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Panel Review: “The New Streets of L.A.”

We might want to remember that Levi Strauss & Company is a clothing company which follows fashion trends while indeed playing a role in the creation of trends.  The above Levi’s Commercial in which an internal-combustion-powered vehicle is apparently allowed onto the trading floor of a major stock or commodities exchange in New York City actually propelled Steve Miller’s song “The Joker” to the number one spot on the UK charts in September of 1990, some 16 years after it was released in 1973. Powerful stuff that sturdy fabric from the city of Nimes in France.

Photo: Maria Sipin

Photo: Maria Sipin

It is however is no joke that Levi’s has opened a “pop-up” “commuter workshop” in Downtown Los Angeles, rather than a more traditional location for such Brigadoon-like ventures such as Melrose. Even choosing Downtown, one would expect to see this pop-up around the established shopping crossroads of 7th and Figueroa, not just east of Broadway but by golly east of Spring on 5th! To think that 15 years ago many thought Tom Gilmore was nuts for planning hotels in “Skid Row.”

The workshop is really more of a corporate-sponsored Bicycle Kitchen with places to repair the iron steed of course, but also space to socialize or even get your torn jeans repaired by helpful seamstresses (well, they were all female last night!). Of course, you can also test ride a Tokyobike or peruse the Levi’s Commuter clothing line which is aimed at bicycle users.

Last night anyone who RSVP’d in advance (and was over 21) was able to attend a well-produced presentation arranged and moderated by Aaron Paley of CicLAvia on the future of our public spaces entitled, “The New Streets of L.A.”  The event was packed to capacity, despite the unfortunate, and IMHO unnecessary (did beer really need to be served?) age restriction.

Photo: Maria Sipin

From left to right: Jennifer Klausner, Avit Shavit, Tafarai Bayne, Seleta Reynolds, Aaron Paley, Deborah Murphey Photo: Maria Sipin

Presenting were: Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Faulty Pedestrian Detour at Expo Phase 2 Construction

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Signs offering mixed messages at this pedestrian detour on Venice Boulevard at Culver Boulevard. Image via @topomodesto Twitter

Yesterday, Michael MacDonald @topomodesto tweeted two images that highlight L.A.’s lack of accomodation for pedestrians.

The photos were taken on eastbound Venice Boulevard at Culver Boulevard, one block west of the Metro Expo Line Culver City Station. Expo Phase 2 construction has blocked pedestrians from walking on Venice Boulevard’s south sidewalk. This sidewalk is where people would walk between downtown Culver City and the current Expo Line terminus. Instead, detour “cross here” signs direct pedestrians to scramble across Venice Stroad Blvd. Unfortunately, though, crossing Venice at this intersection is illegal. There’s a No Ped Crossing sign visible in MacDonald’s photo above.

It looks like the message to L.A.’s pedestrians is “just go away.”

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Same location on Venice Boulevard, view looking east. The under-construction Exposition Rail bridge is visible in the distance. Photo via @topomodesto Twitter

SBLA is excited for Expo 2 to open! It is disappointing, though, to see that, even when Los Angeles is constructing livability enhancements, the city cuts off pedestrian (and, often, bicycle) access. Two steps forward, one step back.

Perhaps Councilmember Huizar’s motion for better walking accommodations during construction will help. What I’d like to see: the political will to, at least now and then, make it less convenient to drive, and more convenient to walk, bike, and ride transit. Copenhagen did this during their Metro construction, and bicycling increased while driving declined.

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Metro Fare Increase Postponed, Will Take Effect September 15th

New Metro fares effective September 15 2014. Image from Metro Briefing Document

New Metro fares effective September 15 2014 – page 1 of 2. Image from Metro Briefing Document

In a change that’s more procedural than policy-driven, Metro has slightly postponed its fare increase that had been approved for September 1. The new fares will take effect on Monday, September 15th.

