Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Be careful for what you wish for, Beverly Hills

As a strong supporter of Metro's Westside Subway project, I also support the Century City stop being at Constellation and Avenue of the Stars, in the center of the community.

As rail runs under the Pentagon, I'm not too concerned about tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.  I have lived in New York and London where tunnels safely went under all kinds of buildings.

That said, if the Century City station on the Purple Line extension were on Santa Monica Blvd. instead of Constellation, wouldn't that create tremendous pressure to sell Los Angeles Golf Course and redevelop the north side of Santa Monica Blvd. into "Century City North", and pour even more traffic onto Beverly Hills?

As someone who balances idealism and cynicism, I have to wonder:  Are there any people calling for the Metro Purple Line stop to be on Santa Monica Blvd. because they secretly WANT to develop Century City North and are hiding behind the Beverly Hills High School "safety" issue?  Obviously the Purple Line extension should be built as safely as possible.  But how much of that opposition to tunneling under Beverly Hills High School has another hidden development agenda or behind it, or a consequence of it?

Be wary of the law of unintended consequences.  It would be ironic if Beverly Hills got what it wished for only to see Century City North developed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Should the Hollywood bus terminal be at the Highland station or the Vine Station?

Here is something that has confused me.

The suggested northern terminals for any northern extension of the Crenshaw Line and the original Santa Monica Blvd. alignment proposal of the Westside Subway extension has been the Hollywood/Highland station.

This got me thinking about the current bus terminal for the forced transfer between the 212/217 to the 180/181 at Hollywood/Vine.  These buses probably terminate at Vine because there is a designated parking area for buses to wait and for drivers to have their breaks (which is important) near Hollywood/Vine.  (Put aside the question for now about whether there should even be a forced transfer there.)

However, shouldn't for convenience sake the 180/181 go west to Hollywood/Highland to allow for easy transfers to the 156/656?  Is the heavy density area on Hollywood between Highland and Vine really "duplicated" by that short extension?

What is the center of Hollywood anyway?  The "Walk of Fame" intersection at Hollywood/Vine was the cultural heart of Hollywood before the (formerly named Kodak) Theatre was built at Highland.  Shouldn't possibly the Hollywood/Vine station be considered as a possible northern terminal for any rail line ending in Hollywood, also since that is where the bus terminal parking is?  (Granted, at that point it is probably cheaper to somehow move the bus terminal parking near Highland if an expanded station is being built there to accommodate another rail line -- or even include a bus terminal as part of the design of the expanded station.)

This brings up the seemingly unpleasant but necessary discussion of urban and transit planners to fulfill the need for resting buses to park somewhere and for bus operators to have a safe place with appropriate facilities to take their breaks.  So where should an appropriate Hollywood/Highland bus terminal be?

And since we are talking about bus lines on Hollywood, there are actually several bus lines that run or terminate on Hollywood Blvd.  Isn't Hollywood between Highland and Western a natural street for a transit-only lane?  I certainly think so.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The "Public Option" in Health Care is Alive and Well in California

Every once in while I like to comment on non-transit issues on this blog.  In this case, I'd like to take on health care in California.

One of the components of the Affordable Health Care Act (a.k.a. "Obamacare") that people are missing is how much latitude each state has in implementing it. During the development of this legislation advocates for a national single-payer system (a.k.a. "Medicare-for-All") were not even allowed to come to the table to make their case.  Even the compromise position, giving everyone access to a public health insurance option, tragically couldn't get past a Senate filibuster.

However, thanks to this legislation, individual states can follow Vermont's example and pursue single-payer health care or at least place public health insurance plans on their state's coming health insurance exchanges as a state "public option".

Now I still from a policy standpoint prefer Medicare-for-All or single-payer health care.  Twice single-payer health care has passed the California state legislature only to be vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.  Now that there is a Democratic Governor who would be expected to be favorable to the legislation, SB810 is unfortunately stalled in the legislature thanks to insurance industry lobbying.

Several California counties have public health plans already, and California is likely to even have a choice of public health insurance plans as progressive counties like San Francisco and Alameada are looking to putting their public plans on the statewide exchange.

