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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.34.24 PMHere is Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of California legislation related to sustainable transportation.

The legislature is in recess until August.

Light rail no longer illegal in LA’s San Fernando Valley: A.B. 577 from Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown last week. The bill repealed a 1990 law that prohibited construction of light rail along a section of the Orange Line, and thus opens up the possibility of replacing the Orange Line BRT with rail. Whether that’s good or bad is up for debate, and Streetsblog has presented arguments both for and against the line’s conversion.

Replacing the car-centric LOS planning metric: Those who’ve been waiting with bated breath to find out what will replace Level of Service (LOS) as a transportation planning metric in California Environmental Quality Act requirements were disappointed when the July 1 deadline came and went without any pronouncements from the Office of Planning and Research (OPR). However, it looks likely that some version of Vehicle Miles Traveled will replace LOS, which has given rise to sprawling development patterns and wide streets unsuitable for walking and bicycling. When OPR does publish its recommendations, there will be a 45-day public comment period, and Streetsblog will provide the details.

Funds for bike and pedestrian projects: The Active Transportation Program, which provides funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure projects, has logged all the proposals received as of its May 21 deadline. A total of 770 projects applied for the $124.2 million that is available for fiscal year 2014-15. The projects include bicycle and pedestrian plans, bridges, sidewalk and signal improvements, Safe Routes to Schools programs, traffic calming and speed reduction efforts, and a host of large and small infrastructure improvements throughout the state.

Active Transportation Project applications pile up at Caltrans headquarters on May 21.Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Active Transportation Project applications pile up at Caltrans headquarters on May 21.
Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. to melanie@streetsblog.org.

For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

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Guest Editorial: Don’t Destroy the Orange Line, Improve It

Line 4 of the Metrobús BRT in Mexico City. The full system with five lines moves 850,000 people a day. Photo: Adam Wiseman/ITDP

Line 4 of the Metrobús BRT in Mexico City. The full system with five lines moves 850,000 people a day. Photo: Adam Wiseman/ITDP

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a high-quality bus based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities, has enjoyed rapid growth over the past few decades in major cities internationally, and is gaining momentum in the United States. Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle are set to join L.A. and the handful of U.S. cities with true BRT.

Today, L.A.’s Orange Line is one of only eight true BRT corridors in the US. It is not only an international best practice and a leader in surface mass transit; it is a cost-effective and valuable asset for the city. But since construction began on the corridor in 2002, the Orange Line has been derided by some in the community who, not understanding the potential of true BRT, would prefer light rail (LRT) transit.

On Tuesday, Governor Brown signed California Legislative Bill AB 577, removing the prohibition against surface rail-based mass transportation in the San Fernando Valley. The intent of the bill, and those advocating for it, is clearly stated: convert the Metro Orange Line BRT into a light rail.

Light rail, its proponents argue, would better meet growing transit demand in the greater San Fernando Valley. The bill states that the area has “outgrown” BRT, and would be better served by rail. A conversion would signal to other US cities that BRT’s benefits are limited when measured against LRT. This is typical of the misinformation about BRT, which, despite the massive gains that this transport mode has made internationally, is still common thinking in the U.S.

Last year the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP,) in partnership with the foremost international experts on BRT, released The BRT Standard, a definition and scoring designation for systems around the world. The Standard is a recognition scheme which scores corridors as Gold, Silver, Bronze, Basic BRT; any corridor falling below that basic is not true BRT. By laying out the essential elements of this transit mode, it provides a framework for system designers, decision makers, and the transport community to identify and build top-quality BRT systems. The Orange Line scores bronze – a notable achievement placing it among the ranks of Pittsburgh, Cape Town, Jakarta, and Nantes – but its bronze ranking also proves that there is plenty of room to grow.

Comparing true BRT systems to light rail shows that LRT has no operational advantage: speed is comparable and the daily ridership of BRT can even surpass that of LRT. Innovations in BRT have increased the maximum daily ridership of a BRT system to nearly two million passengers (or 35,000 passengers per hour per direction), which is the current ridership of Bogotá’s gold-standard TransMilenio BRT. This far outstrips the capacity of any light rail system. Upgrading the Orange Line to silver- or gold-standard would grow the ridership and answer the criticism that BRT cannot meet the growing needs of the region. With a current daily ridership of almost 30,000, increasing capacity on the Orange Line two or three-fold is entirely workable with some minor changes.

First, simply increasing bus frequency would be an obvious improvement. While there have been concerns that increasing frequency will cause bunching at intersections, this appears to be due to a signal timing issue which favors cross street traffic over public transportation on the Orange Line corridor. Timing traffic signals to favor automobiles shows an outdated mode of thinking. It would take some political will on the part of the city to change the signal timings, but it is a simple solution, far cheaper and faster than upgrading to light rail which would still be faced with signal timing problems.

