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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.

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Metro Celebrates National Dump the Pump Day

Phil Washington (left) and Shawn Nelson encouraging driving commuters to dump the pump. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Phil Washington (left) and Shawn Nelson encouraging driving commuters to dump the pump. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

This morning, Metro CEO Phil Washington and Metrolink Board Chair and Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson welcomed Southern California commuters to “dump the pump.” The press event featured a motorcycle officer serving ceremonial divorce papers to a car. The divorcing a car theme is reminiscent of the title of a recommended 2000 book by Katie Alvord. Divorcing one’s car, according to American Public Transit Association (APTA) figures for Los Angeles, will save a car commuter nearly $13,000 each year in “auto-mony.”

Washington emphasized that while driving is promoted as being associated with freedom, the reality differs from the image. Nelson emphasized that riding transit avoids the “white knuckle” stress of driving, and instead gives commuters time to read, text, or just spend pleasant time alone. Read more…

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Metro Planning Committee Approves Bike-Share Contract

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

Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter rides Indego. Metro is in the process of approving Philadelphia’s vendor, Bicycle Transit Systems, to run its bike-share system starting in DTLA in 2016. Image via Streetfilms

As expected, at yesterday’s meeting the Metro Planning and Programming Committee approved the contract for the first phase of Metro bike-share. The final approval is now expected at next Thursday’s meeting of the full Metro board of directors.

The initial phase of Metro bike-share will be located in downtown Los Angeles, extending from Union Station to USC. There will be 1,000+ bicycles at 60+ docking stations. The system is expected to open in early 2016. Once established, the system is expected to expand to Pasadena, other parts of central Los Angeles, and additional areas. See details at this earlier SBLA article.

The vendor selected is Bicycle Transit Systems, which implemented and operates Philadelphia’s Indego bike-share system.

Metro bike-share will likely be the largest, but when it opens for business in early 2016, it will be the third bike-share system in L.A. County, after the systems already being implemented in the cities of Santa Monica and Long Beach. Both Santa Monica and Long Beach use a different operator, CycleHop, than the one being approved by Metro. At yesterday’s Metro meeting, the city of Santa Monica’s Strategic and Transportation Planning Manager Francie Stefan testified that multiple uncoordinated systems could “chill” the spread of bike-share throughout the region.

Both State Assemblymember Richard Bloom (AD-50), whose district includes Santa Monica and other Westside cities, and Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown submitted letters (PDF, PDF) to Metro advocating for Metro to prioritize interoperability between systems.  Read more…

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Metro Tunnel Under DTLA 7th Street Expected Complete Late 2015

Rendering of what the new 7th Street Station portal will look like from inside The Bloc.

Rendering of what the new 7th Street Station portal will look like from inside The Bloc. Image via Studio One Eleven

Step aside, North Hollywood. Keep chugging along, Purple and Crenshaw lines, and Regional Connector. Wait a while, preferably a long, long while, South Pasadena.

The first of new Metro’s new tunnels underway is expected to be completed late this year. It will be under 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles. It may not be long or expensive, but it represents an interesting change in the orientation of L.A.’s downtown landscape. It expands downtown’s connection with the Metro Red, Purple, Blue, and Expo Lines. When the current subways first arrived in downtown L.A. in 1992, downtown businesses and development were perhaps a bit standoffish, not fully eager to embrace transit access. Now, downtown development, in the light of demographic shifts toward transit, walking and bicycling, and is re-orienting itself to better connect.

The 1970s mall on the south side of 7th Street from Flower Street to Hope Street is getting a $180 million mixed-use makeover. It will no longer be Macy’s Plaza, but The Bloc. Though it will still have a lot of that ’70s-era parking, new residents and retail customers will have easy access to Metro’s subway lines.

Streetsblog mentioned the tunnel briefly in April, when the Metro board approved the agency’s $4.6 million portion of the project budget [PDF], representing roughly half of the cost of the tunnel. Metro also approved the terms of the agreement that assigns responsibilities for construction, maintenance, etc., and that mandates the tunnel be open to the public at least from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Now that the construction is underway, expected to be completed by the end of 2015, here is a more detailed post to show readers more of the how, where, and when of the tunnel.  Read more…

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Metro Piloting Fast, Convenient All-Door Boarding on Wilshire Rapid Bus

Metro's all-door boarding pilot is underway. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro’s all-door boarding pilot is underway. Metro staff in orange vest in foreground. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro is in its third week of an all-door boarding pilot at two stops on the 720 Wilshire Rapid Bus line. Riders can take advantage of all-door boarding mornings westbound at Wilshire/Vermont and afternoons eastbound at Wilshire/Westwood.

Streetsblog checked out how it was working this morning, and it looks great!

Here’s how Metro’s trial works:

Signage and Metro staff are on hand to explain the pilot. Today it appeared that many riders boarding the 720 had already figured it out, so staff did not have a lot to do.

