Even as the City of Los Angeles advances its bike plan, no one is lost on the reality that biking in LA remains a harrowing ordeal. Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez concluded as much when he joined city bike coordinator Michelle Mowery on a ride that explored some of the new facilities on Glendale Boulevard and 2nd Street (the latter featuring a buffered bike lane in a tunnel) near Downtown LA. Despite new bike lanes running along existing city streets, some of these, including the buffered lane in the aforementioned tunnel, required taking a lane away from car traffic, leading to automobile congestion and frayed nerves. Moreover, drivers perceive that the bike lanes are hardly used for the amount of street space they take. Nevertheless, Mowery states that the city hopes that 5% of all commuters will use bikes even as elements of the bike plan come online in the coming years.
Gas prices in Southern California are at an upward climb, reaching $3.62 per gallon on average this week. However, this amount is far lower than the $4.00 per gallon price recorded at the same time last year. Much of the increase is attributed to ongoing maintenance at refineries and, consequently, increased wholesale prices. In any case, prices are expected to rise as winter turns into spring and refineries switch to summer blends.
Transit Coalition Communications Director Numan Parada announces that he will leave The Transit Coalition after 9 years of service. Since 2005, Parada has been responsible for writing and editing the eNewsletter and the monthly print newsletter alongside colleagues and contributors. The Feb. 11 eNewsletter will be the final one written by Parada. Nevertheless, he hopes to continue advocating for better public transportation in Southern California even as he pursues other endeavors, and he thanks readers for their loyal readership.
For those stumped as to what to do on Valentine’s Day, Metro is hosting a speed-dating eventfrom 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. throughout the Red Line route. Essentially, riders heading toward North Hollywood station will board the last car of each train, while those heading downtown will take the first car. Every two minutes, participants can either switch seats or alight and board the next train. Metro staff will provide assistance in person during the event, and train cars transporting participants will be marked with red hearts. Participants can register at any Red Line station. As long as they pay their fare, participants will be given special wristbands. However, for those who find staying in LA unappealing, the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner offers its own ideas.
Metro is on a roll as the agency schedules public meetings covering a variety of topics. One of the first public hearings on proposed service changes was recently held in Van Nuys, which had a surprisingly good turnout. Riders were generally supportive of the new Line 588X, a proposed express service between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, despite skipping service to Sherman Oaks. Meetings for other service areas (except South Bay, where no service changes are proposed) are listed in Upcoming Events.
Additionally, Metro is hosting meetings on its arts program, where participants can learn how to form part of the program. A hearing on the proposed fare restructuring will be held on Saturday, March 29. Finally, a pair of meetings updating community members on the Purple Line Extension will be held on Thursday, February 13. Information on these is also listed in Upcoming Events.
Transit advocate Neil Bjornsen has died at the age of 68. Hailing from San Marino High School and earning a Bachelor’s degree in transportation, Bjornsen has advised for Metro and its predecessor agency and served in their Citizens Advisory Councils since 1977. During his tenure, Bjornsen advocated for investments in deferred maintenance and bus and rail safety improvements. Bjornsen also worked with other organizations such as NARP and the Orange Empire Railway Museum.
Eric Jaffe of The Atlantic Cities tackles the thorny issue of whether streetcars are legitimate parts of the transit landscape in cities. While 40% of transit boardings in New Orleans occur on its famous streetcars, the same cannot be said of other cities where streetcars exist. Ridership on streetcars barely registers a percent of travel compared to total transit boardings in most cities. Most streetcar proponents at higher levels of government see this particular travel mode as an economic development tool instead of as useful transportation. Ultimately, Jaffe concludes that a streetcar should reflect the civic goals of a community, especially given that streetcars are generally expensive to build and operate.
With restrictions on takeoffs and landings at Love Field in Texas set to expire, Southwest is ready to expand into new markets, starting with additional non-stop service from Love Field to LAX this October. Later on, the airline will begin service to Reagan International Airport, as will JetBlue. Both airlines bought their slots at Reagan International when the merger of American Airlines and US Airways prompted a judicial inquiry that led to the two airlines selling their slots at the airport. In relation to this (and perhaps to no one’s surprise), low-cost carriers like Southwest and JetBlue have fewer complaints than legacy carriers according to a study, largely because low-cost airline passengers simply have fewer expectations.
In other aviation news, a joint venture hopes to design a table tray on airplane seats that canmake space for tablets. One high-end hotel is dispensing with the practice of charging hefty fees for wi-fi access and instead will offer faster wi-fi at a daily rate while allowing slower wi-fi access for free. Also, in response to a Los Angeles Times piece on the condition of LaGuardia Airport in New York City, one reader describes LAX with similar negativity while extolling Ontario Airport for its cleanliness and straightforward design.
Last week, the California State Transportation agency released an external review of Caltrans that paints the agency as stagnant and backwards. It offers a refreshingly candid and detailed critique, and more importantly points to a host of critical reforms, starting with a proposed one-month quick start to establish a new mission, vision and goals for the agency. The report recommends the direction come “from the top down and outside in”, to avoid the long-standing status quo at Caltrans where bottoms-up planning via staff just leads to “the culture endorsing itself”.
Additionally the report finds that Caltrans has not adapted its mission and goals to support statewide objectives that include reducing carbon emissions, promoting smarter land-use, and providing multimodal transportation choices. Instead the agency has continued its focus on “improving” auto-mobility by age-old investments in widening highways and roads. The result of this policy has been intense traffic congestion, poor air quality, and cemented the transportation sector as the number one emitter of greenhouse gases. Just as importantly, it has left many Californians without the transportation choices they need to access jobs, educational opportunities, healthcare, and other destinations that are critical for improving economic competitiveness and improving quality of life. To be sure Caltrans will not change overnight but it has been firmly put on notice.
The California Supreme Court granted Governor Jerry Brown’s request to expedite review by an appeals court of a lower-court decision to freeze access to bond money for the state high-speed rail project. However, the Supreme Court stopped short of taking the case themselves as desired by Brown. However, even with the accelerated timeframe, a decision may come well after April 1, when the state must spend its own money to start construction in order to receive matching federal funds. Despite the recent, short-term setbacks, it is important to keep an eye on the larger vision of intercity HSR. A pair of contributors argues as much, stating that HSR will be essential in reducing carbon emissions per state objectives in the coming decades.
While discussion on HSR continues, the National Association of Railroad Passengers reports that the California State Senate announced the formation of the Select Committee on Passenger Rail on January 27. The committee will meet this spring to discuss policies to improve passenger rail service in the state.