The fare increase was approved at Metro’s May board meeting. Base bus/train fare will increase 17 percent, going from $1.50 to $1.75. Senior fares and all daily/monthly/weekly passes also increase 25-40 percent. With the new fares, Metro is instituting a new 2-hour free transfer window, though it only applies to customers paying via TAP card.

The new September 15th implementation date has not been publicized yet – though Metro will be getting the word out widely by mid-August. Streetsblog learned of it via this Metro briefing document which was publicized by Twitter user @Calwatch.

Metro spokesperson Rick Jager confirmed the new date, and explained the change as follows: Read more…

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Metro July Meeting Re-Cap: Subway, SRTP, Active Transpo, and More

Councilmember Paul Krekorian (at podium) leads San Fernando Valley rail supporters rally this morning for Orange Line upgrades. Yesterday the Metro Board approved a motion that directs the agency to take a closer look at converting the Orange Line from BRT to light rail. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Councilmember Paul Krekorian (at podium) leads a San Fernando Valley rail supporters press event this morning. Yesterday, Metro approved a motion to take a closer look at converting the Orange Line from BRT to light rail. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro’s July Board of Directors meeting took place yesterday. As usual, it was four-plus hours long, with plenty of implications for the future of livability and transportation for the region. SBLA re-caps the meeting below.

Mayor Garcetti Assumes Board Chair

Yesterday’s meeting was Mayor Eric Garcetti’s first as the new chair of Metro’s Board of Directors. Garcetti opened with some remarks outlining his priorities for his Metro chair tenure. After giving the obligatory nod to disliking L.A. traffic, Garcetti assured that his transportation priorities are regional, not ending at L.A. City borders. His greatest enthusiasm is for innovation, especially using technology to make our transportation systems smarter. He affirmed that Los Angeles’ transportation future will be multi-modal.

More on Garcetti’s Metro vision: The Source, Daily News

Contract Approved for Purple Line Subway Construction

The biggest and most contentious item on the agenda was approval of the $1.6 billion contract for 3.9 miles of Purple Line subway construction under Wilshire Boulevard from Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard. As recommended by Metro staff, the board awarded the contract to the “STS” contractor team of Skanska, Traylor and Shea. The STS bid was nearly $200 million more expensive than a competing bid by Dragados, leading some board members to question the selection process. Construction will likely begin this year, and the line is anticipated to open in 2023.

More on the Subway Contract: L.A. Times, The Source

Short Range Transportation Plan Approved

Metro approved its 10-year, $88 billion Short Range Transportation Plan more-or-less as initially proposed. Metro staff asserted that the SRTP is less a new plan and more a sort of progress report on the agency’s Long Range Transportation Plan. The perception is, though, that the SRTP is a sort of early casting call for projects to get in line for a possible 2016 transportation funding ballot measure. Speakers before the board urged more funding for active transportation, building the 710 Freeway tunnel, converting the Orange Line from BRT to rail, and extending the Gold Line eastward.

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Metro Committee OKs Dismal Walk/Bike Plan Now, Funding Report Later

Active transportation supporters at Metro's Planning and Programming Committee on

Active transportation supporters hold up #metrofundwalkbike messages at this week’s Metro’s Planning and Programming Committee. Metro’s board did not increase funding for active transportation in its Short Range Transportation Plan, but director Mike Bonin introduced a motion which, if passed, would direct Metro to develop an Active Transportation Finance Strategy. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

More than fifty people showed up at this week’s Metro Planning and Programming Committee to urge the Metro board to support active transportation. Metro’s proposed $88.2 billion, ten-year Short Range Transportation Plan (SRTP) includes only $500 million for active transportation funding. Though walking and bicycling make up nearly 20 percent of L.A. County trips, Metro allocates less than one percent of its budget to those modes.

