LACMTA Bus Ridership October 2014 – Wilshire Update

Update to the post on bus ridership: commenter calwatch noted that, since the 720 extends onto Whittier Blvd, a more proper accounting would include local boardings on the 18, which operates on Whittier and 6th. I updated the bus ridership data to include the 18; the revised graphs are below. I also created a plot for the combined Wilshire/Whittier corridor showing the breakdown of ridership between routes 18, 20, and 720. The recent decrease in ridership is largely due to a decline in boardings on route 18.

For the next update, I’ll add boardings per route-mile for these bus routes.

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LACMTA Ridership Update – October 2014

Note: see the update to bus ridership here.

Another three months has passed, so it’s time for another LACMTA rail ridership update.

First, the raw data. Highlighted cells represent the top 10 months for that line (since January 2009).


Ridership was generally up a little bit on all lines. The Green and Blue Lines remain well below their peak ridership months in the second half of 2012, as is the Red Line below peak months in 2013. Gold Line ridership remained near all-time highs, while Expo Line was flat except for Sunday ridership. Expo Line ridership was flat in the second half of 2013 as well, so we’ll have to see if 2015 brings another surge. Trends were similar across weekdays, Saturday, and Sunday, except for the Red Line on Sundays, which had some of its best numbers on record.

Here’s the rolling 12-month average of weekday ridership:


On the rolling 12-month graphic, the recent dips in Blue and Green Lines ridership look a little less troubling. The sharp drop in Red Line ridership is likely due to fare gate locking.

For this update, I decided to include the Saturday and Sunday rolling 12-month averages as well.



Note the sharp uptick in Gold Line ridership on Saturday and Sunday starting in July 2013, while weekday ridership is little changed. This is probably because Metro started running 7-8 minute headways on the Gold Line on weekends. While this is nice for Gold Line riders and led to a bump in ridership, you have to wonder why the Green Line – which has identical ridership overall and on a per mile basis – only gets 15 minute service on the weekend, and the Blue Line, with higher ridership, gets 10 minute service.

Boardings per mile is a better way to look at productivity. Here’s the update for the rolling 12-month average of boardings per mile:


Now Featuring Bus Ridership!

As experts like Jarrett Walker and Juan Matute have written elsewhere, an extensive, successful rail network will only be part of a successful transit network for LA. Bus will always be important. With that in mind, here’s a look at ridership trends on five of LA’s major arterials. Each arterial has both a local bus route and a Metro Rapid bus (700-series route numbers). Therefore, the ridership presented is the sum of the local and the rapid. The chosen arterials and bus routes are Santa Monica (4 & 704), Wilshire (20 & 720), Venice (33 & 733), Vermont (204 & 754), and Western (207 & 757). The Orange Line and Silver Line are also included.

Here’s the raw data, and the rolling 12-month averages for weekdays.



Orange Line and Silver Line ridership grew steadily throughout the period, and Wilshire and Venice had growth as well. Santa Monica was flat, while both Vermont and Western saw considerable drops in ridership – nearly 12% in the case of Vermont.

Here’s the Saturday and Sunday rolling 12-month averages.



On the Saturday and Sunday graphics, we can see some interesting structural changes reveal themselves. The 733 service on Venice was introduced in July 2010, and this seems to have resulted in an increase in ridership. Meanwhile, the 757 service on Western was discontinued on weekends in July 2011, and this seems to have resulted in an immediate drop in ridership. By late 2012, ridership on both streets had leveled off. This change is also evident in weekday ridership on Venice, though not as pronounced.

Lastly, we can look at the percentage of trips on each arterial being served by the rapid route.


The 720 dominates ridership on the Wilshire corridor. On Venice, the rapid captured about 50% of ridership when introduced, and has since slipped a little. On Western, service changes in July 2011 resulted in a quick jump in rapid share, followed by a continued increase. Vermont also saw a slight increase in rapid share, though in both the case of Western and Vermont, total ridership on the corridor declined.

It’s impossible to discern what caused ridership changes from this data. An improving economy means more people have jobs, which increases ridership, but it also means more people can afford cars. Some of the neighborhoods served by these routes have been undergoing changes that often decrease ridership, such as gentrification.

