Saturday, October 23, 2021

What Next For CSUN and Metro? and What About Metrolink?

Numble has reported on Twitter that it is unfortunately looking increasingly like Metro is going to scrap the North San Fernando Valley Bus Rapid Transit Project.

Valley NIMBYs have won again.   The biggest loser with this decision are the stakeholders for California State University, Northridge (CSUN) who were hoping to get a mass transit line to serve the campus.

While I did not attend CSUN myself,  I certainly value that it is a diverse university with 38,500 students that adds 1.9 billion into our local economy annually.  From an equity standpoint, CSUN deserves as much to have access to a mass transit line as UCLA and USC.  And, quite frankly, the alternate promise of a local bus every ten minutes just doesn't cut it.  But I like like to be in the solution.  So what can we do for CSUN instead?

Here is a Metro map of the San Fernando Valley prior to the implementation of the NextGen service plan ended nearly all of the Rapid buses.

As you can see, CSUN was served by a Rapid bus on Reseda Blvd.  Therefore, easiest and cheapest alternative to serve CSUN now that the North San Fernando Valley Bus Rapid Transit project appears doomed would be to put bus lanes on Reseda from the G ("orange") Line.  There could be G1 buses running between North Hollywood and Chatsworth, and added G2 buses running between North Hollywood and CSUN.

A future extension of this could have bus lanes running on Reseda all the way to Ventura, and then over to Universal City Station.  (For some reason, Ventura Blvd. always gets left out of these discussions when it is one of the prime destinations and transit corridors in the Valley).  This way, when the G1 line is inevitably upgraded to light-rail, the G2 can keep running as a BRT.

There is one other mass transit approach that needs to be re-considered:   Double-tracking Metrolink/Amtrak between Chatsworth and VanNuys.  Coming Amtrak/Metrolink improvements and run-through service at Union Station will increase rail demand and possibilities in the area as commuter rail turns into regional rail.  

We need to take another attempt at double-tracking this rail corridor.  Whether than means improving the design for it, or building a bigger coalition, we need to do it.  The future regional transportation needs here are too important to just give up entirely.  

As part of this double-tracking, the Northridge Station can be reconfigured to be friendlier to CSUN, although there is a free shuttle now.

What do you think?  How would you best serve CSUN with mass transit?

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

"I want to make Metro the first choice in transportation that people think about" - Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins

At Metro's State of the Agency presentation, new CEO Stephanie Wiggins uttered some powerful words that gave me goosebumps.:

"I want to make Metro the first choice in transportation that people think about. In great cities around the world: London, Paris, New York, D.C., taking mass transit is normal and expected. In those cities, it's just what people do. In those cities, public transportation is their obvious choice. I want Angelenos to think that way."

This is a bold and powerful statement.  It's the vision of Los Angeles public transportation that I have always had -- where it is not seen as merely "welfare mobility for the poor who would surely buy cars if they could", but as a viable, primary, and environmentally sustainable means of transporting oneself everywhere one needs to go.  I want the mobility experience I had living in New York and London, right here in Southern California.  I don't expect everyone to make that choice, of course.  However, it should be an option that is thought of as "normal" and "reasonable" for a world class metropolitan County like Los Angeles.

More power to her.  She has my full support. 

Wiggins also mentions the importance of equity and compassion, and that law enforcement will not the first resort in dealing with homelessness.

I really appreciated her honest admission that the rollout of NextGen last week could have been better,:  "We have learned some tough lessons over the last week."  She promised more accountability, transparency, and clearer communications about fare collection and the NextGen rollout.

Also speaking on the program was incoming Metro Chair, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis.

I encourage you to watch the whole program.  Wiggins begins her remarks at minute 34:

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

How Metro Can Do Better Next Time

This is not a bash Metro post.  I believe in Metro's mission, want Metro to succeed, and for Los Angeles County to have a world class transit system on the level of New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo.

But let's be honest.  Metro's rollout of its Service Changes on June 27, 2021, and its NextGen Service plan, was poorly executed.  Metro's new CEO Stephanie Wiggins admitted as much in a note on fares, enforcement, and service changes.  It is welcome to see Metro publicly acknowledge there was a problem.

