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What “Carmageddon” Says About LA County

July 15, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s virtually impossible to avoid hearing about this weekend’s shutdown of I-405, as the media has been hyping “Carmegeddon” for weeks, but the fact that there is such a big deal to be made over the closure of such a short stretch of freeway (only 10 miles) over a mere 52-hour period, highlights what the rest of the nation has long criticized L.A. for: extreme auto dependency.

Hopefully, the right people are taking note and regarding the weekend freakout as reason for something to be done about L.A.’s auto addiction. Providing Los Angeles county citizens with the transportation options of other comparable cities would be a step in the right direction toward solving multiple problems in the area, including the infamous smog issue. In addition, wider freeways will probably just mean more cars, and not less traffic. In fact, a University of Toronto study recently found exactly that.

In all likelihood, enough people will be too afraid to use a car this weekend that the traffic situation will be no worse than any other weekend in L.A. Carmegeddon will probably be laughed about years later, and we’ll all feel foolish for worrying about nothing. Fortunately for those of us living in Long Beach, there’s plenty to do without needing to leave the city anyway, including a college volleyball tournament, free movie on the beach, and motorcycle festival at the Queen Mary.

Amidst all the hype however, the situation might encourage people to explore their immediate neighborhood. My advice? Take a walk! Ride your bike! Take advantage of free rides on Metro rail! Do something that doesn’t involve driving. You might find something really cool nearby that you never knew was there.

Metro Prepares for Cuts / My Thoughts

March 27, 2011 Leave a comment

“These are cuts, upon cuts, upon cuts,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who cast one of six dissenting votes on the measure; seven board members voted yes. “The only way this system is going to work is with a first-class bus system and a first-class rail system.” – Los Angeles Times

The above quote comes from an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on March 25, discussing what it calls “deep cuts to service” at a time when boosting the profile and service of public transit is needed most. Long Beach will only be directly affected by the discontinuation of a section of the 577X’s route to the Transit Mall, but changes elsewhere could make getting around the area more difficult.

With the price of gasoline on the rise again, it’s only natural that people will look toward alternative methods of transportation. In the United States, we have enjoyed relatively low fuel costs when compared to other countries, especially in Europe. Now that the LA area is again seeing $4.00+ per gallon prices, it’s clear why putting all over our “transportation eggs in one basket” isn’t going to work. In the same way that financial experts will suggest a diverse investment portfolio, we need to invest in a diverse transportation portfolio to make sure the public is served in the best way possible.

One startling aspect of public transit I’ve noticed since moving here is that there are too many municipal providers operating for normal people to make sense of it all. Metro alone operates Merto Local & Limited, Express, Rapid, Shuttles & Circulators, and Liner buses, in addition to the 45 other municipal providers that operate in LA County. I have made the comment before, as well as read multiple times on the blog St. Louis / Elsewhere, that one of the best ways to make public transit more convenient and reliable is to use one system. The common example is the Red and Gold line buses in St. Louis, serving Washington University. These lines used to be separate from the Metro fleet, and used as shuttles for Wash U students. But now they’ve been incorporated into the greater Metro St. Louis system and are available for use to all Metrobus riders. Since Wash U students get a Metro pass included with tuition, they have not lost out on service, and the surrounding community now benefits from increased convenience and availability. In Chicago, one Regional Transit Authority oversees three agencies. Compare that to the 45 agencies in LA County and it’s easy to see why Chicago is constantly seen as a leader in public and commuter transit.

This example is just a very small move that Los Angeles’ Metro could take into consideration in a much bigger way. Many of the 45 municipal bus operators could be folded into Metro with ease. The same routes could be kept with Metro branding, the local tax code could be simplified, riders wouldn’t have to worry about fumbling with a handful of Metro-to-Muni transfers, trip planning would become considerably easier, and the TAP card would see wider use. This would also make getting around much simpler for visitors and tourists, an important source of revenue for LA County.  Obviously, some of the larger providers like Long Beach Transit and Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus might be opposed to this idea, but whittling down the enormous list of 45 different agencies to just a few would be a major improvement for the cost and convenience to riders.

In a recent interview on the Patt Morrison show, MTA CEO Art Leahy seemed to express agreement with the use of “one system” in LA. However, he also noted some major problems with the system, such as an 80% on-time rate, and the poor security.

I have been the holder of St. Louis’s Student Semester Pass, Chicago’s 7- and 5-Day passes, London’s Oyster Card, and now LA’s TAP Card. I have seen multiple agencies forced to make cuts as they search for a long-term solution to fixing transit needs. LA actually enjoys relatively cheap fares compared to other big cities, yet lags behind most others in convenience and efficiency. In a recent message to the public, Leahy expressed his commitment to a quality transit system. I’m interested to see what happens next after the upcoming service changes.

 

Resources:
LA Times Article
Art Leahy on the Patt Morrison Show
Upcoming Metro Service Changes
Art Leahy’s Message to Customers & Taxpayers

Expo Line Video Highlights New Line Coming to Culver City

February 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I haven’t really been following anything on the new Expo Line that Metro is currently building, so this video they posted today was pretty interesting to me. I like the new line because I’ll be able to get to all of the fun stuff in Exposition park without using the awful Silver Line.
I’m excited for the new line to open later this year, and the expansion to Santa Monica that will come later. Hopefully, this means quicker, easier bus connections in the area. Los Angeles could use more light rail, especially on the Westside.

Follow Expo Line progress on their Facebook Page.

