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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.

Read more…

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Gold Line Foothill Extension Photo Tour: Iconic Gold Line Freeway Bridge

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The recently completed Gold Line Bridge over the 210 Freeway. Photo: Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority

In this third installment of our Foothill Gold Line photo tour series, we explore the Gold Line Foothill Extension’s iconic bridge over the 210 Freeway, as well as a closer look at the line’s other bridges.

Recently, Streetsblog’s Damien Newton and Aviv Kleinman joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the Gold Line Phase II 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 and Operations yard under construction in Monrovia.

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 new 11.3-mile extension includes 6 new stations, serving five cities directly. 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.

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The bridge spans 584-linear-feet diagonally across the Eastbound 210 Freeway. Notice the bumper-to-bumper traffic heading westbound on the freeway. I predict that one of the most effective marketing tools for increasing Gold Line ridership will be the simple frustration drivers feel when they are stuck on the freeway while watching the sleek new trains travelling at 55 mph towards Downtown LA. All photos, except where noted: Aviv Kleinman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Gold Line bridge, completed in 2012, was built to replace the previous flyover bridge used by the Santa Fe railroad to cross over the eastbound lanes of the 210 freeway. The Gold Line tracks run 4.1 miles along the median of the 210 before crossing the bridge into the city of Arcadia, heading southeast towards the downtown Arcadia station.  Read more…

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Metro Round-Up: LAX, Open Streets, New Reps on Technical Committee

Concept rendering for new LAX rail station. Green Line and Crenshaw Line light rail  run at grade, below future "automated people mover." Image via Metro staff report

Concept rendering for new LAX rail station at 96th Street and Aviation Bo. Green Line and Crenshaw Line light rail run at grade (visible in the middle right), below future “automated people mover” (visible in the upper right). Image via Metro staff report [PDF]

At yesterday’s Metro Board Meeting, directors approved a handful of initiatives that have great implications for the future livability of the Los Angeles Region. Here is the re-cap:

Technical Committee Adds Pedestrian and Bike Representatives

The Metro Board approved adding two new active transportation representatives to the agency’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). In addition to new TAC members representing bicycle and pedestrian transportation experts, the motion [pdf] approved yesterday also added a non-voting public health representative.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) and Safe Routes to School National Partnership have pushed for long-overdue Metro TAC expansion. The TAC includes a representative from the Automobile Association of America, but no one advocating for active transportation. Earlier this year, Streetsblog previewed TAC expansion. Since that earlier article, the somewhat half-hearted proposal was strengthened by a March 2014 motion from Metro boardmember Mike Bonin.

Here’s what the LACBC’s Eric Bruins had to say about yesterday’s Metro board action:

It’s about time for Metro to embrace multi-modalism throughout the culture of the agency, including their advisory committees. This committee is involved in the nuts-and-bolts of decision-making at Metro, so it’s important to have people at the table constantly viewing agency actions through a lens of how they impact walking, biking, and public health throughout the county.

Open Streets Events Expanding Throughout L.A. County

SBLA covered the expansion of CicLAvia-type open streets events when Metro staff recommendations were circulated about a month ago. As LongBeachize previewed, representatives from the city of Long Beach attended the Metro Board meeting, expressing their concerns over Metro’s selection criteria. Metro awarded funding to only one event to each applicant city before funding any additional events hosted by the same city. Proportionally, this puts the cities of Los Angeles (population 4,000,000) and Long Beach (population 500,000) on equal footing with Lawndale (population 34,000) and Culver City (population 40,000). (Population figures here.)

Though Metro board member John Fasana expressed that Metro should “re-tool” in future open streets funding cycles, the board approved the staff recommendations unchanged. Lots more ciclovías coming to lots of neighborhoods over the next couple years!

Rail Connection with LAX Approved

Despite boardmember Mike Bonin expressing some concerns (including very low ridership projections, a focus of this L.A. Weekly article) at last week’s Metro Programming Committee meeting, yesterday’s LAX approval went very smoothly. The Metro board approved a preferred alternative for connecting rail to LAX. It’s a new rail station, located at 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard, where LAX-bound riders can board an Automated-People-Mover (APM). Depending on operations decisions, still to be determined, the new station will serve the existing Metro Green Line, Metro Crenshaw Line (under construction) and possibly even Expo Line trains via Crenshaw. (Editor’s note: this would be way in the future – there are no current plans to connect Expo and Crenshaw tracks.) Both Mayor Garcetti and Bonin stated that they expect the 96th Street Station to be more than just a transfer point, but indeed a full-featured world-class gateway to Los Angeles.

With the LAX connection conceptually decided, there’s still lots of environmental studies, design and operation decisions, finalization of features that will be designed/built by LAX itself, and about a decade of construction before the riders can experience it.  Read more…

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Metro: We’re Not Opposed to North Figueroa Road Diet

Responding to coverage in Streetsblog of the May meeting held concerning the North Figueroa Road Diet, a spokesperson for Metro reached out to Streetsblog arguing that despite our characterization of Metro’s position as “opposed to the Road Diet,” Metro is not opposed to reducing mixed used traffic lanes to create a buffered bike lane.

