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A Photo Essay of a Tour of the Gold Line Foothill Extension

This Wednesday, Aviv Kleinman and Damien Newton of Streetsblog joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the Gold Line Foothill Extension under construction in the San Gabriel Valley. We joined Albert Ho, head of Media Relations for the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, and Jeff Rowland, the Community Relations Manager for the Kiewit-Parsons Joint Venture, the constructors of the project.

Jeff Rowland, the Community Relations Manager for the  Kiewit-Parsons Joint Venture, knows just about everything there is to know about the Gold Line extension, and railroad construction in general. I made sure to pick his brain with many questions throughout the day, and he was able to answer them all with facts and figures.

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Yours truly waiting for a train at the Monrovia Station. If there were a LCD screen showing waiting time for the next train, it would display “1273236 minutes” (until November, 2016, of course.) All photos by Aviv Kleinman/Streetsblog L.A., except where specified otherwise

It was the most comprehensive tour we could have ever imagined, and we had a long and great day on the tour. We toured the future Maintenance and Operations (M&O) facility, the flyover bridge that crosses the 210 Freeway, and many future stations and sections of track alignment. We’re splitting tour coverage into four separate posts: The first about the line in general, the second about the maintenance yard, the third about the iconic bridge, and the fourth about Transit-Oriented-Development built and planned around the line.

The Metro Gold Line is a 19.7 mile light rail line running from East Los Angeles to Pasadena via Union Station in Downtown L.A. The line’s first phase entered service in 2003, serving 21 stations. The line’s third phase, the Foothill Extension, will extend from its current terminus in East Pasadena, at Sierra Madre Villa to Azusa, serving another 6 stations over the course of 11.3 miles. The extension will serve five cities directly, and it is proposed to transform transportation and development patterns in the San Gabriel Valley. Once bounded by the distress of being caught in freeway gridlock, San Gabriel Valley residents will now have the freedom to commute by Metro rail into Downtown LA and endless locations from there by using the new Gold Line extension.

In this first installment of the series, we explore the stations, track alignment, and construction machinery and processes. Photos and renderings will be displayed in that order.

Monrovia

Artist’s rendering of the future Monrovia Station. Courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority .

Rowland explained that in the initial phase of the Gold Line construction between L.A. and Pasadena, Metro asked each municipality that would host a station to design their own ‘personalized’ station that would be an art piece portraying a theme of the municipality’s choice. Art is great, but, according to Rowland, art the size of a train station is pricey. At the price tag of $25 million each, the current stations are marvelous and magnificent, but their costs were just too high for the second phase of the line.

Read more…

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Five Key Tips For Metro Regarding Safe Bus-Bike Interactions

Early last week, Michael MacDonald posted his helmet-camera video showing a Metro bus driver veering rightward into his path, then braking. The incident occurred on Adams Boulevard near Hauser. When MacDonald confronted the driver, he responds dismissively and closes the bus window.

The video bounced around the bike corner of cyberspace. It was picked up by Biking in L.A. who called it “a perfect test case for the city’s cyclist anti-harassment ordinance.” The footage ran on Univision and CBS.

There are other similar videos online. Below is one that took place on Santa Monica Boulevard, from YouTube user Wes + Bikes.

Though it doesn’t get recorded on video often, I can personally confirm that this sort of merge conflict happens to lots of L.A. cyclists very frequently, especially those of us intrepid enough to “take the lane” on L.A.’s busier arterial bus-route streets. Yesterday, I bicycled from Koreatown to Downtown L.A. and had two transit vehicles merge into my path, one a Metro Bus and the other an LADOT DASH Shuttle. Public agency bus merges are frequent, as they get over to the curb to pick up passengers, but I’ve also been cut off by plenty of private vehicles, especially near freeway on-ramps, and  driveways. Read more…

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Open Streets Slated for SFV, SGV, Pasadena, LB, Santa Monica, and More

Under Metro's plan, CicLAvia open streets festivals will take place all over Los Angeles County. photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

Under Metro’s proposal, 12 different CicLAvia open streets festivals will take place in various cities throughout Los Angeles County. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

It is not fully approved or completely finalized, but a document has circulated that shows Metro’s staff recommendations for open streets events for FY2015-16. Open streets events, or ciclovías, are car-free festivals primarily for bicycling and walking, more or less the same as Los Angeles’ popular CicLAvia.

