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Today’s Beverly Hills vs. Metro Subway Court Hearing Inconclusive

Early version of possible Purple Line Subway alignments studied through Beverly Hills. Image via Metro

Early version of possible Purple Line Subway alignments through Beverly Hills. Image via Metro

At a federal court hearing this morning, attorneys for Beverly Hills and Metro clashed, but did not arrive at any conclusive outcome. It appears that Metro will likely need to do some additional environmental review (a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement or SEIS) before proceeding with construction on phase 2 of the Purple Line Subway extension, which is planned to tunnel below the city of Beverly Hills with stations in Beverly Hills and Century City.

The plaintiffs include the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District. The defendants include Metro and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). For the purposes of this article, SBLA simplifies the parties to “Beverly Hills” against “Metro.”

The deadlock outlined in SBLA’s February explainer remain. The lawsuit primarily centers on Beverly Hills’ criticism of Metro’s decision to relocate the planned Century City stop from Santa Monica Boulevard to Constellation Boulevard. Metro studied various subway alignments, and chose to place the Century City station at the intersection of Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars. Though Constellation and Santa Monica are one block apart, Metro found that Santa Monica Boulevard would not work due to earthquake faults. The Constellation alignment necessitates tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.

Judge George H. Wu preliminarily sided with Beverly Hills, finding that Metro’s subway environmental studies (Environmental Impact Statement EIS) did not fulfill all the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). In order to comply with NEPA requirements, Metro will likely need to do additional environmental review (a SEIS.)

Metro and Beverly Hills continue to be far from settling the legal dispute.  Read more…

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Metro Awards Contract for Environmental Study and Design of Phase I of Rail-to-River Bike Path

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east just took another step forward. Source: Metro

The Rail-to-River plan to put a bike path along the Slauson corridor (between the Crenshaw Line to the west and the L.A. River to the east) just took another step forward. Source: Metro

As bike month comes to a close, we have some good news for South L.A. cyclists. At yesterday’s Metro Board meeting, a $2 million contract was awarded to Cityworks Design to begin working on plans for a 6.4 mile segment of the Rail-to-River bike path project (segments A-1, A-2, and A-3, above).

The Rail-to-River bike path, as County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas described it last October, is an important opportunity to turn an 8-mile stretch of a “dormant” and “blighted” rail right-of-way (ROW) in a “historically distressed area” into a biking and walking path that could more efficiently connect people to transit while also bettering the local economy, health outcomes for residents, and the local environment.

Running between the Crenshaw/LAX Line station at Fairview Heights station to just east of the Blue Line station at Slauson and, in subsequent phases, to the river, the path will not only help connect cycling commuters to transit but offer the local residents of a neglected industrial corridor much-needed green space and a place to safely stretch their legs.

Yesterday’s development doesn’t mean the project is about to break ground, unfortunately. Instead, Cityworks Design has been tasked with undertaking environmental review, clearance, and design work for the project. Supporting documents describe Cityworks as specialists in environmental clearance and able to work within the time constraints of the project. Which is a good thing, as the TIGER grant requires the funds be obligated by September of 2017 and expended by 2022.

The project has been a few years in the making. Read more…

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Metro Approves New College Student Transit Pass Pilot Program

Students line up to make public comment in favor of Metro's student bus pass improvements. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At yesterday’s Metro board meeting, Luz Juan, East Los Angeles College student giving public testimony. Students lined up to make public comment in favor of Metro’s student bus pass improvements. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At yesterday morning’s Metro board meeting the proposed pilot college student pass program was passed with resounding unanimous approval. Board members and students representing a broad coalition of L.A. County colleges expressed excitement and optimism for the approved pilot program, which intends to expand ridership and increase program accessibility through partnerships with colleges.

The aptly titled “Universal College Student Transit Pass (U-Pass) Pilot Program” will start this fall and is approved for a two-year pilot period. The U-Pass pilot intends to expand reduced fare college pass enrollment through improving pass accessibility and administrative processing.

To streamline program participation and administration, the approved pilot program includes two key accessibility modifications from the current I-TAP college pass program to ensure student discount passes are easier to understand and administer for participating schools and students.

Under the U-Pass pilot, participating schools are responsible for payment to Metro through a pay-per-boarding model capped off at a fee of $43 per month per participant. Participating schools are also encouraged to streamline the U-Pass program through existing class and activity fee registration processes, similar to the Santa Monica City College’s “Any Line / Any Time” program. Until yesterday, student pass programs involved a lengthy and backlogged mail-order application process. Metro reported students undergo a 4-6 week wait period from their application submission to receiving reduced-fare cards. Under the U-Pass program colleges can bypass Metro’s administrative approval through a TAP-enabled sticker, easing the administrative application process for interested students.

