Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Introducing Measure R - Traffic Relief for L.A.


Transportation demands in Los Angeles continue to grow, but the funding to support that growing capacity is very limited. The freeways are a mess with traffic, roads are in disrepair, and buses on popular boulevards are packed like sardines. Our trains don't have enough coverage considering LA's scale, but in spite of this, have been seeing larges growths in ridership.

This is why we need Measure R to generate funding to be used exclusively for transportation projects. These projects would confront transportation issues on several fronts. With highway and street improvements, local improvements for pedestrians and cyclists, but most significantly as far is this blog is concerned, by devoting a significant portion of funding to expand our commuter train network.

Trains are essential in reliving traffic tension for our growing population and economy. A single train can be carrying passengers in the hundreds depending on the number of cars. At lower traffic times additional cars can be removed for less carrying weight. Their energy efficiency compared to cars especially and even buses is simply unrivaled. They contribute to an environmentally sustainable economy by replacing pollution heavy car trips as well as reducing land use demands like parking spaces. And very importantly to many Angelenos, they can bring down commute times for everyone, not just for the people riding them, but motorists who would be sharing the road with less cars.

Los Angeles completely killed it's formerly extensive rail system in the conversion to an automobile based society, but sprawling development and traffic woes on over stressed freeways necessitated bringing trains back into the mix. With our currently limited rail network growing ridership to rival much larger systems like BART, the time is ripe for further train development in Los Angeles County.

A number of different train projects would receive funding from Measure R. With the spending oversights in place, these projects and the budgets for them would be locked unless a requested change goes through a year of review.

1A Exposition Boulevard Light Rail Transit: Culver City to Santa Monica
Extends the Exposition Rail Line, currently under construction to Culver City, to Santa Monica.

1B Crenshaw Transit Corridor (project acceleration)
Accelerates construction of a line along the Crenshaw Bl Corridor and connects Los Angeles, Inglewood, Hawthorne and El Segundo, plus unincorporated LA County.

1C Regional Connector: Links Local Rail Lines
Links four light rail lines that terminate at the edges of Central LA. Expected to provide seamless connections between Long Beach/Pasadena, and Culver City/East LA, minimizing the need for rail transfers.

1DWestside Subway Extension (to be opened in segments)
Extends Metro Rail to the Westside. The project is expected to serve Century City and Westwood/UCLA.
This project is my personal favorite, and although Measure R would only carry it to UCLA, further funding sources such as the federal government would be sought after to extend it all the way to Santa Monica. Click for more info on the West Side Extension at Metro's site, and the official facebook group is another great source of information.
1E Gold Line Eastside Extension
Extends Metro Gold Line farther east from the Pomona/Atlantic Station.

1F Gold Line Foothill Light Rail Transit Extension
Extends the Metro Gold Line from its current terminus in Pasadena toward Claremont.

1G Green Line Extension: Redondo Beach Station to South Bay Corridor
Continues the Metro Green Line from its current terminus in Redondo Beach to the South Bay Galleria.

1H Green Line Extension to Los Angeles International Airport
Links the Metro Green Line to LAX at the Aviation Station.
Yes! At long last, the train that almost goes to LAX would be go that last couple miles.
1M Metrolink Capital Improvement Projects (Los Angeles County)
Purchases trains, expands the Eastern Maintenance Facility and upgrades sidings and crossovers to increase speed and safety. Local jurisdictions could use funds to improve parking and station facilities within their cities and offer connecting shuttle services.
In light of the recent Metrolink tragedy, and their shoestring budget, funding improvements for Metrolink are very important.
1N Metro Rail Capital Projects
Maintains rail facilities by improving operational systems, upgrading rail yards and purchasing new rail cars.

1O East Light Rail Access (Gold Line)
Increases access, including pedestrian and bicycle, to the Gold Line Eastside Light Rail project.

