Posts tagged with "public transportation":

Placeholder Alt Text

Las Vegas will test the first self-driving public shuttle in the U.S.

Yet another unusual attraction has joined Las Vegas’ iconic downtown strip. ARMA, an autonomous, all-electric shuttle bus designed by French start-up, Navya, has been introduced to the city's downtown traffic. The pilot project, made possible through Las Vegas’ partnership with the mass-transit company Keolis and the American Automobile Association(AAA), marks the country's first autonomous shuttle to operate freely within real-world traffic conditions. The bean-shaped vehicle carries eight passengers and is equipped with a computer monitoring system, GPS technology, electronic curb sensors, laser sensors, vehicle-to-infrastructure guidance and a variety of camera systems. Constant wireless communication between the vehicle and sensors set up throughout the area provide real-time information for ARMA to navigate its way through the bustling Las Vegas streetscape. While there are no steering wheels or brakes in the shuttle, an emergency stop button and a human attendant are stationed in the vehicle in case of emergency. Through the course of this year-long pilot project, the shuttle is offering free rides on a half-mile loop in the downtown Fremont East Innovation District of Las Vegas. The half-mile route has just three stops – located on Fremont Street and Carson Street between Las Vegas Boulevard and 8th Street – but is to-date the longest self-driving pilot project to operate in a fully-integrated manner within a real-world city environment. ARMA can operate up to 8 hours on a single charge, and reach a speed of 28 miles per hour. Over the next 12 months, the project aims to provide 250,000 free rides and help soothe public skepticism towards autonomous vehicles. In addition to familiarizing the public to these new technologies, this project will provide real-life research on the relationship between autonomous vehicles and pedestrians, bicycles and other human-operated traffic. Las Vegas will serve as a valuable test site for the future of autonomous transport within the urban environment. If Las Vegas can make it work, we can perhaps expect the expansion of self-driving technology on a broader scale throughout the country. Navya expects electric shuttles to be more affordable to maintain than combustion-powered vehicles. However, the cost of such projects are not cheap to install. Currently, a single Navya shuttle is estimated at around $260,000.
Placeholder Alt Text

Dallas picks routes for new subway and streetcar lines

Last Wednesday, the Dallas City Council unanimously endorsed Commerce Street as the preferred location for a new subway project and a new streetcar line. Even though the decision is not yet final, this event is a significant milestone for a public transportation project that has been under debate for several years. The massive undertaking of embedding a subway line in downtown Dallas has a projected cost of $1.3 billion and is slated for completion in 2024. The line would begin above ground near the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Victory Station and make its way to a new station adjacent to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science before going underground. It is designed to relieve pressure on the existing four light rail lines, which all run on the same downtown track.  Estimated at $92 million dollars, the new streetcar line would link already existing streetcars in Uptown Dallas with existing lines running in the north Oak Cliff area. While there are technically three locations still in consideration for the streetcar, the Elm-Commerce alignment seemed most attractive for its potential economic benefits. While two major public transportation projects in the same area may seem redundant, the subway and the streetcar lines will serve different rider populations. The streetcar is expected to serve local downtown residents, while the subway is aimed at transporting commuters who live further outside the city center. As these projects are nearing consensus, detailed planning will begin for their exact locations, budgets, and urban effects.  
Placeholder Alt Text

