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Metro Installing Polycarbonate Shields to Protect Bus Operators

Metro's new bus operator security barrier. In this photo the opaque black lower barrier is shut. The upper transparent barrier is open. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro’s new bus operator security barrier. In this photo, the opaque black lower barrier is shut. The upper transparent barrier is open. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Numerous speakers at Metro’s press conference this morning went to great length to assure the public that “the Metro system is safe.” Nonetheless, the speakers focused on the number of crimes, foremost including assaults on bus operators, that take place on transit in Los Angeles. Metro reports that operators were assaulted by passengers 138 times in 2014.

“We’re fighting back,” proclaimed Metro Boardmember and Lakewood City Councilmember Diane DuBois.

Today’s press event focused on the on-bus hardware. Metro has been installing closed-circuit television monitors since November, 2014.

Today marks the beginning of the agency’s roll-out of new polycarbonate safety barriers.

These barriers don’t photograph all that well. Read more…

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Boyle Heights Youth Research Community Challenges, Find Proposed TOD Solutions Don’t Go Far Enough to Help Neediest

Irvin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Irvin Plata speaks about the importance of cultural markers in communities while Stephanie Olwen awaits her turn to speak at a Metro meeting about the fate of a Mariachi Plaza. Both are students at YouthBuild in Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“So…” I begin, looking around the table at CALO YouthBuild students Abigail Navarro, Irvin Plata, Stephanie Olwen, and Eric Aguayo.

I am there to ask them about how the youth at this charter school — a school whose student body is comprised of at-risk students aged 16-24 who struggled at one or more traditional high schools before eventually dropping out or being kicked out — have managed to become among some of the most prominent community voices clamoring to be involved in the decision-making process regarding the future of Boyle Heights.

“What was it like to go back to the schools that you felt had written you off to tell their students that they needed to be more engaged in advocating for their community?”

Irvin grins.

He had returned to the school he had dropped out of — Roosevelt High — to speak to nearly 25 classes about gentrification, affordable housing, and the development of Metro-owned lots along 1st St. and Cesar Chavez Ave. The larger goals of the outreach he, Stephanie (who visited Mendez High), and the others conducted were to encourage students to participate in the Issues Forum the YouthBuild students will be leading this afternoon and to get the students to answer the online survey* they had created exploring challenges families face in Boyle Heights.

He had been nervous at first, he says. Especially because his partner had bowed out, leaving him to do all those presentations on his own.

He was confident in the knowledge that youth participation could make a difference in the planning process, thanks to the success he and his fellow students had had in winning a 3-month extension of the community-engagement phase of the Exclusive Negotiated Agreements (ENAs) for the affordable housing projects at Metro’s 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto sites. And his confidence had been further boosted by the fact that YouthBuild’s proposal for a forum on gentrification, police-community relations, and environmental justice was taken seriously by policy makers. So much so that a representative of County Supervisor Hilda Solis’ office, Mynor Godoy (Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council) Max Huntsman (Inspector General of the Sheriffs Department), Patrisse Cullors (Director, Dignity and Power, Co-Founder, Black Lives Matter), and Jenna Hornstock, (Deputy Executive Officer of Countywide Planning and Development at Metro) have all agreed to participate. (RSVP to forum here.)

But Irvin was not as confident that the students he would be speaking to were going to be interested in what he had to say.

He, Abigail, Eric, and Stephanie all agreed that, back when they were struggling their way through multiple schools, they probably would have tuned out someone who came in to lecture them about the joys of community involvement in urban planning.

YouthBuild students contributed to an installation at a Metro-owned lot at 1st and Boyle protests the lack of a community process around the affordable housing project slated for the site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

YouthBuild students contributed to an installation at a Metro-owned lot at 1st and Boyle which protests the lack of a community process around the affordable housing project slated for the site. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Tapping into the students’ lived experiences and connections to the community, Irvin decided (with the help of his economics teacher and mentor, Genaro Francisco Ulloa), would be key to getting their attention.

So, Irvin made his presentations interactive. He asked students about their relationship to landmarks like Mariachi Plaza and how they would feel if those sites were to become unrecognizable or de-linked from the community’s culture. He also engaged students on some of the challenges they face — high rents and overcrowded housing, no access to jobs, mobility issues, etc. — and tried to help them understand how developments in the area, if not designed with the community in mind, could exacerbate the struggles they were already living.