Read more…

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Gold Line Foothill Extension Photo Tour: Iconic Gold Line Freeway Bridge

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The recently completed Gold Line Bridge over the 210 Freeway. Photo: Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority

In this third installment of our Foothill Gold Line photo tour series, we explore the Gold Line Foothill Extension’s iconic bridge over the 210 Freeway, as well as a closer look at the line’s other bridges.

Recently, Streetsblog’s Damien Newton and Aviv Kleinman joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the Gold Line Phase II 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 contractors building the project. Part 1 of the series documented the rail corridor and stationsPart 2 highlighted the Maintenance and Operations yard under construction in Monrovia.

For those just joining us, the 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 currently serves 21 stations, and is operated by Metro. The Gold Line Foothill Extension will extend from its current Sierra Madre Villa terminus east into the city of Azusa. The new 11.3-mile extension includes 6 new stations, serving five cities directly. It is proposed to transform the San Gabriel Valley entirely. Once bounded by distress of being caught in freeway gridlock, San Gabriel Valley residents will now have the freedom to commute by rail into Downtown L.A., and endless locations from there, by using the new Gold Line extension.

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The bridge spans 584-linear-feet diagonally across the Eastbound 210 Freeway. Notice the bumper-to-bumper traffic heading westbound on the freeway. I predict that one of the most effective marketing tools for increasing Gold Line ridership will be the simple frustration drivers feel when they are stuck on the freeway while watching the sleek new trains travelling at 55 mph towards Downtown LA. All photos, except where noted: Aviv Kleinman/Streetsblog L.A.

The Gold Line bridge, completed in 2012, was built to replace the previous flyover bridge used by the Santa Fe railroad to cross over the eastbound lanes of the 210 freeway. The Gold Line tracks run 4.1 miles along the median of the 210 before crossing the bridge into the city of Arcadia, heading southeast towards the downtown Arcadia station.  Read more…

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Metro Round-Up: LAX, Open Streets, New Reps on Technical Committee

Concept rendering for new LAX rail station. Green Line and Crenshaw Line light rail  run at grade, below future "automated people mover." Image via Metro staff report

Concept rendering for new LAX rail station at 96th Street and Aviation Bo. Green Line and Crenshaw Line light rail run at grade (visible in the middle right), below future “automated people mover” (visible in the upper right). Image via Metro staff report [PDF]

At yesterday’s Metro Board Meeting, directors approved a handful of initiatives that have great implications for the future livability of the Los Angeles Region. Here is the re-cap:

Technical Committee Adds Pedestrian and Bike Representatives

The Metro Board approved adding two new active transportation representatives to the agency’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). In addition to new TAC members representing bicycle and pedestrian transportation experts, the motion [pdf] approved yesterday also added a non-voting public health representative.

The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) and Safe Routes to School National Partnership have pushed for long-overdue Metro TAC expansion. The TAC includes a representative from the Automobile Association of America, but no one advocating for active transportation. Earlier this year, Streetsblog previewed TAC expansion. Since that earlier article, the somewhat half-hearted proposal was strengthened by a March 2014 motion from Metro boardmember Mike Bonin.

Here’s what the LACBC’s Eric Bruins had to say about yesterday’s Metro board action:

It’s about time for Metro to embrace multi-modalism throughout the culture of the agency, including their advisory committees. This committee is involved in the nuts-and-bolts of decision-making at Metro, so it’s important to have people at the table constantly viewing agency actions through a lens of how they impact walking, biking, and public health throughout the county.

Open Streets Events Expanding Throughout L.A. County

SBLA covered the expansion of CicLAvia-type open streets events when Metro staff recommendations were circulated about a month ago. As LongBeachize previewed, representatives from the city of Long Beach attended the Metro Board meeting, expressing their concerns over Metro’s selection criteria. Metro awarded funding to only one event to each applicant city before funding any additional events hosted by the same city. Proportionally, this puts the cities of Los Angeles (population 4,000,000) and Long Beach (population 500,000) on equal footing with Lawndale (population 34,000) and Culver City (population 40,000). (Population figures here.)

Though Metro board member John Fasana expressed that Metro should “re-tool” in future open streets funding cycles, the board approved the staff recommendations unchanged. Lots more ciclovías coming to lots of neighborhoods over the next couple years!