Your probably wondering how is this all going to be paid for. Measure R would raise the sales tax in L.A. County by half a cent, and would be estimated to generate around 40 billion dollars over 30 years. People hate traffic in Los Angeles, but people also hate paying for things. However, it's estimated the average citizen would be paying only about $25 a year on this tax according to the LAEDC. I feel that is pretty reasonable considering the long term benefits these projects will bring to the future economy and quality of life here in Los Angeles. At a time with high unemployment, the non-outsourceable jobs these projects would create are nothing to scoff at either.

Measure R is more than just adding trains. Road project improvements, large and small are proposed as well, and Lord knows we need them. For the sake of this blog I wanted to just highlight the rail projects. If you want to find out more about this measure, I encourage you to read up on it at the Measure R informational page. A new facebook group has also been started to promote the proposal, and will likely feature continued updates as we near the election.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Taking The Train to Mom's House

I want to reveal for the sake of transparency part of my motivation for promoting rail transit in Los Angeles. I am in no way related to, or have any monetary stake in transportation projects of any kind. However I would like a fast and efficient way to get to my mom's house without needing to use a car, since I am in the process of going car free by choice.

She lives in West Covina, and I live in Santa Monica. This is a very far trip to get by bicycle, my usual mode of transit. Although I have biked there before, it's a long and sweaty adventure that carves through parts of L.A. that are not always so cycling friendly. Public transit options are limited, and there is no choice but to get on the bus for much of the journey, which is subject to the same traffic issues as cars in addition to the frequent stops and less direct routing.

(Route Alternative 11 For West Side Extension)

If the West Side Extension of the subway were built, and the CA High-Speed Rail were built, that would fundamentally change the East/West transportation options in Los Angeles. I could ride my bike to Bergamot Station and pick up the Purple Line Subway to Union station, completely by passing traffic congestion on the 10 freeway and popular boulevards. Once at Union Station I could transfer to a high speed train and blaze the next 26 miles in 17 minutes to get off in City of Industry. From there I could bike the last few miles without breaking a sweat. In total I would be able to travel to my mom's house with a very low carbon footprint and in less time than it would take in a car, especially during times of heavy traffic (which is most of the time).

(HSR Route, Downtown L.A. To City Of Industry)

So in addition to all of the social, economic, and environmental benefits these projects could bring, I support Prop1A and Measure R, so that one day I can take the train to my mom's house quickly and efficiently.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An Introduction To California High Speed Rail


You may or may not be aware that California has been planning for many years now the potential for connecting the state's major cities with a European style high speed train system. Several attempts to pass a bond measure that would jump start the project have been tried, and it was always shot down in the legislature before making it to voters. Well this time it's different. There is a growing realization within State Government that we need to explore alternatives to airline and automobile dependence, and now California voters will get a chance to make true high speed rail a reality for the first in the United States. Since the last numbers I looked at showed only 20% of California voters have even heard of this project, and it's related ballot initiative Prop1A, I aim to raise this awareness.

This train would start by connecting Los Angeles to San Fransisco in it's first phase, with Sacramento and San Diego added in a second phase. Major cities along the way would be stops for the train. [Map] Unlike the Amtrak train which to connect L.A. & S.F. takes a beautiful winding 13 hour journey along the coast at tops speeds of 75 MPH, this train would zip between major cities at tops speeds of 220 MPH and connect L.A. San Francisco in 2.5 hours. Unlike planes and automobiles which keep us in the grip of foreign oil dependence, this HSR (high speed rail) train could move thousands of passengers every day with out a drop of oil, because it is all electric.

(3D visualization of the proposed train system and the route it would follow. Higher quality videos available here.)

There are numerous reasons why this is a great idea worth our investment, and contrary to the belief of some detractors, this is not some kind of science fiction fantasy project. This system would be modeled after trains that have long existed successfully in Asia and Europe, and quite profitably as well.