And the struggles those students are living are pretty intense. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Leimert Park Prepares People St Plaza for Grand Opening

The view of the People St Plaza in Leimert Park from the front of the Vision Theater. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The view of the People St Plaza in Leimert Park from the front of the Vision Theater. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The date for the grand opening of Leimert Park’s People St Plaza is not quite set in stone, yet, but it’s coming very soon. And I couldn’t be more excited. The stakeholders in Leimert Park have begun to install some of the unique features they developed as a way to tie the plaza to the culture of the community, and they look pretty fantastic.

Over the last week, Ben Caldwell, founder of the KAOS Network, and others laid down some of the Adinkra symbols which will eventually fill the entire plaza.

Adinkra symbols which will be used to populate the polka dots on the plaza.

Adinkra symbols which will be used to populate the polka dots on the plaza.

The symbols — representative of the philosophies of the Akan people (an ethnic group in Ghana) — were once only seen on cloths worn by community leaders during special occasions. Although they are more widely worn in Western Africa nowadays, and are commonly found stamped onto everyday objects, they still retain their meaning, represent proverbs, depict historical events, or offer some truth about human behavior or the world as the Akan understood it.

The values and ideas the symbols promote will be used to help guide programming in the plaza, incorporated into educational materials, and used throughout the Village area to reinforce the notion that when you enter Leimert Park, you are entering the home of a population with a unique cultural heritage.

The finished plaza will also feature an “urban farm lab” managed by the Carver program, wooden benches, bistro-style chairs and tables, a portable stage, and possibly some of the re-purposed street furniture that Caldwell and USC Annenberg Professor François Bar oversaw the development of in the tactical media courses they joint-taught.

So, what will you see if you stop down to check out Metro’s Eat, Shop, Play Crenshaw community fest this weekend or the Leimert Park Art Walk (Sunday, March 29)? Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: North Hollywood Station Tunnel Construction

North Hollywood station mural ready for departure. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

North Hollywood station mural ready for departure. February 2015 photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Last December, Streetsblog L.A. reported that construction had gotten underway for Metro’s new tunnel below Lankershim Boulevard. The $22 million North Hollywood Station Underpass will connect the Red Line subway with the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit. Full details and diagrams at the earlier article.

Visitors to this Sunday’s CicLAvia – The Valley will not be able to go through the actual tunnel, but sharp-eyed transportation-infrastructure-spotters may be interested to see evidence of the construction in process. There is a fenced-off surface construction zone on the west side of Lankershim.

Perhaps more interesting is the spot inside the Red Line station where the tunnel will soon connect. At the mezzanine level, just west of the elevator (on passengers’ left when disembarking), there was a semi-circular mosaic mural, one part of series of colorful kaleidoscopic pieces throughout the subway station.

What the mural looked like in late 2014. Photo via Metro

What the mural looked like in late 2014. Photo via Metro

The mural was installed on a knock-out panel. The panel was recently isolated (see above), then removed.  Read more…

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Metrolink Hires Art Leahy As CEO, To Start April 2015

Art Leahy riding the Metro Red Line in December 2014. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Mertolink’s new CEO Art Leahy, riding the Metro Red Line in December 2014. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The Metrolink board of directors voted unanimously this morning to hire Art Leahy as CEO.

Streetsblog readers are probably aware that Leahy served as the head of Metro since 2009. In January, Leahy announced his retirement from Metro effective April 2015. Yesterday, Metro approved Leahy’s replacement, Phil Washington.

Metrolink approved a $330,000 annual salary for Leahy. This is actually slightly more than the $326,000 his successor, Washington, will earn at Metro, despite Metrolink having a much smaller ridership and budget, though a broader geographic scope, with commuter rail serving six Southern California counties.

Leahy is scheduled start at Metrolink on April 20. His contract runs through 2018.

Art Leahy appeared at this morning’s Metrolink board meeting, stating that he was honored and pleased, and pledged to “deliver the goods” for the public, taxpayers, and Metrolink board and employees.

Leahy assumes the helm at Metrolink at a time when the agency is facing numerous crises, including failing ticket machines, declining ridership, service cuts, finance audit questions, and (despite a very good overall safety record that should be the envy of highway engineers) a recent newsworthy train crash in Oxnard.

The story is still not entirely clear on why Leahy stepped down from Metro. The Los Angeles Times‘ Laura Nelson tweeted confirmation of a widely-rumored assertion that Leahy’s departure was shepherded by Metro board chair, and Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti.