Kenny Uong, who is quickly making a name for himself in Southern California for his transit advocacy and enthusiasm blogged on Twitter his experience seeing confused riders all over the system, who had no idea that the service changes were happening or what they were, and bus stops still having old signage.  

As of writing this post, Metro still had old bus service maps from 2017-18 on its website, which is certainly not helpful for anyone trying to figure out how to navigate the current system today.  Not everyone riding Metro has a smart phone or can easily use an app like Transit or Google Maps. 

Metro had also issued a confusing "TAP where you can" statement, with bus operators quoting fares that riders were unprepared for paying.  

Fortunately, Metro provided clarity today.

What we should have been doing this week is celebrating Metro's more frequent service on certain lines and the rollout of the new bus lanes on Alvarado.  Unfortunately, this was all overshadowed for many riders, especially for those who depend on transit as their primary source of mobility. 

However, this can be a learning opportunity.  Here is how Metro can do better when rolling out service and fare changes in the future:

  • New systemwide maps should have been designed and publicly released prior to enacting service changes. People need to see how the system works as a whole. More frequent service should be colored differently than less frequent service. Create an "owl service" map too.  San Francisco MUNI posts current service maps at all of its bus shelters.  Why can't Metro do this as well?  (This is also free publicity as pedestrians walk past the maps and can see all of the places that the bus system goes.)

  • Bus stop signage should be changed prior to enacting service changes, with flyers warning about the start date at all affected bus stops.  As Alissa Walker tweeted, "If this was a freeway the signage would have been replaced overnight."

  • Metro needs clarity on fares and to issue advance notice of fare changes. Either we have them or we don't. Metro can opt not to enforce fare collection, but be clear about the policy.  As Metro buses can broadcast messages like, "Service changes begin ______", or "Masks are required", or "Go Dodgers!", buses could also broadcast messages like "Fares to resume on ______".
    Also, for convenience, TAP readers should be posted on the left of the front entrance of every bus to speed the boarding process for everyone.

In short, have everything in place for the ridership BEFORE enacting service changes or fare increases.

It is truly wonderful that Metro is expanding rail service throughout the County which has my full support.  Now let's also give its bus system the upgrade its ridership deserves, like transit lanes on all major corridors.  

Friday, May 28, 2021

Another Way to Provide Bus Rapid Transit to Cal State Northridge

Metro Los Angeles is currently studying a bus rapid transit (BRT) line for the North San Fernando Valley.  Here is what the current alternatives look like.

However, all is not well with this project.  Acccording to Numble on Twitter, Metro is considering caving into NIMBYs on this project.

This would be disastrous for transit riders in this area.  In particular, this would leave California State University, Northridge (CSUN) out of our growing mass transit system.  If this terrible-case scenario occurs, I've been thinking about how else to serve CSUN.

One idea that has long been discussed is to have branch services from the "Orange" Line (now the "G" Line) on other busy north-south corridors in the San Fernando Valley.  One of these proposed busy corridors is Reseda Blvd.  

My proposal would be to have a branch service of the G-Line going north-south on Reseda, east-west on Nordhoff, and CSUN along White Oak as seen below.  We'd have G1 service between North Hollywood Metrorail station and Chatsworth Metrolink/Amtrak Station, and G2 service between North Hollywood Metrorail station and CSUN.

But we can see from this map even though we would still serve CSUN, what a large east-west gap in mass transit we are leaving out of our system in the North San Fernando Valley.  I really hope NIMBYs do not prevail here.  We need BOTH the proposed North San Fernando Valley BRT and a Reseda Blvd. BRT.

Also, coming to the San Fernando Valley will be a "Sepulveda" Line (hopefully as heavy rail and not monorail) between the Valley and the Westside, as well as a planned BRT route connecting North Hollywood to Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena.

