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Orange Line BRT Speed Improvements Caught In Inter-Agency Delays

Metro Orange Line Stop in North Hollywood.  Photo:##http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisyarzab/##Chris Yarzab##

Metro Orange Line passengers are waiting for improvements on the way. Photo:Chris Yarzab

I was hoping to write a couple of happy stories this week about the Metro Orange Line. The San Fernando Valley’s highly-regarded workhorse Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) opened in 2005. Lately, a new pedestrian tunnel and faster bus speeds seemed imminent. These facilities would save time for the Orange Line’s 30,000 daily riders.

Earlier this week, I reported that the tunnel, which I like, but L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne does not, is under construction. The construction site is not so friendly for pedestrians. Also, per Metro’s clarification, the heavily-used surface crosswalk across Lankershim Boulevard is being moved to a less convenient location. The crosswalk was at the south side of Chandler Boulevard North; in the future (and during construction, now) it will be on the north side of Chandler North. This means pedestrians will need to cross Lankershim and Chandler North, instead of just Lankershim. Perhaps, in front of the Metro station, pedestrian prioritization is called for. Perhaps include crosswalks at all the legs of the intersection? Maybe a pedestrian scramble? But that’s another story.

Today, I am disappointed to report that the bus speed improvements that appeared to be imminent seem instead to have fallen into a limbo of inter-agency delay between Metro and the Los Angeles City Transportation Department (LADOT).

The Orange Line BRT runs on its own busway: basically a bus-only street built on former railroad right-of-way. The busway runs generally east-west and, at signalized intersections, crosses numerous north-south streets. In its first few months of operation, the Orange Line ran faster than it does today. There were a handful of car-bus collisions on the route, reportedly due to drivers failing to obey traffic signals. The excuse that has been repeated is that the drivers were not used to seeing any traffic on that long-abandoned right-of-way.

After these collisions, Orange Line bus speeds were reduced. Today Orange Line buses slow to 10 mph when crossing intersections.

Now that, at least, local drivers are more aware of the presence of Orange Line buses, there is movement afoot to improve the Orange Line by bringing its buses back up to speed. 

As both the Los Angeles City Councilmember representing neighborhoods along the Orange Line and a Metro Boardmember, Paul Krekorian is uniquely situated to champion Metro Orange Line improvements. With Council colleague Bob Blumenfeld, Krekorian authored council motion 14-1352 [PDF], which instructs LADOT to work with Metro to figure out how to improve Orange Line service, including increasing speeds.

The Krekorian motion was heard at the October 22 meeting of the Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee. During the Orange Line motion discussion (audio - at 0:40.), the following exchange took place:

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian: Well, maybe we can make this very easy then. Is it the city’s position that Metro can unilaterally change the speeds at intersection crossing points on the Orange Line without approval of the city?

Bill Shao, Senior Transportation Engineer, LADOT: Yes, it is.

Krekorian: Great. Less need to collaborate then, I guess. [laughter]

Shao: We – the city – we have to understand what the new speeds at crossings are so that we can align our signals to their needs.

Krekorian: Which actually becomes a bigger issue but that’s an issue that can happen after these changes take place.

Shao: That’s correct.

Krekorian: Great.

For many years, LADOT resisted increasing speeds on the Metro Orange Line BRT, as it would mean that some people in cars will sometimes experience minor delays in crossing the Orange Line. Shao’s October testimony was the first clear message that LADOT is fully on board, and now the ball is in Metro’s court to improve Orange Line speeds. My hunch is that this change can be attributed to Seleta Reynolds’ leadership.

At the October committee meeting, Metro Interim Executive Officer Jon Hillmer said that Metro was planning to increase Orange Line bus intersection speeds from 10 mph to 25 mph, which Metro expects will save cross-Valley commuters 4-8 minutes per trip. The next day, I reported that Metro Orange Line speed improvements appeared to be coming soon.

Last week, I inquired of LADOT and Metro regarding the timeline for these Orange Line speed improvements. Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero responded that he would check but that they “may be the bailiwick of LADOT.”