Read this Article: The Public Option is Alive and Well in California

The good news for health insurance reform activists, is that it looks as if in California we will at least have one or more public options on our state's coming health insurance exchange.  Even if "Obamacare" is struck down by the Supreme Court, the California state legislation creating a state health insurance exchange still stands.

The question now becomes, are county plans on the statewide exchange accountable to county Boards of Supervisors the best way to give access to public health insurance options?  Should a statewide public plan accountable to the Governor and the Legislature be include on the state exchange?  Could Medical be turned into a statewide public option open to everyone?

Watch this space for news about this issue unfolds over the next two years.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is a Sepulveda Pass light-rail line salvageable?

Two days ago I posted my fears and discouragement that the Sepulveda Pass transit corridor project was sadly looking at first glance like it would be an inadequate bus project, rather than the light-rail line between Sylmar and LAX many of believe it should be.

The question remains, is a light-rail project through the Sepulveda Pass still possible?

Jerard Wright, current Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Transportation Committee Co-Chair and former Vice President of the Transit Coalition believes it is.  Here are his thoughts about this (shared with his permission):

I think its salvageable -given that its early in the process- but the key thing is being realistic on funding.  

Don't assume Federal New Starts on this with 30-10 or America Fast Forward programs because those are committed to Purple Line to Westwood and Regional Connector projects at this time. If it shows that it has Federal New Starts potential, then that may delay the project delivery date as it will need to go through another cycle of New Starts.

My thoughts are focus the bulk of the rail energy on the Sepulveda Pass corridor from Orange Line to Expo Line with or without the tunnel parallel to the pass, stretch that $1B+ to link up with as many activity centers as possible so that you can get some stronger ridership data.
Use the Public-Private Partnership ideas on some of the station area planning/developments such as Sepulveda Orange Line station, Ventura Blvd (Sepulveda or Van Nuys), Sepulveda/Pico Expo Line station maybe even UCLA/Westwood Village station to bridge gaps in funding. So that more money goes towards the route infrastructure and less of it goes to the stations themselves.  

The key is, given that this could be LRT, Could this corridor take an initial San Diego trolley approach here a simple no-frills design and infrastructure? I don't know how much construction ROW or easements will be left after the 405 HOV widening project but I would suggest building shallow tunnels and trenches under these easements- if they can- where the elevation shifts and differs.  

I wished Metro spent a little more $$$ on the 405 HOV project to go towards a future ROW for such a transit project as this would have saved money in the long run.  

The Van Nuys Corridor in the long term visioning should be rail, however any sort of infrastructure beyond a TSM would make it difficult to get a future rail corridor. Should the approach be pushing for TSM on this leg? TSM could possibly do the same things as the lanes (such as better signal pre-emption & synchronization on both the Local and Rapid corridor buses and consolidation & relocation of bus stops to expedite boardings which improve operating speeds)  at a lower cost then BRT and saves more of the money needed to push a rail transit corridor north following the intended vision.

What do you think?

Expo Line is a Go!

I was fortunate to be invited to ride a test run of the new Expo Line yesterday.  The first half of this line opens up to the public on April 28th.  It is just beautiful, especially the way the line integrates with USC.  The second half to Santa Monica opens up in a few years.

Here is a pic that I took with my mobile phone that is quintessentially Los Angeles:

At the Western station, on the southeast corner of Expo and Western, there is a gas station that has a vegan bakery.  This is why I love Los Angeles.

I was able to join this test run thanks to Eli Lipmen of AJC (American Jewish Committee), where in full disclosure I am currently working.

AJC is a strong supporter the Expo Line, of Measure R and of Mayor Villaraigosa's "30/10 Plan".

According to Eli Lipmen, AJC Communications Strategist, “AJC is committed to public transportation in the City of Los Angeles because we need to break our dangerous dependence on oil produced by hostile countries. Measure R, the 30/10 Plan, and more public transportation options in Los Angeles will reduce the amount of fossil fuels being used in the region while also reducing traffic and emissions that can cause respiratory diseases. It is a win-win-win!”

Here is a view of Century City from the platform at the new LaCienega station on the Expo Line:

We are halfway from Downtown to the beach.  Now let's work together to complete the second half of the Expo line all the way to Santa Monica as soon as possible.  While we are at it, let's get the Westside Subway extension to West L.A. and the Crenshaw/LAX line extended to West Hollywood and Hollywood/Highland.

