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Krekorian and Garcetti Tout Metro’s New 405 Freeway Express Bus Service

Cutting the ribbon on new Valley-Westside bus service. Left to right: Metro CEO Art Leahy, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and SFV Metro Service Council Chair Michael Cano. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Cutting the ribbon on new Valley-Westside bus service. Left to right: Metro CEO Art Leahy, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Paul Krekorian, and SFV Metro Service Council Chair Michael Cano. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Starting this Sunday, Metro is introducing its new Valley-Westside Express bus line that takes advantage of the recently-widened 405 Freeway’s new high-occupancy vehicle lanes. The new line runs from Pacoima to Westwood, with stops at the Van Nuys Metrolink Station and the Metro Orange Line’s Van Nuys and Sepulveda stations. The full map of the new service is after the jump below.

Metro Board members celebrated the new service at a press event this morning at the Metro Orange Line Sepulveda station.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Krekorian proclaimed that the new service will make it “easier, faster, and more convenient” to travel between Los Angeles communities. Krekorian also pledged that this is “just one step of many for the Valley” and that he is committed to making the Metro Orange Line run faster and adding to its capacity, and “increas[ing] rail in the San Fernando Valley.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recalled riding the RTD bus to West L.A. when he was growing up in the Valley. Garcetti touted the time savings on the new line, which is anticipated to save 20 minutes compared to current Metro bus service.  Read more…

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What a Vermont Avenue BRT Line Could Look Like

Future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Vermont Avenue could resemble Eugene, OR's EmX BRT line. Photo: ITDP

Future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Vermont Avenue could resemble the Emerald Express BRT line in Eugene, OR. Photo: ITDP

At this month’s board meeting, Metro staff reported that they are hiring consultants to shepherd two Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects. Today, SBLA previews one of those: Vermont Avenue BRT.

For the uninitiated, what is BRT? Bus Rapid Transit is high-quality bus service running in its own dedicated right-of-way. It comes in a lot of flavors, but generally operates like a rail line. There are two BRT examples locally. The best one is the Metro Orange Line, which runs on bus-only roads in the San Fernando Valley. Arguably the Metro Silver Line is also BRT as it runs mostly in highway toll lanes. Read this Daniel Jacobson editorial about the potential for BRT to play key roles in L.A. County’s transportation networks.

Briefly, the other BRT project will extend from the San Fernando Valley to the San Gabriel Valley. Connections would include Burbank Airport, and the Metro Gold, Orange, and Red Lines. SBLA will cover this project more as it progresses.

The two BRT projects were given momentum by a July Metro Board motion [PDF] directing Metro staff to advance these projects, including developing a budget and timelines. The Metro Board re-affirmed the July direction in this October board motion [PDF]. This month, Metro staff stated [audio - item 70 at 3:04] that they are preparing scopes of work and that consultant contracts are expected to be awarded in early 2015. Metro Board chair L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti had pressed for Metro to pursue federal Small Starts funding for these BRTs, but Metro staff sounded pessimistic about that program, due to maximum funding of $250 million for each project.

The Vermont Avenue BRT project route has not been finalized, but it is likely to be similar to the current Metro bus lines on Vermont Avenue. Vermont Avenue is one of the nation’s highest ridership bus corridors, and ridership is second only to Wilshire. The Vermont bus lines extend about 12 miles from the Metro Green Line (at the 105 Freeway) to Sunset Boulevard, including connections with Red, Purple, and Expo Lines. Depending on funding and other constraints, BRT could run on some of all of this corridor, converting to express/Rapid service in unimproved areas.

Other alternatives might be under consideration, but the Vermont line is anticipated to be “center-running” (also known as “median-aligned”) BRT. Center-running BRT has been shown to be faster and safer, compared to running along curbs. For a great explanation, watch this fun Lego-animation video.

Here’s a quick tour of some center-running BRT systems up and running elsewhere:  Read more…

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Make a Little Noise, Get a Little Bus Stop Love: Random Thoughts on Mobility

A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

A teen walks along Western Ave. toward the Bronco Motel with a john. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Oh, honey, no… I thought as I watched the obviously strung-out woman yank up her miniskirt and gesture insistently that passersby partake of her unkempt lady offerings.

It is not unusual to see ladies (and girls, unfortunately) of the evening working the streets on weekend mornings along S. Figueroa. It is also not unusual for them to be in questionable states of un/dress. But this level of desperation was a little out of the ordinary.

Ever the nerd, I wondered where curbing prostitution fit into the currently-open-for-public-review Mobility Element and Plan for a Healthy L.A.

