Purpose

To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Friday, February 26, 2016

Expo will open on May 20

http://smdp.com/expo-will-open-on-may-20/153780

By Matthew Hall and Jennifer Maas, February 25, 2016

 Photo courtesy Metro



Get ready to ride the rails on Friday, May 20.

Metro officially announced the opening day of the Expo Line at a press conference in Downtown Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon saying the line would be a boon to the region.

The $1.5-billion, 6.6-mile light-rail project from Culver City to Santa Monica will have seven new stations: Palms, Westwood/Rancho Park, Expo/Sepulveda, Expo/Bundy, 26th Street/Bergamot, 17th Street/Santa Monica College and Downtown Santa Monica.

The first phase of the Expo Line between downtown Los Angeles and Culver City opened in 2012 and when the second phase opens, train trips between downtown Santa Monica and downtown L.A. will take 46 minutes.

“Metro is in the midst of a region-wide transit revolution,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. “With two rail lines opening this spring and three others under construction, as well as massive highway modernization projects underway, we are easing congestion and changing commuting patterns in all corners of the County.”

Local and Metro officials said the opening will be significant for commuters.

“With the Expo Line Phase 2 to Santa Monica, we have a great example of how Metro is expanding and organizing our transportation network to better serve our region and help ease traffic,” said Metro CEO Phil Washington. “We can safely say that without the taxpayer support of Measure R we would not be standing here today. We’re proud of delivering another great project to help us in our daily commutes.”

Mayor Tony Vazquez said he thought the Expo line could have the highest ridership in the county.
“When you think about it there are 250,000 [people] on any given day in Santa Monica; cause we’re such a job center,” he said. “And now with this, when you talk about [sic] we’re a heavy service industry and most of those folks that work at the hotels they take the bus or they are driving the biggest pollutants. Now we’ve got an opportunity to actually put them on something that is going to be clean, safe and on time. So I’m excited about it.”

City Hall is working on several Expo preparation projects and staff provided updates to Council on Feb. 23.

“I will say that there has been a lot of work that has happened thus far,” said Debbie Lee 
Communications & Public Affairs Officer for the City of Santa Monica. “We’ve been working on this for many, many years, and we’ve also been working very, very diligently towards preparing as best we can for the arrival of the train.”

There are currently seven groups of city staff associated with Expo, including public safety, first/last mile connection, traffic circulation, maintenance/operations, maintenance yard/buffer park, commuters/riders/outreach and launch/opening day.

Santa Monica Police Lieutenant Dave Hunscke said public safety employees have been training for the last year. Firefighters and police officers have incorporated train-specific incidents into their education programs and local officials are partnering with regional authorities to ensure safety.

“My experience with Metro and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department has been outstanding to date and we really look forward to working with them in the future,” he said.

Staff said the city has several transportation projects in place to facilitate Expo ridership including the Breeze bikeshare, rerouted bus lines, evening bus service and the future arrival of a city-authorized carshare program.

Current traffic patterns, including restricted left turns on Colorado, will remain in place when the train arrives. Testing of trains will continue up to opening day with increasing frequency. Staff said the final days of testing would have trains running on a regular schedule.

Work at Buffer Park has begun thanks to the completion of the adjacent expo maintenance facility. The property was recently transferred from the construction authority to Metro and the park space was handed over to the City. Minor preparation work has begun on the site and staff said more significant work would begin in mid-March. Naming of the park and the possible renaming of Stewart Street Park will be before the Parks and Recreation Commission in March with the goal of opening the new park in 2017.

Outreach efforts are ongoing for all elements of the Expo with more than 65 safety presentations conducted in the last year. Staff will ask council to approve a contract with a marketing company soon to continue outreach efforts.

Santa Monica is planning celebratory events tied to Expo’s opening. The city will host a formal ribbon cutting on opening day and staff said they are working on an open streets event for sometime in June.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

State to closely monitor progress as Bertha begins drilling again

http://www.bizjournals.com/seattle/news/2016/02/24/state-to-closely-monitor-progress-as-bertha-begins.html

By Steve Wilhelm, February 24, 2016

After more than a month of state-ordered stasis, Seattle’s tunnel boring machine is moving forward again.

The Washington State Department of Transportation on Tuesday allowed Seattle Tunnel Partners to start moving the Bertha tunnel-boring machine forward another 160 feet, while the state closely monitors the project.
Under new rules, the state is requiring STP to increase its quality controls. The contractor must have people monitoring key positions in the tunnel boring machine and provide daily updates.

Daily meetings reviewing progress are to include representatives from the department of transportation and the contractor.
After a series of fits and starts for the boring machine – which was initially scheduled to be done digging the Highway 99 tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct last year – Gov. Jay Inslee ordered tunneling halted Jan. 14 after a sinkhole appeared near where the machine was burrowing.

While STP quickly filled in the hole, state authorities were concerned enough to order the contractor to stop the machine before it starts tunneling under the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and then downtown Seattle.

The machine had started tunneling again Jan. 7, after being stuck for more than two years underground just west of Pioneer Square. STP had to rebuild the front end of the machine with new bearings and bearing seals after the previous parts were damaged before drilling could proceed.

If boring proceeds satisfactorily, STP will be allowed to continue boring another 100 feet to a planned maintenance stop.

There crews will perform final maintenance before the machine bores under the viaduct.

The intent of the 1.7-mile tunnel, at 58 feet in diameter the largest in the world, is to create a highway under Seattle to replace the elevated viaduct. When completed, the tunnel will provide room for two lanes north and two lanes south.

The aging viaduct is considered seismically vulnerable, and the state chose the tunnel option as a way to replace it without unduly disrupting viaduct traffic during construction, and to connect Seattle’s waterfront to downtown.

West Hollywood Refusing to Let Metro Rail Pass It By


The city wants an extension of the Crenshaw Line, and they've got a plan to make it happen

http://la.curbed.com/2016/2/25/11110500/west-hollywood-metro-rail-plan

By Jeff Watenhofer, February 25, 2016


 




It's certainly an exciting time for fans of Los Angeles public transportation. The Measure R transit tax-fueled expansion of Metro's rail lines is already giving more and more Angelenos the ability to ditch their cars and zoom from neighborhood to neighborhood by train, and Metro has many more plans to add new rail lines throughout the city over the next decade (with several underway already).
But all that has eluded the city of West Hollywood. While some Westside neighborhoods will  soon see trains traverse their streets for the first time in decades, no future rail expansion plans come anywhere close to the little city. 

WeHo tried to get an extension for themselves when Metro was expanding westward, but the transit agency balked at the high cost. Former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told WeHo officials to sit tight then, because they were "next in line," but WeHo began to mobilize just in case that promise went unfulfilled.

In 2015, the West Hollywood City Council launched the West Hollywood Advocates for Metro Rail (aka WHAM) as part of a campaign to win grassroots support for a Metro rail extension into the city. To get a West Hollywood rail line off the ground, WHAM needs Metro to include it as part of its Expenditure Plan when LA votes on it in November. That means selling it to the public, and quickly. WHAM volunteers have been getting the word out in WeHo, as well as engaging neighborhoods that would eventually be connected by the line. They've already gathered about 3,000 signatures from supporters of a WeHo rail extension, reports Los Angeles magazine.

WHAM wants Metro to expand the upcoming Crenshaw Line (already under construction) northward to West Hollywood, connecting the neighborhood not only to Metro's system, but also directly to LAX. A feasibility study is needed to determine the exact route a train line would take to WeHo, but WHAM is hoping for a route that spans from San Vincente to Santa Monica Boulevard. The train would run completely underground, making it's way through West Hollywood before connecting with the Red Line at Hollywood and Highland.

