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Times, ABC7, and Metro Parking Stories Are Wrong and Misleading

Yesterday, the L.A. Times ran Lack of Parking Drives Many Away from Mass Transit, an article by Laura Nelson.

The Times starts with the example of a San Fernando Valley Metro Red Line commuter nearly missing grabbing a parking space. This leads to assertions of “parking shortages” on “L.A.’s light-rail system [sic - Red Line is heavy rail].” The article goes on to quote various Metro representatives, then parking expert UCLA professor Don Shoup. Ultimately, Nelson characterizes Metro parking as a “key policy question.”

Vid capture of

Screen/video capture from ABC7′s misleading L.A. Metro parking story. Alex Gonzales of Anaheim, a city not even in Los Angeles County, says “If you can’t park, then why would you take the train?”

Like a sad game of telephone, ABC7 (KABC-TV) picked up the Times’ assertions and stretched them to near absurdity.

ABC7′s story, Parking Issues to Blame for Low Transit Ridership in Los Angeles, has the gall to interview a man-on-the-street from Anaheim, a suburb not even in L.A. County, who says, “if you can’t park, then why would you take the train?”

It looks like he is riding the train in Pasadena but, honestly, couldn’t ABC7 find someone who lives in L.A. County?

Sure, transportation issues cross political boundaries, but should Metro, a governmental agency with jurisdiction over L.A. County, prioritize limited funds to serve people who don’t live here?

First two general points, then responses to Times article specifics:

1. Lots of People Ride Metro, Few Use Metro Parking 

Let me first note that lots and lots of people ride Metro buses and trains. About 1.5 millon every weekdayThere’s no “low ridership” issue here. Especially during rush hour, buses and trains are standing room only.

The vast majority of these Metro riders do not park. According to Metro’s on-board surveys, more than 80 percent of transit riders arrive by walking. Fewer than 4 percent drive and park. Even when excluding buses, just looking at the Metro rail system, only about 15 percent of riders drive and park. That is roughly 1 in 7.

The system works. Mostly with most riders paying no attention to parking.

2. It Costs Metro Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Build and Maintain “Free” Parking 

Free parking is not free for Metro to build and maintain. Metro has already spent more than $200 million to build station parking. As more parking comes on line, Metro pays more and more to operate and maintain it.

Multi-million dollar investments in parking come with trade-offs. As an agency with a limited taxpayer-funded budget, Metro can choose to fund more buses, more rail, more parking, more freeways, more walkways, bike share, etc. The difficult political job of the agency is to strike a balance between these competing public goods.

Responding to Various Erroneous or Misleading Points  

The Times, ABC7, and even Metro routinely just say “parking” when they’re really referring to just “free parking.” For example, the Times (apparently repeating a Metro assertion) states:

In North Hollywood, where the Red Line subway ends, the MTA estimates that it loses as many as 1,500 riders a day because the parking lot fills up by 7:30 a.m.

Below is a photo of the North Hollywood Red Line Station parking lot at 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Metro Red Line North Hollywood Station today at 7:30am

Metro’s Red Line North Hollywood Station parking lot, which “fills up by 7:30 a.m.” wasn’t full today at 7:30 a.m. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The North Hollywood station parking lot has 909 parking spaces. 451 are free. 425 require a paid monthly permit (currently $59, but sold out.) The free parking section is full, by about 6:30 a.m. The paid section never quite fills up. At 8 a.m. today there were still at least 200 empty spaces. Nonetheless that ’parking lot full by 7:30 a.m.’ myth gets repeated frequently: L.A. MagazineZev’s Blog, Metro board motions [PDF page 6], but the lot is not full. (Note: Laura Nelson responded via Twitter that “full” more-or-less meant “unavailable.”) 

How about the rest of that Times quote of Metro estimating it’s losing 1,500 riders a day? I think this figure from this Metro staff report [PDF] which reads:

Staff conducted a review of parking demand using Metro’s Regional Transportation Modeling Program for the North Hollywood and Universal City stations. The unconstrained parking demand for both stations far exceeds supply. Unconstrained parking demand is defined as the number of spaces required if there are no regulatory or financial restrictions on use of the parking. The 2014 unconstrained parking demand at North Hollywood is 3,075 spaces. Metro provides 951 [sic - actual: 909] spaces, leaving an unconstrained demand of 2,124 parking spaces.