Odd as that may sound, those two things were the reason I was out biking up and down South L.A.’s streets that morning. I had to be at a grand re-opening of a now-much-healthier convenience store on S. Vermont (story later this week) and decided a refresher tour of some of South L.A.’s main streets would help me put those plans into context.

As I’ve written many times before (basically, anything listed here), a neighborhood’s context is often more of a deterrent to mobility and health than whether or not the street has a bike lane. Not that infrastructure isn’t important — it absolutely is. But, if you see semi-naked ladies strolling up and down next to your school, rec center, grocery store, or home, all the bike lanes in the world won’t make you feel comfortable letting your kids — especially girls –  near those streets.

And, if they’re seated at the bus stops with their pimps, as several were this past Saturday, you may not feel comfortable letting your child take transit. While the ladies themselves can be quite friendly, their pimps can be volatile and the johns quite reckless. One nearly ran me over as he backed up at full speed without warning to get to a girl he had passed moments before.

All that said, things have apparently gotten better of late, according to one neighbor.

“It used to be like a drive-through here,” he said of the otherwise quiet stretch of 92nd St. in front of his home, where girls used to gather to avoid being seen getting into cars.

Some beautification efforts at the corner and a watchful neighbor who called the police any time he saw girls on the street, coupled with more regular patrols and the efforts of a nearby hall to ensure its parties weeded out the prostitutes that tried to mix in with the crowds has helped to limit unsavory activity in the area.

Which was good to hear, but rather depressing, considering how many girls you still see out and about at any given hour of any given day.

As I write this, I realize that these musings on prostitution don’t actually have that much to do with the reason I sat down to pen this article, which was to tout the fixing of a problem we highlighted last December — the lack of any bus infrastructure at a stop at Vermont and Gage. Read more…

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Eyes on the Street: “YES, L.A.! YES, BUSES!”

"LA" marks the spot in the peak-hour bus-only lane. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

“LA” marks the spot in the peak-hour carpool/bus-only lane. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

It’s raining, in case you didn’t notice.

Which can make the streets a bit dreary. And lonely, as everyone is busy hiding under things to stay dry instead of looking at what’s going on around them.

As I rode my bike home from a meeting, I realized that the only people I was making eye contact with were those staring forlornly at me from beneath palm fronds, ficus trees, newspapers, awnings, or whatever else they could find to shelter under as they waited for the bus.

Rainy season is the least fun time to be a bus rider.

But, then I reached Sunset Blvd. and I had to smile.

Several weeks ago, I noticed that the Dodger logo had been painted on the peak-hour carpool/bus-only lane. The re-designation of the lane earlier this year had already made my commute westward up the hill a lot more comfortable, especially at rush-hour. The addition of the logo multiplied my happiness exponentially.

Not because I’m a Dodger, or even a baseball, fan — I’m not, really — but because it felt like the lane was unabashedly proclaiming, “YES, L.A.! YES, BUSES!” for all to see. Like only the cool kids could ride in the L.A. lane and everyone else was unworthy.

It’s so rare that buses get that kind of fanfare.

But what if more bus-only lanes got that kind of treatment? What if all such lanes were decorated with celebratory symbols? They could be representative of the communities they moved through, images of happy people on buses, or positive images promoting environmental consciousness (smiling earths, happy polar bears, etc.).

I am quite sure that there is no budget for anything of the sort. And, as I wrote previously, doing a bit of splurging on the stops should be one of the first priorities. But, maybe enhancing the visual appearance of lanes is something the city should be thinking about, too. The logos along Sunset are clearly intended to demonstrate and/or instill LA/Dodger pride while making the taking of public transit to a game feel like a more attractive and special experience. Isn’t that what we ultimately want to see across the whole system?

What say you? Am I the only one who gets a kick out of prideful and shouty bus lanes?

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People Get Ready: Winter Is Upon Us And Bus Stops Will Not Shelter You

The bus stop at Gage and Vermont seems like an afterthought. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The bus stop at Gage and Vermont leaves riders marooned on a dirt (or mud, depending on the weather) island. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I’ll admit I don’t take the bus very much.

I have debilitating motion sickness. I can’t even snap my head from side to side quickly without getting nauseous. The constant stopping, starting, and general rocking back and forth of a bus can make a basket case out of me, even when I am drugged up on dramamine.

But, I do pass a lot of bus stops on my bicycle jaunts around the city and I often think that if anyone wanted to know how the city really felt about its lower-income residents, the bus stops in areas like South L.A. are awfully telling.

As I noted here, they certainly don’t provide much in the way of shelter from the sun in the heat of the summer.

