A look back at the 2010s from a Metro and mobility point of view

A subway to the Westside was talked about for decades. In the 2010s it started to become a reality. The pic shows recent construction at the Wilshire/La Brea Station. Photo: LA Metro.

Early train testing on the Crenshaw/LAX Line in October. Photo: Maya Myles/LA Metro.

One of the twin tunnels for the Regional Connector, which is tying together the Blue, Expo and Gold Lines for faster trips to and through DTLA. Photo: LA Metro.

The Expo Line at La Cienega/Jefferson Station; the line opened to Culver City in 2012 and to Santa Monica in 2016. The photo also shows the skyline of South Park, which changed rapidly over the last decade. Photo by Steve Hymon/LA Metro.

The Gold Line crosses Santa Anita Avenue in Arcadia. An extension from Pasadena to Arcadia opened in 2016. Photo by Steve Hymon/LA Metro.

The vast Metro bus system — the second busiest in the U.S. and which carries 70% of our riders — will be restructured in the early 2020s. Photo by Adrian Hernandez/LA Metro.

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.

The Airport Metro Connector that will soon be under construction. Riders will be able to transfer from the Crenshaw/LAX Lines and Green Lines to the LAX people mover. Rendering: LA Metro.

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.

Just another Friday afternoon on the 405 over the Sepulveda Pass. Photo by Steve Hymon/LA Metro.

•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.

Oil tankers and smog in Santa Monica Bay in 2013 during a Santa Ana wind event. Get the connection? Photo courtesy Steve Hymon.

•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.

•And you can’t really talk about ridership without talking about homelessness in our region, which went from bad to worse in the 2010s — although there are efforts underway to build more housing.

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.

A rendering of the new Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station.

•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 FacebookInstagram, the Metro website and The Source.

The Gold Line’s Soto Station.

Above, a capoeira performance at Union Station. Below, Metro’s first limited edition ‘Art on TAP’ cards.

More on the limited series is here.

•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?

13 replies

  1. Thank you Metro and the Gold Line Management for the blue and white alternating vertical lights for Hanukkah on the bridge over Santa Anita Avenue in Arcadia. There were green and red lights for Christmas, and for the last few nights of Hanukkah the blue and white lights were very much appreciated.

  2. To start off with, the Blue Line had to be completely rebuilt over the last few years due to it being constructed substandard and not to U.S. rail standards gauge. It might be noted the San Diego built their original line from the train station to the Mexican border for under budget, no federal subsidy and in record time. It has no had to be shut down like the Blue Line nor the portions of the Green Line. Perhaps those running the San Diego system should be brought on board to show the MTA amateurs how to build and run a light rail system.

    You failed to mention the terrible job the MTA has done rebuilding bus terminals at various locations throughout the system. A case in point the Argyle / Selma Terminal. Four bus bays to accommodate seven bus lines some of which have more than one bus scheduled to layover at the same time. The old terminal accommodated eight or nine bus lines without any problem. Pico/Rimpau was customer friendly and again accommodated more buses. Now passenger must wait and walk in the sun and rain where with the old terminal they were under a roof type structure and never subjected to the elements.

    I can only shutter at the idea the MTA is going to revamp the bus system in 2020. Up until now they have eliminated lines, shortened lines which requires transfers to another bus and rerouted service away from need areas.

    Art Leahy did not retire, his contract was not renewed. For those who are unfamiliar with Art both he and his wife started out at the RTD, the predecessor agency, and rose thru the ranks. They were both terminated shortly after the MTA was formed because they had to much practical knowledge as opposed to the test book knowledge the MTA is ran by. Last I heard he still has a office in the MTA building as the CEO of Metrolink.

    There are very few former RTD employees left at the MTA that have the expertise to know what works and what doesn’t. As a former RTD and MTA employee I know full well the circus I retired from. People making decisions with no practice knowledge of what and how the bus side works. The head of the TAP Card program actually believed the bus operators only sold ten to fifteen Day Passes in one day when in fact on most lines they sold 30 to 40 per trip. Because of this misinformation the program almost failed the first week due to insufficient TAP Cards being procured.

    I can ride the MTA for free with my retired pass. I avoid it as much as possible.

  3. You forgot to mention the engineering marvel the S.E.M. crossover cavern and the Goldline extension to Pomona.

  4. Re bad driving: I live in the SF area but occasionally visit the LA area. Per mile driven, I see more reckless driving in the LA area than in the SF Bay Area. In June 2015, a friend & I were in West LA (He drove while I rode.) and were directly affected by 2 reckless driving incidents about 50 min apart.

  5. Why didn’t the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station get finished with the New Blue construction window when It was closed for the entire North and South rebuilding? That it is still not done is egregious.

    And let’s let the bus drivers sell day passes again. The excuses for stopping were lame.

  6. Excellent summary of the 2010s. Keep it up and get that Crenshaw-LAX / People Mover, as well as the Regional Connector in downtown Los Angeles completed and in operation ASAP.. Thank you

    Rogelio Peña
    1/1/2020

  7. Why are there pamphlets on buses showing information about nextgen workshops coming up next month, but there is no such information on the internet? I would assume updating the information on the website takes much less time than doing the printing. You guys better upload the information online as soon as possible. The plan should also be uploaded ASAP too so that people can read and understand the plan instead of just looking at what service is lost, which is the first thing most people see.

    By the way, maybe my expectation is too high when there is no staff to provide correct information when one of the comments up there are spreading myths. The A line (blue) has been using the same Kinki trains like the other parts of the system before and after the renovation. I don’t see Metro changing the gauge during the new blue construction. Why isn’t there any staff to correct him?

    • Hi Steve;

      We’ll be pushing out info soon. The workshops are still a few weeks away.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • I agree with the latter part of your comment. I’ve tried correcting that commenter’s repeated falsehoods about the gauge (he’s said this untruth multiple times) but Steve or whoever reviews my comments prevents them from being posted.

      • Hi Bob;

        I don’t want the comments to turn into a forum for people bashing other people. I think enough words have been spent on this claim over the years.

        Steve Hymon
        Editor, The Source

        • Fair enough, I don’t have a problem with that. But if you are going to continue to post that user’s misinformation, I think it’s only fair that you either correct him where he’s wrong, or censor his comments as well.

          • Yes, any untruths must be able to be refuted or Metro is complicit in spreading falsehood.

  8. Steve, Great job, as usual, and GREAT summary of the last decade and future plans for Metro!