Leahy is seen as having ties to transportation rain-maker Richard Katz. Katz is a former state legislator who actually wrote the law that created Metro, a former long-time Metro boardmember, and current Metrolink board alternate. Katz served on the Metro board as a mayoral appointee during Antonio Villaraigosa’s administration, and was replaced after endorsing Garcetti’s opponent in the mayoral race.

So, coincidence or not, Metro’s transition from Art Leahy to Phil Washington, and Leahy’s move from Metro to Metrolink, represent a changing of the guard that reflects the current political tides.

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Metro Board Unanimously Votes To Hire New CEO Phil Washington

Incoming Metro CEO Phil Washington (left) speaking with outgoing Metro CEO Art Leahy after this morning's announcement. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Incoming Metro CEO Phil Washington (left) speaking with outgoing Metro CEO Art Leahy after this morning’s announcement. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

This morning, the Metro board of directors voted unanimously to hire Phillip A. Washington as the agency’s new CEO. For the past six years, Phil Washington was General Manager and CEO of the Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD.)

Metro’s board established quorum, then entered a closed session to discuss the CEO personnel matter. The board returned to open session where Metro board chair, and Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti enthusiastically moved to hire Washington. The motion was quickly seconded by all the directors present and passed unanimously. Washington will earn a $326,000 annual salary, and will begin in May.

The board meeting was followed by a press event at Patsaouras Plaza. Garcetti and the Metro board vice chairs, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and city of Duarte Councilmember John Fasana, all praised Washington’s experience and reputation. Garcetti emphasized that Washington had increased ridership, created jobs, and delivered Denver’s rail connection with their airport. Directors also thanked outgoing CEO Art Leahy for his service to the agency.

Phil Washington thanked the board, then opened emphasizing that he rides his transit system every day. “This is our product,” he continued, emphasizing that transit officials need to ride to “know how it’s doing.” Washington stated that his priority would be a “clean, efficient, reliable, accessible, and cost-effective system” and his first order of business would be better understand what Metro’s board and Metro’s “customers – riders” want and need. He stressed that transit infrastructure can and will continue to transform the region.

Washington repeatedly emphasized partnerships, including with other agencies, the private sector, academia, community groups, and whoever would work with his agency.

Washington makes a good sized step up from Denver RTD. According to APTA, RTD’s overall 2014 ridership was 105 million trips, about 30 percent of Metro’s 353 million trips. RTD riders break down similarly to Metro’s with about three-quarters of trips on bus, and roughly one-quarter by rail.

Washington oversaw Denver RTD’s implementation of FasTracks, an ambitious voter-approved capital expansion program, including 122 miles of new rail service, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, redevelopment of Denver’s Union Station, plus plenty of park-and-ride lots.

Denver livability advocates, from Transit Alliance, Walk Denver, and Bike Denver, all gave Washington high marks, and expressed disappointment in his leaving.

Walk Denver acting board chair Gideon Berger, fellowship director at the Urban Land Institute’s Rose Center for Public Leadership, worked with Washington at RTD. Berger describes Washington as “a breath of fresh air” for having taken the reins at RTD during the fiscal challenge of the recent recession. According to Berger, Phil Washington was instrumental in increasing the morale of RTD staff, empowering them, and ensuring they had the resources to be successful.

Transit Alliance board chair Chris Waggett, the developer CEO of D4 Urban, emphasized Washington’s commitment to balanced investment throughout the region. Denver is part of the Front Range – an area consisting of 41 city and county municipalities. Waggett was impressed that Washington’s leadership fostered regional cooperation over factional competition. This collaboration, often between areas with disparate political perspectives, “made things happen” and the “entire region benefited.” Read more…

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Press Reports: Denver’s Phil Washington to Be Named New Metro CEO

Phillip A. Washington. Photo via Eno Ctr for Transportation

Phillip A. Washington. Photo via Eno Ctr for Transportation

L.A. Observed is reporting that Phillip A. Washington will be the new CEO of Metro. Phil Washington is currently the head of Denver’s Regional Transportation District.

Washington is from Chicago, and had a distinguished military career before joining Denver RTD. For more details on Washington, see SBLA’s earlier post listing top candidates or Washington’s bio page at RTD.