Leaked memo suggests Brooklyn-Queens streetcar might not pay for itself

Picture the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront, seven years from now: There will be a new garment district, design fairs, and expanded ferry service, but the city wants residents to see a streetcar, carrying passengers between the neighboring boroughs. Leaked information suggests, though, that plans for the brand new line may have to wait. Politico this week released a draft of a confidential memo from the Mayor Bill de Blasio's BQX advisory team to Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen that outlines some of the challenges behind its developer-driven financial model, among other issues. The mayor officially declared the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) a priority project during his February 2016 state of the city address. The proposed 16-mile, $2.5 billion streetcar line would run along the waterfront, connecting Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens. Unlike a new subway line under Utica Avenue or phase two of the Second Ave Subway, supporters say BQX could be built without financing from the MTA, which is run by the state, not the city. Instead, local backers like Doug Steiner and the Walentas family have endorsed a value-capture model, where the project would be financed by rising property values along the streetcar route. Another selling point was its tight timelines. The city estimated that the project could break ground two years from now and begin ferrying passengers up and down the waterfront by 2024. At one community meeting, a representative from Sam Schwartz, the project's transportation consultant, noted that relocating below-grade utility lines would be a challenging (and costly) aspect of the project, but it turns out the city is having serious second thoughts about the feasibility of relocating gas, water, and sewer mains: "Utility relocation continues to be the biggest single cost factor and if policies cannot be implemented to limit the impact, it has the possibility to make the project unaffordable and render implementation timelines unfeasible," the memo states. The letter outlines three possible timelines, fast to slow, to gauge the costs and benefits of breaking ground sooner rather than later. The memo suggests taking more time to study and review the project before making a final decision, though that would delay the groundbreaking, now set for 2019. But, the memo cautions, every year the project is delayed adds tens of millions more to the bill. Construction on the line was initially expected to take five years, but if the city chooses a longer timeline, construction costs will rise approximately $100 million per year. Ouch. The BQX team, according to Politico, meets bimonthly to discuss the project. If value-capture won't work and the streetcar proves too costly, the city may look into other financing models, or the BQX may be abandoned.
Placeholder Alt Text

Miami’s infrastructure woes run deep, but the city has its eyes set on “huge cultural change”

This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We’re publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.

Talk of “infrastructure” may be one of the few things—if not the only thing—that comes close to uniting Democrats and Republicans at the moment. It was transit infrastructure, of course, that literally united the states of America: originally with railroads in the 19th century and later with interstates and automobiles in the 20th. Today, however, some cities’ prevailing love affairs with the car have become rather one-sided.

Polluting air and clogging roads, vehicles choke our cities. Miami ranks fifth nationally and tenth globally for congestion, as residents spend 65 hours in traffic per year on average, according to INRIX, a global traffic researcher that uses big data. Adding real injury to insult, the state’s stretch of the I-95 is America’s most deadly, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

There is a financial burden to excessive traffic too. INRIX estimates that congestion costs Miami drivers $3.6 billion per year (remember that figure). Additionally, drivers pay out an average of $628,000 every day in tolls, just for the privilege of using the Miami-Dade Expressway.

Cars aren’t cheap, but what is the alternative in an auto-dependent city like Miami? Director of the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTPW) for Miami-Dade County Alice Bravo said that she wanted to make Miami a “car-optional community,” where people can get to “all the different regions within the county using reliable public transit that’s convenient and helps people save time.”

A plethora of schemes and projects are now occurring in and around the city, such as high-speed regional rail, local rail, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian routes, water travel, and carpooling. Miami has gone from having nothing concrete in the pipeline for years to everything happening at once, and this coincides with a development boom that is more tuned for urban living than previous waves of development.

Bravo said that the backbone of the infrastructure surge is the Brightline, a completely private, approximately $3 billion scheme by All Aboard Florida. The “higher-speed” (Note: not high-speed) rail service runs the 235-mile stretch from the Orlando airport to Downtown Miami. The new line will reduce travel between Orlando and Miami from four hours to two and a half, for about the same cost as driving.

Such a commuter-rail service may sound familiar: In the late 19th century, the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) was developed by Henry Flagler. Flagler’s railway ran from Jacksonville and was dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” The commuter rail prevailed until the 1960s when the line was used to transport freight only, which it still does to this day. Unsurprisingly, then, All Aboard Florida is a sister company of the FEC and the new tracks will be laid along the existing lines.

Designing the Miami station, as well as those in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) who are working with Miami-based Zyscovich Architects. Design principal Roger Duffy explained how the stations would work with the existing infrastructure around them: “At Fort Lauderdale, we’re looking to link up with a bus service that will connect the cruise port and the station.” The city is also pressing on with plans for a streetcar system called “The Wave” that would connect with the station as well.

Meanwhile, at West Palm Beach, the 60,000-square-foot station is located at the center of downtown and will connect with the existing trolley network as well as Tri-Rail and Amtrak. In Miami, the station inhabits a similar location. A zoning override that turned the area into a special transit district was required to build the station, and tracks here are elevated 50 feet into the air so that the 11,000-foot-long station can bridge roads and pedestrian pathways.

Like any contemporary train terminus, the station will offer a ton of retail space, with room for a food court too. Duffy, however, stressed that the station was “not like duty-free at an airport,” where you have to weave through shops to get anywhere. Amenities will also cater to the area outside the building. Space for food trucks—a hit in Florida—has been provided, while skylights where the station bridges the streets offer daylight.