Aware of active transportation advocates’ mobilization, Metro staff’s slide show [pdf] attempted to make active transportation funding sound more plentiful than it actually is. Metro staff’s presentation suggests that the agency is supporting walking and bicycling through agency funding for categories including Signal Synchronization and Transit Capital. By totaling Metro’s committed $500 million, plus a hodgepodge of eligible Metro, state, and local funds, the staff presentation showed “up to $1.17 billion” in potential funding for bicycling and walking.

Though it is unlikely that the actual funding total will end up anything near this “up to” potential, the asserted $1.17 billion still would represent only 1.3 percent of the overall $88.2 billion plan. This is nowhere near the roughly $18 billion that active transportation would receive if Metro’s allocations were based on the current 20 percent modal share. Ideally, funding shouldn’t be limited to the existing mode share, but could be aspirational. Metro values expanding its rail infrastructure, presumably aspiring that more rail investment will create more rail ridership. Metro’s fiscal commitment shouldn’t necessarily be to maintain the existing 20 percent active transportation mode share, but to fund expansion of safe walking and bicycling facilities in order to increase levels of active transportation.

The committee did respond to active transportation demands, but not by increasing the dismal amount of funding in its SRTP. Instead, Metro board member Mike Bonin put forth a motion [PDF] (full text after the jump) that directs Metro to study active transportation and come up with a funding strategy. Safe Routes to School praised the board’s leadership embodied in the Bonin motion; Santa Monica Spoke called it a “good start.” The motion directs Metro to complete its Active Transportation Funding Strategy and report back to the board in October 2014.

Hopefully that funding strategy will not be chock full of “up to” dollars, but will actually represent an acknowledgement by Metro that safe and convenient places to walk and bike are integral to the agency’s regional transportation system.

As expected, the committee approved the agency’s SRTP, without approving any additional dollars for active transportation. The SRTP is expected to be approved by the full board next week.

Metro is considering a possible future transportation funding ballot measure. Past measures have primarily drawn from projects and budgets already approved in the agency’s Short- and Long-Range Plans. Though active transportation has been repeatedly shortchanged in Metro’s past plans and past ballot measures, if advocates keep up this timely pressure, dedicated bicycle and pedestrian funding could be a significant part of a future ballot measure.

County ballot measure funding or not, active transportation continues to grow. Will Metro’s October report address pedestrians’ and cyclists’ concerns?

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40% of Proceeds from ExpressLanes Going to Active Transportation

Thanks to funds collected by Metro's ExpressLanes, funding to convert this bridge and other parts of the Dominguez Channel will be converted into a bicycle and pedestrian path.and the service road that has now been funded to be converted into a similar path. This portion along the channel is currently closed. Carson and County Flood Control will work together to open it to the public for bicyclists and pedestrians. Photo: Lauren Grabowski

Thanks to funds collected by Metro’s ExpressLanes, funding to convert this bridge and other parts of the Dominguez Channel will be converted into a bicycle and pedestrian path.and the service road that has now been funded to be converted into a similar path. This portion along the channel is currently closed. Carson and County Flood Control will work together to open it to the public. Photo: Lauren Grabowski

While much of the attention on yesterday’s Metro Board committee hearings was on the showdown over active transportation in the Short Range Transportation Plan, some good news emerged in the Congestion Reduction Committee tasked with overseeing Metro’s ExpressLanes Program.

Over $26 million in funds collected by variable toll lanes on the I-10 and I-110 were programmed, pending Board approval, for projects that include a Downtown Los Angeles Bike Share program, a Union Station Bike Hub, MyFigueroa outreach/marketing, and active transportation projects in El Monte, Carson, Monterey Park, Baldwin Park, and other parts of the county. The rest of the programmed funds will go towards improvements in station access to the express bus services, improvements to the ExpressLanes themselves, and even a Dodger Stadium Express bus service for the South Bay area.

The Metro staff report, including a two-page table breaking down the funded and un-funded applications, can be found here.

