Maybe Metro Isn’t So Bad After All?

I spend a lot of time comparing Los Angeles to the great cities of the world when it comes to transportation planning, infrastructure and enforcement.  I end up saying things such as, "Portland is the nation’s bike capital," or "New York has painted over 200 miles of bike lanes" or even "Wow, it sure would be great to live in Long Beach."  But maybe, just maybe, I sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees.

The following video, which has been making the round on transit sites having first appeared at The Overhead Wire, then Great City, then Human Transit was compiled to tweak Atlanta for it’s lousy rail growth and future planning.  However, when you look at the rail maps at the six cities it profiled, Los Angeles stacks up pretty well to any city and is way ahead of Dallas, Denver, Seattle or Atlanta.  Of course, these maps assume that Metro is going to meet its Measure R timelines.  It doesn’t assume that they’ll all be done in the next ten years as the Mayor promises.

Of course, just having a transit network by itself doesn’t guarantee the elevation of Los Angeles from where we are to a world class city.  Because we live in a time of unparalleled growth and planning for
major transit projects throughout the county; if we don’t blow the opportunity to promote
multi-modalism and pact development, we all may be able to tell our
children’s children that we were the people that helped Los Angeles
change from the Car Culture Capital of America to one of the world’s
great cities.

  • Chris

    You’re totally right. People always forget that before 1990 LA was served only by old and smelly diesel buses. I believe no other city in the United States has built so much rapid transit in so little a time. When additional lines come on line we will begin to see the synergistic network effect which makes places like New York so transit friendly.

  • I love that map.

    Glad to see Seattle on board.

    I look forward to taking the light-rail from the airport to downtown Seattle in a few weeks. In the same time Measure R was approved, Honolulu also approved creating a light-rail system there.

    Comparing Los Angeles to those other places still isn’t equitable. We are so much bigger. It’s so sad to think what we lost 60 years ago. And all the delays for so many years. At least we are finally, slowly and imperfectly, headed in the right direction at last.

  • I enjoyed that. A little tough to keep an eye on all the boxes, but when a video is 40 plus seconds long, that’s what the replay button is for.

  • Poor showing Damien. With the exception of Dallas, these cities are all less than 1/3 the size of Los Angeles. That includes Atlanta. So the conclusion that LA is not the bad off is absolutely wrong, and misguided – these squares are different sizes. Moreover, these US cities are not exactly meeting the gold standard for transit.

    I don’t think desperate optimism is helpful.

  • DJB

    That’s a neat video. However, it ignores all bus lines in LA, including the excellent Harbor Transitway and El Monte Busway, which are some of the best transit lines in the county. It also ignores the huge advance that is the Metro Rapid system.

    It’d be neat to come up with an overall transit quality metric that factors in things like speed (including frequency of service), comfort, environmental performance, safety, etc.

  • ds

    “Poor showing Damien. With the exception of Dallas, these cities are all less than 1/3 the size of Los Angeles. That includes Atlanta. So the conclusion that LA is not the bad off is absolutely wrong, and misguided – these squares are different sizes. Moreover, these US cities are not exactly meeting the gold standard for transit.”

    Huh? That means the map is underestimating the amount of rail trackage in LA, because it’s shrinking it down.

    Of course none of those cities are gold standard models. They’re supposed to be examples of cities that came late to the transit game, and only started building in the last couple decades, and have had to deal with the inherent challenges in that.

    “I don’t think desperate optimism is helpful.”

    Irrational pessimism isn’t helpful either. LA is never going to be Manhattan, but if we continue on the current trend we’ll have a pretty decent system by 2040 or so, where the dense corridors of the city are covered by transit, and population growth occurs along transit lines.

  • I had the same reaction as Alex. L.A. has unique challenges, just as Portland, with a population nearly the same as Long Beach, has their own set of challenges.

    But even the obsession about system length is seriously deficient. So many measurements of transit success are flawed in this city. The focus should be on the regional needs and the effectiveness of the system. Instead many focus on system length without regard to, among other things, proximity to existing activity centers, travel time savings, economic development/smart growth opportunities, or 50-100 year transit needs.