So far in L.A. County, cities, primarily the city of Los Angeles, have partnered with the CicLAvia nonprofit organization to host these events. The new Metro list shows the popular event spreading out to new cities and new neighborhoods, and new cities working with new organizational partners.

Metro has become a major sponsor for open streets events, allocating $2 million in event funding for each of the next two fiscal years, July 1st through June 30th. The agency is allocating the funding to cities that apply. Metro received about two dozen applications, ranked them, and recommended funding twelve upcoming events.

Nearly all the planned events connect with Metro’s rail system. Two open streets events are projected to coincide with the grand openings for Metro’s Gold and Expo rail line extensions under construction.

Metro’s guidelines, as stated in the document, prioritize “funding one event per city before funding multiple events.” Proportionally, this puts larger cities–Los Angeles and Long Beach–at somewhat of a competitive disadvantage.

The city of Long Beach applied to host three “Beach Streets” events, but only received funding for one, to take place in northwest Long Beach.

The city of Los Angeles applied for funding for both San Fernando Valley and South L.A. events, but only received funding for SFV. The city of Los Angeles also found a way to squeeze in a third CicLAvia event. L.A.’s “Heart of Los Angeles” route centered on downtown L.A. is being extended east into unincorporated East L.A., so it is hosted by the County of Los Angeles, despite the event being mostly within L.A. city limits.

In future calls, perhaps there could be prioritization of limited funding using some sort of per capita criteria.

Map of upcoming FY 2015 and 2016 Los Angeles County open streets event. From Metro document

Map of upcoming FY 2015 and 2016 Los Angeles County open streets event. From Metro document

The upcoming open streets events list was made public on the Metro website and circulated by @Calwatch via Twitter. The “open streets recommendations” document is posted hereUpdate: Per Metro, the document was not officially made public yet, and the full report, which may differ from what was posted, will be released in early June. While the document includes a map (above) it is not easy to tell exactly what streets are included in each event. 

The document represents the Metro staff recommendations. The funding list will still need to be approved by the Metro Planning and Programming Committee, then the full Metro Board. These approvals are expected in June 2014. Though there are maps and dates specified, open streets events go through a lot of changes, so consider these tentative.

Below is the full list of upcoming open streets events slated for approval, listed in date order.  Read more…

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The Myth of the Magic Bus: The Weird Politics and Persistently Strange Logic Behind the Orange Line

Despite the Fanfare, the Orange Line Was More Expensive Than Some Light Rail Projects. Photo: Roger Rudick

Despite the Fanfare, the Orange Line Was More Expensive Than Some Light Rail Projects. Photo: Roger Rudick

The other day I was reading about New York City’s proposal to build a north-south busway on Woodhaven Blvd., starting in my old ‘hood of Jackson Heights.

It’s a great plan—by making the center lanes bus-only and providing train-like amenities, such as pre-paid, multi-door boarding, New York will have an improved north-south bus route. It’ll take a predicted 45 minutes to ride clear across Queens, instead of the current 65. Since it’ll be running on existing roadway, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) upgrades can be built for a fraction of what it would cost to install light rail or subway.

As with most busway proposals, articles cite the Orange Line BRT in the San Fernando Valley as a model.

The Orange Line is celebrated as a transit success story in the press. Ridership exceeded expectations almost from the day it opened in 2005. It peaked around 29,000 daily passengers. At rush hour, demand exceeds capacity. This is something that busway supporters boast about.

They should stop boasting.

If you built a ship that carries 500 people but you found 1,000 people on the dock, you screwed up. Similarly, the higher-than-capacity demand on the Orange Line corridor just means Metro should have built a rail line.

Oops. Read more…

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Metro Approves 25 Cent Base Fare Increase To $1.75 In September 2014

Fight For the Soul of the Cities demonstrators circle in front, before today's Metro board meeting. photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Fight For the Soul of the Cities demonstrators circle in front, before today’s Metro board meeting. photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Just over four hours into its marathon monthly board meeting, the Metro Board of Directors approved its much debated fare increase. Metro’s base transit fare will increase from $1.50 to $1.75 in September 2014. Weekly and monthly passes, and senior and disabled fares will also undergo similar increases. The fare increase motion passed with twelve in favor. County Supervisor Gloria Molina was the only board member voting opposed.