At yesterday’s committee meeting, there was some questioning of the funded program list. John Fasana, Duarte City Councilmember and long-time Metro Board Member, questioned the staff recommendation to fund new ticketing machines for Metrolink trains. The project scored a 75, higher than some of the active transportation projects and all of the highway projects, yet the committee ruled that it did not meet corridor-connection funding criteria.

In the end, the final funded project list won the committee’s full backing — a big win for active transportation advocates. While only 0.6% of the Metro’s multi-billion-dollar Short Range Transportation Plan funding will go towards supporting active transportation, roughly 40% of this much smaller pot will.

There are two other takeaways from this report and the Metro action: Read more…

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Showdown Over Bike/Walk Funds Missing from Metro Short Range Plan

Metro's Every Day is a Bike Day campaign appartently doesn't apply to the agency's funding planning days.

Does Metro’s EVERY DAY IS A BIKE DAY campaign apply to days when Metro is planning their future funding priorities? Find out this Wednesday as the agency considers its Short Range Transportation Plan. Image: Metro

Metro’s Short Term Transportation Plan is on the agenda for this Wednesday’s Metro board Planning and Programming Committee. The SRTP is the agency’s $88 billion plan for the next 10 years.

Though concerns have been raised about technology, articulated buses, and extending the Gold Line east of Azusa, the main point of contention appears to be over funding for active transportation: walking and bicycling. Overall, the 10-year plan includes $500 million worth of active transportation funding, just 0.6 percent of the overall $88 billion budget.

The Safe Routes To School National Partnership (SRTS) and the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) have been at the forefront of a broad coalition urging greater Metro investment in  active transportation. They are mobilizing organizations and individuals to attend the Metro committee meeting on Wednesday, July 16 at 2:30 p.m.

From the  SRTS website:

In Metro’s view, walking and biking are the purview of cities, not a regional transportation priority. As a result, Metro has a fragmented approach to walking and biking that does not ensure that all of the parts add up to a region that is in fact multimodal, safe and serves the needs of all travelers and all trips. [...] As Metro prepares for a possible new transportation sales tax in 2016, now is a critical time to reevaluate the region’s policy vision and investment strategy to support a transportation system that works for all.

More than 60 organizations signed on to this L.A. County Active Transportation Collaborative comment letter. Other non-profits urging greater funding for walking and bicycling include NRDC-Climate Plan-Coalition for Clean Air, Move L.A., and the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Transportation Committee.

It’s not only non-profit community organizations echoing the call to support walking and bicycling. Also submitting comments to Metro were the L.A. County Department of Public Health, the L.A. Unified School District, and Jon Kirk Mukri’s city of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT.)  Here is an excerpt from LADOT’s refreshingly livability-minded comment letterRead more…

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Guest Editorial: Don’t Destroy the Orange Line, Improve It

Line 4 of the Metrobús BRT in Mexico City. The full system with five lines moves 850,000 people a day. Photo: Adam Wiseman/ITDP

Line 4 of the Metrobús BRT in Mexico City. The full system with five lines moves 850,000 people a day. Photo: Adam Wiseman/ITDP

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a high-quality bus based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities, has enjoyed rapid growth over the past few decades in major cities internationally, and is gaining momentum in the United States. Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle are set to join L.A. and the handful of U.S. cities with true BRT.

Today, L.A.’s Orange Line is one of only eight true BRT corridors in the US. It is not only an international best practice and a leader in surface mass transit; it is a cost-effective and valuable asset for the city. But since construction began on the corridor in 2002, the Orange Line has been derided by some in the community who, not understanding the potential of true BRT, would prefer light rail (LRT) transit.

On Tuesday, Governor Brown signed California Legislative Bill AB 577, removing the prohibition against surface rail-based mass transportation in the San Fernando Valley. The intent of the bill, and those advocating for it, is clearly stated: convert the Metro Orange Line BRT into a light rail.