We are going to have a choice in November between shoveling more money into a failing system of airport expansions and highway widening projects, or investing in a real transportation future for a growing California population. As we near the election I will continue to argue point by point the case for Proposition 1A to build the high speed train. If you have any questions, concerns, or criticisms I welcome them in the comments, and I will try to address them in future posts.

California High-Speed Rail Authority (Official Website)
California High Speed Rail Blog
Yes on Prop 1A, CA for High-Speed Trains

South Shore Train, Michigan City to Chicago

During my recent vacation to Michigan City, I had the opportunity to take the South Shore train into Chicago. Due to a Cubs game, high ridership was expected, and numerous baseball caps adorned the heads of the gathered crowd. At the station several additional cars were added to the train to increase the occupancy. The $6.50 fare, which was collected after boarding, was quite a deal considering the distance and parking rates in Chicago that look like this.

Meghan And I On The South Shore Train
(My girlfriend Meghan and I enjoying our comfy seats and lack of driving)

The route was quite beautiful, and it was a great way to catch a glimpse of Northern Indiana and Illinois. I was pretty much glued to the window while Meghan took the opportunity to relax into a sleep like daze. Train travel is so chill, I love it. Especially after the nightmare of getting to Michigan City by plane. Our flight had been delayed from 11pm Friday to 6:00AM Saturday with incompetence from customer service at every turn.

On The South Shore Train To Chicago
On The South Shore Train To Chicago On The South Shore Train To Chicago

At last we got off at the Vanburen Station and got off to explore Chicago on foot, something a bit more difficult back home in Los Angeles. Being the cyclist that I am, even though we weren't riding bikes, I took note of what appeared to be a healthy system of bicycle infrastructure and frequently spotted cycling commuters. Our first destination was the famous Art Institute of Chicago, which as everyone seems to point out to me, is indeed the one featured in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. In our short time in Chicago I didn't get a chance to ride the famous L train, but I did get a shot of it going by.

Vanburen Station
(South Shore, Vanburen Station)

One last bit of trivia from someone who works in the video game industry. A Playstation 3 train simulator from Japan, filled predominantly with Japanese train lines, features the Brown Line in Chicago. Complete with crystal HD quality video footage of the entire line. If you've got an itch for controlling some amazing commuter trains, there is apparently no region coding so you can play it on U.S. consoles, but expect the mark up of import fees.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sad Days

I'm sure many of you have seen the plastered images of last Friday's tragic head on crash between a Metrolink commuter train and a freight train along a stretch of single track in Chatsworth. First and foremost condolences to those effected by this accident resulting in 25 deaths and numerous injuries, and a huge thanks should be given to all the emergency personal who's hard and quick response prevented this from being being even worse.

Some have already started jumping to conclusions about what happened, and coming up with their own political spin, but at this time nothing concrete has come out of the investigation. Until a full investigation is completed I'm going to keep out of the circle of speculation.

I'd also like to remind everyone, although this accident does highlight the horror of a train accident, and the need for better safeguards, this is an extremely uncommon occurrence. So much tragedy happens all at once in a train accident, and so a great deal of media attention is devoted when it happens. Fatal automobile accidents happen nearly every day and the extent of their reporting is generally "Expect delays on the 405". In a future post I will discuss further the issue of train safety, and also the relative risks compared to other modes of transit.

The day after the accident, my girlfriend and I continued our plans to take the Red Line subway to Union Station and use Metrolink to get to the L.A. County Fair, along with hundreds of other people. It was a quick, cost effective, and relaxing way to get to the fair grounds and as a bonus included a discount on admission and a free ride on the ferris wheel. More people have been catching on to the benefits of travel by rail, and Metrolink, which serves the outer reaches of L.A County and Orange County has seen ridership grow by 60% in the past 5 years.

It's still very disheartening to think about how many lives were effected by Friday's collision, and I hope that the investigation results in a better understanding of how to prevent such a collision from happening in the future.