Riders validating their TAP cards at temporary stanchions.

Riders validating their TAP cards at temporary stanchions.

Temporary TAP stanchions have been placed at locations corresponding to all three bus doors.  Read more…

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Metro CEO Phil Washington Speaks on Career Pathways in Transportation

This morning, Metro joined the L.A. County Community College District’s press event announcing a $15 million California Career Pathways Trust (CCPT) grant from the California Department of Education. The state education funding goes to L.A. County community colleges for career and technical education, internships, and training.

While the LACCD programs may not be the sort of topic that readers turn to Streetsblog for, the grant will greatly benefit students that are key to Los Angeles’ future. And Streetsblog readers can get a better look at Metro’s impressive new CEO Phil Washington based on his remarks, in the above video. Washington, who grew up in low-income housing on the south side of Chicago, sounds impressive in emphasizing his agency’s roles (alongside industry’s roles) in improving the lives of youth and low-income communities. It appears that Metro boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker, who frequently emphasizes Metro contractor responsibility in benefiting local residents, will have an ally in CEO Washington.

Metro CEO Phil Washington at this morning's LACCD press event. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro CEO Phil Washington at this morning’s LACCD press event. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

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Rosa Parks Station on Track to Complete Environmental Review Process, Finalize Station Design

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of a revamped Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

If you’ve ever tried to navigate the Rosa Parks/Willowbrook station, either to transfer between the Blue and Green Lines or to catch one of the nearly dozen buses that connect with the station, you know it isn’t the most user-friendly place.

Not only do the narrow stairs connecting the two platforms (used by 78% of all 30,000+ passengers that pass through the station daily) create a natural bottleneck, in combination with impatient Sheriffs, families with strollers, cyclists with bikes, and glitchy TAP validators, they can facilitate human traffic jams that inhibit people’s ability to transfer to transit.

Moreover, the narrow Blue Line platform can be quite crowded and uncomfortable in the heat of the day.

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A calm moment at the transfer point between the Blue and Green Lines at the Rosa Parks station in Watts/Willowbrook. Depending on the season and time of day, the Blue Line platform can be bathed in sun and very, very crowded. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro is aiming to change all that with the (proposed) construction of a more open and welcoming community-oriented transit center it believes will be an asset to the neighborhood.

The revamped station will better connect transit riders to nearby education, cultural, health, commercial, and recreational resources via a Mobility Hub (and Bike Hub), more comfortable waiting areas and more sheltering canopies, improved pedestrian circulation via a new Transit Hall, a reconfiguration of the bus depot area, a new southern at-grade entrance to the Blue Line, and upgrades to the lighting, signage, landscaping, stairs, elevators, and escalators (see the project fact sheet here).

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: Metro)

Rendering of the revamped Rosa Parks transit station at Watts/Willowbrook. (Source: JGM)

The station will also feature a Sheriff’s facility, Metro Customer Service Center (to better serve lower-income riders), better integration with the Kenneth Hahn Plaza (KHP) shopping center to the south, and possibly a cafe.

Via a rendering from Jenkins/Gales & Martinez, Inc. and design architects Hodgetts + Fung, it appears passengers will also enjoy a much more enticing, well-lit, and well-signaled connection to the Green Line under the 105 freeway (below). Read more…

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Metro Diary: When Contractors Don’t Get the “Off-Limits” Memo on Harassment

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Transferring to the Blue Line from the Green Line at Imperial-Wilmington. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“Are you riding the train…?” came the voice over my shoulder.

It is perhaps one of the more terrible pick-up lines I have heard in a good while. Especially because I was standing on the Blue Line platform at Grand — a minimally furnished and poorly shaded station in the middle of an ugly stretch of Washington Blvd. that you must cross a very busy street halfway to reach. It is not a site one purposely seeks out as a rest stop.

Not the most inviting of stations (Blue Line @ Grand). Google maps screen shot.

Not the most inviting of stations (Blue Line station at Grand Ave.). Google maps screen shot.

Worse still, the line came from an armed private security guard hired, it appeared, to ensure construction workers there to upgrade the platform were able to do so in peace and to help travelers safely navigate the section of the platform being worked on.

He had not been hired to hassle the passengers.

But that was exactly what he was doing.

I had just watched him demand a young African-American man show him what he had in his pockets. The young man didn’t appear to be bothering anyone (I arrived in the middle of the incident), nor did he appear to be dangerous. His only crime appeared to be that he may have been homeless, and judging by the cardboard sticking out of the pocket of his hoodie, possibly carrying some garbage on his person.

As the young man tried to ignore him, the Afro-Latino guard paced back and forth in front of the young man, belittling him in front of the other passengers. “I’ll double it…Triple it.” he said, offering to up the money he had originally bet that the guy had something in his pockets.

Frustrated by the young man’s unwillingness to respond to his jibes and having spotted me, the guard now decided he had other fish to fry. Read more…