There are two ideas I would feel comfortable floating out. One, because the Silver Line on the 110 is just a little over half a mile from Vermont, some Silver Line ridership may have been captured from Vermont. The Silver Line is limited by poor stop spacing, but it goes directly downtown, so it may have captured trips from Vermont that were transferring to the Red Line. Two, the Expo Line may have captured some ridership in the USC area.

The most important thing here, though, is that ridership on these bus corridors is higher than many of LA’s LRT lines. Wilshire and Vermont have more riders than any LRT line except the Blue Line. These bus routes are a critical part of mobility in LA. We’ll have Wilshire BRT, but maybe we should have a Vermont, Western, Santa Monica, and Venice BRT too.

That’s it for now, stay tuned for Metrolink!

How Does Your Grid Grow?

Every city has an underlying historical layout that shapes growth. For example, New York is dominated by a continuous grid of avenues and streets, first deployed in Manhattan in the early 1800s, then repeated again and again in Brooklyn and Queens. In Boston, development is shaped around “squares” (which might more properly be called “crossroads”), along the major roads connecting the squares, and then into local grids of varying regularity.

In Los Angeles, development is shaped by a grid of north-south and east-west arterial roads, generally on half-mile spacing. The grid is somewhat distorted by topography and historic land grants, such as the old pueblos and ranchos. While some areas have New York-style continuous grids in between the arterials, much of the city has features such as irregular grids, curvilinear streets, and jogs in the grid, all of which discourage through traffic and transit. This reinforces the importance of the arterials.

Navigating a city requires forming an internal map of this structure – where the roads go, and how well they do it. For example, if you spend a lot of time in the Inland Empire, you probably know Milliken, Haven, and Archibald, and which one isn’t continuous around Ontario Airport. If you live on the Westside, you know Pico, Olympic, Santa Monica, and Wilshire, and which ones will ruin your bus ride in the afternoon. In Boston, you might know that Somerville Ave takes you between Porter Square and Union Square, while Cambridge and Washington Streets take you between Union Square (Allston) and Oak Square. On the other hand, Manhattan’s continuous grid devalues knowledge about the east-west streets; you’re better off knowing the major streets and the few areas where the grid is disrupted, like Morningside Park.

When I started posting about north-south transit on the Westside, I found that I didn’t really like any of the readily available maps. For my eye, Google Earth and Maps are too busy, while highly stylized maps, like LA Metro’s system map, are too distorted. I wanted a map that was roughly geographically accurate, but stripped down enough to show the underlying structure. So I made my own map of the mile-spaced arterials, scaling distances in Google Earth and drafting in CAD. The original plan was to just do the Valley and the LA Basin, but I ended up doing all five LA area counties (LA, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, & Ventura).

This exercise was very revealing because it shows how much editorializing is involved in mapmaking. While maps are often presented as unbiased fact, the content is strongly influenced by the personal, social, and cultural background of the person making the map. Even on this map, which only includes streets, we must decide which streets are important enough to be included. As suburbia faded to desert in the Antelope Valley and farms in the Coachella Valley, I kept putting in the arterials as long as they were paved. Do Avenue A and Hayes (named for Rutherford B Hayes in one of the most extensive presidential street grids you’ll find) really belong on the map? You tell me.

This map only includes arterial roads. There are no freeways and no rail lines. Yet if you know LA’s geography, you can probably pick out many regions by their arterial structure – the regular grids of the Valley, the LA Basin, northern Orange County, and the Coachella Valley; the growth-boundary-stunted grid of Ventura County; the irregular layout of hilly areas like the Santa Clarita Valley and southern Orange County; the established grid of the older San Bernardino County cities and nascent grid of the newer Riverside County cites; the ill-defined edges of growth in the High Desert. You’ll also see features from where there aren’t roads, like the immense expanse of the San Gabriel Mountains. And finally, you might see things you didn’t realize before, like the oddly distorted north-south arterials between Main and Cherry in the LA Basin.