A second key change reduces the student pass required credit minimum from 12 to 8 per semester in an effort to include part-time students in the U- Pass program. After six months the unit requirement may be further reduced to 6 units following a revenue impact review. Part-time students taking 8 or more credits will continue to only have to pay a maximum fee of $43 (the current Metro monthly student pass rate, discounted from the regular Metro monthly pass cost of $100.)

These initial Metro student pass changes focus on expanding ridership numbers. Under the existing 12-credit requirement for undergraduate students, only 3 percent of total eligible public school students participate in reduced price college transit programs. For the newly approved U-Pass Pilot program, Metro established a goal of increasing student participation by 10 percent over existing discount-pass levels. Metro data from Pasadena City College and Rio Hondo College’s participation in the now discontinued I-TAP college discount program inspires hope to the U-Pass pilot: PCC and Rio Hondo increased full-student ridership by 30 percent and 37 percent respectively under a 5 year I-Tap program period.  Read more…

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Metro Not Quite Ready for First/Last Mile Funding for Purple Line Phase 2

Will Metro pay attention to its own Active Transportation Strategic Plan [PDF]?

Will Metro pay attention to its own Active Transportation Strategic Plan [PDF]?

Just when the Metro board was on the verge of adopting a policy to incorporate first/last mile, including bike and walk, connections into “the planning, design, and construction of all [Metro] transit projects,” Metro staff postponed including first/last mile connections to the second phase of Purple Line subway expansion.

The issue before the board was Metro’s new Active Transportation Strategic Plan [PDF]. The ATSP theoretically builds on a number of Metro bike-and-walk-friendly policies, including the agency’s First/Last Mile Strategic Plan and Complete Streets Policy. Livability advocates, with champions on the Metro board prominently including Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, have pushed for Metro to follow up these good-sounding policies with Metro funding commitments to truly get first/last mile facilities on the ground. After the 2014 passage of the Metro Complete Streets Policy, Bonin pushed the agency to follow up with a walk/bike funding plan.

Metro dragged its heels on the funding plan, publishing schedules designed to complete the funding document right after the November sales tax ballot measure. So Metro would finally have a walk/bike funding plan right after it sets the course for the next 50 years of Metro funding.

Pressure from Bonin and others accelerated the schedule for the funding plan, now called the ATSP. Today the Metro board approved its ATSP, a month in advance of June’s planned approval of a sales tax expenditure plan.

The ATSP, similar to the plans that preceded it, also sounds good. There are plenty of graphs and diagrams about how great walking and bicycling are. What is new in the ATSP (page 59) is overall cost estimates for building out a Los Angeles County Active Transportation Network. There is no commitment on Metro’s part to pay these costs, but at least there is an official agency estimate for how much someone should pay to support active transportation.

Accompanying today’s adoption of the ATSP were two multi-part motions regarding Metro implementation:  Read more…

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Metro Sets Date To Launch DTLA Bike-Share: July 7

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Publicity photo for Metro bike-share. Photo via Allison Mannos

Downtown L.A. will get a little more bike-friendly with the launch of Metro bike-share, just announced for Thursday, July 7, 2016. Metro bike-share will include 1000+ bikes at 65 docking stations. The system is expected to expand to Pasadena in 2017, and other areas in future years.

From Metro’s press release:

People who live, work and play in downtown L.A. are encouraged to sign up for a Metro bike share pass in advance of the launch at www.metro.net/bikeshare. The system will be accessible exclusively to pass holders from July 7 until August 1, 2016 to incentivize pass holder sales. The system will open to walk-up customers starting August 1. People who purchase their pass early will get a limited edition Metro Bike Share Kit. The first 1,000 people to sign up will also receive exclusive Metro bike share pins.

The installation of bike share stations throughout downtown L.A. will begin in early June, with work expected to continue until the stations open to the public on July 7.

Who’s already signed up?

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Manuel Pastor’s Recommendations for Metro’s 2016 Ballot Measure

Professor Manuel Pastor at yesterday's Move L.A. event. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Professor Manuel Pastor at yesterday’s Move L.A. event. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At Move L.A.’s Transportation Conversation 8 yesterday, USC professor Manuel Pastor had a list of recommendations for Metro as the agency seeks to finalize and pass its anticipated $120 billion November sales tax measure. For many years, Pastor has been an important voice for equity and justice. Adopting his recommendations would go a long way to truly embedding equity in coming decades of Metro expenditures.

Note: Pastor ticked off this list fairly quickly. I took notes and embellished slightly, adding some background. The good ideas here are Pastor’s; any improper embellishment is mine. 

1. Keep Fares Low

Pastor stressed that keeping transit affordable means it can serve those who truly need it. Interconnected with that, low fares are a big factor in minimizing declining ridership. Pastor emphasized that even small hikes, like Metro’s 2014 25-cent increase, can make lasting dents in ridership and can really harm the quality of life of low income riders.

