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Guest Opinion: Uber And Lyft, A Solution To L.A.’s First Last Mile Dilemma?

Can Uber and Lyft play a big role in solving Metro's first/last mile? Graphic via Lyft

Uber and Lyft can play a big role in transporting Metro riders first and last mile. Bay Area Lyft Graphic via Lyft

The Los Angeles City Council should be commended for its recent approval of Uber and Lyft pick-ups at LAX. By recognizing these services’ enduring appeal for airport travelers, Los Angeles’ city government now stands at the forefront of municipal ride-hail regulation.

And yet, merely adapting to these ride-hail services’ presence will deny the city a crucial opportunity.

As Los Angeles officially commits itself to a transport system untethered to the single-family automobile, the city (and the regional transit agency, Metro) should utilize the popularity of ride-hail services to get more people out of their cars and on to public transit.

Given that Los Angeles County is geographically-dispersed and that vast tracts of single-family residential zones separate major commercial corridors, the Los Angeles County Metro’s burgeoning rail transit system has faced difficulty accommodating riders who reside or work at a distance from transit stations.

Metro’s attempts to solve the “first mile-last mile” gap through parking have largely floundered   The free parking at stations like North Hollywood fills to capacity early in the morning on weekdays. Proposals to charge for parking at North Hollywood and similar stations may free up some space but will inevitably turn away a portion of transit riders (particularly the all-day commuters who benefit from the current scenario.) Building more parking, on the other hand, is prohibitively expensive due to a combination of limited building space and exorbitant costs.

At the same time, local bus service to a rail station – constricted to major arterials – can be as difficult to access as the station itself and bears the added limitation of a fixed and limited schedule.

Finally, “Active Transportation” modes like walking and bicycling, the subject of Metro’s recent First Mile Last Mile Strategic Plan (pages 13 to 14), also tend toward the slower end. Even in the most congested American cities, walking is always slower than driving and bicycling only saves time over driving at rush hour. Active transportation also excludes many transit riders with physical impairments.

By offering on-demand service with compact vehicles, ride-hail services are well-positioned to transport passengers from disparate locations to nearby transit stations on a flexible basis.

Though they can become costly for long-distance trips, ride-hail services’ low per-mile costs, particularly on their shared-ride services, make them incredibly reasonable on short journeys, A shared-ride option like UberPool could shuttle transit riders with an origin or destination as distant as four miles away from a station for under six dollars, disregarding surge fares, for a complete trip of eight dollars or less. By comparison, the average car ride in the United States costs around 5 dollars in gas and side costs (this does not account for the higher-than-average price of both parking and gas in Los Angeles.)

Across Metro’s ten extant or soon-to-be-completed rail and bus rapid transit lines, ride-hail services can potentially offer flexible access to as many as six million people (based on subtracting the figure cited in Metro’s First Mile, Last Mile Strategic Plan, page 1, from the approximate figure of 1.5 million people within a half mile radius of current rail lines, extrapolated from this chart) located within a few miles but beyond immediate walking distance from stations for a cost competitive with the automobile.

As a former driver for Lyft myself, I can personally attest that a portion of the population uses ride-hail services in this matter.

And yet, because most stations have limited loading and parking space and because many drivers are unfamiliar with station layouts,  arranging a ride-hail pick-up becomes difficult for those who do not plan carefully. Read more…


City Hall Vision Zero Forum Foreshadows Culture Change for L.A.

National Vision Zero advocate Leah Shahum speaking at L.A. City Hall last night. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

National Vision Zero advocate Leah Shahum speaking at L.A. City Hall last night. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Last night, the city of Los Angeles welcomed national safe streets advocate Leah Shahum at a forum discussing what Vision Zero will mean for Los Angeles.

For the uninitiated, Vision Zero is a road safety policy that adopts the goal of zero traffic deaths. That zero applies to everyone: people walking, driving, riding, etc. Vision Zero stems from the principle that traffic deaths are preventable and unacceptable.

The concept originated in Sweden in the 1990s and has spread to many cities in the United States. When the City Council approved Mobility Plan 2035 last month, Los Angeles became the 9th U.S. city to adopt Vision Zero. The reach of L.A.’s Vision Zero policy was extended to all city departments by Mayor Eric Garcetti via a recent mayoral executive directive. Garcetti’s directive mandates that numerous city departments work together with community groups to reduce L.A. traffic deaths to zero by 2025. The directive also includes an interim goal of reducing traffic deaths by 20 percent by 2017.

Yesterday’s forum was introduced by livability champion Councilmember Jose Huizar, who sounded an optimistic note about changes underway in the city. After adoption of Vision Zero in the Mobility Plan, Huizar declared that new ways of thinking mean “no more pilots.”