Rail Connection with LAX Approved

Despite boardmember Mike Bonin expressing some concerns (including very low ridership projections, a focus of this L.A. Weekly article) at last week’s Metro Programming Committee meeting, yesterday’s LAX approval went very smoothly. The Metro board approved a preferred alternative for connecting rail to LAX. It’s a new rail station, located at 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard, where LAX-bound riders can board an Automated-People-Mover (APM). Depending on operations decisions, still to be determined, the new station will serve the existing Metro Green Line, Metro Crenshaw Line (under construction) and possibly even Expo Line trains via Crenshaw. (Editor’s note: this would be way in the future – there are no current plans to connect Expo and Crenshaw tracks.) Both Mayor Garcetti and Bonin stated that they expect the 96th Street Station to be more than just a transfer point, but indeed a full-featured world-class gateway to Los Angeles.

With the LAX connection conceptually decided, there’s still lots of environmental studies, design and operation decisions, finalization of features that will be designed/built by LAX itself, and about a decade of construction before the riders can experience it.  Read more…

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Gold Line Foothill Extension Photo Tour: The Maintenance Yard

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The Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Yard will be able to store 84 cars when it is completed. The M&O site will be complete with a train car wash, a train car storage yard, 188 employee parking stalls, and a covered maintenance-of-way facility.

In this photo essay, we will explore the Foothill Gold Line’s magnificent Maintenance and Operations (M&O) Facility, currently under construction in Monrovia.

Earlier this week, Streetsblog’s Damien Newton and Aviv Kleinman joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the Gold Line Phase II 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. Part 1 of the series documented the rail corridor and stations.

For those just joining us, the 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 currently serves 21 stations, and is operated by Metro. The Gold Line Foothill Extension will extend from its current terminus, in East Pasadena at Sierra Madre Villa, to Azusa. The 11.3-mile new extension includes 6 new stations. The extension will serve five cities directly, and it is proposed to transform the San Gabriel Valley entirely. Once bounded by distress of being caught in freeway gridlock, San Gabriel Valley residents will now have the freedom to commute by rail into Downtown L.A. and endless locations from there by using the new Gold Line extension.

M&O Campus

M&O Facility Site Plan, courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority (click for hi-res)

Read more…

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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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Move L.A.’s Measure R2 Draft Proposal, Including Their Rail Fantasy Map

Move L.A.'s draft breakdown for a possible 2016 transportation funding measre. Source: Move L.A.

Move L.A.’s draft breakdown for a possible 2016 transportation funding measure. Source: Move L.A.

Last week, Move L.A. convened its annual transportation conversation conference under the banner of “Imagining Measure R2.” The daylong conference was profiled in the L.A. Times and at the Source. Today SBLA takes a look at Move L.A.’s “strawman” R2 proposal presented that day. It’s a draft for purposes of discussion, very likely to change some before it would reaches the ballot in 2016. It looks a lot like Measure R, but there are also a few big differences.

Measure R was a 30-year county-wide half-cent sales tax narrowly approved by L.A. voters in 2008. Measure R funding has been key to Metro’s rail expansion underway, including the Gold Line Foothill Extension, Expo Line Phase 2, Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail, the Regional Connector, and the Purple Line Extension. In 2012, a subsequent transportation bond proposal, Measure J, received 66 percent approval, but narrowly failed to pass the two-thirds needed.

Measure R2, under Move L.A.’s initial strawman proposal, would be a 45-year county-wide half-cent sales tax, with project revenues approximately $90 billion. It would run concurrently with Measure R for R’s remaining 20+years, which presents some issues with overall sales tax limits in some L.A. County cities. R2 is anticipated to be on the 2016 ballot and would need to pass by a two-thirds majority.

The overall R2 breakdown (see pie chart graphic at top of post) is somewhat similar to Measure R.

category 2008 Measure R 2016 draft Measure R2
New rail & BRT capital 35.00% 30.00%
Metrolink capital 3.00% 5.00%
Rail capital existing lines 2.00%
Rail Operations 5.00%
Bus Operations 20.00%
Transit Operations 20.00%
Highway Capital 20.00% 20.00%
Local Return 15.00% 15.00%
Active Transportation (bike-ped) 4.00%
Goods Movement 6.00%

There are a few important differences. The strawman proposal includes funding for active transportation: pedestrian and bicycle facilities.

Read more…

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Report: In Cutting Emissions, CAHSR Expensive Compared to Local Upgrades

Streetfilms featured Los Angeles’ Orange Line BRT and bike path in 2009. A new UCLA report says infrastructure projects like the Orange Line are a better way to invest cap-and-trade funds than CA High-Speed Rail.

UCLA’s Lewis Center published a report yesterday finding that California’s High-Speed Rail project is a relatively expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the near-term, compared to upgrading local transit and bicycle infrastructure.

Comparing CAHSR to Los Angeles Metro’s Gold Line light-rail and Orange Line bus rapid transit route and bikeway, the report finds high-speed rail to be the least cost-efficient investment the state could make.