The Brightline train itself was designed by the LAB at Rockwell Group—an in-house strategy and technology studio at the New York architecture and design studio. The LAB at Rockwell Group worked with All Aboard Florida to conceive the Brightline name, brand platform, visual identity, and designed the train’s interiors as well as the exterior graphics. In addition to this, one of Rockwell Group’s architectural studios designed the interior check-in areas, food and beverage areas, and lounge experiences for all four Brightline stations.

Using the Brightline project as a springboard, Bravo is embarking on a $3.6 billion (remember that number?) transport scheme. Part of “Strategic Miami Area Rapid Transit,” otherwise known as the S.M.A.R.T. plan, 82 miles of track will be laid along six transportation corridors that involve local services, including the suburban Metrorail and the elevated monorail Metromover.

In addition to new tracks, existing tracks are also finding a new lease on life as a haven for pedestrians and cyclists. Known as the “Underline,” the rails-to-trails scheme, comes from James Corner Field Operations (JCFO)—the same firm who developed New York’s hugely popular High Line.

As one might guess, the scheme involves area underneath the Metrorail being turned into a landscaped oasis filled with pedestrian paths, cycle lanes, and native planting. The 10-mile stretch is planned to run from Brickell Station down to Dadeland South Station. Phase one is occurring in Brickell, where work is due for completion in 2019, set to cost netween $7 million and $9 million. “Brickell has grown explosively in the past 10 to 15 years,” said Meg Daly, president of Friends of the Underline, the group leading the project. “We really believe that this trail-cum-park will offer incredible amenities and green spaces to offset the vertical growth and increased density in the area.”

Expanding on this, Isabel Castilla of JCFO listed amenities such as a dog park, an outdoor gym, a basketball court that doubles up as a space for yoga classes and similar activities, as well as a 150-capacity bicycle garage (Miami-Dade’s first) and a bike repair station. Art will also line the trail, and amenities will be site-specific: In the University of Miami area, a beach volleyball court will be installed.

According to Irene Hegedus of the DTPW, providing safe bicycle routes is a high priority. Castilla added that the shade provided by the Metrorail is “critical” for a project where people are encouraged to “walk, run, and cycle to stations and along the path.” “Working with the existing infrastructure,” she continued, “we hope this leads to the rezoning and re-visioning of areas along the Metrorail as transit-orientated development sites and areas where, as Miami continues to grow, it hopefully grows in a denser way near transit stations rather than continuing urban sprawl that is very dependent on highways and cars.”

Bravo, too, is aware of the interwoven relationship between transit development and the densification of urban areas. Another tool she discussed to further assist Hegedus’s and her ambitions was the possibility of Uber and Lyft entering the fray of her transport plans, acting as the “first and last miles” for journeys.

Now operating in Miami (after three years of lobbying for service legalization), Uber and Lyft previously found success in other parts of Florida, notably in Pinellas Park and Altamonte Springs where rides are subsidized and saving the cities considerable money. Altamonte Springs City Manager Frank Martz described the pilot partnership as “going very well,” but said the scheme is due to end in July.

The low-cost nature of services such as Uber and Lyft is a key to their success. Already able to outprice traditional taxi drivers, ridesharing services Uber Pool and Lyft Line are looking to compete with bus service, too. Uber has gone further than mere carpooling by introducing pickup points optimized by algorithms that essentially create Uber bus stops.

Uber is also losing money—approximately $3 billion per year. In December, economist Justin Wolfers commented that “prices will rise once they’ve succeeded at monopolizing the industry.” If he is correct, the governmental embracing of Uber and Lyft long-term will prove to be shortsighted. Evidence of what happens when alternative public transit routes become unavailable can be seen in London. During a tube strike earlier this year, Uber fares surged by 450 percent; one rider was reportedly charged $138 for a five-mile trip.

It should be noted, though, that Altamonte Springs and Pinellas Park went with car sharing due to other circumstances not going their way. The Altamonte Springs city government set aside $500,000 (of which only a fraction has been needed) for private-hire subsidies after it was denied funding for a $1.5 million pilot “FlexBus” program. At Pinellas Park, the program emerged in response to a 2014 referendum in which local voters declined to adopt a one-cent sales tax to aid transit in the area.

