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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

Bike Lane Construction Makes Progress Despite Weather Delays

February 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Here’s a couple of pictures I’ve taken of the construction of the new protected bike lanes being added to 3rd Street and Broadway in downtown Long Beach.

 

The new curbs will reduce both streets to two lanes of vehicle traffic instead of three, and only take away a couple of parking spaces per block. Traffic signals for bikes were installed a while ago. The construction is expected to last until the second week of March.

Drivers living in areas affected by the construction can still obtain a free parking permit for a city parking lot while construction is taking place here: https://www.thepermitstore.com/lb/event/

More info can be found at: http://www.dlba.org/downtownprojects

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/

Cross-Country Lessons: Biking

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Before moving to Long Beach, I was excited to find out that the city was among the most walkable and bike-friendly in the nation. While I don’t currently own a bike, and biking to work isn’t feasible for me, but I believe that streets should be built for everyone: cars, buses, walking pedestrians, and cyclists. “Complete streets” is an important part of fostering the energetic, interconnected communities that make great places to live.

Long Beach is lucky enough to have its own bikestation downtown on the 1st Street Transit Mall. Here, members can park their bikes 24/7, access bike related amenities like air and tune-ups, and get discounts to sales and rentals. The public is also welcome to free parking during business hours.

It was announced earlier this year that St. Louis would be getting it’s own commuter bike station and shop downtown in the 411 building at 10th & Locust.

As the project comes closer to reality, St. Louis is seeing a change from a spread out and auto-dependent region to a more accessible and healthy one. Both the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County have made great strides in the past several years to promote cycling, make roads safer, and develop bicycle trails. This new commuter station will do something very important for cycling in St. Louis: it will show the importance of providing bike-friendly amenities to people other than just cycling enthusiasts and give value to alternative methods of transportation.

I remember reading somewhere last year that in order to make St. Louis more bike-friendly, we need commuters, consumers and neighbors- not cyclists. It should be easy and safe for people to get to work, school, or the store no matter their chosen method of transportation: on a bike, in a car, or on foot.

This is where St. Louis can learn from Long Beach. Based on what I have observed, and October’s disastrous critical mass event, it seems that many people are confused about bicycle laws, and this could be what is driving the generally negative perception the public has toward bikes. If people on bikes knew to stop at stop signs, wait for the light to turn green, stay to the side of the road, and use turn signals, there might not be as many issues or accidents, and most likely, fewer complaints about cyclists. It is the responsibility of both the public and the city to make sure that cycling is safe, effective, and recognized.

If St. Louis’s new Bike station is as successful as it appears it will be, the region will take a giant step in diversifying public amenities and making St. Louis more accessible to all.

Soon, I hope to have a post on the new protected bike lanes in downtown Long Beach.

 

St. Louis Commuter Bikestation on Facebook
Long Beach Bikestation

New Bridges in STL and LBC

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently, KPCC ran a story on the replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge which connects downtown to the Port of Long Beach and Terminal Island. According to the story, the bridge’s replacement will carry an additional lane of traffic, and will most likely be built alongside the current bridge, making traffic adjustments much cleaner.

As it stands, the current structure is worn and crumbling, carrying a great deal of national imported goods from the port up the 710 Freeway.

I use this bridge a few times every week to get to work and from simple observation it looks ready to be replaced. KPCC reported that an estimated 4,000 jobs will be created for the construction of this bridge alone over the next five years.

 

Similarly, construction on St. Louis’s new cable-stayed Mississippi River Bridge (NMRB) has already begun. Currently, the Poplar Street Bridge (PSB) carries three interstate highways, while the Martin Luther King and Eads Bridges carry urban traffic. This new bridge will reroute I-70 to Illinois North of downtown St. Louis, while the PSB will continue to carry traffic for I-55 and I-64. The new bridge will not replace any of the existing bridges that connect St. Louis to Illinois, but is being built to alleviate the growing traffic problem.

Now that I’ve been commuting in LA County, it’s easy to see why it is important to stay ahead of the anticipated traffic flow. The question must be asked however, whether the projected job creation will be worth the projected cost.

As someone who loves urban architecture, the NMRB looks like it will be a gorgeous addition to the St. Louis metro landscape. The choice to build a cable-stayed bridge sets it apart aesthetically from much of the region, and may bring national notoriety. I’m excited to see what the new bridge in Long Beach will look like. If you drive past the current GD Bridge along the 47, across Terminal Island, you will come to the iconic Vincent Thomas Bridge, my favorite part of my commute.

 

Sources: New Mississippi River Bridge Project, KPCC

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