COVID-19 update and transpo news; Winter Solstice edition

Good morning. It’s the shortest day of the year with just 9 hours, 53 minutes between sunrise and sunset in L.A. — meaning 14 hours, 7 minutes of darkness.

An apt metaphor for these times. Vaccinations for COVID-19 are thankfully underway in L.A. County — see the virtual town hall by the L.A. County Department of Public Health — but the number of new cases in L.A. County, California and the nation remains very high. In Europe, countries are closing their borders to the British, who not long ago history-wise boasted of an empire but now are mostly known for some fine television program exports.

To put our case load in L.A. County in perspective: L.A. County on many days this month is reporting more new cases than all of New York state in the height of the surge of cases there in March and April. Please be safe, wear face coverings, social distance, avoid unnecessary travel and be careful when around people outside your household. From the LAT this morning:

There were 16,843 COVID-19 patients in California hospitals Saturday, and 3,614 of them were in intensive care units, according to data released Sunday by the state — a huge increase from two months ago, when there were 2,291 patients and 657 in ICUs. On Saturday, Los Angeles County hospitals were treating the largest share of patients: 5,709, with 1,175 in ICUs.

Availability of ICU beds in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley remained at zero Sunday.

A doctor at an L.A. County public hospital said the number of COVID-19 patients is “increasing exponentially, without an end in sight.”

•Metro’s messaging remains that we’re here to provide rides for essential workers. And this reminder — all riders are required to wear face coverings unless you have a medical excuse. As for enforcement, our law enforcement partners and security are handling that and focusing on education. Please see this recent Source post for more info.

•Metro will be offering free service on all bus and rail lines during the late night hours of Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve this year to help essential workers get home safely during the holidays. See this Source post for more info.

•Congress is finalizing the follow-up pandemic stimulus bill. As of this morning, it includes about $45 billion to help the transportation industry, including $14 billion for transit agencies (see this Source post — the industry’s trade group wanted $32 billion). New York Senator Chuck Schumer is saying that more than $4 billion of that will go to the New York MTA, by far the nation’s largest transit agency that has been reeling in the wake of COVID-19 between subway, bus and commuter rail ridership. From the NY MTA:

•In other agency news, below is a video update on one of Metro’s key Measure M projects — an extension of the L Line (Gold) from Azusa to Pomona, where riders can transfer to/from Metrolink’s San Bernardino Line.

 

•Speaking of Metrolink and commuter rail, some very good news from last week — anti-collision train technology is finally in place across much of the country after missing the original timeline by five years. In the 21st century when we have vehicles roaming Mars, trains should not be colliding.

 

•Our region had 157 days in 2020 (thus far) with unhealthy levels of ozone — a key ingredient of smog, reports the LAT. That’a the most since 1997. Wildfires were partially to blame, as was hot weather that traps gases. Sure, the air was pretty clear in late winter and early spring during the early days of the pandemic — when people were driving less.

Fact is the best the region has done ozone-wise was in 2015 with 113 unhealthy days. Do you see any sign things might change?

Op-ed in the LAT ponders telecommuting beyond the pandemic. Gist of it: it could mean less traffic and lower rents and prices in the urban core, big companies going with smaller offices and more folks headed to the ‘burbs or smaller cities where their dollars go further. As future-guessing goes, I thought this was a smart take.

Fun fact: it was only a few years ago that the renaissance and revival of urban cores across America was much celebrated by many. The ‘burbs were oft-seen as the bad guy/gal in this scenario — all that traffic and cookie-cutterness! So it’s interesting to watch the thought pendulum swing the other way.

Of course, there’s also the very good chance that the pandemic passes and life quickly gets back to normal. As many others have said, the big factors will probably be how much telecommuting sticks around and how the commercial real estate market responds. Metro’s Recovery Task Force, btw, is looking into ways to allowing telecommuting post-pandemic. More here on the Task Force’s draft final recommendations.

As for the ‘burbs, because I’m now way older than I used to be, it’s fun watching opinion of the ‘burbs sway back and forth over the years. When I was in high schools in the early ’80s the popular take was to get out, neatly explained by Rush.

•There’s a privately-financed gondola project in Long Beach that’s being floated — it would run between the Queen Mary and downtown L.B. The Long Beach Post has an update.

•Returning to the topic of winter solstice, here’s a great piece that ran on NPR’s All Things Considered over the weekend on the solstice, the holidays and how the solstice means turning a corner. We hope.

8 replies

    • Hi Jayne;

      If you see an operator not wearing a face covering, please let us know route, day/time, direction of travel.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  1. It is beyond me that mask enforcement on public transportation is still focused on “education and encouragement”…We are 10 months into a global pandemic so whoever isn’t wearing a mask on public transit is doing it on purpose, not out of lack of awareness. Therefore, they should be barred from riding or given a fine. The education period was over months ago. Some riders were already wearing masks in February before the US learned a pandemic was happening, and before the CDC realized months late that masks were important.

    • Believe me, it’s not “education and encouragement,” as that actually translates to “we are a partially federal funded agency and without a federal mask mandate we have to continue being politically correct” in PR talk. After January 20th, we should slowly start to see actual enforcement of mask in Public Transit. Without that, expect the same from an agency that continues to ignore the fact that their trains are rolling tents throughout the day and yet continue to question why their ridership numbers continue to tank.

      • Hi Dave;

        I don’t think it’s accurate to say that transit agencies are getting pressure from the federal government one way or the other when it comes to face coverings and enforcement. It’s up to the agencies to find the best way to do this. As for ridership, I think it’s safe to say that the folks at the top of Metro are extremely aware of the numbers (falling ridership has been a national trend — not an excuse, but to offer some context) and have put in place some initiatives to address that — most notably the NextGen Bus Plan, which includes ongoing efforts to also improve bus infrastructure.

        Steve Hymon
        Editor, The Source

  2. Steve, masks are great but the spread of the virus via seats and handrails is still a serious issue. Buses are on the street for eight or more hours. Multiply the number of trips each bus makes by the number of patrons and it’s easy to see buses and trains are a primary source of of infection. Yes, the buses and trains are cleaned more thoroughly at the end of the day but its while they are in service that the virus is being spread. I have yet to hear from all our politicians with all of their graphs and statistics the number of people testing positive that can be identified as being a transit rider. The County of Los Angeles has survived every labor walkout by the RTD/MTA employees. It’s time to shut down the system and stop the spread of this deadly virus. It may not be politically correct but in reality it is the only answer.

  3. Please kindly take care of the logistics for service changes.

    Just from what I saw near my neighborhood:

    The Line 258 bus stops on the already-canceled old route portion along Huntington Drive (in South Pasadena and Alhambra) have not yet been removed.

    For Line 260, the already-canceled bus stops at Atlantic & Norwood, and Atlantic & Pine (both in Alhambra) have not yet been removed.

    Confusions, to say the least.

    Very likely there are more similar missed spots for this Dec 13 massive shake-up.

  4. I would advise with the LA Times article on Telecommute – the region needs to work towards a non-drive alone rate of 60% or better. Telecommute can be one of those options, but it cannot be the only one seeing how inequitable transit services are and policies leave out Black and Brown communities as well as essential workers. The goal is to shift the commute away from cars as much as possible. Places like the UC system are working to achieve that.