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Lessons From UCLA’s TransportationCamp

Joshua Schank, Metro's new chief innovation officer, speaking at TransportationCamp at UCLA on Saturday. Photo by Joe Linton/StreetblogLA

Joshua Schank, Metro’s new chief innovation officer, speaking at TransportationCamp at UCLA on Saturday. Photo by Joe Linton/StreetblogLA

What do you get when dozens of transportation professionals, technologists, and others interested in improving urban transportation networks all in one room at UCLA on a Saturday morning? The answer is Los Angeles’ very first TransportationCamp.

While there were no bonfires or arts and crafts, Saturday’s event was different than your usual gathering of transportation professionals. The atmosphere was deliberately casual for the event, billed as an “unconference.”

What does that mean? For one, it means that those who were attending chose the topics that were discussed during the day-long event.

“You don’t have to bring the answers; you just have to bring the questions… and great things will happen,” Juan Matute, associate director of the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies, told the crowd.

Since it was started in March 2011 in New York by OpenPlans (Streetsblog’s founding nonprofit), TransportationCamp events have cropped up all over the country.  Transportation Camps are scheduled in New York next month and Washington, D.C. in January.

“This is where [the future of] L.A. transportation is happening,” Matute told the crowd.

Unlike a traditional conference, each session was less a lecture and more a conversation, usually led by the person who suggested the topic earlier in the day.

The format gave people a chance to talk to other conference attendees — including Ashley Hand, LADOT’s transportation technology strategy fellow; Peter Marx, L.A. Mayor’s chief innovative technology officer; and Joshua Schank, Metro’s new chief innovation officer — about the topics most of interest to them. You can read Marx’s impressions of the day here.

Over the course of the day, attendees participated in and facilitated about two dozen different discussions. Topics included autonomous vehicles, measuring “Great Streets,” L.A. County bike-share, identifying and mobilizing Vision Zero stakeholders, the link between land use and quality transit, and a chance to meet Metro’s new innovation officer, among many other things.

A complete list of sessions with links to notes taken during them can be found here, but below are some of our takeaways from TransportationCamp L.A.

Read more…


Guest Opinion: Uber And Lyft, A Solution To L.A.’s First Last Mile Dilemma?

Can Uber and Lyft play a big role in solving Metro's first/last mile? Graphic via Lyft

Uber and Lyft can play a big role in transporting Metro riders first and last mile. Bay Area Lyft Graphic via Lyft

The Los Angeles City Council should be commended for its recent approval of Uber and Lyft pick-ups at LAX. By recognizing these services’ enduring appeal for airport travelers, Los Angeles’ city government now stands at the forefront of municipal ride-hail regulation.

And yet, merely adapting to these ride-hail services’ presence will deny the city a crucial opportunity.

As Los Angeles officially commits itself to a transport system untethered to the single-family automobile, the city (and the regional transit agency, Metro) should utilize the popularity of ride-hail services to get more people out of their cars and on to public transit.

Given that Los Angeles County is geographically-dispersed and that vast tracts of single-family residential zones separate major commercial corridors, the Los Angeles County Metro’s burgeoning rail transit system has faced difficulty accommodating riders who reside or work at a distance from transit stations.

Metro’s attempts to solve the “first mile-last mile” gap through parking have largely floundered   The free parking at stations like North Hollywood fills to capacity early in the morning on weekdays. Proposals to charge for parking at North Hollywood and similar stations may free up some space but will inevitably turn away a portion of transit riders (particularly the all-day commuters who benefit from the current scenario.) Building more parking, on the other hand, is prohibitively expensive due to a combination of limited building space and exorbitant costs.

At the same time, local bus service to a rail station – constricted to major arterials – can be as difficult to access as the station itself and bears the added limitation of a fixed and limited schedule.

Finally, “Active Transportation” modes like walking and bicycling, the subject of Metro’s recent First Mile Last Mile Strategic Plan (pages 13 to 14), also tend toward the slower end. Even in the most congested American cities, walking is always slower than driving and bicycling only saves time over driving at rush hour. Active transportation also excludes many transit riders with physical impairments.

