Busway Linkage Obsession Puzzler

6_24_10_harbor.jpgImage: Metro

I was recently cruising the web and came across a query posted on Curbed L.A. about the stub end of the Harbor Transitway north of Adams and whether there are any plans to extend it. Dredging up memories of events over the years relating to the topic I posted two monster sized paragraphs of comment.

But to my mind that doesn’t begin to plumb the depths of the issues and mysteries of the Transitway. Which requires we explore the origins of the facility. It was our friends at Caltrans who decided to include a busway as part of a project to add HOV lanes to the Harbor Freeway (I-110). Up until the late 90s Caltrans called the shots when it came to determining spending for freeway projects. This all changed when Senate Bill 45 (authored by Quentin Kopp) enacted in 1997 gave local transportation commissions (like Metro) control of 75% of the funding allocated through the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) for freeway improvements in their area while Caltrans henceforth would control only the 25% intended for inter-regional improvements. As a practical matter this entails a fair level of cooperation between Caltrans and local agencies since many projects are both local and inter-regional. But it also means the days are long gone when Caltrans technocrats solo made all the decisions about our freeways. Some of the defects of the busway are because under the old way of doing things Metro had virtually zero input in its design. To many of us this helps explain why to this day bus ridership along the Transitway is anemic.

The Transitway ends at Adams, short of downtown. This is mostly because extending further north would have involved jaw dropping construction costs. But over 10 years ago, just after the Transitway opened, there was a study done to evaluate the size of the challenges involved in constructing an elevated Transitway extension past downtown to link up with the El Monte Busway at Union Station. A presentation by the firm hired to do the study was made at the June 1998 meeting of Southern California Transit Advocates, as described in our following month newsletter. Basically because of the steepness of the east side of the trench through which the 110 passes downtown (aka the slot) they were studying having the structure on the western side of the slot. Of course this meant access to downtown would involve crossing over after exiting into City West. Not an optimal situation. That plus the astonishing cost (over a BILLION dollars even then) meant after the study was finished it was shelved and nothing came of it.

The real puzzler for me is even after the idea of an extension was abandoned Metro doggedly pursued the notion of linking transit service on the Transitway and Busway. At one point a study was done on having dedicated bus lanes through downtown on surface streets to facilitate such a linkage. And of course more recently Metro has leveraged the ExpressLanes federal demonstration to do just such linkage via the Silver Line (but without the bus lanes). The result has basically confirmed there is little to no cross traffic between the Harbor and El Monte corridors plus the Silver Line for obvious reasons has had enormous problems with on-time performance. So it was a bad idea that made no sense–which begs the question why Metro obsessively pursued it in the first place.

Southern California Transit Advocates recently presented to the San Gabriel Valley and South Bay Governance Councils a statement (below) regarding concerns about Metro Silver Line on-time performance. You can be sure we’ll keep an eye on whether improvements are forthcoming.

Southern California Transit Advocates has serious concerns about the Silver Line (910). It is our understanding that on-time performance on the route is below 60%, with on-time performance in some dayparts below 30%. This is unacceptable, especially because existing local service was cutback to create the 910. We have witnessed many instances of missed transfers from the Silver Line to local service, which negatively impacts the customers that used to have a direct trip. Much of the decline in on-time performance is as a result of the Caltrans I-10 pavement rehabilitation project, which has resulted in the intermittent closure of the El Monte Busway during evening and weekends. However, it is evening and weekend customers who suffer the most when they have to wait for close to an hour at El Monte or Artesia due to a missed connection.

Success of the Silver Line is critical to the success of the Federal Congestion Reduction Demonstration Program. We therefore request that Metro examine collected data from the ATMS to determine how widespread this problem is, and to report back to the San Gabriel Valley and the South Bay Governance Council. Following this report, we request that Metro take appropriate corrective action to ensure that riders do not continue to be inconvenienced.

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