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Posts from the Zev Yaroslavsky Category


After Emotional Metro Board Meeting, Blue Line Safety Back in the Spotlight

“The deadliest light rail line in the country.”

Metro’s Blue Line, which runs from Metro Center through South L.A. and Watts into Long Beach, has been involved in more than its share of crashes, both minor and fatal, since it opened twenty-two years ago. Regardless of who is deemed “at fault” in the crash, it’s doubtless that the Blue Line’s at-grade routing is a major factor in the crashes. The grade-separated Gold Line and Green Line have been involved in zero fatal crashes in their histories.

In the midst of what might be the Blue Line’s bloodiest year to-date, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky wants answers. Yaroslavsky authored a motion directing staff to convene a Metro Blue Line Task Force to examine safety procedures and strategies for the Blue Line operation. The motion was amended by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to improve communication to the community and media when there is a crash.

This year, six people have died after being struck by a Blue Line train. Four of those deaths were suicides. Despite the difficulty in preventing a suicide at an at-grade light rail, this number was particularly concerning to Yaroslavsky who pressured staff to create some solutions to the “suicide problem.”  The previous “record” for Blue Line fatalities was in 1999, when 10 people died after crashes with Blue Line trains.

Many residents of South L.A., including some at the Board Meeting yesterday openly wonder if the location of the Blue Line, which runs through many lower income and African American communities, has something to do with the lack of progress impeding deaths.

“Can you imagine this level of carnage being permitted in South Pasadena instead of South Los Angeles,” Damien Goodmon asked rhetorically when he spoke to Streetsblog and Intersections about the opening of the Expo Line.

This is hardly the first time that Metro has studied what causes so many Blue Line crashes. In fact, officials were perplexed by the deadly year in 1999 when it happened. Following a particularly nasty year in 1998, officials put in new procedures and infrastructure to make the line safer.

The Los Angeles Times reports on the changes put in place (in 1999):

* A public outreach campaign.

* The assignment of eight county sheriff’s deputies to watch for motorists and pedestrians trying to pass lowered crossing gates. Fines were increased last year to $271.

* The installation of 10 cameras at 17 locations to photograph motorists who try to get around lowered gates. Authorities can use photographs of the license plates to issue citations. This year, the MTA plans to add six more cameras.

* State approval for new crossing gates that are more difficult for motorists to bypass. The gates–which use four arms instead of two–were tested at 124th Street in Willowbrook. The MTA plans to install the gates on 10 other rail crossings over the next five years.

This year, the total number of deaths is increased by the number of suicides, and 1999 also had a statistical quirk.  Six of the ten reported deaths were caused in one crash, where an unlicensed driver tried to outrun a train and failed. In 1999, six of the ten deaths were caused by one unsafe driver. This year, four of the six deaths have been ruled suicides.

But blaming the fatality rate on the mistakes of the people killed is a non-starter. In 1999, the MTA expressed confusion over why so many people were making illegal left turns and driving into the path of the train.

“Why they are doing that, who knows?” said MTA spokesman Ed Scannell. The agency is launching a billboard campaign to warn motorists about the dangers of illegal left turns.

 In a 2010 piece at The Source, exasperated Metro staff also argue that the high fatality rate isn’t all the agency’s fault.

“I think there are two sides of the equation,” he said. “You have the agency responsible for building and operating the light rail lines and that has an obligation to incorporate safety measures and you have the public that has to obey the warning signs that we install. People have a responsibility to obey both the active and passive warning devices.

“We really need the public’s help in paying attention to them and not disobeying them for whatever reason.”

But that explanation doesn’t fly with friends and family of those killed in crashes. Yesterday’s Board of Directors meeting featured testimony from many people who lost loved ones in Blue Line crashes including a sobbing mother begging the Board to do something.
But short of costly grade separation projects, there might not be much that the Board can do. Public information campaigns come and go, but the death toll continues to rise. In the cases of suicide, it’s not clear what can be done other than to make the tracks inaccesible, something that is nigh impossible. The task force created yesterday has it’s work cut out for it: how do you find a solution to a problem that has eluded transportation planners for decades.

Metro Board: Fare Gates, TAP But Regional Connector Postponed

(We just found out from Metro, via email and The Source, that the Regional Connector discussion is being moved until next month so “local concerns” can be addressed in the financial district. – DN)

It wouldn’t be the Metro Board of Directors without some drama.  Read the full agenda for tomorrow’s meeting of the Board by clicking here.