By offering on-demand service with compact vehicles, ride-hail services are well-positioned to transport passengers from disparate locations to nearby transit stations on a flexible basis.

Though they can become costly for long-distance trips, ride-hail services’ low per-mile costs, particularly on their shared-ride services, make them incredibly reasonable on short journeys, A shared-ride option like UberPool could shuttle transit riders with an origin or destination as distant as four miles away from a station for under six dollars, disregarding surge fares, for a complete trip of eight dollars or less. By comparison, the average car ride in the United States costs around 5 dollars in gas and side costs (this does not account for the higher-than-average price of both parking and gas in Los Angeles.)

Across Metro’s ten extant or soon-to-be-completed rail and bus rapid transit lines, ride-hail services can potentially offer flexible access to as many as six million people (based on subtracting the figure cited in Metro’s First Mile, Last Mile Strategic Plan, page 1, from the approximate figure of 1.5 million people within a half mile radius of current rail lines, extrapolated from this chart) located within a few miles but beyond immediate walking distance from stations for a cost competitive with the automobile.

As a former driver for Lyft myself, I can personally attest that a portion of the population uses ride-hail services in this matter.

And yet, because most stations have limited loading and parking space and because many drivers are unfamiliar with station layouts,  arranging a ride-hail pick-up becomes difficult for those who do not plan carefully. Read more…

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Metro Board Passes Ridley-Thomas Motions: Loan Fund, College Student Pass

California's Strategic Growth Council has awarded the city of Los Angeles a half-million dollar grant for a study that will make it easier to build infill housing in Transit Priority Areas, similar to this transit-oriented development above the Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Under a motion passed today, Metro will provide loan support to transit-oriented businesses, such as this ground-floor retail above the Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At this morning’s Metro Board of Directors meeting, County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas shepherded the passage of two worthwhile motions that advance local livability. The motions are detailed below:

Community College Student Passes

The board unanimously approved a Ridley-Thomas motion that directs Metro’s CEO to report back in 60 days regarding current college TAP programs and the feasibility of piloting a “Universal Community College Student Transit Pass Program.” Benefits of these types of programs include increased transit ridership, reduced driving, and reduced traffic congestion.

It is not clear how student passes would be funded, though the motion includes a number of possible funding options:

In addition to the “opt-in” increase in student registration fees, the costs of such a program could be subsidized by the college, as it will reduce parking demands. In addition, Metro could solicit additional resources through the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee. Later this Fall, the Metro must also provide a proposal to the State of California on how we propose to spend approximately $30 million of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund/Low Carbon Transit Operations Program revenue that is expected to be allocated to the agency through the State’s Cap and Trade Program; a revenue source that is anticipated to grow in the coming years. Given the focus on increasing ridership, this may also be a viable funding source for a Universal Pass program.

Transit-Oriented Housing/Business Loan Fund

As a result of a November, 2014, motion authored by then-Chair L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, as well as the leadership of new CEO Phil Washington, Metro is stepping up its involvement in affordable housing. Among recent developments on this, Metro has upped its targets for affordable housing in joint development projects, and retooled its development policies to allow discounted land prices to incentivize affordability. In March, Metro set aside $10 million ($2 million per year for five years) for a loan fund primarily supporting transit-oriented affordable housing. The way this fund will work is still taking shape.

Read more…


Open Thread: Metro Considering Bus Stop Thinning In Network Plan

Metro is looking to thin many of its bus stops as part of its proposed bus service reorganization.  Photo: Fred Camino/Metro Rider

Metro is looking to thin nearby bus stops as part of its proposed bus service reorganization. Photo: Fred Camino/Metro Rider

As part of its big bus service re-organization, now called the Strategic Bus Network Plan (SBNP), Metro is proposing “stop thinning,” which basically means eliminating numerous bus stops that are too close to each other. According to a recent Metro staff report [PDF] the SBNP is “expected to be presented to the Board for approval in October or November 2015.” When I analyzed Metro’s proposal in July, it was still very much in draft form, with contradictory and unclear components.

