you can either take transit all the way to the airport or drop someone off closely on the Metro Rail system. They’ll be able to get to the airport quickly and you won’t have to drive into the dreaded airport horseshoe.
The other big destination: the Westside, via the Purple Line Extension. The Westside is our region’s second largest job center but not easy to reach by freeway. In a few years, traveling between DTLA and the Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills and Century City (section 3 will take the subway to Westwood in 2027) will probably be fastest via subway.
•The 2010s also saw planning proceed on many other transit lines — including a light rail line between Van Nuys and the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink Station, the Sepulveda Transit Corridor (Van Nuys to the Expo Line in its first phase), the West Santa Ana Transit Corridor (light rail between Artesia and DTLA), the Crenshaw Northern Extension, the Green Line extension to Torrance, the Eastside Gold Line Extension and a trio of bus rapid transit lines (Vermont Avenue, NoHo to Pasadena and North San Fernando Valley.
There’s also a project to speed up the Orange Line by adding railroad-style crossing gates at intersections and building bridges over Van Nuys and Sepulveda boulevards. And a project called Link US that will allow Metrolink and Amtrak trains to enter Union Station from both the south and north — which means quicker train trips and added capacity for the station, as well as a new mezzanine under the tracks eventually.
The long studies and planning for projects are major league time munchers — but necessary under the law. The upside is we get a lot of feedback from the public and a lot of the work is now done.
•None of the above would have happened without the Metro Board of Directors and then voters approving two sales tax ballot measures — Measure R in 2008 and Measure M in ’16.
Our region may not have a reputation as the most civic-minded place on Earth. But taxpayers here often pony up for an array of causes and the number of ‘yes’ votes on both Measures R and M outnumbered the ‘nos’ by a 2-to-1 margin. Voters here also decided not to overturn a gas tax and vehicle fee increase that went into effect in 2017 to help fund a host of transpo and transit improvements.
Proof again, I think, that people badly want an alternative to our region’s chronic traffic constipation.
•This one isn’t quite Metro but I think deserves some words as Uber and Lyft upended the taxi industry and got a boatload of attention for doing so. In some quarters, they probably are the mobility story of the 2010s.
For all the words written about the so-called ride-hailers, I struggle to figure out what it really means beyond making taxis popular again.
Uber and Lyft haven’t eased traffic (and in some places made it worse), didn’t result in a decline in drunk driving deaths and haven’t really impacted car ownership rates.
I think they’ll stick around albeit with human drivers and higher fares. If anything, Uber and Lyft are a symptom of a bigger issue — most people in the U.S. get around by driving and there are times a car-for-hire beats your own car.
•Metro launched the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110, the first toll lanes in Los Angeles County. Despite predictions of a popular uprising, none ensued.
Instead, the ExpressLanes have enjoyed steadily growing business and showed that some people here are certainly willing to pay to avoid traffic. Plus they showed the basic concept works — you can use tolls to help manage speeds (in the case of the ExpressLanes, a minimum of 45 mph is the goal).
Next up for the ExpressLanes are a planned expansion to the 105 freeway between the 405 and 605 and the 405 between the 101 and 10.
•You can’t talk about transpo and not talk about climate change. Take it away, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
“Nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005, with the last five years comprising the five hottest.”
In the U.S., the transportation sector produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector because so much transpo relies on burning fossil fuels such as gasoline. Nonetheless, bigger and less fuel efficient cars and trucks enjoyed a resurgence this decade. Hmm.
I think Metro is doing its part. Our Sustainability Department has done a good job driving change — Metro’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped 12 percent between 2010 and 2017 despite a four percent increase in transit service.
Equally important, the Sustainability crew released the agency’s first Climate Action Plan in the past year that resolves to lower Metro’s GGE to 70 percent of its 2017 levels by 2030 and to zero percent by 2050. A big part of that is Metro’s commitment to try to reach a zero emission bus fleet by 2030.
Our buses currently run on compressed natural gas, which is cleaner than diesel (which powered buses in the past) but is still a fossil fuel. An important first step will be using only electric buses on the Orange Line, a project in the works now.
And I’ll say what I’ve said before: generally speaking, taking transit results in lower emissions than driving by yourself. It’s a good reason to give driving a break, even once in a while. And this: our local air quality slipped in the last decade. No bueno.
•You can’t talk about the 2010s without talking about transit ridership. At Metro, ridership peaked in 2013 and has since declined, mirroring similar drops across many large agencies in the U.S.
A lot of reasons for the dip have been proposed and they’re probably all true to some extent — a strong economy, stable gas prices, the ride hailers, changing demographics, the housing crunch squeezing out transit riders, the cyclical nature of ridership (and most anything) and transit service issues and rider safety concerns.
The reason locally that has received the most traction is higher rates of car ownership due to a strong economy and good deals on new and used vehicles.
That strikes me as on target. For many people, the American dream still involves the door-to-door freedom that comes with having your own vehicle. That’s not to say transit can’t compete. It absolutely can but that probably means more frequent, fast and reliable service and building a lot more homes near transit. Which, btw, is largely outside the purview of most transit agencies.
Naturally, that issue spilled over from the streets to transit and we know from rider feedback that homelessness has been a deterrent to some when it comes to riding our system. I do think that Metro has tried to handle the issue as humanely as possible — deploying outreach teams to connect homeless riders to social service while also respecting the civil rights of all our riders.
•In response to ridership issues, Metro in 2018 started an effort to restructure and reimagine its bus system, the second-largest in the U.S.