2. Goal of No Net Displacement

Pastor outlined that Metro’s large construction projects can adversely impact the adjacent communities, displacing both residents and businesses. Pastor welcomed Metro’s programs to jointly develop affordable housing and to assist impacted businesses, but these are somewhat limited in scope. These programs are current Metro policies and practices applied only to selected projects. Pastor urged Metro to expand programs, including extending transit-oriented affordable housing assistance beyond just Metro-owned property. He urged Metro to make a robust commitment to prevent displacement in all significant Measure R2 projects.

3. Let All Students Ride for Free

Pastor urged that all students, from elementary to middle to high school through college, should ride Metro transit for free. Free. This is an investment in the education of the next generation. Pastor joked that young people want to spend their time texting anyway, but made the point that making transit available to students will ingrain transit ridership habits during Angelenos’ formative years, paying off in greater sustained levels of ridership as many students grow into transit-riding adults.

Read more…

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Open Thread: Expo Phase Two Grand Opening

Inaugural Expo train pulls into Downtown Santa Monica station Friday, May 20. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Steers/City of Santa Monica

Inaugural Expo train pulls into Downtown Santa Monica station Friday, May 20. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Steers/City of Santa Monica

The day Los Angeles transit enthusiasts have been waiting for finally arrived this morning when the 6.6 mile extension of the Expo line opened, bringing passenger rail back to the westside of L.A. County for the first time since 1953.

Opening festivities continue tomorrow with celebrations at five of the seven new stations and a celebration at the Culver City station. Tonight and all day tomorrow, riding Expo is free. Also, the Big Blue Bus and Breeze Bike Share will be free to ride tomorrow.

Looking east toward the Downtown Santa Monica Expo line station. Photo by Jason Islas/SBLA

Looking east toward the Downtown Santa Monica Expo line station: the Santa Monica Esplanade includes an extra wide sidewalk, plus two-way protected bike lanes. Photo by Jason Islas/SBLA

This morning at around 9:45 a.m., a ceremonial passenger service train pulled into the Downtown Santa Monica station at 4th Street and Colorado Avenue, carrying local dignitaries, elected officials, Metro and municipal staff, enthusiasts, and supporters of Expo.

Passenger service officially started at noon, but before that happened, Metro held a ceremony in the parking lot just south of the Downtown Santa Monica Expo station, emceed by 2nd District L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Also among the dignitaries were County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and State Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who served on the Santa Monica City Council from 1999 to 2012.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti was on hand, as was Santa Monica Mayor Tony Vazquez, who posed with a surfboard and offered a hearty welcome to the Expo line in Spanish. Garcetti declared that L.A. was making the transformation from being the nation’s car capital to being the nation’s transit capital. Metro CEO Phil Washington was on hand to offer some words, too, as was L.A. City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who thanked the many people in the audience whose grassroots activism helped make Expo happen, especially Friends4Expo.

Santa Monica’s longest-serving City Councilmember Pam O’Connor, who represented the city and the South Bay on the Metro Board of Directors in 2001 when the Expo right of way was chosen. In fact, she was the board member who, with tremendous grassroots support, made the motion to set the right-of-way that is today the Expo light rail line.

Were you at today’s opening ceremonies? Are you planning to attend tomorrow’s ceremonies? What is your experience riding Southern Calfornia’s newest light rail line? Please post your pictures and comments below.

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The Expo Line Opening and the Way Forward

Metro opens the Metro Expo Line to Santa Monica today. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro opens the Metro Expo Line to Santa Monica today. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Today is the day. While many were happy about the Gold Line Foothill Extension opening earlier this year, I think the level of excitement about today’s opening of the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica is several magnitudes greater. As Kathy Seal eloquently detailed in her recent post, this project was made possible by authentic grassroots activism, exemplifying the famous quote by anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And I notice the one thing no one seems overly concerned about is ridership. From day one the new Expo rail extension will be used. In fact the chief concerns are crowded trains (due to the rail procurement delivery situation that currently afflicts Metro) and the travel time from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles being too long. As to the latter I urge all readers of this blog to sign the petition to LADOT that it provide the line signal preemption. I am gratified the petition has generated significant attention for the issue and hopefully it will force officials to finally act.

SoCaTA booth this year at Fullerton Railroad Days. Photo by Dana Gabbard

SoCaTA booth this year at Fullerton Railroad Days. Photo by Dana Gabbard

Saturday Southern California Transit Advocates will have a booth at the Culver City station during the community celebration for the opening from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A list of vendors and schedule of the musical performers at that location is posted at this link. The purpose will be to share information and engage the public. Charles Hobbs, author of Hidden History of Transportation in Los Angeles, will also be at the booth and I expect representatives of the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada to also be present. RailLA also has booth at the station. Come by and say hello.