What is this “unconstrained demand” with ”no financial restrictions”? It is meaningless nonsense. Ultimately nothing that exists on planet earth can exist in wholly “unconstrained” theoretical economic cartoon-fantasy-space. Metro needs to balance its constrained budget.

Metro dressing this mumbo-jumbo up in a scientific-sounding “Regional Transportation Modeling Program” is irresponsible.  Read more…

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Motion to Move Forward on Rail-to-River Bikeway Project up for Vote Thursday

The tracks at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

The ROW which would form part of the Western Segment of the proposed Rail-to-River bikeway. Photo taken at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

In a motion before the Metro Executive Management Committee last Thursday morning, County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas cited the successful “transformation of unused or abandoned rail right-of-ways into pedestrian access and bicycle routes” around the country and here in L.A. as support for his call that the Board direct Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy to move forward on the recommendations found in the 212-page feasibility study on the proposed Rail-to-River Bikeway.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), the project would connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.

The proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents the section of the corridor that Metro could move on planning for immediately. Phase 2 (at right) would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to determine which routes were most appropriate and negotiate with BNSF to purchase a section of the ROW. (Source: Feasibility Study)

The active transportation corridor (ATC) project, first proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

So, it was not surprising to see Ridley-Thomas ask that, when the full Board meets this Thursday, October 23, at 9 a.m., it approve his motion directing Leahy to identify and seek funds from Measure R, Cap and Trade, and other sources to facilitate the environmental, design, and outreach efforts recommended by the Feasibility Report.

Even though Ridley-Thomas’ strong support for the project was expected, the motion to move it forward still made me sit up a little straighter.

When I attended the two public meetings held on the corridor project, representatives from both Metro and Alta Planning + Design (consultants on the project) were firm in their suggestions that we not get our hopes up too high. There was no funding attached to the project, they said, and they were only looking at questions of feasibility. These were also the reasons, I was told, for the limited outreach and engagement of the neighbors that live along the corridor.

Not to mention that including the community might have brought other problems with it. Read more…

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CalBike Looks Back at This Year’s Legislative Efforts–and Ahead to the Next

Calbike2The California Bicycle Coalition–CalBike–supports local bicycle advocacy efforts to build better bike networks. It does this in part through its work on state legislation that promotes bicycling and via its efforts to increase the amount of funding available for building better bike infrastructure.

We liked their end-of-session legislative wrap-up, focusing on bikes–an important part of Streetsblog’s beat–so we’re reposting it for you here. We edited it slightly for length.

California is poised to become one of the most bike-innovative states in the nation. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) got a new mission and vision statement this year that is more bicycle friendly, and endorsed progressive street designs. A new State Transportation Agency is shaking up how California traditionally thinks of transportation, and we got to see the first rounds of the Governor’s new “Active Transportation Program.”

While the 2014 legislative session wasn’t ideal in every way, our policymakers took huge steps forward, most importantly with exciting advances toward modern street design. You can find links to exact bill language, fact sheets, and letters to and from lawmakers at the California Bicycle Coalition website here.

We Win Better Bikeways
The California Bicycle Coalition’s main strategy for enabling more people to ride a bike is to get communities to build bicycle-specific infrastructure: networks of paths, protected bike lanes, and calm streets that get people where they need to go, and that are built to be comfortable for anyone ages 8-80. Design rules, outdated laws, and inadequate public investment have been preventing better bikeways for years.

Design rules changed this year. In April, California became the third state to endorse the NACTO Urban Streets Design Guide. “We’re trying to change the mentality of our Department of Transportation,” emphasized Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. The mere endorsement wasn’t enough, however, as the Caltrans Design Chief made clear a few weeks later, stating flatly that “the standards haven’t changed.”

In September, Caltrans took another step by supporting AB 1193, the Protected Bikeways Act. Authored by Assembly Member Phil Ting and the California Bicycle Coalition’s top priority for the 2014 legislative session, this bill has two primary functions:

  • It removes language from the California Highway Design Manual (guidelines for how to design our streets) that  prohibited engineers and planners from building protected bike lanes — bikeways that have been proven to get more people to ride bikes. AB 1193 also requires Caltrans to set “minimum safety design criteria” for protected bike lanes by January 1, 2016. With new design rules, California has a chance to promote the best designs in the country and become a leader in bikeway design.
  • It allows municipalities to use other guidelines for street design, such as the bike-friendly Urban Bikeway Design Guide produced by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

In short, Caltrans and our policymakers are responding to the voices of the people calling for a revolution in street design. A vital next step is to advocate for protected bike lanes locally. You can pledge your support here for protected bike lanes so local advocates can find supporters in your area.

