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A Preview of Metro’s $5.6 Billion Fiscal Year 2016 Budget

Metro's FY2016 budget breakdown - roughly one third image via Metro April handout [PDF]

Metro’s FY2016 budget breakdown – roughly one third each capital, operations, and financing/support. Image detail from Metro April handout [PDF]

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, April 25, the Metro Board of Directors is hosting a public meeting to receive input on the agency’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2016. It is expected that the Board of Directors will approve the budget at their May meeting.

The agenda for tomorrow is slim, with no supporting materials. Since January, though, at Metro’s monthly Finance, Budget and Audit committee meetings there have been a number of presentations outlining what to expect in the upcoming budget:

  • January: FY16 Budget Planning Parameters – report [PDF] handout [PDF]
  • February: FY16 Capital Program Budget – report [PDF] handout [PDF]
  • March: FY16 Operations Budget – report [PDF]
  • April: FY16 Budget (overall – focused on staffing) – report [PDF] handout [PDF]
  • April: FY16 Budget (public engagement – not particularly informative) – report [PDF] handout [PDF]

The budget is, of course, massively important in showing what an agency actually prioritizes. It is also a massively opaque document and not a great opportunity for the public to easily leverage changes. I also cannot claim to be any kind of budgetary expert. In the past I mostly paid attention to the 0.0 percent of the Metro budget that went to walking and bicycling. Nonetheless, I’ve been paying some attention to the bigger picture this year and I’ll pass on some highlights.

Metro’s proposed FY16 budget totals $5.568 billion in expenditures. This is a $53.4 million (one percent) increase from the $5.515 billion in the FY15 budget. The $5.6 billion breaks into roughly thirds:

  • Engineering and Construction: $1.84 billion (33.1 percent)
  • Operations: $1.73 billion (31.0 percent)
  • Support Services – includes financing: $1.07 billion (28.6 percent)

Planning, development, and congestion reduction programs constitute the other 7.2 percent. These figures are based on the April handout [PDF] with percentages calculated here.

The overall revenue picture, as far as I can tell, is less clear. I haven’t found an overall income breakdown.

Perhaps the most contentious item on the revenue side would be fares. Metro’s overall budget assumes “no adjustments in fare structure from the September 15, 2014 fare increase” including maintaining the current student fare, which was frozen at that time. The FY16 estimated fare revenue of $363.2 million, a 3.5 percent increase from FY15’s $351.1 million, is due to a full year of the fare increase, plus some additional ridership increase from the Expo Phase 2 and Gold line Foothill Extension rail lines expected to open in early to mid-2016.

Overall the FY16 budget assumes no increase in bus service. The only additional transit service planned will be the new Expo and Gold Line extensions.

Percentage change

Percentage change in Metro Boardings 2011-2014. Overall ridership has been declining since early 2014. Image via Metro March budget handout [PDF]

The FY16 budget assumes that Metro ridership will continue to decline by 5 percent in FY16. Read more…

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As SCAG Talks Environmental Justice, Tea Party Group Hones in on E.D.

Each red dot on this map is a concentration of 1000 low income households. The green is the parkland in the 6 county SCAG region. Click on the map for a larger version.

Each red dot on this map is a concentration of 1,000 low-income households. The green is the parkland in the six-county SCAG region. Access to these parks is one issue that SCAG is trying to deal with in its Environmental Justice planning. Click on the map for a larger version. Graphic via SCAG.

Regional planning documents and hearings are hardly exciting to write about. Interminably long public meetings, wonky terms, never-ending studies. It’s one reason that Streetsblog hardly covers the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), even though the regional plan it puts out is incredibly important in determining which projects receive federal funds and which ones don’t.

Fortunately for the sake of clicks and page views, but unfortunately for public policy, the Tea Party is taking aim at SCAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata just as the agency is holding Environmental Justice workshops in advance of the 2016 Regional Plan. Meeting details for its second of two outreach meetings are at the bottom of this post. You can also email comments on the plan to johnson@scag.ca.gov​.

SCAG is required to provide an explanation of how its regional planning impacts disadvantaged communities and communities of color. Advocacy groups have rightly noted that this requirement is one lever that can be used to re-direct funds away from the types of highway projects that have traditionally divided minority and less-affluent communities and instead use it to reinvest in those areas by providing better access to parks and public transit, more open space, and safer and more attractive facilities for walking, bicycling, or just being outside.