In Miami, however, residents appear to be more enthusiastic about public transport. The “People’s Transportation Plan,” a half-penny charter county sales surtax is helping to fund the S.M.A.R.T. project, something the public voted in favor of back in 2002.

All this, too, shouldn’t suggest that Miami is waging all-out war against the automobile. Getting around by car is being made easier by what Bravo calls “smart signals”—traffic signals that adapt to current states of congestion. Using cameras, they monitor intersections and use AI to optimize traffic flow. Miami-Dade County is investing $40 million this year for the implementation of the traffic signals along major corridors, part of a five-year, $160 million effort. Other smart-city services include 300 soon-to-be-installed wi-fi transit hotspots from CIVIQ Smartscapes.

With all the proposed infrastructural plans, varying in scale, Bravo is under no illusions about the difficulty of the task. “This is a huge cultural change,” she said. However, Bravo is optimistic about how future generations will take to the changes. “New millennials are cool about public transportation,” she added. Such unprecedented growth seldom comes around often, and the chance to invest off the back of hefty tax receipts may be fleeting. Miami’s public transit system is dire, but if it continues to ride the wave of public support and enact its plans, change in the form of mobility lies ahead.

Placeholder Alt Text

L.A.’s Purple Line subway extension receives in $1.6B federal funding

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was in Los Angeles this week to commemorate the announcement of $1.6 billion in federal funding toward the extension of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (LAMTA) Purple Line subway route.

The existing Purple Line opened in 1993 and begins in Downtown Los Angeles’s Union Station, sharing track with the system’s Red Line along most of its length. The route separates from the Red Line in the MacArthur Park neighborhood and currently terminates as a two-stop spur along the city’s Wilshire Boulevard corridor. Eventually, the Purple Line is expected to reach the oceanside community of Santa Monica and is being built in a piecemeal effort to achieve that goal.

The first, 3.9-mile long extension from the current terminus at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard is currently under construction and is expected to open for service in 2023.

The second phase of expansion will run from La Cienega Boulevard to Century City, roughly two-thirds of the way between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

The new round of funding announced by Foxx includes a $1.187 Federal Transit Administration Capital Investment Grant, a $307 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loan, and a $169 million grant from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program. The remaining $747 million in funding for the $2.41 billion expansion will come from Measure R funds, a voter-approved transportation sales tax increase passed in 2008. Construction on the phase two extension is expected to begin in 2018 and will be completed by 2026. There is a possibility that construction on the extension could be sped up so the line would be operational for the 2024 Olympic games, should the city be selected as that year’s host.

Phase three of the extension will move the end of the line 2.6-miles further west to the upscale Westwood neighborhood and the nearby Veterans Administration Hospital (VA) complex. Plans for extensions beyond the VA campus have not been announced. 

The current round of funding was bolstered by the passage of Measure M this November, which entails an additional county-wide tax increase to fund transportation infrastructure projects across the region in perpetuity. According to government officials, the guarantee of these future funds compelled the Transportation department to move forward with the latest round of grants and loans.

The new transit line has the potential to reshape the city’s Westside neighborhoods and could usher in a new era of dense, transit-oriented development along Wilshire Boulevard. Anticipation for the future line is building, as a similar transformation has already begun to occur along the system’s recently-opened Expo Line that runs several miles to the south along a parallel trajectory.

Already, several high-rise housing projects have been announced along the eastern portions of the Wilshire corridor, including a 15-story residential luxury tower designed by Steinberg Architects in the Mid-Wilshire area and a Pei Cobb Freed & Partners-designed addition to Minoru Yamasaki’s Century Plaza Hotel in Century City.

