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Metro April News: Crenshaw Work Stoppage, All Door Boarding, and More

Today was the April meeting of Metro’s board of directors. There was nothing earth-shatteringly controversial on the agenda, but below are a handful of updates.

A boy walks past the staging area for the Crenshaw Line at Crenshaw and Exposition. Recently erected sound barriers can be seen along Exposition. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Safety concerns recently temporarily shut down construction of Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX rail line. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Crenshaw / LAX Construction Work Stoppage

As mentioned on SBLA Twitter and explained in this headlined L.A. Times article, safety violations caused Metro to take the unprecedented step of stopping construction on the Crenshaw/LAX rail line. Metro issued a stop work order to contractor Walsh/Shea, which paused work on April 9 and resumed on April 13.

Interim CEO Stephanie Wiggins used her report to allow Metro staff to explain the Crenshaw/LAX situation. Metro Risk Management staff reported “two leg fractures” and a “culture situation” of insufficient attention to worker safety on Walsh/Shea’s part.

Walsh/Shea project manager Joe Lee responded, saying that the contractor’s safety record was better than industry standards, but admitting that they had had “a bad March… with a number of close calls.”

The Metro board was not buying Lee’s account. Boardmembers Eric Garcetti, Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, and Mark Ridley-Thomas all expressed displeasure with the contractor. Ridley-Thomas was the most vocal critic, suggesting that Walsh/Shea performance might be a “breach of contract.”

Ridley-Thomas put forward a motion directing Metro to further audit and review the situation, to create a corrective action plan, and to have legal counsel review the matter. The motion passed unanimously.

All-Door Boarding Pilot

Beginning May 18, Metro will test all-door boarding in some locations on Wilshire Boulevard. The details of the pilot have not been made entirely clear yet. The board passed a motion [PDF] by directors Mike Bonin, Eric Garcetti, and Sheila Kuehl to further study all-door boarding and off-board fare payment, initially on Wilshire.

Metro Policing Contract

With his extensive law enforcement background, Inglewood mayor and new Metro board member James Butts is taking a lead board role in overseeing Metro policing. Though he clashed with a Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department (LASD) representative in committee two weeks ago, relations were more polite today as the board received a Metro Inspector General (IG) review of options for when Metro’s transit policing contract comes up for a decision later this year. The IG staff report [PDF] is recommending more-or-less a new extension of the current LASD contract.  Read more…

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The Timeline for Metro’s November 2016 Transportation Sales Tax Measure

Denny Zane speaks at the Move L.A. Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick

Denny Zane speaks on Measure R2 at last week’s Move L.A. Conference. Photo: Roger Rudick

There is a lot of discussion these days about a potential ballot measure for a new sales tax to fund transportation projects and programs for Los Angeles County. The non-profit Move L.A. has dubbed the future tax “Measure R2,” after the successful 2008 Measure R half-cent sales tax. Move L.A. first offered their “straw man” proposal on how to spend the money one year ago. More recently, they hosted forums in South L.A., the San Fernando Valley, and downtown L.A. to discuss potential future transportation funds and projects.

The ballot measure will not go before voters until next year’s presidential election in November, 2016. Coinciding with the presidential election likely means a higher voter turnout, which gives the tax a better chance of meeting the “super majority” two-thirds threshold it will need to pass. Even in a presidential election, however, the two-thirds needed will be difficult to achieve. For example, see Measure J, which, despite receiving a strong 64+ percent approval, still fell short of passing in 2012 by a narrow margin.

Even though the election will not take place until 2016, there is a lot happening right now to shape Measure R2. Metro compiled what are called “Mobility Matrices” [PDF] which are basically a massive laundry list of 2,300+ projects and programs. Just like Measure R, the matrices projects are not all trains, buses, and active transportation which Streetsblog readers tend to favor, but lots of freeways, road widening, goods movement, road widening, and more road-widening.

The list totals about $300 billion (where a Measure R2 might optimistically be projected to raise $90 billion) and will be analyzed and subsequently winnowed down to produce a proposed expenditure plan. The winnowing is, of course, a political process — the final project list needs to be geographically balanced enough to draw votes from all parts of the county.

One way to test that voter appeal is polling, which is currently underway at Metro, but has not been made public yet.

After the polling and horse-trading have shaped the expenditure plan, Metro staff will release a draft version, anticipated in June. The draft expenditure plan will be further shaped in committee, and approved by the Metro Board in late July.

From there, more polling and more politics will likely follow, with a final Metro board vote anticipated in June 2016.

