Weekly Transit eNewsletter
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Volume 6, Issue 13

Welcome to  The Transit Coalition weekly newsletter! Our organization participates in meetings with key decision makers and community leaders. Our goal is to keep you informed on the latest developments in the transportation scene across Southern California.

Come and Join Us: The Transit Coalition will host its monthly Dinner Meeting this Tuesday, April 27, featuring a presentation from Bruce Shelburne, Service Development Manager of Metro Rail. Here is a video clip of our last meeting. See Upcoming Events below for details.

Action Alert: Here we go again. Metrolink is proposing drastic service cuts to nip a $17 million budget shortfall in the bud. Transit advocates have been meeting with Metrolink staff and directors to propose cost efficiencies by revamping the hub and spoke system into a series of corridors. For Ventura County and Antelope Valley Line riders that want to help save the service, you may join the TTC campaign, as we need volunteers aboard the trains to circulate line specific post cards linked above. There is now an on-line petition that you may sign. Contact TTC to help. The Ventura County Star, Santa Clarita Valley Signal and the Los Angeles Daily News have provided coverage and editorials.

Steel Wheels in California 2010: RailPAC and NARP meeting and conference: Saturday, April 17 at the Metro Gateway Board Room. Learn the latest on passenger rail as Steven Gardner, Amtrak Vice President of Policy and Development will be joined by the Chairs of LOSSAN, Metro and Metrolink, presenters from Talgo and Alstom, an advocates' panel on high-speed rail, Bill Bronte of Caltrans and retiring NARP Chair George Chilson. Click here for registration and details.

The Foothill Gold Line is a go!

Nearly everybody has something to say about the Gold Line Foothill Extension. Its backers are convinced that the light rail route will remake the corridor and revitalize existing communities. Critics believe ridership will prove to be sparse and that scarce public funds would be better spent on rail projects in more appropriate corridors. Love it or hate it, the Gold Line Foothill Extension has been confirmed to be the first Measure R rail project to begin construction. The Metro Board unanimously approved the funding and master cooperative agreement that would allow ground to be broken on June 19. Sounds pretty good for a region whose political leaders opposed Measure R, huh?

Nothing is set in stone, however, for the site of the extension's maintenance facility. Metro wanted the right to back out of a deal to build the facility in Monrovia until 100% of the land required for it was secured. Monrovia said that such an escape clause is unacceptable. Metro ended up with a compromise that only requires 50% of the land to be secured, so the money and effort already spent remains safe.

The Blue Line has generated its share of controversy since it first ignited Los Angeles' light rail revolution back in 1990. Safety improvements and police stings implemented over the years have helped reduce the amount of train/car accidents along the route, but pedestrian accidents and suicides have remained flat. To gain insight into the pedestrian experience along the Blue Line, Fred Camino of the official Metro blog The Source posted a picture tour of several Blue Line stations. While Camino noticed a blind spot at one station and potentially confusing entrances at another, he also discovered many cases in which riders crossed the tracks illegally where signage was clearly posted. At one point during his tour, Camino met a group of students who could not believe that some people were hurt by the Blue Line. He also found the trains and stations easy to use. At the end of the day, common sense among riders is the key to rail safety. (The Source summarized its posts on Blue Line safety.)

A tunnel bore indeed.

Metro CEO Art Leahy and OCTA CEO Will Kempton have drafted a joint letter to the California High Speed Rail Authority requesting that the shared track alternative between Los Angeles and Anaheim be given a second look. The current plan calls for separate high-speed tracks to be constructed between Anaheim and LA. Leahy and Kempton, however, believe that a shared track alternative is feasible and practical to avoid overbuilt aerials and/or expensive tunnels and improve Metrolink and Pacific Surfliner service. CHSRA head and Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle has placed the issue on the April 8 high-speed rail board meeting agenda. High-speed rail boosters appear to be supportive of the letter.

Assemblyman Hector de la Torre is calling on the MTA to review its litigation practices. The agency is being accused of using too much taxpayer money for litigation. Critics cite the long legal battle with Red Line contractor Tutor-Saliba, which has cost $34 million so far even though Metro will recover only half of that if the lawsuit is successful, as evidence of waste. A Metro official says that the agency's litigation practices are currently being reviewed by the MTA Inspector General. That report is due out this June. In the meantime, De la Torre is recommending that Metro adhere to a six-year-old audit that suggested the agency require lawyers to prepare detailed budgets and get permission to hire consultants and expert witnesses.

