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A Peek Into Metro’s Frequent Bus Network Proposal

Metro's APTA review makes a lot of recommendations can balance the agency ... Photo via Wikimedia

Metro is proposing major bus network changes, and they might be a good thing. Photo via Wikimedia

Metro is currently considering some pretty big bus service changes. Basically Metro is considering a cost-neutral scheme that would eliminate multiple relatively low-performing bus lines and would add more frequent service on a core network. More details below. Overall it looks like a step in a positive direction, though the devil may be in the details.

And the details are few and far between.

Though Metro has released a very basic presentation [PDF] with some maps and lists, the proposal seems to be in flux. Metro’s maps and lists don’t match. There are a lot of questions left unanswered.

How Metro’s Proposal Came About:

In March, Metro received the recommendations from an American Public Transit Association (APTA) review by a national panel of transit experts. On the operations end, the APTA review recommended more frequent bus service on a sparser network. The review also recommended more space between bus stops and a greater “load factor” (more people per bus) on somewhat crowded peak-commute-hour bus service.

The APTA recommendations dovetailed with changes that were already being considered. Metro convened a “Blue Ribbon Committee” (BRC) which reviewed Metro staff’s development of a bus service reorganization plan, called Metro’s “Draft Transit Service Policy” [PDF].

What’s In Metro’s Proposal:

To date, no full thorough documentation of Metro’s proposal has been made available, so the public has to read between the lines of Metro’s slideshow summary [PDF]. Calwatch posted a good summary of the proposal at Reddit.

On balance, the overall proposal has “no additional hours” of bus service. So where Metro would add more frequent service on many lines, it would subtract the same amount of service from other lines.

To evaluate how well bus lines are doing, Metro developed a metric it calls Route Performance Index (RPI.) The higher the RPI, the better the line is performing. RPI combines three measurements:

  • how many people use a line (passengers/service hour)
  • how far people travel on a line (passengers/seat mile)
  • overall operational cost (net cost/passenger)

These values are normalized so that a score of 1.0 matches the overall average. Better Institutions obtained a full RPI listing for Metro’s 140 transit lines (though the list does not include rail or BRT, and buses on Wilshire Blvd are now considered BRT). Metro’s highest ridership line, the 254 on Vermont Avenue, scores an RPI of 1.69, while the agency’s worst line, the 607 in Windsor Hills-Inglewood, scores an RPI of 0.27. According to Metro, lines with an RPI less than 0.6 “are subject to remedial action.”

Metro's proposed frequent bus network. Image from Metro presentation

Metro’s proposed frequent bus network. Image from Metro [PDF]

Where Bus Service Would Be Improved:

According to Metro’s “BRC Recommended Network” map, the following bus lines would run more frequently. Read more…

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Metro Board July Updates: Joint Development, Bike-Share, and More

Today’s monthly Metro Board of Directors meeting saw the chair transition from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Incoming Chair Ridley-Thomas expounded on his priorities for the current fiscal year. The July board meeting did not feature any major controversies, but there are a number of items likely to be of interest to SBLA readers.

Expo phase 2 test train. Photo via Santa Monica Next

Expo phase 2 test train. Photo via Santa Monica Next

Rail Lines Opening 2016: Metro CEO Phil Washington gave a brief update on the status of the extensions of the Gold and Expo Lines. Both of these projects are nearing completion. They are both being built by Construction Authorities, who will finish their work, then turn the project over to Metro for testing and, then, operation. Washington reported that Gold Line Foothill Extension construction is expected to be complete in September, while Expo Phase 2 construction is expected to be complete in mid- to late-October.

Bike-Share: With bike-share opening in Santa Monica, downtown L.A. and Long Beach this fiscal year, and other places interested, Metro is still working out if and how the agency needs to enforce or incentivize interoperability. Differences were evident in the debate at last month’s board meeting.

County Supervisor Don Knabe strung together multiple apt cliches urging Metro not enforce bike-share vendor conformity in a “my way or the highway” approach because “one size does not fit all.” Garcetti, on the other hand, asserted that a single countywide system “funds well,” meaning that it could attract lucrative countywide advertising sponsorship. Duarte City Councilmember John Fasana expressed “misgivings” over the current two-vendor implementation underway, suggesting that he thought it might be better for Metro to “buy out” systems being implemented by Long Beach and Santa Monica.

