ExpressLanes: Metro Needs a Comprehensive Approach

Metro's ExpressLanes Graphic

Today I used the Harbor Transitway in South Los Angeles. Suffice to say, I am not a happy customer. My trip from the Harbor Freeway/105 Station back to USC campus was quick and relatively comfortable but for two glaring problems: I waited 30 minutes for a bus during the AM peak, and the freeway-level platform is possibly the least inviting, most unpleasant transit facility I have ever used. Metro plans to seriously change service on the Silver Line and change the HOV lanes on the Harbor and San Bernardino Freeways to HOT lanes. The Harbor Transitway, already considered an abject failure in transit circles, could be the make-or-break facility for the ExpressLanes project.

ExpressLanes is a pilot project for HOT (high occupancy toll) lanes in Los Angeles County. Metro will begin charging demand-based tolls to single occupancy motorists who wish to use the Harbor Transitway and El Monte Busway HOV facilities. High occupancy vehicles will still be allowed to use the lanes free on the Harbor Transitway, but on the El Monte Busway, carpools will have to pay during peak periods. All vehicles on the facility will need a FasTrak transponder. Much of the extra revenue raised by ExpressLanes will go to increasing the frequency of the Metro Silver Line to 5 minute headways during peak periods. The purpose of ExpressLanes is to reduce congestion and improve mobility along these two corridors by improving the throughput of the current HOV lanes and providing monetary and time saving incentives for freeway users to take transit.

These principles are all good in my book. Making the best use of current transportation infrastructure is far more effective per dollar than increasing capacity when you have an urban area like Los Angeles which has nearly infinite latent demand. Unfortunately, the current proposal for ExpressLanes will likely not achieve its goals. People who take transit by choice weigh the costs and benefits of transit and driving. Positives for transit on the Harbor and El Monte corridors include travel time, cost, and lack of parking costs. Granted, all three of these depend on having a destination in Downtown Los Angeles. Nonetheless these positives are strong on these two corridors. Negatives are wait time and general attractiveness of the service. These two issues were the defining factors for my trip today – Metro needs to make sure that they do not provide these disincentives for future riders on the Silver Lane with the implementation of ExpressLanes.

Really, it’s easy to increase the general attractiveness of transit, especially on confined corridors like I-110 and I-10, and on a specific set of vehicles, the small-ish bus fleet used to operate the Silver Line. First, Metro must build sound walls around the Harbor Transitway platforms, like WMATA in Washington DC. Next, Metro really needs to up it’s cleaning budget, install public art, and redesign wayfinding at these busway platforms. Metro has done a great job at wayfinding in their newer stations on the Gold Line and the (future) Expo Line.

A little bit of love and elbow grease could massively improve the attractiveness of the Harbor Transitway and fulfill Metro’s goal of improving transit mode share along the Metro Silver Line corridor. It is critical that the ExpressLanes project does not end up like many other transit-highway programs that are essentially greenwashed – like the Harbor Transitway in its original iteration. A little bit of money can go a long way in improving the ghastly Harbor Transitway and making ExpressLanes a success for both motorists and transit riders. Make it happen Metro!

Also, the Metro podium signs are up on some of the Expo Line. I’m getting excited for Expo, are you?


Caltrans Freeway Plans for the Bay Area

In the 1950’s and 1960’s traffic engineers ran wild with plans for urban freeways in the United States. The general consensus was that freeways had no downsides and were not visual blights, pollution emitters, and neighborhood dividers. Even as the public mood changed against freeways in the 1970’s and 1980’s, State Departments of Transportation continued to try to follow through with their grandiose plans for urban freeways.

This map shows plans for urban freeways in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was inspired to create this map when I saw several proposed freeway maps created by Caltrans from 1945 to 1986. These maps made me think of the vast changes in the geography of the area that these freeways would have created. CA 93 along San Pablo Dam Road would have ramped up suburban development around Tilden Regional Park, a Bay Area wilderness treasure, and CA 77, CA 13 and CA 61 would tear through the urban fabric of Oakland. Note that most of the freeways proposed in San Francisco were defeated early, in 1959, by the Freeway Revolts. I hope this map makes you think about the massive changes new freeways can make in undeveloped areas and inspire you to oppose the continuation of the 20th century pattern of wilderness-freeway-sprawl.

