Metro Did the Right Thing By Not Over-Parking Expo Line Phase 2

Does Downtown Santa Monica really need more parking? Photo; Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Does Downtown Santa Monica really need more parking? Photo; Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro’s Expo Line Phase 2 opens this Friday. Though there is a lot of excitement and praise for the line, the Expo extension from Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica has also received some criticism. Note that Expo Phase 1 weathered its own criticism, and exceeded expectations.

Some critics are suggesting the line could be “doomed” due to a lack of parking. When Angeleno drivers say “parking” they tend to mean “free parking.”

Here’s an example from Laura Nelson’s Los Angeles Times article The Expo Line is finally coming to the Westside, but limited parking raises concerns:

“So how do I get to the station?” Liesel Friedreich, 64, of Pacific Palisades, asked when she learned the downtown Santa Monica station wouldn’t include dedicated parking for transit riders. “Isn’t the point to get more people with more money to ride the train?”

(Nelson’s article is overall a very good read and fairly balanced. She goes on to quote a Metro official stating that “hulking garages and expansive lots can be unsightly, expensive, and ultimately not a tool for encouraging people to stop driving.”)

My first reaction to the Friedreich quote is that it is just not news. Yes, some people are saying this, but the first question for the reporter is: how valid, applicable, or newsworthy is it? Yes, people who never rode transit and who will probably never ride transit regularly will spout off lots of self-serving rationalizations for why they are not riding. If it is not the parking, it could be the time, the frequency, the location, the walk, the homeless people, the noise, or the yadda yadda. As a transit rider (cyclist and pedestrian), I hear these excuses all the time, and I don’t think think they are news. They are a dog bites man story.

But let’s take a look at the assertion that Metro should build parking so “people with more money” will ride the train.

Nelson and Metro call these monied folks “choice riders.” Theoretically this means that there are two big groups of transit riders: poor “captive riders” who have no other transportation choice, and rich “choice riders” who typically drive. Transit expert Jarrett Walker (at minute 26 in this video) calls this false dichotomy the single most destructive fantasy about transit. In real life, people form a broad spectrum, so “When we incrementally improve transit service a little bit – we improve frequency, we get a payoff. We get a ridership improvement.” Walker advises agencies to forget about the mythical “choice rider” and instead focus on the “middle 90 percent.”

Building parking to lure choice riders out of the Palisades is an expensive proposition. Parking spaces run $10,000 to $25,000+ each. Expo Line phase 2 does include quite a few paid Metro parking lots (from The Source):

  • 17th St./Santa Monica College: 67 spaces,  of which 13 are monthly permits.
  • Expo/Bundy: 217 spaces, of which 131 are monthly permits.
  • Expo/Sepulveda: 260 spaces, of which 77 are monthly permits.

There are 544 new parking spaces. At a conservative estimate, that is at least a half-million five million dollars and probably closer to a ten million dollars’ worth of parking. Drivers who ride Expo regularly will purchase monthly parking permits, and Metro can and should adjust the price to ensure availability.

It is also important to ask: whom does investment in parking serve? According to experts doing Metro’s recent APTA review, investing in park-and-ride serves neither the environment nor low-income riders. From SBLA’s coverage:

APTA panel member Michael Connelley, of the Chicago Transit Authority, responded that easy parking encourages driving that first/last mile, and that it would be better to re-direct parking resources to instead fund convenient, frequent bus service. He also recommended that stations would be better served in the long run if parking were replaced by mini-village transit-oriented development. APTA panel member Brian D. Taylor, of UCLA, further responded that park-and-ride subsidizes higher income riders, decreases transit’s air quality benefits, and that charging [for parking] would help the agency’s bottom line, with revenues available even to build more parking if the demand indicates.

Look closer at the Downtown Santa Monica Station, which the L.A. Times references. There are 7,000 public car parking spaces nearby. They’re not free, and they’re not built by Metro, but they’re well-managed and available to Friedreich. There are also great Big Blue Bus connections and nearby Breeze bike-share hubs, the Expo bike path, and Santa Monica’s Esplanade walk/bike connection to the pier. In fact, Big Blue Bus in the process of implementing the biggest service realignment in the agency’s history, specifically to provide better connections for Expo riders. If these options aren’t enough, there are also taxis and ride-hailing companies, including Lyft and Uber, available and they operate 24 hours a day.

Metro has a limited budget and, in the words of CEO Phil Washington, needs to create a balanced transportation system. Investing heavily in parking would be at the expense of other things, such as bus service, bike-share, or walk or bike facilities. I think Metro has done a good job of balancing its investments in access to the Expo Line. By investing in parking, bus service, bike and walk facilities, Metro is giving Angelenos plenty of great choices.