Glendale City Councilmember Ara Najarian pointedly asked Metro staff how cities like his should approach implementing bike-share, asking if Glendale should “refrain from an RFP (Request for Proposals)?” Staff recommended cities contact Metro, pursue funding together, and work things out on a case-by-case basis.  Read more…

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Bike-Share Round-Up: Multiple Motions At Tomorrow’s Metro Board Meeting

Metro bike-share vendor Bicycle Transit Systems has a new L.A. webpage. Image via http://www.bicycletransit.com/los-angeles/

Metro bike-share vendor Bicycle Transit Systems has a new L.A. webpage. Image via http://www.bicycletransit.com/los-angeles/

Last month, after a fairly lengthy debate, the Metro Board of Directors approved an $11 million contract to bring bike-share to downtown Los Angeles. Though there is a lot of interest in bike-share on the Metro board, there is not a lot of agreement on exactly how to move forward.

Though Metro bike-share, run by vendor Bicycle Transit Systems (BTS), will begin in Downtown Los Angeles, multiple future phases are planned, but not yet fully approved nor funded. Elected officials are doing their job, jockeying to make sure future bike-share phases will serve areas they represent. Santa Monica and Long Beach already moving ahead under contracts with a different vendor, Cyclehop, so there are also questions about inter-operability.

Below is a brief run down of the latest in the multi-faceted world of L.A. County bike-share systems. There are already a lot of moving pieces, and there is yet to be any live bike-share bikes on the ground. Bike-share may get less complicated when the bikes arrive and Angelenos can see and experience how bike-share really works:

> In Metro bike-share news: Metro’s full board of directors will meet tomorrow and decide on a handful of follow-on motions Read more…

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Some Thoughts On Metro’s Modest New Parking Policy Proposal

Should Metro parking policies

Metro is voting on a proposed update to its parking policies this Thursday. Metro Gold Line Atlantic Station parking structure. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At this Thursday’s meeting, Metro’s Board of Directors will be voting on modest changes to the way the agency manages parking. Theoretically, these changes are expected to set the stage for increased parking revenue, which has positives for walkability and livability, but the devil may be in the details.

According to the staff presentation [PDF], Metro currently manages more than 70 parking facilities with more than 22,000 parking spaces. In 2016, with new Gold and Expo Line extension parking lots opening, this will rise to more than 25,000 spaces. 330 more spaces are added when the Crenshaw/LAX line parking lots open in 2019.

Metro Boardmember and Duarte City Councilmember John Fasana, at last week’s Executive Committee meeting, remarked that parking spaces cost Metro “$40,000 a pop.” And that’s just up-front costs, without ongoing maintenance and operations. Metro’s overall 25,000 space parking portfolio, assuming parking expert Don Shoup’s industry standard of $24,000 per space instead of Fasana’s higher number for above ground structures (some spaces cost a lot more than this, probably some cost less), cost the agency at least $600,000,000.

So, even under conservative estimates, Metro has spent more than half a billion dollars on parking spaces. Metro gives more than 93 percent those spaces away for free. Metro CEO Phil Washington and other Metro leaders increasingly frequently speak about budget shortfalls and the need for increased revenue, cost-cutting, and likely fare increases.

I’ve often written critically about Metro’s free parking as a massive unfair loss leader for the agency. What might be given more weight is analysis by transportation experts. Metro’s recent peer review by a panel of American Public Transportation Association (APTA) experts made the following recommendations that bear repeating here: (full APTA review coverage here)

  • Station parking is expensive to build and maintain, so parking costs should be [at least] partially recovered.
  • Easy parking encourages driving that first last mile; it’s better to re-direct parking resources to instead fund convenient, frequent bus service.
  • Free park-and-ride subsidizes higher income riders and decreases transit’s air quality benefits.

So… with looming deficits and expert recommendations, Metro is retooling the way it does parking.

Not quite.

The new Metro parking ordinance is unfortunately not so different from current practices. Read more…

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Reps Pelosi and Lieu Tout ‘Grow America’ Transportation Bill

U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi speaking on federal transportation funding at this morning's event. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi speaking on federal transportation funding at this morning’s event. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Elected officials, labor leaders, and Metro’s CEO assembled this morning to call on Congress to pass a long-term transportation bill. In order to highlight the ways that transportation infrastructure funding benefits communities, the press event showcased the bluff-top construction site of the city of Santa Monica’s California Incline retrofit project.