The High Desert Corridor – A Disaster in the Making

In California, new freeway construction is controversial no matter its location. In Northern Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County, a new freeway is starting to take shape, is funded, and will cause the region major harm if planning and construction on the project continue. Bear with me as I begin with a bit of an analogy.

Modern transportation in many ways is miraculous. It is the only way humans can bend time and space. By increasing travel speeds, we effectively reduce distance and time to travel between places. For this reason, new transportation infrastructure can massively affect land use. Areas that used to be two hours away from a job center will suddenly become attractive bedroom communities with the addition of high speed transportation. This phenomenon has held true for everything from the New York Subway, where new elevated lines to Queens and the outer Bronx spurred massive development in the early 20th century, to Southern Orange County’s tollways that speed travel between massive (and if you ask me, disgusting) planned communities in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains.

The High Desert Corridor, a proposed 63 mile freeway between Palmdale and Victorville, will have the same effect as previous freeways to nowhere: massive sprawl. The communities on either end of the proposed route are already low density bedroom communities that are heavily reliant on the automobile. Adding a new freeway between them, thus making countless undeveloped acres suddenly desirable to developers, would significantly increase congestion on the 5, 14 and 15 Freeways and cause Los Angeles County to grow in an ugly, unsustainable manner. I will rebuff all of the arguments for building this freeway and also suggest some more effective ways to improve the mobility of goods and people in Northern Los Angeles County.

First on the list for many supporters of this project is the notion that a freeway would be safer than the current two lane highway. This argument is the hardest to ignore, but think about it this way – construction of an eight lane freeway (complete with greenwashed HOV lanes) and the inevitable development that will accompany it will induce an incredible amount of travel demand. Metro estimates that 100,000 vehicles will use this freeway daily by 2020, a vast number considering the  rural nature of the route (for now). All of these additional drivers in addition to a higher  70mph speed limit will result in a larger total number of traffic collisions and deaths along the route than currently occur on highways 18 and 138. Although a two lane highway is more dangerous, the massive increase in road users will more than offset any gain in safety due to a freeway in terms of absolute numbers of collisions and deaths.

HDC supporters cite the need for additional capacity between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and a viable bypass route around Southwestern San Bernardino County and Eastern Los Angeles County. The High Desert Corridor will not reduce congestion on Interstate 15 or Interstates 10 and 210 because any additional capacity it will create will be severely limited by the bottleneck of the Antelope Valley Freeway. Truck traffic bypassing the vast majority of Los Angeles’ eastern suburbs will still have to contend with very heavy commuter traffic on the 14 between Palmdale and Interstate 5. In fact, if the High Desert Corridor creates as much sprawl as other quasi-urban rural freeways have in the United States, we can expect traffic on the 14 to become much, much worse than its already poor state.

Instead of focusing on a sprawl-inducing freeway project like the High Desert Corridor, Caltrans, Metro and San Bernardino County need to explore rail-based options that could massively increase freight capacity and passenger throughput without creating incentives to build low density bedroom communities in currently undeveloped areas. California High Speed Rail will operate along the Metrolink alignment from Lancaster to Downtown Los Angeles, presenting an ideal opportunity to grade separate and increase capacity on a parallel freight rail line. A proposed privately financed high speed rail line, Desert Xpress, is planned to go from Victorville to Las Vegas using comparable technology to CAHSR. Studying a possible extension of the Desert Xpress to Palmdale to link up with California High Speed Rail would benefit travelers to Las Vegas far more than building a freeway that does not address current capacity problems on feeder routes. Again, construction of new high speed passenger lines is the perfect opportunity to grade separate and improve capacity on freight rail lines, eliminating the need for more truck trips between Palmdale and Victorville.

High speed passenger and freight rail is not the end-all-be-all, but it has a characteristic that is crucial in building new transportation corridors: the very nature of train stations is conducive to higher density development, while freeway exits encourage more spread out, inefficient building patterns. I hope the agencies and politicians involved with this project will open their eyes and see that the six billion dollars allocated to its construction could be used elsewhere. Even in North Los Angeles County, such funding could prepare the Metrolink line for high speed rail service and vastly improve bus service. Such things may not sound as immediately appealing as a shiny new eight lane freeway in the middle of nowhere, but I can guarantee that an investment in rail and transit will pay big dividends in the future. Sustainable development must be balanced with a need for unlimited mobility for goods and people. Rail offers the perfect compromise, allowing people to live far from central cities in dense communities, yet still commute to the city for work. Rail also offers faster speeds, lower costs and much lower pollution than trucking. Cancellation of the High Desert Corridor would be a win for everyone. What North LA County really needs is a long term investment in rail.

