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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…

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Community Organizing Wins the Day: Skills and Enthusiasm of Many to Build Expo for All

Behind the May 20 opening of the Expo Line to Santa Monica lies the untold story of dozens of dedicated volunteers who worked for decades to make this line happen.

Few people know that Expo Line light rail was a glimmer in the eye of Santa Monica city officials as early as 1989. That year they convened a group of citizens to advocate for purchasing a former Red Car right of way from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. They envisioned providing a fast, comfortable, and green light rail line along this route.

Historic Red Car on today's Expo Line. Photo via Friends for Expo

Historic Red Car on what is today the Expo Line. Photo via Friends for Expo. See also historic red car video.

Among that group was Darrell Clarke, who, growing up in Los Angeles, had often talked with his parents about that city’s large network of red and yellow streetcars and their demise in 1963. When, as a UC Berkeley student in 1974, Clarke rode the first public BART train from the East Bay to San Francisco, he thought about his hometown. Why, he wondered, couldn’t Los Angeles have great mass transit too?

Fifteen years later, Clarke joined this Committee to Preserve the Right-of-Way.

The decades-long campaign to build Expo Line had begun.

Grassroots Organizing Begins

Launched on the initiative of Santa Monica city council members Christine Reed and Denny Zane, the Committee to Preserve the Right-of-Way convinced Los Angeles Metro’s predecessor to buy this route, originally built in 1875 as a steam railroad by Santa Monica founder Senator John P. Jones. Dubbed the “Air Line,” it was later electrified and carried passengers until 1953 and freight until the mid-1980s. The freight train was noisy, and when the family of Presley Burroughs, another member of the Committee to Preserve the Right-of-Way, moved into a new home in Baldwin Vista in 1968, Burroughs – who would become an urban planner – remembers his father telling their new neighbors, “If you put passenger rail there, you’ll get a sound wall.”

But not everyone in Los Angeles wanted a passenger line on Exposition. Homeowners’ groups in Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park opposed it. That didn’t stop the Committee to Preserve the Right-of-Way. Clarke, Burroughs and Russ Davies, a retired IBM marketing manager, documented the economic and social sense of a light rail line on Exposition the line, and pleaded their case by petitioning door to door and tabling at shopping malls.

Planning began after the right-of-way purchase, then halted, then restarted in 1998 after the cancellation of new subway extensions left federal money on the table for mass transit to the Westside.

Meanwhile, then-mayor Richard Riordan and County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Yvonne Burke traveled in 1999 to Curitiba, Brazil, known for a successful Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line. That trip planted the seed of Bus Rapid Transit in the heads of several key players in the city.

The following year, longtime community organizer Kathy Seal, facing both an empty nest and a growing concern about the environment, wondered if a light rail line to Santa Monica would help. “I was worried about the environment, especially climate change,” she remembers. “And personally, I couldn’t stand the traffic gridlock.”

“Call Darrell Clarke,” counseled her husband Jim, a transportation consultant.

“When do we meet?” Clarke answered when Kathy proposed starting a mass organization to fight for light rail on Expo.

Told about this idea, Kathy’s fellow community activist Julia Maher came on board. “We wanted to use the pressure of grassroots support to make the Expo line happen,” remembers Maher, who worked in her local neighborhood association and the newly-formed SoRo (South Robertson) Neighborhood Council. “I realized that a light rail line would change the way I felt about Los Angeles.”

Open to volunteers of any political persuasion, Friends 4 Expo Transit was born.

The group quickly attracted new activists, many of them women who were not typical rail buffs, but who emphasized the social and environmental impact of a future Expo line. “We saw this project as a way to bring people and communities together rather than dividing them,” remembers attorney Faith Mitchell (who’d married both Burroughs and Expo in 1994). She suggested “Connecting Neighbors” for the F4E slogan, as the activists pointed out the sociability of riding a light rail train, the boon it would provide for teenagers and the elderly, and the increased access for everyone – especially the disadvantaged and car-less – to the community’s valuable resources.

“We saw it as serving Westside and downtown jobs, a ladder of economic opportunity giving residents greater access to the rich economic, educational and spiritual centers throughout the Los Angeles region,” says Clarke. As fighting against climate change rose on the national agenda, the activists stressed the environmental benefit of clean, speedy, high-capacity light rail.

Early Friends4Expo promotional image.