On the fiscal side of things, the city council is still grappling with how to cover the immense cost of this potential project—expanding the Crenshaw Line to West Hollywood comes with a pricetag of at least $4.5 billion. WeHo officials are currently mulling the idea of a tax increase to raise revenue for the project

WeHo Councilmember John Duran has a scheme to push Metro's hand too. He wants to get a sales tax increase on the ballot by June to get the jump on the Metro tax increase that's expected to be on LA's November ballot. If WeHo passes a sales tax increase that pushes it closer to California's cap of 10 percent, it would limit the amount of tax revenue Metro could get from WeHo if their November ballot measure passes. 

Duran says a WeHo tax increase would make Metro more likely to negotiate with West Hollywood over rail expansion in exchange for their tax revenues. According to Duran, WeHo felt burned by the passage of Measure R in 2008, which taxed West Hollywood like every other city in the county, but did not provide them with any transit improvements. Duran thinks WeHo's new tax plan would send a message to the county that "we don’t want to be forgotten again."

Metro has been keeping tabs on WHAM's progress. Lisa Belsanti, WeHo communication manager and WHAM member, tells Los Angeles mag that Metro officials have attended WHAM outreach events, and even Metro Board Chair John Fasana has been spotted. WHAM could be a powerful ally for Metro as they attempt to get Measure R's sequel passed in the November election. If a WeHo transit line is in Metro's future plans, WHAM says it will help campaign for the ballot initiative.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Businesses, environmentalists and the 710 tunnel collide in AQMD board member battle

http://www.sgvtribune.com/environment-and-nature/20160212/businesses-environmentalists-and-the-710-tunnel-collide-in-aqmd-board-member-battle

By Steve Scauzillo, February 12, 2016

 

 Eight-year SCAQMD board member and South Pasadena Councilman Michael Cacciotti, 57, an advocate for clean fuels and reducing air emissions, is being challenged by Rosemead Councilman Steven Ly.



The election of an eastern cities representative to the South Coast Air Quality Management District governing board has become politically charged, as environmentalists, pro-710 Freeway tunnel advocates and business groups lobby for their candidate.

At stake is one seat on the powerful, 13-member anti-smog board, whose makeup recently changed when Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, a Democrat and friend of the environment, was replaced by Lake Forest Councilman Dwight Robinson, a Republican.

Environmental groups say regulated industries — oil refineries, paint and coatings makers and utilities — that pollute the air are trying to shape the board into a more business-friendly body and soften regulations. They compare this move to the removal last week of Charles Lester, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, who was viewed as favorable to coastal protection versus overdevelopment. Lester was fired by a vote of 7-5 in what some called “a coup” by certain board members appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, some of whom intimated the commission held up development projects for years and trampled on property rights.

For decades, businesses have argued the AQMD is too heavy handed, while environmental groups say the agency does not go far enough to cut smog. The four-county agency regulates emissions in Orange County and the non-desert portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
In the center of the AQMD controversy is eight-year board member and South Pasadena Councilman Michael Cacciotti, an advocate for clean fuels and reducing air emissions. Cacciotti, 57, an attorney, is being challenged by Rosemead Councilman Steven Ly.

Ly is being supported by the 710 Coalition, made up of the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead, San Gabriel and San Marino, with support from 15 other Los Angeles County cities, many of which will have a vote in electing Cacciotti or Ly to a four-year term.

The pro-710 tunnel coalition objects to an AQMD critique of the 710 completion project that would close the gap between Alhambra and Pasadena via a single or dual tunnel running 4.5 miles. The letter was written by Ian MacMillan, the AQMD’s planning and rules manager in August.

As part of the comments on the draft Environmental Impact Report, the AQMD letter said the project would raise the cancer risk in the area and the air quality analysis of carbon monoxide and airborne particulates was incomplete.

Alhambra Councilwoman Barbara Messina, the lead advocate for the tunnel project, said the AQMD overstepped its authority. She pointed the finger at Cacciotti, saying he “uses his position on the AQMD board irresponsibly.” She said the AQMD’s comments on the 710 tunnel is one of the reasons she’s supporting Ly, who favors building the 710 tunnel.

Cacciotti said he had nothing to do with the AQMD letter. He said staff are routinely asked to give their scientific opinion on how a project may affect air quality.

“I never saw the letter until after it was sent out,” he said.

Ly, 31, said his pro-710 tunnel stance is just part of the reason why he’s running for the AQMD eastern cities seat. He also wants to see more representatives on the AQMD from areas of low- and middle-income populations.

“This is about the 710, as well as the diversity of the board,” Ly said. If elected by the mayors of 34 cities, he would work for clean fuels and more bike lanes, things he has always supported. He said on those issues, he is in sync with Cacciotti.

Sierra Club activist David Czamanske of South Pasadena said business groups, including the Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed), were lobbying to remove Cacciotti. BizFed CEO Tracy Rafter said she did not send a letter to the mayors. The organization did support Judy Mitchell, another AQMD board member, last year, she said. “We pay attention to AQMD board stuff. We do encourage competition,” she said.

Ly, who was a BizFed board member, said he would not be surprised if business groups are supporting him. He was CEO of the San Gabriel Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce from 2011 to 2013.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has asked mayors to support Cacciotti. In an email to Alhambra Mayor Luis Ayala, Gail Koretz, the mayor’s local government liaison, said Cacciotti was a “strong advocate for the environment” and added: “With recent changes in the board’s composition, Mike’s credentials as an environmentalist are important to our shared goals.”

The meeting of the City Selection Committee of the Eastern Region of Los Angeles County is open to the public. It is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Duarte Community Center, 1600 Huntington Drive. All San Gabriel Valley cities are able to vote, plus San Fernando and Santa Clarita.

A candidate needs a majority of votes and a majority of population from the 34 cities.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Bold Transportation Plan for Urban America—Dead on Arrival

The DOT’s $98 billion 2017 budget has a lot to recommend it, and virtually no chance of approval.

 http://www.citylab.com/cityfixer/2016/02/obama-budget-dot-transportation-2016/462021/

By Eric Jaffe, February 10, 2016

 Image U.S. DOT
 The Long Street Bridge in Columbus, Ohio.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s newly released fiscal 2017 budget is about 70 pages long, but you need only look at the cover to catch its drift. The lead image shows the pedestrian-friendly, tree-lined Long Street Bridge in Columbus, Ohio, which reunited two neighborhoods separated in the 1960s by an interstate—a fate shared by so many urban districts. Lest the point get lost, the $98 billion budget makes clear that future transport policies must “reconnect” communities, where past ones “divided” them.

The 2017 DOT budget may get laughed out of a Republican-controlled Congress in this election year, but it nevertheless outlines a bold national transportation policy with American cities at its center. Unlike the recently passed FAST act, which stayed true to historical spending habits that favor highway expansion and worsen congestion, the new budget does more than nod at real change. In that sense it’s truer to the DOT’s 30-year “Beyond Traffic” vision that hopes to pivot away from car-first planning toward more mobility choices.

Some of the raw numbers: Public transit funding would nearly double under this budget, from $11.8 billion in fiscal 2016 to just short of $20 billion. TIGER grants that jumpstart so many metro area projects would rise from $500 million to $1.25 billion. Specific capital projects that gain mention for funding starts include L.A.’s westside subway extension ($125 million), Honolulu’s driverless train corridor ($244 million), and Albuquerque’s gold-standard BRT project ($69 million). High-speed rail gets back on the federal wish list at $7 billion.

