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Posts from the "Blue Line" Category

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Motion to Move Forward on Rail-to-River Bikeway Project up for Vote Thursday

The tracks at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

The ROW which would form part of the Western Segment of the proposed Rail-to-River bikeway. Photo taken at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

In a motion before the Metro Executive Management Committee last Thursday morning, County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas cited the successful “transformation of unused or abandoned rail right-of-ways into pedestrian access and bicycle routes” around the country and here in L.A. as support for his call that the Board direct Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy to move forward on the recommendations found in the 212-page feasibility study on the proposed Rail-to-River Bikeway.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), the project would connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.

The proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents the section of the corridor that Metro could move on planning for immediately. Phase 2 (at right) would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to determine which routes were most appropriate and negotiate with BNSF to purchase a section of the ROW. (Source: Feasibility Study)

The active transportation corridor (ATC) project, first proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

So, it was not surprising to see Ridley-Thomas ask that, when the full Board meets this Thursday, October 23, at 9 a.m., it approve his motion directing Leahy to identify and seek funds from Measure R, Cap and Trade, and other sources to facilitate the environmental, design, and outreach efforts recommended by the Feasibility Report.

Even though Ridley-Thomas’ strong support for the project was expected, the motion to move it forward still made me sit up a little straighter.

When I attended the two public meetings held on the corridor project, representatives from both Metro and Alta Planning + Design (consultants on the project) were firm in their suggestions that we not get our hopes up too high. There was no funding attached to the project, they said, and they were only looking at questions of feasibility. These were also the reasons, I was told, for the limited outreach and engagement of the neighbors that live along the corridor.

Not to mention that including the community might have brought other problems with it. Read more…

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Metro Diary: Every Day He’s Hustlin’

The Willowbrook Station, looking South. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station, looking south. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The well-dressed and good-looking young man with enormous glasses walked toward where I was standing at the front of the packed Blue Line car, gave me a wink and a smile, then turned around and began delivering his sales pitch for headphones to the passengers.

Watching him work the car, I was reminded of how puzzling I find complaints about vendors — especially from those that claim they won’t ride the Blue Line because of them — on the trains.

Most of the vendors I have seen are friendly and savvy salespeople who understand that being presentable and personable, having a solid product, and, above all, not harassing passengers are the keys to success.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t get the occasional sad-faced vendor of incense who won’t take no for an answer or someone like the guy that likes to pop his glass eyeball out, of course. But, in my experience, they are in the minority.

The majority either are largely unobtrusive, floating by and murmuring, “DVDs,” like sweet nothings, or are more like the guy with the glasses — someone who is a regular presence, who takes his “job” seriously, and who has invested a lot of time and effort in honing his business and people skills.

If they’re as smart as the guy in the glasses, they anticipate their customers’ needs. When it has rained, he’s offered me umbrellas. When it has been cold, he has peddled hats.

And, he has always had a smile.

Now he was heading back up the aisle toward me again, this time with a different product in his hands.

“Battery chargers!” he announced.

Pointing at the young male passengers, he argued it was not cool to be caught with uncharged phones or other devices. What would the ladies think of such a man? Not very much.

This guy was good. Read more…

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Man Dies Along the Blue Line; Safety Improvements Are Planned for Next Year

The Blue Line passes within inches of the gates at Vernon at a fairly high speed. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

On Friday, September 27th, shortly after 6 p.m., 37 year-old Zenon Vazquez opened the gate and stepped in front of the Blue Line train at Vernon.

It’s hard to understand how that can happen, given how loud the signal bells are, and the fact that you either have to duck under the pedestrian barrier bar (above left) or open one of the gates. The train passes so close, in fact, that even if you were both deaf and blind, you’d probably still be able to feel it coming.

So, it’s not surprising that there are some conflicting accounts of what happened that evening.

Some witnesses say the man was possibly distracted and looking the wrong way. Metro informs me some of their witnesses saw Vazquez and another man walk out of a liquor store toward the station. The companion stopped at the gate, while Vazquez proceeded on through. Whether anyone said anything to try to keep him from doing so is unknown. However, both accounts seem to discourage the notion that the death was a suicide, and one implies intoxication may have been a factor. The coroner says a full report is still pending.

A trip to the Vernon station, however, did offer some clues.

As I stood taking photos of the pedestrian gates, several people walked right through, even as the signals were going off.

It happens all the time, said the older couple that have a vendor stand on the east side of the tracks.

They were still set up on the corner when the incident occurred that Friday, but they hadn’t witnessed it.