Early Friends4Expo promotional image.

Outreach and Organizing: Solidifying the Voice of the Majority

Dozens of enthusiasts joined and Friends4Expo went to work, presenting slide shows to schools, senior centers, churches, a mosque, chambers of commerce, Rotary clubs, Neighborhood Councils, unions, and neighborhood groups flanking the right of way. They gathered thousands of signatures at farmers’ markets, neighborhood festivals, outdoor malls, and citywide events like the Los Angeles Times Book Festival. They lobbied Los Angeles, Culver City, and Santa Monica city council members, and members of the Metro board. Representatives of constituents along the proposed line took note. As one elected official told the activists, “You start the parade and I’ll walk in front of it.”

Which is what F4E did. In addition to their broad community outreach, which produced a long list of supporters, the activists reached out to community newspapers and met with the Los Angeles Times editorial board. Two community colleges endorsed the project, as did the Music Center and the University of Southern California. KNX 1070 radio and the Times editorialized in favor of light rail on Expo.

Relying on an email list of 2,500 and their website, F4E members brought supporters to attend Metro board meetings and public hearings, including one especially boisterous meeting in the spring of 2001 at the Veterans Administration auditorium. Ken Alpern, a leader in the Westside Village Neighborhood Association led a large crowd who testified, one after the other, that they wanted light rail on Expo. The huge and passionate support for Expo light rail surprised even the longtime activists, who for the first time sensed victory emerging: even if a minority feared it, they realized, the great majority of Angelenos wanted the Expo light rail line.

In addition to community organizing, F4E members contributed technical analysis to the project. Schematics and census tract data, for example, provided by Clarke to refute opponents’ low density and low ridership arguments, influenced the Expo Line’s environmental impact reports. Gökhan Esirgen, a USC physicist, developed a Wikipedia page.

Although F4E concentrated on harnessing the enthusiasm of ordinary citizens, the activists also worked closely with allies among elected officials. Metro staff – used to fearful residents crying, “No, not in my community!” – gladly answered F4E’s requests for information. As Expo Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe would later say, “This is the first time in my career that I’ve experienced a group that is FOR something.” Read more…

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Winning Arguments with Your Family: Don’t Fall for the Traffic Trap

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Last week, the Los Angeles Times published a disastrously titled piece entitled “L.A. Expo Line hasn’t reduced congestion as promised, a study finds.” The article is based on a study by the University of Southern California that used traffic monitors to gauge how many cars are driving on the freeway and arterial streets parallel to the Expo Line between Culver City and Downtown Los Angeles.

The central premise of both the article and the report it is based on is that government agencies should not base their arguments in favor of transit investment on the impact such investment will have on car traffic. I couldn’t agree more; Streetsblog has published articles and opinion pieces on the same theme.

However, the Times article has framed the debate on Expo’s effectiveness on the impact the line has on car traffic and that’s how the other media have covered the coverage. From mainstream outlets such as KPCC to conservative media columnists such as the Santa Monica Daily Press’ Bill Bauer; the coverage of the study has been reduced to: Expo Line hasn’t reduced car congestion.

Perhaps realizing its error, or perhaps just to create conflict, the Times tried to correct its error the next day with an opinion piece entitled, “The Expo Line hasn’t reduced traffic, so what?” In this piece, writer Kerry Cavanagh pretty much writes about the many benefits of investing in transit and the many dividends that Expo is paying.

Here at Streetsblog, we’ve run an irregular series helping our readers prepare for arguments soon to be had with relatives over the dinner table during holiday feasting. Without further ado, here are some of my thoughts on how to prepare for “transit doesn’t reduce congestion.” Read more…

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Lessons From UCLA’s TransportationCamp

Joshua Schank, Metro's new chief innovation officer, speaking at TransportationCamp at UCLA on Saturday. Photo by Joe Linton/StreetblogLA

Joshua Schank, Metro’s new chief innovation officer, speaking at TransportationCamp at UCLA on Saturday. Photo by Joe Linton/StreetblogLA

What do you get when dozens of transportation professionals, technologists, and others interested in improving urban transportation networks all in one room at UCLA on a Saturday morning? The answer is Los Angeles’ very first TransportationCamp.

While there were no bonfires or arts and crafts, Saturday’s event was different than your usual gathering of transportation professionals. The atmosphere was deliberately casual for the event, billed as an “unconference.”