Among the plan’s boldest elements is its empowerment of metropolitan planning organizations. MPOs currently craft the long-term plans for urban regions but lack the direct funding might of state DOTs, which often remain locked in a road-building mindset left over from the interstate era. The new budget calls for MPOs to receive billions in direct funding to make their own decisions—a reasonable charge given that traffic and transport-related climate impacts tend to emerge at a regional level as powerfully as the local one.

 Driverless transport technology gets more than a wink, with a chief expected result being safer city travel. The White House already revealed its $4 billion plan for autonomous vehicle development and large-scale testing, and the budget makes clear that this investment has “better, faster, cleaner urban and corridor transportation networks” in mind. Positive train control, the intercity train advance that would greatly reduce human errors like the one that caused the wreck of Amtrak’s Train 188, also gets nearly $200 million.

The plan is especially explicit when it comes to “Clean Transportation Plan Investments,” which together amount to some $320 billion over 10 years. One sharp component would reward states that cut greenhouse gas emissions—frowning on road expansions that increase vehicle miles traveled, similar to the new policy being developed in California. A clean communities program would help cities and towns do things like expand bike and pedestrian networks and reconnect “downtowns divided by freeways,” like Columbus.

The clean elements of the budget plan would be funded by the $10-a-barrel oil tax that the White House unveiled last week. It’s not a gas tax, per se, since it targets producers rather than consumers, but it might as well be, since companies may pass on the fee to drivers—potentially adding 24 cents a gallon to gas prices. That seems like a big bump only in the context of U.S. fuel costs that rank among the world’s lowest, and while middle-class families might feel the hit, they would also gain something in cleaner air, safer travel, and less-congested roads.

Still, the barrel tax was pronounced “dead on arrival,” and the 2017 DOT budget as a whole received a similar greeting from Speaker Paul Ryan, who called it “a progressive manual for growing the federal government at the expense of hard-working Americans,” according to The New York Times. Some divides still await their great bridge.

Preliminary Federal Ruling Sides With Beverly Hills Against Metro Subway

http://la.streetsblog.org/2016/02/09/preliminary-federal-ruling-sides-with-beverly-hills-against-metro-subway/

By Joe Linton, February 9, 2016

 Early version of possible Purple Line Subway alignments studied through Beverly Hills. Image via Metro

Last week, United States District Judge George Wu issued a ruling [PDF] in Beverly Hills’ legal battles against Metro’s plans to tunnel the Purple Line subway beneath Beverly Hills High School.

The Beverly Hills Courier portrayed the ruling as a victory for Beverly Hills in that Judge Wu chided subway proponents for “not properly considering the environmental effects of running a tunnel through an area riddled with abandoned oil wells and pockets of potentially explosive methane gas.”

Though the judge sided with Beverly Hills, agreeing that the subway environmental studies did not fulfill all the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the decision is more of a split ruling with some of Beverly Hills’ winning points more nitpicky than substantive.

There are a couple of lawsuits with multiple parties involved. The plaintiffs include the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District. The defendants include Metro and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). For the purposes of this article, SBLA simplifies the parties to “Beverly Hills” against “Metro.”

The ruling last week is in the federal court case; Metro won the state court case last year.

The lawsuit primarily centers on Beverly Hills’ criticism of Metro’s decision to relocate the planned Century City stop from Santa Monica Boulevard to Constellation Boulevard.

Metro studied numerous subway alignments, and ultimately chose a route that places the Century City station at the intersection of Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars. Though Constellation and Santa Monica are one block apart, Metro found that Santa Monica Boulevard would not work due to earthquake faults. The Constellation alignment effectively necessitates tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.

All in all, Beverly Hills raised nine issues where it asserted that Metro’s environmental studies (Environmental Impact Statement – EIS) failed to meet NEPA requirements. The court sided with Beverly Hills on half of those issues. In effect, though, Beverly Hills effectively only needs to prevail on one issue to find that Metro failed NEPA.

The conclusion of the 217-page ruling [PDF] reads:
The Court concludes that [Metro] failed its disclosure/discussion obligations … in connection with [Beverly Hills’] comments concerning the effects of tunneling through gassy ground and the risk of explosions; that it failed its disclosure obligations regarding incomplete information concerning seismic issues; and that it should have issued [additional environmental studies]. The Court also concludes that [Metro] failed to properly assess “use” of [Beverly Hills] High School under [recreational land law] due to the planned tunneling. In all other respects, the Court rules in favor of [Metro].
Metro, via spokesperson Dave Sotero, issued a statement on the ruling:
After a thorough review, Metro concludes that Judge Wu’s tentative rulings uphold the approved plans to build the Century City subway station at Constellation and to tunnel safely beneath Beverly Hills High School. Some of the findings are procedural, requiring the FTA to perform additional environmental analysis and provide a further opportunity for public comment. The majority of extensive environmental work was deemed sound. If the ruling holds, Metro will support FTA in meeting these additional procedural requirements. Time is of the essence. Any significant delay resulting from this case could jeopardize the timely delivery of this critically important transit project for all L.A. County residents.
After the jump are summaries of the nine specific areas of dispute in the lawsuit. Following those are possible next steps in the case.


1 – Air Quality and Public Health

Beverly Hills asserted that Metro’s construction-related emissions air quality analysis was insufficient because the analysis did not account for local air quality, only regional.

The judge issued a mixed ruling on this point. It found that Metro “did not act in an arbitrary or capricious manner” considering air quality impacts. But, in regards to public health, the judge sided with Beverly Hills, asserting that Metro lacked “a more robust discussion of public health impacts at least insofar as NOx [nitrogen oxides air pollution] is concerned.”

2 – Methane Gas and Oil Wells

Beverly Hills contended that Metro did not sufficiently take into account the potential explosive dangers of methane gases and oil wells. Metro responded that underground gases and wells might be encountered, but Metro tunneling technology allows the agency to be successful getting through these safely.

The court responded that Metro analyzed oil well locations, and that Metro can tunnel safely through areas with oil wells, but sided with Beverly Hills that Metro had not “sufficiently crossed its t’s and dotted its i’s” regarding documenting potential impacts.

3 – Alternative Routing

Beverly Hills argued that Metro failed to analyze any subway routes to Constellation Station that would avoid tunneling under Beverly Hills High School, even though Beverly Hills presented alternatives that would do this. Metro cited a number of reasons why Beverly Hills’ alternatives were rejected, including that each would slow train speeds due to “sharp curves through Century City.”

On this issue, the court sided with Metro echoing Metro’s environmental studies: “[t]here is no reasonable tunnel alignment that does not pass under structures within the school campus,” taking into account the need “to achieve maximum safe train speeds between stations (by minimizing curves and grade differentials).” From the ruling: “In short, the Court concludes that [Metro] engaged in informed decision-making with respect to the assessment of alternatives relating to the approach to Constellation Station.”

4 – Predetermined Decision

Beverly Hills asserted that Metro showed favoritism using “the environmental analysis to rationalize a decision that had already been made.” Beverly Hills further accused Metro of making “a unilateral secret change of plans” in 2010 to route the Purple Line via Constellation Boulevard instead of Santa Monica Boulevard. Beverly Hills asserted that Metro manipulated seismic and ridership data to bolster its preordained choice. Metro responded that the Constellation vs. Santa Monica decision was made because technical studies showed that “there was no fault-free section along Santa Monica Boulevard that would be large enough to accommodate a station.”