House Minority Leader Representative Nancy Pelosi, Representative Ted Lieu, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown, AFL CIO Executive Secretary Rusty Hicks, ‎Building and Construction Trades Council President Ron Miller, and Metro CEO Phil Washington all expressed support for the Grow America Act.

Many Americans think that gas taxes cover the costs of transportation infrastructure. In truth, gas taxes have not kept up with inflation. For many years, transportation-dedicated revenue has fallen way short of transportation expenditures.

This has resulted in ongoing debates over how to pay for transportation infrastructure. The Grow America Act is President Obama’s proposal, favored by Democrats. Grow America would pay for six years of federal transportation funding by closing loopholes that allow American corporations to skirt taxes on overseas profits. Republicans are less interested in trimming corporate profits, and more inclined to fund transportation by trimming pensions. Today, Pelosi characterized the plan to trim pension funding as “a non-starter” and, in response to questions, expressed her support for raising the gas tax, though that too is likely a non-starter.

Though Lieu and Pelosi are pressing for the six-year Grow America Act, this week the House of Representatives passed its stopgap five-month measure that would keep federal transportation funds solvent through December 2015. Senate committees are hammering out their likely-longer-term versions.

CEO Washington and Mayor McKeown stressed that short term funding is not enough for local cities and agencies Read more…

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Proposed Metro Joint Development Policy Updates A Step In Right Direction

Metro is revising its joint development program to better foster transit-oriented affordable housing. Image via Metro [PDF]

Metro is revising its joint development program to better foster transit-oriented affordable housing. Image via Metro [PDF]

Today, the Metro Board of Directors’ Executive Management Committee approved changes to the way the agency partners for development on Metro-owned land.

In the past, Metro joint development was often called “TOD” for Transit Oriented Development. Under new CEO Phil Washington, praised for his commitment to joint development when he led Denver RTD, TOD has given way to “TOC” Transit Oriented Communities. Today’s new policy was likely molded by Washington, but the changes have been underway since the middle of last year pursuant to a 2014 motion introduced by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and others.

While Metro has partnered to successfully develop housing and retail above many of its stations, from Koreatown to Hollywood to Pasadena, development has perhaps not been among the agency’s genuine priorities. Some proposed projects, including a private multi-story parking structure proposed for Mariachi Plaza, have been controversial. With new state funding, including the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) program, and a new TOC-minded CEO, future joint development at Metro sites is looking more promising.

The changes to Metro’s Joint Development Policy include:

  • Setting an overall goal for 35 percent of joint development housing to be affordable housing. Past Metro projects completed have 31 percent affordable housing overall.
  • Allow discounts on the price of Metro-owned land to incentivize affordability. The discount would be equal to the percentage of affordable housing developed, up to a maximum 30 percent land discount. This is a new policy, and part of the above-mentioned Garcetti motion. (Maybe Metro could up this to 35 percent to match their stated goal above? -JL)
  • In order to accommodate full environmental reviews, Metro is extending the duration of its Exclusive Negotiating Agreements (ENAs.) ENAs used to be approved for six months, and were often extended. Now they will now start at 18 months, still with possible extensions.
  • Revisions to the policy language describing the agency’s outreach processes, fostering “meaningful site-specific outreach” and “increased transparency.”
  • Earlier emphasis on joint development projects providing first last miles facilities, such as walkways, bike parking, etc.

For additional details, Read more…

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Dangerous Intersection of Venice and Robertson Gets a Flashing Yellow Signal

Last November, David Lindley was walking across the street at the five point intersection of Venice and South Robertson Boulevard when he was struck and killed. Lindley, an autistic teen who attended nearby Hamilton High School, was mourned by friends and family who vowed to see the intersection fixed.

Three months later, with the construction and reconfigurations complete, a video by longtime Expo Line supporter/watcher Gökhan Esirgen showed that cars turning on to Robertson Boulevard were routinely turning left into the pedestrian path well after receiving a red light. Esirgen noted this wasn’t an unusual occurrence, but a decision to place expediency over the safety of pedestrians that was made with nearly every crossing.