Coverage of the current SCAG efforts on Environmental Justice by Climate Plan and the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership help explain in greater detail how these meetings, and this part of the plan, provide excellent opportunity to increase the investment in active transportation and disadvantaged communities for anyone who wants to learn more.

The post by Climate Plan is particularly interesting as it calls for, in the wonky way that regional planners prefer, better outreach to disadvantaged and communities of color, creating environmental justice metrics and tracking that can be broken down for each of the six counties in the SCAG region and a full analysis on the health impacts that the poor air quality created by Southern California’s freeways has on the communities they cut through.

If all of Climate Plan’s suggestions become part of the regional plan, it would have an impact on what kinds of projects get built similar to a Measure R2 that sets aside hundreds of millions of dollars for active transportation. Maybe not right away, but it would change the way the region talks about transportation.

Any chance that will happen would go away if the public comment they receive is dominated by people asking for greater investment in our already sprawling and gigantic highway system.

But just as SCAG is holding these meetings, Grindal61, a tea party videographer, launched an attack on SCAG’s executive director in a video subtly titled, “COMMUNIST GODFATHER KINGPIN HASAN IKHRATA DEFENDS HIS AGENDA 21 POLICIES.” Read more…

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Fourteen Artists Named for the Crenshaw Line; What Can We Expect to See From Them?

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Middlebrook’s rich mosaics depict themes of connectivity among diverse populations and between humans and the Earth. (click to enlarge) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Crenshaw Boulevard may be chaotic to navigate due to the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line at the moment, but good things appear to be in the works. The Source reported Wednesday that the new stations will be graced with works from a diverse mix of 14 artists.

If you’ve ridden any of the rail lines, you’ve probably noticed that the stations are unique and play host to artwork that is intended to ground the stations in or make some connection with the surrounding community. This is because 0.5 percent of rail construction project costs are put towards the creation and installation of original artwork at each station.

The formal linking of art with transit began in the 1970s, according to a best practices report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). After the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) offered its support for high quality art and design in federally-funded transit projects and the National Endowment for the Arts published a case study of federal design projects, then-President Jimmy Carter asked the DOT to take a step further and support projects that contributed to the architectural and cultural heritage of local communities. As a result, in 1978, Boston, Atlanta, and Baltimore received official support from the Design, Art and Architecture program for permanent public art projects. Boston’s Art on the Line program, which grew out of that initiative, helped set the standard for the integration of public art in transit systems around the country.

I Dreamed I Could Fly

I Dreamed I Could Fly, by Jonathan Borofsky (1993), unfortunately always conjures 9/11 for me.

The 0.5% of construction costs that Metro allocates for art projects is the minimum required by the Federal Transit Authority (the maximum is 5%), and smaller than the national average APTA cites as being between 1% and 2%. But, since 1989, that 0.5% has allowed the Metro Art program to commission over 250 artists for temporary or permanent projects at transit stations.

The projects range from the beautiful Festival of Masks Parade mural by Frank Romero at Wilshire/Normandie, to the intriguing About Place, About Face installation of 27 larger-than-life faces of area residents by Rob Nielson at the Pico-Aliso station, to the downright puzzling and possibly disturbing I Dreamed I Could Fly installation of what appears to be people falling from the sky by Jonathan Borofsky at Wilshire/Vermont (at right). See the full art guide, here.

Putting art in transit stations, says APTA, encourages ridership, improves perceptions of transit, conveys a sense of customer care, enhances community livability, improves customer experiences, improves organizational identity for transit agencies, deters vandalism, and increases safety and security. Which are all fantastic arguments for integrating art at key (and, generally, heavily neglected) bus stops, I might add, but I digress.

In selecting the finalists for the Crenshaw Line, The Source reports that the selection panel assessed how the proposed works would relate to the sites and surrounding communities, while also engaging and enhancing the transit rider’s experience along the line. The final works will take a variety of forms — the artists all work in a variety of media — and be fortified by glass, tile, stainless steel, mosaics, or porcelain enamel.

