19 December, 2008

CHECK YOUR BRAIN AT THE DOOR - City Watch -V- Rail

CITY WATCH PROVES "BRAIN DEAD" IS STILL IN VOGUE!
The anti-transit crowd is at it again, more questionable math, more bent logic and more bowing to the almighty automobile, in a land where you can see what you breathe. City Watch a "Urban Think Tank" could have published this in Jacksonville, Atlanta, Tallahassee or Tampa and been just as suspect for accuracy.
Here in Jacksonville the JTA and Jacksonville Traction, two entity's fighting for a piece of the transit pie, are doing battle with the 99% highway boys. We thought this would be fun to answer "as if" from Jacksonville. You Californians hang on to your hats, it's not revenge I'm after, it's a reckoning... besides I spent my teens and 20's in Los Angeles.


The City of Los Angeles has a chicken-and-the-egg problem when it comes to development. Many neighborhood activists assert that development shouldn't happen in their neighborhoods unless and until Los Angeles has a public transportation system on a par with, say, the San Francisco Bay Area. On the other hand, transportation officials argue that they can’t provide (or obtain funding for) public transportation until a ridership base is in place, that is after the development occurs. With respect to rail transit, funding and construction can be decades away. We seem to be at an impasse.

Gee, the same thing is being said in Jacksonville, only we're bigger then Los Angeles in square miles, and only 9 places behind in population.

For much of Los Angeles, it is a myth that frequent, comprehensive transit service does not exist. Vast swaths of Los Angeles have frequent bus service, especially during commute hours and especially to and from downtown. For example, Metro’s “12 Minute Map” (available here ) shows where buses run at least every 12 minutes during the day. This includes every major east-west street, and most major north-south streets, between downtown and the Westside. And lots of Angelenos travel to work using our public transit system. Newly released data from the US Census Bureau shows that, during the 2005-2007 time period, 11.5% of Los Angeles residents who work commuted by public transportation. This figure is not that much lower than in the Bay Area (excluding San Jose and the Silicon Valley), where 14.9% of workers commuted by public transportation.

Let's look in on Jacksonville, the sprawl capital of the nation. Even so our public transit hovers at the 5%-7% of all commuters. This includes the forever-unfinished monorail system, The Jacksonville Skyway.

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Poorly planned development threatens our environment, our health, and our quality of life. In communities across Massachusetts "sprawl" - scattered development that increases traffic, saps local resources and destroys open space - is taking a serious toll. Many of the effects of sprawl can be traced to poorly planned transportation infrastructure, including highway and airport expansion. The Massachusetts Sierra Club is working throughout the state to find solutions to our transportation and sprawl problems. We are working to promote rail - the most environmentally sound form of transportation - over continued highway and airport expansion. (SIERRA CLUB)
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The most striking difference between public transportation in Los Angeles and the Bay Area is the balance between bus and rail. In the City of Los Angeles, 95% of public transportation commuters travel by bus, compared to about 50% in the Bay Area. In the Bay Area, 45% of transit commuters travel by rail (including BART, Muni Metro light rail, or Cal-Train), compared to only 5% in Los Angeles. I suspect that many of the people who complain about LA’s transit system simply believe that bus service is per se inadequate and demand rail.

Here again, the parallels are striking, we demand rail. Hell, so does Miami, West Palm, Sarasota, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando - Deland to Poinciana. Jacksonville's problems are not unique as this writer so clearly points out.

The problem is that rail is quite expensive and most routes don’t have ridership levels to justify the cost. Even where rail makes sense, the high cost means that rail service is years, if not decades, away.

...And here is where our highway centric story teller goes off into left field. He is but a parrot for Detroit and the old school development companies that haven't discovered the Transit Oriented Development, and don't want to rock the boat by offering inter modal transit. More of the, "What was good enough for Grandpa should be good enough for you, mentality."

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item.......................$ Costs per Vehicle Hour....Seats....$ Cost per seat Hour
Diesel Bus....................42.58...........................45.......... .95

Regiosprinter DLRT* .....66.79...........................75.......... .89

Electric LRT**..............92.87..........................160.......... .58

* One-car train, preliminary maintenance costs during 6-month trial, can be operated in MU** Average of 2.5 cars per train

(data from Light Rail Now)

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In Boston, do buses cost less?

No matter what color you paint a bus, it still gets stuck in traffic. Over 15 years ago, the MBTA – after tearing down the elevated Orange Line – promised equal or better service. For 15 years, that service was a dirty diesel bus that contributed to residents' suffering asthma rates six times higher than the state average. Now the MBTA has unveiled its equal or better plans: building an elaborate tunnel system underneath downtown Boston so buses can turn around. Otherwise known as the "Silver Line Phase III," this plan will cost millions more than using existing tunnels and restoring light rail service on Washington Street. Even MBTA studies showed using the existing tunnel for Green Line-type service is only a matter of new lights and tracks, a substantial savings. (SIERRA CLUB)

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FACT IS: A mile of first class single track railroad, with welded rail and concrete ties, is cheaper to build then a mile of standard two-lane highway. Moreover, that mile of single track railroad has the PPHPD (Passenger Per Hour - Per Direction) capacity of 3 highway lanes. Railroads don't need a wide right-of-way either, taking perhaps half the space of the two lane highway Development? Only 7% of national Transit Oriented Development is centered around bus systems, the rest are on rail.