Although they felt it was very unfortunate, they were only surprised it didn’t happen more often.

It had happened shortly after the Metro Safety Ambassador had left for the day, they explained. When no one is around to monitor the area, people are much less likely to obey the signals.

The craziest thing, they said, was that people were jumping between the cars of the stopped train (once the man had been struck), determined to get around it to wherever they had to go. Nevermind that they could have tripped and stumbled into the path of a northbound train. Read more…

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Long Beach Pols Push for Blue Line Safety Measures, More Needs to Be Done

It is a thorn in many of the sides of Long Beach transit riders: the Blue Line, bluntly put, rarely proffers its riders a safe ride.

The past year alone has offered a plethora of disturbing events alter the public perception of even bothering with the Blue: Earlier this year, a man was beaten unconscious at the Willow Platform after being robbed, without a report to police for ten minutes . In November of last year, a 19-year-old man was shot at the 5th Street Station, with Rick Jager of Metro claiming he couldn’t even remember the last time someone was shot on the Metro. That same month, a pedestrian was hit by a train at that same station after a car collided with the Blue Line previously in July, causing a death. One woman blogged of her horrific Blue Line experiences, eventually going viral and showcasing how when one boards the train in Long Beach, “the [hassling] starts right away.”

The Metro line is key to the Los Angeles region, catering to some 90,000 people a day, with over 17,000 being served at the eight Long Beach stations alone. And it is here where Vice Mayor Robert Garcia–with the backing of fellow councilmembers Suja Lowenthal, James Johnson, and Steve Neal–has drafted a recommendation to improve the safety of the Blue Line by modernizing and beautifying the Long Beach strip on which it runs.

According to the recommendation, there are sections of the Blue Line “need immediate attention, including repairing of public art, signage, and improving public safety” in addition to the addition of turnstiles that “would assist public safety officials with monitoring who rides on the Blue Line.”

Garcia is essentially right on two fundamental levels: the electronic turnstiles will help better funnel out non-paying customers and the dilapidated state of many of the stations welcome unwanted visitors. In fact, I am quite sure that Garcia et al understand that Long Beach will be unable to reach its goal of being “The Most Bike Friendly City in America”–amongst other goals–without safe transit connections. Read more…

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Balancing Safety, Security, and Saturation on the Blue Line

“Heads Up! Watch for Trains!” is seen on the train passing the memorial for Gilberto Reynaga, struck down by a Blue Line train at age 13 in 1999 (photo: sahra)

“Nobody uses it,” Liz told me. “There’s dookies in there!”

She was referring to the 53rd St. pedestrian bridge connecting the two halves of the Pueblo del Rio housing development split by the four sets of Blue Line and Pacific Rail train tracks.

Dookies, piss, and people waiting to relieve you of your possessions — the pedestrian bridge unfortunately appears to have it all.

The pedestrian bridge at 53rd St. Click for larger view. (photo: sahra)

The fact that it sits largely unused — although perhaps unsurprising, given the fact that it is both fully enclosed and very long (favoring ramps over stairs) — is disheartening to say the least. The bridge was constructed in 2001 with the intention of making the community safer.

The project had originally been proposed in 1996, but didn’t move forward until middle-schooler Gilberto Reynaga was killed in 1999 by a passing train. Reynaga and his friend were returning home from playing basketball on a mid-summer’s afternoon when they came across a stopped freight train blocking the intersection at 55th St. and Long Beach Blvd. Apparently thinking that the flashing lights were for the stopped train only, they clambered over it and made their way toward the Blue Line tracks (which run parallel with the Union Pacific tracks for much of their trajectory through South L.A.). They didn’t see the southbound Metro train until they were already on the tracks.

With neighbors screaming at them to get out of the way, they panicked and ran for it. Reynaga didn’t make it, and was subsequently dragged under the train.

The whole community mourned, Liz, whose family runs a mini-market at that intersection, told me. “The funeral was huge — so many people came. It was the biggest funeral ever.”

“The Deadliest Rail Line in the Country” or “The Greatest Concentration of Traffic-Sign-Disobeying People with Death Wishes”?

We’ve all heard the Blue Line called the “deadliest rail line in the country.”

Streetsblog has even done some of that name calling and railed against Metro for suggesting that some of the fault lies with us because “people have a responsibility to obey both the active and passive warning devices.”

Although Metro acknowledges that the deaths of 70+ pedestrians and 28 motorists over the past two decades isn’t something to brag about, it isn’t a title they are willing to accept without some qualification. Read more…

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Two New Ghost Bikes Go Up to Honor Fallen Cyclists in South L.A.