A few of the most painful impacts of the fare increase were mitigated by the Garcetti-Yaroslavsky-Ridley-Thomas amendment motion, which also passed in an amended form.

As has been the case during past fare increase debates, there was a long series of public speakers against increasing fares. Roughly one hundred speakers – students, seniors, parents, workers – urged the board not to balance its budget on the backs of the poor. Opposition was organized by the Bus Riders Union (BRU) and Fight For the Soul of the Cities (FFSC.) These groups made it clear that they did not support the small improvements in the amendment motion, but saw these as an attempt, in the words of BRU’s Barbara Lott-Holland, to  ”create a wedge” splitting the opposition.

County Supervisor Molina was the lone board member to ally herself with the public opposition the fare increase. Molina proposed that the fare increase be deferred, and that Metro staff instead be tasked with finding a “one and one-half percent” cut to the operations budget. Molina’s motion failed, unable to secure support from a second board member. Mayor Garcetti offered to incorporate direction to staff to report back on operations budget trimming, but that report back ultimately was not included.

Read more…

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Full Federal Funding To Extend Purple Line Subway West 4 Miles To La Cienega

Today's announcement means that Angelenos should be able to ride the Wilshire Subway to La Cienega in 2023. Image: Metro website

Today’s federal funding announcement means that Angelenos can expect to ride the Purple Line Subway to Wilshire and La Cienega in 2023. Image: Metro website

This morning in Washington DC, federal and Los Angeles officials joined together to announce full funding for the initial phase extending Metro’s Purple Line Subway. This funding had been hinted at earlier, but today it’s a done deal. Barring any kind of governmental shutdown.

Metro will receive $1.35 billion in federal grant funding, plus another $0.86 billion in federal infrastructure loans. Today’s $2 billion completes the $2.8 billion budget for extending the subway 3.9 miles west underneath Wilshire Boulevard, to a terminus at Wilshire and La Cienega. Construction is anticipated to start this summer and be completed in 2023.

With the project ready to begin construction, hopefully truth-challenged editorials and confusing campaign talk of a “third way” alternative route will soon be a thing of the past. No speculation on how the funding announcement timing dovetails with Metro’s planned fare increases.

Lots of additional local coverage at: Santa Monica Next, Long Beachize, KPCC, The Source, Daily News, LA Register, and the LA Times.

 

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County Education Coordinating Council Calls for Free Metro Student Pass

Cover of the ECC report The XXX Costs and Benefits of Providing Free Public Transportation Passes to Students in Los Angeles County. Full report posted here, summary sheet here.

Cover of the 2013 report The Potential Costs and Benefits of Providing Free Public Transportation Passes to Students in Los Angeles County. Click for full report [pdf] or summary sheet [pdf]

Tomorrow, the Metro Board is voting on fare increases. Under the Metro staff recommendation, Metro’s base transit fare would go from $1.50 to $1.75 in 2014. That’s a 17% increase. Metro’s student fare would go from $1 to $1.25 in 2014. That’s a 25% increase.

Mayor Eric Garcetti has proposed a fare increase companion motion would temporarily freeze student fares at their current levels.

The Los Angeles County Education Coordinating Council (ECC) is urging things to go in a different direction. The ECC is calling for “free Metro passes for all students, from pre-school to college.”

The County Education Coordinating Council was formed by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2004. The council is chaired by School Board Member Monica Garcia and Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash. ECC is charged with removing barriers to educational achievement, primarily for foster youth and youth in the probation system.

One key focus for the ECC is attendance. The more students that attend school, the better the outcomes for both students and schools. In 2010, the ECC formed its School Attendance Task Force (SATF,) from which the free student fare recommendations emerged.