The Expo Line is not doomed, but will be a great mobility addition for Southern California. Will more work be needed to optimize access to the line? Probably. Will the new line get Pacific Palisades drivers out of their cars? Probably only occasionally. I expect that it will serve tens of thousands of riders, improve Angelenos lives, health, and the environment.

  • scottmercer

    Why don’t those people sell their cars and take buses to the Red Line station in NoHo? That would take those 1500 cars off the road permanently.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    There are people who won’t ride Metro rail even if its a block from their front door. Metro has to make choices on how to use their limited funds. Creating large parking lots will not reduce the amount of driving in traffic congested areas where there are train stations, it will increase it.

    The Expo Line is creating another mobility option that some people will use. This is also increasing the capacity to move people by creating another transportation corridor. All people can’t drive a car. Driving is a form of transportation that is often limited to those than can afford a car and can obtain a driver’s license. There are also people who can walk, skateboard or ride a bicycle, yet the diversity of those transportation choices makes a more livable city for the general population.

  • Phantom Commuter

    Excellent idea !

  • Phantom Commuter

    A taxi would be cheaper

  • Phantom Commuter

    Expo has the lowest (29k), Green is next (37k) and then Gold (50k). WIth the Santa Monica extension, Expo will likely catch up with Green, but it might take a while to catch up with Gold.

  • Phantom Commuter

    Excellent idea !

  • Phantom Commuter

    Meanwhile in the real world…

  • Phantom Commuter

    This is not the Netherlands

  • Phantom Commuter

    Santa Monica drivers are New York drivers

  • Phantom Commuter

    Someone who says the 10 minute walk is an issue is using it as an excuse because they have other reasons they don’t want to ride. For many others, who live 5-10 miles away, like most Metrolink riders, it is a major issues. Not driving to the station means doubling or tripling an already long commute.

  • Phantom Commuter

    You, sir, are going to have to wait for the Purple Line …

  • Phantom Commuter

    How about those who can’t afford the astronomical rents right next to the rail line. What about them?

  • Phantom Commuter

    Santa Monica is an island…

  • Dennis_Hindman

    You are comparing a suburban area to a much more densely populated corridor in the heart of LA. Metro could not fill the Gold Line extension trains without providing car parking. In contrast the Expo Line extension can be filled with people without providing parking for cars

  • Matt

    Expo is much shorter than the Green Line and even with Phase II will only be half the length of the Gold Line so the point remains. On a per mile basis, Expo and Blue blow away the Gold and Green Lines. Same for the Red and Purple Lines and they have very limited parking as well. We’ll see what Expo does ridership wise. My guess is 45-50k for June.

  • Matt

    Don’t believe the La Cienega garage even fills up now and that is with it being free.

  • MaxUtil

    Parking spots cost around $20,000 each. Would you spend $20K to get one car “off the freeway”?

  • Phantom Commuter
  • Phantom Commuter

    OK but it’s not what you said above …

  • SZwartz

    One argument in favor of mass transit over the car is that people do not have to park for parking when they reach their destination. As we see, many people have the choice of no parking or paying for parking.

    Tax payers should pay attention to the argument that parking is too expensive. That argument will be with us for decades — fixed rail transit is horrendously expensive to maintain. Not only the physical fixtures and cars but also the Union wages, Union health and benefits and the Union pensions. I do not begrudge Union workers their benefits. My point is that when we create Union jobs, we need to remain committed to paying Union costs.

    The “it is too expensive” argument to justify no more parking will be called upon when we need to spend billions to maintain the system and the pension system is under funded. Anyone who thinks that the facilities will not deteriorate is living in a fantasy land and anyone who thinks that Angelenos can afford more Union deficits on top of the $10 Billion current pension deficit is beyond fantasy land.

    The politicos don’t care about the future as they won’t be here — another downside to Term Limits. Politicos know that when the rosters come home to roost, they will be in Sacramento or Washington. They should be in San Quentin.

    http://bit.ly/1SJC0Me April 3, 2016, Zwartz Talk, Subways Have Nothing to Do with Transportation

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Let’s walk through a commuter’s decision making process. First is time. How much longer is it going to take me. Second is cost. How much is it going save me.

    I was lucky to be able to buy a condominium in Hollywood during the recession of the early 1990’s. The Hollywood/Highland subway is a 15-20 minute walk down the hill and east on Hollywood Blvd. When I go downtown this is a viable alternative to driving. Including walking, it is both faster and cheaper. If I were to again work downtown, I would consider this an option. (Even if my company paid for parking, I may leave the car downtown and pay out of my own pocket the $70.00 per month to use the subway.)