And, they generally have some combination of foibles, meaning they often aren’t comfortable, clean, safe, or easily accessible places.

As winter comes and the days are both shorter and sometimes wet, these problems come into sharper relief.

If you’re female, for example, and you spend too much time waiting at (or even walking to) stops along S. Figueroa (in the 10 – 15 blocks north of Century) or certain stretches of Western (just north of Slauson or around 39th), you might be mistaken for a prostitute and followed, harassed, and/or propositioned.

Or, as once happened to me on Western (near the Bronco Motel), you could be stalked by a pimp.

While not a pleasant experience in broad daylight, these sorts of things can make trying to get where you need to go after dark a much unhappier and more perilous endeavor. Poor lighting around some stops do not help the situation. Read more…

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Dodgers Have a Winning Season Promoting Transportation Options

In 2008, we had to make our own map that showed one sad bike parking area. In 2013, both the map, and the actual parking, are much improved.

The irony was obvious.

The only professional sports team named for a mode of transit also played in the most car-dependent stadium in the country. When the Brooklyn Grays changed their name to the Trolley Dodgers, it was a reference to the trolley lines surrounding Ebbets Field. When the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, the trolleys were already partially gone from city streets and the stadium was surrounded by a sea of asphalt. (Note: there’s a great comment by Militant Angeleno on the history of the trolley lines and the Dodgers name below.)

When Streetsblog arrived in 2008, I was shocked by how bad conditions were. Routes to the stadium completely lacked sidewalks, staff seemed confused when asked about bicycle parking, and the transit options dropped off riders at least a half mile away from the stadium.

Nobody is going to confuse Chavez Ravine with stadiums in San Francisco and Atlanta with large bike valets nor ones in New York or Chicago served by heavy rail; but the 2013 Dodgers are different and better than the 2008 Dodgers in many important ways outside the stadium and away from the parking lot. No matter what happens on the field against the St. Louis Cardinals over the next week, non-car dependent Dodgers fans were big winners this season.

While the recent announcement of free parking for carpools with at least four passengers is encouraging, the biggest improvements came for bus and bike riders seeking access to Dodger Stadium.

Elson Trinidad, a community activist, bike rider, musician and member of the Dodgers citizen advisory committee from 2005-2012 credits the sale of the Dodgers from Frank McCourt to Guggenheim Partners.

“We had a meeting in July 2012 with new President/CEO Stan Kasten, I saw that as an opportunity to give some real input, and I personally gave him some ideas on improving bike and transit access to the stadium…” Trinidad explains. “…among them were a bus-only lane and better bicycle racks placed around the stadium, near gate entrances. Both came to fruition albeit in the limited sense. The bus-only lane I envisioned was inside the parking lot so Dodger Stadium Express buses wouldn’t have to be hampered by the sea of cars leaving the lot. And there are small-capacity “Hoop” style bike racks near some of the entrances now, though I always see them filled to capacity.”

According to the Dodgers press office, racks are available at seven places around the stadium. In 2008, a single bike area existed near the south portion of the stadium where one could chain their bike on security gates that also served as the smoking area. Security were untrained on the location of the racks and the only map that existed was made by Streetsblog. Read more…

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HOLA Brings Youth Art to City Bus Benches

A few months ago I noticed some intriguing art appearing on bus benches in my neighborhood between MacArthur Park and Lafayette Park, where Wilshire got its start as a dirt road through a barley field that Gaylord Wilshire named after himself and gave to the city of Los Angeles.*

The top five images are from HOLA. The bottom two by Dana Gabbard

All the benches carried the logo HOLA Public Art Project. This struck a cord as I remembered a space on the ground level of the Wilshire Royale apartment building (NE corner of Wilshire/Rampart) that in the past had been a venue of restaurants and clubs. More recently unoccupied, the building had suddenly sported the HOLA logo in its window and signs of new life after long being dark. A quick Google search revealed HOLA stands for Heart of Los Angeles, a free after school program in arts, academics and athletics for underserved and at-risk youth begun in 1989. I exchanged e-mails with Lee Schube, Communications Director, and Nara Hernandez, Visual Arts Director, who gave me the skinny on this intriguing project.

The artwork is by HOLA’s Visual Arts students, created during “We Are Talking Pyramids,” HOLA’s first public art project. Pearl Hsiung and Anna Sew Hoy, the 2012 Artists in Residence, guided the students as explained in this video and page on the HOLA website.