There are lots of competing needs – maintenance and operations vs. shiny new projects, bus vs. rail, rail vs. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and whether any of the funding will be specifically designated for walking or bicycling. Measure R + Measure J totaled exactly zero percent set aside for active transportation, though some cities, notably Los Angeles, have used Measure R local return funding for bike and pedestrian projects. Read more…

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A Preview of Metro’s $5.6 Billion Fiscal Year 2016 Budget

Metro's FY2016 budget breakdown - roughly one third image via Metro April handout [PDF]

Metro’s FY2016 budget breakdown – roughly one third each capital, operations, and financing/support. Image detail from Metro April handout [PDF]

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, Saturday, April 25, the Metro Board of Directors is hosting a public meeting to receive input on the agency’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2016. It is expected that the Board of Directors will approve the budget at their May meeting.

The agenda for tomorrow is slim, with no supporting materials. Since January, though, at Metro’s monthly Finance, Budget and Audit Committee meetings there have been a number of presentations outlining what to expect in the upcoming budget:

  • January: FY16 Budget Planning Parameters – report [PDF] handout [PDF]
  • February: FY16 Capital Program Budget – report [PDF] handout [PDF]
  • March: FY16 Operations Budget – report [PDF]
  • April: FY16 Budget (overall – focused on staffing) – report [PDF] handout [PDF]
  • April: FY16 Budget (public engagement – not particularly informative) – report [PDF] handout [PDF]

The budget is, of course, massively important in showing what an agency actually prioritizes. It is also a massively opaque document and not a great opportunity for the public to easily leverage changes. I also cannot claim to be any kind of budgetary expert. In the past I mostly paid attention to the 0.0 percent of the Metro budget that went to walking and bicycling. Nonetheless, I’ve been paying some attention to the bigger picture this year and I’ll pass on some highlights.

Metro’s proposed FY16 budget totals $5.568 billion in expenditures. This is a $53.4 million (one percent) increase from the $5.515 billion in the FY15 budget. The $5.6 billion breaks into roughly thirds:

  • Engineering and Construction: $1.84 billion (33.1 percent)
  • Operations: $1.73 billion (31.0 percent)
  • Support Services – includes financing: $1.07 billion (28.6 percent)

Planning, development, and congestion reduction programs constitute the other 7.2 percent. These figures are based on the April handout [PDF] with percentages calculated here.

The overall revenue picture, as far as I can tell, is less clear. I haven’t found an overall income breakdown.

Perhaps the most contentious item on the revenue side would be fares. Metro’s overall FY16 budget assumes “no adjustments in fare structure from the September 15, 2014 fare increase” including maintaining the current student fare, which was frozen at that time. The FY16 estimated fare revenue of $363.2 million, a 3.5 percent increase from FY15’s $351.1 million, is due to a full year of the fare increase, plus some additional ridership increase from the Expo Phase 2 and Gold line Foothill Extension rail lines expected to open in early to mid-2016.

Overall the FY16 budget assumes no increase in bus service. The only additional transit service planned will be the new Expo and Gold Line extensions.

Percentage change

Percentage change in Metro Boardings 2011-2014. Overall ridership has been declining since early 2014. Image via Metro March budget handout [PDF]

The FY16 budget assumes that Metro ridership will continue to decline by 5 percent in FY16. Read more…

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Fourteen Artists Named for the Crenshaw Line; What Can We Expect to See From Them?

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

A mosaic designed by the late Willie Middlebrook for the Crenshaw stop of the Expo Line. Middlebrook’s rich mosaics depict themes of connectivity among diverse populations and between humans and the Earth. (click to enlarge) Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Crenshaw Boulevard may be chaotic to navigate due to the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Line at the moment, but good things appear to be in the works. The Source reported Wednesday that the new stations will be graced with works from a diverse mix of 14 artists.

If you’ve ridden any of the rail lines, you’ve probably noticed that the stations are unique and play host to artwork that is intended to ground the stations in or make some connection with the surrounding community. This is because 0.5 percent of rail construction project costs are put towards the creation and installation of original artwork at each station.

The formal linking of art with transit began in the 1970s, according to a best practices report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). After the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) offered its support for high quality art and design in federally-funded transit projects and the National Endowment for the Arts published a case study of federal design projects, then-President Jimmy Carter asked the DOT to take a step further and support projects that contributed to the architectural and cultural heritage of local communities. As a result, in 1978, Boston, Atlanta, and Baltimore received official support from the Design, Art and Architecture program for permanent public art projects. Boston’s Art on the Line program, which grew out of that initiative, helped set the standard for the integration of public art in transit systems around the country.