It appeared that, despite some grumbling about the exclusion of a station at Fifth and Flower, that the Regional Connector debate was over.  The Final Environmental Documents had completed public comment, the Little Tokyo community was mollified, and the billionaire with the napkin drawings was out of the picture.

Zev's got a pair of motions sure to cause some debate tomorrow. Photo: Deseret News

But last week, a motion by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky presented at committee caused a stir amongst transit watchers.  The motion overruled a staff recommendation to award another three-quarters of a million dollars for public outreach to the Robert Group, to complete outreach for the plan.  Yaroslavsky wants to see some fiscal numbers on how past monies were spent before the Board awards a new contract.

The motion caused consternation from some Regional Connector supporters.  At last Friday’s mayoral forum, I was approached by a prominent Downtown resident who asked me, “Is the Regional Conenctor in trouble?”  A second person at the same event wondered whether the Supervisor planned to delay Regional Connector in a scheme to speed up the Westside Subway.

Yaroslavsky claims that wasn’t the intent, his motion is just a matter of making sure Metro is spending its consultant dollars well.

“The Regional Connector is an important project, and I want to see it happen,” the Supervisor stated in a phone interview.  “Three quarters of a million dollars is a lot of money and I just want to make sure we’re spending it properly.  The funding is being held over until next month and the contractor still has funds from us to cover continued outreach needs in that time.” Read more…


At Zev’s Urging, Supes Demand Progressive Bike Plan

Earlier today, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors quickly and unanimously passed a motion by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky urging for progressive changes to the L.A. County Draft Bike Plan.  The L.A. County Bike Plan addresses the “unincorporated” parts of L.A. County (those without a municipal government) such as Marina del Rey.

First, he named Carmageddon, than he rescued the Bike Plan. Good year for the Supe. Photo: Brian Watts/KPCC

The motion, available on the Supervisor’s website for the last week, picks up many of the suggestions made by bicyclists at a recent meeting of the County Planning Commission, including language that allows the County to build cycle tracks when permitted by state law, requires conformity with the recently released “model street manual” by the L.A. County Department of Public Health and UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, and allows the use of other innovative bicycling design as they become approved by Caltrans.

“The bicycle plan has come a long way since the first draft, but there improvements are still needed to really address safety,” testified the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s Alexis Lantz before passage of the motion.  “We want the County Bike Plan to not only be a guide for implementation but a visionary plan for the next 20 years that will help create safer streets, encourages a diversity of people to bicycle, and maximizes our planned and proposed transportation investments so LA County becomes more mobile, better connected, healthier and a more livable county.

We feel the motion before you today gives the guidance needed to staff in order to do just that and we urge you to support it.” Read more…


Zev Reader Questionnaire Part 1: Metro and Transit

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s answers to our reader questionnaire were so detailed that we decided to break the questions in to two parts.  There is just so much to chew on in this section, such as Zev’s views on the Westside Subway Station Debate, the importance of a subway and the future of the I-405 Transit Corridor.  We’ve said enough about Zev over the years, so now it’s his turn.  As always, all questions came from you, the readers, and the Supervisor’s staff assures me that all answers came from Zev himself.

Part two of the questionnaire is below, be sure to check it out.  And thanks to the Supervisor for taking the time to talk with us!

1) What are your underlying principles when making transportation policy decisions as a Metro board member? (Efficiency, cost-effectiveness, equity, environment, etc.) As future transportation projects in a built-out city are planned, how do you make trade-offs among different constituencies?

A. Los Angeles is the largest and most spread out metropolitan community in the nation. As such, a “one size fits all” approach to transit can’t work. While the bus system remains the backbone of our transit network, buses alone are simply not enough, particularly when most of the routes are in mixed traffic. We must include heavy rail (subway), light rail and dedicated busways in our transit tool kit.

Every geographic region in this vast county deserves to be part of our regional transportation system. However, while transit needs are seemingly infinite, transit funds are not. Typically, transit modality decisions are made principally on the basis of ridership and cost per passenger mile. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case in Los Angeles County, and there are always pressures at Metro to make exceptions to that rule of thumb. Read more…


Zev Reader Questionnaire Part 2: Walking, Biking, the SGV and All the Rest

Parts two and three of your questionnaire with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky focused mainly on what I’m referring to as “People Powered Transportation” (the Alliance for Walking and Bicycling’s chosen term for traveling without a car and not by transit) and a separate section with two tongue-and-cheek questions.  Sadly, he didn’t take my bait and announce his candidacy for Mayor.

