Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why are some people bashing the subway? They must not ride the bus.

Recently, in print and on-line, a slew of articles, blogs, comments and what-not have been bashing the proposed subway, the Purple Line, the “Subway to the Sea,” moving west down Wilshire from its current terminus at Wilshire and Western. James Moore, USC transportation professor has a hard spot in his heart for the subway. In a recent LA Weekly article, Moore is quoted, “Instead of rail, "Road capacity is always a good buy." What does that buy? More roads? Where in Los Angeles would they go? The streets and freeways are built out to capacity.

Of buy road capacity would require either widening streets more. If Wilshire were to be widened, how exactly would that be done? High rises line the boulevard from downtown to West Los Angeles? Take out the lobbies of the buildings and pass an additional lane or two through them? The cannot be knocked down to make expand Wilshire sideways. So how could additional capacity be bought along Wilshire Boulevard, one of busiest streets in Los Angeles County.

Double deck? How would that work? How would it look? The great Southern California open sky is continually being blocked by a greater number of tall buildings lining the major boulevards. Consider a solid, horizontal, concrete apron approximately twenty to thirty feet, up to six lanes wide, in the air atop Wilshire Boulevard. In my book, that is plain and simple ugly, and dehumanizing. It would buy capacity, but at what price.

The second deck of a boulevard, or freeway, cannot just be attached to the existing road. It must be supported on concrete columns. Since Los Angeles is earthquake country, the footings for the columns must be put deep into the ground. For the now being constructed Expo Line, they extend sixty feet into the earth. How many concrete, steel rebarb reinforced columns would be needed to double deck Wilshire from Wilshire and Western to Wilshire and Bundy? Besides the tremendous cost to quality of life issues, such as visual blight, what would be the construction costs? Besides the road apron, on and off ramps would have to be constructed. And those take space for safely engineered curves and ramps.

In the 1989 Loma Prieta/San Francisco earthquake, a double decked freeway pancaked. There was loss of life. Would a Wilshire doubledecker be able to withstand the next big temblor?

Subways in earthquakes have shown to be curiously, but tremendously pliable and continue to function shortly after the quake while above ground buildings, bridges, overpasses, houses, and freeways lay in rubble. In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, portions of the Santa Monica Freeway collapsed. The costs to return it to capacity were huge. Yet, the poor, much maligned Los Angeles Metro subway was running in a day or two, with little damage. In the Loma Prieta quake, the Oakland Bay Bridge lost capacity when portions fell off. It is now being replaced, at a huge financial cost for capacity. The initial cost was $1.4Billion, and as of July, 2005, costs are up to $6.2Billion (Wikipedia). That is a lot of money for capacity. BART, the Bay Area’s subway, which runs under the San Francisco Bay, was operational within days after the 1989 quake.

The 1985 Mexico City earthquake killed and estimated 10,000. Their subway for the most part remained operational, and the stations closed were due to above ground devastation.

The oil and methane fields of Los Angeles basin are facts of life, but along what is probably the highest methane concentrations along Wilshire at the La Brea Tar Pits (La Brea means “tar pits,” but stating only “tar pits” is inconclusive.) are numerous underground parking structures with equipment to deal with the methane.

Some have proposed that the billions projected for the subway would be better spent buying people hybrid cars. This could not be a more wasteful use of tax money for transit. When a car is driven off the lot, it looses value, so this would be an immediate loss to the value of the transit funds. Then, if the vehicles are not properly maintained, they will loose their value even sooner, and soon stop running.

Moreover, there is a $9Billion figure tossed around for the costs of the Wilshire Subway. That would be the cost if it went through various detours, but if it is a straight shot down Wilshire to the V.A., the costs are around $2Billion, which leaves a lot of money for other transit projects.

Those other transit projects are worthy, but why is there opposition to spending transit money for a subway in the most densely populated area of Los Angeles? It would be put to good use for existing and new transit riders. Some estimates have 80,000 daily bus riders on Wilshire. The Red Line subway currently has around 120,000 daily passengers.