Light rail, its proponents argue, would better meet growing transit demand in the greater San Fernando Valley. The bill states that the area has “outgrown” BRT, and would be better served by rail. A conversion would signal to other US cities that BRT’s benefits are limited when measured against LRT. This is typical of the misinformation about BRT, which, despite the massive gains that this transport mode has made internationally, is still common thinking in the U.S.

Last year the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP,) in partnership with the foremost international experts on BRT, released The BRT Standard, a definition and scoring designation for systems around the world. The Standard is a recognition scheme which scores corridors as Gold, Silver, Bronze, Basic BRT; any corridor falling below that basic is not true BRT. By laying out the essential elements of this transit mode, it provides a framework for system designers, decision makers, and the transport community to identify and build top-quality BRT systems. The Orange Line scores bronze – a notable achievement placing it among the ranks of Pittsburgh, Cape Town, Jakarta, and Nantes – but its bronze ranking also proves that there is plenty of room to grow.

Comparing true BRT systems to light rail shows that LRT has no operational advantage: speed is comparable and the daily ridership of BRT can even surpass that of LRT. Innovations in BRT have increased the maximum daily ridership of a BRT system to nearly two million passengers (or 35,000 passengers per hour per direction), which is the current ridership of Bogotá’s gold-standard TransMilenio BRT. This far outstrips the capacity of any light rail system. Upgrading the Orange Line to silver- or gold-standard would grow the ridership and answer the criticism that BRT cannot meet the growing needs of the region. With a current daily ridership of almost 30,000, increasing capacity on the Orange Line two or three-fold is entirely workable with some minor changes.

First, simply increasing bus frequency would be an obvious improvement. While there have been concerns that increasing frequency will cause bunching at intersections, this appears to be due to a signal timing issue which favors cross street traffic over public transportation on the Orange Line corridor. Timing traffic signals to favor automobiles shows an outdated mode of thinking. It would take some political will on the part of the city to change the signal timings, but it is a simple solution, far cheaper and faster than upgrading to light rail which would still be faced with signal timing problems.

Read more…

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Balancing Cars, Cash and Congestion: Metro Silver Line BRT in ExpressLanes

ExpressLanes along the 10 Freeway, looking west from the Soto Street Bridge during morning rush hour June 2014. Photo: Joe Linton / Streetsblog L.A.

ExpressLanes along the 10 Freeway looking west from the Soto Street / Marengo Street Bridge during morning rush hour. Though the ExpressLanes (right, with red car) have encountered some congestion, on this morning in early June 2014 they were running smoothly for plenty of drivers. Photo: Joe Linton / Streetsblog L.A.

At the April 2014 board meeting, Metro’s ExpressLanes and the Metro Silver Line were the big success story.

The ExpressLanes program is a $210 million federally-funded trial project to “to develop multi-modal solutions to improve traffic flow and provide enhanced travel options on the I-110 and I-10 Freeways.” The program converted freeway carpool lanes to toll lanes, and simultaneously improved transit service, especially the Metro Silver Line freeway-running BRT, in the same freeway corridors. In late 2012, L.A.’s first ExpressLanes opened on the 110 Freeway; the full two-freeway pilot was in place in early 2013.

In April, Metro staff reported results for the first full year of ExpressLanes. Ridership on the Silver Line is up 52 percent. Drivers acquired 259,000 transponders, greatly exceeding the program’s goal of 100,000.  Possibly most importantly, Express lane revenue was way up. The forecast was for $8-10 million over the course of the 1-year pilot. Actual revenue was $19 million. This revenue is directed back into transportation improvements in the Freeway corridors.

The Metro board was unanimous in voting to make the Express Lane program permanent.

How does it work?

There are already videos and websites explaining how drivers take advantage of the new toll lanes. So the focus of this article is the transit rider experience: how did the ExpressLanes program benefit transit riders? How did ExpressLanes result in such impressive gains in Metro Silver Line bus ridership?

