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Metro Updates: Rail-to-River, Complete Streets, BRT, & More

Here’s a round-up of newsworthy items from today’s Metro Board Meeting and the committee meetings that led up to it.

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

These South L.A. rail tracks may soon be part of a “Rail to River” bike and walk path. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

Rail-to-River Project Keeps Moving
The Metro board of directors approved $2.85 million to continue to move forward with the Rail-to-River bike and walk path project. The funds will pay for further studies, planning, and design work to prepare the project to receive capital funding in the future.

Approval Highlights: Complete Streets, Union Station, and Support for Crenshaw Businesses
Metro’s board adopted the agency’s first-ever Complete Streets Policy [PDF]. It has some flaws. The board adopted the Union Station Master Plan. Metro also approved a contract for supporting small businesses impacted by Crenshaw/LAX rail line construction.

Revenue Up, Ridership Down After September Fare Increase
Metro raised fares in mid-September. It is too early to draw conclusions about trends and what is causing them, but stats are out for that first half-month. Metro’s Chief Financial Services Officer reported that fare revenue is up 7.1 percent, comparing September 2013 ($28.68 million) to September 2014 ($30.73 million). Overall ridership declined 3.2 percent, comparing September 2013 (39,903,521) to September 2014 (38,633,928).

Purple Line Extension Groundbreaking Announced
Board chair Eric Garcetti announced that the groundbreaking ceremony for Purple Line subway construction will take place on Friday, November 7. The fully-funded extension will bring the Wilshire Boulevard subway to La Cienega Boulevard. Construction is expected to be completed in 2023.

ExpressLanes Enable Speeding Scofflaws
From this Performance Update Report [PDF]: Metro targets that toll lane “monthly average travel speeds remain above 45 mph.” For the first 19 months of ExpressLane program, the AM peak-period speed on the 110 Freeway was 62 mph, but on the 10 Freeway, that AM peak-period speed was 66 mph. That’s 66 mph where the speed limit is 65 mph. As that’s an average, certainly there must be a lot folks speeding much faster than this. When I was researching this ExpressLanes article, I found that Metro buses in the ExpressLanes act as a damper on car speed. When the (frequent) buses come through, they’re going the speed limit and each bus has a lines of cars bunched up behind it.

What I found a little surprising is how little attention this stat elicited: none. Speed kills, but it’s just kind of assumed that driving a few miles over the freeway speed limte is all OK. Can SBLA readers imagine how much grief pedestrians would get for a project designed to foster jaywalking? Or a bike project that assumed cyclists would just blow a stop sign? Hopefully, now that a clear pattern of law-breaking has been identified, Metro can work with appropriate law enforcement to slow speeds down and make this corridor safer. Don’t hold your breath.

CEO Art Leahy on Metrolink’s Importance… for Drivers
At last week’s Sustainability Committee meeting, Metro CEO Art Leahy responded to worries over “rumors about changes” for Metrolink commuter rail. Ridership is down on most lines. The L.A. Times explored why. Leahy defended the rail agency, stating [audio at 5:30] that “Metrolink will continue to be very important to L.A. County and the other counties. It helps with the 91. It helps with the I-5. It helps with the Hollywood and the 134 [freeways.]” Isn’t Metrolink important for the mobility of the people who ride it? Leahy sounds all too much a bit like the fictional L.A. Metro CEO in this Onion article.

CEO Art Leahy on Rail Car Manufacturing
Responding to questions about the demise of Kinkisharyo’s Palmdale manufacturing plant, Leahy stated that rail cars needed for the soon-to-open light rail lines will not be affected, though new rail cars may be manufactured “out of state.”

Metro Call for Projects Stays More-or-Less on Track
An early draft of a motion had called for the suspension of Metro’s Call for Projects from 2017 on. The Call is Metro’s every-other-year process where the agency grants transportation dollars to cities. The motion was amended, and Metro will just study the Call processes, while the upcoming 2015 Call proceeds as planned. As SBLA reported earlier, the Call had been an important funding source for bicycle and pedestrian projects, but changes at the Federal level have shifted that process into the state Active Transportation Program.