My go-to transit expert Jarrett Walker calls stop spacing “the endless, thankless, and essential struggle.” Walker reports that the U.S. generally has stops closer together than in Europe and Australia. He favors thinning stops to rationalize stop spacing primarily because “if you can get people to gather at fewer stops, you get a faster service.” Additional benefits Walker cites are improved health from walking, and “[f]ewer stops also means more people at each stop, which improves personal security and also justifies better infrastructure.”

With Metro’s bus operations budget flat, and population growth and car traffic increasing, if the agency does nothing, then bus service will deteriorate over time. Thinning stops appropriately can help to keep buses moving.

On the other hand, there are trade-offs. Some legitimate, some less so.

It is critical to maintain access for people with disabilities. In a review of Metro’s proposal published at KCET, D.J. Waldie raised this point, remarking that “stop thinning — at least a 1/4 mile spacing between stops — will require the elderly, the disabled, and riders with small children to walk further on sidewalks that require more than a billion dollars in repairs.”

Most resistance is somewhat less legitimate. Again from Walker: “Politically, though, stop removal is hard. People whose ride will be faster usually don’t make a lot of positive comments when such things are proposed, but you do hear from people who are going to lose their stop, and their neighbors and friends.  So these proposals often get beaten down.”

Read more…


Azusa Dedicates Two New Gold Line Stations, Service Expected 2016

Metro CEO Phil Washington speaking at the Azusa stations dedication last Satursday. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro CEO Phil Washington speaking at the standing-room only Azusa Downtown Station and APU/Citrus College Station dedication ceremonies last Satursday. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Over a thousand people turned out in the September heat to attend last Saturday’s dedication celebration for two new Foothill Gold Line extension stations: Downtown Azusa and Azusa Pacific University/Citrus College. Though actual train service is anticipated to start in 2016, the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority has been celebrating concluding station and rail line construction, as many speakers repeated, “on time and on budget.” The new extension extends 11.5 miles from Pasadena to Azusa.

Federal, county, and municpal elected officials pledged to work together to continue to extend the Gold Line. Proponents want to extend the line to Montclair, and further to Ontario Airport.

Metro CEO Phil Washington gave some indication of the anticipated schedule for the line opening, stating that Metro will take control of the facilities this Wednesday, September 23, and will then begin extensive testing. Washington anticipated that roughly 30 days later, Metro will announce the opening date for the Foothill Gold Line Extension. Barring any unforeseen construction issues that may become apparent during testing, the opening is anticipated to be Spring, 2016. There are still a lot of moving pieces, but both the new Gold Line and Expo Line extensions potentially face somewhat infrequent (12-minute headways) initial service due to a short supply of light rail cars, with more frequent service likely commencing in late 2016, as new cars become available.


Among the ways to keep cool were these “Next Stop Azusa” fans.

Read more…


Metro Bike-Share Update: 2016 Opening On Track, With No Title Sponsor

Preview of what Metro bike-share bikes will look like when they arrive in downtown L.A. in mid-2016. Image via Metro staff report

Preview of what Metro bike-share bikes will look like when they arrive in downtown L.A. in mid-2016. Image via Metro staff report [PDF]

A few new bike-share details emerged at yesterday’s Metro Planning and Programming Committee meeting. Overall, Metro bike-share is on track to open in mid-2016 in downtown Los Angeles with 1000+bikes at 60+kiosks.

The bike-share item before the committee was just a receive and file update [PDF], with no action taken.

Metro published a request for proposals for bike-share title sponsorship in July. No sponsors submitted proposals by the late-August deadline, so system implementation is planned to proceed without a title sponsor. Metro staff are arranging for a contract modification to bring their bike-share vendor, Bicycle Transportation Systems (BTS), in to assist with procuring sponsorship. After boardmember Sheila Kuehl stressed the need that a sponsor be “suitable,” Metro staff clarified that BTS would provide technical assistance, but selection of a sponsor would ultimately be up to Metro.

Staff clarified that lack of a title sponsor would not impact the initial roll-out in 2016, but leaves some questions over where continuing Metro funding would come from.