    In both departments (fulfilling regional needs and the effectiveness of the system) the expansion plans over the past decade have failed, with the exception of the final leg of the Red Line from Hollywood/Highland to North Hollywood. And the current plans aren’t much better (just look at the Metro LRTP limited effectiveness).

    The solution is not JUST adding more track, because, for example, extending the Red Line 4 miles south down Vermont from Wilshire to Vernon would have added more riders to the system than the 13 mile Pasadena Gold Line extension, and adding 8 miles to the Wilshire subway (to Westwood) would add more riders to the system than the 15.6 mile Expo Line. Neither of those extensions would have made our system “as big” as it is planned to be nor as large as some of the other cities, but it definitely would have generated more system ridership. The solution is expanding the right way to serve the areas and locations most in need, and a comparative map of system lengths definitely won’t show that.

  • LA is never going to be Manhattan, but if we continue on the current trend we’ll have a pretty decent system by 2040 or so, where the dense corridors of the city are covered by transit, and population growth occurs along transit lines.

    First off, population growth is projected to occur around existing high population centers. While some of the corridors will likely see an increase it won’t be drastic. We may see some census tracts go from 9K to 12.5K, but in that period of time our city is projected to grow by at least a million people.

    Second:

    The Vermont-Western corridor is currently served by the #2 and #3 highest ridership bus lines in the entire system. No rapid rail transit service is planned for 2040.

    The I-405/Sepulveda corridor from Westwood to LAX includes the #1 and #2 largest traffic generators on the entire westside (Westwood and LAX) and includes Howard Hughes Center, Fox Hills and Palms. No rapid rail transit service is planned for 2040.

    The Hawthorne Blvd corridor from Inglewood to Lawndale has the highest residential density in the region west of Western and high transit dependency rates. No rapid rail transit service planned for 2040.

    The Maywood-Huntington Park-Cudahy area has the highest residential density in the region outside of the Koreatown and Pico-Union areas and an astronomical transit dependency rate. No rapid rail transit service is planned for 2040.

    The I-134 corridor has the highest job density in the region outside of Downtown and the Wilshire corridor (Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank studios and Universal City). No rapid rail transit service is planned for 2040.

    Those are 5 major corridors that should be considered the backbone of any transit system in this region and they are not even on MTA’s radar right now (for a variety of reasons). That’s truly tragic. And it explains how and why 35 years from now we’ll still be in the same mess that we’re currently in, if not worse (given all of these at-grade crossings at congested intersections) and slow street-running lines.

    There’s nothing wrong with pointing out the obvious (MTA’s plans are tragically inadequate) and criticizing the planning process and resource allocations. Lord knows that if the people who know better sit silent, the politicians from the City Council to the Metro board to Sacramento to D.C. definitely won’t ever feel any persistent constructive pressure for positive changes.

  • Spokker

    Yeah, butif the SGV doesn’t get their Foothill Extension, for example, everybody else has to suffer. Basically the Foothill Extension gets logrolled into existence so they’ll shut up about the Purple Line. It’s hush money.

    Measure R is what it is because they have to get countywide support. That’s just the way politics is.

  • ds,

    You’re so wrong I don’t know if you can be helped. You’re right that a line of a particular length on the LA map will represent more mileage than on the Portland map. But a pixel, a unit of area, on the LA map will represent disproportionately more territory. It’s related to the reason no land mammals are bigger than elephants, and why no insects are as big as people.

    If 1 cm for the LA map represents 10 miles, and for Portland 1 cm represents 5 miles, then 1 square centimeter of the LA map represents 100 square miles, and 1 sq cm of the Portland map represents 25 square miles.

    *Under these assumptions* so 1 cm of track across 1 cm sq of the LA map will represent 10 miles of track serving 100 sq miles of community – a density of .1 miles track per square mile. 1 cm of track across 1 cm sq of the Portland will represent 5 miles of track serving 25 sq miles of community – a density of .2 miles track per square mile.