I Dreamed I Could Fly

I Dreamed I Could Fly, by Jonathan Borofsky (1993), unfortunately always conjures 9/11 for me.

The 0.5% of construction costs that Metro allocates for art projects is the minimum required by the Federal Transit Authority (the maximum is 5%), and smaller than the national average APTA cites as being between 1% and 2%. But, since 1989, that 0.5% has allowed the Metro Art program to commission over 250 artists for temporary or permanent projects at transit stations.

The projects range from the beautiful Festival of Masks Parade mural by Frank Romero at Wilshire/Normandie, to the intriguing About Place, About Face installation of 27 larger-than-life faces of area residents by Rob Nielson at the Pico-Aliso station, to the downright puzzling and possibly disturbing I Dreamed I Could Fly installation of what appears to be people falling from the sky by Jonathan Borofsky at Wilshire/Vermont (at right). See the full art guide, here.

Putting art in transit stations, says APTA, encourages ridership, improves perceptions of transit, conveys a sense of customer care, enhances community livability, improves customer experiences, improves organizational identity for transit agencies, deters vandalism, and increases safety and security. Which are all fantastic arguments for integrating art at key (and, generally, heavily neglected) bus stops, I might add, but I digress.

In selecting the finalists for the Crenshaw Line, The Source reports that the selection panel assessed how the proposed works would relate to the sites and surrounding communities, while also engaging and enhancing the transit rider’s experience along the line. The final works will take a variety of forms — the artists all work in a variety of media — and be fortified by glass, tile, stainless steel, mosaics, or porcelain enamel.

So, whose work can you look forward to seeing and what kind of work have they done in the past? Read more…

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Metro’s North 710 Freeway Tunnel Study Meetings in High Gear, Pasadena Working Group Offers Brainy Alternatives

Last Saturday's SR-710 study meeting at East L.A. College. 710 Freeway meetings continue tonight in Pasadena. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Last weekend’s SR-710 North Study meeting at East L.A. College. 710 Freeway meetings continue tonight in Pasadena. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Smart people live in Pasadena. Some of them work for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and send probes to Mars. Others spend their days figuring out quantum mechanics at Caltech. And still others dabble in transportation. A study group formed by Pasadena’s Mayor Bill Bogaard and its City Manager has a smart idea in response to L.A. Metro’s study to link the stub end of the 210 with the end of the 710: instead of closing this “gap” in our freeways, rip out the 210’s stub along Pasadena Avenue.

That’s just one recommendation in a recently completed white paper written by the Pasadena SR-710 Alternative Working Group (PWG), in response to Metro’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on linking the 710 with the 210. Metro is holding a series of public meetings on its EIR. The next one is tonight at the Pasadena Convention Center.

The connection between the 710 and 210 would be 6.3 miles long and would include a 4.2-mile tunnel. It will cost between $5.7 billion and $3.2 billion, depending on options. Measure R, the 2008 ballot measure authorizing a sales tax to improve mobility, committed $780 million for the project.

During a 710 debate held at Cal State L.A., Barbara Messina, a Councilmember for the City of Alhambra, echoed Metro’s studies when she called the “gap” the “missing link that does not allow our
freeways to operate at maximum efficiency.” And if you believe that, I have a recently widened 405 to sell you. Messina said the tunnel will reduce pollution. “There’s no way adding fifty-thousand cars can improve air quality,” said Michael Cacciotti, a Councilmember for the City of South Pasadena and another panelist, adding that the tunnel is an Eisenhower-era solution. “Why waste billions on a short little tunnel when you can connect the region with Light Rail?”

Indeed, the Metro study does present transit “alternatives.” But they don’t seem credible.

Take the Bus Rapid Transit option. Outside rush hour, the “bus-only” lane reverts to a parking lane. It is dubious that such a watered-down BRT differs enough from the “no build” alternative
to qualify.

The Light Rail option in the study is more tangible: it would run from the Fillmore Gold Line station to the East LA Civic Center Station at a cost of $2.4 billion. The segment in Pasadena
would be underground, continuing on a viaduct for the trip through Alhambra. “Who wants to see an LRT three miles up in the air like the Disney Monorail!” said Messina at the Cal State L.A. debate. “LRT will devastate East L.A.”