California High Speed Rail through the Pacheco Pass

Part 2 of a series on the potential alignments of California High Speed Rail.

For the past six months, I’ve been working with AutoCad, Google Earth, and the California High Speed Rail Authority’s website with the goal of creating an up-to-date .kml file of the current proposed route for the CHSR, with specific attention to the alternative analysis.  Starting with today’s post, and continuing for the next couple months, I will be presenting the 2010 proposed alignments and analyzing the alternatives that the CHSRA will carry forward.  The purpose of these kml files is not to show the exact route but rather to help gain a general overview of the alignment alternatives and the types of structures necessary for each alternative.

There are only three places on the San Jose-Merced section where the CHSR horizontal alignment has been finalized: first, between San Jose and Morgan Hill; second, the climb out of Gilroy up to San Luis Rey Reservoir; and third, the brief flat section in the San Joaquin Valley from the California Aqueduct to the a few miles east of I-5.  Other than that, there are 32 possible horizontal alignments on the roughly 100-mile segment of the route between Diridon Station (situated above the current station) and a few miles west of Chowchilla.

The CHSRA settled on the SR-87/I-280 aerial approach to Diridon Station after eliminating seven alternatives.  This segment is going to have significant constructability issues due to business displacement and a gigantic aerial structure over both freeways.  The alignment avoids much of downtown San Jose at the expense of the Almaden neighborhood.

The alignment will then descend to run at-grade next to the Caltrain tracks.  The Caltrain tracks, owned by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, will need to be shifted east to accommodate the two CHSR tracks.  After the PCJPB ownership ends near Pullman Way in San Jose, the tracks ascend to an aerial structure, staying outside the right of way of the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), a national freight railroad that has been understandably reluctant to share their right-of-way with the CHSRA.  The alignment will continue adjacent to the UPRR tracks until Morgan Hill.

At this point, two horizontal alternatives diverge: one takes the tracks along US 101, the other along the east side of the UPRR right-of-way.  These two sections will connect with one of two alternatives in Gilroy: an alternative that runs through and has a station in downtown Gilroy (with an option for a trench), and an alternative that runs east of Gilroy with a station east of the outlet stores on Leavesley Road.  The East of UPRR alignment will require a relocation of the Monterey Highway.  The CHSRA prefers the UPRR alternatives because they follow existing transportation corridors and provides the quickest time between Morgan Hill and Gilroy (8.75 minutes).  The trench option, demanded by the City of Gilroy to reduce visual impacts of an aerial structure, would create a 5-mile, 185-foot wide trench, but would require use of the Union Pacific right-of-way.

The east of Gilroy alternatives are not preferred, but are carried forward because of reduced residential displacements and to placate the City of Gilroy.  Unfortunately, the East Gilroy alternatives would place a station on Leavesley Road.  A station here would not only create a visual impact in this now-agricultural area, but also reduce connectivity with Caltrain and a future commuter rail line to Monterey.

East of Gilroy, the construction team will face “steep terrain, narrow valleys, and engineering challenges.”  In this Pacheco Pass section (chosen over Altamont for a more direct route to the Bay from Los Angeles), bridges in excess of 300’ in height as well as intrusion into the San Luis Reservoir, the San Joaquin National Cemetary, Pacheco State Park, or Mt. Hamilton Nature Conservancy were deemed unallowable.  Using Quantm, a computer model to identify effective alignments, the Authority picked one alignment and a deviation near the San Luis Rey Reservoir (“Close to 152” Alternative).  Both alignments include 8 tunnels, with the longest tunnel being 22,700 feet (4.3 miles) long.

The San Joaquin Valley subsection has been reduced to two alternatives along Avenue 21 and 24 and Henry Miller Avenue.  Avenue 24 has more severe impacts in Chowchilla where the route calls for a wye connecting the Los Angeles and Sacramento branches, but has eight less grade separations and effects 81 less acres of farmland when compared with the Avenue 21 alignment.