Placeholder Alt Text

The future is now? Chinese straddling bus that travels OVER cars unveiled

China has unveiled its much anticipated "straddling bus." Spanning two lanes of traffic, the "bus" is essentially a moving tunnel, traveling on tracks on the far side of each lane while leaving six-and-a-half-feet of headroom for automobiles moving underneath. Though appearing to be more of a tram, the vehicle is officially known as the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB). Stretching to 72 feet long and running on electricity, the bus can accommodate 300 passengers and is touted as traveling up to 37 miles-per-hour. Buses can also be connected to each other if necessary. This week, a trial run of the TEB-1 was carried out along a 984-foot-long stretch of controlled track in Qinhuangdao, a city located in the north east of China. In 2010, a computer model of the bus caused a stir online, resurfacing again this May when images of a physical scale model were released of it being showcased at the 19th China Beijing International High-Tech Expo. Despite the excitement surrounding the project, many were skeptical of the TEB's success—if it were to ever be realized. After a remarkable three-month turnaround, however, the bus is now a reality. Song Youzhou, the project's chief engineer spoke state-media outlet Xinhua. "The biggest advantage is that the bus will save lots of road space," he said earlier this year. "The TEB has the same functions as the subway, while its cost of construction is less than one fifth of the subway," said fellow engineer Bai Zhiming to the CCTV news agency. According to the firm behind the project, TEB-1 could take the place of 40 normal buses. So far, however, it is not known how much the "straddling bus" will be used across China. Five cities—Qinhuangdao, Shenyang, Nanyang, Tianjin, and Zhoukou—have agreed to deals with TEB Technology Development Company for further testing.
Placeholder Alt Text

L.A. transit initiative, which could generate $860 million annually, will officially be on November ballot

Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (Metro) proposed ballot initiative, Measure M, was unanimously approved yesterday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, clearing a final hurdle that allows the sale tax-raising initiative to officially be placed on the November ballot. Measure M, officially, the “Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan,” seeks to permanently raise the sales tax for the county by a half percent, bringing L.A. County’s base sales tax rate to 9.5% while pushing the tax rate above 10% in several of the municipalities within its boundaries. The proposal expects to generate $860 million in funding per year, allowing the Metro to vastly expand its 25-year-old transit system by adding multiple transit lines while also expanding existing subway, light rail, bus rapid transit, and commuter rail systems across the region. The proposed transit expansion would aim to weave the transportation system’s fledgling footprint throughout the region by adding light rail lines to the San Fernando Valley, West Hollywood, and across South and East Los Angeles. The proposal also dedicates roughly one-sixth of projected revenue to highway infrastructure projects with a matching amount of funds turned over local municipalities for discretionary use. A map created by multi-modal transportation planner and blogger at CalUrbanist Steve Boland, shown above, illustrates the range of projects to be built if Measure M were to be passed by voters. Boland’s map includes the currently-under construction California High Speed Rail route as well as several added “unrelated projects that are largely funded and likely to happen” to create a vision for what L.A.’s transit system might one day look like. Describing his vision for the map, Boland told The Architect's Newspaper, “There's a map and project descriptions on the Metro website, but there's not much detail about the projects, and there's no timeline. This is understandable, since a lot of the projects haven't been well defined yet—so my map has to make a number of assumptions about alignment, mode, etc.  But I think it is good for folks to be able to envision just what the future might look like. And I wanted to do it in a way that was simple and familiar, thus the German-style diagram.” Measure M marks the second transit-related tax increase in eight years, following 2008’s Measure R, which was also a half-cent increase. Measure R, due to expire in 2039, would become permanent with Measure M’s passage, which would itself increase by another half percentage point that year to retain Measure's share of funding. Though only eight years old, Measure R has yielded the opening of multiple transit lines, including extensions to the Gold and Expo Lines, this year, alone. Metro also became the first-in-the-nation transit agency to run its own bike share program last month when it rolled out the initial phase of what could be a 7,000 bicycle system. The initiative would need to clear a two-thirds majority on election night to become law and is expected to be joined on the ballot by a slew of tax and bond initiatives aimed at easing many of the ills across the region, including a $1.2 billion bond initiative aimed at alleviating the region’s homelessness epidemic.
Placeholder Alt Text

After a $21M renovation, a Bronx subway station still isn’t wheelchair accessible

The non-profit group Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) has filed a federal class action lawsuit against the MTA over a Bronx subway station that remains inaccessible to wheelchairs despite a major overhaul. According to DRA, the MTA’s failure to make the station wheelchair accessible is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects people from discrimination based on disability. The Middletown Road station in the Bronx was closed between October 2013 and May 2014 for improvements, which included replacing staircases and other parts of the structure. The costly renovation also included new ceilings, walls, and floors, but failed to add an elevator. The station lies in the middle of a four mile stretch—which contains ten stops on the 6 line—that are not wheelchair accessible. According to the DRA, New York City has one of the worst public transportation systems in the country for handicapped people, with only 19% of subway stations accessible to wheelchairs compared to 100% of stations in Washington, D.C. and the San Francisco Bay Area. While city busses are all wheelchair accessible, they're often a much slower and less efficient way to get around. According to DNAinfo, the MTA claims it was not in violation of the ADA because adding an elevator would have been impossible due to the physical constrains of the station. The DRA asserts that it could've been done. Minor accessibility improvements to the station were implemented, including new handrails and tactile signs. The suit, which was filed on behalf of Bronx Independent Living Services (BILS) and Disabled in Action of Metropolitan New York (DIA), claims that an elevator would have been technically feasible. According to Anthony Trocchia, President of DIA, the suit is meant to call attention to the broader issue of wheelchair accessibility on the New York City subway system.
Placeholder Alt Text