So, whose work can you look forward to seeing and what kind of work have they done in the past? Read more…

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Metro’s North 710 Freeway Tunnel Study Meetings in High Gear, Pasadena Working Group Offers Brainy Alternatives

Last Saturday's SR-710 study meeting at East L.A. College. 710 Freeway meetings continue tonight in Pasadena. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Last weekend’s SR-710 North Study meeting at East L.A. College. 710 Freeway meetings continue tonight in Pasadena. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Smart people live in Pasadena. Some of them work for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and send probes to Mars. Others spend their days figuring out quantum mechanics at Caltech. And still others dabble in transportation. A study group formed by Pasadena’s Mayor Bill Bogaard and its City Manager has a smart idea in response to L.A. Metro’s study to link the stub end of the 210 with the end of the 710: instead of closing this “gap” in our freeways, rip out the 210’s stub along Pasadena Avenue.

That’s just one recommendation in a recently completed white paper written by the Pasadena SR-710 Alternative Working Group (PWG), in response to Metro’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on linking the 710 with the 210. Metro is holding a series of public meetings on its EIR. The next one is tonight at the Pasadena Convention Center.

The connection between the 710 and 210 would be 6.3 miles long and would include a 4.2-mile tunnel. It will cost between $5.7 billion and $3.2 billion, depending on options. Measure R, the 2008 ballot measure authorizing a sales tax to improve mobility, committed $780 million for the project.

During a 710 debate held at Cal State L.A., Barbara Messina, a Councilmember for the City of Alhambra, echoed Metro’s studies when she called the “gap” the “missing link that does not allow our
freeways to operate at maximum efficiency.” And if you believe that, I have a recently widened 405 to sell you. Messina said the tunnel will reduce pollution. “There’s no way adding fifty-thousand cars can improve air quality,” said Michael Cacciotti, a Councilmember for the City of South Pasadena and another panelist, adding that the tunnel is an Eisenhower-era solution. “Why waste billions on a short little tunnel when you can connect the region with Light Rail?”

Indeed, the Metro study does present transit “alternatives.” But they don’t seem credible.

Take the Bus Rapid Transit option. Outside rush hour, the “bus-only” lane reverts to a parking lane. It is dubious that such a watered-down BRT differs enough from the “no build” alternative
to qualify.

The Light Rail option in the study is more tangible: it would run from the Fillmore Gold Line station to the East LA Civic Center Station at a cost of $2.4 billion. The segment in Pasadena
would be underground, continuing on a viaduct for the trip through Alhambra. “Who wants to see an LRT three miles up in the air like the Disney Monorail!” said Messina at the Cal State L.A. debate. “LRT will devastate East L.A.”

Messina’s hyperbole aside, Metro’s rail alternative also raises questions.  Read more…

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Metro Proposes New Letter Designations for Rail and BRT Lines

The proposed new Metro rail/BRT system map, showing proposed letter designations. Image via Metro [PDF]

The proposed new Metro rail/BRT system map, showing proposed letter designations. Image via Metro [PDF]

Metro is proposing new “Letter Designations for Fixed Guideway Lines.” Basically, all Metro rail lines, plus the Orange and Silver BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines, would receive a letter designation. The letter would largely replace the current colors. For example, the Metro Red Line would become the “B Line.” The proposed changes are outlined in this presentation [PDF] for April Service Council meetings. The item is not on Board committee meeting agendas for this month, so the proposal will likely go to the full Metro Board of Directors in May or later.

New letter designations proposed by Metro. Image via Metro [PDF]

New letter designations proposed by Metro. Image via Metro [PDF]

Metro would name lines in letter order, starting with the first line to open, and would skip a few letters that are used for other things:

  • Blue Line (plus the Pasadena-Foothill Gold Line) would become the A Line
  • Red Line would become B Line
  • Purple Line would become C Line
  • Green Line would becomes D Line

This re-naming becomes necessary in 2020, when the under-construction Regional Connector subway is expected to open. The Regional Connector will tie together the Blue, Gold, and Expo lines. For years though, the agency has been clear about Regional Connector operations, which will include a one-seat ride from Long Beach to Pasadena-Azusa, and from East L.A. to Santa Monica.

One interesting new factoid in the presentation is this glimpse at one planned future operating scheme for the Green and Crenshaw lines around LAX. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Metro’s Stand Up 4 Transportation Rally

Metro Interim CEO Stephanie Wiggins urges congress to Stand Up 4 Transportation this morning's rally in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro Interim CEO Stephanie Wiggins urges congress to Stand Up 4 Transportation at this morning’s rally in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

As today’s Streetsblog USA post related, transit supporters across the U.S. are hosting events today to “Stand Up 4 Transportation.” Metro hosted its rally this morning at Patasaouras Plaza at L.A. Union Station. The event featured Los Angeles Congressional representatives Judy Chu and Maxine Waters, and a host of L.A.’s labor, business, and transportation leaders, all calling on congress to renew investment in transportation infrastructure.