The 7 benches along Wilshire and 6th Streets will be up for 1 year. Hernandez enthused “It was a great experience to have the youth turn ad space into art space. HOLA has been in the neighborhood for almost 25 years and two years ago we decided that we wanted to give back to the community beyond the constraints of our campus by creating more public art. As a result, we began the HOLA Public Art Project, funded by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. It’s a series of Public Art Residencies where emerging and established artists collaborate with HOLA youth.”

She also kindly shared a description of the design process:

Students at HOLA [used] the cut-up technique, a literary technique in which a text is cut up and rearranged to create a new text. The concept of cut-up can be traced to the Dadaists of the 1920s, but was popularized in the late 1950s and 60s by writer William S. Burroughs, and has since been used in a wide variety of contexts. The cut-up technique was introduced to the students in order to let them discover their own meanings from readily available sources. For this project, the students … cut-up articles from the Los Angeles Times and local Spanish and Korean language papers to create simple, yet poetic and whimsical phrases. The students [then transferred] their best phrases into a bench design, creating a font for the phrase, as well as designing the motif for the background. Read more…

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Opinion: Metro, Don’t Make the Same Mistake Long Beach Transit Did on Electric Buses

Build Your Dream (BYD) buses will be coming to the streets of Long Beach. Will Metro enter contract with them for all of L.A. County? Image via:Digital Trends

Last week, Metro postponed a decision to procure 30 zero emission buses. Despite my support for electric transit, I regard the vote with mixed feelings. As much as we want to say, “Green is green, that is all,” that no matter how we go about doing it, increasing zero emissions vehicle usage is a good thing despite the means…

In this case I fear, we’ve all been duped. First in Long Beach and what could very well be Los Angeles if the Metro Board votes the way that its staff is recommending it votes.

This past March, I wrote a diatribe pleading for Long Beach Transit (LBT) to procure more electric buses–and they did. This, in and of itself, was a good thing. I was happy, content, even ecstatic that 10 buses–lacking the false green advertising so egregiously brought forth by CNG advocates–would be winding their way through the streets of Long Beach.

After all, the possibilities of electric buses are unquestionably revolutionary (and I don’t use that term lightly) because of the broader implications involved.

Current public transit perceptions mostly run along the pejorative gamut: they are loud, they are dirty, and they are–this being the worst perception of all, particularly in California–for poor people only. The first two are actually correct: they ARE loud and they DO pollute–so why would anyone in a quiet, middle- to upper-class neighborhood ever want them putting around their homes?

Electric buses alter that perception: they run at a noise level of office conversation, they are (truly) zero emissions, and they hold the capability of being in places that were previously impossible (those aforementioned middle- and upper-class neighborhoods), thereby altering the general conception of what public transit can be.

So far, so good. It makes sense as to why LBT went electric.

But why was this endeavor–along with what could be the same for Metro–so… Anti-American? Both of the transit companies’ staff support China-based company BYD rather than South Carolina-based Proterra (with the LBT Board eventually taking their staff’s recommendation while Metro still awaits the vote). Even beyond their geographic locations, many other egregious differences come to light between the two bus makers–and I’ll get to those in a bit. Read more…

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Have You Ever Been Harassed on the Bus?

(Note: When Streetsblog first launched, we were taken to task by the writing team at The Bus Bench for reporting about the dangers of cycling and harassment from drivers, but never the risks taken by transit riders, especially those riding after hours. We’ve gotten better on this issue, Sahra Sulaiman’s piece on THAT GUY and our ongoing coverage of the dangers posed by LASD Sheriffs only touch the issue. In the wake of a story of a group of women being assaulted on a bus in New Delhi, Dana Gabbard wonders how prevalent harassment is on Metro and other transit buses. If you have a story you’re willing to share, please do so in the comments section or you can do so privately by emailing me, damien@streetsblog.org. – DN)

Japan has "women only" rail cars because of rampant harassment on their subways. Rocket News

One morning last week while getting ready for work I was especially taken when hearing these comments on National Public Radio’sMorning Edition about the creation of women-only compartments on New Delhi’s metro system as a safety measure against inappropriate behavior by male passengers:

Male and female perceptions of the problem can differ widely.

Rajesh Kumar travels in the general compartment with his female colleague Manisha Murli. He says out of 100 men, “perhaps two or three” engage in Eve-teasing or unwanted touching.

But Murli disagrees. “It’s not that little,” she protests, putting it around 50 or 60 percent of the men.

It reminds me when looking over some online comments on my apartment building I ran across one in which a women resident complained that while working out in our gym that she noticed one of the male residents was looking her over in a way the creeped her out by being obvious objectification. Read more…

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The BRU Roars: Mr. President, Enforce, Restore, Expand Our Civil Rights

Streetsblog estimates 250 people were at the rally at any given point. The BRU put the total number between 350-400 as people came and went from the rally as it went on.