Even if this nation could figure out a way for automobiles and buses to burn dirty bath water and emit only pure mountain air, we have still paved over the equivalent of 8 northeastern states. Is that enough to change your environment? Let's hope not.

So under the banner of "understanding" and "helping" to solve the urban problems of today, one can see this author is already sold out to Detroit.

But there are ways to improve bus service that might get us out of the transit vs. development impasse. First, we need to speed up bus service. Except for the Orange Line and parts of downtown LA, buses are stuck in the same traffic as cars. Because buses also make frequent stops, this puts buses at a severe travel time disadvantage compared to cars or dedicated rail lines. Bus-only lanes are an option. Currently, Metro and the City are exploring whether to make the curb lanes on Wilshire Blvd bus-only lanes during peak hours. This would speed up buses relative to cars, and make bus schedules more predicable. If they are serious about encouraging transit use, Metro and the City of LA should consider implementing peak-hour bus-only lanes on every heavily-used bus route with peak-hour “no parking” curb lanes.

Let's cut through the double speak here and note the facts. "Buses are at a disadvantage compared to dedicated rail lines." Amazing observation, being stuck in traffic is worse then being over, under, or beyond the reach of traffic on the rails. So his solution follows his logic...Let the railroad lay and build more freeway lanes for buses.

Second (and related to the first), due to the poor condition of pavement in curb lanes, riding the bus is uncomfortable. It is hard to read or work; indeed, it is sometimes hard to stay in one’s seat. In an era when Washington is talking about funding infrastructure projects, Los Angeles could seek funding for smooth, concrete bus lanes so that riding in these lanes is as comfortable as riding the Orange Line. On many streets, the condition of the curb lanes is so bad that very few cars use them. Thus, converting them to bus-only lanes wouldn’t significantly affect automobile traffic in the other lanes.

Here the pace picks up to downright excitement. Let's blow out the curb lanes on the roads, nobody likes them anyway. Forget parking, no one needs curbside parking, expensive meters or conversion to bus only lanes will create boulevards where buses can play-like-trains and blow past every mom and pop store, shop or boutique in town. Don't expect this to be welcome by the small retailer - restaurateur's, but who cares, this is about highways, and everyone knows highways are more important then people, livelihood or community.

Third, Metro could speed up service on the Rapid Bus lines by allowing passengers to board at any door. Particularly when wheelchair users are disembarking, forcing all passengers to board through the front door causes significant delays. Rapid bus systems in cities such as Curitiba, Brazil use simple technologies to permit boarding through all doors.

This isn't such a bad idea really, why not go one step further and make transit like City Parks and Libraries? FREE. If we must charge, get the fare collection off the buses and trains and into station vending machines, convenience stores, super markets and Wal-Marts. We should all follow Curitiba's example. Apparently not informed, the writer fails to acknowledge that Curitiba's highly praised Bus Rapid Transit only moves at an average speed of 12 MPH, and has failed to keep up with the crowds. Oh what to do? Curitiba is building rail as fast as they can.



Fourth, it often seems that Los Angeles’ transit system is the designated day care center for our mentally ill and homeless population. We should provide treatment for people who cannot care for themselves, and not just hand them a bus pass.

I seriously doubt that the homeless are given bus passes en-masse in Los Angeles or Jacksonville (though the disabled or jobless should be first in line for a free pass). Fact is, we care for our homeless with beds, roof, room and board, does the City of Angels do the same? This isn't a transit problems per se, rather a social illness that infects most of the larger American Cities. I have no problem riding a bus with someone who isn't in full control of their mind or abilities, I'd rather we reach out and give them a hand up, instead of tossing them out But isn't this the stigma that follows buses everywhere? "They stink," "they are full of crazies", "who rode the short bus in high school?" Labels that give away the true meaning of this article, "Improve Buses for the Poor and don't spend an extra nickle on rail for the same crowd..."

Rail is an essential part of the solution to Los Angeles’ transportation problem. But it is an expensive, long-term solution that makes sense in only a handful of places. We must build more housing so our children have places to live when they become adults. That means we must selectively increase density. To break the logjam, wherein people legitimately object to density without transportation improvements, we should take advantage of relatively low-cost, easy-to-implement projects that could significantly improve the performance and appeal of Metro’s extensive bus network.

Suddenly a severe swerve in the road, I note that on my far right is John Birch, and these boys are once again preaching the, "rail-is-expensive," and, "rail-is-severely-limited," mantra. The illusion changes to one of building rail will mean we won't have houses for our children. Let's take the cheap route and build more highways and buses. In Los Angeles and Jacksonville let's build for the bus and the poor children, keeping our wallets close to our hearts. The quick cheap solution...

Well it might fly in some circles but I'm calling you out on this one. You buy into this cheap argument and I've got some mountain top land to sell you in the Okefenokee Swamp. One thing is true in his argument for "CHEAP TRANSIT" - You'll get what you pay for.

(Jeffrey Jacobberger is an attorney, a Public Policy major and a neighborhood council activists. Jacobberger is a CityWatch contributor.)
(Robert Mann, Your blogger, is a Monster of Mobility, Transportation Consultant, Old Hippie and unabashed defender of rail in any form).

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The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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