Over six months after Lindley’s tragic death, LADOT recently unveiled its answer to the safety issues created by what one Hamilton High School student described as a “busy, confusing and dangerous” intersection, a flashing yellow arrow warning drivers to be aware of pedestrians. This is the first time the City of Los Angeles has used this traffic control device, but they are common in other parts of the country. Motorists have shown greater likelihood to yield during a flashing yellow arrow than a red one.

A good start, to be sure. Now if only the city would prioritize ticketing cars that turn against the light over pedestrians who are crossing the street safely and efficiently.

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Photo Essay: Expo Phase 2 Construction 90+Percent Done, Open Early 2016

Metro Expo Line test train at Palms Station this morning. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro Expo Line test train at Palms Station this morning. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin, and others hosted a press event this morning to showcase progress on the Metro Expo Line Phase 2. The event took place at the under-construction Palms Station, and featured a test train pulling into the station under its own electrical catenary power. Leaders enthused that construction is more than 90 percent complete, and the project is on-time and on-budget.

It has been a while since trains ran on these tracks. Passenger service last ran in the 1950s, though freight trains continued through the 1980s. On June 15th, photos surfaced on social media showing a test train traveling the line.

The opening date isn’t set yet, but the most recent Metro estimates show a completion date of April 2016, one month after the also under-construction Foothill Extension of the Metro Gold Line, projected to open March 2016. There’s still quite a bit of work to do, so if you’re adding these dates to your calendar, use a pencil.

One anticipated wrinkle, reported earlier at Santa Monica Next, is a possible longer-than-usual headway when Expo Phase 2 first opens. According to a Metro staff report, if all these construction schedules remain on track, Metro anticipates a “temporary shortage of light rail vehicles.” Metro anticipates initially operating Expo trains every 12 minutes at peak hours. The poor headways shouldn’t last long, though; as more trains become available, the Expo Line headways reduce to every six minutes.  And it gets better in the near future. The six-minute wait time goes down to a five-minute wait time when Metro opens its Regional Connector subway, currently anticipated in 2020.

Below is a photo essay of the Expo train, station, and parallel bikeway under construction today.  Read more…

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After Contentious Discussion, Metro Board Approves Bike-Share Contract

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter rides Indego bike-share. Image via Streetfilms

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter rides Indego bike-share, which is operated by Bicycle Transit Systems. Today the Metro board approved its bike-share contract, bring a 1,000-bike system to DTLA in 2016.  Image via Streetfilms

This morning, the Metro Board of Directors approved its $11 million contract with Bicycle Transit Systems to install and operate a pilot downtown L.A. bike-share system. The downtown system is expected to debut in 2016 with 60+stations and 1,000+bicycles.

The road getting this far has been a bit messy. The cities of Santa Monica and Long Beach got out ahead of Metro, with Santa Monica’s 500-bike “Breeze” bike-share system opening this summer. When Metro got up to speed, it pushed new rules that isolate the Santa Monica system, and discourage its expansion into nearby jurisdictions. This triggered a rift between Westside leaders and Metro, evident in this editorial.

Today’s discussion was the longest and most contentious of any bicycle-related items ever before the Metro board, with four different directors offering amendments. A few of the amendments were relatively tame, including directing consideration of additional docking stations at Mariachi Plaza and the Expo/Vermont Station, moved by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas, respectively. However,Inglewood Mayor James Butts, who was elected to the Board by government leaders in the Westside and South Bay, introduced a multi-part amendment that included delaying bike-share contract approval for five months. In addition, Butts’ motion directed Metro to meet and work closely with other cities, mainly Santa Monica and Long Beach, each of which is moving forward with separate bike-share systems.

Discussion ensued, with directors expressing concerns over multiple bike-share systems being quicksand, cannibalized, and balkanized. Electeds from in and near Santa Monica and Long Beach expressed strong concerns. County Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents Long Beach, portrayed Metro’s approach as “my way or the highway.”

Ultimately, L.A. Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti negotiated an amended motion accepting portions of Butts’ proposal, but not delaying contract approval. Even with the negotiated solution, Knabe continued to press to delay bike-share approval for one month to work out final language. Read more…

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Opinion: Let Bike-Share Flourish in DTLA, Santa Monica, and Long Beach

The city of Santa Monica's bike-share system "Breeze" is expected to go live this fall.