Leah Shahum heads the national non-profit Vision Zero Network. Below are some key points in her presentation:  Read more…

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Metro Board Passes Ridley-Thomas Motions: Loan Fund, College Student Pass

California's Strategic Growth Council has awarded the city of Los Angeles a half-million dollar grant for a study that will make it easier to build infill housing in Transit Priority Areas, similar to this transit-oriented development above the Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Under a motion passed today, Metro will provide loan support to transit-oriented businesses, such as this ground-floor retail above the Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At this morning’s Metro Board of Directors meeting, County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas shepherded the passage of two worthwhile motions that advance local livability. The motions are detailed below:

Community College Student Passes

The board unanimously approved a Ridley-Thomas motion that directs Metro’s CEO to report back in 60 days regarding current college TAP programs and the feasibility of piloting a “Universal Community College Student Transit Pass Program.” Benefits of these types of programs include increased transit ridership, reduced driving, and reduced traffic congestion.

It is not clear how student passes would be funded, though the motion includes a number of possible funding options:

In addition to the “opt-in” increase in student registration fees, the costs of such a program could be subsidized by the college, as it will reduce parking demands. In addition, Metro could solicit additional resources through the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee. Later this Fall, the Metro must also provide a proposal to the State of California on how we propose to spend approximately $30 million of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund/Low Carbon Transit Operations Program revenue that is expected to be allocated to the agency through the State’s Cap and Trade Program; a revenue source that is anticipated to grow in the coming years. Given the focus on increasing ridership, this may also be a viable funding source for a Universal Pass program.

Transit-Oriented Housing/Business Loan Fund

As a result of a November, 2014, motion authored by then-Chair L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, as well as the leadership of new CEO Phil Washington, Metro is stepping up its involvement in affordable housing. Among recent developments on this, Metro has upped its targets for affordable housing in joint development projects, and retooled its development policies to allow discounted land prices to incentivize affordability. In March, Metro set aside $10 million ($2 million per year for five years) for a loan fund primarily supporting transit-oriented affordable housing. The way this fund will work is still taking shape.

Read more…


Open Thread: Metro Considering Bus Stop Thinning In Network Plan

Metro is looking to thin many of its bus stops as part of its proposed bus service reorganization.  Photo: Fred Camino/Metro Rider

Metro is looking to thin nearby bus stops as part of its proposed bus service reorganization. Photo: Fred Camino/Metro Rider

As part of its big bus service re-organization, now called the Strategic Bus Network Plan (SBNP), Metro is proposing “stop thinning,” which basically means eliminating numerous bus stops that are too close to each other. According to a recent Metro staff report [PDF] the SBNP is “expected to be presented to the Board for approval in October or November 2015.” When I analyzed Metro’s proposal in July, it was still very much in draft form, with contradictory and unclear components.

My go-to transit expert Jarrett Walker calls stop spacing “the endless, thankless, and essential struggle.” Walker reports that the U.S. generally has stops closer together than in Europe and Australia. He favors thinning stops to rationalize stop spacing primarily because “if you can get people to gather at fewer stops, you get a faster service.” Additional benefits Walker cites are improved health from walking, and “[f]ewer stops also means more people at each stop, which improves personal security and also justifies better infrastructure.”

With Metro’s bus operations budget flat, and population growth and car traffic increasing, if the agency does nothing, then bus service will deteriorate over time. Thinning stops appropriately can help to keep buses moving.

On the other hand, there are trade-offs. Some legitimate, some less so.

It is critical to maintain access for people with disabilities. In a review of Metro’s proposal published at KCET, D.J. Waldie raised this point, remarking that “stop thinning — at least a 1/4 mile spacing between stops — will require the elderly, the disabled, and riders with small children to walk further on sidewalks that require more than a billion dollars in repairs.”

Most resistance is somewhat less legitimate. Again from Walker: “Politically, though, stop removal is hard. People whose ride will be faster usually don’t make a lot of positive comments when such things are proposed, but you do hear from people who are going to lose their stop, and their neighbors and friends.  So these proposals often get beaten down.”

Read more…


Azusa Dedicates Two New Gold Line Stations, Service Expected 2016

Metro CEO Phil Washington speaking at the Azusa stations dedication last Satursday. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro CEO Phil Washington speaking at the standing-room only Azusa Downtown Station and APU/Citrus College Station dedication ceremonies last Satursday. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Over a thousand people turned out in the September heat to attend last Saturday’s dedication celebration for two new Foothill Gold Line extension stations: Downtown Azusa and Azusa Pacific University/Citrus College. Though actual train service is anticipated to start in 2016, the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority has been celebrating concluding station and rail line construction, as many speakers repeated, “on time and on budget.” The new extension extends 11.5 miles from Pasadena to Azusa.

Federal, county, and municpal elected officials pledged to work together to continue to extend the Gold Line. Proponents want to extend the line to Montclair, and further to Ontario Airport.