The court standard here is interesting: “permissible partiality” is acceptable, but it can not get in the way of the project studies taking a “hard look” at alternatives. The standard of proof is pretty high; other cases where improper pre-determination was proved involved a “binding commitment” where project proponents signed contracts in advance of finishing environmental studies.

The judge called this “a very close question” stating “the analysis certainly appears to have been slanted in one direction” but that the slant was not bad enough to clearly be full-on improper pre-determination. The ruling sided with Metro because there was no evidence of “a binding commitment of any type involved here” despite “evidence that a Constellation Station location was preferred early on and that subsequent analysis favored that preference in ways that some people and organizations found reason to criticize.”

5 – Seismic Risk

Beverly Hills disputed Metro’s seismic data criteria for routing the subway under Constellation Boulevard instead of Santa Monica Boulevard. Beverly Hills asserted that Metro’s seismic data was incomplete, and criticized the agency for doing additional seismic studies after already approving the Constellation route. Beverly Hills asserted that Metro was not up front about uncertainties in its data. Metro asserted that environmental studies do not need “to affirmatively present every uncertainty.”

The court sided with Beverly Hills on this item. The court affirmed Metro in saying that the agency’s seismic risk studies were “reasonably thorough,” but stated that Metro failed to make “up-front disclosures of relevant shortcomings.” 

6 – Re-opening Environmental Certification (NEPA)

Beverly Hills asserted that because Metro did additional seismic studies after its environmental studies were approved, the agency should have re-opened the NEPA process. According to Beverly Hills, instead Metro “simply swept problems under the rug.”

The ruling sided with Beverly Hills on this, asserting that Metro should have issued additional environmental studies.

7 – Clean Air Act

Beverly Hills asserted that Metro only looked at Clean Air Act requirements pertaining to subway operations, and did not analyze air local air quality impacts for construction activities.
The court sided with Metro that its analysis was acceptable under the Clean Air Act.

8 – Public Land Usage

Federal law requires certain procedures be followed when a project impacts a park or recreation area. Beverly Hills argued that tunneling below (and constructing near) Reeves Park and Beverly Hills High School would impact recreation. Metro argued that the tunnel is far enough underground (and construction activity limited enough) that the project does not impact recreation.

Though the ruling stated that construction and the tunneling “would not substantially impair” recreation, the courts sided with Beverly Hills, stating that Metro “failed in its obligation to perform a sufficient … analysis concerning ‘use’ of the High School due to the tunneling underneath it.”

9 – National Historic Preservation Act

The court sided with Metro on NEPA.

What happens next?

Beverly Hills’ lawsuit challenges the environmental clearance for the entire 9-mile Purple Line subway extension – from Koreatown to Westwood. The project is broken into three sections.
In 2015, Metro began construction on the first section of subway extension. The initial section costs $3 billion and extends 3.9 miles from Koreatown to just inside the Beverly Hills border. That initial extension is anticipated to open in 2023.

Beverly Hills’ primary lawsuit contentions concern section two,  planned to tunnel below Beverly Hills, including Beverly Hills High School. Section two is not under construction yet, but Metro has begun preliminary investigation work, with utility relocation anticipated to start soon.

Phase three will take the line from Century City to the VA Hospital in Westwood.

As of 2015, Metro expected section two to open around 2026 and phase three to open around 2035. Metro CEO Phil Washington secured USDOT approval to expedite future subway phases, in part in support of connecting rail to UCLA in time for a potential 2024 Olympics.

Last week’s ruling is still preliminary. Both Metro and Beverly Hills will soon respond to the judge’s preliminary document. Then on March 14 all parties are due back in court again. On that date, or soon after, the ruling will be finalized.

A settlement appears unlikely. In an interview (minute 11) with Beverly Hills View last week, former County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky described earlier settlement attempts as “dead on arrival.”

If Beverly Hills and Metro are unable to come to terms, it is unlikely but theoretically possible that the judge could order the halt of the entire project, potentially including the initial section already under construction. This would be a huge mess.

A more likely, less drastic ruling would be re-opening the NEPA environmental review process, so Metro can “sufficiently cross its t’s and dot its i’s” probably before section two construction gets underway. Metro could appeal this ruling. Either a legal appeal or a re-opened NEPA process could result in delaying future subway phases. This would increase Metro’s project costs – both construction and legal – without necessarily altering the subway alignment. While some in Beverly Hills might see this potential outcome as a victory, it is not clear that Metro would make any changes to the alignment already selected. With public monies wasted on extended legal battles, instead of invested in school and transportation improvements, ultimately it appears that it will be the public that loses.

With the two sides far apart, maybe newer consensus-minded Metro board members — perhaps L.A. County Supervisor Shiela Kuehl and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti — could show leadership by reaching out to their Beverly Hills colleagues and trying to find some kind of face-saving middle ground.
After the March ruling, it should be clearer if the project will see any delays.

10 Ways to Lure People Onto Metro's Trains and Buses (VIDEO)

http://www.laweekly.com/news/10-ways-to-lure-people-onto-metros-trains-and-buses-video-6550441

By Hillel Aron, February 3, 2016

(See website for the video.)

Last week, a little paper called the Los Angeles Times ran a front-page story: "Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California."

Never mind that Gene Maddaus of the far littler L.A. Weekly broke the story of L.A. Metro's declining ridership four months ago.

No sooner had the Times posted the story than the transit-booster community lost their collective shit. Various excuses were tossed about like so many used-up TAP cards – Joe Linton has a very good summary of them here.

But the dream of a hyper-urbanized L.A., where we all ride the train to our skyscraper apartments and whisper sweet nothings to our sexy-sounding smartphones – oh wait, that was Scarlett Johansson in Her – has never felt further away.

But not to worry. The Weekly is here with 10 easy, if perhaps largely unrealistic and ridiculously unpopular, solutions to ripping the steering wheels from Angelenos' cold, dead  alive and well fingers.

10)  Build a big rail network
 
Rail in L.A. doesn't really go anywhere. Unless you live by a rail stop and are going someplace by a rail stop, it doesn't make much sense to use it.

As we speak, Metro is building out this nascent system: Expo Line will reach the sandy beaches of Santa Monica in May; the Purple Line (aka the Subway Not-Really-to-the-Sea) extension is under construction and so is the Crenshaw Line. But the Gold Line extension opens next month! I can't wait to ride to the Donut Man in Glendora!

That's still a bit thin. So transit boosters are proposing yet another sales tax hike, this one on the November ballot, to build more rail lines and pay for more buses and who knows what else.

9)  Make the damn thing faster
 
Only problem is, a lot of the trains aren't that great. Take the Expo Line. It's slow. It takes at least 30 minutes to ride from Culver City to downtown. When you factor in five minutes waiting for the train and 10-minute walks to and from your starting place and your actual destination, you're looking at a commute that's pretty much comparable to sitting in your car.

And why, again, did they build the Expo Line at grade, where it has to stop for cars at traffic signals? Oh right, to save money. Only problem is, that left Expo Line basically a glorified bus line.

8)  Add Wi-Fi
 
Buses are pretty nice these days – they're clean and air-conditioned! But maybe the millennial set would be more likely to ride buses and trains if they were given more amenities or could get some work done. Maybe it's time Metro added wireless Internet.
7) Give us way more buses
 
About three-quarters of L.A.'s transit riders take the bus, not rail. And yet bus service gets treated like the red-headed stepchild. Granted, buses are slower and worse for the environment than trains. But the nice thing is, they can go anywhere a car can. And Metro can shift bus routes around, based on jobs and neighborhood demand. Since Google Maps now shows transit data, it's never been easier for the casual rider to find the right bus.