Metro will unveil its new system to the public in 2020 and the plan is to begin implementing it next December. About 70 percent of Metro’s daily boardings are on the bus system.
We’ll have a lot more about this soon on the blog.
•The latter half of this decade saw the arrival of electric scooters in many cities. Popular? Yep. Exertion-free? Yep? A good way to get to and from transit and travel short distances? Seems like it.
I think the scooters will stick around. But…I don’t see how electric scooters avoid the same hurdle facing bikes: there’s still not enough places to ride them with roads largely given over to cars.
In this honeymoon period, many cities have looked the other way when it comes to scooter riding on sidewalks. I’m betting a few lawsuits will invite a clampdown on that.
The hope, of course, is that better bike/scooter infrastructure gets built in the 2020s — which it should as current young riders gain political influence. For its part, Metro is developing rules about scooter parking at its facilities.
•The Blue Line got rebuilt. Obviously the first few weeks of service after the reopening could have gone better, but the project replaced key parts along the DTLA-Long Beach corridor. The busy Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station is also getting a complete facelift and is due to open in 2020 with a longer platform, better lighting, improved access and a host of other upgrades.
•This one is my own opinion — and comment if you disagree. As I’ve written before in this space, I feel like overall enforcement of traffic laws has declined in recent years.
I feel like I see more distracted driving, more speeding and more red light running. It is worth mentioning that overall traffic deaths in the U.S. have decreased over the past few decades but picked up in the latter half of the 2010s (as did the number of miles that people drive).
For you reporter types out there, I think this could be a pretty good story worth investigating.
Those, I think, are the big trends. Here are a few other happenings at Metro in the last decade:
•Leadership has been steady at Metro — something you couldn’t always say in prior decades. Art Leahy served as CEO until he retired in 2015 to be followed by Phil Washington, then the CEO of the RTD in the Denver area. The next year Phil oversaw the effort to develop Measure M, which passed overwhelmingly in Nov. 2016.
•In 2017, the policing of the Metro system was split three ways — LAPD, LBPD and L.A. Sheriff’s Department, who previously patrolled the entire system. The idea is to increase police presence on the system and respond to riders’ safety concerns.
•Metro launched a bike share system and started providing funding for open streets events (such as CicLAvia), the reason there are plenty of such events each year. The events are a great way to show there are other ways to get around the L.A. area.
Metro also opened several Bike Hubs where cyclists can park (and repair) their bikes at transit stations. Planning is also well underway for the L.A. River Path Project to close the eight-mile gap between Elysian Valley and Maywood — meaning better access soon to DTLA via bike.
•A new underground passage under Lankershim Boulevard was opened to better connect the Orange Line and Red Line in NoHo.
•Planning of Metro joint developments is underway at a number of locations, including along the Crenshaw/LAX Line, in Boyle Heights and at NoHo Station. It’s worth noting that the Metro Board adopted a policy in 2015 to make at least 35 percent of housing units affordable in our joint developments.
•All door boarding began on a couple of bus lines and has proved popular and a good way to speed buses up.
•Metro launched the Dodger Stadium Express in 2010 which has been a reliable (and free!) way for 350,000-plus fans to travel to the ballpark on a hill in recent seasons.
•Metro CEO Phil Washington created the Office of Extraordinary Innovation in 2016, which is guiding several key efforts — including the possible use of public-private partnerships to build mega-projects such as the Sepulveda and West Santa Ana projects.
•TAP got a shiny new website and has a mobile app on the way.
•Metro purchased Union Station in 2011 and has been doing much needed renovation work. That included the reopening of the Fred Harvey restaurant space as the Imperial Western brewery.
•Metro unleashed art invigorating the senses to make our transit system a more imaginative and pleasant experience. This included artworks installed at stations and transit facilities, rotating exhibitions in high foot-traffic areas and visual art and poetry posters on buses and trains to engage the wandering mind.
Artworks wrapping construction sites provided visual relief while new programs such as performing arts at Union Station, digital art and art on TAP cards presented inventive new ways to engage the public. Led by the in-house Signage & Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD) team, the agency also overhauled signage and wayfinding on the A Line.
Metro Art’s popular art and architecture tours celebrated 20 years of sharing stories about the artworks in the transit system as they introduced tens of thousands of new riders to the system. More about Metro Art on Facebook, Instagram, the Metro website and The Source.
•An anti-sexual harassment campaign was launched after one-in-five riders surveyed said they were harassed.
•There was only one fare change this decade — in 2014, when the price of a regular ride went from $1.50 to $1.75 but transfers were once again made free. In effect, the price went up for some and down for others while Metro’s overall fares are still among the lowest of big transit agencies in the U.S.
•An initial order of 64 new subway cars was ordered from China Railways. And they’ll have bench seating.
•The Metro Board approved a plan to rename Metro’s rail and bus rapid transit lines with letters and colors to make it easier to navigate as the system expands. That’s why we’re calling the Blue Line the A Line! More on this next year.
•Metro also released the Understanding How Women Travel report which took a critical look at ways Metro can better serve women. It’s worth a gander and will inform future improvements to the system.
•I’m putting this one last because I think it frames what comes next in the 2020s. In 2018, Metro adopted the Vision 2028 Plan that spells out Metro’s ambitions and plans for the next decade. On the list: more bus lines, more frequent service and testing congestion pricing tolls to ease traffic, improve transit and possibly offer fareless service. Stay tuned as I think the 2020s will be more than interesting!
What do you think? What did I leave out? Your impressions of the past decade?