Transit riders have a lot to lose if partisan battles in Washington do not find their way to reauthorizing a federal transportation bill. With the gas tax providing a shrinking portion of overall transportation funding, there are lots of stopgap ideas floating around to address the immediate shortfall. If Congress presses forward with “devolution” – basically eliminating the federal gas tax and having states go their own way – Metro transit construction and operations would face an uncertain future.

Stand Up 4 Transportation is the brainchild of the American Public Transit Association (APTA). See APTA’s coverage showing the extent of the national campaign. Follow the full congressional reauthorization drama at Streetsblog USA.

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Five New Miles Of Wilshire Peak-Hour Bus-Only Lanes Opened Today

Yesterday's Wilshire BRT ribbon-cutting. Foreground left to right: xxx

Yesterday’s Wilshire BRT ribbon-cutting. Foreground left to right: L.A. City Engineer Gary Lee Moore, FTA Team Leader Ray Tellis, Councilmember Tom Labonge, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Mike Bonin, Metro Boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker, and Councilmember Paul Koretz. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Elected officials and agency representatives gathered yesterday to host a ribbon-cutting event for Wilshire Boulevard’s newest peak-hour bus-only lanes. The $31.5 million project, dubbed the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a joint effort of Metro, L.A. City, and L.A. County. The bus-only lanes operate from 7-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.

The celebration took place at the La Brea Tar Pits. Speakers included L.A. Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti, Federal Transit Administration Team Leader Ray Tellis, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Metro Boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker, Metro’s Interim Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins, L.A. City Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Tom LaBonge, and Paul Koretz, and others. The event was attended by about 120 people, mostly governmental staff.

Streetsblog readers will remember the struggle to get this project underway. Due to politics, the bus lane facility ended up somewhat on-again off-again. Though most of Wilshire Blvd within the city of Los Angeles is included, the bus-only lane does not include Westwood’s “Condo Canyon” stretch, nor the parts of Wilshire inside the cities of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes Map - red

Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes Map showing segments that are and are not receiving bus-only lanes – from 2012 Metro staff report [PDF

An initial 1.8 miles of the Wilshire BRT already opened in June 2013. That section goes from MacArthur Park to Western Avenue.

As of today, four new segments are live, totaling five new miles:

  • Western Avenue to San Vicente Boulevard (3.6 miles)
  • Beverly Hills to Comstock Avenue (0.5 miles)
  • Selby Avenue to Veteran Avenue (o.5 miles)
  • Bonsall Avenue to Federal Avenue (0.4 miles)

Read more…

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More Lanes on the 710 Means More Trucks: More Trucks Means More Pollution, Get it Caltrans?

L.A.'s Pacific Electric trains delivered freight in their days. Photo via Metro Library

L.A.’s Pacific Electric trains delivered freight in their day.  Photo via Metro Library

The Arts District of downtown Los Angeles is now a vibrant residential community. But the signs of its warehouse past are everywhere. Abandoned railroad spurs, peeking up from the asphalt and running down old brick streets, speak volumes about bad public policies and metrics that, even as LA struggles to rebuild its once-great transit system, persist in too much of its bureaucracy. That’s exemplified in two 710 freeway studies released by Caltrans and Metro.

The study for the northern section came out in March and looked at the “gap closure” from Alhambra to Pasadena, where the 710 would join the 210. The study for the southern section was released in June 2012 and looks at widening and double-decking the segment that runs 20 miles from the ports to the Pomona Freeway south of downtown. This chunk is mostly about freight and would cost around $8 billion. Together, the environmental studies cost millions and number 2300 pages, with over 26,000 pages of supporting documents.

The Interstate Highway System changed the economics of trucks vs. trains for local delivery. Truck trailers now park on abandoned rail spurs in downtown L.A. Photo: Roger Ruddick

The Interstate Highway System changed the economics of trucks vs. trains for local delivery. Truck trailers now park on abandoned rail spurs in downtown L.A. Photo: Roger Rudick

Most people know that Los Angeles had a comprehensive mass transit system, the Pacific Electric. But the Pacific Electric, along with other railroads of Southern California, also delivered freight. All the building materials and manufactured goods that made the economy of Los Angeles was once delivered on local rail spurs directly to warehouses, many of them in downtown LA.