One of the key questions facing Metro is “interoperability.” With Santa Monica opening its Breeze bike-share this year, Metro’s board and others have been pressing to make multiple local systems as easy as possible for riders to use.  Read more…

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Metro Celebrates New El Monte Bike Hub, First of Several

Metro chair Mark Ridley-Thomas cuts the ceremonial ribbon on Metro's El Monte bike hub. To his right are Board Vice Chair John Fasana, and Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas (center) cuts the ceremonial ribbon on Metro’s El Monte bike hub. To his right are Board Vice Chair John Fasana, and Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro celebrated the opening of the agency’s first bike hub this morning in El Monte. The hub is located at the El Monte Transit Center, a very quick 15-minute, 12-mile Metro Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit trip from downtown Los Angeles.

The hub combines secure bike parking with a small bike shop staffed weekdays, from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. The indoor space holds up to 56 bikes. Securing a bike there requires pre-registration and costs $60 for a whole year, $12 for 30 days, or $5 for a week. The facility is operated by BikeHub. See their website for lots more details.

Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas, Board First Vice Chair John Fasana, and Deputy Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Wiggins were on hand to speak to the press, celebrate, and cut ribbon and cake. In his remarks, Fasana called for expanding Metro bike share to this location, though that’s likely to take some time.

Metro plans to open additional bike hubs at Metro rail stations in North Hollywood, Hollywood, Culver City, and Union Station in the next couple years. See future hub details at The SourceRead more…


Metro Saddles NoHo Station Redevelopment With $48M Parking Expansion

Metro's North Hollywood parcels, now up for possible redevelopment. Image via Metro

Metro’s North Hollywood parcels, now up for possible redevelopment. Image via Metro

In a recent post at The Source, Metro announced a new call for joint development at four large parcels of land at and adjacent to its North Hollywood Red and Orange Line Stations. Curbed L.A. reports that the NoHo parcels could include an estimated 750 to 1,500 units of housing, up to 12 stories tall. Hopefully, plenty of that housing will be affordable, based on Metro’s recently adopted joint development policies.

Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) will be a good thing for North Hollywood, for Metro, for Los Angeles. But is this truly TOD?

The issue here is parking.

Lots and lots and lots of parking.

The Source article completely misuses the term “replacement parking.”

The current NoHo lot has 957 spaces and another 194 spaces are in the process of being added on the north side of Chandler Avenue east of the current lot. Parking at NoHo Station is heavily used with most sites taken each morning and many NoHo riders say the parking makes it possible for them to take transit. If the current lots are developed, Metro plans to ask for 2,000 replacement spaces for transit riders in parking lots and/or garages to be constructed in addition to parking needed for residents and retail. That would almost double the current parking available at the station for Red Line and Orange Line riders.

What is “replacement parking”? When a development takes away existing parking, the developer may be required to replace parking spaces that have been taken away. Is asking for 2,000 spaces to replace 1,151 spaces credibly “replacement parking”? No. It’s a massive expansion. Cities and transit agencies (for example, BART [PDF]) generally require 1 to 1 replacement parking. Even 1 to 1 replacement hurts walkability, livability, and affordability.

Metro isn’t asking for replacement parking. It is asking for a massive parking expansion. A massively expensive parking expansion.

At an estimated cost of $24,000 per parking space in an elevated structure (amount from Don Shoup – and it will likely be upwards of $34,000 per space for any underground parking) then Metro is saddling this redevelopment with an up-front cost of $48 million, just for parking for Metro. As The Source mentions, that’s not counting additional parking for people who will live or shop there.  Read more…


Why LADOT Won’t Have Its Portion of the Expo Bikeway Done Anytime Soon

LADOT is responsible for bike lanes and other road markings for this area connecting the Expo Bike Paths in Phase 1 and Phase 2. Recently, the city announced it has no timeline on when this bikeway will be completed.

LADOT is responsible for bike lanes and other road markings for this area connecting the Expo Bike Paths in Phase 1 and Phase 2. Recently, the city announced it has no timeline on when this bikeway will be completed. Image: LADOT

I am City Councilmember Paul Koretz’ appointee to the City of Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC).