Bus Rapid Transit Projects Gaining Momentum
Mayor Garcetti is quietly becoming a strong proponent of medium-sized cost-effective Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects. The Metro board approved a Najarian-Garcetti-Antonovich motion regarding two BRT projects: Vermont Avenue and North Hollywood to Pasadena. Metro is currently procuring consultants to analyze and plan these BRTs. The motion directs both projects be given top priorities as Metro pursues federal small start funding.

Speaking of BRT, here is one more Metro-related news bit that really deserves its own article:

Metro Orange Line BRT Signalization Changes Ready to Go
Great News! At yesterday’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee, representatives from the Department of Transportation (LADOT) and Metro announced some good news for Orange Line commuters. LADOT suggested that the latest motion wasn’t even needed, because Metro can unilaterally increase BRT speeds and LADOT will support Metro changes. LADOT and Metro are working together to nail down the specifics, but they estimate that BRT speeds will increase, shaving 4-8 minutes off cross-Valley rides. (There are other excellent LADOT folks working on this, but let’s speculate that the Seleta Reynolds effect could be at play here.)

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Times, ABC7, and Metro Parking Stories Are Wrong and Misleading

Yesterday, the L.A. Times ran Lack of Parking Drives Many Away from Mass Transit, an article by Laura Nelson.

The Times starts with the example of a San Fernando Valley Metro Red Line commuter nearly missing grabbing a parking space. This leads to assertions of “parking shortages” on “L.A.’s light-rail system [sic - Red Line is heavy rail].” The article goes on to quote various Metro representatives, then parking expert UCLA professor Don Shoup. Ultimately, Nelson characterizes Metro parking as a “key policy question.”

Vid capture of

Screen/video capture from ABC7′s misleading L.A. Metro parking story. Alex Gonzales of Anaheim, a city not even in Los Angeles County, says “If you can’t park, then why would you take the train?”

Like a sad game of telephone, ABC7 (KABC-TV) picked up the Times’ assertions and stretched them to near absurdity.

ABC7′s story, Parking Issues to Blame for Low Transit Ridership in Los Angeles, has the gall to interview a man-on-the-street from Anaheim, a suburb not even in L.A. County, who says, “if you can’t park, then why would you take the train?”

It looks like he is riding the train in Pasadena but, honestly, couldn’t ABC7 find someone who lives in L.A. County?

Sure, transportation issues cross political boundaries, but should Metro, a governmental agency with jurisdiction over L.A. County, prioritize limited funds to serve people who don’t live here?

First two general points, then responses to Times article specifics:

1. Lots of People Ride Metro, Few Use Metro Parking 

Let me first note that lots and lots of people ride Metro buses and trains. About 1.5 millon every weekdayThere’s no “low ridership” issue here. Especially during rush hour, buses and trains are standing room only.

The vast majority of these Metro riders do not park. According to Metro’s on-board surveys, more than 80 percent of transit riders arrive by walking. Fewer than 4 percent drive and park. Even when excluding buses, just looking at the Metro rail system, only about 15 percent of riders drive and park. That is roughly 1 in 7.

The system works. Mostly with most riders paying no attention to parking.

2. It Costs Metro Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Build and Maintain “Free” Parking 

Free parking is not free for Metro to build and maintain. Metro has already spent more than $200 million to build station parking. As more parking comes on line, Metro pays more and more to operate and maintain it.

Multi-million dollar investments in parking come with trade-offs. As an agency with a limited taxpayer-funded budget, Metro can choose to fund more buses, more rail, more parking, more freeways, more walkways, bike share, etc. The difficult political job of the agency is to strike a balance between these competing public goods.

Responding to Various Erroneous or Misleading Points  

The Times, ABC7, and even Metro routinely just say “parking” when they’re really referring to just “free parking.” For example, the Times (apparently repeating a Metro assertion) states:

In North Hollywood, where the Red Line subway ends, the MTA estimates that it loses as many as 1,500 riders a day because the parking lot fills up by 7:30 a.m.