When given a choice between riding a bus down Wilshire in which going from Westwood to Downtown Los Angeles can easily take fifty to sixty minutes, opposed to projected subway time twenty-five minutes, what is the problem in making a decision? A thirty minute difference each way equals an hour daily of saved time. That is priceless.

I ride buses, a lot of buses. I live near LAX, so I don’t have a light rail, though I hope the Crenshaw and Green Line light rails open before this new decade is over. I’ve ridden buses on Wilshire, the local and the Rapid. Both are stuck in traffic along with the other vehicles during the ever extending commuter hours. At midday, and in the evenings when traffic is lighter, Wilshire, and many other streets, are so beat-up, that when in the stiff suspension Rapid Bus, it is like being on a blend on the chop cycle. I have been lifted out of my seat after particularly nasty pot holes waylaid the bus.

Subways are also tremendously more efficient for the rider, and easier to use. Board on buses is laborious, slow and tedious. Each rider goes through a single door, the front, to flash a pass, give over a transfer, or pay the fare into the fare box. With bus fares now $1 dollar and above, bills are used. They are to be fed into slots, similar to vending machines, but it is an art to properly insert the bill so the machine takes it at first try. Even experienced riders such as myself have problems. I use dollar coins as much as possible, it is a quick drop into the slot with other coins and it’s done.

Subway fares are paid before boarding, so the process is to let the departing rider leave and step straight on to the train. This even-level step from station platform to the train is a highly engineered and time intensive construction project, but when operational, the movement of riders is seamless. Buses can be a complete pain to board. If they are not close to the curb, and the Rapid Buses with their external sliding doors must park away from hight curbs so the door don’t get stuck, then the rider either leaps across the chasm from curb to bus, or steps off the curb into the street then steps up into the bus, which can be a rather high step. If it’s raining, then it’s stepping into puddles before boarding the bus.

The handicapped in wheel chairs ride mass transit. I encourage it, I’m glad to see these people using transit. But on the bus, everything stops while a ramp is lowered from the bus to the sidewalk for the wheelchair. Then, people in the front get up from their seats which are then folded up for the wheelchair. Then, the driver straps them in. When they get off, it’s the reverse of procedures. This takes a lot of time out the trip.

On subways, elevators are installed for wheelchairs, and the riders, once they are on the platform, can smoothly ride onto the train. Without doubt, subway platforms are part of the costs, but the years of use from the platforms are certainly paid for over time. Consider London started an underground in the late 19th Century. New York’s subways, and its platforms have been in use since 1904. The Berlin Subway began service in 1902. Once the tunnels are bored and the platforms built, the years of service provided are certainly cost efficient. I do not believe that along Wilshire there is any continuously used bus stop since 1904, the beginning service of New York’s subway.

The subway is the prayer answered for bus riders. Why would people not want to have the fastest travel times and the greatest ease of use? The Wilshire subway is needed, and for some, demanded, to keep congestion down-either the constant stream of new transit riders will either ride transit or drive. If they choose to drive, how many additional tens-of-thousands of vehicles will clog the already gridlocked streets? The subway will take tens-of-thousands of vehicle trips out of the streets. Is that wrong?

To paraphrase Vice President candidate Lloyd Benson in his debate with Dan Quale: “I know subways, and buses are no subways.”

Matthew Hetz

Los Angeles

Friday, April 17, 2009

One Evening's Bus Riding

I took the Culver City No. 6, north, and at Pico Blvd. transferred to the Santa Monica No. 7, east and departed at Westwood Blvd. to get to the Landmark Theaters at that intersection. The only remaining seats were couches. I don't like sitting on low back couches to watch a movie, so I left.

I then took the S.M. No. 12 on Westwood north to Westwood Village to check out what films were showing there. (I must remember to carry the Times Calendar section to read the film listings.) No film was appealing, and I had just seen "Adventureland" which I recommend.