The Metro Silver Line is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) running on separated freeway high-occupancy lanes along the 10 and 110 Freeways – the same lanes that were converted from carpool-only to toll lanes. The Silver Line runs as an express bus on downtown streets between its two freeway stretches.

The Silver Line opened in 2009 with relatively limited service. Though it had some of the advantages of running unimpeded in carpool lanes, the frequency was inadequate. Buses ran every 30 minutes.

With the ExpressLanes project, Metro purchased 59 new buses for the Silver Line. Service frequency was increased such that buses today run every 4-6 minutes at peak commute hours. Other bus line service on these lanes was also increased; including the Foothill Transit Silver Streak.

To incentivize drivers to ride the Silver Line, Metro created a “first of its kind” Transit Rewards Program. Enrolled drivers who use their  TAP card 32 times per month receive a $5 credit toward ExpressLane toll fees. In regards to livability, this incentive seems a bit perverse. It is like giving a child candy for brushing her teeth. The roughly 90 percent of transit riders who arrive by foot, bus, or bike receive no similar incentive, though there is a low Toll Credit program that subsidizes low-income driver’s tolls.

Read more…

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Gold Line Foothill Extension Photo Tour: Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

In this fourth installment of the Foothill Gold Line Extension photo tour series, we explore planned Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) around some of the line’s future stations.

Recently, Streetsblog’s Damien Newton and Aviv Kleinman joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the newest Gold Line Extension phase under construction in the San Gabriel Valley. We joined Albert Ho, head of Media Relations for the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, and Jeff Rowland, the Community Relations Manager for the Kiewit-Parsons Joint Venture, the contractors building the project. Part 1 of the series documented the rail corridor and stationsPart 2 highlighted the maintenance yard under construction in Monrovia. Part 3 looked at the new bridges.

For those just joining us, the Gold Line is a 19.7 mile light rail line running from East Los Angeles to Pasadena via Union Station in Downtown L.A. The line currently serves 21 stations, and is operated by Metro. The Gold Line Foothill Extension will extend from its current Sierra Madre Villa terminus east into the city of Azusa. The 11.3-mile new extension includes 6 new stations. The extension will serve five cities directly, and it is proposed to transform the San Gabriel Valley entirely. Once bounded by distress of being caught in freeway gridlock, San Gabriel Valley residents will now have the freedom to commute by rail into Downtown L.A. and endless locations from there by using the new Gold Line extension.

TODs are generally station-adjacent mixed-use areas. They often feature relatively dense housing so that residents can easily and safely walk to the nearby station. TODs frequently include apartment complexes, retail centers, and parks, which make for a rich mix of destinations around transit hubs. Find more about L.A. County Transit Oriented Development in this earlier SBLA series.

Monrovia Station Square is a great example of Transit Oriented Development.

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The city of Monrovia is converting an abandoned railroad station into Monrovia Station Square: a new transit-oriented retail development. Photo: City of Monrovia

The Monrovia Station Square is a large-scale improvement project underway, hosted by the City of Monrovia. The city plans to re-vamp the area immediately surrounding the Monrovia Gold Line station currently under construction. The Station Square intends to transform a largely-forgotten commercial/industrial neighborhood into a thriving and bustling town square. The development will adaptively re-use Monrovia’s now-abandoned Santa Fe Railway station, transforming it into a new retail establishment. The city official we spoke with hopes it will become an artisan pizza shop. The current pothole-ridden park-and-ride lot will become a park, filled with green space, playgrounds, water features, and public art.

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The abandoned Santa Fe Railway depot will soon become a trendy retail space in the proposed Monrovia Station Square. All photos Aviv Kleinman/Streetsblog L.A., except where otherwise specified.

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Built in 1926, the Monrovia Depot used to be a bustling transit station. Hopefully soon, the future Gold Line station just a few hundred feet west of it will be just as bustling.

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