Designers offer transportation alternatives for NYC’s impending L train outage

As the specter of the L train's closure has become very real—it could last as long as three years—some alternatives have appeared from disparate sources. They include an East River Skyway cable car and a proposal to make 14th Street in Manhattan car-free. The Van Alen Institute recently hosted an L Train Shutdown Charrette to encourage the generation of further ideas. Proposals had been whittled-down to six finalists. Each proposal was judged on accessibility, potential for economic development, financial feasibility, socioeconomic equity, disaster preparedness, and inventiveness by an audience, who subsequently voted for the winner. The winning team was Dillon Pranger of Kohn Pedersen Fox who worked alongside Youngjin Yi of Happold Engineering; they suggested a water shuttle on Newtown Creek that would connect with the Long Island Railroad freight lines converted for passenger use. Much like what Jim Venturi proposed last month for NYC and NJ rail travel, the pair's idea makes use of infrastructure not currently utilized for public transit. Newton Creek was selected for its proximity to Greenpoint and Williamsburg, both popular stops for L-train commuters. Shuttles would also run from Manhattan to Dekalb Avenue and the North Williamsburg Ferry Pier. As for the other submitted proposals, landscape architects Gonzalo Cruz and Garrett Avery, engineer Xiaofei Shen, and architectural intern Rayana Hossain proposed a 2,400-foot-long floating tunnel between Brooklyn and Manhattan for cyclists and pedestrians. Submitting for engineering firm AECOM, the team titled their proposal Light at the End of the Tunnel. The tunnel, which could be submerged or float above the water, be features a translucent skin. A "fast cart people-mover commuter system" would transport people through 14th Street and North 7th Street in Brooklyn on land. Another submission, dubbed the Lemonade Line, came from John Tubles of Pei Cobb Freed Architects, Jaime Daroca of Columbia University C-Lab, Nicolas Lee of Hollwich Kushner, and Daniela Leon of Harvard GSD. The line aims to be “a multimodal transportation strategy that provides an all-access pass to seamlessly-linked buses, bikes, car-shares, and ferry lines following the L line above ground.” A mobile app would be developed for the program that could offer various routes depending on traffic.
Placeholder Alt Text

New transit line links Downtown Los Angeles to the beach

For transit boosters and urbanists in Los Angeles, last weekend’s opening of the 6.6 mile extension to the city’s Expo Line linking Downtown Los Angeles with Santa Monica represents a capstone over a quarter century of hard-fought rail construction in a city notorious for its auto-dependent populace. Los Angeles systematically dismantled its pre-World War II Red Car system in the post-war era and did not begin rebuilding its rail transit infrastructure until in the late 1980s. Metro opened the Blue line in 1990, a 22-mile light rail route linking Downtown Los Angeles with Long Beach. Since then, the system has grown exponentially, with two subway routes, four light rail lines, and two rapid bus lines completed since. Much of the recent expansion has been funded with money collected via sales tax increases. The Metro has another such initiative, Measure R2, on the November ballot this year aiming to help the agency continue its vigorous growth. A first phase of the Expo Line opened in 2012 linking downtown to Culver City. The now-completed 15.2 mile route reestablishes rail transportation between the beach-adjacent westside communities and the region’s symbolic heart downtown by essentially reviving the route taken by the Pacific Electric Red Car service’s Air Line service that ran along the former Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe right of way between 1908 to 1953. The new line is expected to take around an hour end to end, about the same amount of time it takes to drive in good traffic. The Expo Phase II project was constructed via a design-build partnership between Skanska USA and Rados Construction Inc. and was administered by Expo Authority, the independent agency created by Metro to build the line. Skanska USA tapped Parsons Brinckerhoff to design the route’s tracks, stations, and bicycle facilities. Parsons Brinckerhoff also designed 24 at-grade and above-grade intersections for the line. Celebrations took place at each of the seven new stations last weekend and Metro offered free fares on Friday and Saturday to commemorate the completion of the new line. The much-hyped weekend saw so many Angelenos flock to stops along the route that service got backed up as enthusiasts and skeptics alike rode rail transit to the beach for the first time in sixty years. But in perhaps a sign the difficulty Metro faces in changing L.A.’s car-dependent culture, service ground to a halt for nearly two hours Monday morning when a drunk driver drove onto the Expo Line’s tracks along an at-grade run of the line near downtown, snarling the line’s first weekday morning commute.  
Placeholder Alt Text