    In otherwords, a line in the Portland map (assuming it is twice the scale of the LA map) will mean twice the density of service. All things being equal, it’s twice as beneficial.

    This is just one part of the problem with scalings like this.

    It’s math, and it’s absolutely essentially that you intuitively get these things, if not at a technical level. Otherwise, you don’t belong in transportation.

    “if we continue on the current trend we’ll have a pretty decent system by 2040 or so” – I can’t think of a better definition of unambitious.

  • Goodmon – thanks for the rundown on un-served, and un-planned-to-be-served corridors. Living in WLA, it’s absolutely maddening that there isn’t even a hint of a whisper about doing something N/South parallel to the 405. Likewise the Vermont/Western stretch ought to be served, and isn’t.

    We need to collectively flip the whole thing on it’s head, look at where we need to be, figure out how to get there, and stop thinking in terms of incremental improvements on an incremental system.

  • I wish I lived in a paralell universe where that 405 corridor existed I’d have a much less hellish commute :(

    Still, LACMTA has their work cut out for them and an impossible amount of work needs to be done in what is still a bizarrely hostile environment for public transportation. We could spend endless billions on LA public transit before running out of sensible projects to complete.

    I’m of the school of thought that there is never regret for building a train line. Even though the current projects may not be optimal by some standards, having more available puts them in view as an option and increases demand. Look at the Green Line-it goes from nowhere to nowhere and is difficut to get to but is packed every morning I ride it.

    There is going to be a tipping point where gas prices get top high, congestion too awful, and a halfway useful transit system becomes too tantalizing a taste that spurs huge public and political support into investment in a completely useful transit system, and at the very least, LACMTA is doing a good job of readying itself for when that time comes.

  • “Living in WLA, it’s absolutely maddening that there isn’t even a hint of a whisper about doing something N/South parallel to the 405.”

    —————-

    In Measure R, there is a Sepulveda pass project connecting the Valley to the Westside. I believe the concept of this line should be extended south to LAX and north to Sylmar Metrolink. A Lincoln Blvd. project made Tier 2 of the Strategic Plan. I would have placed a Sepulveda Project higher than that.

  • Mark Mitz

    Well if you’re the Bus Riders Union this proves that Metro is the WORST OF ALL.

  • You are aware that there are other countries than the US? Compare metro to a European or Asian public transportation system and you’ll see what disarray the system is in.

  • We have Measure R and a plan. All this fuming about what isn’t being planned etc. misses the point the stuff in the pipeline needs to be built if we are ever going to continue. Wasting a lot of time on corridors that have no chance of funding for decades is unproductive. We are building a grid system, with each part creating synergy for all the rest. The regional connector will really cause an explosion by allowing the light rail network to extend beyond the disconnected bits we have now. The glass may be half full but we are light years beyond what we had a mere few years ago.

  • TransitPlanner

    Look at the original Prop. A map from the 1980’s. There was a corridor along the 405 from the Valley to Long Beach. The subway to the Sea was there too ! The voters didn’t get what they voted for.

  • Matt

    I’d agree with TransitPlanner and Damien, some key corridors are not covered in Measure R (a full Valley to LA/South Bay line and the Vermont/Western corridor to name a few key ones). Also, we don’t get enough out of what we already have like Metrolink, which is reeling.

    We haven’t built the key components of the system yet like the Downtown Connector, a link to LAX, and transit through key areas of the City (Mid-City and the Westside). There has been too much focus on marginal feeder lines like Crenshaw and Foothill Gold, where the politicians scream what about their piece of the pie instead of more effective solutions like increased Metrolink service along the San Bernadino line or a 405 line or a Vermont/Western line.

    With that, we have come a long way. Can you believe we now have 79 miles of rail compared to Washington DC’s 106 miles? Almost impossible to believe. The only problem is that our 79 miles are somewhat unconnected and dysfunctional. However, with Measure R and the LAX link, Purple Line and Downtown Connector, we are slowly moving to a real functional system.

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