A TAP card.

Metro is also involved in five cases where bus drivers are alleged to have used the TAP program to embezzle public funds. One case has since been dismissed and one driver pled guilty. The drivers say they were pre-activating TAP cards before selling them to customers to speed up the boarding process, but Metro isn't buying it. Is the shoddily implemented TAP program to blame or are the operators taking advantage of TAP's very public problems to cover their tracks? Will Metro end up with more expensive legal settlements because they forgot to get the evidence?

A drunk person.

If Metro spends too much money suing, perhaps the OCTA should spend more money defending itself. In what should have been a slam dunk case, the OCTA has settled with a man who was struck by one of their buses. The man, who was as drunk as a skunk, was also carrying with him two packs of beer when the accident happened. An OCTA spokesperson said that the agency wanted to go to trial, but the insurance company wanted to settle. Now if you do not mind, we're going to go buy a 40 ounce, find a bus and get rich.

The Orange Line, the busway that should have been light rail, is not a failure after all, according to Transit Coalition Chair Ken Alpern. In his latest LA CityWatch article, Alpern explains some of the obstacles to implementing 21st century transportation solutions in the San Fernando Valley, as well as some opportunities for progress. While the busway has exceeded expectations, it is up to the Valley to figure out where to go from there.

Los Angeles residents are slowly but surely shedding their dependence on automobiles and embracing a city where community matters, according to Huffington Post columnist Joel Epstein. The recent LA Marathon was an opportunity to see a walking, biking Los Angeles, where the roar of automobiles was tempered, albeit temporarily, to allow stampeding feet to reign supreme. However, a marathon only comes once a year. Epstein explores what it might take to remake LA into a walkable, bikable and livable city 365 days a year.

David Lazarus of the Los Angeles Times doesn't think LA County transit agencies are doing enough to make transit user-friendly. He points to a lack of interagency cooperation and confusing fares and passes as prime suspects. His article appeared to strike a chord with transit riders, who sent in letters of agreement. One letter-writer complained about the lack of good Metrolink connections between Metrolink lines, such as when one train arrives at Union Station two minutes after another one has left. Actually, this is a problem that The Transit Coalition's Simplified Service Plan was designed to address.

Measure R

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to leverage Measure R sales tax revenue as collateral for a federal loan is drawing national attention. Villaraigosa said that his plan, which would allow the county to build three decades worth of rail projects in just 10 years, could be a national model for other cities to follow. Some politicians around the country seem to agree, including John L. Mica, a Republican representative from Florida who is also on the House Transportation Committee. Mica has pledged to do anything he can to help Villaraigosa's ambitious plan move along.

New research from the Center for Neighborhood Technology turns the conventional wisdom about affordable housing on its head. Rather than considering solely housing prices as a measure of affordability, CNT computed a formula that factors in transportation costs, yielding a very different portrait of affordability. They redefine true affordability as less than 45 percent of income for housing and transportation costs combined. (Typical affordability falls around 30 percent or less of income.) By this expanded measure, 48,000 communities deemed affordable by conventional metrics are actually unaffordable.

For example, in low-density Palmdale, the fastest growing city in Los Angeles County in 2009, only 4 percent of workers use public transportation for their daily commute and average transportation costs per month are nearly $900. According to CNT's formula, average housing and transportation costs require 54 percent of income. Therefore, it should be no surprise that American voters overwhelmingly support broader access to public transportation and safe walking and biking, according to a new national poll conducted for Transportation for America and released to the media yesterday. With the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ramping up efforts to draft a new long-term transportation bill before the end of the year, the results should be instructive to Senators.

An over-reliance on imports caused the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to be more vulnerable to a recession, according to a new report. Ports that were more export orientated, such as Houston and Fort Lauderdale, fared better because a weak dollar made US goods more attractive. The Ports of LA and LB were more dependent on consumer spending, which has been decimated in the last two years, since 71% of shipments were in imports. Currently, the Port of LA is educating small businesses on the virtues of exporting their goods in an effort to stimulate exports.