L.A. Metro completes 11.5 mile extension to Azusa, aims for Montclair next

This year, a new northward extension of the Gold Line (Pasadena to Azusa) and the Expo line (Culver City to Santa Monica) are opening or have opened to the public, and a third extension of the Gold Line (Glendora to Montclair) may break ground as soon as the summer of 2017, pending the adoption and passage of a November ballot initiative to raise the sales tax by half a cent over the next 40 years. The initiative would also retain the voter-approved sales tax increase of 2008’s Measure R. A southward extension of the Gold Line (Downtown to East L.A.) and the first spur of the Expo (Downtown to Culver City) were among the projects funded by Measure R and opened in 2009 and 2012, respectively.

The Gold Line’s extension into these heretofore car-centric burgs isn’t just about increasing ridership by 13,600 daily boardings by 2035; it’s also a way to make once relatively inaccessible areas part of a newly defined urban corridor. At least, this was the thinking underpinning many of the speeches given by public officials such as L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti on the Gold Line extension’s opening day ceremony on March 5. “We want to come here and visit our friends here too,” he said, before remarking that “we want to see a vibrant region that eases congestion for everybody.”

The Gold Line’s northward extension has occurred in three primary phases: first, from downtown Los Angeles to Pasadena, then from Pasadena to Azusa, and now potentially from Glendora to Montclair. While the Metro operates the trains and manages the fares, a separate agency known as the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority is responsible for all of the planning, stakeholder meetings, and each construction phase. Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority CEO Habib F. Balian remarked in a phone interview that the March 5th opening was “very successful. It’s very complicated when you start operation of a project like this, let alone when it’s transferred from one agency to another. But it’s all gone very well.” Balian has overseen phase two and is already 30 percent into the design and engineering planning of phase three. His hope is to be “shovel ready” by the summer of 2017, if this November’s proposed ballot initiative passes.

Balian’s duties as planner aren’t simply about navigating the geotechnical challenges of laying track on top of the earthquake-fault-prone soil of Southern California, but also creating a piece of infrastructure that will hopefully add as much beauty as it does efficiency to its environs. In phase two, Balian and his team decided to make a bridge over the 210 freeway a significant part of the new line. “Once we got the funding in place in 2008 for the 210 bridge specifically, I thought ‘what a great opportunity to make it a gateway.’ If we started early enough and gave real direction to the designers and brought on an artist, it wouldn’t cost us any more than if we did it any later in the project.” Artist Andrew Leicester was commissioned to work on the bridge, while artist Christie Beniston helped select an orange highlight color for the previously gray operations campus in Monrovia. If phase three gets its funding, Balian is already working with artists to create meaningful motifs and patterns for the line’s alignment, which includes retaining walls, sound walls, bridgework, and abutment walls.

The result is a section of public transit that heavily incorporates aesthetic considerations while making it possible for a resident of Azusa to get to downtown L.A. in under 50 minutes, regardless of traffic conditions. 

Placeholder Alt Text

The San Francisco BART system’s brutally honest social media responses

San Francisco’s BART recently received nationwide attention from the likes of New York Magazine and Gawker for its new and improved Twitter account. No, it’s not because the transit system finally figured out how to correctly use Twitter (slow clap), but because BART has made the radical decision to be honest and upfront with its riders (er, another slow clap). In response to particularly terrible service with multiple hour-long delays, @SFBART tweeted: “BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality.”

Perhaps the gesture would mean more if the majority of the tweets weren’t apologies for bad service, or if, as SF Weekly reported, that BART is engaging in campaign tactics to convince San Franciscans to pass a $3.5 billion bond for funding this November.