The San Jose to Merced section will face significant challenges in working with the Union Pacific Railroad and the cities along the US-101 corridor between Gilroy and San Jose.  The Pacheco Pass section will present some of the most difficult engineering challenges along the entire alignment.

Here is the .kmz file for Google Earth.

CAHSR’s Preliminary Alignment on the Peninsula

Narrow Right-of-Way in San Mateo

For the past six months, I’ve been working with AutoCad, Google Earth, and the California High Speed Rail Authority’s website with the goal of creating an up-to-date .kml file of the current proposed route for the CHSR, with specific attention to the alternative analysis. Starting with today’s post, and continuing for the next couple months, I will be presenting the 2010 proposed alignments and analyzing the alternatives that the CHSRA will carry forward. The purpose of these kml files is not to show the exact route but rather to help gain a general overview of the alignment alternatives and the types of structures necessary for each alternative.

As a native San Franciscan, I thought it would be best to start with San Francisco and head south during this review of the California High Speed Rail alignments. This section has been a major talking point as a part of the entire California High Speed Rail debate. Due to prohibitive costs,the High Speed Rail Authority has been reluctant to bury a significant portion of the alignment,much to the dismay of local communities who fear not only lowered property values, but also the prospect of their communities being “divided in two” by the high speed rail right of way.

Along with the Los Angeles to Anaheim section, this section of the alignment is unique in that,at this point in the design process, there is only one horizontal alignment under consideration;that is, there is only one right-of-way path. In this section, alignment alternatives along I-280 and US-101 were ruled out due to design challenges. An I-280 alignment would have been too curvaceous to allow for the Prop 1A guaranteed 2 hours and 40 minutes between LA and SF and the US-101 path would be too expensive due to the multiple overpasses already in place on the freeway. Instead, the CHSRA chose to pursue the current Caltrain right-of-way as the preferred horizontal alignment.

That is to say, the Caltrain alignment is not without its design challenges. The right-of-way in some parts of the peninsula is only 50’ wide, much narrower than the 91’ expected to be necessary for even the narrowest of high speed rail structures. Downtown San Mateo and Redwood City, in particular, present difficult engineering challenges due to their narrow right-of-ways. As of September 2010, the HSR Authority settled on three designs. Design A includes more aerial structures and is likely to meet the most opposition from Peninsula cities. Design B places many of the aerial structures below grade in trenches or tunnels. Design B1, labeled B1 because it is a variation on Design B, places even more track below grade.

On the corridor, HSR will be sharing the right-of-way and the four tracks with an electrified Caltrain, meaning that the HSR will be restricted to 90mph on the Peninsula. The Authority is also choosing between a possible “Mid-Peninsula Station” in Redwood City, Palo Alto, or Mountain View. Either one or none of these stations will be selected.

You are free to view this map but please know that it is not affiliated in any way with the California High Speed Rail Authority, and Sam only used publicly available information to compile it. If you’d like to share it, please attribute it to Sam Levy or Wilshire/Vermont. He spent a lot of time getting this thing together. -Karl


Sorry about the ads. WordPress won’t host a .kmz file.

LA Metro’s Ineffecient Fare System

Although there is little buzz at the moment, the structure of LA Metro’s fare system is  a huge burden to riders of the massive bus and rail system and will soon get worse.

Currently, fares for a single ride are among the lowest in the nation, at $1.50. San Francisco’s fare is $2.00, and New York’s is $2.25. The key difference between the fare systems of these cities is the basic condition of your fare purchase: in San Francisco, your two dollars allows you access to any part of SF Muni’s system for an entire two hours. In LA, your fare is entry to one single vehicle. Even if you only have to go one or two miles, then transfer, your fare becomes 3.00.

The reasoning behind this practice was widespread fraud of transfers. This concern, however, makes casual riders of Metro extremely discouraged from riding. A day pass is available for $6.00 (the equivalent of entering four vehicles), but in order to purchase one on the bus, you must have Metro’s delay plagued, and limited-use TAP card. Metro’s grid-based bus system in Central Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley adds insult to injury by requiring transfers to go pretty much anywhere.

Rail lines are even worse. Unlike the New York Subway, which readily permits transfers between its numerous lines, LA’s Metro Rail requires an additional $1.50 fare payment when you switch rail lines. With the upcoming opening of the Exposition Line, crazy situations will arise – a ride from USC to Pasadena will require a day pass or three separate fare payments. A trip from Long Beach to Mid City will require the rider to walk down the platform at the Pico Station, purchase another proof of payment paper, then return to the exact spot you used to be standing!