We’re the BRU. This is our fight
Mass transportation is a human right
We want 50 cent fares and $20 passes
‘cause mass transportation belongs to the masses
-
BRU Chant, heard yesterday.

Hoping to leverage the importance of minority and lower income voters to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, the Bus Riders Union (BRU) launched “a national campaign calling on President Obama to stand for the civil rights of Black and Latino transit riders in Los Angeles,” in front of City Hall’s west entrance yesterday afternoon.

The BRU’s campaign attracted the support of twenty allied organizations including the East Los Angeles Community Council, Koreatown Immigrants Workers Alliance, and SEIU United Service Workers West; each of whom had representatives sprinkled in the sea of yellow-t-shirt clad supporters wearing their own organizations’ colors.  A full list of supporting organizations is at the end of this story, after the jump.

Disappointed that a  Federal Transit Administration Civil Rights Title VI review didn’t roll back recent service cuts, the campaign is aiming over the FTA’s head. The campaign appeals directly to Obama to, in their words, order the agency to restore one million hours of service. In the wake of a recent announcement that Metro is extending hours on Metro rail and Bus Rapid Transit late into the night, the BRU also wants to know why bus riders aren’t seeing a return of bus service eliminated over the last four years.

Barbara Lott-Holland, co-chair of the BRU said, “This is a major civil rights test case for President Obama. With clear evidence that the nation’s second largest mass transit agency violated federal civil rights law, the case offers President Obama an important opportunity to bring justice to 500,000 Black, Latino, and Asian-Pacific Islander bus riders who have been slammed by service cuts and fare increases.”

Even if the President wanted to over-rule the FTA’s decision on Metro’s service policies, it’s doubtful he has the legal right to do so.  Streetsblog spoke with a legal expert familiar with the FTA’s recent review of Metro’s civil rights policies, who asked not to be identified.  This lawyer said that direct intervention by the President overruling a report by the FTA would create legal problems for the President if Metro opposed his decision.  If Metro accepted the President’s oversight, it would create a “terrible” legal precedent.  After all, would the BRU want Mitt Romney making decisions on what kind of transit service Metro should provide?”

Despite the t-shirts and banners with the president’s picture, the real target of yesterday’s rally could be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  Obama chose Villaraigosa to Chair of the Democratic National Convention in September. Attacking Villaraigosa’s progressive bona-fides, especially on his signature issue, could be an attempt to embarrass the mayor into taking a proactive role in restoring the slashed service hours.

“Sadly, Mayor Villaraigosa, as Chair of the L.A. Metro Board, has failed to take a clear stand for civil rights and for the restoration of the deep service cuts that are so devastating for the urban poor,” said Sunyoung Yang, lead organizer with the Bus Riders Union. “Will he allow black and latino communities to be pushed to the brink of economic survival and displaced from their own neighborhoods in order to pursue a transportation agenda that gentrifies the city and fattens the pockets of corporate developers and the construction lobby? Or will the Mayor take a stand for civil rights and for the restoration of one million hours of bus service?”

The mayor’s office declined to comment on the story, but recent comments made in Streetblog’s exclusive interview with Villaraigosa paint a picture of a mayor concerned about the cost and quality of local bus service.  When asked directly about his future plans, Villaraigosa commented, “My goal is to convince the Congress we need to spend more money on operations. That’s going to take more time.”

Whether the BRU can make enough noise to get the President’s attention has yet to be proven.  But regardless of one’s view of the BRU or this campaign, yesterday’s rally marked the first attempt by a group outside of Washington, D.C. to aggresively insert the plight of transit riders into the 2012 presidential debate.  BRU leaders listed allies in other cities: Atlanta, Chicago, New York and others. They’re going to need all the help they can get to be heard through the white noise of a presidential campaign.

Endorsers of the “Mr. President, Enforce, Restore, Expand Our Civil Rights” Campaign to date:

ACUSLA – Association of Communities United of South Los Angeles

CADRE – Community Asset Development Re-Defining Education

CHIRLA – Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles

CLEAN Carwash Campaign,

Coalition for Educational Justice

Comité Pro-Democracia de Mexico

Communities for a Better Environment

D.R.E.A.M. Team Los Angeles

Committee of Ex-Bracero Workers

East Los Angeles Community Corporation

Inner City Struggle

Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance

Los Angeles Community Action Network

Restaurant Opportunities Center-Los Angeles

SEIU United Service Workers West

Union de Vecinos

Youth Justice Coalition