A note for the future.  Eventually, the G-Line may be upgraded to light-rail.  A further enhancement I would support for this new Reseda Blvd. BRT is to run it between Universal City station and CSUN via Ventura Blvd.  Somehow Ventura Blvd. keeps getting left out of our San Fernando Valley mass transit conversation, when we should already be installing bus lanes on it.

And, of course, we should be doubletracking and upgrading the Metrolink/Amtrak rail corridors as well.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Next Steps Toward Universal Health Care in America

Much was discussed about health care in this past election, but with narrow Congressional majorities coming in 2021, it remains to be seen what will actually change federally.  The Affordable Care Act ("ACA") was meant to be a first important step in health care reform -- a step to be built upon over time until we achieve universal access to health care.  

If the whole topic of health insurance and health care is a mystery to you, I highly recommend watching  Knowing Better's excellent and entertaining video explaining America's health care system, Healthcare | The Complete Moderate's Guide.  He will clearly explain premiums, deductibles, co-pays, Medicare, Medicaid, and the V.A. System.

I am going to assume from this point forward that you know what a premium is, what a deductible is, and what a co-pay is.  If you don't, then please watch the above video.

New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize Winner Paul Krugman has written about universal health care as requiring three basic components:

  1. Everybody In (either through taxation or a mandate to buy comprehensive health insurance);
  2. Nobody left out (no one can be denied health care or coverage due to pre-existing medical conditions or medical history);
  3. Government Subsidies (to help make health care accessible to all.)

The United States could learn a lot from what is already working around the world.  Universal health care is provided and financed by a variety of methods around the globe, some of which Healthcare Triage has done brief video descriptions:

  • In Switzerland, people are required to buy private health insurance on tightly regulated markets -- much more regulated than the ACA is currently. People buy voluntary supplementary insurance to cover co-pays.
  • The world's top rated system is in France,  Everyone must pay for mandatory health insurance.  Voluntary health insurance provides supplemental policies.  Providers are both public and private. Co-pays are lower in France and quality is high.

  • It wouldn't take much for the ACA to evolve into a system similar to Germany's.  Health insurance is mandatory, tightly-regulated, and non-profit.  Long-term care insurance is mandatory too.  Hospitals are both public and private.

  • Australia's public "Medicare" system operates alongside a private system. About half the people have private insurance.

  • Singapore has an interesting model.  Great outcomes with low percentage of GDP spent on healthcare.  Singapore has a mixture of public and private health care spending and public and private health care delivery systems.  There are also five tiers of service you can pay for.  What makes it unique is its reliance on mandatory Health Savings Accounts.  Workers are required to put aside 20% of their income into savings for various usages, including for health care expenses such as insurance. There is also an additional inexpensive catastrophic illness program that 90% of the population participates in.

  • In Canada they have "single-payer health care" which they call "Medicare", which is similar to our Medicare program for senior citizens.  Interestingly, single-payer started in one Canadian province and spread nationwide province by province.  If the Federal government gave statutory permission for states to use Federal Medicaid money to help create single-payer systems in their states the same thing could happen here.

  • In the United Kingdom, taxpayers pay for a publicly-owned and operated health care system that directly provides service through the National Heath Service.  The closest equivalent to this in America is our Veterans Affairs system.

  • Taiwan has proven that you make a major leap from a system of private insurance to a single-payer model in one swoop. 

President-Elect Biden ran on a platform with a credible health care plan that included adding a robust public health insurance option open to everyone, as well as overcoming red-state, holdout resistance to the ACA's Medicaid expansion, and strengthening Medicare.

Unfortunately for my fellow progressives, a direct Taiwan-esqe leap from what we have now to Medicare-for-All is likely not on the cards.  It couldn't pass the Senate.  Even getting any kind of federal public option or Medicare-Buy-In through a narrowly divided Senate with a legislative filibuster will be extremely tough.

As a backup plan, I would encourage Congress to pass a law that gives states statutory ability to use their Medicaid funding to establish public options open to all and/or single-payer systems within their states.  A few blue states could start a nationwide trend similar to what happened in Canada in how their "Medicare-for-all" system started in one province and went national.