The count of the fallen is now 26 after another passenger died yesterday in the hospital. [LAist]

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Only In Japan

Check out that swanky interior, what could that be from? It's from one of the cars on a new train in Japan specifically designed with open and fun places for kids and families. When is the last time you saw an interior like that in a plane or an automobile?

Although I doubt we will see anything quite like this on an American train any time soon unfortunately. What I love about this is it shows the potential trains have to play with space. The only other forms of transportation with such potential are boats & ships, and obviously sea fairing vessels have limited potential for moving people in and between our cities.

I stumbled across this quirky but delightful train doing a Google search of the words train and awesome. The web post does not provide any details or sources, and my initial attempts to find other information on it came up empty. I'm really curious about this project, so if you find out something before I do, drop me a line in the comments.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Passing Through Anything Helps

Passsing Thru Anytthing Helps

I discovered this oddity laying on the ground on my recent trip to Chicago. I'm going to interpret the crossed lines to be rail road tracks, and presume that the maker of this sign is in fact a rail advocate promoting the message that passing a train through anything is helpful.

In local news, Measure R, which would include significant investments toward expanding the L.A. rail network, has racked up some notable endorsements. The latest of which is the Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed).
"The Los Angeles County Business Federation acts as a grass roots alliance of existing business organizations whose goal is to effectively mobilize the collective voice of the Los Angeles business community."
The group is made up of small and large business leaders alike and boasts a membership of 93,000 people that are now being encouraged to vote in support of Measure R.
“Residents and businesses are losing billions of dollars a year because our transportation infrastructure is failing to keep pace with our growing population. Measure R is crucial to retaining and attracting new companies and jobs to the region, and ensuring traffic congestion does not sap our economic vitality and quality of life,” said BizFed Chairman, David Fleming.
Measure R is a lot more then just rail expansion. It will fund direly needed road and highway repair projects, improve the bus network, and put money into local cities to spend on regional improvements like filling epic pot holes, and pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. A really big piece of this pie is for more trains, and trains are awesome, so vote yes on Measure R to make the future of Los Angeles an awesome one.

Yes it means there would be a half cent increase to our sales tax, and people hate taxes. However, over the course of a year it comes out to about 20-30 bucks for most people. Traffic is one of the defining problems of Los Angeles, one that will only continue to get worse if we rely on our existing infrastructure. It seems to me that transportation improvements city wide is something worth pitching in a 20 toward each year.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Trains, The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread


I blog pretty extensively about bicycles as a means of local transportation, as well as just being fun to ride. However bikes are not fast and efficient over great distances. Cars (even the beloved Prius) and planes are terrible for the environment, promote foreign oil dependence and are massive hogs of city land use. Think parking lots and air fields. Which is why I strongly believe that trains are an essential and currently under utilized asset in the transportation mix within the United States. I've decided to start this blog to promote rail in the U.S. with an emphasis on my home state of California, and the city of Los Angeles.

The coming November election has two ballot measures of significance to the future of California rail, which I intend to highlight and promote with this blog. The first is Prop 1A, which would use a government bond to kick start construction of a high speed rail line across the state of California. This project would ultimately be finished with private investments, and due to the efficiency of HSR, will be able to maintain a profit and be self sufficient after the initial investments. Unlike the ongoing tax payer subsides to automobile and plane travel. The second, which is local to Los Angeles, is Measure R. This ballot measure created by the MTA proposes a half cent sales tax to be utilized exclusively for a long term plan to improve transportation in gridlocked Los Angeles. A significant portion of this funding would be invested in several proposed rail expansions to the small but growing L.A. commuter train system. A system that has been setting ridership records in light of raising gas prices.

In the coming weeks leading up to the election I will make my case for why trains are in fact awesome. I'm hoping I'll live to see the day when fast and efficient electric trains criss cross California, and America, in a future without foreign oil dependence.

California High Speed Rail Authority
Yes on 1A, Californians for High Speed Trains
Metro Measure R