Metro Line 81 buses on North Figueroa Street. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/fig4all/8745176419/##Fig4All/Flickr##

Metro Line 81 buses on North Figueroa Street. Photo: Fig4All/Flickr

“It’s pretty clear Scott DID NOT speak against the Figueroa bike lanes as your article states,” writes Dave Sotero, a spokesperson with Metro. ”He merely said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that when the lanes come in, we’ll monitor and make changes to the schedule accordingly and do our best to ensure the buses stay on time.”

Watching the video again, I can see Sotero’s point. However, Metro’s Scott Page gave his presentation surrounded by public officials speaking against the road diet in a series of agency testimonials orchestrated by the office of Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo. Video of Page’s testimony is available here.

Read more…

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Gold Line Foothill Extension Photo Tour: The Maintenance Yard

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The Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Yard will be able to store 84 cars when it is completed. The M&O site will be complete with a train car wash, a train car storage yard, 188 employee parking stalls, and a covered maintenance-of-way facility.

In this photo essay, we will explore the Foothill Gold Line’s magnificent Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Facility, currently under construction in Monrovia.

Earlier this week, Streetsblog’s Damien Newton and Aviv Kleinman joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the Gold Line Phase II 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 constructors of the project. Part 1 of the series documented the rail corridor and stations.

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 terminus, in East Pasadena at Sierra Madre Villa, to 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.

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M&O Facility Site Plan, courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority (click for hi-res)

Read more…

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A Photo Essay of a Tour of the Gold Line Foothill Extension

This Wednesday, Aviv Kleinman and Damien Newton of Streetsblog joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the Gold Line Foothill Extension 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 constructors of the project.

Jeff Rowland, the Community Relations Manager for the  Kiewit-Parsons Joint Venture, knows just about everything there is to know about the Gold Line extension, and railroad construction in general. I made sure to pick his brain with many questions throughout the day, and he was able to answer them all with facts and figures.

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Yours truly waiting for a train at the Monrovia Station. If there were a LCD screen showing waiting time for the next train, it would display “1273236 minutes” (until November, 2016, of course.) All photos by Aviv Kleinman/Streetsblog L.A., except where specified otherwise

It was the most comprehensive tour we could have ever imagined, and we had a long and great day on the tour. We toured the future Maintenance and Operations (M&O) facility, the flyover bridge that crosses the 210 Freeway, and many future stations and sections of track alignment. We’re splitting tour coverage into four separate posts: The first about the line in general, the second about the maintenance yard, the third about the iconic bridge, and the fourth about Transit-Oriented-Development built and planned around the line.

The Metro 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’s first phase entered service in 2003, serving 21 stations. The line’s third phase, the Foothill Extension, will extend from its current terminus in East Pasadena, at Sierra Madre Villa to Azusa, serving another 6 stations over the course of 11.3 miles. The extension will serve five cities directly, and it is proposed to transform transportation and development patterns in the San Gabriel Valley. Once bounded by the distress of being caught in freeway gridlock, San Gabriel Valley residents will now have the freedom to commute by Metro rail into Downtown LA and endless locations from there by using the new Gold Line extension.

In this first installment of the series, we explore the stations, track alignment, and construction machinery and processes. Photos and renderings will be displayed in that order.

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Artist’s rendering of the future Monrovia Station. Courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority .

Rowland explained that in the initial phase of the Gold Line construction between L.A. and Pasadena, Metro asked each municipality that would host a station to design their own ‘personalized’ station that would be an art piece portraying a theme of the municipality’s choice. Art is great, but, according to Rowland, art the size of a train station is pricey. At the price tag of $25 million each, the current stations are marvelous and magnificent, but their costs were just too high for the second phase of the line.

Read more…

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Five Key Tips For Metro Regarding Safe Bus-Bike Interactions

Early last week, Michael MacDonald posted his helmet-camera video showing a Metro bus driver veering rightward into his path, then braking. The incident occurred on Adams Boulevard near Hauser. When MacDonald confronted the driver, he responds dismissively and closes the bus window.

The video bounced around the bike corner of cyberspace. It was picked up by Biking in L.A. who called it “a perfect test case for the city’s cyclist anti-harassment ordinance.” The footage ran on Univision and CBS.

There are other similar videos online. Below is one that took place on Santa Monica Boulevard, from YouTube user Wes + Bikes.

Though it doesn’t get recorded on video often, I can personally confirm that this sort of merge conflict happens to lots of L.A. cyclists very frequently, especially those of us intrepid enough to “take the lane” on L.A.’s busier arterial bus-route streets. Yesterday, I bicycled from Koreatown to Downtown L.A. and had two transit vehicles merge into my path, one a Metro Bus and the other an LADOT DASH Shuttle. Public agency bus merges are frequent, as they get over to the curb to pick up passengers, but I’ve also been cut off by plenty of private vehicles, especially near freeway on-ramps, and  driveways. Read more…