    Now let’s look at using the Expo Line from Santa Monica to Downtown. It may take more time going to work, but will take less going home. Time is a wash. If I lived in Santa Monica, say around Montana, I would want to drive the first mile to the station. What I would gladly do, is pay for monthly parking at one of the many garages in downtown Santa Monica. Why would I gladly pay for parking, because Santa Monica monthly parking plus $3.50 a day for transit is much less expensive than $250.00 per month plus gas to park downtown.

    There is one more factor I would consider. Do I have a seat on the trip? If I can sit down and read the paper or a magazine, then the trip is more relaxing than driving. If I have to stand on a crowded train, then driving is more comfortable.

    Now for those of thinking, why doesn’t he take the bus? Simple, see “Time” and to a lessor extend comfort. If I have to walk to a bus station, take the bus, wait for the train, and then take the train, it will be faster for me to drive. I would also want to board the train at the Colorado Esplanade station so I get that precious seat.

    My point to this is… Anybody who knows how to do a budget would gladly pay for parking at a public garage in downtown Santa Monica. There is plenty of parking for people who wish to use their car for the first mile. Who knows, we may development New York/New Jersey/Connecticut habits and own “Station Cars”.

  • ExpoRider

    Thanks, Joe. I’ll turn 55 in 3 months, which will make me a “senior”. I try to ride my bike to the Expo Line twice a week on my daily commute to downtown. The bike ride is 5.7 miles each way, otherwise I would bike more often. Two years ago I didn’t even own a bike. It’s easy to make excuses. It’s much more rewarding to try to make a difference.

  • jellyfibs

    If the concern is cost, walking or biking is generally cheaper.

  • jellyfibs

    If the concern is cost, walking or biking is usually cheaper than uber, taxi or whatever.

  • ExpoRider

    Oh, good, the guessing game! My guess is Expo will average 46,000 weekday for June, it will reach 50,000 by September, and I’d be surprised if it doesn’t reach 60,000 by 2018. It won’t be long before Expo will be have the number 2 ranking of light rail lines, behind only the Blue Line.

  • Slexie

    It’s not one car off the freeway. It’s one car off the freeway EVERY DAY!

    They just did a news story about the new Gold Line and the frustration of many because there aren’t enough parking spaces. There are about 183 spaces at one particular station. However, there are rows of empty spaces because they are reserved or are left empty for certain people who don’t always use them. So for the Gold Line parking places are already available, just not accessible. You can be in denial all you want. People really want to use transit, but they need parking because they live too far from the station. The demand is there.

    That could be 390,000 cars off the road every year. And that’s just from one station!

  • Slexie

    Because any trip in LA by bus takes 2 or 3x’s as long as driving and most people don’t have that kind of time in the morning.

  • Slexie

    You know what’s disgusting? People thinking they know what’s best for everyone based on nothing. Not everyone has the time to double their commute every day.

  • Slexie

    Yea, ummm…no. There is no abundance of parking anywhere in Santa Monica. The garages near 3rd street are free for the first 2 hours and then by the hour after that.

  • jellyfibs

    I don’t think he said anything about an abundance of free parking. Why should parking always be free?

  • M

    And the Gold Line parking lot at Sierra Madre that was filled for years is now filled to a fraction of it’s capacity since the Gold Line was extended.

    That is part of the reason why it is foolish to spend tons of money on parking facilities, especially when the line is still slated to be extended further.

    I swear I have had this same exact discussion with you elsewhere on the blog already.

  • Sag Ichnicht

    Plentiful parking on one side and urban, transit oriented, pedestrian friendly, multimodal (sub-) centers around light rail stations on the other side are a contradiction. The lack of one, doesn’t necessarily cause the other, but the one prevents the other. Metro has chosen the righ thing. That aside, you can’t fill high capacity with car riders, without literally building parking houses all around every station.

  • Jason

    If LA would get serious about installing dedicated bus lanes instead of caving to people who complain that parking or travel lanes are being “stolen” from car drivers, LA could have a great bus system. If you look at the bus map it’s a very extensive network…that’s forced to sit in the same traffic as everyone else. Go figure that people don’t want to ride it.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    All of the 7 Expo Line Phase II stations have bike lockers. Two of those stations, Palms and Westwood, already have a waiting list for bike lockers before this train extension has even opened. 26th St/Bergamot station has one bike locker available and the Sepulveda station has two.

    Only two stations on the Expo Phase I have bike lockers. The La Cienega/Jefferson station has 35 people on a waiting list for a bike locker and the Culver City station has 55 people on the waiting list. A Bike Hub will soon open at the Culver City station with secure parking for 64 bicycles. That is only 9 more spaces than the waiting list for bike lockers at this station. These additional parking spaces will likely fill up within a month after opening.