Getting a transportation bill passed anytime soon is practically impossible, according to the folks over at The Infrastructurist. The problem is that one of the only practical ways to pay for a new transportation bill is to raise the gas tax, which would be political suicide. The president recently signed a bill that moves $19.5 billion from the general fund to the highway trust fund, which would fund federal highway and transit programs until 2013. However, the country remains without a long-term surface transportation vision and a plan to pay for it all.

An Acela train.

Amtrak wants to run high-speed trains. The biggest obstacle for the government-owned corporation, however, is its own reputation. Across the country, Amtrak is viewed as slow and inefficient, and its Acela Express route barely qualifies as high-speed rail. Amtrak defenders are quick to point out that it's not all Amtrak's fault as years of inadequate funding has crippled the carrier's ability to run an efficient railroad. Foreign companies such as France's SNCF, however, are probably more qualified to operate high-speed trains in America as they have decades of experience behind them.

New York's MTA has approved deep cuts that would eliminate two subway lines and 34 bus routes. The cuts were taken in order to help close a $400 million budget gap, but it still will not be enough. In the near future the MTA Board expects to vote on another round of service cuts, as well as fare and toll increases. Long Island Railroad and Metro-North Railroad riders will also see some cuts.

Should bikes be taxed?

The debate over bike taxes is heating up in Portland. Supporters of such a tax say that it gives cyclists a "seat at the table," so to speak, in directing scarce transportation dollars. Critics of a bike tax say that cyclists already pay taxes through other means and that their chosen mode of transportation does not impact the environment as automobiles do. Furthermore, generally it is not advisable to tax an activity that should be encouraged.

As regular cyclists know, bike parking is a major issue in Los Angeles. However, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel, or at least a u-rack. The City of Los Angeles is going to debate whether to pilot a "bike corral" program in Northeast L.A. where vehicle parking is removed and a series of bike racks are installed.

However, do not expect bike corrals to be a part of L.A.'s Bike Plan after it's finally re-released later this spring. At the Street Summit, city officials revealed that the new plan has partially incorporated the Backbone Bikeway Network as the plan is now separated into "city network" and "local networks." It also has a section for the break-through programming designs being applied in Long Beach and other cities around the world that are making such a difference. The term for this section? "Non-Standard Designs."

Speaking of the Street Summit, Streetsblog has audio of all the different plenary speakers who spoke to hundreds of participants this weekend.

Donald Shoup, who gave a presentation at the summit, hates free parking. The UCLA professor has two basic rules when it comes to parking: 1) that meters and parking spaces be priced appropriately and 2) that parking revenues go to the local community. Unfortunately, Shoup's ideas don't have very many political allies, as charging for something that was once free is akin to political suicide. Even still, many biking and transit advocates have embraced Shoup's theories, hoping that they will lead to a more livable urban environment.

The City of Burbank apparently decided that there is such a thing as too much car capacity on its roads. The city council voted late last year to put Verdugo Ave. on a Road Diet, and restrict the once four-lane road to a three-lane road with a bike lane. No reports yet on whether or not this has resulted in a political upheaval of dramatic proportions.

A memorial to honor Chinese laborers.

During the Gold Line Eastside Extension's construction human remains that belonged to Chinese laborers were unexpectedly unearthed. Time was set aside in an attempt to identify the remains, but none of those discovered could be identified. Now the remains are receiving a proper burial that will take place starting in April. A memorial was also built at Evergreen cemetery at Metro's expense.

Hotels are taking a page from the nickel and dime tactics of airlines and have started to charge for that which was once free, a cardinal sin in business. Hotels have tacked on fees ranging from mini-bar restocking fees (in addition to the snacks) and room service fees (in addition to the food). The kicker is that you usually will not find out about these charges until checkout time.

Ford has sold Volvo to the China-based Zhejiang Geely Holding Group for $1.8 billion. China is the biggest automobile market in the world and the acquisition is expected to give the Chinese company a stronger presence in Europe.

A graphic depiction of PATSi.

And finally, some people will think of anything just so they won't have to sit next to other people on a bus or train. Enter PATSi, a transportation concept created by Paul Jones for Southern California. Jones envisions a transportation system that would use existing freeways to take people where they want to go in comfort and privacy. His concept, however, essentially amounts to running limousines in dedicated lanes. The vehicles, which seat eight, disembark from one freeway station and take the rider to any other freeway station. Of course, this assumes that there are seven other people who want to go exactly where you want to go at any given station. What about the ninth person? How long will they wait for another PATSi car? In any case, someone has finally made PRT and monorails look like reasonable transportation solutions.