Below is a photo of the North Hollywood Red Line Station parking lot at 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Metro Red Line North Hollywood Station today at 7:30am

Metro’s Red Line North Hollywood Station parking lot, which “fills up by 7:30 a.m.” wasn’t full today at 7:30 a.m. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The North Hollywood station parking lot has 909 parking spaces. 451 are free. 425 require a paid monthly permit (currently $59, but sold out.) The free parking section is full, by about 6:30 a.m. The paid section never quite fills up. At 8 a.m. today there were still at least 200 empty spaces. Nonetheless that ’parking lot full by 7:30 a.m.’ myth gets repeated frequently: L.A. MagazineZev’s Blog, Metro board motions [PDF page 6], but the lot is not full. (Note: Laura Nelson responded via Twitter that “full” more-or-less meant “unavailable.”) 

How about the rest of that Times quote of Metro estimating it’s losing 1,500 riders a day? I think this figure from this Metro staff report [PDF] which reads:

Staff conducted a review of parking demand using Metro’s Regional Transportation Modeling Program for the North Hollywood and Universal City stations. The unconstrained parking demand for both stations far exceeds supply. Unconstrained parking demand is defined as the number of spaces required if there are no regulatory or financial restrictions on use of the parking. The 2014 unconstrained parking demand at North Hollywood is 3,075 spaces. Metro provides 951 [sic - actual: 909] spaces, leaving an unconstrained demand of 2,124 parking spaces.

What is this “unconstrained demand” with ”no financial restrictions”? It is meaningless nonsense. Ultimately nothing that exists on planet earth can exist in wholly “unconstrained” theoretical economic cartoon-fantasy-space. Metro needs to balance its constrained budget.

Metro dressing this mumbo-jumbo up in a scientific-sounding “Regional Transportation Modeling Program” is irresponsible.  Read more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eyes on the Street, er, Rails: Foothill Gold Line Extension Tracks Complete

Metro Gold Line

Celebrating the final e-clip on the Metro Foothill Gold Line Extension tracks. Left to right: Doug Tessitor (Glendora), Sam Pedroza (Claremont), John Fasana (Duarte and Metro), Elias Avila (Gold Line construction crew), Habib Balian (Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority), and Andy Peplow (Kiewit Infrastructure.) Photo via The Source

Last Saturday, Foothill communities celebrated a Track Completion Ceremony for the initial phase of the Foothill Gold Line extension. Local leaders installed the final “e-clip” which attached the rail tracks to the rail ties. Streetsblog didn’t actually make it out to Azusa for the event; find coverage at ABC, CBSThe Source, and Railway Age.

The new 11.5-mile Foothill Gold Line extension is now less than a year away from its grand opening completion of construction, expected to take place in late September 2015. The opening will coincide with a cross-San Gabriel Valley multi-city “Golden Streets” open streets event similar to CicLAvia. Additional Gold Line extensions eastward to Ontario Airport are anticipated, but not yet funded or scheduled. To tour the new light rail line virtually, see SBLA’s recent 4-part Foothill Gold Line photo essay: the overall route, the bridges, the large-scale rail maintenance yard, and accompanying Transit-Oriented Development.

The Foothill Gold Line will extend from Pasadena to Azusa, with six new stations slated to open in September 2015. Image via Metro

The Foothill Gold Line will extend from Pasadena to Azusa, with six new stations slated to open soon after construction is complete in September 2015. Image via Metro

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Metro Moving Forward With Flawed Complete Streets Policy

Cover of proposed Metro Complete Streets Policy, approved by Metro's Sustainability Committee today. Image via Metro, full report here.

Cover of proposed Metro Complete Streets Policy, approved by Metro’s Sustainability Committee today. Image via Metro, full report [PDF]

At today’s meeting, the Metro board of directors Ad Hoc Sustainability Committee approved the agency’s proposed Complete Streets Policy [PDF]. The committee approval sends the policy to the full board for anticipated approval at its meeting next Thursday, October 23.

Complete streets policies, broadly, mandate that all streets need to accommodate people using all modes of travel, including walking, bicycling, transit, and driving.

Metro staff in giving their presentation [PDF], expressed that the bulk of regional complete streets implementation occurs outside Metro’s jurisdiction. For the most part, street configurations are the jurisdiction of individual cities.

Metro staff identified two key areas where they assert that Metro has its greatest influence over complete streets implementation:

  • Corridor Planning: Metro is a lead agency in building various projects, most prominently rail, but also highways and other facilities.
  • Transportation Funding: Metro passes funding along to cities (and others) to build projects – including via the Call for Projects.