Read more…

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DeFazio, Norton, and Larsen Take on Dangerous Street Design

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) is already proving that he’ll put some muscle into the fight for bike and pedestrian safety in his new post as ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Before even starting his new job as Ranking Member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: ##http://bikeportland.org/2012/03/27/rep-defazio-takes-us-inside-the-transportation-fight-and-the-republican-psyche-69482##Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland##

Before even starting his new job as ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Peter DeFazio is going to bat for bike and pedestrian safety. Photo: Jonathan Maus/Bike Portland

DeFazio and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), top Democrat on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, have signed on to fellow T&I Democrat Rick Larsen (D-WA)’s letter asking the Government Accountability Office to look into the recent rise in bike and pedestrian fatalities, which increased 6 percent between 2011 and 2012.

At the state and federal level, efforts to improve the safety of walking and biking often blame the victim — as the Governors Highway Safety Association did when it flagged the recent increase in cyclist fatalities without noting that biking rates have gone up much more. DeFazio and company are emphasizing a much more fundamental problem: street design.

In their letter, they state:

[W]e are concerned that conventional engineering practices have encouraged engineers to design roads at 5-15 miles per hour faster than the posted speed for the street. This typically means roads are designed and built with wider, straighter lanes and have fewer objects near the edges, more turn lanes, and wider turning radii at intersections. While these practices improve driving safety, a suspected unintended consequence is that drivers travel faster when they feel safer. Greater speeds can increase the frequency and severity of crashes with pedestrians and cyclists who are moving at much slower speeds and have much less protection than a motorized vehicle affords.

The GAO responds to lawmaker requests like these by investigating the matter and reporting back to help members of Congress develop a deeper understanding of the issues so they can set better policy. The GAO itself makes recommendations for improvement in the reports.

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Meet the new Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director, Tamika Butler

Last night, the Board of Directors for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition met to approve the appointment of their new executive director. This morning, via email, they introduced the bicycling community to their new leader, Tamika Butler.

Image via LACBC.

Image via LACBC.

“I’m really proud of the process and results of the search and couldn’t be more excited about Tamika as our next Executive Director,” says LACBC Board President Steve Boyd in a press statement. “Tamika is the ideal leader to write LACBC’s next chapter.”

While Butler’s name might be new to many in the bicycling advocacy community, her resume is full of impressive advocacy experiences. Currently, she works as the first Director of Social Change Strategies for the Liberty Hill Foundation. During her career she has also served as employment lawyer at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center and as California Director of the Young Invincibles, an advocacy organization aimed at improving the lives and opportunities for young Americans entering the workforce.

“I am thrilled to have the privilege to become the next Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and look forward to continuing the success, growth, and cutting-edge work of the organization. Biking in Los Angeles County has personally changed my life and deepens my love of the region every time I go for a ride,” writes Butler in the same press statement.

“We’re lucky to live and bike in a county full of diverse communities that motivate this talented staff and me to push towards building a healthier, more vibrant Los Angeles County. I am excited to start pedaling, dig deep, and get to work with our members and partners, within and across sectors, as we race to the front lines of the nationwide movement to create bikeable, safe, and sustainable neighborhoods.”

For more on Butler, read the press statement put out by LACBC here or read this interview with Butler when she started her work with Liberty Hill.

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Cities Won’t Turn Out the Way Highway Builders Predict

What if the driving slump continues apace forever, asks Patrick Kennedy. Image: Street Smarts

What if the driving slump continues apace forever, asks Patrick Kennedy. Image: Street Smarts

The highway lobby in Dallas keeps beating the same drum: They talk about projected population growth and predict that highways will become a massive logjam. So they argue Dallas should be building, building, building new highways for these future drivers at a furious pace.

But Patrick Kennedy at Street Smart notes that if you look at more recent trends, they actually make the case for fewer highways. Ultimately, he says, basing complex decisions on simplistic trend line projections is just a bad way to plan for the future:

Let’s play a game then, if we’re following trend lines continually up and to the right. How much will DFW residents be driving in 2035 based on current trends? Well, according to Texas Transportation Institute, DFW averaged 13.26 miles driven per person per day in 2006. That number has since fallen to 11.90. Wha?! How could that be? All of our driving models show VMT going up (and therefore we base transportation funding and policy on said models). They couldn’t possibly be wrong. What is wrong is people. Who change and adapt and live and do things differently based on their time and circumstances which also change, unlike our models, which are exquisite and perfect and say we need moar damn highways.