Despite showing only arterial roads, the map can be read in many ways depending on your point of view. Does the anticipatory grid in the Antelope Valley portend endless sprawl, or room for opportunity? Or is the lonely view along 200th Street E to Hi Vista that and nothing more? What about golf courses and subdivisions creeping southeast into the farms of the Coachella Valley?

Anyway, enjoy. Click to embiggen. . .


Why Don’t We Build Trailer Parks Anymore?

Trailer parks are the rural and suburban answer to “the projects” in urban areas: both unfairly and fairly maligned, poorly understood, a convenient shorthand for looking down on a certain group of people.

This is really unfortunate, because trailer parks are a great way to provide affordable housing in a rural or suburban setting. Now, I’m not talking about the trailer parks that persist in places like Santa Monica because zoning and NIMBYs preclude redevelopment, with hugely subsidized rents for people like UCLA philosophy professors earning six figures. Not at all. I’m thinking about places near the suburbanizing edge of western Riverside County, like Nuevo or Hemet; places like the Coachella and Imperial Valleys, with high cost of housing burden for low income service and agricultural workers.

Popular stereotypes hold that trailers and mobile homes are shoddily built. This is probably because the housing stock in most trailer parks is pretty old. Modern manufactured homes, as the fabricators prefer they be called, are well built in a controlled factory environment, and they meet the building codes like any new construction. There’s probably a parallel with dingbats, which everyone holds to be a crappy form of construction, just because we zoned new construction out of existence and all the dingbats we have are 50 years old.

Mobile home park densities aren’t going to knock your socks off, but they’re not bad for suburbia. This large area in Hemet checks in at around 6.3 dwelling units per gross acre. Hop over to Zillow and enjoy the affordability. The lot sizes aren’t too much smaller than the classic 5,000 SF lots that were developed into low-rise apartments in places like Palms, which raises the enticing prospect of neighborhoods of mobile homes slowly getting replaced by dingbats.

Note that there are also many older subdivisions of conventional construction about the same size and comparable (or higher) densities, like say this area just west of that Hemet mobile home park. Properties there are selling in the high $100k’s, a considerable premium over the manufactured homes. Meanwhile, new conventional SFR construction in the area starts somewhere around the mid $200k’s. You can see a similar dynamic over in Menifee. Shouldn’t there be a market for new subdivisions of manufactured homes, selling at a similar discount to conventional construction?

So why don’t we build new mobile home parks? Is the market really just not there? Have communities zoned them out completely, because they attract the “wrong” kind of people? Are cities worried they’ll attract people with kids but not generate enough revenue? Other thoughts? Like low-rise apartments in cities, manufactured homes in suburbia seem to be yet another affordable option we’ve denied ourselves.

What Does Induced Demand Really Mean?

Suppose that New York City were to complete the Second Avenue Subway in 2015, and that in 2020, the line had hundreds of thousands of boardings per day, but the Lexington Av Line were still just as crowded. Would building the Second Avenue Subway be pointless? Or suppose we build a transit line through Sepulveda Pass, attracting hundreds of thousands of boardings per day, but traffic on the 405 doesn’t get any better. Would building the Sepulveda Pass transit line be pointless?

If our answer to those questions is “no”, then we need to think more critically about what it means for traffic to have remained the same on the 405 in the wake of the recent construction of the northbound HOV lane through the pass.

“Induced demand” is usually invoked to suggest the fruitlessness of widening freeways – if you add more lanes and traffic stays the same, why add more lanes? This misses the point. The whole reason you build transportation infrastructure is to move people and goods. Really, the opposite outcome is worse – what’s the point of building infrastructure if no one uses it?

Now, in the case of the 405, you might still argue that the money spent on widening the freeway should have been spent on a transit option instead. The project cost a billion dollars or so, which would be a pretty good down payment on Sepulveda Pass transit. I’m inclined to agree with you on that, but that’s a different argument than induced demand. And if building new freeway lanes through the pass doesn’t make traffic better, logically, neither will building transit. The question is just which project, freeway or transit, is a better investment.