Seven public speakers, including L.A. County Bicycle Coalition’s Eric Bruins and Safe Routes To School National Partnership’s Jessica Meaney, expressed support for complete streets goals, and criticism of the draft policy. Comments focused on lack of enforceability, equity, performance metrics, as well as overall vagueness. For more details on criticisms expressed, read the Los Angeles County Active Transportation Collaborative comment letter at SRTS.

Sustainability committee members including Duarte City Councilmember John Fasana and L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin’s Transportation Deputy Paul Backstrom portrayed the new policy as “a step in the right direction,” while suggesting that some improvements will need to be made to it over time. The committee approved the policy, and requested that staff return later with proposed metrics.

In recent years, Metro has incorporated commendable complete streets facilities as part of some of its projects; examples include multi-use bike/walk paths along portions of the Metro Orange and Expo Lines. Though these bike and walk facilities are well-used, Metro does not include them in all projects, and tends to invest much greater funding in providing free parking for cars than it does in ensuring safe and convenient walking and bicycling access to its stations.

Metro recently adopted its First Last Mile Strategic Plan. Many Metro projects, though, continue to be rail- and car-focused, with first/last mile bike and pedestrian facilities being poorly-funded afterthoughts unevenly tacked on much later.

What’s in Metro’s proposed Complete Streets policy?  Read more…

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Construction Updates, the Naming of Stations, and More at Tonight’s Meeting on the Crenshaw Line

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 10.53.06 AMThe Crenshaw Leadership Council (CLC) will be holding their quarterly meeting on the progress of the Crenshaw/LAX line tonight from 6 – 8 p.m. at Dulan’s on Crenshaw (4859 Crenshaw Boulevard).

The meeting will provide updates from the work of the small groups, or PODs (Project Oriented Discussions), the CLC supports — Small Business Resources, Economic Development, Transit-Oriented Development, and Safety.

You will also have the opportunity to learn about Metro’s station naming policy and offer feedback on the station names currently under consideration. Should the stations be named after a neighborhood? A landmark structure? A historic figure? A living one (don’t laugh — Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky might just get their own stops)? Drop by the meeting to offer your thoughts and get some soul food while you’re at it.

Finally, the meeting will provide updates on construction, including the upcoming 2-week closure at Crenshaw Bl. and Rodeo Rd. Read more…

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Metro Celebrates Downtown L.A. Regional Connector Subway Groundbreaking

RegionalConnectorFoxx

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx addresses attendees at yesterday’s groundbreaking celebrations for construction of the Regional Connector subway. Photo: Streetsblog L.A.

Electeds, agency representatives, and other leaders gathered  in Little Tokyo yesterday to commemorate the groundbreaking for construction of Metro’s Regional Connector subway. Metro boardmembers were joined by federal Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and even activist-actor George Takei.

Preliminary construction has been underway for over a year, since before February’s full-funding announcement for the project.

Read more…

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Metro Board Will Discuss Sheriff Audit Reports and Shortcomings on Thursday

Thursday at noon the Metro Board is holding a workshop on the recent audit of the security contract it has with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). The unit of the LASD that handles the contract is known as Metro Transit Services which has an online presence on Facebook, Twitter and nixle.

To read the report, click ##http://www.scribd.com/doc/238287478/Los-Angeles-County-Sheriff-s-Department-Contract-Audit-Report-May-2014##here.##

To read the report, click here.

In 1997 Metro’s Police Department was replaced by a partnership of the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Then in 2003 when it was due to be renewed LASD was able to freeze out the LADP and take over the entire contract, which they have held since that time via periodic renewals. For the period of July 2013-June 2014 LASD received $83,855,638 for the contract.

Earlier this year, I was elated to learn (via this comment made by taipan85 to my piece on the Metro fare restructuring proposal) that an audit was underway in response to a motion (#21) made in June 2013 by then Metro Board member Mel Wilson. At that time, Wilson was chair of the Metro Finance, Budget and Audit Committee. Wilson stated that in the prior year various troubling Sheriff’s Department items came before his committee, so he decided that a thorough audit was called for to see if other aspects of the LASD’s performance were similarly inadequate.