If we’re dropping VMT per capita by 32% every 5 years certainly that trend line will continue for ever and ever. If it keeps dropping by 32% every 5 years, the average DFW resident will be driving 1.37 miles per day, about half as much as the average current New York City metro resident. Sounds ridiculous right?

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Vote to Decide the Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014

streetsie_2014

If you’re searching for reasons to feel positive about the future, the street transformations pictured below are a good start. Earlier this month we asked readers to send in their nominations for the best American street redesigns of 2014. These five are the finalists selected by Streetsblog staff. They include new car-free zones, substantial sidewalk expansions, superb bike infrastructure, awesome safety upgrades, and exclusive transit lanes.

Which deserves the distinction of being named the “Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014″? We’re starting the voting today and will post a reminder when we run the rest of the Streetsblog USA Streetsie Award polls next Tuesday. Without further ado, here are the contenders:

Western Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Before

Before

After. (We're using a rendering because the project is not quite yet 100% complete.)

After. (We’re using a rendering because the project is not quite 100 percent complete.)

The Western Avenue road diet narrowed dangerously wide traffic lanes on this one-way street to make room for safer pedestrian crossings, a raised bike lane, and bus bulbs. Brian DeChambeau of the Cambridge Community Development Department, the lead agency on the project, adds these details about the redesign:

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Today’s Headlines

  • Protected Bike Lanes All Over the U.S., Including Temple City (People4Bikes)
  • Carnage: Car Crash Kills Three Peds in Redondo Beach (Daily Breeze)
  • LACBC Announces New Executive Director Tamika Butler (SM Spoke)
  • Councilmember Gil Cedillo North Figueroa Snub Commentary All Over:
    Cedillo Attacking Constituents One Percent At A Time (Across L.A.)
    LOL Meme: Cedillo Snubs Mayor Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative (Flying Pigeon Twitter)
    Cedillo Labels Cyclists as Bullies (Biking In L.A.)
    Cedillo Ruling By Tantrumocracy (Flying Pigeon)
    ICYMI In Spanish, Actual Corrido Tells the Sad Cedillo Tale (SBLA Lite Tumblr)
  • The Waze App Causing Cut-Through Traffic Story All Over Too (KPCC, KCRW)
  • Residential TOD Project Planned Just South East of NoHo Metro Station (Building L.A.)
  • Cartoon and Opinion: CA High Speed Rail for Our Grandchildren (LAT)
  • Downtown Railyard Complicating L.A. River Revitalization Price Tag (KCET)
  • Truck Side-Guards Could Save Bicyclists Lives (SB NYC)

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L.A. Council Approves Call for Projects List with Cedillo Snub Intact

Rendering of the proposed buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street. Image: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Rendering of the planned buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street. Yesterdays’ Council vote signals a further step away from a North Figueroa that would be safer for all. Image: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council approved the list of projects [PDF] that the city plans to submit for Metro Call for Projects funding. Overall, the Call list includes a lot of great projects that reflect that many L.A. City elected officials and the city’s Transportation Department (LADOT) are truly pursuing greater livability and safety.

Unfortunately, the list also includes the ”North Figueroa Great Streets Corridor,” City Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s proposal to add diagonal parking to North Figueroa Street instead of bike lanes.

At yesterday’s meeting, more than half a dozen speakers urged the Council not to pursue Cedillo’s North Figueroa proposal. Speakers included a North Figueroa business owner, local residents, and livability advocates. The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Alek Bartrosouf testified that, “It is important to ensure that as we build Great Streets across the City of Los Angeles that these streets are designed for the safety of all who travel them, and that the planning process is open and inclusive of all voices.”

The LACBC further clarified concerns in their comment letter [PDF] which urged Council President Herb Wesson to re-scope the North Figueroa project to align with the inclusive vision in the city’s bike and mobility plans.

Cedillo’s response to the public was telling. He characterized speakers as having “one percent dictate for 99 percent.” He portrayed complete streets supporters as bullies, proclaiming, “We will not be bullied.” Ultimately, Cedillo defended his North Figueroa project in Orwellian livability rhetoric, stating it includes a “multi-modal approach” and puts “safety first and foremost.”

The City Council, which generally defers to the councilmember who represents the district where a project is located, approved the Call for Projects list unanimously.

Yesterday’s vote gives LADOT staff the go-ahead to seek funding for Cedillo’s project. The project will compete with other applications for Metro funding. If project funding is approved by Metro in mid-2015, funding would be programmed beginning in FY 2019-2020. The project scope could be modified during design and environmental review processes.