Members of the East Side Riders and Los Ryderz bike clubs put a ghost bike up at the site where a cyclist was hit by the Blue Line train last month (photo courtesy of John Jones III)

Two new ghost bikes went up in South L.A. and Compton yesterday. One was to commemorate the death last month of Sylvester Henderson, 26, who was hit by the train while crossing the Blue Line tracks at the intersection of Grandee and Century Blvd.

Not much is known about Henderson’s death, unfortunately. Much to the consternation of Ted Rogers of bikinginla, the only official news of it seemed to be that of an L.A. Times photo in the print edition showing a bike with a taco-ed wheel said to belong to the as-yet unidentified victim laying on the tracks.

Metro couldn’t give me much information, either. A representative was unable to explain how or why Henderson ignored the flashing lights and lowered arms of the railroad signals.

Judging by the location of the bike in the photo (below) and the fact that Henderson was traveling eastbound against traffic, it is likely he either didn’t notice or didn’t pay attention to the gate arms and flashing lights because they weren’t directly in front of him. The Blue Line has few of the pedestrian safety gates that the Expo Line has, despite the fact that you are actually crossing four sets of tracks (two for the Blue Line and two for freight rail) in most locations. So, while gate arms may effectively block vehicular traffic, pedestrians and cyclists can (and often do) move uninhibited through that and the crossing at 103rd, thinking they can beat the train. Or, they are unaware of whether or not they should be crossing. When you get off the train at 103rd and are looking to cross Grandee, for example, the pedestrian walk signal is conveniently blocked by a telephone pole. Read more…

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Metro Diary: Three Trains, a Tourist, Some Eager-Beaver Sheriffs, and a Former Foster Child…All in the Space of an Hour

The Willowbrook Station, looking South. (photo: sahra)

Whenever I travel in and out of LAX, I do my best to Metro my way there.

It requires a forty-minute walk, three trains, and an airport shuttle ride for me to go one way. But, it’s cheap and, remarkably, it all goes down in less than two hours. And, it is never dull.

For one, I get to watch new arrivals stumble their way through the TAP machine at Aviation.

This time, it was a lawyer from Toronto who hung back from the crowd that lunged for the single TAP machine near the elevator, where we were dropped off.

I hadn’t actually taken a look at this ticket-vending machine (TVM) before because I always reach the platform via the stairs at the east end of the station, where the shuttles usually stop. This TVM had none of the semi-helpful maps and informational posters (if you are an English speaker) present by the base of the stairs.

The lawyer hoped that watching other people go through the motions, he’d figure it out.

He didn’t.

He reassured me later that he would have gotten the hang of it with a little more time. He rides public transit a lot, he said.

Having watched him try to navigate the system, I wasn’t so sure.

He was going to have to take three trains (Green, Blue, Purple) and maybe a bus in order to get himself close to LACMA, and didn’t realize that meant that he would need to pay several separate fares. That part wasn’t in the directions his friend had sent him.

He stared at the screen and looked back at the directions on his phone. Buy a card or add a fare? He looked at me.

It dawned on me that while Metro has made it somewhat easier for frequent riders to navigate the system with recent changes to the menus, those shortcuts may make it more challenging for newbies.

As found during a recent Metro-run focus group, people don’t look at the information on or around the machine itself, they focus on the screen and the menus, assuming those will provide answers at some point. It would therefore make sense if the first screen greeting users also had a static list of fun, helpful tips such as “Each Train Requires a Separate Fare!” “ALWAYS Touch Your Card to the Blue TAP Circles at the Turnstiles or Validators Before Boarding!” or “Seniors Get Discounts!” It would also help if the “help” option was, instead, an interactive “information” option that took you to a list of things you could get more specific information about, such as transfers, fares, maps, passes, basic how-to stuff, timetables, and so forth (instead of the achingly slow and not particularly helpful scrolling screen it is now).

Things got fun at the Rosa Parks station, where we descended into the bottleneck that is the stairs to the Blue Line Platform to find a couple of Sheriffs waiting for us. They checked everyone that came through, making people anxious because the delay meant they were going to miss the train or buses they could see waiting below. At least they didn’t have the canines with them. Read more…

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Will a Smooth Blue Line Ride Finally Come to Long Beach?

The City Council endorsed the submission of a grant funding application to Metro in the "Call for Projects." To read the full application, click here.