In early 2013, at the urging of community groups including Youth Justice Coalition, Community Rights Campaign, Children’s Defense Fund and the Violence Prevention Coalition, the ECC adopted a resolution [pdf] favoring free student passes. The ECC cites three primary reasons for favoring free student passes:

  • Provide students with a reliable, affordable way to get to school;
  • Prevent students from receiving fare evasion citations; and
  • Allow schools to redirect resources currently devoted to transportation toward educational services.

Fare evasion deserves some additional explanation. According to County Probation data [pdf], fare evasion accounts for an unexpectedly large share of L.A. County Sheriff juvenile citations. In FY2012-13, fare evasion accounted for 27.7% of all youth citations, more than vandalism, theft, alcohol, graffiti, etc. Fare evasion acts as a sort of gateway drug, bringing youth into a vicious spiral of interactions with the criminal justice system. Citations lead to fines and court appearances, which, if not addressed, can lead to warrants, arrests, and incarceration. According to ECC, a “first-time court appearance during high school quadruples a student’s odds of dropping out.” Fare evasion citations occur predominantly on Metro rail as compared to Metro bus; they appear to be an unintended consequence of Metro’s rail system expansion.

In late 2013, the ECC Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH) released its report The Potential Costs and Benefits of Providing Free Public Transportation Passes to Students in Los Angeles County. The report [pdf] and a 2-page summary [pdf] are available online.  Read more…

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Metro Fare Increase Modification Motion by Garcetti, Zev, and MRT

Under the proposed Metro board motion, student transit fares would be temporarily frozen at current levels, instead of increased per Metro staff proposal. Image: Metro website

Under the proposed Garcetti motion, student transit fares would be temporarily frozen at current levels, instead of increased per Metro staff proposal. Image: Metro website

Just when it looked like this Thursday’s Metro board meeting would just see its high-stakes up-or-down vote on proposed fare increases, a new wrinkle emerges: a new Metro board motion [pdf] by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas. The bottom line on the motion is that a 25-cent fare increase would go forward for September 2014, but with some relatively positive strings attached.

From the way the new motion is written, it’s not procedurally an alternative to the fare increase, but instead a sort of tag-along modification that comes after fare increases. The Garcetti-Yaroslavsky-Ridley-Thomas motion more or less assumes that the fare increase gets approved. While there are worthwhile modifications in the motion (see below), the implication here is that the fare increase itself appears likely to pass, given that the mayor controls four Metro board votes and the two other sponsors are likely to vote for it as well.

Here are excerpts from the motion, with SBLA analysis and commentary interspersed.

The preamble section of the motion emphasizes three issues:

  1. Minimizing the ways that fare increases “hurt … Los Angeles County’s working poor”
  2. Minimizing the “criminalization of fare evasion amongst youth riders”
  3. Ensuring that Metro staff give the Metro board “a range of options, with quality analysis and modeling” in order to get “fare structures [that] optimize ridership” including a need for “outside expertise” and a “Rider’s Advocate” within Metro. This analysis would include:

• Evaluating the efficacy of merging the 30-day pass with the EZ Pass;
• Modifying fare increases for the 7-day and 30-day passes in order to mitigate impacts on low-income riders;
• Charging for parking at MTA stations;
• Evaluating opportunities to create additional operational cost savings and new revenue opportunities;
• Developing multi-day passes to encourage tourists to use the public transit system; and
• Adjusting MTA fares annually consistent with the Consumer Price Index instead of stand-alone fare increases.

Though there are some non-binding wiggle-words like “should,” the preamble generally comes down on the side of livability, equity, and organizational efficiency.

That’s just the preamble, though; now on to the binding actions in the motion:

A. Direct the Chief Executive Officer to take the following actions related to the Fare Subsidy Program:
1. Update the eligibility for participation based on the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2014 Poverty Guidelines and adjust eligibility annually based on updates to the guidelines;
2. Report back to the Board in September 2014 with recommendations on how to expand outreach and enhance marketing for the program; and
3. Report back to the Board in January 2015 with assessments regarding whether additional funding should to be allocated to meet growing demand.