Express fares on the few express lines Metro runs are even more confusing. Most bus operators do not know the zone structure and the selective application of zone fees (students/seniors don’t pay it) means that express buses using expensive infrastructure (Harbor Transitway) are empty, while local buses on parallel streets (Figuroa, Vermont, Broadway) are literally packed to the gills. The higher fare on the Silver Line is also unwarranted, and levying the standard fare would increase ridership and network efficiency.

The fare system without transfers is very inconvenient for causal riders, so it would be great if Metro’s RFID fare card TAP could hold a cash purse, and maybe automatically buy you a day pass when you exceed 4 tags in a 24 hour period. Well, TAP cannot do this. I’m no expert on Cubic Transportation System’s RFID fare cards, but if the (*cough* useless) MTC in the Bay Area can coordinate all seven major transit agencies in the Bay Area under Clipper Card, Metro really needs to get its act together with TAP. Speaking from experience, the process to obtain student, senior and disabled TAP cards is very arduous and takes weeks for processing.

Metro should use the opening of the Expo Line to reform its fare structure, implementing a system of transfers for casual riders based on paper TAP cards, or a similar system. Metro should also eliminate zone fares and levy the standard fare on the Silver Line to stop giving riders a disincentive to take express buses, which are cheaper to operate due to their higher speeds. Reducing turn time on TAP cards, implementing a cash purse and automatic purchases of day passes on TAP cards

Is the 710 Gap Closure Project So Bad?

Where NIMBY-ism meets the practical needs of an effecient and effective transportation system.

The transit/livability blogosphere is fairly intolerant of dissent, or so I’ve observed. I’m going to go out on a limb here and toss my opinion into the stew of NIMBY-ism, politics and money that surrounds the Interstate 710 Gap Closure Project. Granted, I am an engineer looking at this project, not a community organizer or politician who sees the more subjective aspects to the project – rather here I will concentrate on the engineering, traffic and transportation merits of closing this crucial gap in the Metropolitan Los Angeles Freeway System.

Unlike most other freeway extension proposals in Los Angeles (extending CA-2 to US-101 comes to mind), the I-710 Gap Closure project addresses a critical connection between freeways that would increase the utility of both the existing portion of I-710 south of Alhambra and I-210 in Pasadena and points north and east. In addition, Caltrans already owns sufficient right of way for tunnel portals and ventilation structures, the state along and LACMTA have been studying this corridor for decades and funding would be (relatively) easily obtained.

Before I go further, note that I am advocating a proposal of an entirely bored tunnel under Alhambra, South Pasadena, Northeast Los Angeles and Pasadena along the alignment highlighted on the map. A surface option is obviously not viable.  In addition, the construction of this tunnel would be accompanied by significant mitigation measures. Each bore would have three lanes, an HOV-3/Bus Lane and two general purpose lanes (GPL). Tolls would be electronically collected from motorists and truckers with dynamic pricing ensuring smooth-flowing traffic in the tunnels at all times. These tolls would help fund extensive bus service. Another mitigation measure would be a connecting structure between the HOV-3/Bus Lane in the tunnels to the El Monte Busway on I-10.

A mitigation measure that could ease the community’s concerns about this project is the demolition of the 110 freeway from its terminus at Arroyo Parkway to near Arroyo Drive. This three mile segment would be turned into a surface-level boulevard, providing development opportunities and removing the physical barrier between Pasadena and South Pasadena. The 110 would empty out onto this new parkway, but also give motorists the option to change over to the 710 freeway in a small-scale, low-speed interchange in the Arroyo Seco.

Such a proposal would connect the three currently unconnected freeway segments in the area and solve the nightmarish traffic problems on surface streets at the north end of the 710, south end of the 710 and north end of the 110.

Yes, the 710 Gap Closure Project would increase VMT. It would also increase carbon emissions, potential traffic congestion on either end of the tunnels on the 10, 710, 110, 134 and 210 freeways and would likely massively increase truck traffic on I-210 between Pasadena and San Fernando due to the convenient new connection between the ports and I-5 north.