City planners get this, and part of L.A.'s controversial mobility plan is to add more bus-only lanes to the city streets.

6)  Build more housing by rail — but make it crappier
 
Ever since Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's days, L.A. has followed a policy of "smart growth" — encouraging density without increasing traffic by building tall buildings near transit stops. Only one problem: That housing is new, and more desirable than some old stucco thing that's falling apart. It tends to be expensive, and the people who move into it can easily afford cars.

The median income for Metro riders is $15,918 — compared to the $55,909 median income citywide. Poor people, unsurprisingly, make up the vast majority of transit riders in Los Angeles.

So here's a thought: Why not build really crappy housing by transit stops? Maybe some micro units, like the kind a developer is trying to build on Skid Row.

10 Ways to Lure People Onto Metro's Trains and Buses (VIDEO)

5)  Raise the tax on driving 
 
Here's a popular proposal: Let's raise the gas tax. Or replace it with a tax on the number of miles you drive. This would discourage driving, and you could use the revenue to pay for roads and add more bus service.

4)  Cut the price of bus and rail fares
 
The Times pointed out that transit ridership started to fall when Metro raised fares and cut service. So maybe lower the fares.

Of course, someone has to pay for Metro's overhead and maintenance. The more you cut fares, the more taxpayers must pay.

But maybe you decide poor people deserve access to this service. Maybe you think that having more people on trains and buses is super-important and you don't care if it costs. Or maybe you're just trolling readers and throwing out counterintuitive ideas that no one likes!

3) Raise the price of parking
 
Speaking of trolling...

No but seriously. Whenever I go to downtown, I try to ride my bike or take the bus. It's not because I care about the environment. It's because parking in downtown Los Angeles is crazy expensive and hard to find.

There's an idea out there that Angelenos loooooove cars and will never ride buses or trains. But most people are rational. If they find something that is faster or cheaper, they might start to use it — some of the time. If it's both fast and cheap, they'll start to use it most of the time.
The low cost of parking, while obviously good for individuals, is bad for society in ways that I couldn't possibly cram into this already bloated listicle, so I'll just direct you to this fantastic Los Angeles magazine piece on UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking

10 Ways to Lure People Onto Metro's Trains and Buses (VIDEO)

2)  Embrace the newer meaning of ride-sharing
 
The Times cited the rise of Uber and Lyft as another possible reason fewer people ride on L.A.'s trains and buses. Metro still seems to think ride-sharing is what we do during our "first mile, last mile" — transit jargon for that space between Metro transit stops and our houses or jobs.
The real dream of transit boosters is to create a new class of Angelenos who don't own cars — or, at least, a new class of couples who share a car. Ride-sharing apps give the non–car owners a choice in addition to  buses, trains, cycling and, of course, walking.

1)  Wait 
 
It's not like traffic is getting better. Eventually, traffic may get so bad that a 30-minute Expo Line slog seems like warp speed
.
Or maybe we'll run out of gas all of a sudden.

The fact is, no one knows what the future will hold. Our birth rate is rather low, although people still move here. With rents eating up as much L.A. income as they do, more residents will surely consider going carless.

But the vision of a transit-centric Los Angeles was always further away than the politicians made it seem
.
And by the way, there's nothing wrong with fewer people using Metro. The whole point of L.A.'s transit expansion was to offer an option. Yes, transit needs revenue and political support, but we could all just decide that we care about having the option of taking a bus or a train, and we care about poor people being ableto get around. We're still gonna drive most of the time, but I'm glad we have the train for that one time of year I want to take mushrooms and go to Universal Studios, or ride a bus to Pershing Square for a Bernie Sanders rally, or take the train to the beach and pretend my phone sounds like Scarlett Johansson.

Obama’s Last Budget Lays Out a Smart Vision for American Transportation

http://usa.streetsblog.org/2016/02/09/obamas-last-budget-lays-out-a-smart-vision-for-american-transportation/

By Angie Schmitt, February 9, 2016

The White House released its 2017 budget [PDF] this morning, which includes more detail about the exciting but politically doomed transportation proposal President Obama outlined last week. Obama’s plan doesn’t have a chance in the current Congress, but it shows what national transportation policy centered on reducing greenhouse gas emissions might look like.

Obama had an awesome transportation budget in him all along. Photo: Iowapolitics.com via Flickr
If only candidate Obama had campaigned on this transportation plan in 2008.

Last week’s release sketched out a $10 per barrel tax on oil to fund a $30 billion increase in annual transportation spending. The budget gives us a closer look at what that $30 billion would fund.
In total, $20 billion of it would go toward programs to reduce GHG emissions and give people better options to get around without driving. Here are the details — keep in mind that with the GOP firmly in control of Congress, this is more of an aspirational document than a politically feasible spending plan.

Transit

The budget calls for an $8 billion increase in annual capital funds for transit, bringing the total to about $20 billion. Of that, about $16 billion would be divvied up to metro regions by formula to support maintenance and expansion projects, about 60 percent. Another $3.5 billion would boost competitive grant programs for expansion projects. The budget recommends funding in FY 2017 for Los Angeles’s Westside Subway, Southwest Light Rail in Minneapolis, Albuquerque Bus Rapid Transit, and Honolulu commuter rail, among other projects.


Highways, Streets, and Land Use

Past Obama budgets have called for large percentage increases for both highways and transit. This one includes more “highway” spending — $7.5 billion annually — but that would mainly go toward programs aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A $5.5 billion program called “21st Century Regions,” for instance, would bypass state DOTs, which are notorious for wasting funding on highway boondoggles, and instead fund regional planning agencies to build multi-modal projects and coordinate transportation and land use.

Intercity Rail

Obama proposes a 268 percent increase in rail funding, devoting about $6 billion a year to the nation’s intercity rail system. About $3.7 billion of that would be dedicated to system upgrades like fixing major bottlenecks. The proposal would also include $700 million for the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily-traveled route in the nation.

Freight

Obama calls for $1 billion a year for a new “multi-modal freight” program.

What It Means

With this budget proposal, Obama is laying out a long-term vision. Whatever he put out would have gotten shot down by Congressional Republicans, so why not aim high? The whole budget is loaded with political moon shots like increasing the minimum wage and tripling the child care credit for working families.

However, as a statement of goals and principles, Obama’s budget has value. The ideas will go nowhere this session, but they could gain momentum at some point in the future.

America doesn’t have much of a national transportation policy besides distributing money by formula to states and transit agencies. The Obama proposal would establish some unambiguous goals, like responding to the threat of climate change.

Too little, too late? For this presidency, sure. But a future president could pick up these ideas and run with them.

Anything but boring: World’s largest tunnelling machine, Big Bertha, is stuck under Seattle, Tweets an interview

 http://blog.archpaper.com/2016/02/worlds-largest-tunnel-boring-machine-stopped-tweets/#.Vru1q1J1bhU

By Ariel Rosenstock, February 2, 2016

 A close-up view of Bertha’s cutterhead. Flickr / WSDOT CC BY 2.0
 A close-up view of Bertha’s cutterhead.

Big Bertha, Seattle’s famous tunnel boring machine, is stuck underground again. Bertha was running for just under a month following a two year delay to fix a broken cutter head. And the machine has taken to Twitter, as we imagine it can get lonely so far beneath the city.