Induced demand is an unhelpful concept. The phrasing makes it sound as if the construction of freeway lanes is what causes more traffic. But that’s not the case; the presence of development that people want to access, like housing, industry, commerce, entertainment and recreation, is what causes traffic. In other words, almost no one drives around on the freeway just to drive around on the freeway; they drive around on the freeway to get to some other place worth going to. When you build freeway lanes, you reduce the costs of traveling between places, so more trips will be made. The desire to travel was there before; the cost was just too high.

But wait, didn’t building transit, and later freeways, cause the growth of suburbs in the US? Well, sort of. If a transportation facility opens up access to development in new areas, you could say it induced its own traffic. But that’s not what people are usually talking about with induced demand, and it’s certainly not the case that widening the 405 was accompanied by a development boom. The Westside and Valley are constrained by zoning, not by the transportation network. If widening the 405 facilitated development anywhere, it would have to be distant places like Porter Ranch, Santa Clarita, and the Antelope Valley, but there hasn’t been a boom there either.

This is an important distinction. Billions of dollars have been wasted building freeways in rural America, in the hopes that the roads would induce demand, leading to economic growth. Likewise, many struggling cities have spent money on transit lines that have low ridership and have created little development.

In a large city, there’s almost always going to be trips that people want to make but don’t because of large travel times. This is especially true in large US cities, where we underprice road capacity to the point that new lanes are almost always quickly filled. We misinterpret the construction of the new lane as having caused the demand, but it was there all along.

We run into the same problem with zoning. Because we have constrained housing supply with zoning restrictions, any residential upzoning is usually followed by a boom in residential construction. We misinterpret the upzoning as having caused the boom, and think that we can cause other types of development, like manufacturing or other industry, by zoning for only those uses. But the upzoning didn’t cause the residential boom; the demand was there all along. So we end up with land zoned for industry sitting vacant or being put to low productivity uses.

What should we call it instead of induced demand? I think latent demand is more accurate, since the demand was there all along, waiting to be released. As an analogy, consider the latent heat of condensation. When air cools down, water vapor will condense into liquid water, releasing energy in the process. The cooling of the air didn’t create the energy; it just allowed it to be released.

So next time a transportation expansion is put to use right away, don’t call it induced demand, call it latent demand.

Comparing Transit Ridership and Roadway Volumes

This issue recently popped up on Twitter in a short conversation with @sandypsj.

One of the frustrating things about trying to put transit ridership into the context of total road use is that auto volumes and transit ridership usually aren’t reported in the same way.

When you look up traffic data, you get a point volume, usually the average number of cars passing a point on the roadway every day. Sometimes, you can also find the AM and PM peak hour volumes or peak 15-minute volumes in each direction, which are what traffic engineers use to time the traffic lights during periods of heaviest demand. When you look up transit ridership data, you usually get a total number of boardings for the entire line.

So, for the road you have the number of vehicles using only that segment, while for the transit line, you have everyone using any segment. For example, a daily count on Venice east of La Cienega showed 41,428 vehicles per day, while Metro ridership data shows 13,259 riders on Route 33 and 12,311 riders on Route 733, the bus routes serving Venice. If you assume an average vehicle occupancy of 1.2, that’s 49,713 people passing that point in cars. However, it’s not the case that (13,259 + 12,311)/(13,259 + 12,311 + 49,713) = 34% of all users on Venice east of La Cienega are using transit! Many 33 and 733 riders get on and off without going past La Cienega.

To figure out the proper comparison, you need to figure out the transit line volume for the same segment of roadway you have traffic volumes for. To do that, ideally, you need both boardings and alightings at each stop in each direction, perhaps even broken down by time of day. The number of boardings at each station is frequently available for rail lines, less often for bus lines. Data on alightings is not often available for rail or bus, though that’s slowly changing. For example, BART and the MBTA publish ridership data that includes not only boardings and alightings at each rail stop, but also each origin-destination pair. Since every boarding in one direction usually corresponds to an alighting at the same stop in the opposite direction, at a minimum you can get by with boardings at each stop in each direction.

For example, consider a hypothetical feeder bus route serving a rail transit station at Stop A, as shown below. There are ten stops, with the highest number of boardings at the transfer at Stop A, and secondary peaks in demand at Stops C and D, a subsidiary commercial node and transfer point.