The biggest problem I have with the opposition to the 710 Gap Closure Project is its concentration on the small picture of hyper-local issues. Yes, Caltrans will likely need to demolish about 10-20 properties to build the project. I have worked on transit project that have condemned more, potentially including a 32-story office tower. Tunnel boring machines are extremely effective, safe, and can build tunnels at adequate depth to avoid surface noise and vibration from any type of road traffic. This is a message our friends in Beverly Hills need to hear about their upcoming TBM experience for the Westside Subway Extension. Anyway, a little sacrifice from the few residents who stand to lose their homes (note: Caltrans is already their landlord – they bought potentially effected properties in the 1980’s) would benefit the whole region. NIMBY’s have already used their power to (rightfully) force a bored tunnel option for this project. Opposing it in its entirety is taking their power a bit too far.

Why am I still a proponent of a mitigated, bored tunnel for the 710 Gap Closure Project? Transportation policy is about moving people and goods in the most efficient possible manner. Although I’m very much dedicated to increasing the reach and viability of transit, intercity rail, walking and cycling, the automobile is here to stay as a mode of transportation in America. Freight trucks are also here to stay, and rail connections between Southern California and the Central Valley are terrible. To permit the most efficient movement of goods and people, the freeway system around Pasadena needs this reworking. With proper mitigation – extensive bus service, dynamic tolls, limited lane capacity and an HOV-3 requirement, the 710 tunnel would be a great success, improving mobility in the San Gabriel Valley and in Los Angeles as a whole. I would let Caltrans bore a tunnel deep under my house, wouldn’t you?


Feasibility of a South Vermont Subway Line

Corridor Area with parallel and connecting bus service numbers and approximate ridership.


Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion and progress on the Westside Subway Extension Project here in Los Angeles. Today I’d like to take a look at a somewhat more neglected subway extension project – a subway/elevated heavy rail transit (HRT) line down South Vermont Avenue, from the Wilshire/Vermont Station to the Vermont Station on the Metro Green Line. This corridor is the busiest north-south route in the Los Angeles Basin, with over 100,000 combined daily bus trips on Vermont, Western, Broadway and Figueroa. In addition, Vermont Avenue closely parallels the Harbor Freeway and its Transitway. Sadly, this facility fails to capture significant ridership. The zone fare system alienates low income riders, frequency outside of peak hours is dismal (one bus per hour!) and the mid-freeway station design is not pleasant or desirable for transit riders.

The alignment of Vermont Avenue also provides for an ideal opportunity to construct HRT. South of Gage Avenue, Vermont has a wide 20-30 foot median, currently occupied by crude landscaping – potentially ideal right of way for an elevated HRT line. In this article I will discuss what a potential South Vermont Line could look like, how to integrate stations with the neighborhood and what a potential construction and planning schedule could look like.

The line would begin at a complex flying junction with the current Red and Purple Lines at Vermont Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard. Around Third Street the stacked Red Line tunnels (they are already stacked for the junction at Wilshire/Vermont) would diverge onto the west side of the street. A new platform at Wilshire/Vermont would host trains for this extension, which would be built directly under the intersection of Vermont and Wilshire under Vermont Avenue. A short 500-600 foot tunnel would connect this new platform to the existing off-street Wilshire/Vermont Station.

From there this line would continue in subway south until Gage Avenue with stops at Olympic, Venice, Adams, Exposition, Vernon and Slauson. The section between Wilshire and Exposition will likely have the highest ridership, in correlation with the high load factors of the 204/754 bus lines along this corridor. The population and job density in this 4 mile corridor is also very high, and redevelopment potential is limited due to existing structures and dense development. The Vernon and Slauson stations present great opportunities for Transit Oriented Development due to the lower density development in these areas and large swaths of surface parking and vacant lots. The underground nature of these stations should make them especially enticing to developers who obviously prefer building sites that lack rail noise and vibration.

At Gage Avenue, Vermont Avenue widens into a much larger boulevard, with a 30-40 foot median. This streetscape would be ideal for an elevated rapid transit line. The reduced costs of an elevated alignment would indicate a fairer level of investment for the communities along the southern portion of the route due to their lower densities and lower potential ridership. Nonetheless, this elevated portion of the line would still attract a huge number of riders and Transit Oriented Development opportunities are plentiful at the intersections of Vermont and Century, Manchester and Florence.