SR-710 Conversations asks about Transportation in your town

February 20, 2011 1 comment

First off, I apologize for the lengthy, unannounced hiatus I’ve taken. I know I don’t have many followers right now, but nevertheless, I’ve been away for too long.

If you are following Metro’s SR-710 Conversations on Facebook, you probably will have seen this morning’s post:

 

SR-710 Facebook Post 2/20/11

SR-710 Facebook Post 2/20/11

 

Regardless of your opinion on the 710 Gap project itself, this presents an interesting opportunity to tell Metro what can be made better by by explaining what you like about existing transportation in your area.

Since I’m in Long Beach, at the very South end of the 710 Freeway,  I have mixed feelings about the project: Do we really need to be investing more money in an already absurd highway system? Will the benefits of extending the 710 to Pasadena outweigh the cost, environmental impact, and inconvenience of the affected neighborhoods? Who are we really trying to please with this project, local commuters or the trucks coming from the port? Would this money be better spent expanding light rail and freight rail?

To address the actual question SR-710 Conversations poses, there’s a lot to be said about transportation in my area. For the most part, the streets of Long Beach are mapped out on an easy-to-navigate grid system, which makes the time it takes to get from home to the store considerably less than if we had winding suburban roads.

Right now, construction is underway on a project that would add to the bike friendly reputation of Long Beach. We are adding protected bike lanes downtown on Broadway and 3rd Streets, complete with separate stop lights and sidewalk planters, to make bike travel easier and considerably safer. This is in addition to our miles and miles of bike paths, the sharrows in the Belmont Shore neighborhood, and the downtown Bikestation.

Public transit here is something to be proud of. In addition to it’s stellar service, Long Beach Transit operates four bus lines that are free to ride downtown which benefits locals and tourists alike. The Downtown Transit Mall, also under construction, will provide a central commuting hub for the LBT fleet, Metro buses, Metro Rail, Torrance Transit, and LADOT.  I love taking the Metro Blue line in and out of Long Beach whenever I can.

As far as freeways go, I’m somewhat pleased with the way they connect Long Beach to the rest of the Los Angeles/Orange County area. In St. Louis, the freeways cut right through the heart of the city, and in many cases, restrict new development. In fact, there is a large movement in St. Louis to remove and reroute a section of I-70 through downtown, replacing it with a pedestrian and vehicle-friendly “boardwalk.” Traffic in the LA area may be bad, but we also have things like HOV lanes to help alleviate the congestion. Perhaps the traffic problems on the 710 would be partially alleviated if the trucks had a separated express lane like St. Louis has on I-70 North of downtown.

If you live in an area affected by the SR-710 study, you are only doing yourself and your community a favor by responding to their social media outreach.
http://www.metro.net/projects/sr-710-conversations/

LB Passport v. STL Downtown Trolley

November 14, 2010 2 comments

Metro St. Louis' Downtown Trolley. Photo: nextstopstl.org

Before I moved to Long Beach, I did a little research on the public transit in the area. Having previously heard how bike and pedestrian friendly the city was, I was eager to see the extent of the bus system. In St. Louis, I used the bus and Metrolink when I lived in South City to get to school, the Galleria, the comic shop, sporting events downtown, and the bars and shops on South Grand. I had a Metro Student Pass and used public transit whenever I could. When I moved back to South St. Louis County, taking the bus was more difficult because my neighborhood was only served by two routes. It became even more difficult when the bus routes were cut back in 2008 (thankfully, they were later restored with the help of federal funds). However, despite having good ridership numbers, public transit in St. Louis maintained somewhat of a negative reputation. I heard all the usual complaints: it’s inconvenient, doesn’t go where I want to go, seems unsafe, etc.

Earlier this year, Metro St. Louis created a somewhat gimmicky way of getting people to change their ideas about transit: The Downtown Trolley. This bus route runs in a constant loop through downtown St. Louis, taking riders to major points of interest in the area for just a $2 all-day fare.  While it isn’t an actual trolley, the bus wears a fun, painted wrapper, the idea seems to work. I took it myself once over the summer while researching for some bar reviews. At first, the idea of the trolley seemed gimmicky and wasteful to many, but much excitement was eventually generated, and the idea took off. Metro used to operate a “Downtown Circulator” route, but it generated little excitement, and it seems few actually knew about it. Does the success of the new trolley mean it’s gimmick is what made it work?

Fortunately, Long Beach Transit has something similar in downtown LBC. The Passport is a similar idea to Metro St. Louis’ Downtown Trolley- it takes riders to major points of interest and attractions in the area and provides a great way for visitors to see the city. The Passport however, consists of not one, but four bus lines, and is free at all times when ridden downtown (regular fare is required East of Alamitos Blvd.).

LB Transit's Passport. Photo: flickr.com/photos/fredcamino/

The positive impact of riding the Passport is immediately apparent. I have ridden it on several occasions to go to the Queen Mary, the Convention Center, and Shoreline Village.

The idea of a bus route focused on local attractions and tourism is not a new one, but any transit system will benefit from it. Long Beach Transit has created a successful formula in branding the Passport as a separate system integrated into the larger LBT system: Passport buses have noticeable red wrappers, routes marked with letters instead of numbers, and it’s own name (“let’s take the Passport!” sounds different from “let’s take the bus!”).

So maybe the gimmick is worth it. Both the Passport and the Downtown Trolley have a wrapper that separates them form other buses, clearly defined routes mapped at each stop, and are often marketed to tourists. What do you think? Have you ridden either bus? What can the two transit agencies learn from one another? Is their success exaggerated?

Sources: lbtransit.org, metrostlouis.org, nexstopstl.org