One of the ways I would improve the existing ACA is to add adult dental, vision, and hearing benefits to the available plans for purchase on the exchanges.  Currently, those benefits are available those benefits are available to children on ACA "Bronze", "Silver", "Gold", and "Platinum" plans.  Let's add "Diamond- level plans which also include adult dental, vision, and hearing benefits too.  Yes, people could go purchase those benefits separately if they want them, but we want to make peoples' lives simpler and easier, not more complicated.  One-stop shopping would be helpful and worth it to many people.

There are also public option proposals currently floating in Congress, including ones that would call for a Medicare-administered public health insurance option.  One would hope that Democrats would use the Senate filibuster-bypassing, budget-reconciliation process to make it happen.

Social Security and Medicare were first established as limited programs and then gradually built upon over time into the universal programs as we know them today.  Let's keep moving forward in health care until we have universal access to insurance and care.  Let's not get stuck though on assuming that only one specific model of universal health care is acceptable.  The world offers us lots of examples of he we could move forward, and all of them are an improvement.  If we remain flexible in approach, we will get there sooner rather than later.  The ACA offers federal and state flexibility to compromise and do just that if we will allow it.

Link the coming Sunset and La Cienega Bus Rapid Transit Corridors

 Here is a Metro Los Angeles map of potential transit corridors for possible upgrade to Bus Rapid Transit.   

Metro  recently released it's top five priorities for Bus Rapid Transit corridors.

The La Cienega BRT Line would run from Slauson to Santa Monica Blvd.  Why not link this BRT Line  to the new proposed Sunset - Cesar Chavez BRT Line via Santa Monica Blvd. and/or Sunset Blvd.?

That map may off on scale, but a BRT Line between the ocean - Venice - La Cienega - San Vicente - Santa Monica - Sunset - Cesar Chavez - Union Station sounds pretty cool, doesn't it?  Actually that alignment works really well as a streetcar/tram too.

(As a side note, La Brea is also targeted for future BRT.  Well, if La Brea is already getting BRT, then surely the Crenshaw Metrorail Northern Extension project should flow at least as westerly as Fairfax.  La Brea doesn't need both, especially when we compare a potential stop to serve The Grove / Television City at Beverly & Fairfax, versus the two gas stations and a car rental at Beverly & La Brea.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Revitalizing West Hollywood After the Pandemic

I've been doing a lot of walking around West Hollywood to get my 10,000 steps in daily and I am distressed by the number of closed and vacant storefronts I see on my routes.  Not just stores, but bars and other entertainment venues are shutting down.  This is causing great concern among people who love this city.

"And the Band Played On" in the Micky's photo s an ominous reference to the last pandemic which is not over, by the way.  HIV/AIDS is still a thing.  (Please check out Randy Shilt's amazing book and the Emmy-winning TV movie if you have never read or seen either.)

When this new pandemic hit it was unknown if we were going to be able to bounceback rapidly from shutting down as we hoped.  It is now clear that this is not the case.  Much of this has been beyond the City of West Hollywood's control.  We have a incompetent and corrupt President who treated Coronavirus like a "hoax" and failed to take the necessary actions to control the virus, which meant the economy could not recover quickly.  Re-opening a country too soon that did not shut down properly, not only did not spur the economy, it spurred the virus.  We also have a giant chunk of seemingly delusional people who treat COVID-19 as if it were simply overblown media hype or think that mask-wearing and social distancing shouldn't apply to them because they are special or infringes on their "freedumb" to infect other people.

So, lacking the leadership and social solidarity of countries like New Zealand, South Korea, Germany, and Japan, America is in for a long slog where over 200,000 will likely perish from COVID-19 by November and the American economy continues its spiral into its worst downturn since the Great Depression.

Many people who live in or love West Hollywood are asking themselves, 'What kind of city will we come back to when we finally emerge out of this pandemic and the resulting economic catastrophe?"  In particular, there is concern that West Hollywood's two great entertainment zones, the Rainbow District and the Sunset Trip, will lose their unique characters and become generic and no longer representative of their respective histories.  