Hmmm. What is the Metro “Fare Subsidy Program?”  Read more…

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Kuehl: “I don’t support anything that would delay the roll-out of the Purple Line”

Long a supporter of transit on the Westside, Sheila Keuhl's campaign has found itself on the defensive over an endorsement from the Beverly Hills Courier. Image: ##http://kuehlforsupervisor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Kuehl_PurpleLineWeb.jpg##Kuelh for Supervisor ##

Long a supporter of transit on the Westside, Sheila Keuhl’s campaign has found itself on the defensive over an endorsement from the Beverly Hills Courier. Image: Kuelh for Supervisor

It’s not supposed to be this way.

When a candidate earns the endorsement of a newspaper, it is supposed to be a big moment for the campaign. A sign of momentum. A building block to create real inroads in a community.

Keuhl was front and center in the early days of Expo Line advocacy, including the groundbreaking for Phase I. Photo:##http://www.friends4expo.org/images/gbpeople.jpg##Darrell Clarke/Friends for Expo Transit##

Keuhl was front and center in the early days of Expo Line advocacy, including the groundbreaking for Phase I. Photo:Darrell Clarke/Friends for Expo Transit

But for County Supervisorial candidate Sheila Kuehl, the endorsement from the Beverly Hills Courier has been nothing short of a headache. Whether the Courier overstated her support for working to change the route of the Westside Subway, “adamantly opposed” is the term the paper used; or whether Kuehl saw an uproar and decided to clarify the comment on her own doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that after being pushed on the issue from Streetsblog, the Los Angeles Times and one of her main challengers, Kuehl didn’t position herself as an opponent of transit, but one who will not meddle in the already approved project.

At a candidates debate last Sunday, former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver, one of Kueh’s chief opponents, charged that Kuehl’s openness to exploring a third route hampers the ability of a team of Metro staff and board members in Washington, D.C. from doing their job. In her statement to Streetsblog, Kuehl wrote

I have been told that some folks are seeking a “third way” and [I] have offered to try, with others, to see if anything could be worked out.

Shriver jumped on that statement, arguing that casting any uncertainty on the planned and approved route will make it harder to secure federal funds. In truth, reopening the study now would basically undo much of the work that has been done on the subway at this point.

This must be frustrating for Kuehl, who authored the legislation that created the Expo Construction Authority. Kuehl is revered as a leader on transit issues by the advocacy community that pushed Expo in the 1990′s when an L.A. rail network was something of a dream.

“Kuehl proposed her bill in 2003 to create a dedicated Expo construction authority, following the model of the Pasadena line, when it appeared that Metro was not moving the project forward following its approval of the Phase 1 Final EIS in 2001,” writes Darrell Clarke, the head of Friends for Expo Transit, in our comments section. “She was very serious about getting Expo built – I still vividly remember meeting with her about that.”

In 2012, after five years of public process and input, Metro certified the environmental documents for the Purple Line Subway Westside Extension under Beverly Hills High School and received a record of decision from the Federal Transit Administration FTA.) Those actions approved the alignment, the station locations and more. That is the project that is going through the federal funding process. Significant changes to what was approved would require a supplemental Environmental Impact Studies (EIS/EIR) at a minimum, and could require starting the public process over again.

Read more…

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L.A. Clergy Speak and Pray Against Proposed Metro Fare Increase

Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez, of Churches for Action, prays for Metro board officials to  have hearts of compassion in opposition to Metro's proposed fare increase. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez (center, with microphone), of Churches for Action, prays for Metro board officials to have hearts of compassion in opposition to Metro’s proposed fare increase. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

At its regular monthly meeting this Thursday, May 22nd, 2014, the Metro board of directors will vote on its proposed fare increase. If approved, bus and rail base fare will increase 25 cents in September, and will continue to rise automatically in years ahead.

Today, a handful of pastors, surrounded by supporters from Fight for the Soul of the Cities, assembled at the steps of Los Angeles City Hall. Latino and African-American, speaking in English and Spanish, the clergy drew attention to the injustice of balancing Metro budgets on the backs of poor. They called on elected leaders, especially Mayor Eric Garcetti and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, to “be more conscious of the needs of the community” by rejecting Metro’s fare hike. They also called for ending Metro’s “stop and frisk” practices that “criminalize young people.”

At the conclusion of the press event, Bishop Juan Carlos Mendez led a prayer urging God to give L.A.’s elected leaders “heart of compassion, and hearts of flesh.”  Read more…