Photo of Zev Yaroslavsky by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

There’s some interesting news in this section.  First, he announces a motion for Metro to pilot a Bike Share Program at the next Metro Board meeting.  I’m not sure how I missed that in the committee agendas.  Second, he discusses the need to fix and connect the pedestrian trail that runs next to the Marvin Braude bike trail.  Third, he discusses the need to create bike connections between the Westside and Valley.

But perhaps most impressively, Yaroslavsky becomes the first person to jump off the scripted questions and adds a couple of paragraphs on people powered transportation.  However, since he mentioned his passion for running, it gives us the excuse to use this picture again.

A big Streetsblog “Thank You” to the Supervisor for giving us such well thought-out answers.  Readers, stay tuned for our next questionnaire with Deputy Mayor for Transportation Borja Leon.

“People Powered Transportation”

First, a few words on “people powered transportation.”

I admit that I’m not a big bike rider. But, as a lifelong runner, I know our streets can be unfriendly (or worse) for those of us who use them for fitness and, in the case of cyclists, for transportation as well. So before diving into your questions, let me say for the record that I welcome Los Angeles’ growing bicycle movement. Read more…


Next Up for the Streetsblog Reader Questionnaire: Zev Yaroslavsky

If there’s one politician we’ve given a hard time to here at Streetsblog, it’s County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky. Yesterday while we were IM’ing on Facebook (really!) I asked if he would join LADOT General Manager LADOT General Manager Jaime De La Vega and LAPD Sgt. David Krumer in answering a Streetsblog reader questionnaire.

Our Hero in 1985.  Photo: Zev Yaroslavsky/flickr

Zev and the bus in 1985. I was in second grade when this was taken. Photo: Zev Yaroslavsky/flickr

As we’ve done in the past, just submit any questions you have that are related to transportation or planning in the comments section by next Wednesday and I’ll send the top ten to the Supervisor.  Once he responds we’ll post the answers here with minimal comment from me (and plenty of comment from you.)

I know Streetsblog hasn’t always been easy on Yaroslavsky, but I also know his kids read the website…so be nice!  Failing that, at least be more polite than I am.

And don’t bother asking him if he’s running for Mayor, I’ll manage to sneak that question in with one of the other ones.


More Expo Delays? Fight Between Expo Board, Culver City Could Delay Final Phase I Station

Construction on the Culver City Station as of March of this year. Photo:Friends 4 Expo

In November of 2007, the Expo Construction Authority and Culver City agreed that instead of building a “temporary” station at the terminus of Phase I of the Expo Project, that the Authority would build the permanent aerial station in time for the grand opening of Phase I.  As part of that agreement, Culver City agreed to pay the Authority $7 million to cover some of the construction costs.

The deal seemed a classic win-win for everyone.  Culver City moved forward not just with the most ambitious “Transit Oriented Development” project slated for the line, but also on a public health grant to connect the station to the Downtown through a safe and attractive pedestrian walkway.  For once, everything was going smoothly.

Until last week’s Expo Construction Authority Board Meeting.

Culver City officials are withholding payment of $7 million, $4 million of which is for station construction, they promised the Authority in large parts because the city feels the station that is being constructed is not the one they were promised in the M.O.U.  The Construction Authority doesn’t dispute that plans for the station have changed and have been somewhat downsized, but that they didn’t promise a certain station to Culver City in the M.O.U., just that they promised an aerial station for Phase I.

At the meeting, much of the confrontation was between Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Culver City staff.   Read more…


Metro Board Doesn’t Trust Staff, Removes Selby/Comstock Segment from Wilshire Bus-Only Proposal

Following nearly an hour and fifteen minutes of public testimony, most of which overwhelmingly favored passage of the staff recommendation to complete the Wilshire Bus Only Lanes on all parts of Wilshire Boulevad controlled by the City of Los Angeles, the Metro Board of Directors unanimously backed transit expert Zev Yaroslavsky over their staff and LADOT staff and decided to remove the Comstock/Selby area of Wilshire in Westwood from the project.