Former councilmember Jack Weiss (no relation) appointed me in 2006; Paul Koretz kept me on. The BAC charter says, “The purpose of the BAC is to act in an advisory capacity to the Mayor, City Council Members, and the various agencies of the government of the City of Los Angeles in the encouragement and facilitation of the use of the bicycle as regular means of transportation and recreation.”

In 2008, City Council required “Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) and the Department of Recreation & Parks (DRP) to jointly staff the BAC, with City Planning staff.” I’ve never seen a DRP representative at our meetings, and LADOT stopped keeping our minutes years ago. So much for that. Every city department is underfunded and understaffed (okay, maybe not LADWP). What I’m reporting here – it would seem – results from the staffing and budget problems.

Since I’m also understaffed (just me here), I’ve chosen to skip one of our bi-monthly BAC subcommittee meetings (where I could listen to staff reports about projects stalled or delayed or cancelled for lack of staff/funding). Instead, I will share my impressions of what my Palms/Cheviot Hills area has gotten from an LADOT Bikeways division relying too heavily on part-timers, short-timers, and interns.

By the way, I personally like most of the city employees. But when things go wrong, they circle the wagons. Many are dedicated civil servants, yet all of them are also working to keep their jobs and their relationships with others in government. That said, I see no point in naming (many) names.

Expo Bike Path

The city of L.A. had Metro funding for the Expo bike path. The path will belong to the respective cities it traverses: Santa Monica, L.A., and Culver City. The responsible politicians promised the bike path would be planned and built contemporaneously with the train. I was not so sure. As a 20-plus year pro-train veteran of the light rail train wars, I warned LADOT of my neighbors’ scorched earth approach to stopping the train and everything associated with it. For instance, “Neighbors for Smart Rail” sued all the way to the California Supreme Court to stop the Expo Line, challenging its environmental clearance. (They were probably technically right. But that’s another story.)

Fortunately, despite the legal challenges, the Expo Construction Authority moved forward with train construction, creating facts on the ground the Court was less likely to undo. But Expo’s approach to the bicycle/pedestrian path was different. The Construction Authority was created to build a train, not a bike path. Sure, they could do both, but, trains!

Unfortunately, when LADOT’s environmental clearance was challenged in court by my litigious neighbors, the bike path was unhitched from the train project. The city had to hire an outside contractor to redo the environmental documents and, by that time, Expo had contracted with Skanka-Rados to build the train alone. That resulted in a more costly, inferior, and indefinitely unfinished bike path. Read more…


Highlights From Metro CEO Phil Washington Speaking At Zócalo

Metro CEO Phil Washington speaking in May 2015. Photo: Joe Linton, Streetsblog L.A.

Metro CEO Phil Washington speaking in May 2015. Photo: Joe Linton, Streetsblog L.A.

Last night, Zócalo hosted a conversation with Metro CEO Phil Washington, just over three months into his new post. Washington was interviewed by Conan Nolan of NBC television, and responded to questions from the audience. Video, audio, and a recap of the event are available at Zócalo.

Zócalo is a non-profit that focuses on the humanities and an idea exchange. Metro is a sponsor of Zócalo in Los Angeles.

Washington didn’t make any major surprise announcements last night, but below are some highlights that shed light on some of the CEO’s priorities:

Focus on P3: Washington consistently went to public-private partnerships (P3) as one his favorite tools for delivering projects. Washington explained Denver’s successful Eagle P3 project, where Washington’s RTD partnered with private sector partners to develop, operate and maintain multiple rail lines including an airport connection. Washington stated that the partnership model accelerated the project timeline, and saved $300 million in a $2.2 billion project budget.

Core Infrastructure: Washington spoke strongly on the need to remedy today’s infrastructure crises, claiming that the current generation has “not taken care of our assets.” He stressed the broad range of benefits for both mobility and the economy of investing in transportation expansion and maintenance.

Bucking Conventional Views: Responding to questions, Washington expressed some views that differ from prevailing views at Metro: Read more…