More Funding Approved, but Not Much
More funding is essential to building the infrastructure California needs to get more people to ride bikes. It is also key to economic sustainability. Active transportation infrastructure creates more jobs during construction and supports the local economy during its lifetime.

At $129 million, or barely 1 percent of the state’s transportation budget for biking and walking combined, funding for bike infrastructure is paltry at best.

Read more…

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Eyes on the Street, er, Rails: Foothill Gold Line Extension Tracks Complete

Metro Gold Line

Celebrating the final e-clip on the Metro Foothill Gold Line Extension tracks. Left to right: Doug Tessitor (Glendora), Sam Pedroza (Claremont), John Fasana (Duarte and Metro), Elias Avila (Gold Line construction crew), Habib Balian (Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority), and Andy Peplow (Kiewit Infrastructure.) Photo via The Source

Last Saturday, Foothill communities celebrated a Track Completion Ceremony for the initial phase of the Foothill Gold Line extension. Local leaders installed the final “e-clip” which attached the rail tracks to the rail ties. Streetsblog didn’t actually make it out to Azusa for the event; find coverage at ABC, CBSThe Source, and Railway Age.

The new 11.5-mile Foothill Gold Line extension is now less than a year away from its grand opening completion of construction, expected to take place in late September 2015. The opening will coincide with a cross-San Gabriel Valley multi-city “Golden Streets” open streets event similar to CicLAvia. Additional Gold Line extensions eastward to Ontario Airport are anticipated, but not yet funded or scheduled. To tour the new light rail line virtually, see SBLA’s recent 4-part Foothill Gold Line photo essay: the overall route, the bridges, the large-scale rail maintenance yard, and accompanying Transit-Oriented Development.

The Foothill Gold Line will extend from Pasadena to Azusa, with six new stations slated to open in September 2015. Image via Metro

The Foothill Gold Line will extend from Pasadena to Azusa, with six new stations slated to open soon after construction is complete in September 2015. Image via Metro

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Metro Moving Forward With Flawed Complete Streets Policy

Cover of proposed Metro Complete Streets Policy, approved by Metro's Sustainability Committee today. Image via Metro, full report here.

Cover of proposed Metro Complete Streets Policy, approved by Metro’s Sustainability Committee today. Image via Metro, full report [PDF]

At today’s meeting, the Metro board of directors Ad Hoc Sustainability Committee approved the agency’s proposed Complete Streets Policy [PDF]. The committee approval sends the policy to the full board for anticipated approval at its meeting next Thursday, October 23.

Complete streets policies, broadly, mandate that all streets need to accommodate people using all modes of travel, including walking, bicycling, transit, and driving.

Metro staff in giving their presentation [PDF], expressed that the bulk of regional complete streets implementation occurs outside Metro’s jurisdiction. For the most part, street configurations are the jurisdiction of individual cities.

Metro staff identified two key areas where they assert that Metro has its greatest influence over complete streets implementation:

  • Corridor Planning: Metro is a lead agency in building various projects, most prominently rail, but also highways and other facilities.
  • Transportation Funding: Metro passes funding along to cities (and others) to build projects – including via the Call for Projects.

Seven public speakers, including L.A. County Bicycle Coalition’s Eric Bruins and Safe Routes To School National Partnership’s Jessica Meaney, expressed support for complete streets goals, and criticism of the draft policy. Comments focused on lack of enforceability, equity, performance metrics, as well as overall vagueness. For more details on criticisms expressed, read the Los Angeles County Active Transportation Collaborative comment letter at SRTS.

Sustainability committee members including Duarte City Councilmember John Fasana and L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin’s Transportation Deputy Paul Backstrom portrayed the new policy as “a step in the right direction,” while suggesting that some improvements will need to be made to it over time. The committee approved the policy, and requested that staff return later with proposed metrics.

In recent years, Metro has incorporated commendable complete streets facilities as part of some of its projects; examples include multi-use bike/walk paths along portions of the Metro Orange and Expo Lines. Though these bike and walk facilities are well-used, Metro does not include them in all projects, and tends to invest much greater funding in providing free parking for cars than it does in ensuring safe and convenient walking and bicycling access to its stations.