Some businesses are making the best of this situation.

At Block Party WeHo, it is "Pride All Year Long", and they have begun setting up shop outdoors.

Even Yogurt Stop is getting into the act.  

I am all for this adaptation.  Hopefully, businesses like these will be able to survive and that indoor shopping will return before the rain starts.

Many restaurants who are lucky enough to have outside seating are able to use that to serve customers.  Some which have not had outside seating before have converted parking lots seating.  Hamburger Mary's has recreated its fun atmosphere outside.  It was fun enjoying the music at atmosphere.  Hey, I'm open to drag bingo outdoors at night.

The Sunset Strip has been quiet during the shutdown, but Carney's is still serving a great chili dog.

However, if it is going to be several months or a couple of years before a vaccine, and even longer before the economy bounces back, what is going to happen to the Rainbow District and Sunset Strip, particularly to its empty storefronts and shuttered nightlife?  Will it be generic chains that slap a rainbow flag or guitar sticker on the door that come in and we simply call it a day?  What about the small businesses that made this city great?   What can the City of West Hollywood do about this?

Of course, the Federal government has certain powers, our state governments have certain powers, and local governments are given certain powers by our states in our federal system in America.  The City of West Hollywood cannot control the overall national economy, nor can we tell a private property or business owner what to do with their asset, but we can try to encourage and influence how we want our entertainment districts to revive with how we design our public spaces and approve planning and permits.

I don't have all the answers for revitalizing our entertainment districts, nor should any one person determine how this is to happen.  But here are my suggestions for moving forward and at least getting the process started:

(1) I suggest the City establish an official Rainbow District Task Force and a Sunset Strip Task Force asked to coming up with a series of recommendations and action items on how to economically revitalize while still maintaining the historical character of these two entertainment zones.  These Task Forces are not about creating new administrative layers, but about engaging the community.  The revitalization of the Sunset Strip and Rainbow District after the pandemic should include input from all its stakeholders. Excite the community by involving the community.  An excited community leads to prosperous local businesses too.  

(2) I suggest expanding the mandate of the Arts & Cultural Affairs Commission to the "Arts, Cultural and Entertainment Affairs Commission" so there is a standing body in the City to review fun, creative public nightlife events for the City to help things along.  Perhaps we could allow street buskers on Sunset Strip and drag queens to perform for the public in the Rainbow District, as examples.

(3) I suggest the City establish an Affordable Housing Task Force that will be asked to recommend methods of creating more affordable housing for artistic and creative people who are currently priced out of living in West Hollywood.  For example, there may be non-traditional types of housing such as loft spaces, communal spaces, converted empty commercial spaces, SRO's, that we designate for people in the arts and entertainment industry. 

(4) I suggest establishing a Public Banking Commission.  California passed a new law authorizing municipalities to establish public banks which can use their funds to reinvest in their communities.  West Hollywood should jump on this new opportunity.

(5) I recommend The Pick Up Line entertainment shuttle be rerouted so the western turnaround takes people up to the Sunset Strip as seen below, and perhaps join with the City of Los Angeles for a "Super Entertainment Shuttle" (see previous blog post) that includes Hollywood and Theatre Row.

Proposed new Pickup Line alignment
Proposed Entertainment Supershuttle alignment

Revitalizing the Sunset Strip and Rainbow District isn't only about preserving the character and culture of West Hollywood, as important as that is in itself.  It's also about preserving the tax base that pays for our quality services.  At my last glance, the city's hotel tax is its largest revenue source, and if we want people to lodge in our hotels, we need to give them incentive to spend the night in our fun, creative city.

Here is some good news.  There will always be change.  Businesses and people come and go in life.  Here is one that opened in mid-city area.  I can recommend the coffee at gget ("Go Get 'Em Tiger").  Don't lose heart.  Happy Days will someday be here again.

There is an election in November.  I'm not running for anything, but I invite all the candidates who are running to share with us their ideas for revitalizing the Rainbow District and Sunset Strip when we finally emerge from this horrible pandemic and resulting economic devestation.

What do you think?