It is the wrong way to be advertising the use of public transportation–and to experience this egregious advert, one simply has to take the Blue Line through Long Beach. And if you’re lucky, you’ll only hit one or two lights as you watch individual commuters putt-putt past you while the entire Metro trains halts.

The gripe of Blue Line commuters coming in and out of Long Beach wrests on the fact that it’s the only stretch which doesn’t have a signal preemption system–that is, controllers for the movement of traffic that gives preference to Metro trains rather than street traffic (and not to be confused with signal priority technology used for buses).

When the line was first implemented, it had been foreseen that the train would be given priority signalization–in other words: a guaranteed green light. The system however failed countywide, eventually prompting the City of Los Angeles to score a grant in which it developed its own traffic signal priority system.

The Blue Line has not only faced signal pre-emption issues in Long Beach, nor have the other lines been exempt. Through the previously mentioned grant, LADOT finally provided signal priority on Washington Street in 2011 after a multitude of complaints and three years of studies. Much to the chiding to this day of public transit commuters that preemption was not implemented since signal priority attempts to either hold a green light longer or give a green early rather than providing a guaranteed green for trains.

However, Long Beach’s home stretch is often times absurd, adding 20 minutes to a Downtown LA commute if you happen to hit reds at a multitude of the 32 signals paralleling the Blue Line. So why, precisely, not just adopt the Los Angeles system? Well, of course, that would be too easy and the Universe loves to mock: we use an entirely different traffic signal system than L.A. and the software provider for L.B.’s system was unable to make the transition work–effectively abandoning the project.

But there is (not a traffic) light at the end of the tunnel. Read more…

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Sunday Stabbing on the Blue Line Spotlights Questions of Safety on the Trains

The Willowbrook Station, looking South. (photo: sahra)

Sunday evening, at approximately 7:20 p.m., a 20-something year old man was stabbed by two women — one in her early 20s and the other in her early 50s — while traveling southbound on the Metro Blue Line.

Passengers that witnessed the altercation called security and requested a Sheriff meet the train at the Firestone station.

The women were arrested and taken into custody and a knife was recovered on the scene at that time.

As of this morning, there is still no information available regarding what sparked the altercation between the parties. All the Watch Commander could tell me was that the women were not related to the victim.

The victim, whose name is not being released at this time, was taken to St. Francis Medical Center with non-life threatening injuries.

The stabbing is unusual, not least because two women were the perpetrators. Research suggests that when women are the perpetrators of physical violence, it is most often in cases of domestic violence (for which they are three times more likely to be arrested than men — off topic, true, but interesting nonetheless). Although there was a case in New York where 6 allegedly drunk girls were involved in the stabbing of an older gentleman on the train, public stabbings of strangers by women are infrequent, at best.

The case is also unusual because stabbings on Metro trains are relatively isolated incidents and perpetrators are generally caught, due to the number of witnesses, video surveillance, and the challenge of escaping a train or station once an act has been perpetrated. Of note, the fatal stabbing of 59-year old Jesse Garay on the Red Line last August. He was stabbed by Gene Sim, 33, who claimed he was defending himself when Garay began swinging a chain wildly. The fatal stabbing was the first of its kind since the opening of the Red Line in 1993. The family of Garay filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the MTA, charging that there was not enough security on the train. Meanwhile, it is unclear if Sim was charged in the death. Read more…

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Metro Diary: Planes, Trains, and Confusing Transfers with TAP

A middle-schooler shows a Japanese tourist at the Aviation/LAX station how to use the Metro system. (photo: sahra)

“Do you need any help?” I asked the tall Russian guy.

He was making a valiant effort to look nonchalant as he shifted his gaze back and forth between the Metro rail map at the Aviation/LAX stop of the Green Line and the directions printed out in his hand.

He needed to get to Hollywood and Western, he said. The Google Map directions got him onto the Green Line and headed east easily enough. But then, they directed him to pick up the Silver Line at the Harbor Freeway stop and do some other things that didn’t make much sense on his way to the 7th St. Metro Center.

I told him to come with me, as I was headed to the Sunset/Vermont stop, and walked him through the purchase of a TAP card.

Next to us, at the second ticket vending machine (TVM), a pair of French siblings was having trouble.

They had been staring at the machine for some time, unable to figure out why it was asking them for nearly $100.

I couldn’t figure it out either.

“You just need to put $3 on the card – you’re only taking two trains,” I said, pulling the girl over to the map to show her the route to take.

We walked back to the machine and began the transaction all over again. Read more…