Filling the SR 99 tunnel access pit. Flickr / WSDOT CC BY 2.0
Filling the SR 99 tunnel access pit.

A little over two weeks ago, a large sinkhole formed while Bertha was drilling the over-57-foot-diameter Highway 99 tunnel to replace the earthquake prone viaduct. No one knows exactly why it happened. Just earlier that day, a nearby Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) barge tilted, offloading tunnel dirt into Elliot Bay and dismantling part of a dock.

The 15-foot-deep, 20-feet-wide, and 35-foot-long sinkhole was quickly filled with 250 cubic yards of concrete and sand.

But Bertha is still stuck. STP wants to start Bertha again, but the Washington State Department of Transportation (WDOT) hasn’t given them the necessary written permission to move forward yet. SDOT says they need more information.

But enough of the dismal facts and figures. And now, for something different:

The nonprofit blog Strong Towns interviewed @StuckBertha, Bertha’s unofficial Twitter account, in January. Enjoy some excerpts from their tongue-in-cheek conversation, below.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Report: Closing the 710 Freeway gap would take years and cost billions

http://canmua.net/california/report-closing-the-710-freeway-gap-would-take-years-321725.html

By Laura Nelson, January 20, 2016

Report: Closing the 710 Freeway gap would take years and cost billions : <p>Any major modifications to the unfinished 710 Freeway, one of Los Angeles County’s most persistent transportation controversies, would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete, according to environmental documents released Friday.</p> <p>In a <a href="http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/resources/envdocs/docs/710study/draft_eir-eis">2,260-page draft environmental report</a>, the California...</p>

Any major modifications to the unfinished 710 Freeway, one of Los Angeles County’s most persistent transportation controversies, would cost billions of dollars and take years to complete, according to environmental documents released Friday.

In a 2,260-page draft environmental report, the California Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority examined four construction options they say could address the congestion and health issues that stem from the 710’s abrupt ending on a surface street in Alhambra. The freeway is a favored route for truckers shuttling between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and distribution centers in central Los Angeles County.

"This area is widely considered to have an incomplete transportation infrastructure," Metro spokesman Paul Gonzales told the Los Angeles Times. "The way it affects the region is part of this study -- what it means for traffic, what it means for mobility, what it means for air pollution. We closely associate the 710 with a handful of specific cities, but it’s connected to the whole region."

To address the 4.5-mile gap through Alhambra and South Pasadena, the agencies are considering a bus system, a light-rail line, a freeway tunnel and a range of upgrades to the existing route, as well as the required "no build" option.

Building an underground freeway would be the most expensive option. Tunneling between the 10 Freeway and the nexus of the 210 and 134 freeways in Pasadena would cost between $3.1 billion and $5.6 billion and would take about five years to complete, the report said.

The $5.6-billion freeway option calls for side-by-side, double-decker tunnels to separate northbound and southbound traffic. The route would feature a 4.9-mile tunnel and 1.4 miles of surface-level freeway.

The $3.1-billion option calls for one double-decker freeway tunnel. Northbound traffic would use the two lanes on the upper level, and southbound traffic would use the lower level.

A 4.9-mile tunnel would be the longest in California, and almost as long as downtown Boston's 5.1-mile Big Dig tunnel. Under either option, drivers could be charged a toll and trucks could be barred from the tunnels, the report said.

A 12-mile rapid bus route would link Huntington Drive in San Marino to Whittier Boulevard in Montebello, according to the environmental analysis. Buses would have some dedicated lanes, and could run every 10 minutes during peak hours. Adding the bus routes would cost $241 million and take about two years.

A 7.5-mile light-rail line would cost $2.4 billion and would add seven stops to Los Angeles County’s growing rail system, the report said, connecting the Gold Line’s Fillmore Station in Pasadena with the East L.A. Civic Center stop. The route would run underground through Pasadena and South Pasadena, then run on elevated tracks through Monterey Park and East Los Angeles. Construction would take about six years.

The cheapest option would be to make the existing freeways and roads more efficient without major construction, the report says. That could include meters for on-ramps, synchronized traffic signals, and lanes that change direction during peak hours. Those options would cost about $105 million and take two years to complete, the report said.

Caltrans and Metro are accepting comments from the public until July 6. The Metro board of directors will choose a final option for the project sometime in 2016, Gonzales said.

The 710 project has $780 million in funding through Measure R, the half-cent sales tax for transportation projects that county voters approved in 2008. Selecting a light-rail or tunnel option would require that Metro seek additional federal, state or local funds.

Transit ridership, the obvious and the complex

http://thehealthycitylocal.com/2016/02/04/transit-ridership-the-obvious-and-the-complex/

By Frank Gruber, February 4, 2016

Last week the Los Angeles Times ran a story, by Laura Nelson and Dan Weikel, about how transit ridership has declined in Southern California at the same time that large investments have been made in public transit, mostly in the rail system. The article led with the fact that Metro’s boardings declined 10 percent between 2006 and 2015, notwithstanding billions of dollars of capital expenditures, and that Metro had also experienced long-term declines in ridership, going back to when L.A. transit ridership peaked in 1985.

Then the Times ran something of a counter piece, an op-ed by Ethan Elkind, a researcher and writer on environmental law and policy. Elkind explained some of the reasons for the recent decline in ridership, argued that the long-term decline is not as bad as the article made it seem because of the starting date the authors chose to compare to (more on that below), and why the future should not be so bleak for transit in the region, once the rail lines and extensions those billions are paying for have opened.

Then, today, there were four letters in the Times responding to Elkind.

Transportation issues are complex, involving at the micro level decisions that individuals make balancing myriad tiny factors and at the macro level decisions that governments make balancing massive public and private interests. To me, the Times story and the response to it illustrate how people can ignore this complexity at the same time that they fail to make obvious connections.

To begin with, the original article has contradictions. Its main point is that recent investments haven’t had a positive impact on ridership, but the article itself includes a chart that shows that since 1995 Metro ridership has increased from 362 million boardings per year to 453 million, an increase of 25 percent. When did the Blue Line, L.A.’s first new rail line, open? In 1990. When did the Red Line subway open? 1993. Green Line? 1995. Gold Line? 2003. What do you know, but there’s a correlation between when L.A. began investing in a modern rail system and when ridership
began to increase.
The Times' chart. (C) 2016 Los Angeles Times
The Times’ chart. © 2016 Los Angeles Times

What about the 10 percent decline since 2006? Well, the article answers that question, but you have to dig. Nelson and Weikel recount the history that after a settlement with the Bus Riders Union in the 1990s Metro added more than one million hours of bus service; as a result, ridership soared, reaching 492 million boardings in 2006 (very nearly the 1985 peak). Then what happened? Well, it’s right there in the article: the Great Recession hit, ridership which had been rapidly increasing leveled off, and then between 2009 and 2011 Metro reduced bus service by 900,000 hours. Hardly a shock, but there will be a correlation between reducing service and losing riders.

There are, of course, many factors that affect decisions that people make about how to travel. In the 30 years since the 1985 peak in ridership, many of the jobs that people once took transit to were moved outside of the region’s inner, transit-served core to places like Lancaster and the inland Empire (or, in the case of the garment industry, to Asia). Immigrants, who, as the article points out, use transit more frequently than non-immigrants, followed those jobs into sprawl-ville. We also have fewer immigrants now than in 1985. Given these trends, both demographic and geographic, it’s remarkable that Metro has about the same ridership today that it had 30 years ago (and don’t forget that 25% increase since 1995).