The city of Santa Monica’s “Breeze” bike-share system “Breeze” expected to go live this summer. Photo: Santa Monica Next

Earlier this week, we ran an editorial by Assemblymember Richard Bloom with other Westside elected officials calling on Metro to “delay its decision” on a 1,000-bike bike-share system slated to open in downtown Los Angeles in early 2016. Metro has the bike-share contract on its board meeting agenda for today; it was approved by Metro’s planning committee approved last week.

It’s my hope that my editorial today might be able to play a small role in bridging the rift between Metro and these Westside leaders – allowing multiple bike-share systems to thrive. I urge the Metro Board to approve its bike-share system today. I fully expect that a year from now, we’ll have flourishing bike-share systems running in Long Beach, Santa Monica, and downtown L.A.

Bike-share is great. It works in hundreds of cities all over the planet. As Metro Boardmember and L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin stated, it’s “long overdue” for L.A. County. There is a broad consensus on this. Elected officials, cities, agencies, and the public all want it.

Early poorly-planned attempts failed to bring bike-share to the city of L.A. By fall of 2013, Santa Monica had already approved moving forward with bike-share. Soon after, Mayor Eric Garcetti and others directed Metro to lead efforts toward a regional bike-share system. Despite Metro pressure to delay, Santa Monica moved forward with its 500-bike system, debuting next month. Santa Monica’s “Breeze” system is largely funded via Metro’s Call for Projects. Long after Santa Monica got things underway, and probably partially in reaction to Santa Monica’s initiative, Metro pulled together its plans and initial funding. In late 2014, Metro initiated its vendor selection process for a downtown L.A. pilot. Last week’s committee meeting included not only the Metro DTLA pilot but also new “Interoperability Objectives” guidelines [PDF] that would, in effect, force all new L.A. County bike-share under a one-size-fits-all Metro umbrella.

Santa Monica and Long Beach bike-shares selected vendor CycleHop, a “smart bike” system. Metro selected Bicycle Transit Systems, a “smart dock” system. These systems are not compatible, not “interoperable.” No rider will be able to check out a bike in Santa Monica, and ride it ten miles to downtown L.A. and dock the bike there. But then again, bike-share bikes are for short hops; they’re bulky and not really suited to 10-mile trips anyway. In the event that the service areas expand over time, which they will, some day there will be a need for interoperability – whatever form that takes – but the need now is to get these systems implemented and get on-the-ground experience.

Bloom’s editorial states that Metro’s smart docks are “old technology” and Santa Monica’s smart bikes are “cutting edge.” In her testimony last week, L.A. Department of Transportation (LADOT) General Manager Seleta Reynolds emphasized that all bike-share systems are “very much a start-up.” Start-ups are risky. If other cities’ bike-share implementation experience is telling, it’s possible that one or both of these these companies will experience hiccups. This could mean delays, supply issues, or worse. At this early stage, I think it will be beneficial to have multiple systems would operate within L.A. County, just in case one system has problems. There may even be new technology right around the corner, too, so it just doesn’t make sense to put all our eggs in one countywide basket today.

Here’s what I’d like to see in bike-share’s near future:

  • The DTLA, Long Beach, and Santa Monica systems all get underway, with bikes on the ground in the year ahead.
  • Each of these systems gradually expands to contiguous and nearby areas. (Councilmember Bonin and LADOT are supportive of expanding Santa Monica’s Breeze system into Venice; an initial roll-out plan includes three stations in the city of Los Angeles and more Breeze stations throughout L.A.’s Westside makes sense. Metro’s DTLA system expands into Pasadena and Hollywood.)
  • Metro supports all bike-share systems that meet a minimum standard, but not set up restrictive one-size-fits-all rules.
  • Service coverage grows over the next 5-10 years to the point where we have the “problem” of further integrating a small handful of excellent local bike-share systems.

The scenario I most fear is that the Westside electeds get their way, delaying Metro bike-share today. Then Metro could retaliate, isolating Santa Monica’s fledgling system. Instead of having two or three or more functional bike-share systems, we could end up with none.

I urge the Metro Board to approve Metro bike-share, and urge all parties to work together respectfully to continue to expand bike-share coverage throughout the county.