This elevated guideway would be similar to BART’s aerial structures in the San Francisco Bay Area: visually unobtrusive concrete viaducts that effeciently carry relatively quiet rapid transit trains. The connection to the Metro Green Line at the Vermont/Century Freeway Station will be a simple elevated station, parallel to, and above, the current freeway-level light rail platforms. Elevators and escalators will connect these two facilities for easy transfers.

Finally, an HRT vehicle maintenance facility should be built in conjunction with this extension project. Vacant land along the 105 freeway would be ideal for this purpose and could preclude a future extension further into the South Bay Area if funding and ridership are sufficient.

I have quite a bit more to say about the potential for this South Vermont Subway line, but let me just say this: parallel bus services carry 100,000+ riders per weekday, connecting bus services currently carry 60,000+ riders per weekday, and the community’s socioeconomic composition makes it predisposed for high levels of transit usage. If built in phases, like the Westside Subway Extension, this South Vermont Subway could be completed in 15 years or less at a cost of 4-6 billion dollars – chump change compared to the current level of city, county, state and federal levels of spending. Let’s get the gears rolling! South LA deserves an effective rapid transit line too!

The Politics of Wilderness Trail Use

A nice MTB trail in New Mexico, from

Today I’d like to continue with the trail use and cycling theme a bit and discuss the sensitive politics of wilderness trail use. Again, this issue is dear at heart to me – I’m a racing mountain biker – but hopefully the following points will meet with your sense of logic, not just be blindly advocating for mountain bike legal trails.

Urban Wilderness Areas are precious. Two that I use most frequently – Tilden Park in Berkeley, California, and Griffith Park in Los Angeles, California, were set aside as park land almost 100 years ago and continue to be preserved. Both of these areas have extensive trail systems, and winding back country roads. These features provide great opportunities for transportation and recreation in the form of cycling, hiking, or equestrian uses. Both Tilden and Griffith see a large number of cyclists on their roads, but a fundamental difference between these two parks is that bikes are illegal on all off-road trails in Griffith Park, whereas they are legal on most trails in Tilden.

Like most logical fallacies in public policy, this difference is easily explained by the interests of an unusually powerful minority, in this case equestrian riders. Griffith Park, by no coincidence, is the closest major open space to Hollywood, and the largest equestrian center anywhere near Central Los Angeles. Thus, horse use is substantial on the park’s trails, and many of those equestrian riders are wealthy and politically connected. The interests of this group are served rather than the interests of the public at large.

Mountain biking is a great activity for everyone. From the SoCal High School Cycling League to recreational riders, mountain biking increases awareness of wilderness areas, promotes cycling as a means of transportation and is great exercise. Other places in the Los Angeles area have multi-use trails, even skinny single track that is available to cyclists, hikers and equestrians (Altadena comes to mind). Normal arguments against allowing cyclists on trails, namely worries about crashes and erosion, are not major factors if cyclists behave in an appropriate manner. In addition, equestrian traffic damages trails far more than cyclists, especially when trails are wet.

The extensive network of trails in La Canada Flintridge shows how an ideal mix of hikers, equestrians and riders can best use wilderness areas – with low volumes of users and polite trail etiquette – can function effectively. To scale up this sort of operation on a Griffith Park scale, LA City Park Rangers on mountain bikes could patrol trails and eliminate crimes (especially drug dealing) that occur on the trails and ensure all users of the trail are riding or walking in a safe manner.

So, LA City Council, what are you waiting for? Let’s get the ball rolling on trail use in Griffith Park and start to promote wilderness appreciation among the young of this city. Hell, most of them have never even seen the San Gabriels or gone to the beach. By opening up mountain biking opportunities, the City of LA can do what government is supposed to do: treat everyone in a fair manner. Let’s get those mountain bikes rolling!

The Law & Cycling

Alright drivers in LA –

Please try not to kill me when I’m on the bike. Really. Is my life worth 30 seconds of your time waiting to pass safely? I would hope so.

If you drive in California, especially Los Angeles, please read the following two pages – it will enlighten you as to why I ride the way I ride.

California Vehicle Code and Cycling

Why you shouldn’t honk, swear at, and cut off cyclists in LA.

Thank you. I’ll have a post about mountain biking and trail use up tomorrow and I’ll get back to transit coverage on Monday.