We have boarding data in each direction at each stop. Since no alighting data is available, let’s assume alightings at each stop are equal to boardings in the opposite direction. We can therefore calculate the route volumes in each direction, i.e. the number of bus riders on each segment of the line in each direction, by setting up a simple table.


Northbound volume between Stops A and B is 2,000, since 2,000 riders board at Stop A and no one has had a chance to alight. At Stop B, 100 people board and 200 alight, so the route volume is 2,000 + 100 – 200 = 1,900. At Stop C, 800 board and 600 alight, so the route volume is 1,900 + 800 – 600 = 2,100, and so on. Southbound volumes are calculated the same way, by working up the column. Between Stops K and J, route volume is 400. At Stop J, 500 people board and 20, alight, so route volume is 400 + 500 – 20 = 880, and so on.

Note that because of our assumption about alightings, route volume in each direction is the same on each segment. Also note that the highest demand segment is between Stops C and D, not at the highest demand stop, Stop A. Lastly, note that while daily volumes are likely to be equal in each direction, demand throughout the day will probably be unbalanced. For example, since this is a feeder bus, we’d expect southbound volumes to be larger than northbound volumes in the morning, and vice versa in the afternoon.

Ok, now let’s suppose that daily traffic on the roadway segment between Stops D and E is 15,000 vehicles. Assuming an average occupancy of 1.2 passengers per car, that’s 18,000 people in cars. Therefore, between Stops D and E, the portion of total use being served by transit is 3,960/(18,000 + 3,960) = 18%. Note that if you compared total transit line boardings, 8,800, to the traffic volume between Stops D and E, you would significantly overestimate the portion of demand being met by transit. This example looks at daily demand; if you had traffic and transit data by the hour, you could do a more refined analysis.

It might be tempting to ignore this method, because it reveals the transit share to be smaller, but this is the right way to do the comparison. Frequent readers already know that this blog is certainly pro-transit, but also dedicated to honest analysis. When I present something, I want the backup to be airtight, so that transit opponents with ulterior motives can’t shoot it down on technical merit.

Case Study: the 24, the 680, the 242, and the 4 Compared to BART’s Bay Point Line

Twitter user @asmallteapot brought up the Caldecott Tunnel and BART’s Bay Point Line as a potential comparison between transit ridership and freeway volumes. Features like the Caldecott Tunnel offer particularly good reference points, since the tunnel creates a bottleneck where the only two options serving those trips are the freeway and the transit line.

BART provides full origin-destination ridership data, and Caltrans has good freeway volume data. In this example, we’ll compare the BART Bay Point Line between Rockridge and Pittsburg/Bay Point to the competing freeways, the 24, the 680, the 242, and the 4. The comparison between the 24 through the Caldecott Tunnel and BART between Rockridge and Orinda will be most accurate; for the rest of the line there are other alternatives that we can’t account for. This is especially true from Walnut Creek east, where the freeways are also serving trips not in competition with BART.

Here’s the origin-destination data, simplified to look at only the Bay Point Line from the Caldecott Tunnel east. Blue shading indicates westbound trips; red shading indicates eastbound trips.


Here’s the data tabulated into westbound and eastbound volumes, along with comparison to the appropriate freeway segment and BART mode share (assuming 1.2 passengers per car). As you can see, there’s little difference between the volumes in each direction. If we’d only had directional boardings, and assumed alightings equal boardings in the opposite direction, the results would be about the same.

click to embiggen

click to embiggen

Through the Caldecott Tunnel, BART is handling about 26% of total demand – not bad at all considering the fairly crappy off-peak headways and the fact that the freeway has four tunnels to BART’s one.

In the past, recording and compiling detailed boarding and alighting data would have been an inordinately time-consuming task, but with modern fare cards and automatic passenger counter technology, it should be quite easy, even in 15-minute intervals or at the individual vehicle level. Hopefully, more agencies will make this data available so that planners and activists can put it to good use.

Mini-Case Study on Mega-Project Management

When people think about mega-projects in Boston, the Big Dig, along with its enormous cost overruns and construction quality issues, is what comes to mind. But there’s another Boston mega-project that started at about the same time, and didn’t become an archetype for infrastructure incompetence: the Boston Harbor clean up.