What does that mean? For one, it means that those who were attending chose the topics that were discussed during the day-long event.

“You don’t have to bring the answers; you just have to bring the questions… and great things will happen,” Juan Matute, associate director of the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies, told the crowd.

Since it was started in March 2011 in New York by OpenPlans (Streetsblog’s founding nonprofit), TransportationCamp events have cropped up all over the country.  Transportation Camps are scheduled in New York next month and Washington, D.C. in January.

“This is where [the future of] L.A. transportation is happening,” Matute told the crowd.

Unlike a traditional conference, each session was less a lecture and more a conversation, usually led by the person who suggested the topic earlier in the day.

The format gave people a chance to talk to other conference attendees — including Ashley Hand, LADOT’s transportation technology strategy fellow; Peter Marx, L.A. Mayor’s chief innovative technology officer; and Joshua Schank, Metro’s new chief innovation officer — about the topics most of interest to them. You can read Marx’s impressions of the day here.

Over the course of the day, attendees participated in and facilitated about two dozen different discussions. Topics included autonomous vehicles, measuring “Great Streets,” L.A. County bike-share, identifying and mobilizing Vision Zero stakeholders, the link between land use and quality transit, and a chance to meet Metro’s new innovation officer, among many other things.

A complete list of sessions with links to notes taken during them can be found here, but below are some of our takeaways from TransportationCamp L.A.

Read more…

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How Can We Invest in Infrastructure Without Raising Taxes?

(Odysseus Bostick is a Los Angeles teacher and former candidate for the Los Angeles City Council. He writes The Bostick Report for CityWatch.)

Our roads are swiss cheese, our sidewalks are like a broken fault line, our bridges are sagging, and our cars are still the most convenient way to get through the mess.

We’ve gotten to the point where our infrastructure problems are so large in scope and the cost to change this is so high that we really can’t pass enough taxes or bonds to cover all of our needs. That’s not to say that passing specific bonds isn’t necessary.

Upcoming ballot measures within the County of Los Angeles aimed at extending Measure R are not just merited, but crucial to ensuring that all the money we’ve already spent on building a basic network of light isn’t wasted. And finishing our rail lines is just Phase One.

The basic structure of a rail transportation system won’t be the cure-all because logistics prevent even a vast network of rail lines from actually getting people to the places they need to go. Clearly, we need micro-networks to cover areas that rail doesn’t reach.

Some of these solutions are small in scope – like bike share programs, walkable/bikeable design, and the like. Others are larger in scope than that, like a streetcar.

The problem is that bonds and tax increases only go so far and funding the build out of our rail network will consume most of those big scope revenue increases. So we are posed with the question of how to fund the smaller scale, “end of the line” public transportation ecosystems so that a user has access to the nooks and crannies not conveniently located at the base of the train station platform?  Read more…

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CA Transportation Choices Summit Tackles Policy Issues

The California Transportation Choices Summit, held in Sacramento this week, was an opportunity for sustainable transportation and public health advocates to spend the day learning about current state policies and legislation in the works to change them.

Christopher Cabaldon, Mayor of West Sacramento, discusses bike infrastructure on a pre-summit bike tour along the Sacramento River. Photos: Melanie Curry

This year’s summit was titled “2014: A Year of Opportunity.” The “opportunity” comes in the form of new funds from cap-and-trade and current discussions in the legislature about how to spend that money. As Streetsblog has reported, these funds are required to be spent on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which could include projects that encourage walking, bicycling, and transit.

The annual summit is hosted by TransForm and a long list of partners across the state including ClimatePlan, MoveLA, Circulate San Diego, the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, National Resources Defense Council, and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. In addition to discussing current policies, the learning day prepared attendees for TransForm’s “Advocacy Day,” in which participants meet with State Assembly members and their staff to talk about the issues that matter most to them and push for legislation.

Summit speakers laid out facts about funding, discussed trade-offs between spending on different programs, and urged everyone to share their personal stories about why their issue is important. “Let’s pull those heart strings,” said Elyse Lowe of Circulate San Diego, “so we can do a better job advocating for good transportation policies.”

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, created an “applause-o-meter” to gauge summit attendees’ views on trade-offs between funding categories. He asked participants to applaud for the categories of activities they thought were most important: planning; bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure; transportation demand management programs like shuttles, carpool programs, and guaranteed ride home programs; affordable homes near transit; and transit capital and operating costs.

