Thursday, March 5, 2015

A Sunset - Santa Monica Blvd. Light Rail Line would be popular. Should we advocate for one?

The Expo Line project, the second-half opening of which we are eagerly awaiting within months, began as a grass roots advocacy project.

One project idea that people talk to me about as a dream of theirs is a rail project on Sunset Blvd. between Downtown and Sunset Junction, which then continues on Santa Monica Blvd. toward West Hollywood. Such a project could then potentially be extended further west on Santa Monica toward the beach or south on La Cienega.

I think such a project would be nifty and very popular, and I know I would ride it almost every day.  Here is what a sample map might look like for such a project:



Does this idea have any grass roots support?  Such a project would likely need to be above ground if enough money were to be raised to build it.  This means taking road space away from parking and possible traffic in places.  I think that is a price worth paying, but there would be some community opposition as there is to every transit project.

What do you think?  Do you like this idea?  Are you willing to work for it?  We'd have to bring political, business, community, environmental, labor, and neighborhood leaders of every variety aboard in a coalition to make this happen.

The important thing to remember is that the Expo Line has already proven that it CAN happen.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Silliest Question of the Election Season: "Where are we going to park (in Downtown L.A.)"? - Gloria Molina

One candidate made me laugh at loud with a question so utterly ridiculous that I was literally stunned speechless (but not for long).

After complaining about "too much density" in downtown Los Angeles, former Los Angeles Supervisor Gloria Molina asked the question "where are we going to park?"

I am frequently baffled by people who genuinely still expect a 1970's Southern California style low-density, low-traffic, car culture transportation experience in 2015 in the middle of popular urban neighborhoods, as opposed to in the genuinely low-density suburbs.  But for any politician who's been in office for as long as former Supervisor Molina to imply that Downtown has "too much density" in hope of extending her political career just a little longer is among the worst form of NIMBY-ism I've seen in awhile.

Here is a hint to Ms. Molina and anyone else who may be upset about "too much" density in downtown Los Angeles.  Downtown is where density is SUPPOSED to go.

The Red and Purple heavy rail subway lines are there.  The Blue and Gold and Expo light-rail lines are there.  The regional connector is being build there.  Union Station and Amtrak and Metrolink is also there, along with the DASH bus system and buses from every transit authority in the County.  Even modern streetcars are coming back there soon.  Every major metropolitan city in the world has a vibrant downtown area with lots of density and lots of transportation options in addition to driving an automobile and parking a car.

So let me answer the question for the former Supervisor with sincerity rather than being snarky -- for it is entirely possible that someone who is still caught in the old car culture mindset is genuinely baffled about how to respond to the changes taking place to Southern California transportation to make it multi-modal as every other world metropolis.

The answer to "where do I park?" in Downtown Los Angeles is as follows:
  • You leave your car at a Metrorail or Metrolink train station, or an express bus park and ride and commute into downtown.
  • You leave the car at home and hop on a bus heading downtown with millions of others, or grab a Taxi or Uber or Lyft.
  • You use a mode of "active transportation" and hop on a bicycle and walk part of the way.
  • You use one of the downtown parking lots with expensive parking rates because the law of supply and demand rations those limited spaces according the laws of capitalism.
To find out more about Metrorail and Metro buses, click here.

To find out more about Metrolink Commuter Rail, click here.

To find out more about Los Angeles Department of Transportation Commuters Buses and Dash circulator buses, click here.

Your local transit authority probably also has an express bus going to/from Downtown.

Is this really so hard?  Downtown Los Angeles is NOT a suburb.


Some thoughts on the West Hollywood City Council Election and where we go from here

First, let me say I love living, working and playing in West Hollywood.

I correctly predicted the top five candidates, but had no clue about the order of finish, but believed Mayor John D'Amico would be the top vote getter and he was.  Here are the totals at present.  There are still 700 provisional ballots to count, and with less than one hundred votes separating the second, third and fourth place candidates it is still conceivable, though I am not sure how likely, the outcome could change. So these numbers are not final, but this is probably but not definitely the order of finish, which we should definitely know by Monday (incumbents are starred, top three are elected):

John D'Amico*               1,892
Lauren Meister               1,750
Lindsey Horvath             1,692
John Heilman*                  1,664
Joseph Guardarrama          1,525
Larry Block                          826
James Duke Mason              307
Matthew Ralston                  283
Christopher T. Landavazo    276
Tristan Schukraft                  224
Brian Funnagan                     79
John Allendorfer                    73

I heartily congratulate Mayor John D'Amico on his re-election to the City Council, and to likely City Councilmembers-elect Lauren Meister and Lindsey Horvath.