Reading the letters in today’s Times about the ridership issue illustrates that no matter how complex a problem is you can always try to reduce it to something you can express in a letter to the editor.

The first letter is from Santa Monica’s own Bruce Feldman, who presents himself as the classic Everyman, with “common sense,” in contrast to “scholars like Ethan N. Elkind.” To Feldman, it’s clear: Southern Californians “want real world steps that can be put into place quickly.” He says that we should dramatically lower the cost of public transportation, create more bus lanes and run buses every three to five minutes to make transportation “even more convenient than cars.” “That’s just common sense,” he says.

Hey, I agree. But does Feldman believe that anyone could accomplish those things quickly? I mean, does he know, for instance, how many years it took to wrestle the new bus lanes on Wilshire away from those Southern Californians of his who drive cars? Does he known anything about the politics (and federal financing) of fares? Does he know what buses cost?

Common sense is great, but does Feldman believe that he’s the first to think up this stuff?

Feldman concludes his letter with classic Amur’can anti-intellectualism, saying that he’s “sure academics will have plenty of theoretical reasons why I’m wrong.” I don’t think so! I mean, I read a fair amount of academic literature in this field and I’ve never read anything saying that lowering fares, increasing frequency, and speeding up buses would not attract more riders. The problems are not theoretical; they’re practical and political.

The second letter, wouldn’t you know it, comes from an academic, but one who agrees with Feldman. (This only goes to show that if you’re going to attack intellectuals be careful, because there’s going to be at least one whose pointy-head points the way you want it to point.) The letter, naturally, is from USC professor James E. Moore II, who has led a personal crusade for many years against building rail in L.A. As Times reporters often do, Nelson and Weikel quote Moore in their article, this time to the effect that Metro has been driving ridership down by spending on rail. (Maybe I mentioned this already, but since Metro began opening new rail lines, ridership is up 25 percent.)

Moore’s point in today’s letter is that if you lower fares, you increase ridership more effectively than by using the money to build rail. Although everyone likes low transit fares, particularly for poor people, around the world the cities that have the best and busiest transit systems, including the best service for working-class and poor people, are not cities where fares are cheap. And by the way, they usually have lots of rail.

Time is money for everyone, especially for people without much money since they need every minute they have to make money. If you treat your transportation system as an adjunct of the welfare system, you’re not going to have a good transportation system serving the people in the welfare system. (And nor will you have a system that reduces traffic congestion by attracting the non-poor.)

Every few weeks during the academic year I take the Metro 534 bus from downtown Santa Monica to Culver City, where I catch the Expo train to meet my wife at USC (where she teaches). We do this so that we can get some dinner and then hear a concert at Disney Hall or the Music Center. Mind you, my wife has her car at USC and we drive back, but we never regularly went to weeknight concerts before the Expo line opened, because for me to get or USC or downtown L.A. on the freeway would be a nightmare. I get on that 534 bus around 4:30 p.m. and it’s always packed, usually standing room only, full of workers coming home from jobs in Malibu and Pacific Palisades. We get on the freeway, and it usually takes 50, 55 or even 60 minutes to get to the train in Culver, where most of us passengers disembark.

When the train opens in Santa Monica in May, those passengers, our transit-riding heroes, will be able to exit the bus and get on the train here in Santa Monica, and a trip that now takes almost an hour to Culver City will take 15 minutes, saving them up to 45 minutes in each direction.

And the ride will be smooth.

Thanks for reading.

We Need to Make Transit Part of Our Lives

https://www.metrans.org/blog/we-need-make-transit-part-our-lives

By Lisa Schweitzer, February 4, 2016

There are always questions about where you should slice data. The rail fans online have thrown a fit over the LA Times decision to begin in 1985, arguing that the numbers are misleading and that rail has been a success since 1995 in bringing people back to the system. If you look at the "ridership peak" graph (from the LA Times article), you’ll see that ridership has grown since 1995, not declined. Is that the right period to use to evaluate productivity? Or should we go all the way back to 1980 figures, which would make our current ridership look better than the 1985 beginning?

image
Source: Calculated by the author

It might be more helpful to use ridership per capita. During the time period, LA County, which covers the most of Metro’s service area, also grew in population. Probably the best way to suss the numbers is via ridership per capita, which I have roughed out here. There has been growth since 1995; in 1995, we had about 40 trips per year per person living in LA County. in 2015, the number is up to 44 rides per person. We’ve spent approximately $20 billion on capital improvements during the entire time frame, and capital improvements are supposed to last. These up-front costs are meant to attract riders years and years into the future, long after the up-front costs have been paid.

It’s way beyond the scope of what I can write about in a blog post to test that claim. We’d like to know exactly how much those 4 additional trips per person cost us to get. But Metro as an agency has expanded tremendously from the 1986 time period onward, with each successive sales tax proposition that passes. Even since 2011, the agency’s budget has gone from around $3.9 billion to $5.6 billion, but that includes highway projects as well since the passage of Measure R.

So are the ridership numbers terrible? No, just…meh. Underwhelming, even if we start with 1995. The market share numbers, for just about every travel diary we run in Los Angeles, show that we aren’t moving the dial much in the old transit-versus-auto choice even if we are getting more trips. Trains cost quite a bit to build, just like everything in California is expensive to build, and if the rail advocates want a system, they have to convince other, less enthusiastic people that rail investment is super-duper, way worth the taxes collected. The promises can’t be small because the investments aren’t small, and as a result, transit capital projects get sold with a lot of hoopity doo and fanfare. We get promised the world with each new ballot box measure and list of investments. These are meant to clean up the environment! Make us thin! Clear up congestion! Whee!

And then, another train line opens, but it’s not world-changing. It’s nice, and useful to people who have access to it. Some new riders hop on, and some existing riders get somewhat better service. Traffic doesn’t get better, really; it only gets worse more slowly, and that’s the boring reality of most investment. The overpromise of budgetary politics often mismatches the slow ground game of incremental change in mobility services and urban environments.

Nonetheless, Angelenos have voted to support Metro and its activities in 3 out of 7 times out of the chute. They can be convinced to support the spending, and voters—and their representatives on the Metro Board—appear to support the system expansions. It’s hard for me to argue with democratic preferences.

In terms of alternative policy or planning solutions, we need to do much better with land use and station-area development. First of all, I think Metro is prevented by state law from acquiring land near stations except for Metro's immediate operational uses, and that means they are not allowed to buy up land for joint development. That’s a dumb rule, for Metro and for some real estate submarkets, because Metro is in a better position to take on land development risk than private developers in certain parts of the region.

Secondly, I think the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) needs to start getting tougher with its allocations for new starts. FTA should refuse to fund projects where the local city has not already increased allowed zoning densities and granted approvals around the proposed station areas. As it is, we have people who are demanding, and getting, $100+ million rail investments to serve their single-family suburban developments, and that’s no way to get good returns on capital investments.

And we really need to stop cutting bus service. There is no way that LA becomes a train-only market. The "last mile" problem is significant in most markets, not just in LA, and the idea that we can build up our trains and starve our buses simply dooms us to lose passengers because LA’s geographically distributed employment means that most transit commutes are likely to involve a modal transfer. If that transfer is awful, transit loses that trip to another mode.

I do think Metro could do more with running specials and ‘ride free’ days and using specials to pique interest. For example, we are having a free museum day this weekend. It could also be "free ride to free museum day."