    I spoke Wednesday at the Metro Board Planning Committee meeting on how Metro needs to have sufficient amounts of bike parking at Metro owned transit stations for bicycling to play a significant role in the first and last mile problem of getting people to and from transit. Poor execution of getting a sufficient amount of secure bicycle parking on the Expo Line is appearing at stations where its available. I warned Metro staff at several meetings that they could have a problem of too many bicycles and not enough space for them on the Expo Line due to an abundance of bicycle riders along the corridor.

  • effron

    Exactly. When one considers the BILLIONS that went into rail, it’s staggering to think how much more effective that money would have been building up and making better what already exists to a far greater benefit to so many more people.

  • ExpoRider

    Great points Dennis. I signed up for one of the lockers at Culver CIty in January 2015 and I didn’t get my locker until January, 2016. I will sign up for the bike hub at Culver City ASAP. Today at the Culver City station two different people asked me about my bike locker and how to get one. I pointed them to the label on the locker with the Metro phone number, so I’m guessing that the waiting list is about to become even longer.
    There is no reason for Metro not to prioritize bike parking over car parking. Bike lockers cost significantly less (maybe 5 percent of the cost of a car parking space in a structure), take up less space (maybe 10 percent of the space requirement of a car space) and bike riders are even willing to pay for their secure parking spaces! Not to mention the obvious environmental and health benefits of bike riding over driving.
    With the successful Bike Share program in Santa Monica, bike riders in Culver City (and elsewhere along the Expo Line) won’t need to carry their bikes on the train, even if their destination in Santa Monica isn’t close enough to walk. Bike riders can just park their bike at their home station, and pick up a bike share once they get top Santa Monica. The same will soon be true for workers in downtown LA, with Metro downtown bike share.
    Metro should divert any budget currently set aside for car parking to address the pent up demand for bike parking at every station (and transit center) where the demand exceeds the supply of secure parking space. Metro should also divert revenue from their parking fee program to pay for bike parking.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    Correction: Downtown Santa Monica station does not have bike lockers. There is now a waiting list for a bike locker at five of six of Expo II stations (17th St in Santa Monica still has some available) where these are available even though this train extension has only been open for six hours. Metro way underestimated the demand for secure bike parking along the Expo Line.

  • Slexie

    Who cares about sitting in the same traffic? That’s if you have the chance to even get on the bus. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve waited for buses that never came. And if you want to make up the last or first mile, you better hope there’s room for your bike on the bus. They want to put BRT down Vermont, but the subway already goes that way. It’s like they don’t think about what people need. And if you look at that stupid 2035 plan for the city, there is no mention of reducing traffic times for anyone. The BRT they want to put in will only make travel times longer for everyone. They don’t want to make the buses faster, they want to make the car commute just as slow as a bus commute. Because they can move more people with a bus than a car, that’s their logic.

    I get that part of it, but the NoHo station loses 1500 riders a day due to a lack of parking. The Gold Line is having the same issue and they just opened! If they’re going to put a rail station in a non dense area (Gold, not Red Line)l, then they have to understand that people will drive there. Then there’s all this, “well why can’t they walk or bike to the station or take the bus”, as if everyone has the same routine in the morning, as if everyone has the time to take the buses that are completely unreliable in the morning, as if people don’t have kids to drop off or pick up or errands to do after work or work materials to carry with them to work that can’t be easily carried on a bus or rail.

    I can’t say what’s best for everyone. But the city and transit enthusiasts get upset when people don’t want to use transit. Like they’re saying, why don’t you want to use this totally unreliable thing that isn’t that great? Then they act like you’re some kind of jerk if you don’t want to use it. SMH.

  • Slexie

    I didn’t say anything about an abundance of free parking either. I said parking in general. Have you ever been to Santa Monica?

  • Slexie

    There isn’t parking at a lot of the Red Line Stations. None in Hollywood have parking. And the end of the Expo Line in SM doesn’t have any additional parking at all. The first stop after leaving SM on the Expo Line has 70 spaces.

  • Slexie

    Ummm…I meant leave those cars at home. What a weird answer.

  • Slexie

    Who cares? What does anything you’re saying have to do with taking cars off the road everyday? The demand is there. How long til the line is to be extended? So the new extensions won’t make for more riders and won’t need more parking to accommodate them? Give me a break.

  • Dennis_Hindman

    You stated that Metro is losing 1,500 customers a day due to lack of sufficient amounts of parking at the North Hollywood subway station. If 1,500 additional parking spaces were created and it was filled with cars every day, then there would be 1,500 more cars on local streets in that area every day going to and from that subway station.

  • Slexie

    What kind of twisted logic are you talking about? We don’t want more spaces at the Red Line because more people will drive there to actually use the subway? That’s really dumb. I’m sorry but that’s just about the dumbest argument and I don’t even think you believe that.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    I have been to Santa Monica plenty of times. I never had an issue finding parking in one of the downtown garages.

  • Slexie

    I’ve had challenges finding structure parking and street parking.

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