The audience, mostly comprised of savvy transportation advocates, applauded for all of these categories, although there two clear “winners”: affordable homes near transit and transit capital and operating costs. These also were the most expensive categories, according to Cohen’s estimate of how much it would cost to fully fund needs in these areas: $6 billion for transit and $1 to $1.5 billion for housing. Read more…

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Metro’s “Short Range Transportation Plan” Meetings Start Today

Goodbye, articulated buses. Photo: ##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Metro_Rapid_LA_articulated_bus_08_2010_331.jpg##Wikimedia##

Goodbye, articulated buses. Photo: Wikimedia

Starting this evening and continuing during the next two weeks Metro is holding community meetings seeking input on its Draft 2014 Short Range Transportation Plan and the companion technical document.

Metro describes the plan thusly:

… a ten-year action plan that guides our programs and projects through 2024. It advances us towards the long-term goals identified in the 2009 Long Range Transportation Plan, a 30-year vision for addressing growth and traffic in Los Angeles County.

Among the revelations of the technical document on page 29 is the following:

Articulated and extended length buses are assumed phased out over the Plan time frame. Metro is
standardizing on 40-foot buses as the maximum vehicle size. While this will increase operating costs,

it is expected to be offset by a reduction in acquisition and maintenance costs.

I understand Metro CEO Art Leahy has in the past stated his lack of enthusiasm for the articulated vehicles but one wonders how their elimination would impact operation of the dedicated busway services (i.e. the Orange Line and Silver Line). Read more…

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How Liberating Is Your Transit System? An Interview With Jarrett Walker

I first became aware of Jarrett Walker’s work through his blog, Human Transit, a few years ago. Here was someone writing about transit in a completely refreshing way, framing questions not in terms of mode or technology but through the prism of values and desires. To call Walker’s site a transit blog doesn’t quite do it justice. It’s about what we want from our cities, and how transit can help us get there. His 2011 book, Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives, is a must-read if you’re interested in cities and want to understand what makes transit work well.

jarrett_walkerA transit planning consultant by trade whose clients literally span the globe, Walker will be in NYC next month to lead his two-day workshop in transit network design (as of press time, a few spaces are still available) and give a talk at the New School on the evening of February 6 (no registration required). When we first got in touch about doing an interview, he was about to leave for a gig in New Zealand for several weeks. A few days ago we caught up for a discussion that touched on transit on three continents, why simplicity matters in transit networks, and the legibility of New York City’s bus system.

The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell us a bit about what you were working on in New Zealand?

I have been working in New Zealand on and off for five years now. The main project that brings me down there over and over is a complete redesign of the bus system in Auckland. Working with my New Zealand colleagues from a firm called MR Cagney, I led workshops with Auckland transit staff that completely redesigned the network, with the goal of much higher ridership and much higher levels of freedom for almost everyone. Aucklanders will see that network rolling out over the next few years. And since then I’ve been back there several times to help them work on the details. There are lots of interesting details around what the buses do downtown and how that interacts with various people’s ideas about what downtown ought to be.

Does the Auckland bus system consist of what we’d call conventional lines and rapid lines, specifically BRT lines?

They have one very nice busway, they have a couple of old commuter rail lines that they’re in the process of turning into rapid transit lines. They have an extension of the rail line through the downtown in the works. But most of the system is bus routes, and the system has grown incrementally, because New Zealand had gone through this period of Thatcherite madness where they had privatized the whole bus system and essentially given over to private companies the right to run buses in particular areas, and had pretty much hollowed out the government role in planning transit service. And so for quite a while you’d see routes being designed by various local bus operators without caring very much about how they fit together into a network.

Lots of people who are used to having a bus at 7:32 right where they need it at their favorite bus stop may find that the bus stop is a little further way, but that’s part of the process of building frequency. You have to reduce the complexity.

This is the first time the entire city has been looked at as a single unit without regard to the historic bus operator boundaries. This is a very common issue in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. And Australia and New Zealand in particular are swinging back toward asserting strong government control over transit planning. Quite a different set of issues than we have in the states.

Do they run up against the problem where the current system has its own constituency? That’s a pretty big overhaul.