The Denver Business Journal reports that Washington tendered his resignation to Denver’s RTD today. According to the Journal, Metro spokespersons are stating that a new CEO has not been confirmed yet, but that an announcement is expected after tomorrow’s 9 a.m. closed session Metro Board meeting. On the agenda: “Consideration of Candidates for Position of CEO.” 

Spokespersons for Metro and for Board Chair Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have declined to answer SBLA’s inquiries on this matter.

Outgoing Metro CEO Art Leahy is widely expected to become the head of Metrolink.

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Media Bashes 710 Alternatives…the Transit Ones Anyway

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 2.34.19 PM

This idea totally makes sense and would only cost $5.6 billion dollars!

Last week, Caltrans and Metro released the long-awaited draft environmental impact report for options to improve transportation near where the I-710 ends, 4.5 miles south of the I-210. As usual, the discussion around the document depends on whether or not one thinks it’s a good idea to dig a five-mile tunnel 150 feet underground to connect one freeway to another freeway.

Metro will receive public comment on the report starting on Thursday of this week and continue collecting until July 6. Details on how to comment are available at the end of the article. In addition, Streetsblog will submit this article, and any others published between now and July 6, as part of the public record.

Following the report last week that traffic has not improved at all following the massive and costly widening of the I-405 through the Sepulveda Pass, one would think the media might consider a $5.5 billion double-decker tunnel or $3.1 billion single-level tunnel a farcical proposal not worthy of further discussion. One would be wrong.

Most media played it straight, announcing the report’s findings, the public comment period, and other basic factual information. “Closing the 710 Freeway gap would take years and cost billions,” reported the Times. “Caltrans Releases EIR For Proposed 710 Freeway Extension,” snored Patch.

But much of the rest of the media applied a more critical eye and came down hard–against the option to provide better transit service instead of digging a gigantic tunnel. The $240 million cost of the bus rapid transit option, which is 7 percent of the single-level tunnel option and roughly 4 percent of the double-decker tunnel option, is the subject of the headline “Busway option to close 710 freeway gap would cost five times early estimate” at KPCC.

But it’s not just the cost of the busway option that is under intense media scrutiny. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune and Contra Costa Times and Daily Breeze all printed the story, “Environmental report on 710 freeway gap: Tunnel would ease traffic more than light rail.”

It’s always good to see the media jump on a story. Those six giant exhaust stacks planned for Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena? Eh, who cares? That the tunnel would increase the number of cars on the freeway and local streets, as we’ve just seen happen on the Westside? That’s just a theory. What about what happens if there’s a crash or other disaster in the tunnel? It’s “addressed in the report.”

The option of building light rail, at a fraction of the cost of digging the tunnels, is dismissed out-of-hand because of displacement and the bizarre reasoning that, “According to the EIR/EIS, impacts to land, air, noise, and aesthetics are minor compared to the impacts from building a 7.5-mile light-rail train from East Los Angeles through Alhambra and Pasadena.”

That’s right, a report with a Metro logo on it dismisses a light rail proposal because it would be too noisy, pollute too much, be too noisy and too ugly.  Way to have some ideological consistency.

So let’s look at the last transit option standing. Read more…

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News Bits From Metro Board February Committee Meetings

Metro's FY2015-16 budget is expected to exceed $2 billion for the first time. Graph from Metro [PDF]

Metro’s FY2015-16 budget is expected to exceed $2 billion in capital expenditures for the first time ever. Graph from Metro [PDF]

The Metro board of directors will meet next week, Thursday February 26. This week, the agency hosted its regular series of board committee meetings, where most of the negotiations occur. Here are eight things gleaned from this week’s meetings:

1. Utility Relocation Threatens Rail Tunnel Construction Delays

For downtown L.A.’s upcoming 2-mile long Regional Connector light rail subway, the ground was broken, and demolition is underway. But, wait! Metro is still working on the “pre-construction” relocation of utilities. Shocker: it turns out that there are lots of unknown things, mostly abandoned utility infrastructure, buried beneath downtown’s hundred-plus-year-old streets. Metro reports that they are still expecting 2020 completion, but are 3 to 5 months behind on utility relocation. And that is just the prep work that needs to completed before real tunnel construction can get underway.

Metro staff alluded to further details coming to the Metro board in April. It is not clear, but it could mean approving more money for Regional Connector pre-construction. 