Metro recently adopted its First Last Mile Strategic Plan. Many Metro projects, though, continue to be rail- and car-focused, with first/last mile bike and pedestrian facilities being poorly-funded afterthoughts unevenly tacked on much later.

What’s in Metro’s proposed Complete Streets policy?  Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: DIY Painting Between the Cracks in Silver Lake

Undisclosed Silver Lake intersection. Photo by Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Public pavement art at an undisclosed Silver Lake intersection. Photo by Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

L.A.’s Department of Do-It-Yourself has been busy piloting some non-Highway-Design-Manual-approved pavement treatments at an undisclosed intersection somewhere in Silver Lake. We’re not going to name the streets for fear that it would make it marginally easier for official city forces to overlay their gray-heavy official design motifs there.

Streetsblog Communities Editor Sahra Sulaiman reports: “By highlighting the many, many cracks in the intersection’s cement, the paint actually makes it easier to see the uneven sections. I think it also helps alert drivers to the fact that the intersection is in terrible condition and someone walking or on a bike might need to navigate it more slowly… so you could make the argument that it is a safety mechanism.”

Readers: What do you think of this intersection? Can anybody tell us who is responsible for the paint work above? What D.I.Y. work have we missed in your neighborhood? If you want, tip SBLA anonymously here.

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Councilmember Cedillo Adds Stop Sign In Response To Fatal Hit-and-Run

New stop sign at Avenue 50 and San Marcos Place in Highland Park. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

New stop sign at Avenue 50 and San Marcos Place in Highland Park. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

On September 14, a hit-and-run driver killed 57-year-old Gloria Ortiz. Ms. Ortiz was walking in a crosswalk in the Northeast Los Angeles community of Highland Park. The hit-and-run crime took place at the intersection of Avenue 50 and San Marcos Place, adjacent to Aldama Street Elementary School. According to KTLA5, witnesses stated that the driver “just ran her over, didn’t even turn back.”

Local residents joke darkly that speeding drivers think Avenue 50 is the name of the speed limit, not the street.

Councilmember Cedillo speaking yesterday in front of Aldama Elementary School. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Councilmember Cedillo speaking yesterday in front of Aldama Elementary School. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Less than a month later, yesterday, community leaders joined Los Angeles Councilmember Gil Cedillo and Transportation Department (LADOT) head Seleta Reynolds to highlight city efforts to make Avenue 50 safer. New stop signs were added to the intersection where Ortiz was killed. The existing somewhat-worn continental crosswalk was freshly re-painted, actually freshly re-thermoplastic-ed. @HLP90042 posted before and after photos at Twitter.

Councilmember Cedillo, who has dragged his heels on safety improvements approved for nearby North Figueroa, spoke on his commitment to “street safety, particularly around schools and where people gather.”

General Manager Reynolds emphasized that “the biggest predictor of fatalities on a street is speed, and the biggest factor in speed on your street is design” and reiterated her department’s commitment to making “safety our number one priority.”

Local resident Monica Alcaraz, president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, praised the city’s quick response in adding the stop sign. She described walking to Aldama School as being safe when she was younger. Today, walking her daughter to the school, she fears for their safety. Alcaraz stated that Avenue 50 is dangerous when parents are making illegal U-turns and double-parking at school drop-off and pick-up times, and, then, when the students aren’t around, Avenue 50 is dangerous because so many drivers speed. Alcaraz urged LAPD to spend more time on traffic enforcement there to prevent future tragedies.

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Thoughts at a Workshop On Replacing CA’s Gas Tax With a Mileage Fee

In 2017, California plans to pilot a new mileage-based Road User Charge designed to potentially replace the current state gas tax. Photo Wikimedia

Earlier this week, I attended a California Sustainable Transportation Funding Workshop, hosted by Caltrans, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), the California Transportation Commission (CTC), and the Mileage-Based User Fee Alliance (MBUFA). The half-day program focused on how the state of California could shift from our current gas tax funding stream to one based on a per-mile fee.

Let me first say that I usually mostly hang out with a bunch of left-of-center city people like me; we get around mostly by bicycling and walking. My friends and colleagues tend to support the idea of a per-mile fee, because we expect that it could help motivate people to drive less, and use other modes more.