Messina’s hyperbole aside, Metro’s rail alternative also raises questions.  Read more…

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Metro Proposes New Letter Designations for Rail and BRT Lines

The proposed new Metro rail/BRT system map, showing proposed letter designations. Image via Metro [PDF]

The proposed new Metro rail/BRT system map, showing proposed letter designations. Image via Metro [PDF]

Metro is proposing new “Letter Designations for Fixed Guideway Lines.” Basically, all Metro rail lines, plus the Orange and Silver BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) lines, would receive a letter designation. The letter would largely replace the current colors. For example, the Metro Red Line would become the “B Line.” The proposed changes are outlined in this presentation [PDF] for April Service Council meetings. The item is not on Board committee meeting agendas for this month, so the proposal will likely go to the full Metro Board of Directors in May or later.

New letter designations proposed by Metro. Image via Metro [PDF]

New letter designations proposed by Metro. Image via Metro [PDF]

Metro would name lines in letter order, starting with the first line to open, and would skip a few letters that are used for other things:

  • Blue Line (plus the Pasadena-Foothill Gold Line) would become the A Line
  • Red Line would become B Line
  • Purple Line would become C Line
  • Green Line would becomes D Line

This re-naming becomes necessary in 2020, when the under-construction Regional Connector subway is expected to open. The Regional Connector will tie together the Blue, Gold, and Expo lines. For years though, the agency has been clear about Regional Connector operations, which will include a one-seat ride from Long Beach to Pasadena-Azusa, and from East L.A. to Santa Monica.

One interesting new factoid in the presentation is this glimpse at one planned future operating scheme for the Green and Crenshaw lines around LAX. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Metro’s Stand Up 4 Transportation Rally

Metro Interim CEO Stephanie Wiggins urges congress to Stand Up 4 Transportation this morning's rally in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro Interim CEO Stephanie Wiggins urges congress to Stand Up 4 Transportation at this morning’s rally in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

As today’s Streetsblog USA post related, transit supporters across the U.S. are hosting events today to “Stand Up 4 Transportation.” Metro hosted its rally this morning at Patasaouras Plaza at L.A. Union Station. The event featured Los Angeles Congressional representatives Judy Chu and Maxine Waters, and a host of L.A.’s labor, business, and transportation leaders, all calling on congress to renew investment in transportation infrastructure.

Transit riders have a lot to lose if partisan battles in Washington do not find their way to reauthorizing a federal transportation bill. With the gas tax providing a shrinking portion of overall transportation funding, there are lots of stopgap ideas floating around to address the immediate shortfall. If Congress presses forward with “devolution” – basically eliminating the federal gas tax and having states go their own way – Metro transit construction and operations would face an uncertain future.

Stand Up 4 Transportation is the brainchild of the American Public Transit Association (APTA). See APTA’s coverage showing the extent of the national campaign. Follow the full congressional reauthorization drama at Streetsblog USA.

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Five New Miles Of Wilshire Peak-Hour Bus-Only Lanes Opened Today

Yesterday's Wilshire BRT ribbon-cutting. Foreground left to right: xxx

Yesterday’s Wilshire BRT ribbon-cutting. Foreground left to right: L.A. City Engineer Gary Lee Moore, FTA Team Leader Ray Tellis, Councilmember Tom Labonge, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Mike Bonin, Metro Boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker, and Councilmember Paul Koretz. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Elected officials and agency representatives gathered yesterday to host a ribbon-cutting event for Wilshire Boulevard’s newest peak-hour bus-only lanes. The $31.5 million project, dubbed the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a joint effort of Metro, L.A. City, and L.A. County. The bus-only lanes operate from 7-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m.

The celebration took place at the La Brea Tar Pits. Speakers included L.A. Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti, Federal Transit Administration Team Leader Ray Tellis, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Metro Boardmember Jackie Dupont-Walker, Metro’s Interim Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins, L.A. City Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Tom LaBonge, and Paul Koretz, and others. The event was attended by about 120 people, mostly governmental staff.

Streetsblog readers will remember the struggle to get this project underway. Due to politics, the bus lane facility ended up somewhat on-again off-again. Though most of Wilshire Blvd within the city of Los Angeles is included, the bus-only lane does not include Westwood’s “Condo Canyon” stretch, nor the parts of Wilshire inside the cities of Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes Map - red

Wilshire Bus-Only Lanes Map showing segments that are and are not receiving bus-only lanes – from 2012 Metro staff report [PDF

An initial 1.8 miles of the Wilshire BRT already opened in June 2013. That section goes from MacArthur Park to Western Avenue.