And speaking of more money for the pre-construction phase (which is not always a bad thing – especially if it means paying now to avoid paying more later), next week the board is considering [PDF] adding $20.8 million to the $115 million pre-construction contract that is getting things ready for the second phase of the Purple Line Subway extension. Maybe newer Century City streets hide fewer buried infrastructure hazards than downtown does.

2. Metro Looks to Joint Development, Focused on Affordable Housing

SBLA expects to publish more on this soon, but the staff report [PDF] is out on Mayor Garcetti’s motion pushing for Metro to step up its role in joint development of transit-oriented affordable housing. Some of the news is good: Metro lawyers are okay with encouraging affordable housing by discounting property the agency owns. Some of the resistance is predictable: Metro staff opened with a comment about the difficulty of providing enough transit-user (free) parking at these sites.  Read more…

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A Wonky Debate Over Metro Regional vs. Sub-Regional Funding

Metro's map of subregions and regional facilities. Source: Metro handout [PDF]

Metro’s map of subregions and regional facilities. Source: Metro handout [PDF]

There is an item that was bounced around at the Metro Board last month regarding freeway projects and whether they are “regional” or “subregional” facilities. Lakewood City Councilmember and Metro Boardmember Diane DuBois is pushing for L.A. freeway-widening projects to be classified as “regional” rather than “subregional” projects. Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin raised some issues over this re-classification. The final decision is likely to come back to the Metro Board for a showdown in April. 

All of this is pretty wonky. It does have implications on transportation funding priorities, including how transit projects compete with highway projects over scarce flexible Metro dollars.

In Metro’s 2001 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), Metro divided L.A. County nine sub-regions (map above):

  1. Arroyo Verdugo (Glendale, Burbank, and adjacent areas)
  2. Central Los Angeles
  3. Gateway Cities (Long Beach, and most of South East L.A. County)
  4. Las Virgenes / Malibu
  5. North Los Angeles County
  6. San Fernando Valley
  7. San Gabriel Valley
  8. South Bay
  9. Westside Cities

These sub-regions were mainly used for long term planning, but, since the 2008 Measure R transportation sales tax, the sub-regions have also been woven into the way Metro funds projects.

After Measure R passed, Metro adopted what’s called its Measure R Cost Containment Policy (the full formal name is the Unified Cost Management Process and Policy for Measure R Projects.) That policy bills itself as a “new step-by-step cost management process will require the MTA Board to review and consider approval of project cost estimates against funding resources at key milestone points throughout the environmental, design, and construction phases of the Measure R transit and highway projects.” These transit and highway projects, are, of course, often multi-billion dollar projects. Examples include $2.8 billion to extend the Purple Line subway four miles, and $3.3 billion to widen about 70 miles of the 5 Freeway. Multi-billion dollar projects are prone to massive cost overruns.

So, according to the cost containment policy, when a Metro Measure R project’s costs increase above what has been approved, the agency looks to take specific measures to either lower the costs or get money to cover the overruns. The policy specifies that cost overruns will be met through the following sources in the following order:

  1. Value Engineering and or scope reductions;
  2. New local agency funding resources;
  3. Shorter segmentation;
  4. Other cost reductions within the same transit or highway corridor;
  5. Other cost reductions within the same sub-region;
  6. Countywide transit cost reductions or other funds will be sought using pre-established priorities.

These are jargony. The crux of the matter is that item 5 (and, to an extent, items 2 and 4) means that when projects exceed their budgets, costs will be covered within the sub-region. One project’s overruns will reduce the budget for other projects in the same sub-region where the project is located.

In January, the Metro board established a special set of regional projects immune to the sub-regional cost overrun procedure. All airports, sea-ports, and Union Station are classified as “regional” projects (see map above), because theoretically everyone in the county benefits from, for example, LAX and Port of Long Beach improvements. For these regional projects “cost increases to Measure R funded projects… are exempt from the corridor and subregional cost reduction requirements. Cost increases regarding these projects will be addressed from the regional programs share.”

Metro boardmember, and Lakewood City Councilmember, Diane Dubois, along with boardmembers Don Knabe and Ara Najarian, introduced a motion [PDF] that would essentially classify “[i]nterstates, freeways or highways” as regional projects, hence “highway sub-regional funding will not be subject to the Unified Cost Management Process and Policy.” Though the motion requested that Metro staff analyze and report back, it clearly specified that highways would become exempt from the cost containment process in the meantime.  Read more…