Had a coffee at the Coffee Bean, then took the S.M. No. 1 west to Venice Beach. Strolled around, watched the surf. I beautiful evening.

Then took the C.C. No. 1 east to Lincoln to transfer to the S.M. No. 3 south to get home. I waited over 45 minutes. I later found out that construction on 4th Street in Santa Monica had gridlocked. Took the No. 3 to Sepulveda and Manchester and got home.

A lot of buses, but the bus system can work, at least on the Westside. It's those delays from traffic projects which really mess things up, though.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Failed Bike Path-Lincoln Boulevard in Westchester

The renovation of Lincoln Boulevard in Westchester between Ballona Creek to the north and La Tijera Boulevard on the south is completed. Lincoln was widened to accommodate increasing traffic on the route, and to satisfy traffic mitigation for Playa Vista. Lincoln is at the development’s Western Boundary.

One Sunday I decided to try the newly paved boulevard, and from an eastern route on Jefferson Boulevard, I turned right, south, on Lincoln, and climbed the hill. This was my second assault on the hill. The first time I rode on the sidewalk on the westside of the the boulevard, and then turned on LMU Drive into the university. It is a steep climb up Lincoln and through LMU.

For the second assault, I decided to climb the hill to the top and then turn east on 83rd Street. This time I took the lane marked for a bike path. Just north of LMU Drive Lincoln has a right hand curve. At the center of this turn the bike path suddenly ends. It narrows down to a triangle and then disappears, and the bike rider is then thrust directly into the vehicle lane just as vehicles would make the turn. Their momentum would carry them to the right, towards the curb, and towards any bicycle rider who had the misfortune to be riding on Lincoln.

The sidewalk also ends where the bike path ends.

This is an extremely dangerous situation. They are climbing the hill and their lane suddenly ends at the apex of the curve. A bicycle rider would be vulnerable since they would be struggling to climb the hill, and in such situations, their balance is compromised. Since their lane ends, without any warning, they would, just by continuing the only direction they can - straight, they would find themselves in the vehicle lane. Any vehicle also climbing the hill would have to move to the right to negotiate the curve, and to stay within their lane.

The bicycle rider would be winded, fighting the hill and trying to maintain balance, and then have to negotiate a vehicle which is suddenly in their lane. This is a very dangerous situation for the bicycle rider, and it is gross negligence on the traffic planners to create this situation, and just idiotic.

It would be no better if I just rode my bicycle directly into traffic in the lane next to me. And to do that is to guarantee disaster. Luckily I was riding on a Sunday afternoon in the daylight, and when drivers are in a better mood. If it was during the madness of the morning or evening commute with compromised light, I would fear for my safety more than I did on that afternoon.

Lincoln Boulevard is under state, Caltrans, jurisdiction, but Playa Vista is within the boundaries of the City of Los Angeles. Who is responsible for such poor planning and in creating a very dangerous situation for bicycles riders, LADOT or Caltrans?

Either one has completely failed in protecting bicycle riders.

Matthew Hetz

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proposistion R

Despite my disbelief that the backers of Prop. R could place such a wrong headed commercial which I previously wrote about, I am voting YES on Prop. R.

1. Traffic is horrible, and mass transit is the solution.
2. A subway is the fastest way to move people. Try riding a Rapid Bus on Wilshire to see how slow the street traffic. Try to put a new light rail line, such as Expo, and the opposition to the "horrors" of the train at grade slows down progress. (For the record, I support Expo all the way to Santa Monica.)
3. Global warming is a threat. Most scientists state that right now we are in a critical stage. We must reduce global warming gases now, or face very negative consequences. Vehicle exhaust accounts for a good deal of carbon gases. Mass transit is the fastest way to get people out of their vehicles to try to reduce our carbon footprint.

Proposition R is needed, now. I will vote YES.