Our Hero in 1985.  Photo: Zev Yaroslavsky/flickr

Our Hero in 1985. Photo: Zev Yaroslavsky/flickr

The strongest testimony in favor of completing the Wilshire Bus-Only lanes as completely as possible came from LADOT’s Kang Hu during the staff report.  Hu, who’s spent years studying the project and has professional degrees and certifications in transportation and transit planning, made a forceful defense of the project. He testified that any impacts on car traffic were manageable and that the buses on Wilshire currently carry more people than cars.  He closed his testimony by arguing that the project would handle future growth and is about shifting people out of their cars and on to buses.  Hu deserves credit for making such a forceful defense, as at least one L.A. City Councilman, Paul Koretz, is on record against the project.

Following the presentations by Hu and Metro staff, a parade of speakers representing environmental groups, urban planners, bike riders, the Bus Riders Union, and residents of West L.A. all stepped up to address the benefits of the BRT project.  Roughly 10-15% of those testifying were Westside residents opposed to the project.  The 10-15% estimate is an appropriate one, since the group was trying to get over a mile, or 11% of the project, removed.  There was no mention of excluding any part of Brentwood from the bus-only routing.

As soon as public comment was completed, Yaroslavsky went on the attack against those testifying in support of the project.  In what was both an extremely condescending and revealing statement. Yaroslavsky commented that the Metro and LADOT staff did an amazing job but he thinks that they’re wrong about the impact of removing this mile of street based on his years of obstructing transit projects his solemn responsibility to make sure things work.

Yaroslavsky then went on to claim the mantle of champion of bus-only lanes, commenting that the people who would be sitting in their cars have organizations too.  And, these organizations would halt all future bus rapid transit projects after he demonstrated how easy it is to do so if we upset them.  Honestly, the logic that the only way to protect bus-only lanes from NIMBY’s is to collapse whenever NIMBY’s organize and demand that they do so is beyond my ability to understand.  But that’s why I’m a pontificator and not a member of the dysfunctional “responsible” Metro Board of Directors.

Having completed his convoluted harangue against those that disagreed with him, Yaroslavsky voted to amend the staff recommendation to exclude the Selby/Comstock area of Wilshire from the Bus Only project. Read more…


NIMBY’s in Westwood Threaten Wilshire BRT Project West of Beverly Hills (Quote from the BRU added, 12:31 P.M.)

Residents along this stretch of Wilshire want this portion of the BRT project removed.  With the support of their County Supervisor and City Councilman, they may get their way.

Residents along this stretch of Wilshire want this portion of the BRT project removed. With the support of their County Supervisor and City Councilman, they may get their way.

Westsiders like to complain that for years their part of the city has been left out when it comes to transit expansion.  Now that Metro is proposing three high-profile transit projects, a rampant strain of NIMBYism is endangering all three in one form or another.

The most recent example is the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)project.  At yesterday’s meeting of the Metro Board Planning and Programming Committee, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Mayoral Appointee Richard Katz grilled staff on whether the one mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from Selby Avenue to Comstock Avenue needs to be a part of the project or could be exempted from the project altogether.  Currently, the Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit Project,  proposes to install rush hour bus lanes in the curb lane of 8.7 miles of Wilshire Boulevard, mostly in the city of Los Angeles.

Urging the Board Members on are a group of residents who live along that corridor who have paid for their own traffic study that shows, surprise surprise, that the BRT project would do more harm than good for traffic patterns.  What a shocking development, that a study paid for by a community trying to obstruct a project for well over a decade shows that the project does more harm than good.

Ultimately, the committee moved the BRT study and Locally Preferred Alternative recommendation to be considered by the full Metro Board at their December 9 meeting.  However, they added the caveat that staff come back with more information about the impact of removing the so-called Condo Canyon corridor between Selby and Comstock at the Board Meeting.

During the public comment period for the project this summer, the City Councilman for the area, Paul Koretz, wrote a letter asking that this same stretch be exempted from the BRT project because of the “unique character” of this stretch of Wilshire.   However, if removing the project was a non-starter with staff, then he was asking that the curb-cuts and street parking in the area be preserved and that the road undergo a diet to make room for the bus-only lanes.  No, he didn’t use the words “Road Diet.”  You can read his full comments, here. Read more…