No matter how any of us voted, we should all thank John Heilman for 30 years of devoted service to West Hollywood.  That's 30 years of dedication to the city we love.

A word to Joe Guardarrama.  You came so agonizingly close.  I hope you will consider running in the special election in June to replace Jeffrey Prang.   But please do not go away.  West Hollywood needs you.

A word to James Duke Mason.  Most great politicians did not win their first campaigns.  Your heart is clearly in the right place, so here is a tip.  Every candidate in the race was a progressive champion.  Just running as a progressive wasn't enough to distinguish you in a progressive city like West Hollywood.  Local elections in general are about land use planning, economic development, social services, public safety, transportation, and quality of life issues.  You have a future, and I am sure you learned a lot in this race, so do not be discouraged.

I thank ALL of the candidates who ran no matter how many votes they received.  Most candidates who run for office do not win, and politics is a experience of disappointment and heartache more often than not.  Whether we agree with the platforms of any or all of these candidates, they all deserve our thanks for putting themselves forward to take the slings and arrows.  Every city should have the caliber of candidates we have for West Hollywood City Council.

Clearly from the results in thus far, many voters of West Hollywood are concerned about what they fear are too large developments, and they fear the changes brought by increasing density, and want to ensure West Hollywood keeps its unique character.

However, here is what will not change in West Hollywood no matter whom is elected when the final numbers are released: Increasing traffic and density.  That's correct.  I said it out loud.  Anyone who thought they were voting for any particular candiate because they could bring back a low-density, low-traffic, suburbanesqe experience in West Hollywood was only living in the past and hiding from an inevitable future, not just for West Hollywood, but for its environs.  Sorry to break the news to you.  Well, I'm not so sorry actually, because I don't ever want to go through another West Hollywood election where it appears as if traffic and parking are our only transportation concerns.

I compare West Hollywood in Los Angeles County to Luxembourg in the European Union.  West Hollywood is an extremely desirable part of it, but has very little actual control over the politics and economic forces determining the whole of it, and must ride the wave of whatever it happening.  Increasing density and traffic is happening throughout Los Angeles, especially in Hollywood and mid-City and "Manhattanization" will continue. (Disclaimer:  I lived in New York for several years and there are very desirable parts of Manhattan.  There is a reason why so many people want to live there, so do not fret.)

It is my contention that the golden era of the single-occupancy automobile in California, where we all drive cars on clear, low-traffic roads, and treat people who ride public transit as the marginalized poor who can be ignored, and dismiss cyclists as freaks who should be avoided, is over.  In fact, West Hollywood already knows that to be true, and voted 84% for Measure R in 2008, more than any other city in Los Angeles County, because it wants transportation alternatives to simply sitting in their car in heavy traffic.  There will still be millions of cars in Southern California, but it will be multi-modal, like every other major metropolitan region in the world.

So now is the time for all of us, whomever we voted for in this election to come together and find transportation solutions for not just West Hollywood, but all of Southen California that work for the 21st Century.  Here are some policy questions to begin discussing:

  • Do we remake "Fountain Speedway" with bicyles lanes and traffic calming so that it serves our residents best?  
  • Do we remove curbside parking on Santa Monica Blvd. to create transit lanes that could also be used by a streetcars or light-rail that connects to SilverLake and downtown, and if so, were can we put alternative parking?  
  • Do we wait possibly twenty years for a subway to be built here, or, do we take away parking or a traffic lane on Santa Monica Blvd. for an above ground mass transit solution that can be built in within five?  
  • How do we reduce the pedestrian accidents that have plagued our city recently?  
  • How do we work cooperatively with Beverly Hills, Los Angeles City and County, the neighborhood councils of Los Angeles, and other entities to solve those problems and create opportunities that benefit all of us?  

This blog will continue to explore those questions that were not even discussed in this election.