Matthew Hetz

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Proposition R

I ride transit. Mostly buses since there is no light or subway on the Westside of Los Angeles. I drive. I know gridlock as a bus passenger and as a driver. Gridlock is an economic and ecological catastrophe. Proposition R is one step to alleviate traffic and to expand mass transit with buses and rail.
I do have experience riding light rail, the Blue, Green and Gold Lines; and subway, The Red and Purple Lines. I am involved in grass roots transit agencies to promote mass transit, to which I devote a lot of my time.
From my observations in these transit groups, I seem to be one with more experience riding transit on a regular basis than other members. In meetings in person, on group boards, in e-mails, and wherever and to whomever I can get my message to, I am opposed to anymore light rail or bus lines in the middle of freeways such as the Green Line. To those of you who know me, this is not new. I feel adamantly that it is inhuman to have people wait for trains or buses in the middle of freeways. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I suggest you ride the Green Line. Buy and All-Day Metro pass and get off at various stations. The noise and exposure to the vehicle exhaust and dust in a confined train platform is something that should never be duplicated.
When the first commercial for Proposition R was on television, I took some comfort that a sensible approach was being taken by its supporters. My Yes vote was solid. However, after seeing the latest television Prop. R commercial, my vote is now quivering.
In the latest ad there is a shot of gridlocked freeway, and then drawn down the meridian came a single rail line, and then a light rail riding this line. I am now questioning where this proposition will be spending the money if approved. Does this mean that the plans of Metro are to put more light rails in the middle of freeways? If so, I am inclined to vote No. I cannot in good conscious vote for a proposition which is in favor of a type of transit system which I fundamentally oppose.
When I’ve raised my voice against any more transit systems in freeway meridians, I have been seconded in my view, which I take to mean that others share my view. If so, I am disturbed by who is running the campaign for this proposition. Did they do any research with transit groups regarding light rail systems? If so, whom did they talk with?
The light rail in the middle freeway is the height of “windshield estimate:” ideas on how transit should work concocted while driving. This type of think is completely removed from the transit experiences of transit riders. This ad signals the proposition’s support for more light rail in freeway medians. Do they really mean it? Or is this campaign being run by an agency which doesn’t know transit?
This latest commercial shows a single track line. Does the ad agency and Metro and other Prop. R backers have any idea of negative association of this image after the Metrolink disaster in Chatsworth? Anyone who even briefly followed that accident in the news, print or broadcast, knows full well that two trains collided because they were sharing a single track.
Yet, this single track image is shown in the commercial. This is a disastrous image to be presenting. Who is in charge of this campaign? Was Metro even consulted, and if so, how could they let this go through after the Chatsworth disaster? This ad is completely wrong headed and just wrong.
Perhaps as a mass transit advocate it would have been better to just remain silent and think that this commercial will quietly slide away. But there are times when silence is dangerous, and for myself, this is one of those times.
I am angered and mystified that 1.) This commercial is advocating an inhuman mass transit system (the middle of freeways) and 2.) That the ad agency and Prop. R backers could be so incredibly tone deaf (or is it indifference) towards the image of a single track rail line after the Chatsworth Metrolink disaster, an incident which can set back by years future mass transit projects under the perception of fear and incompetence.

Matthew Hetz

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Paying bus fares

Paying bus fares.

The paying of bus fares individually by passengers as they board adds to the travel time. The bus driver is also the fare-taker, and for each boarding, each new passenger must be served by the driver to make sure the proper fare is paid. The size of the passengers boarding of course dictates how long boarding takes.

The method of payment is another critical link in the time needed for boarding buses which adds to the overall time of the trip.

At major bus stops a small crowd can easily gather waiting for their bus. At Rapid Bus stops, Rapid Buses are more rapid because they have fewer stops, the crowd can become quite substantial. A nearly empty, 55 passenger articulated bus, can have every seat filled with some people standing from boardings at one stop.


BUS PASSES - If the passenger has a boarding pass, they come in various time lengths, one month to one-half month and so forth, the passenger displays the pass to the driver, who must examine it to make sure it is paid for the current month. This is a quick, efficient exchange, but when the pass is expired, the driver then must seek out that person, and ask for payment of the fare. This takes time out from continuing the route.

