Proprietors of the W Hotel and Residences in Hollywood filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles for hastily approving the nearby Millennium project without adequately studying its environmental impacts. A recent spate of break-ins has forcibly closed 5 automated toilets on Skid Row, threatening local health. Meanwhile, firms of repute enjoy seeing LA from the city’s tallest buildings on a regular basis.
Thousand Oaks Transit launched Saturday service on all of its four routes for the first time, with free Saturday fares in effect until October 12. Long Beach Transit took the time to announce seasonal changes and promote its student passes. Intercity bus riders are singing praises to Megabus now that the discount motorcoach service serves Burbank.
Across the country, contributor Steven Yates addresses the stark differences between freeway-based BRT and street-based BRT, stating that the former is usually proposed as a sneaky way to justify toll lanes.
Onto freight rail, the Colton Crossing near San Bernardino opened in its entirety on Sunday, August 26, replacing a grade-level crossing that has been in place since 1883. The project grade-separates two intersecting rail corridors, each owned by Union Pacific and BNSF, and addresses a major source of delays for trains that must cross this intersection to continue their trek across the nation. Curiously, the project was set to cost $202 million but wound up costing only $97 million on account of lowered property acquisition and materials costs. However, other community improvements are on the way, including improved gate crossings and a new underpass in Colton.
Meanwhile, the current labor fiasco in the Bay Area remains unresolved. AC Transit workers voted down a new contract, even though negotiations were thought to be successful. AC Transit workers could very well walk out any day now, after delaying their own strike on account of currently unresolved actions by BART operators. The development already adds a wrinkle to the woes commuters could potentially face, since AC Transit is the main bus operator in the East Bay. Outright banning BART employees from striking has received only tepid support from state lawmakers who would have to craft and approve such a ban. Neither side will exit the problem without a loss of goodwill from the public, as both operators and managers receive large salaries and benefits packages that are comparable to those found in other similarly sized transit agencies.
As if out of nowhere, a brouhaha over the location of a fault through Hollywood has engulfed discussion on the Hollywood Millennium project, which received the blessing of the LA City Council this month. The revelation exposed a major gap in the city’s development review process in that seismic studies, especially for projects near or over known faults, were neither required nor considered. The stakes are high on both sides of the issue, since the possible presence of the fault could block construction of any building that straddles over it. It is possible that the city can still force the developer to perform geologic studies determining the fault’s location and significantly alter the project as needed.
The new Oakland Bay Bridge may very well open next month after all. The discovery of failed bolts intended to secure a seismic safety device for the bridge has thrown into question whether the bridge would instead open in December. However, the panel in charge of overseeing construction voted to open the bridge as scheduled, on Tuesday, September 3, after engineers proposed a temporary fix that would allow motorists to use the bridge safely while a permanent solution is installed. Said panel reasoned that the new bridge, despite the seismic problem, would be significantly safer than the existing truss bridge that is being replaced.
With all the frustration stemming from HSR, some such as the Los Angeles Daily News editorial board are looking towards entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Hyperloop as a worthwhile alternative. Musk believes that the concept could whisk passengers from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes and can be done at a cost between $6 billion and $10 billion. Musk must still build a prototype before the Hyperloop can ever happen.
Celebrated physics professor Michio Kaku believes that the Hyperloop would make for an exciting concept to realize, but expressed reservations about its economic viability. Indeed, one pundit opines that the $6 billion price tag is too low because the Hyperloop proposal ignores the obstacles that have led to the price increase on the HSR project and would surely affect the Hyperloop should it come to fruition. Los Angeles Times readers also had their say on the subject. In all likeliness, however, Musk’s idea will wind up in the Pantheon of Gadgetbahn Proposals, where many other fantasized transportation solutions are left to oblivion, like this one curious proposal that promised to do the same thing… in 1909. Los Angeles itself has grown weary of such proposals, since the transportation-minded populace has seen similar ideas in the past.
Newly installed LA Mayor Eric Garcetti is swiftly making appointments at various positions across the city bureaucracy, and the LA Airport Commission is no exception. Garcetti replaced all but one of the seven members of the Commission. Garcetti hopes that the selections reflect a future where LAX can be modernized and act as a good neighbor to the surrounding communities. Garcetti also set a goal of eventually transferring control of Ontario Airport to Inland Empire communities, provided that Los Angeles retains a cut of revenue. Meanwhile, Councilmember Mike Bonin grilled Los Angeles World Airports officials on the perks consultants received while performing work for the city.
Transit advocates often consider air-to-rail connections as an essential piece of a functioning public transportation system. What happens when this view is applied to Amtrak? Most airports have next to no interaction with the national intercity passenger railroad. Just two (Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey and our very own Bob Hope Airport) have direct access to an Amtrak station, with a third in Miami (pictured at left) on the way. 39 other large and mid-sized airports have Amtrak service within 10 miles. Even though air-to-rail connections provide substantial travel and environmental benefits, no dedicated funding source for the development of such connections exist at the federal level. Locally, Los Angeles Times readers express mixed opinions on a planned rail connection to LAX.
While everyone acknowledges that the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor is in dire need of upgrades, the federal government remains hesitant to find the money that can make such upgrades happen. While fiscal conservatism is partly responsible for the current state of affairs, the staggering price tag just for mild capacity increases, at $52 billion, would give anyone pause. A full-fledged upgrade to true HSR-level service would cost $117 billion, according to Amtrak. Federal lawmakers and pundits believe that contributions from all levels of government as well as an infusion of private capital will be the only reasonable way to make the NEC a state-of-the-art facility.
The State of California has granted the City of Riverside $237,500 to fund a study of returning streetcars to the city. Riverside Mayor William Rusty Bailey has been responsible for advocating such an idea. The proposal has brought on some robust debate in the public arena and the community has been making many valid points. The Press Enterprise Columnist Dan Bernstein questions the project. The Transit Coalition’s A Better Inland Empire Transit Blog has links to additional examples and provides an analysis.
With the state now getting involved, Bailey’s streetcar idea has now become a real proposal. The Magnolia and University Avenue corridors in Riverside could very well benefit with a mass transit rail system operating in a dedicated set of lanes or right-of-way combined with area revitalization. However the truth is that under the current economic climate in conjunction with insufficient transit infrastructure and RTA bus operations, we simply cannot afford it just yet.
As the community expressed, Riverside has other infrastructure projects that deserve priority before getting into the streetcar business: Grade separations along the existing BNSF rail line, improving existing RTA and Metrolink services, expanding late night RTA bus service with BRT alternatives along major corridors, and getting a robust bus transit center to the Riverside Downtown train station with a pedestrian bridge to the downtown core.
Soon, Inland Empire residents will not have to look far to see one of the above solutions in action, as progress continues on the sbX BRT project in San Bernardino. Bus stop canopies, new pavement and lush landscaping are sprouting along the length of the future route. sbX is being built parallel to a major widening project for Interstate 215, so it is understandable for residents to ask when the projects and their associated frustrations will come to an end. Omnitrans, the agency that will operate sbX, anticipates opening the line in 2014, while Caltrans anticipates completing the I-215 project later this year.