Measure R2 Needs to Look Inward as well as Outward

Move LA has released a map of potential rail expansion projects that could be funded by “Measure R2” – a half-cent sales tax ballot initiative that would be similar to Measure R. We’re fortunate in LA in the sense that we have a lot of good candidate projects for transit expansion. However, US transit planning is often heavy on expansion, and misses out on opportunities to improve the existing transit system. Now obviously, if you’re riding the existing system, adding new lines gives you more destinations. But it doesn’t help your overcrowded Blue Line vehicle or your Flower St crawl – in fact, it might make those things worse!

So, while some longer posts are in the works (don’t I always claim that?), here are some improvements to the existing transit system that should get consideration for being included in Measure R2.

Red Line

Lankershim/Vineland infill station: it’s over 2 miles from Universal City to North Hollywood. That’s ok if the area in between stops is like Hancock Park, but there’s already a lot of density here and there’s the potential for more. This would be more costly than the Red Line stops near 1st St and 6th St being contemplated, but it would serve actual density rather than possible development. (It would also not interfere with yard operations.)

Orange Line

As I said last year, the Orange Line – running 4 minute headways – is not at capacity. Improvements to traffic signals would allow for increased service. An infill station at White Oak, in the middle of the 2 mile gap between Balboa and Reseda, should be considered too. It would be expensive and disruptive to existing riders to convert to LRT, so we should strongly consider getting all we can out of the BRT system first.

Green Line

The station spacing on the Green Line almost suggests it was planned as a pseudo-commuter rail to bring people to the commercial center in El Segundo. Infill stations should be considered at:

  • 105/Western: it’s crazy that a station at Western, with connections to busy north-south bus routes 207 and 757, wasn’t built in the first place. Slam dunk.
  • 105/Atlantic: 1.3 miles east of Long Beach Blvd station, serving Lynwood and connecting to north-south bus routes 260 and 762. Again, slam dunk.
  • 105/Paramount: 1.7 miles east of the proposed 105/Atlantic station and 1.1 miles west of Lakewood station, serving Paramount and Downey, and connecting to north-south bus route 265. This would also connect to the proposed Measure R2 Gateway Cities Line. Yet again, slam dunk.
  • 105/Bellflower: 0.9 miles east of Lakewood and 1.2 miles west of Norwalk, serving Downey and Bellflower, and connecting to north-south bus route 127.

I’m going to commit a minor act of heresy and say that with the possible exception of 105/Bellflower, these are all much better options than an extension of the Green Line east to the Metrolink Norwalk Station, which, after all, only has 19 trains a day and doesn’t even have any service for five hours during the middle of the day and no trains after 7pm. As long as the Orange County Line is sharing tracks with the finest line this land has seen, you’re not getting much connectivity out of that connection.

Blue Line

Where to even start? Unfortunately, design decisions on the Regional Connector, Gold Line, and Expo Line have made it impractical to try to go from 3-car to 4-car trains in the near future. Any increases in capacity are going to have to come from reducing headways. Some potential options:

  • Add another platform and track at Willow: the Long Beach loop is slow and impeded by street traffic, and demand is a little lower, so many trains turn back at Willow. The trunk of the Blue Line, from Willow to Vernon, is all exclusive ROW and can support headways shorter than 6 minutes. Adding another track at Willow would increase the turnback capacity (assuming, of course, that a good operations study shows the track is necessary).
  • Build (or legitimize) a second station entrance/egress at stations like Compton and Florence, to improve passenger circulation and reduce platform crowding.
  • Widen very narrow platforms like Florence.
  • Study options to improve speeds and reliability on Washington Blvd and Flower St. This could include anything from changing traffic signal timings to grade separations.

