Will a Smooth Blue Line Ride Finally Come to Long Beach?

The City Council endorsed the submission of a grant funding application to Metro in the "Call for Projects." To read the full application, ##http://la.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/010813R33sratt.pdf##click here.##

It is the wrong way to be advertising the use of public transportation–and to experience this egregious advert, one simply has to take the Blue Line through Long Beach. And if you’re lucky, you’ll only hit one or two lights as you watch individual commuters putt-putt past you while the entire Metro trains halts.

The gripe of Blue Line commuters coming in and out of Long Beach wrests on the fact that it’s the only stretch which doesn’t have a signal preemption system–that is, controllers for the movement of traffic that gives preference to Metro trains rather than street traffic (and not to be confused with signal priority technology used for buses).

When the line was first implemented, it had been foreseen that the train would be given priority signalization–in other words: a guaranteed green light. The system however failed countywide, eventually prompting the City of Los Angeles to score a grant in which it developed its own traffic signal priority system.

The Blue Line has not only faced signal pre-emption issues in Long Beach, nor have the other lines been exempt. Through the previously mentioned grant, LADOT finally provided signal priority on Washington Street in 2011 after a multitude of complaints and three years of studies. Much to the chiding to this day of public transit commuters that preemption was not implemented since signal priority attempts to either hold a green light longer or give a green early rather than providing a guaranteed green for trains.

However, Long Beach’s home stretch is often times absurd, adding 20 minutes to a Downtown LA commute if you happen to hit reds at a multitude of the 32 signals paralleling the Blue Line. So why, precisely, not just adopt the Los Angeles system? Well, of course, that would be too easy and the Universe loves to mock: we use an entirely different traffic signal system than L.A. and the software provider for L.B.’s system was unable to make the transition work–effectively abandoning the project.

But there is (not a traffic) light at the end of the tunnel.

Dave Roseman, City Traffic Engineer for Long Beach, admittedly said this is not the first time he has had to deal with this issue (he even received a complaint through the Mayor’s Office last week). And though there is light, he is still blunt:

“There isn’t a simple solution,” he said. “And it’s not that we’re refusing to at least synchronize the traffic signals. It seems like a simple problem–but in fact, it is not.”

Given that two trains travel in two directions, Roseman pointed out that the pedestrian cannot be “short changed” by being left in the middle of a crosswalk while trains pass on both sides of him/her. And according to Roseman, the key to solving this is by adopting L.A.’s system–and apparently, Long Beach has begun that process.

Thanks to funding from Boeing, 165 traffic signals surrounding the airport have been successfully converted to the Angelino system over the past two years, prompting an agreement between Metro and the city to convert the 32 Blue Line signals.

“The only issue for us is funding,” Roseman said. “Making the conversion is likely to cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million.”

But once again: light. Earlier this month, the City Council endorsed the submission of a grant funding application to Metro to cover the majority of the cost of the conversion project.

“We have high hopes that Metro will fund the project and we can begin the process of upgrading our systems by the end of this calendar year,” Roseman said. “We should know in about 90 days if Metro will be awarding us the funds we have requested and just when those funds will be made available to us.”

You’re not the only with high hopes, David.

  • Please, for the love of god, get signal pre-emption for the whole of the Expo, Phase 1 and 2.

  • Judson

    This article is well written.

    Signal preemption on the Blue Line is an important local /  regional transportation issue. 

    How can citizens help ensure that Metro will fund this project?    Is there anything we can do?

    thank you,

    Judson

  • Anonymous

    Well researched and well reported I’ll definitely give you. But well written? Just the sentence, “Much to the chiding to this day of public transit commuters that preemption was not implemented since signal priority attempts to either hold a green light longer or give a green early rather than providing a guaranteed green for trains.” would have made my high school English teacher bang his head into a wall.

  • Ubrayj02

    Yeah – I have to agree with MaxUtil – this could have used some better editing.

  • Brianmojo

    If the article above is any indication, this could take up to 3 years. But then again, I don’t think there’s a commission or anything even studying it yet. Sigh…

  • Joseph E

    So, so happy. I used to ride my bike to Willow station, though I lived close to downtown Long Beach, because 1) the train was hardly faster than my bike till then, and 2) lack of a safe bike route thru downtown. Now that the excellent lanes on Broadway and 3rd are available, it only remains to speed up to the trains thru signal priority.

  • Erik Griswold

    I would love if LA Metro would at least create a plan for rebuilding the Blue Line (or much of it) along its entire length.  It was built on the cheap (as were many LRT lines in the 1980’s all over the USA) and it is really showing now.

  • Daniel

    FINALLY.  Hope the funding works out with Metro.  I actually complained to Vice Mayor Garcia about this on Facebook last month.  I’d like to think that has something to do with the complaint from the Mayor’s office.  Anyway, I have to agree that this article could have used closer editing.  Any idea how much time could be potentially be saved on the average trip?  How about how the “L.A. system” works in comparison to the “L.B. system?” 

  • Judson

    Daniel: As the article says, with 32 traffic signals inLB that potentially slow or stop the train, the delay could be up to 20 minutes one way!

    I’d like to encourage Metro to approve this grant application to the City of LB. I wonder how that might be done, most effectively.

  • Daniel

    Hi Judson, I saw that, but I it’s not really clear what the author means if you look at this language.  Is it 20 minutes from Willow to LB Transit Mall normally (the Metro schedule says it takes about 14 minutes)?  Or is it that if you hit some of the traffic lights, it takes 20 minutes but should be faster?  Or is it that the traffic lights can delay the scheduled 14-minute commute by an additional 20 minutes (34 minutes total)?  So, I don’t think the article really answers my question about average time savings. 

  • Erik Griswold

    And how much did you pay to read this MaxUtil?

  • I think it’s about time they do something about the issue.
    Personally, I think traveling by Blue line takes soooo long, particularly due to slow speeds (and yes, traffic lights!) in the City of Long Beach. When you compare Blue Line LRT versus driving, even driving in traffic is faster (!) than taking the Blue line all the way from LA to LB.
    I also think MTA should consider an express line (similar to NYC express subway lines). Wouldn’t be nice if the Blue line train would just make 3-4 stops at most, and arrive into LB at half the time! It’s definitely possible. Especially that freight train tracks already exist throughout most of the way along the Blue line.
    Cheers!

  • Oren

    “It is the wrong way to be advertising the use of public transportation–and to experience this egregious advert, one simply has to take the Blue Line through Long Beach”

    It took me several reads to figure out what the heck the author was talking about here.  Not a great first sentence of an article.

  • I want to drive

    It is the wrong way to be advertising the use of public
    transportation–and to experience this egregious advert, one simply has
    to take the Blue Line through Long Beach
    True especially, it is faster to walk miles than taking buses from Blue Line stations to various locations at Long Beach. I know that from experience. Many car drivers still drive to Long Beach for the same reason
    Many rail supporters simply don’t want to acknowledge that
    Funny thins this line does not have preemptive signals. So what is the point of this rail line

  • While they’re at it, might as well run it straight up Atlantic to LAUS…