The high-speed rail project costs more per metric tonne of GHG emissions than the current cost of allowances under cap-and-trade, the report says. If the savings costs to users are included in the calculations, then the light-rail, busway, and bikeway projects cost far less than the cap-and-trade auction price, which makes them more cost-effective ways to meet the emission reduction goals set out in California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32.

“There are a lot of projects that can reduce GHG emissions,” said Juan Matute, one of the report’s authors. “And differentiating between them will become more important in the future. One way is to look at the cost-effectiveness of the reductions.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed cap-and-trade expenditure plan includes $250 million for high-speed rail to be spent in the next year alone, but very little for other transit or bicycle and pedestrian projects. High-speed rail isn’t scheduled to be online until 2022, so the savings it yields won’t help meet the state’s 2020 emission reductions goals. Meanwhile, the funds could be used for more local investments such as transit services or bicycle and pedestrian connections that would reduce GHG emissions more quickly. Read more…

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Ethan Elkind’s Railtown – How Planning, Engineering and Mostly Politics Shape L.A. Rail

Railtown:

Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City, published by UC Press, 2014

The UC Berkeley Faculty Club meeting room was packed on Tuesday evening with people who came to hear Ethan Elkind talk about his book, Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City.

Elkind, who holds a joint appointment as Climate Policy Associate at the UCLA and UC Berkeley law schools, entertained the crowd with a wry, rapid-fire summary of some of the complex political forces that quite literally shaped the current and future Metro system.

Like many contemporary cities, L.A. originally grew along streetcar lines. Then, as cars became more ubiquitous, it spread out into interstitial areas and beyond, becoming an “endless expanse of subdivisions.” A map of the oversized extent of Los Angeles County (“the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined….Why does Delaware get to be a state?”) gave an idea of the vast areas overseen by only five county supervisors, with huge and varied constituencies. The mottled shape of the city of LA showed the relatively minor power base of its mayor.

Federal money for transit helped start the conversation. “If the city could put up 20% of the cost of building an urban rail system,” said Elkind, “then the federal government would pay 80%–this was a very enticing deal.” Terrible air quality and bad congestion added to a general frustration with the existing transportation in LA, helping set the stage for rail.

He showed a slide with an overhead photo of the city (“That photo cost me some money,” he said—which is why Streetsblog didn’t post it here). It showed an endless cityscape, and jutting up were tall buildings clearly outlining the Wilshire Boulevard corridor.

“If you’re going to build rail,” said Elkind, “This is where you should do it, along the most densely populated corridor in the western U.S.”

Read more…

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First Look at Farmer’s Field Traffic EIR: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Earlier today, AEG announced the completion of the first draft of environmental documents for Farmers Field, the proposed football stadium for Downtown Los Angeles.  The document, available on City Planning’s website, is a mammoth 10,000 pages and the ceremonial handing over of the documents to the city at today’s event involved 13 overflowing three ring binders.

Of course, the EIR was already available on City Planning’s website.

With only 45 days to examine all 10,000 pages, the clock is running.  Here is our first thoughts on the transportation planning for Farmers Field.

Increasing Capacity on the 101

Be careful what you plan for. This graphic explains how building highways begets more highways in rural areas, but the conclusion is the same. Building a highway expansion creates a need to expand a highway somewhere else.

When the Daily News published its exclusive report on the transportation planning for the Downtown Stadium last night, it focused on a proposal to widen the 101 freeway from Downtown Los Angeles to Glendale Boulevard.  While the idea of eliminating a bottleneck probably appeals to car commuters from the Valley to Downtown and football fans alike, Caltrans and the other agencies who will spend AEG’s $2.5 million to study the project need to be vigilant.

Lat month, the Metro Board authorized a funding agreement (Item 8) with Caltrans of $100,000 for development of Project Study Report (PSR) for the “Highway 101 Auxiliary Lane Project” that appears to be the same project proposed by AEG.  It should take up to six months for Metro, Caltrans and other participating agreements to be ready for the study.

Increasing capacity on one highway in an area where it connects with so many other highways in such a short area is fraught with peril, even if one only measures a highway project’s success by traffic flow.  True, traffic may flow through the couple of miles that are bottlenecked now, but opening the flow in that area could encourage more people to drive to more destinations and increase congestion elsewhere.

Of course, the new traffic patterns will impact congestion, air quality, and life in general on a daily basis, not just on game day.  If the traffic study shows an increased amount of cars on the 101 and connected highways, and it probably will, officials will have to decide whether or not increasing the amount of cars on L.A.’s freeways is a cost the region is willing to pay to increase access to a special event’s center.

Blue Line Station Read more…