TRANSFERS - If the boarding passenger has a transfer from another bus line, this is given to the driver, and the exchange is quick, unless the pass is expired or will not work. Metro to Muni (any bus agency other than Metro/MTA) pass will work, and a Muni to Metro transfer will work, but a Metro to Metro pass won’t. The driver then must explain the situation, and this passenger then needs to pay fare.

TAP CARDS- These are purchased from the bus companies, Metro, Culver City Bus, Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, etc., and are prepaid boarding passes similar to a debit card. Any dollar amount can be put onto the card by the passenger. They are quickly swiped across a certain area of the fare box, and the fare is deducted. This is quick and efficient if there is enough money on the card. They seem to pay basic fare, but will not buy a transfer. I have tried many times to use the card to pay the fare with a transfer. If using cash for basic fare, this is one transaction; but it seems that with the TAP cards this is considered two transactions, and the fare box will not read the card for transfers. This then becomes a two step transaction-basic fare paid by the TAP card, then the transfer amount is paid by cash into the fare box, which defeats the purpose of the card-which is to do away with paying for fares by cash.

NOTE ON TAP CARD- I recently called Culver City Bus about the TAP card’s inability to pay for basic fare and an interagency transfer. I was told to call the phone number on the back of the card, which I did. These cards are issued by MTA, and the very nice phone rep was unaware that these cards will not pay for transfers. So, while they are extremely efficient for paying basic fare, they don’t do the entire job when a transfer is needed. I also found out that the card is registered to me. By giving the card number, the phone rep knew my name and phone number without asking me. For those concerned about privacy, particularly for those Jason Bourne types, the TAP card contains some information about you.

CASH-For those who ride for the first time, or not frequently enough to need to buy a monthly bus pass, the fare is paid by cash. This is the most time consuming way to pay fare. if new to the system, the boarding passenger will ask the driver the fare price. They then stumble with their cash to find the right fare amount. The fare box does not give change, so exact fare is required.

For Culver City and Santa Monica buses, basic fare is 75cents, but transfer amounts differ. For Culver City, an interagency transfer (from a Culver City bus to another agency such as Santa Monica or Metro) is 25 cents, and transfers to another Culver City bus is free. But for the Santa Monica Bus, all transfers are 50cents regardless if it is to another Blue Bus or interagency.

For Metro, basic fare is $1.25 and Metro to Muni transfers (interagency) are 30cents.

Fare boxes accept coins and bills. Anytime the fare is $1 or more, the most time consuming part of paying fare occurs, and that trying to stuff the dollar bill into the fare box. If anyone has ever tried to use a dollar bill in the vending machine, buy Lotto tickets, etc., they know that these machines are very temperamental, and will reject and spit out a bill as unacceptable as often as accepting it. When rejected, the passenger then goes through a series of gestures to try to get the bill accepted by the fare box, which acts as judge and jury.

There can be repeated attempts to stuff the bill into the slot- folding out the folded in corners, smoothing out the bill, unkringling it, to name a few moments of frustration. This is most time consuming method of fare paying. If the boarding passenger has no luck with a reluctant fare box, the driver will then step in, and work the fare box to have it accept the bill. More time wasted by the driver when they should be driving.

One solution I have come upon when paying cash is the must maligned and forgotten dollar coin. This works beautifully. If I’m paying a fare one dollar and above I just drop in the dollar coin and the other coins needed to fulfill the fare. These dollar coins are a little larger than a quarter, but heavier. There is a pleasing thunk when dropped in the fare box. The noise signifies business is done, fare’s paid.

There are now three dollar coins in circulation:
The Susan B. Anthony which is tricky because it is silver like a quartet and can be mistaken for it.
The Sacagawea Dollar which is about the size of a quarter but its bronze color is easily distinguished. But why didn’t they put her name on the coin? I’m not the greatest speller; the dictionary didn’t have her name so I did a Google search.
The new Presidents Dollar Coins which are similar in size and shape to the Sacagawea coins.