Metro CEO Phil Washington gave some indication of the anticipated schedule for the line opening, stating that Metro will take control of the facilities this Wednesday, September 23, and will then begin extensive testing. Washington anticipated that roughly 30 days later, Metro will announce the opening date for the Foothill Gold Line Extension. Barring any unforeseen construction issues that may become apparent during testing, the opening is anticipated to be Spring, 2016. There are still a lot of moving pieces, but both the new Gold Line and Expo Line extensions potentially face somewhat infrequent (12-minute headways) initial service due to a short supply of light rail cars, with more frequent service likely commencing in late 2016, as new cars become available.


Among the ways to keep cool were these “Next Stop Azusa” fans.

Read more…


A Look at LADOT’s Annual Report and Bike Lane Implementation

LADOT's 2014-2015 Annual Report [PDF]

LADOT’s 2014-2015 Annual Report [PDF]

The city of Los Angeles Transportation Department (LADOT) released its fiscal year 2014-2015 Annual Report [PDF] last week.

From the LADOT General Manager’s message introducing the report:

This year alone, we responded to 18,381 citizen requests, installed 38.2 miles of bikeways, helped Angelenos get to 300 special events, and kept Metro on track to deliver 26 new miles of light rail transit.

Our Strategic Plan calls on us to deliver safe, beautiful, and comfortable streets for all modes of transportation. We depend on community champions and partners to be our eyes and ears on Los Angeles’ 7,500 miles of streets. Please consider this annual report a heartfelt thank you to the hundreds of community organizers, business leaders, academics, and residents who help us achieve the City’s goals.

There is a lot in the report. LADOT’s commitment to improving safety, under the Vision Zero framework, leads off prominently. There is information on slurry-to-striping turnaround time (greatly improved) plus CicLAvia, leading pedestrian intervals, parking signage, outstanding employees, coordination with Metro rail construction, complete streets, green taxicabs, and much more.

In their critiques, some cyclists have focused on the fact that LADOT is counting bike lane mileage differently than it had in the past. Commentaries by BikeLA and Biking in L.A. suggest that LADOT’s counts appear to be a way of obscuring the lack of bikeway implementation.

In the past, LADOT reported one mile of “center-line” bike lane which actually meant two bike lanes, one mile in each direction. Now LADOT is measuring bike facilities as “lane-miles,” so one mile counts as two.

The response from LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds on the new counting method is that “LADOT is now measuring by the same yardstick as other urban bicycling cities like NY and SF. More importantly, it is a more refined and accurate measurement of our bikeway assets and it allows for better planning of our resources.” The higher bikeway numbers may be interpreted as more momentum and more to celebrate.

Nonetheless, the pace of bike lane implementation is down somewhat.

And this might be OK.  Read more…


Metro Bike-Share Update: 2016 Opening On Track, With No Title Sponsor

Preview of what Metro bike-share bikes will look like when they arrive in downtown L.A. in mid-2016. Image via Metro staff report

Preview of what Metro bike-share bikes will look like when they arrive in downtown L.A. in mid-2016. Image via Metro staff report [PDF]

A few new bike-share details emerged at yesterday’s Metro Planning and Programming Committee meeting. Overall, Metro bike-share is on track to open in mid-2016 in downtown Los Angeles with 1000+bikes at 60+kiosks.

The bike-share item before the committee was just a receive and file update [PDF], with no action taken.

Metro published a request for proposals for bike-share title sponsorship in July. No sponsors submitted proposals by the late-August deadline, so system implementation is planned to proceed without a title sponsor. Metro staff are arranging for a contract modification to bring their bike-share vendor, Bicycle Transportation Systems (BTS), in to assist with procuring sponsorship. After boardmember Sheila Kuehl stressed the need that a sponsor be “suitable,” Metro staff clarified that BTS would provide technical assistance, but selection of a sponsor would ultimately be up to Metro.

Staff clarified that lack of a title sponsor would not impact the initial roll-out in 2016, but leaves some questions over where continuing Metro funding would come from.

One of the key questions facing Metro is “interoperability.” With Santa Monica opening its Breeze bike-share this year, Metro’s board and others have been pressing to make multiple local systems as easy as possible for riders to use.  Read more…


Rowena Avenue Forum Reveals Significant Common Ground

Silver Lake's half-mile Rowena Avenue road diet. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Silver Lake’s half-mile Rowena Avenue road diet. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

In 2012, Ashley Sandau was walking across Rowena Avenue and was hit and killed by a motorist. Then-Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge spearheaded efforts to make Rowena safer. The city Transportation Department (LADOT) implemented a road diet on Rowena. The street had two travel lanes in each direction. These were reduced to one travel lane each direction, plus a center left turn lane and bike lanes. LADOT studies have found that post-diet Rowena supports roughly the same volume of cars as pre-diet, but does so with reduced speeds and fewer collisions.

