City Council Approves Expo Line Signal Prioritization and Final Expo Line Neighborhood Plans

The Metro Expo Line will soon receive better signal prioritization. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
The Metro Expo Line will soon receive better signal prioritization. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Today, the full Los Angeles City Council approved Councilmember Mike Bonin’s motion to maximize signal prioritization for the Metro Expo Line in areas where the light rail operates on city streets. The council also approved the final version of the Exposition Corridor Transit Neighborhood Plan. Both approvals were unanimous, as part of the council’s consent calendar.

Improved Signal Prioritization For Expo Line

The lack of prioritization for L.A.’s light rail lines has long been an issue for Metro’s Blue, Gold, and Expo Lines – and also on the Metro Orange and Silver Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines. As Curbed’s Alissa Walker put it in this TransitCenter Streetfilms video, “the problem with mass transit in Los Angeles is cars.” Cities’ traffic signals prioritize drivers. Metro trains and buses – many transporting hundreds of people – are forced to wait behind cars – many transporting one person.

The slowdown is especially noticeable for the Expo and A (former Blue) Lines which run at relatively high speed in their own rights of way, then seem to slow to a crawl in downtown L.A., where they run in and along surface streets. Metro staff have attributed some Expo overcrowding to a lack of reliability resulting from trains having to wait at traffic signals.

The Bonin motion (council file 19-1236) approved today directs the city’s Transportation Department (LADOT):

to maximize signal priority for the Expo Line where it operates on streets

to report back in sixty days with the changes made, and any additional steps needed to reduce end-to-end travel times and to improve travel time reliability by 90%

The motion also directs LADOT to explore opportunities to upgrade L.A.’s ATSAC (Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control) systems to better support Expo, and other non-car transportation.

For many years, the Metro Expo and Blue Lines have had some degree of signal prioritization. Lights are timed with trains in mind. Train operators can prolong green signals. Santa Monica prioritizes Expo trains where they run on its downtown streets. New A Line signal prioritization was recently added though the city of Long Beach.

But prioritization is not quite the same as full preemption. Trains running on their own right-of-way (such as Amtrak and Metrolink – or even Expo in much of West L.A.) get automatic green lights and gates at crossings. Street-running signal prioritization is more of a spectrum than an on/off binary. Metro (and Long Beach) engineers state that, for street-running light rail, full preemption is “impossible.”

In the next few months, riders will see to what extent the city of L.A. can deliver quality prioritization and what benefits it will have for the Expo Line operations.

Expo Transit Neighborhood Plan Approved

Today the council also approved the final ordinance for the Exposition Corridor Transit Neighborhood Plan (ExpoTNP) which fosters affordable housing, jobs, and walkability within a half-mile walking distance of five Westside Metro Expo Line stations: Bundy, Sepulveda, Westwood, Palms, and Culver City.

Expo TNP map - by L.A. City Planning Department
Expo TNP map – by L.A. City Planning Department

The outlines of the ExpoTNP were approved in mid-2018. Since then, the plan has been subject to the City Attorney’s form and legality review process, which results in the final legally-worded ordinance. Typically, as happened today, the ordinance adoption is essentially a formality, with little or no debate.

The ExpoTNP next goes to Mayor Eric Garcetti for approval, then goes into effect thirty-one days later – likely in mid-December.

In late 2018, Fix the City filed a lawsuit demanding that the city rescind the approval of the ExpoTNP. At press time, Streetsblog does not have any update on the status of the lawsuit.

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