The establishment of the partnership and then the LASD getting the entire contract were during the years I attended Metro Board meetings. As I watched this unfold, it became clear that the entire process was extremely political and had little to do with providing the best policing services for Metro patrons. The audit and the follow-up peer review, facilitated at the request of Metro CEO Art Leahy, by the American Public Transportation Association (a trade group), confirm my long-held suspicions of how poorly the LASD has been fulfilling the contract.

It is dismaying that the staff report for the meeting Thursday glosses over the depth of the problems with claims of recent improvements and opportunities. This begs the question: would these recent improvements have occurred if Wilson had not requested the audit? Read more…

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Panel Review: “The New Streets of L.A.”

We might want to remember that Levi Strauss & Company is a clothing company which follows fashion trends while indeed playing a role in the creation of trends.  The above Levi’s Commercial in which an internal-combustion-powered vehicle is apparently allowed onto the trading floor of a major stock or commodities exchange in New York City actually propelled Steve Miller’s song “The Joker” to the number one spot on the UK charts in September of 1990, some 16 years after it was released in 1973. Powerful stuff that sturdy fabric from the city of Nimes in France.

Photo: Maria Sipin

Photo: Maria Sipin

It is however is no joke that Levi’s has opened a “pop-up” “commuter workshop” in Downtown Los Angeles, rather than a more traditional location for such Brigadoon-like ventures such as Melrose. Even choosing Downtown, one would expect to see this pop-up around the established shopping crossroads of 7th and Figueroa, not just east of Broadway but by golly east of Spring on 5th! To think that 15 years ago many thought Tom Gilmore was nuts for planning hotels in “Skid Row.”

The workshop is really more of a corporate-sponsored Bicycle Kitchen with places to repair the iron steed of course, but also space to socialize or even get your torn jeans repaired by helpful seamstresses (well, they were all female last night!). Of course, you can also test ride a Tokyobike or peruse the Levi’s Commuter clothing line which is aimed at bicycle users.

Last night anyone who RSVP’d in advance (and was over 21) was able to attend a well-produced presentation arranged and moderated by Aaron Paley of CicLAvia on the future of our public spaces entitled, “The New Streets of L.A.”  The event was packed to capacity, despite the unfortunate, and IMHO unnecessary (did beer really need to be served?) age restriction.

Photo: Maria Sipin

From left to right: Jennifer Klausner, Avit Shavit, Tafarai Bayne, Seleta Reynolds, Aaron Paley, Deborah Murphey Photo: Maria Sipin

Presenting were: Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: Faulty Pedestrian Detour at Expo Phase 2 Construction

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Signs offering mixed messages at this pedestrian detour on Venice Boulevard at Culver Boulevard. Image via @topomodesto Twitter

Yesterday, Michael MacDonald @topomodesto tweeted two images that highlight L.A.’s lack of accomodation for pedestrians.

The photos were taken on eastbound Venice Boulevard at Culver Boulevard, one block west of the Metro Expo Line Culver City Station. Expo Phase 2 construction has blocked pedestrians from walking on Venice Boulevard’s south sidewalk. This sidewalk is where people would walk between downtown Culver City and the current Expo Line terminus. Instead, detour “cross here” signs direct pedestrians to scramble across Venice Stroad Blvd. Unfortunately, though, crossing Venice at this intersection is illegal. There’s a No Ped Crossing sign visible in MacDonald’s photo above.

It looks like the message to L.A.’s pedestrians is “just go away.”

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Same location on Venice Boulevard, view looking east. The under-construction Exposition Rail bridge is visible in the distance. Photo via @topomodesto Twitter

SBLA is excited for Expo 2 to open! It is disappointing, though, to see that, even when Los Angeles is constructing livability enhancements, the city cuts off pedestrian (and, often, bicycle) access. Two steps forward, one step back.

Perhaps Councilmember Huizar’s motion for better walking accommodations during construction will help. What I’d like to see: the political will to, at least now and then, make it less convenient to drive, and more convenient to walk, bike, and ride transit. Copenhagen did this during their Metro construction, and bicycling increased while driving declined.