Metro also needs to do better in working with employers and with other institutions. For instance, Metro did absolutely nothing when USC discontinued its support for transit riders. Regardless of whether USC’s transit subsidy program attracted many riders, it was a signaling and leadership moment when USC axed its program. Metro’s leaders didn’t say "boo" in response. The LA DOT didn’t say "boo." For all the prancing around our Mayor and other state Democrats do about alternative transportation, they did diddly to stand up to USC. When one of the region’s largest employers kicks transit support to the curb, agencies like Metro and the DOT, and our Mayor, need to show leadership, set the tone, and say "Hey, wait a minute. We know this program costs you money, but we’re trying to accomplish something here; we’re trying to build transit as a way of life in this city. Why are you bugging out on us?" That episode is so discouraging because it shows how much LA’s elected leadership wants to dig into taxpayers’ pockets at sales tax time to make sure the pretty trains get built, but how little real political capital our politicians wield in helping riders ride the pretty trains once they actually get built.

And finally, if Angelenos want transit to work, they have to do more than just add a few pennies to their sales taxes and cut ribbons in front of new trains. They have to get on the system and make it a part of their lives. I don’t think it’s possible that transit can outcompete the car until the auto environment gets really miserable, and LA is a long way from that. People don’t have to give up their cars to make a difference; taking transit a couple times a week, for lunch, to get to work, to go on a weekend outing with the kids—those are small changes that can bring people onto the system. If it is going to be a public system, the public has to be on it. Taking transit is a virtue. It’s good for the city. And it’s good for public life. And yeah, it’s probably going to take extra time, you’ll have to walk a bit, and chances are, you’ll associate with people you wouldn’t normally. Suck it up and get on the buses and trains if you want better numbers here. It’s on Metro, but it’s also on all of us, too, to make the system we’ve been building into what it could be.
There are always questions about where you should slice data. The rail fans online have thrown a fit over the LA Times decision to begin in 1985, arguing that the numbers are misleading and that rail has been a success since 1995 in bringing people back to the system. If you look at the "ridership peak" graph (from the LA Times article), you’ll see that ridership has grown since 1995, not declined. Is that the right period to use to evaluate productivity? Or should we go all the way back to 1980 figures, which would make our current ridership look better than the 1985 beginning?
image
Source: Calculated by the author
It might be more helpful to use ridership per capita. During the time period, LA County, which covers the most of Metro’s service area, also grew in population. Probably the best way to suss the numbers is via ridership per capita, which I have roughed out here. There has been growth since 1995; in 1995, we had about 40 trips per year per person living in LA County. in 2015, the number is up to 44 rides per person. We’ve spent approximately $20 billion on capital improvements during the entire time frame, and capital improvements are supposed to last. These up-front costs are meant to attract riders years and years into the future, long after the up-front costs have been paid.
It’s way beyond the scope of what I can write about in a blog post to test that claim. We’d like to know exactly how much those 4 additional trips per person cost us to get. But Metro as an agency has expanded tremendously from the 1986 time period onward, with each successive sales tax proposition that passes. Even since 2011, the agency’s budget has gone from around $3.9 billion to $5.6 billion, but that includes highway projects as well since the passage of Measure R.
So are the ridership numbers terrible? No, just…meh. Underwhelming, even if we start with 1995. The market share numbers, for just about every travel diary we run in Los Angeles, show that we aren’t moving the dial much in the old transit-versus-auto choice even if we are getting more trips. Trains cost quite a bit to build, just like everything in California is expensive to build, and if the rail advocates want a system, they have to convince other, less enthusiastic people that rail investment is super-duper, way worth the taxes collected. The promises can’t be small because the investments aren’t small, and as a result, transit capital projects get sold with a lot of hoopity doo and fanfare. We get promised the world with each new ballot box measure and list of investments. These are meant to clean up the environment! Make us thin! Clear up congestion! Whee!
And then, another train line opens, but it’s not world-changing. It’s nice, and useful to people who have access to it. Some new riders hop on, and some existing riders get somewhat better service. Traffic doesn’t get better, really; it only gets worse more slowly, and that’s the boring reality of most investment. The overpromise of budgetary politics often mismatches the slow ground game of incremental change in mobility services and urban environments.
Nonetheless, Angelenos have voted to support Metro and its activities in 3 out of 7 times out of the chute. They can be convinced to support the spending, and voters—and their representatives on the Metro Board—appear to support the system expansions. It’s hard for me to argue with democratic preferences.
In terms of alternative policy or planning solutions, we need to do much better with land use and station-area development. First of all, I think Metro is prevented by state law from acquiring land near stations except for Metro's immediate operational uses, and that means they are not allowed to buy up land for joint development. That’s a dumb rule, for Metro and for some real estate submarkets, because Metro is in a better position to take on land development risk than private developers in certain parts of the region.
Secondly, I think the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) needs to start getting tougher with its allocations for new starts. FTA should refuse to fund projects where the local city has not already increased allowed zoning densities and granted approvals around the proposed station areas. As it is, we have people who are demanding, and getting, $100+ million rail investments to serve their single-family suburban developments, and that’s no way to get good returns on capital investments.
And we really need to stop cutting bus service. There is no way that LA becomes a train-only market. The "last mile" problem is significant in most markets, not just in LA, and the idea that we can build up our trains and starve our buses simply dooms us to lose passengers because LA’s geographically distributed employment means that most transit commutes are likely to involve a modal transfer. If that transfer is awful, transit loses that trip to another mode.
I do think Metro could do more with running specials and ‘ride free’ days and using specials to pique interest. For example, we are having a free museum day this weekend. It could also be "free ride to free museum day."
Metro also needs to do better in working with employers and with other institutions. For instance, Metro did absolutely nothing when USC discontinued its support for transit riders. Regardless of whether USC’s transit subsidy program attracted many riders, it was a signaling and leadership moment when USC axed its program. Metro’s leaders didn’t say "boo" in response. The LA DOT didn’t say "boo." For all the prancing around our Mayor and other state Democrats do about alternative transportation, they did diddly to stand up to USC. When one of the region’s largest employers kicks transit support to the curb, agencies like Metro and the DOT, and our Mayor, need to show leadership, set the tone, and say "Hey, wait a minute. We know this program costs you money, but we’re trying to accomplish something here; we’re trying to build transit as a way of life in this city. Why are you bugging out on us?" That episode is so discouraging because it shows how much LA’s elected leadership wants to dig into taxpayers’ pockets at sales tax time to make sure the pretty trains get built, but how little real political capital our politicians wield in helping riders ride the pretty trains once they actually get built.
And finally, if Angelenos want transit to work, they have to do more than just add a few pennies to their sales taxes and cut ribbons in front of new trains. They have to get on the system and make it a part of their lives. I don’t think it’s possible that transit can outcompete the car until the auto environment gets really miserable, and LA is a long way from that. People don’t have to give up their cars to make a difference; taking transit a couple times a week, for lunch, to get to work, to go on a weekend outing with the kids—those are small changes that can bring people onto the system. If it is going to be a public system, the public has to be on it. Taking transit is a virtue. It’s good for the city. And it’s good for public life. And yeah, it’s probably going to take extra time, you’ll have to walk a bit, and chances are, you’ll associate with people you wouldn’t normally. Suck it up and get on the buses and trains if you want better numbers here. It’s on Metro, but it’s also on all of us, too, to make the system we’ve been building into what it could be.
- See more at: https://www.metrans.org/blog/we-need-make-transit-part-our-lives#sthash.LoRTdtP6.dpuf