When Metro and its predecessor agencies set out to build the local urban rail system, a decision was made to exclude restrooms in station designs as a means to cut future maintenance costs and reduce opportunities for crime. This decision traveled over to the Orange Line busway, which similarly has no restrooms. However, residents along the line are complaining to Metro that the lack of such facilities are forcing riders to attend to their human needs in nearby streets, alleys and landscaped areas. However, jurisdiction issues could hamper both the enforcement of laws concerning such activities and the installation of appropriate facilities in the future, which could include pay-to-use restrooms such as one installed at the North Hollywood Red Line Station.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar hosted a public meeting on the proposed downtown streetcar on November 4. Despite the surprise increase in the streetcar’s price tag, Huizar vows to continue championing for the project. A report from city staff concluded that the streetcar could cost at least $232 million, not the $125 million originally estimated. By contrast, Huizar stated that the project could be done between $125 million and $165 million, a price range that does not include utility relocation. If nothing else, proponents assert that they wish to be as transparent as possible when it comes to the true costs of the streetcar. A downtown parcel tax voted into effect would provide $62.5 million for the project, while Los Angeles can secure $75 million in federal grants if officials can identify other funding sources.
Huizar believes that building the streetcar will foster investment in Downtown LA, especially as part of an effort to restore Broadway to its original glory. To be fair, new shops and residences are sprouting along the corridor even in the absence of a streetcar. However, other cities that are merely constructing them at this time are already reaping in the benefits. This is what Riverside officials had in mind when they brought in an assembled streetcar for denizens to peruse, as mentioned below. Critics contend that the high price of streetcars that serve a small area should make cities averse to installing them, despite their proven ability to garner economic growth.
In fact, one mayoral candidate in Cincinnati won the office last week on a platform to stop advancement of a streetcar project in that city for the reasons cited above. Mayor-elect John Cranley and three new city councilmembers vowed to stop the project despite ongoing construction, secured local and federal funds, and locked-in contracts for both tracks and cars. Supporters swiftly gathered to devise a strategy that would keep the streetcar alive and under construction, with the hope that they can enlist business leaders and entrepreneurs to convince Cranley of the project’s merits and the concept’s successes elsewhere. In fact, streetcar proponents point out that it may very well cost more to eliminate the streetcar at this stage than to continue the project. Mind you, this is coming from the same city that has a half-built subway that has never been in service.
After much controversy, LADOT General Manager Jaime De La Vega will step down. A holdover from the Villaraigosa Administration, De La Vega came under scrutiny by department managers for his abrasive attitude. It is worth noting that De La Vega came in when the LADOT was dogged by numerous scandals, to which De La Vega succeeded in controlling the damage and addressing deficiencies. It was also under his leadership that the department took an increased interest in bicyclist and pedestrian needs. In the meantime, LA Department of Recreation and Parks General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri will serve as the interim general manager of LADOT.
In other news, the Los Angeles Times editorial board expresses its doubts about the proposed Downtown LA streetcar amidst clearer construction cost estimates… and the feeling is mutual in this response to the editorial. The Los Angeles Downtown News published a much lengthier editorial denouncing Angels Flight management for various lapses of judgment while operating the historic funicular, even as the National Transportation Safety Board faulted the funicular’s lack of safety features. Also, NBCUniversal continues to bring local audiovisual content to video screens across the Southland, with the venture now expanding into TransitTV. This means that bus riders will now have an hour of NBC programming piped into those ubiquitous TV screens and into their commutes, much to their dismay.
Meanwhile, the LADOT continues to receive heat for the proposed configuration of the Hyperion Avenue Bridge that is set for a seismic retrofit. LADOT proposes widening existing road lanes with few provisions for bicyclists and pedestrians. The LADOT recently held the first official meeting on the project, where bicyclists expressed concern that the proposed design further endangers bicyclists who must share lanes with drivers. Amidst the complaints registered by attendees, Tomas O’Grady of Enrich LA proposed an alternative configuration that calls for a road diet through the bridge, a bike path on one side of the same bridge and another bridge connecting said bike path to a separate proposed bike bridge that would traverse the Los Angeles River.
In tune with the increased visibility of bicycle advocates, the Los Angeles Times printed another set of articles that discussed the viability and culture of bike travel in Los Angeles. Columnist Paul Whitefield laments the perceived imposition of bicyclists on city streets in a “Quixotic quest” to make them equal to automobile travelers. Despite advances by municipalities to improve safety and promote bike usage, most commuters remain hesitant at biking to work or anywhere else. Encouraging bicyclists to “share the road” instead of building segregated and safe bike paths endangers these same cyclists who will almost always lose when a car hits them, according to Whitefield. Case in point: Wilshire Boulevard, which has no bike lanes but cyclists brave the street anyway, as columnist Ted Rogers explained.
Over the years, LAX has slowly bought properties in Manchester Square in hopes of either using the properties to expand the airport or at least create new air-related facilities. Instead of using eminent domain to purchase the properties all at once, however, the airport has negotiated sales with individual property owners. While most owners sold their properties to LAX, others have held out and stayed in the neighborhood. This has led to a rather eerie sight: Some houses continue to stand even as they are completely surrounded by barren lots.
Finally, KCET offers a photo essay on the construction of Wilshire Boulevard east of MacArthur Park. Today it is hard to fathom that the boulevard actually had its eastern end at the aforementioned park. However, various interests came together to formulate and advance an extension of Wilshire Boulevard, which served communities as far west as Santa Monica, to Downtown LA. Construction of the extended boulevard involved purchasing properties, demolishing numerous buildings and crossing MacArthur Park. The new road opened in 1934.
Speaking of anticipated decisions, the Metro Board approved initial concepts for LA Union Station as part of the station’s master plan. Staff recommended that the Metro Board look further into one particular concept, which calls for building a bus plaza to the west side of existing rail tracks, vastly expanding the existing pedestrian corridor underneath the tracks into a concourse, and removing the Patsaouras Transit Plaza as a means to extend said concourse. The concept also incorporates the proposal to extend the westernmost tracks to the south as part of the Southern California Interregional Gateway project, while HSR is not mentioned. The study team will now look into specifics on the concepts, with an update due next spring.
The Los Angeles City Council considered challenging a recent state ruling that legalizes ride-sharing services such as Lyft, Uber and Sidecar (now dubbed “transportation network companies”) across the state and establishes regulations to that effect. This was done despite a veto threat by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, who supports such services. Ultimately, the City Council voted not to appeal the new rules. The city has been under pressure by existing taxicab companies to eliminate these new and innovative services. However, the state Public Utilities Commission makes a clear distinction between services hailed curbside (which is in the purview of municipalities) and those hailed through other means (which is under the jurisdiction of the CPUC). This disparity in enforcement should be fixed at the state legislative level, according to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times.
Councilmember Paul Koretz, however, will have none of that. As with most people and businesses in California who try to thwart progress, Koretz is resorting to the accusation thatthe CPUC violated CEQA, believing that in trotting out rules that ride-sharing services must abide to, the CPUC ignored the environmental impacts of enabling such services, even if they are regulated.
If you’ve driven or cycled on the road, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve broken the law. It is not surprising to Damien Newton, founder and editor of Streetsblog LA, who is also a bicyclist. He owns three of them, and also has a car. Newton is happy with the new state law mandating drivers to keep a distance of three feet from cyclists. Newton moved to Los Angeles in 2008 from the east coast and became involved in advocating for cyclist causes by hounding city council members. Since moving here, Newton has seen the improvement in the city’s bike-friendliness with an increase in bike lanes, among other things.