Absolutely. Lots of people who are used to having a bus at 7:32 right where they need it at their favorite bus stop may find that the bus stop is a little further way, but that’s part of the process of building frequency. You have to reduce the complexity, and you have to eliminate the things that only had historical justifications but don’t really make sense and aren’t generating ridership or coverage.

Read more…

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Transit Passes a Smart Choice for Youth, Economy, Climate

(The following op/ed appeared in the San Diego Union Tribune earlier this month in support of a new program that will provide free transit passes for students using Cap and Trade funds. While the piece has a lot of San Diego particular information, the overall message is a good one for any city. We are reprinting it with the author’s permission. – DN)

Santa Monica College's "Any Line Any Time" Program with the Big Blue Bus is held up as a model for agencies and educational institutions.

Santa Monica College’s “Any Line Any Time” Program with the Big Blue Bus is held up as a model for agencies and educational institutions.

With the summer now long gone and San Diego students back in school, some are being armed with a promising tool for fighting the impact of high gas prices and climate change: free transit passes.

A new pilot program, modeled after numerous other successful efforts throughout the state of California, is providing 1,000 area students with free transit passes so that they can get to school, jobs, and other destinations safely, reliably, and with fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Expanding these free and low-cost youth transit pass programs throughout the state is a fast and effective way for California to reduce climate pollution and spur the economy. While few cities have the financial resources to go it alone, the state has a powerful new funding tool to make free and low-cost transit passes a climate change-busting, economy-boosting reality throughout California.

As the centerpiece of its efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, the state has initiated a cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions from more than 350 of the state’s largest industrial facilities. While most of the emissions permits are provided for free, a small amount are auctioned every year — and between now and 2020, the revenues from these auctions are expected to generate billions of dollars.

By law, cap-and-trade revenues must be invested in projects in our communities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide other benefits such as economic development and public health improvements.

The transportation sector accounts for nearly 40 percent of all carbon emissions — the largest of any sector — so achieving California’s climate goals will require significant investments in expansive, efficient, and affordable public transportation.

For many students and their families, a lack of transportation choices is a barrier to both education and economic opportunities. In the San Diego region, $4-a-gallon gas has become the norm — and the overall cost of car ownership was estimated by the AAA as $8,946 in 2012. Read more…

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Metro Explores Ways to Make Commute More Comfortable for the Physically Disabled

If you’ve ever spoken to someone who is physically disabled—any one of the 650 million who are estimated to be living with disabilities on Earth—though resilient, there is still something a bit disconcerting about boarding a public bus.

...but will Long Beach Transit?

Even in a transit system that is as efficient and progressive as Long Beach Transit.

And as I was taking the 121 along Ocean, I did something I rarely do as an introvert: I removed my headphones and asked someone in a wheelchair just precisely what their experience was.

“You can’t help but feel, ‘Here I am, holdin’ everybody up,’ y’know?” said Maria, a 53-year-old paraplegic.

When I had asked her to offer me her last name, she skeptically looked up and succinctly informed me that “there ain’t no need to give you my last name unless you plan on giving me a new one.” I was taken aback and my expression had probably shown it. Maria, however, moved on like a train with no breaks.

“Clearly, I’m not a bullshitter—and judging from this situation right here, I don’t think you are one either. Look around: we all have places to be and we are all hoppin’ on this bus together and… Of course, if you’re like me, you get beyond it; you have to. But still, there’s something about having to stop the whole routine of everybody else just to get someone like me on the bus.”

Beyond this short exchange, Maria didn’t want to talk—and rightfully so. Someone shouldn’t have to defend accessing basic rights due to a biological disposition of their abilities; disability does not translate into inability.  Her point, more importantly, was not driven by a need; she was far from victimizing herself or demonizing the all-too-human selfishness that overtakes each of us when we are trying to get from Point A to Point B.

And though the American Disabilities Act (ADA) widely swept away previous legalities that hindered those who were disabled, there is still an unneeded sense of humility that many disabled people carry with them because of the largely misconstrued concept of what “disabled” means for able-bodied folks: handicapped, crippled, even retarded.

In short, horrifically pejorative conceptions that perpetually drive them to sadly and inappropriately question their own worth; to relegate them to the role of holding-up rather than lifting-up. And it explains why, for the 2 million people with disabilities who never leave their home, 560,000 never do so because of transportation difficulties. Read more…