Silver Line

Stops on the Silver Line are spaced for commuter service, not rapid transit. Now that the Silver Line is getting some better frequencies, it’s time to look at adding some stops:

  • 110/Vernon: serving Vermont Square in South LA and (the original) South Park in Southeast LA, and connecting to east/west bus routes 105 and 705. This station would be on the way cool HOV lane viaduct, which would make it costly.
  • 110/Florence: serving Vermont Knolls in South LA and Florence, and connecting to east/west bus routes 111 and 311.
  • 110/Century: serving Vermont Vista and Broadway-Manchester, and connecting to east/west bus route 117.
  • 110/El Segundo: serving Harbor Gateway North.
  • 110/Alondra: serving Harbor Gateway North.

Another potential improvement would be to extend the Silver Line from Artesia Transit Center south to San Pedro. This could be either via Vermont, which has a very wide ROW that could accommodate bus lanes, or via the 110. Stops would be considered at 190th, Torrance, Carson, Sepulveda, PCH, and in San Pedro. The 110 already has bus stop pull-offs at Carson, Sepulveda, and PCH. If the route is via Vermont, stops could be spaced every half-mile rather than every mile.

Our transit system certainly has plenty of room for expansion. But we shouldn’t ignore improvements that could be made to the existing system – especially given the demographics of the neighborhoods that would benefit from these improvements.

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10 thoughts on “Measure R2 Needs to Look Inward as well as Outward

  1. Fakey McFakename

    Wouldn’t the additional infill stations on Green and Silver slow travel times too much? I think the only way adding all those stations on Silver makes sense is if you add an express bus during commuter hours that does the existing stops (maybe minus a couple). On Green, the constraints of the freeway probably preclude an express track, so there’s a need to ensure there aren’t too many stops.

    Also, what about the eastern part of the Silver Line? Especially if Phase 2 of the Gold Line Eastside Extension goes to Whittier rather than South El Monte, some more infill stations there might make sense – candidates might be Rosemead, Del Mar, or Atlantic.

    That said, there are defensible reasons for stops further apart on the freeway lines:
    1. It’s harder to build more stations in a freeway without massive disruption
    2. Because people don’t like walking near freeways, these stations are particularly likely to be places people arrive on local buses, so they’re really local bus hubs rather than true rapid transit stops.

    In any case, it’s important that these infill projects happen in addition to expansion, not as an excuse to stop it. Also, I think upgrading parts of Metrolink to be more rapid transit-like (compare the London Overground system) is a type of infill you should analyze – Sylmar/San Fernando to Union is a particularly prime candidate.

    Reply
    1. letsgola Post author

      Thanks for the comments.

      Adding those stations on the Green Line would bring the station spacing to be about the same as the Blue Line – between 1.0 and 1.5 miles. Generally, you want to aim for about a mile between stops with light rail in a place like LA – otherwise you are leaving too much potential ridership on the table. Think if the Blue Line skipped Vernon or Florence or 103rd. I would be curious to know how many people walk to the stations versus how many transfer. Express already operates on the Silver Line; Metro (along with LADOT and some other operators like Torrance Transit) run express routes along the corridor, so you could easily add more express service if needed. (That is one of the nice things about a busway – very easy to run express service.) However, it is worth remembering that the Harbor Transitway struggled to attract riders at first, when it was geared towards commuter express type service. The neighborhoods near those infill stations might generate a lot of ridership if they had better access to the Silver Line.

      Adding a station at Vernon would be pretty complicated because the busway is elevated there. But the other Silver Line infill stations and the Green Line infill stations wouldn’t be too complicated – they’d really just be garden variety freeway widening projects. The Green Line would be tougher due to the need to work on an active railroad.

      As I said in the post, we have *lots* of great candidate projects for expansion, and this isn’t meant to take away from that. These infill stations would really make the extension projects better by giving more people in some pretty dense neighborhoods better access to existing lines.