By the way, since the color of this line on the map is light blue, why not call it the Aqua Line since it will eventually be going to Santa Monica anyway?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What will eventually be the northern extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Line to Hollywood?

On the new Expo light-rail line there is a stop at Crenshaw & Expo, which will eventually be a transfer to the proposed Crenshaw/LAX light-rail line.  Most transit advocates in Southern California see the natural northern terminal of the Crenshaw/LAX Line not at the Expo Line where the first operating segment will end, but past Wilshire Blvd. and the Purple Line to the Hollywood/Highland Red Line station.

When Metro finally studies this transit corridor they will have to consider the needs of all the stakeholders in the area.

There will be those people who primarily care about getting the quickest and most direct route between Crenshaw/Expo and the Hollywood/Highland station and they will want La Brea as the alignment obviously.

Then there will be people who live, work, play and want to travel to/from high ridership destinations in between these two points, especially West Hollywood and surrounding destinations, who were disappointed in not being part of the Westside subway extension and whom voted most heavily in favor of Measure R, and their primary concern will be accessing Metrorail at all.

Metro will need to balance the cost of building a longer alignment to provide access to more stakeholders with the desire of those who primarily want speed through this area to create an alignment that serve the most people with the maximum ridership. ALL of the potential alignments through this area would still be quicker than riding a bus through traffic.

Here are the most likely potential alignments of the northern extension of the Crenshaw/LAX line as shown in this Metro study map:

Here are my guesses of the most probable potential stops with their accompanying ridership destinations, along with the length of these potential alignments connecting Crenshaw/LAX at the Expo Line station with Hollywood/Highland:

All of these four alignments would have stations at
- Crenshaw and Expo (transfer to Expo Line)
- Crenshaw and Adams
- San Vicente and Pico/Venice

Here is where they differ on the route to the Hollywood / Highland Red Line station



- Wilshire/LaBrea (needs to junction with LaBrea/Wilshire Purple Line station)
- Beverly/LaBrea
- SantaMonica/LaBrea 
- Hollywood/Highland

(This route misses nearly all of the high-ridership generators in this area, and would be sort of like running the Blue Line up Alameda instead of the heart of downtown to Union Station.  You'd get there the quickest, but miss where the riders are actually going in between.)



- Wilshire/Fairfax (LACMA/Museum Row - needs to junction with Fairfax/Wilshire Purple Line station
- Beverly/Fairfax (Grove/Farmer's Market/CBS)
- Santa Monica Blvd/Fairfax (West Hollywood east)
- Sunset/Gardner (Sunset Strip access)
- Hollywood/Highland

(As this was the original northern alignment of the Red Line before the NIMBYs thwarted the Purple Line extension through Hancock Park back in the 80's, there would be sweet justice of a Fairfax alignment eventually being built.)



- Wilshire/SanVicente (transfer junction with LaCienega/Wilshire Purple Line station)
- Beverly/LaCienega (Beverly Center / Cedar Sinai)
- SantaMonica/LaCienega (heart of West Hollywood)
- Sunset/Fairfax (Sunset Strip access)
- Hollywood/Highland



- Wilshire/SanVicente (transfer junction with LaCienega/Wilshire Purple Line station)
- SanVicente/Beverly (Beverly Center / Cedar Sinai)
- SantaMonica/SanVicente (heart of West Hollywood)
- Santa Monica/Fairfax (West Hollywood east)
- Santa Monica/LaBrea
- Hollywood/Highland

(This alignment has the advantage of the portion north of Wilshire as already having been studied by Metro as part of the Westside subway extension.)


Why not have two or three separate Metro rail lines some people might ask?  Why not have one line traveling only on LaBrea for speed between Hollywood and LAX and another separate line entirely that integrates West Hollywood and environs for access into the Metrorail system.  Why not indeed?  

Well, to be frank, two or more lines won't happen because of MONEY -- because nearly all of this light-rail line will have be constructed underground.   (Look at the current difficulty in getting the Wilshire Blvd. subway extension and the Regional Connector projects funded and built.) 