A group of Silver Lake residents are frustrated with the Rowena road diet and urging the current Councilmember David Ryu to undo the safety improvements. Road diet opponents have a website and petition, and have attracted the attention of the L.A. Times.

Last night, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council held a town hall meeting to discuss the Rowena road diet. The event was held at Ivanhoe Elementary School. Approximately 200 people attended.

Attendees initially directed questions to a panel of city representatives – LADOT, plus police and fire representatives – plus pro- and anti-road diet leaders and Councilmember Ryu’s Chief of Staff. The questions were mostly fielded by LADOT, represented by engineer Tim Fremaux, who stressed that the diet was a proven safety measure intended to slow speeds and make crossing safer, with bike lanes that “do not connect to anywhere” just “icing on the cake.”

After the questioning, the meeting shifted to public comment. While there were certainly vocal road diet opponents expressing comments, the sentiment ran about two-thirds in favor of the road diet, with many Silver Lake residents expressing that they do bike and walk, and do want to make the neighborhood more conducive to these modes.

While one couple that live on Rowena described the post-diet street as a “living nightmare,” most commenters expressed that Rowena had been improved and could be made even better – more of a commercial village “more like Larchmont.” The largest quantities of critical comments were mostly not focused on Rowena Avenue itself, but on cut-through traffic impacting nearby parallel streets, especially Angus Street to the south, and Waverly Drive to the north. One Angus resident decried that calming Rowena had “pushed millions of drivers onto our street.”  Read more…

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Metro Celebrates New El Monte Bike Hub, First of Several

Metro chair Mark Ridley-Thomas cuts the ceremonial ribbon on Metro's El Monte bike hub. To his right are Board Vice Chair John Fasana, and Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas (center) cuts the ceremonial ribbon on Metro’s El Monte bike hub. To his right are Board Vice Chair John Fasana, and Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro celebrated the opening of the agency’s first bike hub this morning in El Monte. The hub is located at the El Monte Transit Center, a very quick 15-minute, 12-mile Metro Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit trip from downtown Los Angeles.

The hub combines secure bike parking with a small bike shop staffed weekdays, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. The indoor space holds up to 56 bikes. Securing a bike there requires pre-registration and costs $60 for a whole year, $12 for 30 days, or $5 for a week. The facility is operated by BikeHub. See their website for lots more details.

Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas, Board First Vice Chair John Fasana, and Deputy Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Wiggins were on hand to speak to the press, celebrate, and cut ribbon and cake. In his remarks, Fasana called for expanding Metro bike share to this location, though that’s likely to take some time.

Metro plans to open additional bike hubs at Metro rail stations in North Hollywood, Hollywood, Culver City, and Union Station in the next couple years. See future hub details at The SourceRead more…


Metro Saddles NoHo Station Redevelopment With $48M Parking Expansion

Metro's North Hollywood parcels, now up for possible redevelopment. Image via Metro

Metro’s North Hollywood parcels, now up for possible redevelopment. Image via Metro

In a recent post at The Source, Metro announced a new call for joint development at four large parcels of land at and adjacent to its North Hollywood Red and Orange Line Stations. Curbed L.A. reports that the NoHo parcels could include an estimated 750 to 1,500 units of housing, up to 12 stories tall. Hopefully, plenty of that housing will be affordable, based on Metro’s recently adopted joint development policies.

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) will be a good thing for North Hollywood, for Metro, for Los Angeles. But is this truly TOD?

The issue here is parking.

Lots and lots and lots of parking.

The Source article completely misuses the term “replacement parking.”

The current NoHo lot has 957 spaces and another 194 spaces are in the process of being added on the north side of Chandler Avenue east of the current lot. Parking at NoHo Station is heavily used with most sites taken each morning and many NoHo riders say the parking makes it possible for them to take transit. If the current lots are developed, Metro plans to ask for 2,000 replacement spaces for transit riders in parking lots and/or garages to be constructed in addition to parking needed for residents and retail. That would almost double the current parking available at the station for Red Line and Orange Line riders.

What is “replacement parking”? When a development takes away existing parking, the developer may be required to replace parking spaces that have been taken away. Is asking for 2,000 spaces to replace 1,151 spaces credibly “replacement parking”? No. It’s a massive expansion. Cities and transit agencies (for example, BART [PDF]) generally require 1 to 1 replacement parking. Even 1 to 1 replacement hurts walkability, livability, and affordability.

Metro isn’t asking for replacement parking. It is asking for a massive parking expansion. A massively expensive parking expansion.

At an estimated cost of $24,000 per parking space in an elevated structure (amount from Don Shoup – and it will likely be upwards of $34,000 per space for any underground parking) then Metro is saddling this redevelopment with an up-front cost of $48 million, just for parking for Metro. As The Source mentions, that’s not counting additional parking for people who will live or shop there.  Read more…