      As for Metrolink improvements… believe it or not that’s the “longer post” I claimed to be working on 🙂

      Reply
  2. anonymouse

    Isn’t there a project underway to have a third track all the way from Redondo Junction to Fullerton? I believe the plan was to add more midday and evening service to the Orange County Line after this is done, which would somewhat enhance the value of the Green Line extension. Still, given all the other projects competing for resources, that still wouldn’t push this anywhere near the top of the list.
    As for Blue Line capacity, for the short term, the limit is going to be the turnback at 7th/Metro, and I’m not convinced that they’d be able to manage 5 minute headways on both Blue and Expo. Once the Regional Connector opens, that constraint eases somewhat, and the likely next constraint becomes the shared street running section on Flower and the flat (and very low speed) flat junction. But if that section is grade-separated, then the only limits remaining are the basic signalling headway and the flat junction on the northern end of the Connector, which is at least underground. And at that point, the Connector would be one of the busiest light rail lines in the country, just behind Boston’s Green Line in trains per hour (and probably ahead in passenger capacity).

    Reply
    1. letsgola Post author

      I know they’re rebuilding some bridges between Redondo Jct and Fullerton that will allow for the third track, but I don’t know if they’re building the whole thing yet.

      Blue Line capacity is definitely constrained today by the turnback at 7th/Metro. Once that’s gone, Flower St will indeed be the controlling section. The Regional Connector will be one of the busiest LRTs in the country, though I’m not sure anyone will ever top Boston’s Green Line in terms of train throughput. It would just be really hard to match Boston with a modern signalling system and conforming to NFPA 130.

      Reply
      1. anonymouse

        Depends on how you measure throughput! Boston runs somewhere around 42 tph of two-car trains that are made of 72′ cars. The Regional Connector will run somewhere around 24 tph of 3-car trains, made of 90′ cars. That gives it a throughput of 6480 train-feet per hour, compared to Boston’s 6048 train-feet per hour. And just running longer trains won’t necessarily help in Boston, because part of the way they get that sort of capacity is by double-berthing trains in some of the stations, and that’s only possible with 2-car or smaller trains.

      2. letsgola Post author

        That’s a good point! I was really just thinking number of trains. There were occasional rumblings about running 3-car trains in Boston, but as you say, that would screw up the double-berthing (critically, at Park St)…

      3. anonymouse

        They actually do run a few three-car trains now, but only about 15% of the total number of trains during the AM peak, and even fewer during the PM peak. Even the D line, which has the highest proportion of 3-car trains only has every third train as a 3-car.

        As for the triple tracking of the BNSF mainline, it’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to observe it in person, but Google’s satellites indicate that the only remaining gaps are either side of the Norwalk station, and there’s pretty active work installing tracks for at least some of the distance to the south/east, and preparing the structures (and signals) to the north/west of that location. The main obstacles at this point are the grade crossings, both of roads and of other railroads. It very much looks like a “next couple of years” sort of thing at this point, though, and it’s very much in BNSF’s own best interests to get it done for its own operational needs.

  3. Joseph E

    Measure R2 should also spend money on improving surface transit in central Los Angeles, where the heaviest transit ridership exists. The planned rail lines will only cover a small portion of the neighborhoods with heavy transit usage. Pico and Venice have high transit ridership all the way to mid-city, but are too far from the Subway or Expo line. Sunset, Santa Monica, Vermont, Western, and Whittier all have heavy ridership and are over 1/2 mile from any rapid transit route over most of their lengths.

    All of the Metro Rapid bus routes on these streets should be upgraded thru Measure R2 with real BRT features: Transit lanes, off-board payment, proof-of-payment, all-doors boarding, stations and bulb-outs, and real signal priority.

    If Santa Monica or Long Beach are willing to give signal priority and lanes for transit, they should also be funded to upgrade some of the busiest bus routes, like the Rapid 3 and 7 in Santa Monica and West LA, and the routes on Atlantic Avenue and 7th Street in Long Beach. I’m sure there are a few routes in the SGV and the San Fernando Valley where this could work too, if there is political will to give buses priority.

    Reply
    1. letsgola Post author

      That’s a great point. Much of the talk around Measure R2 has been centered on rail, but improvements to heavily traveled bus lines should be on the table too. Many of those improvements, such as off-board payment, PoP, transit lanes, etc. will also save money on operations costs.

      Reply
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