On a personal note, like many, I started as a angry young man in politics and policy.  But, as I have grown older and matured, I have grown into someone who is focused on finding solutions and improving the quality of life for all of us.  If someone wants to keep looking backward at a West Hollywood and a Los Angeles County and Southern California where only cars mattered in transportation, and everyone else was simply marginalized or ignored, then this blog probably isn't for you.  In fact, the future of Southern California probably isn't for you.

But, if you want to find solutions that work for everyone -- motorists, cyclists, transit riders, pedestrians, all peacefully co-existing and mobile -- let us find those solutions, because they future is already upon on us, and West Hollywood, the creative city, will likely be in the forefront of it.

Monday, March 2, 2015

West Hollywood City Election 2015: The truth no one will say about traffic and parking.

Sometimes I feel like I am speaking up for the forgotten people of WeHo. 84% of us voted for Measure R in 2008, more than anywhere else in Los Angeles County. People here want more and better transit and cycling options. Yet nearly all the City Council candidates when they talk about transportation issues, if at all, they talk about making parking easier and cheaper, which will only attract even more cars here, making it even harder to get in and out of WeHo, under streets still designed for the 1970's, not the 21st Century.

Since I am not running for any office, I can be honest and tell some hard truths about traffic and the future that need telling, that yesteryear-looking NIMBYs do not want to hear.

Here is the cold hard reality. Traffic is only going to worsen in WeHo in the future as we are a small island surrounded by Los Angeles, regardless of what West Hollywood plans for itself.  Think of us as like Luxembourg in the European Union.  We are a desirable part of it, but have very little influence over the economics and politics of the whole of it. West Hollywood can make changes to its transportation planning in order to ride the wave of the future, and retool WeHo's streets for the future, with bus lanes, bike lanes, and possibly even streetcars or light-rail, and a subway in the future.  Hey, throw in synchronized lights if you want.

But ANY candidate for City Council promising a return to a 1970's era low-density, low-traffic, suburbanesqe lifestyle for West Hollywood (and this goes for Hollywood, Mid-City and its environs as well) is just being dishonest and/or delusional and/or pandering to voters who only see, "gee it is getting harder to park in Boystown without paying".

Such populism may be politically effective and it may even work for this election cycle.  We will see on Tuesday.  But the reality is that the glory days of personal ownership and operation of a single-occupancy automobile in Southern California are behind us even if WeHo doesn't develop another thing, and we need to think of a transportation vision that includes not only cars, but multi-modes of transportation to/from and within West Hollywood.

In no way am I arguing against trying to preserve WeHo's character by rejecting oversized developments.  That is important.  I am instead advocating an acceptance of what we can and cannot change -- and talking about how we plan for a future that isn't even being discussed this city election.

I've been in a place in my personal and career life where I have not been able to keep up this blog as much as in the past, but I wish I had done more this election to bring public transit, bike lanes and Metrorail front and center into the campaign.  It is utterly disheartening to see candidates talk about traffic and parking as if it is still 1987, and as if the future won't happen.  But the squeaky wheel is what gets the grease, and parking advocates squeaked the loudest.  I wish I had done more, perhaps formed a local organization which could have squeaked a little louder to bring transportation alternatives to the forefront of the election.

In any event, West Hollywood is an amazing city -- beautiful, creative, fun, fiscally healthy -- and I am glad I live here... no matter who wins on Tuesday.

P.S.  Let me again recommend the books "Human Transit" by my friend Jarrett Walker, who also writes a great blog about transportation planning.  I also recommend Don Shoup's "The High Cost of Free Parking".

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Metro Can Now Upgrade the Orange Line to Light Rail (when funding becomes available)

Horray!  Governor Brown has signed AB577 which repealed the law banning surface rail along the Chandler Right-of-Way in the San Fernando Valley.   

Now that this law has been passed, and there are no legal restrictions, the Orange Line may now be planned for a light-rail upgrade.

Of course, there is no such funding for such an upgrade, and any such upgrade will have to compete with all the other proposed rail projects competing for funding.

But the good news is that the Valley will not be condemned to BRT only transit planning while the rest of the county sees rail expansion.

And the San Fernando Valley deserves an east-west light-rail line and a north-south light-rail between Sylmar and LAX.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Any progress on passenger rail to Palm Springs?

I regularly get asked if there is any progress on getting daily passenger rail between Los Angeles to Palm Springs.

Here is what I have been able to find.