If we are lucky and the pieces somehow come together, we will get to have one light-rail subway funded and constructed through this mid-city, mid-west side area.  ONE.  And it is going to need to serve all the stakeholders, or as many stakeholders as possible, in this area, not just those transit riders traveling between Hollywood and the airport quickly, but also those who live, work and play in points between such as the Grove, Beverly Center, Cedar Sinai, West Hollywood, the Sunset Strip, and their environs.

Not just because it is geographically in the middle between the other alignments and in the middle with the lengths of these alignment, I think Metro may end up deciding that Fairfax is the best compromise alignment between ridership destinations and speed through the area, but we will see.  Everyone will have their vocal opinion I am sure.  Hopefully, either the SanVicente/SantaMonica alignment or the SanVicente/Fairfax alignment will be built in our lifetimes.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Is Los Angeles County on the Verge of a Bus-Centered Transit Disaster for the Sepulveda Pass Corridor?

Many transit advocates are getting nervous about just what Metro is planning for the Sepulveda Pass transit corridor project approved as part of Measure R in 2008.

Transit advocates in Southern California have been dreaming of a north-south rail line between Sylmar and LAX through the Sepulveda Pass ever since they began imagining the return of mass transit to Los Angeles.

Many people who supported Measure R in 2008 in partbecause it had a Sepulveda Pass project in it naturally assumed that rail for this corridor was the obvious option.  With the sheer amount of traffic moving through the Sepulveda Pass, all day long, and on weekends, surely this corridor could potentially qualify for Federal New Starts funding, wouldn't it?

However, the manner in the way Metro describes the Sepulveda Pass Corridor on its projects webpage is worrisome indeed:

Planned to run along a 4-mile section of the I-405 Freeway, this bus corridor project will connect the San Fernando Valley with West Los Angeles.

Yikes.  From Metro's own summary description it sounds like Metro has been envisioning this as a lesser bus project from the get-go.

According to Metro's webpage for this study of the Sepulveda Pass corridor the word "rail transit" as a possible option is mentioned in passing, barely, but that's it.   Most of the text on this page is about a public-private partnership to run toll lanes.

As a part of this review, staff will examine a potential multimodal transit/express toll road concept for the corridor. Also, Metro may explore public-private partnership (P3) and/or congestion pricing/tolling options to help accelerate the timing of the Measure R project. Once a set of potential concepts is identified, the Metro Board may then decide to undertake an in-depth analysis of the economics and feasibility of a P3 approach.

In other words, buses running on toll lanes.  Now put this together with the proposed underwhelming V.A. station which seems barely suited for a bus transfer station, let alone proper rail terminal centered in a bustling neighborhood, like Barrington/Bundy or even 4th Street in Santa Monica, and this picture of a V.A. Station terminal accessible to Sepulveda Pass busses falls into place.

Is this what you envisioned for the Sepulveda Pass corridor when you voted for Measure R?  

My personal choice for a Sepulveda Pass transit corridor study would be to initially study a seven rail stop operating segment that could then be extended in the future south to LAX and north to Sylmar:

  • VanNuys Metrolink
  • Orange Line
  • Ventura Blvd.
  • UCLA
  • Purple Line (Wilshire)
  • Santa Monica Blvd.
  • Exposition Line (Pico)

For information on what a combined Sepulveda Pass / Van Nuys transit corridor project might look like, check my blog post "Please combine the Sepulveda and Van Nuys Transit Projects into one rail project between Sylmar and LAX"

If you want a rail project studied, really studied, then contact Renee Berlin, Executive Officer, TDI at Metro regarding this project at

Also contact Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky regarding this project at

The next report on this corridor is due from Metro in June.  They'll no doubt tell you today that "no decision has been made", but their own website language possibly indicates which way Metro has probably been leaning.

If the word "bus corridor" on the projects and studies page doesn't clue us in, how about this graphic for the project on Metro's website.

You'll notice a single-occupancy automobile speeding past a slow plodding bus on a miraculously empty 405 Freeway.

Historians will probably laugh at Metro and Los Angeles County and all of us for decades if this once in a lifetime opportunity for a north-south rail corridor between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside via the Sepulveda Pass is blown in favor of a measly and inadequate bus project.  Further, the San Fernando Valley shouldn't have to be the transit stepchild of Los Angeles County, forever having to settle for inadequate bus projects, just because of what State Senator Alan Robbins and a few NIMBY's did back in the nineties.