As of today, four new segments are live, totaling five new miles:

  • Western Avenue to San Vicente Boulevard (3.6 miles)
  • Beverly Hills to Comstock Avenue (0.5 miles)
  • Selby Avenue to Veteran Avenue (o.5 miles)
  • Bonsall Avenue to Federal Avenue (0.4 miles)

Read more…

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Metro Takes Another Step Forward in Effort to Build and Preserve Affordable Housing at Transit Hubs

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites. Source: Metro

The map of potential transit-oriented affordable housing sites (blue dots). Click to enlarge. See the original, here, on p. 24. Source: Metro

In case you haven’t heard, we’re in a bit of an affordable housing crunch.

According to the L.A. Times, “the city recently estimated that 82,000 additional affordable units will be needed by 2021.”

Non-profit developers have been aware of this problem for some time. Approximately 8000 families applied for the 184 units of affordable housing that the East L.A. Community Corporation has built in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles recently. 1500 families vied for a spot in the 60-unit residence on Whittier Bl. built by the Retirement Housing Foundation last March. And RHF was expecting as many as 2500 applications for the affordable, 78-unit senior residence set to open next door. More than 1000 families applied to live in a 90-unit residence in Macarthur Park built by McCormack Baron Salazar on land owned by Metro. And these figures likely don’t include the folks who are desperate for housing but do not earn the minimum amount required to qualify for consideration.

But even as the need for affordable housing grows, the city’s ability to provide and maintain it has declined significantly. Since 2008, funding for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) has dropped from $108 million to approximately $26 million. And, despite Mayor Eric Garcetti’s vocal support for affordable housing, no new funds were allocated to the AHTF in the last budget. While L.A. will likely receive some of the (anticipated) $130 million in funds set aside for affordable housing from the first year of cap-and-trade, the funds will first need to be divvied up among municipalities across the state.

Which is why it was heartening to see the Metro Board move forward on its plans to set aside at least 35% of units built on Metro-owned land for affordable housing and to establish a fund to assist non-profit developers in building or preserving affordable housing on privately-owned land near transit.

It’s not a panacea, as discussion of the 30-page staff report assessing the viability of the plan made clear. And there is much left to be done in the way of hammering out funding structures and sources for the loan fund or the criteria for discounts on Metro-owned land to entice developers to build affordable units. But it is a step in the right direction. Read more…

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APTA Metro Review: Raise Fares, Consolidate Service, Charge For Parking

Metro's APTA review makes a lot of recommendations can balance the agency ... Photo via Wikimedia

Metro’s APTA review recommends how the agency can best prioritize services for low income bus riders. Photo via Wikimedia

When the Metro board approved fare hikes last May, it also directed Metro to engage experts from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) to study Metro’s fares and look into other revenue strategies. APTA experts completed their review recently, and presented their findings at last week’s Metro board meeting. Though the APTA review recommended approving Metro’s proposed fare increases, many of their findings contrast somewhat with present Metro policies.

The review sheds light on many Metro revenue practices, from fares to parking, and what their implications are regarding serving low-income riders. More details are available at the full review [PDF]; Metro’s summary [PDF], audio from last week’s board discussion (item 56 here), and The Source.

Metro Fares

Auditors characterized Metro’s challenges as “meeting state of good repair costs, which are going up as the system ages,” and paying down a “long term and growing debt service burden [due to] building out the system capital expansion program.” To meet these, the APTA panel recommended that Metro approve two proposed 25-cent fare increases, to take effect in 2017 and 2020. In addition, APTA recommended that Metro approve ongoing fare modification to match inflation, as reflected by the Consumer Price Index (CPI.)

The review also supported raising Metro’s student fare, which is currently frozen. APTA recommends that Metro partner with colleges and others to help offset the costs of student discounts. During the board discussion, though not explicitly mentioned in the review, one panelist suggested Metro consider adopting one practice used by other transit agencies: offering a discount fare for youth (such as up to age 18) that is not necessarily dependent on student status.

The review recommended consolidation of all of Metro’s discounts – senior, student/youth, and low-income – into a single discounted fare product. Means-testing for this (deciding who qualifies for discounts) could be done in conjunction with other governmental programs, such as school free lunch programs and/or utility discounts, thereby lessening administrative burdens for Metro and its patrons.

The review recommended trip-based discounts over time-based discounts. Low income riders are better served by, for example, a ten-trip pass than a weekly or monthly unlimited pass. Citing a New York study, the APTA panel noted that thirty-day passes tend to benefit higher-income riders. For example, even transit-dependent riders sometimes get rides in a car, possibly at times when Metro service is lacking. With trip-based discounts, these non-Metro trips save a Metro fare, and hence wouldn’t effectively count against a time-based unlimited pass.  Read more…