Need work? Transportation For America is hiring in Los Angeles! The Southern California Field Organizer will help The Transit Coalition and other Southern CA coalition partners advocate for a federal transportation program that is safer, cleaner, smarter, and works for everyone - including transit riders - and build a stronger southern California alliance to advocate for transportation at the federal level. Contact Shannon Tracey for details.

Donate to The Transit Coalition!Donate and Join! If you have not done so yet, we invite you to donate and join The Transit Coalition. A monthly subscription to Moving Southern California comes with your membership. Visit our new and improved Donations page to explore other options. Please include The Transit Coalition in your will, trust or estate. Your contribution is greatly appreciated.

Upcoming Events: Consider attending our monthly Transit Coalition Dinner Meeting on Tuesday, April 27, 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at Philippe the Original, 1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles. We hope to see you there!

Metro Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Station & Maintenance Facility Planning Workshops: Wednesday, March 31, 6 p.m., Lula Washington Dance Theatre, 3773 S. Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles.

Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority: Thursday, April 1, 2:30 p.m., Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, Board of Supervisors Hearing Room 381B, 500 W. Temple St., Los Angeles.

Angeles Chapter Sierra Club Transportation Committee: Thursday, April 1, 7:30 p.m. Angeles Chapter Office, 3435 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 320, Los Angeles.

SCRRA (Metrolink) Board Meeting and Service Reductions/Fare Increases Public Hearing: Friday, April 2, 10 a.m., San Bernardino Conference Room, SCAG Building, 12th Floor, 818 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles.

Los Angeles City Bicycle Advisory Committee: Tuesday, April 6, 100 S. Main St., 9th floor, Los Angeles.

Metro San Fernando Valley Governance Council: Wednesday, April 7, 6:30 p.m., Marvin Braude Constituent Center, 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys.

Metro Gateway Cities Governance Council: Thursday, April 8, 2 p.m., Gas Company ERC, 9240 Firestone Blvd., Downey.

Metro South Bay Governance Council: Friday, April 9, 9:30 a.m., Carson Community Center, 801 E. Carson St., Carson.

SCRRA (Metrolink) Committees Meetings: Friday, April 9, 10 a.m., SCRRA Offices, 700 S. Flower St., 26th floor, Los Angeles.

Ventura County Transportation Commission: Friday, April 9, 10 a.m., Camarillo City Hall, 601 Carmen Dr., Camarillo.

Southern California Transit Advocates: Saturday, April 10, 1 p.m., Angelus Plaza, Rm. 422, 255 S. Hill St., Los Angeles.

OCTA Board Meeting: Monday, April 12 and 26, 9 a.m., OCTA Headquarters, 600 S. Main St., Orange.

Metro San Gabriel Valley Governance Council: Monday, April 12, 5 p.m., 3369 Santa Anita Ave. (near El Monte bus station), El Monte.

LOSSAN Technical Advisory Committee (TAC): Wednesday, April 14, 1:30 p.m., San Diego Association of Governments, 401 B Street, Suite 800, San Diego.

Metro Westside/Central Governance Council: Wednesday, April 14, 5 p.m., 325 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills.

Metro Committee Meetings: Wednesday & Thursday, April 14 & 15, Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles.

Metro Board Meeting: Thursday, April 22, 9:30 a.m., Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles.

Riverside Transit Agency: Thursday, April 22, 2 p.m., Board of Supervisors Conference Room, County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon Street, 1st floor, Riverside.

LOSSAN Joint Powers Board: Wednesday, April 28, 11:30 a.m., SANDAG Offices, 401 B Street, Suite 800, San Diego.

Foothill Transit Executive Board: Friday, April 30, 8 a.m., 100 S. Vincent Ave., 2nd floor, West Covina. Missed last week's newsletter? Read it here!

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Contact Us:
We welcome your thoughts and comments on our new electronic newsletter. Please write us:
Bart Reed, Executive Director

Mina Nichols, Legislative Analyst

Zach Gutierrez, Communications
Damien Newton, Editor LA Streetsblog

About The Transit Coalition:
The Transit Coalition is a 501[c](3) non-profit whose goal is to increase Transit Options and Mobility in Southern California by mobilizing citizens to press for sensible public policy to grow our bus and rail network.

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