All a nice coins, and are very easy to use and work much better than dollar bills. They can also be used at fare machines, but those are only for light rail and subway. And this fare paying process is one reason why they are faster than bus: fare is paid in advance, a ticket is dispensed by the machine, and the passenger just walks on to either the light rail train or subway.

One drawback I’ve encountered with the dollar coins is that sometimes the fare boxes don’t read them. The boxes are programmed to read the deposited coins to register the correct fare is paid. One evening I had a somewhat heated exchange with a Santa Monica Bus driver who didn’t believe I paid the $1.25 fare, basic fare and a transfer with a dollar coin and a quarter. He would not believe my repeated protestations that I did not deposit two quarters. He was getting more and more upset. I held firm, and he finally allowed me to take a seat. What I now do is that before depositing fare into the box, I announce to the driver that I’m paying with a dollar coin and show it to him or her. This works.

If fare for the bus is one dollar or more, I strongly recommend the use of dollar coins.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

LAX Transit Center

One of the faults at the LAX Transit Center, though not the only one, is the lack of posted route maps for the buses. As a longtime bus rider in the Westside, I am familiar with most of the lines in the region which use the center. To prove it, I carry a collection of bus time tables at least three inched tall.

However, if I was someone who is just starting to ride transit, or worse, a traveler to the city just off a jet at LAX who thinks that the second largest city in the United States would have a comprehensive mass transit system, I would be lost.

The bays at LAX Transit Center are clearly marked for the various bus companies and their routes with bus numbers. But there is scant information beyond that. Except for the Culver City No. 6, there are no maps for the routes. The No. 6 has the route map and times on a rotating cylinder on a pole next to the bus bay for easy access and readability. This is of tremendous benefit to the bus rider.

However, for the Metro Buses there is nothing. This leaves the bus rider at a great disadvantage. For instance, the Metro 439, with a very circuitous route, will take the rider to and through downtown Los Angeles and on the Union Station to catch Metrolink or Amtrak Trains if necessary. Or the person may just want to explore downtown. But for someone just off a plane with a vague idea of this city and where they want to go, they would have little information on how to proceed at what is called a Transit Center for one of busiest airports in the world.

The Metro 232 from the LAX Transit Center heads south through the Southbay Cities of Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach and then on to Long Beach. But there is no map to show this.

The Santa Monica No. 3, regular and Rapid, travel through Westchester, onto to Marina del Rey, Venice and then Santa Monica. There doesn’t seem to be any map posted at LAX Transit Center for these buses, nor specific hours of operation for the Rapid 3 which only runs at the morning and evening rush hours. The Rapid 3 saves time, but without specific posted times at a transit center, the uninitiated would not know that.

A number of buses continue to the Green Line, but except for the No. 6, there is little if not information stating this at LAX Transit Center. While a bus marquis does state its destination, such as the Green Line Aviation Station, to know this beforehand assists the rider in helping them find the right bus. Otherwise the rider understandable fumbles around, then asks the driver where the bus is headed. This distracts the the driver and makes the stop longer than necessary. This adds time to the bus schedule, and could be avoided with maps of the routes posted next to the bus bays.

At the bus bays, the signs for the buses and their number are in tall, rectangular metal frames which stand over six feet high. The signs take up room only at the top, leaving empty space underneath and between the frames. This space would be ideal for holding the route maps for the respective buses to help the rider figure out the routes. While there are kiosks at the center of the long waiting area, they don’t post maps of routes, and anyway this is not the ideal place for the maps.

The ideal place is at the specific bays for the buses. When waiting for a bus, the rider must stand next to the bus bay for the respective bus they want. Walking away to read a kiosk creates the chance of missing the bus.

For someone new to transit riding or new to the city, the routes posted next to the bus bays will give critically needed information.

This is a small feature to add to the LAX Transit Center which is easily remedied, and the benefits to the rider is very great.