This workshop wasn’t populated by a bunch of people like me. I don’t think anyone else arrived there by bicycle. As far as I could tell, it was primarily people who are more mainstream: people who drive and who, for the foreseeable future, expect our car-centric transportation system to look more or less like it does now. Among the program’s sponsors was the libertarian Reason Foundation.

What was interesting about the workshop was where the left and the right agreed: gas tax revenues aren’t enough to cover transportation infrastructure costs, and per-mile fees could work better. Similar right-left agreements occur with some Shoup-inspired parking reforms and Express Lane toll programs.

California's Gas Tax

In 1994, California’s Gas Tax was set at 18 cents per gallon. It remains unchanged today, but, due to inflation, that 18 cents is now worth about 11 cents. Graph via Caltrans

Speakers at the conference set the stage by describing the situation, which they described as “The Federal & California Financial Cliff.” The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon. The California gas tax is an additional 18 cents per gallon. These amounts were set in the early 1990s. Unlike percentage-based sales taxes, which fluctuate with price changes, the gas tax remains at a flat rate. Since the ’90s, inflation has effectively reduced California’s gas tax to its lowest inflation-adjusted level since California gas taxes began in 1923.

Gas taxes are dedicated to be spent on transportation only. As the gas taxes lose value over time, governmental transportation budgets are increasingly subsidized by other taxes paid by everyone, including sales taxes, property taxes, etc. Recent estimates show that only about half of overall transportation funding is paid for by dedicated gas tax revenues. To some extent, this is fair: even non-drivers derive some benefits from highways, because everyone buys goods shipped by truck. The unfair aspect of this system is that non-drivers’ taxes go, in part, to freeways that non-drivers do not use.

Transportation leaders are generally aware that general funds subsidize transportation expenditures, but many drivers assume that driving-based taxes are what pays for roads. Many drivers, though already subsidized by non-drivers, still think they’re paying too much.

There are at least three more factors that influence the gas-tax-income vs. transportation-expenditures mismatch.  Read more…

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Construction Updates, the Naming of Stations, and More at Tonight’s Meeting on the Crenshaw Line

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.53.06 AMThe Crenshaw Leadership Council (CLC) will be holding their quarterly meeting on the progress of the Crenshaw/LAX line tonight from 6 – 8 p.m. at Dulan’s on Crenshaw (4859 Crenshaw Boulevard).

The meeting will provide updates from the work of the small groups, or PODs (Project Oriented Discussions), the CLC supports — Small Business Resources, Economic Development, Transit-Oriented Development, and Safety.

You will also have the opportunity to learn about Metro’s station naming policy and offer feedback on the station names currently under consideration. Should the stations be named after a neighborhood? A landmark structure? A historic figure? A living one (don’t laugh — Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky might just get their own stops)? Drop by the meeting to offer your thoughts and get some soul food while you’re at it.

Finally, the meeting will provide updates on construction, including the upcoming 2-week closure at Crenshaw Bl. and Rodeo Rd. Read more…

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Heads Up: No Added Bicycle Capacity on Metrolink For Sunday’s CicLAvia

Metrolink has these great trains to carry lots of bikes... But don't look for them this Sunday. Image via The Source

Metrolink has these great trains to carry lots of bikes… Just don’t look for them this Sunday. Image via The Source

(Editor’s Note: Sorry to run this disappointing news announced by Metrolink, when we’re otherwise really excited about CicLAvia this Sunday. Don’t forget, though, bicycles are not required equipment. There are lots of great CicLAvia attractions located within easy walking distance from Union Station! Including a pedestrian zone in the Broadway Historic Theater area. Also, don’t forget that there are plenty of Metro rail and bus connections to the route – see this article at The Source for details. What’s the solution, readers? Should cyclists press Metrolink for better service? Should Metro press Metrolink? Can we get bike share? Host more CicLAvias? Should far-flung CicLAvia participants just drive? Let us know in the comments below.) 

Anyone who thought they will be able to take their bicycle to CicLAvia with them on Metrolink’s trains this upcoming Sunday will likely be in for an unwelcome surprise.

Metrolink has decided that they will no longer be adding bicycle cars to their trains, nor will they be adding any extra trains to their pared-down Sunday schedules despite the common knowledge that CicLAvia is a very popular event, with lots of cyclists riding Metrolink trains to attend:

The reason given is that it takes 6 weeks for trains to be reconfigured to remove the bike cars and return the sets (or “consists” in American Railroad-ese) to their normal state: Read more…