Certainly this weekend will be about savoring this achievement, but starting next week we need to rededicate ourselves to build on it because there is still much work to do to facilitate expanding our rail network. On Monday, Move L.A. will hold its 8th annual Transportation Conversation. We cannot be complacent. To build a coalition and pass the Los Angeles County transit sales tax measure in November (which requires securing a two-thirds majority) will not be easy but is necessary. Move L.A.’s forum will be key to that effort and I am attending. I urge all in a position to attend to do so and join our movement to create multi-modal networks (transit, bicycling, walking) that support sustainable communities. The future doesn’t happen by accident. It is the result of vision and commitment. Join me on the front lines and aid the struggle for a better tomorrow.

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Metro Did the Right Thing By Not Over-Parking Expo Line Phase 2

Does Downtown Santa Monica really need more parking? Photo; Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Does Downtown Santa Monica really need more parking? Photo; Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro’s Expo Line Phase 2 opens this Friday. Though there is a lot of excitement and praise for the line, the Expo extension from Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica has also received some criticism. Note that Expo Phase 1 weathered its own criticism, and exceeded expectations.

Some critics are suggesting the line could be “doomed” due to a lack of parking. When Angeleno drivers say “parking” they tend to mean “free parking.”

Here’s an example from Laura Nelson’s Los Angeles Times article The Expo Line is finally coming to the Westside, but limited parking raises concerns:

“So how do I get to the station?” Liesel Friedreich, 64, of Pacific Palisades, asked when she learned the downtown Santa Monica station wouldn’t include dedicated parking for transit riders. “Isn’t the point to get more people with more money to ride the train?”

(Nelson’s article is overall a very good read and fairly balanced. She goes on to quote a Metro official stating that “hulking garages and expansive lots can be unsightly, expensive, and ultimately not a tool for encouraging people to stop driving.”)

My first reaction to the Friedreich quote is that it is just not news. Yes, some people are saying this, but the first question for the reporter is: how valid, applicable, or newsworthy is it? Yes, people who never rode transit and who will probably never ride transit regularly will spout off lots of self-serving rationalizations for why they are not riding. If it is not the parking, it could be the time, the frequency, the location, the walk, the homeless people, the noise, or the yadda yadda. As a transit rider (cyclist and pedestrian), I hear these excuses all the time, and I don’t think think they are news. They are a dog bites man story.

But let’s take a look at the assertion that Metro should build parking so “people with more money” will ride the train.

Nelson and Metro call these monied folks “choice riders.” Theoretically this means that there are two big groups of transit riders: poor “captive riders” who have no other transportation choice, and rich “choice riders” who typically drive. Transit expert Jarrett Walker (at minute 26 in this video) calls this false dichotomy the single most destructive fantasy about transit. In real life, people form a broad spectrum, so “When we incrementally improve transit service a little bit – we improve frequency, we get a payoff. We get a ridership improvement.” Walker advises agencies to forget about the mythical “choice rider” and instead focus on the “middle 90 percent.”

Read more…

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Metro Deputy CEO Wiggins Previews Proposed Student Pass Program Upgrade

Under a new student pass program, Metro plans to shift to more convenient stickers on student ID cars, instead of student TAP cards. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Under a new student pass program, Metro plans to shift to more convenient TAP-enabled stickers on student ID cars, instead of student TAP cards. Photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At this morning’s Student Transit Pass Advocacy Summit at L.A. Trade Tech College, Metro Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins announced changes that Metro plans to make to its student transit pass programs. Later this month, the proposed changes will go to the Metro board for approval.

Today's summit focused on how students can advocate for more accessible transit.

Student leaders speaking on a panel at today’s Student Transit Pass Advocacy Summit

At the summit, students representing colleges from around the region including L.A. Mission College, East L.A. Community College and Long Beach City College spoke of the stress of working to build their futures, while balancing work and school.

Currently, transit passes are only available to full-time students, so students face pressure to enroll in more units to qualify for passes. Students spoke of the frustration of buses that arrive only once an hour, on schedules not aligned to class schedules. Lorena Aguilar, ASO Vice President for L.A. Mission College criticized Metro bus service to Mission College, which runs hourly in the evening. The hourly bus departs campus at 9:58 p.m. making it unusable for students attending evening classes which conclude at 10 p.m.

Responding to student concerns, Metro’s Stephanie Wiggins outlined proposed changes to the agency’s current student transit pass programs. Wiggins describes Metro’s current “broken” student pass system as annually costing the agency $8 million to serve 14,000 student. While Metro is looking to grow the funding available for the program – through Measure R2 and state legislation outlined below – initial changes will focus on making passes more widely available, in hopes of growing the pool of students who ride Metro. Read more…