So what killed local rail freight delivery? “It was the Interstate Highway System,” explained Don Norton, a spokesman for the Pacific Harbor Line, a railroad that assembles long-distance freight trains full of containers offloaded from cargo ships. “But railroads still compete on cargo that’s heavy, bulky, and traveling extremely long distances.”

Railroads have to maintain their own infrastructure—meaning thousands of miles of tracks, switches, spurs, bridges, signals, yards, etc. So they focus on their long-distance mainlines where they get the most bang for the buck. Trucking companies, on the other hand, get an all-but free ride on roads built by state and local governments. They also cause a disproportionate amount of damage.

As a result, when cargo comes off a ship in Los Angeles, if it’s staying in the region or going no farther than Nevada or Arizona, trucks cost less. If it’s going to Memphis, Chicago or anyplace east of the Rockies, or around 550 miles or more, it’s more cost-effective to combine the shipments onto a single freight train—often more than a mile in length—rather than paying some 300 truck drivers to do the same job. Some long distance trains are put together right on the docks. Others are assembled in what’s called “near dock” yards—trucks scoot containers from ships to rail yards a few miles away, where they are transferred onto those giant freight trains.

Read more…

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City of L.A.’s First Parking-Protected Bike Lanes: Reseda Boulevard

New parking-protected bike lanes on Reseda Boulevard. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

New parking-protected bike lanes on Reseda Boulevard. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Yesterday, the city of Los Angeles installed its first ever parking-protected bike lanes. They’re on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, part of the mayor’s Great Streets Initiative.

As of this morning, the project is roughly one-quarter complete. The new protected lanes, also known as cycletracks, are mostly complete on the west side of Reseda Blvd from Plummer Street to Prairie Street. The full one-mile protected lanes will go from Plummer to Parthenia Street.

The project is expected to be completed by mid-April.

photo (52)

Standard bike lanes put cyclists between parked cars and moving cars. These protected lanes flip the parking and the bike lane, so cyclists are next to the curb, and parked cars and next to moving cars.

signs

Nearly every other pole along Reseda Boulevard features this sign explaining the new striping.

Read more…

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Reseda Boulevard Getting Its Great Street Improvements (Updated 5:30pm)

Reseda Boulevard now has parking-protected bike lanes! A Los Angeles first! Photo via @LADOTBikeProg Twitter

Reseda Boulevard now has parking-protected bike lanes! A Los Angeles first! Photo via @LADOTBikeProg Twitter

Update: LADOT Bicycle Program just tweeted photos of the Reseda Boulevard protected bike lanes! Woot! Wooooot! 

LA-Más crews spiffing up Reseda Boulevard sidewalks yesterday. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

LA-Más crews spiffing up Reseda Boulevard sidewalks yesterday. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Great Streets improvements are underway on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge.

Streetsblog previewed Reseda Blvd’s exciting upgrades last week. It is just one of fifteen priority streets identified for makeovers under Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative. The upgrades will extend one mile from Parthenia Street to Plummer Street. Kudos to Garcetti, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch Englander, and the city’s Transportation Department (LADOT) for taking advantage of street resurfacing and the upcoming State of the City address to pilot some innovative new street designs in Reseda.

The big big big exciting news is that Reseda Blvd will, very very very soon, have the city of Los Angeles’ very first parking-protected bike lanes.

I took the train-BRT-bike trip to Northridge yesterday, hoping to witness and tweet the tectonic shift of parking spaces from sidewalk-smooching to sidewalk-arm’s-length. Unfortunately the parking-protected bike lane has not been striped. Yet.

Reseda's regular bike lanes are missing after re-surfacing, as LADOT converts them into protected bike lanes. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Reseda’s regular bike lanes are missing after re-surfacing, as LADOT converts them into protected bike lanes. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

I did notice that Reseda Boulevard’s striped median and inner travel lanes do appear a little narrower. So even if L.A.’s first mile of protected bike lanes is not there yet, it is clear that LADOT is making room for them.

This is your parents two-way turn median. Narrower median and turns preliminary striping on Reseda Boulevard. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

This is not your parents two-way center turn median. Narrowed median and inner lanes preliminary striping on Reseda Boulevard. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Reseda Boulevard does have groovy new sidewalk patterns.  Read more…