The Riverside County Transportation Commission passed a resolution in October 2013 supporting daily intercity rail service from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley.


Here is the current RCTC Fact Sheet on the project.

In the maeantime, I am wondering how that Sunline Transit Commuter Bus 220 service is fairing.  Also, I have friends who occasionally take Amtrak from Los Angeles to Fullerton and then catch the Amtrak bus to the Coachella Valley and then back the same way when returning.  Those Amtrak buses are nice and have WiFi.. 

Two big questions remain:  

(1) Should passenger rail service between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley be a Metrolink operation or an Amtrak operation?  If there are sufficient people who would commute daily to work from the Coachella Valley and Riverside or even Los Angeles, the Metrolink makes sense.  If this is more resort and holiday travel, then perhaps Amtrak is the more suitable carrier.  Either way, we all want to Palm Springs and Coachella Valley having daily stops in the morning and evening.  And if that happens will Palm Springs upgrade its station with amenity or two?

(2) Competition with Freight Rail for use of those tracks.  Right now the freight rail carriers do not want to share the tracks for daily passenger rail service.  Approximately 40% of America's incoming goods go through the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, so you can see why.  Is the answer for the federal government to make them share the tracks with passenger rail through regulation or is it to find the money to build more tracks or both?  

That is where we are at and as soon as I know more I will let you know. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Positive Sign for Los Angeles - Palm Springs Passenger Rail Service

According to a Desert Sun article, recent draft of the 2013 California State Rail Plan includes a Coachella Valley Route that would connect Los Angeles to Indio, expanding passenger rail service for the Palm Springs region.  The proposal calls for eight stops, with three — Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Indio — in the Coachella Valley.

So what has been the hold up?  Freight rail owning these rail rights-of-way.  From the article:


The project would require cooperation with Union Pacific Railroad, which may be the largest obstacle.
“The main challenge to implementation of passenger rail service in this corridor is securing cooperation with UPRR,” the draft rail plan reads.
“Service initiation is contingent upon an operating agreement with UPRR (Union Pacific Railroad) and securing necessary capital and operating funding,” the draft continues. Union Pacific officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The project would cost an estimated $161.7 million, which includes $83.4 million for trains, $62.6 million for new stations and $15.7 million for maintenance facilities, according to the rail plan.
Train industry watchers in the Coachella Valley say Union Pacific could be amenable to increased passenger traffic given the mostly public-funded rail upgrades in Colton that make freight traffic flow smoother.
“We’re going to hold their feet to the fire on this one,” said Robert Manning, president of the Southwest Rail Passenger Association. “I’m sure if we push, we’ll get this.”

What is not determined yet is whether this increased passenger rail service would be Metrolink or Amtrak.


Tourism officials in the Coachella Valley have long wanted better passenger rail service between Indio and Los Angeles, ideally with daily service — up from the three-day-a-week service the area currently receives via Amtrak — and at times better suited for weekend travelers.
The rail plan does not get into scheduling specifics or the operator of the line. Local tourism officials say they hope it’s Amtrak, which is well-suited for the 125-mile trip to Palm Springs.
“We in the tourism industry are pushing for Amtrak because of the better consumer experience over Metrolink,” said Tim Ellis, general manager for the Palm Mountain Resort and Spa in Palm Springs and vice chair for the Hospitality Industry and Business Council, a valley-wide consortium of tourism leaders. Metrolink operates commuter trains reaching areas like Riverside and San Bernardino.
“Metrolink has commuter cars designed to move many people on shorter trips,” Ellis added, characterizing them as “public transportation rather than an experience.”
Manning also said he’d like the Coachella Valley Route to be operated by Amtrak, which has indicated a willingness to operate the train service.


So who would you rather see operate the service, Amtrak or Metrolink?  At this point I'd cheer for either.

And it isn't just tourists.  This region is expecting explosive population growth:

The California State Rail Plan points out the significant population growth the region is expected to see in the next 30 years, with the Los Angeles-Indio corridor expected to add 5.8 million residents. Riverside County will experience the bulk of this growth — 52.4 percent. Added access to rail should be a vital part of the transportation picture and one that needs to be started today, Manning said.


Right now when I travel to Palm Springs I take Amtrak to Fullerton and transfer to an Amtrak bus with WiFi.  I look forward to hopefully taking the trip to Palm Springs on one direct trail soon.