In the 1980s, due to decades of pollution from poorly-treated sewage and combined sewer overflows, Boston Harbor was a stinking embarrassment. A lawsuit under the Clean Water Act resulted in the state being forced to improve stormwater and sewage treatment systems so that water quality in the harbor would recover. It’s a little surprising that there doesn’t seem to be a detailed study comparing the two projects; because both projects were constructed at about the same time in the same city, there should be less issue correcting for exogenous factors like legal precedents, quality of local contractors and engineering consultants, and political institutions.

However, a trio of articles from the fall of 2006 offers some insight. A short article in Governing cites three major factors: continuity of oversight leadership, local funding, and in-house talent at the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), the agency created in 1985 to oversee construction and operations of the sewer treatment system. Continuity of leadership came in the form of oversight from the same federal judge and several long-serving MWRA board members, while the use of local funds for construction created an external incentive to control costs. Inside the MWRA, a small team of talented engineers oversaw the contractors and consultants, providing strong owner representation.

In a Commonwealth Magazine expert panel on the Big Dig, Douglas McDonald, who served as Executive Director of the MWRA for nine years, cites the MWRA board of directors as the critical difference between the two projects. According to McDonald, the Executive Director had to report to the board of directors and a community advisory board every month, answering questions in real time. In contrast, leadership at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which managed the Big Dig, saw more frequent turnover and political interference. McDonald says that “it’s not totally clear to whom the Bechtel corporation [which oversaw the Big Dig] ever reported.”

Lastly, in a long-form article looking at the mismanagement of the Big Dig, Boston Magazine cites the high level of in-house talent at the MWRA as the critical factor. The article quotes David Luberoff of Harvard’s JFK School of Government saying “it’s clear the state needed to have someone with Bechtel’s expertise, but the state could have done a better job of managing the managers. You have to have a small, highly skilled, highly respected group of people who could look over Bechtel’s shoulders.” In other words, a project as unique as the Big Dig is always going to be beyond the capabilities of the managing public agency, and there’s nothing inherently wrong about using outside consultants. However, strong advocacy on the owner’s part is still required.

The article goes on to quote Paul Levy, another former MWRA director, saying that “we had a 50-person project management team within the MWRA of highly paid, very experienced people… right after I hired Dick Fox, I remember [Big Dig architect and former Secretary of Transportation] Fred Salvucci calling to congratulate me, saying he wished he could do that but it was not possible under the state personnel system.” Thus, it appears that a political decision – subjecting the DOT to the state’s personnel system but exempting the MWRA – made it more difficult for the Big Dig to hire people with the skills required to oversee the project. The inability to pay wages that are competitive with the private sector is a pervasive problem for public agencies.

Readers with experience in private land development will not be surprised by any of this. As a land developer, you need to hire a team of consultants to successfully complete a large project, including legal professionals, civil engineers, architects, mechanical-electrical-plumbing consultants, structural engineers, construction contractors, and construction managers. While they are all on your payroll, they all have other interests as well, which may conflict with your priorities. Architects will select more elaborate designs and finishes, both out of professional pride and the desire to have future clients see a portfolio of high-quality work. Civil engineers don’t want to aggravate the public agencies they interact with for other projects. Construction managers don’t want the contractor community to see them as too adversarial. Contractors might be losing money on another project and looking to make up that loss on other jobs. As an owner, you must strongly advocate for your interests and priorities. If you’re asleep at the switch, you’ll end up paying too much for the job, even if the entire project team is working ethically and there are no serious issues.

The harbor cleanup project was not without issue. For example, in 1999, two workers died near the end of the project’s nine-mile long tunnel due to a failure of the improvised breathing systems that they were using. However, the project was successful in its water quality goals; today you can swim at Spectacle Island, something that would have been unthinkable in the 1980s. The MWRA seems to be one of the more respected state agencies.

Meanwhile, the problems with the Big Dig have poisoned the public debate on transportation mega-projects. People now expect that the projects will be poorly built and have massive cost overruns, which makes it much more difficult to build political support. Progressives that think cost effectiveness and public trust don’t matter, take note.