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Using a Construction Project to Predict the Effect of a Road Diet

Portland's dangerous Barbur Boulevard got a temporary road diet during construction recently, and got safer. Photo: Bike Portland

Portland’s dangerous Barbur Boulevard got a temporary road diet during a recent paving project, and speeding dropped dramatically. Photo: Bike Portland

Barbur Boulevard in Portland is one of the city’s most deadly streets, and advocates there have pushed for a road diet that would slow traffic and provide comfortable space for biking and walking. But the state DOT has refused to change the road, in large part due to objections from the local chamber of commerce.

But in an interesting natural experiment, a recent construction project on Barbur Boulevard took a lane out of commission. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland reports that the data from the construction period in many ways confirms what street safety advocates have said all along:

Converting one northbound traffic lane on 1.9 miles of SW Barbur Boulevard to two protected bike lanes with sidewalks would apparently prevent unsafe weaving during off-peak hours without massive impacts to morning traffic.

That’s one conclusion from data released Friday that analyzed changes to people’s driving habits during construction work on Barbur this summer. A repaving project had temporarily closed one traffic lane in each direction.

Read more…

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Today’s Headlines

  • Echo Park’s “Blackbirds” Residential Development Has Elegant Density (CityLab)
  • Gov Brown and Legislators Promise To Keep Fighting Climate Change (LAT)
  • L.A. Has A Plan To Harmonize Taxis and Ubers (Curbed)
  • Boyle Heights Santa Teresita School Gets New Sidewalk (EGPNews)
  • Images Of Potential Styles For Glendale’s L.A. River Ped Bridge (Curbed)
  • Editorial Cartoon: Governor Brown Wants High Speed Rail (Glendale News Press)
  • SMPD and Bike Center Promote Smart Cycling (Santa Monica Next)

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NoHo Ped Tunnel Construction Underway, To Connect Orange and Red Lines

Diagram of North Hollywood Station Underpass project. The new tunnel connect the NoHo Red Line subway station with the Orange Line BRT station across the street. Image via Metro

Diagram of North Hollywood Station Underpass project. The new tunnel will connect the NoHo Red Line subway station with the Orange Line BRT station across the street. Image via Metro Fact Sheet [PDF]

Construction is underway for a new tunnel that will make it easier for riders to transfer between Metro’s Orange and Red Lines. Per Metro’s fact sheet [PDF], the new tunnel, officially the North Hollywood Station Underpass project, is expected to be completed in Spring 2016. Riders are already detouring around the pedestrian-unfriendly construction site barriers.

The North Hollywood Station Underpass is a $22 million capital project, funded in part by a $10 million U.S. Department of Transportation Bus Facility Fund grant. According to a Board report [PDF], Metro estimates that the project will save riders approximately 44 seconds as they transfer between the Red Line subway and the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

According to the Metro project page, once the tunnel opens, “pedestrian traffic will be deterred from crossing Lankershim.” I hope this doesn’t mean that the surface crosswalk at Chandler Boulevard North will be removed. If this is the case, so much for the 44-second savings, as bus-to-bus connecting passengers will have to walk further to get to another surface crosswalk, or go down into the station and then come back up to the surface to catch the Orange Line.

Eliminating the existing crosswalk would also be inconvenient and possibly dangerous for cyclists heading west from the Burbank-Chandler bikeway onto the Orange Line bikeway. Like too many Southern California livability projects, instead of creating the kind of redundancy that is found in local car transportation systems, it sounds like one walkway will open and another will be closed. 

(Updated 4:45pm – Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero requested that SBLA note that the crosswalk across Lankershim at Chandler North will “remain permanently to facilitate pedestrian/bicyclist crossings.”)

Diagram of the xxxxxxx

Diagram of the North Hollywood Station Underpass. In the foreground are the existing escalators, stairs, and tri-color arched shade structures at the NoHo Red Line Station. Diagonally through the middle are the Red Line tracks running below Lankershim Boulevard. In the upper right are the existing Orange Line station (not pictured) and new tunnel, escalators, stairs, and elevator. Image from Metro

The tunnel will connect to the mezzanine level of the North Hollywood Red Line Station, next to the existing elevator that connects the mezzanine with the train platform.  Read more…