A vision for the future, from LA

The I-405 is one of Los Angeles biggest and busiest freeways and just a few years ago underwent a US$1 billion widening project. But as the saying goes, what you feed grows and a few days ago that was highlighted in nightmarish fashion as tens of thousands tried to get away for Thanksgiving. The images come from ABC7 Eyewitness News twitter feed. All modes can have issues from time to time but unless we can focus on developing some serious multi-modal options then perhaps this will be a vision of Auckland’s future.


And is if that isn’t bad enough, here’s a video of it showing the traffic extending a long way

And one more shot of it

Travel diary: Beachfront cycling in LA

I was recently on holiday in California. Here are some thoughts and images from the week I spent in Los Angeles, a car-dependent city that is, like Auckland, trying to become something different.

One of the frustrations of travelling in California is how much time I spent in cars. While in Auckland, I get in a car perhaps one day every two weeks – the rest of the time I get around by public transport or under my own power. In California, I drove every day, which was enjoyable at times and frustrating at others.

However, I was lucky enough to spend a fantastic afternoon cycling in Los Angeles. This is not as stupid an idea as you may initially assume. While the city has devoted little space on its wide roads to cyclists, it does have some amazing cycling assets, such as the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. (Unfortunately, I left two days too soon to attend CicLAvia, which a friend highly recommended.)


Marvin Braude is an example of doing cycling infrastructure right. It is a fully separated bidirectional cycleway that runs along a seemingly endless string of Southern Californian white-sand beaches. We rode about 20 kilometres from Redondo Beach to Marina Del Rey and returned via the same path.

Although LA is not known as a walking and cycling city, the cycleway was mobbed by people even on Monday afternoon. We were often cycling in the midst of a crowd of cyclists. Some surfers were even transporting their boards via bike-mounted surfboard racks!

It just goes to show that if you build it well, they will come:

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The cycleway also gave a nice view on LA’s eclectic mix of architectural styles and land uses. There were many, many blocks of elegant beach-front mansions and condos, complete with traffic-calmed residential streets and pedestrian-focused accessways.

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However, there were also signs of LA’s practical, industrial side, such as the monolithic Scattergood Power Station, which serves as a dividing line between the well-to-do southern beaches and the decidedly more working-class Dockweiler State Beach.

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We finished up the ride with a sunset swim back in Redondo. Just after we got in the water, we were surprised by a pack of friendly dolphins that were frolicking in the surf. I didn’t get a picture of the dolphins, but here’s one of the sunset:

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I’d recommend this bike trip to anyone visiting Los Angeles. I’d also recommend that all other coastal cities should get to work on building their own separated cycleway on the beachfront! Hint, hint, Tamaki Drive…

AT’s Get on Board with Jerome Campaign

Auckland Transport recently launched a new campaign featuring Jerome Kaino encouraging people to use PT and HOP. It seems to be primarily an online campaign focused on the videos below however I’ve also seen a few ads on the backs of buses too. Overall I think the campaign is pretty well done and Jerome seems like a good choice to front it.

I’m not sure I agree that the journey planner is as great as Jerome suggests. I find it often ignores the most logical or sometimes even the fastest options. For example to get from Takapuna to New Lynn on a Monday afternoon it only suggests catching the horrid 130 bus for almost two hours but ignores the much faster option of catching a bus to town and then transferring to either another bus or a train.

It’s good to see AT talking about what’s coming up and importantly highlight that the changes are helping to give Auckland a system like found in many other cities around the world.

Overall I think AT have done a decent job with this

Although it doesn’t have quite as many cool points as this 1980’s style video that L.A. Metro has just released.

Postcard from Downtown Los Angeles

We’re going to need to re-inhabit and rehabilitate our cities and our urban neighborhoods whether we like it or not, because the suburbs are bankrupting our culture, economically, ecologically, socially, and spiritually. – James Howard Kunstler

On a recent west coast (US) whistle stop tour I took a couple of days to check out Downtown Los Angeles. For half a century downtown LA epitomised the country’s flight to the suburbs abetted by mass motorisation — fleeing businesses and residents, abandoned buildings, and a concentration of social problems. Over the last decade, and in particular the last few years, Downtown LA has emerged as one of the most interesting urban stories in America. From mothballed turn-of-the century buildings being re-imagined as lofts and co-working offices- to 21st century transportation systems both unlocking and re-centralising the place, Downtown LA has been quite seriously called “America’s Next Great City.”

Arts District, Downtown Los Angeles

Arts District, Downtown Los Angeles

Like 100 years ago Downtown benefits from a convergence of public transportation routes. I arrived from the south via Metrolink into the remodeled Union Station and effortlessly switched to the Red and Purple subway lines which overlap to provide 5 minute headways across Downtown. Los Angeles is rapidly extending and connecting this subway system. The Purple Line will be extended to the “Westside” (UCLA, Westwood) by 2035 and the Metro Line LRT will be extended from the busy 7th St/Metro Station all the way to the beach in Santa Monica by next year. In the short term (2020) the Central Connector project will allow the regional LRT lines from Long Beach (Blue Line) and Pasadena (Gold Line) to run through Downtown using a new alignment while adding three more stations.

Arts District, Downtown Los Angeles

Arts District, Downtown Los Angeles


Recently opened Spring Arcade under redevelopment

An ambitious focused rehab project is currently underway on Broadway. Widened footpaths, mid-block crossings, and tightened intersections are part of this ambitious project to help resurrect the district with 12 old theatres and dozens of amazing old buildings many of which remain mothballed above the street level. A circuitous downtown streetcar will be added along here as well. In the short term street upgrades have been “painted on” using the NYC interim design technique of textured paint and physical barriers. The recent changes don’t seem to cause any problems and the traffic is surprisingly tame and civil. The traffic signals are timed with very short phases and concurrent crossings (and better road rules), allow people to walk effortlessly across the numerous dense districts that form the downtown.


Los Angeles Theater. Broadway, Los Angeles


NYC-interim design on Broadway

The residential population in the city has exploded from 29,000 in 2006 to 52,400 in 2014 . While the local population looks very DINK-y (dogs, gym bags) a grade school was opened just last year. This new population has an abundance of consumer choices from the 600 new stores, restaurants and bars that have opened since 2008. In addition to steampunk bars and taco trucks local residents are increasingly being served by conventional retail. So not only can you buy a pair of brand new 1982 Nike Air Force sneakers from the specialty boutique store but you can also pick up a vacuum at Target or socks at Ross. Global brands like H&M and Zara have recently opened very successful flagship stores and the uber hip ACE Hotel has just opened in a refurbished old building.


Angel City Brewery, Arts District, Los Angeles


Urban Outfitters, Broadway, opened 2014.

According to a friend, the technology sector has reached a critical mass with tech companies like NationBuilder using a Downtown location as a key branding and talent attraction strategy. Other large, established creative firms like Yahoo which traditionally locate in Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Culver City are now looking for options Downtown.

During my time in LA I kept thinking about what Gordon Price said to me a couple of years ago- “In 10 years Los Angeles will be unrecognisable”. At that time he was referring to Measure R a successful local tax initiative that provided specific funding from sales tax for public transportation projects. Since that time Downtown LA is already unrecognisable. This is what a city looks like being turned over and re-imagined in real time, and like NYC, it will be worth revisiting time and time again to enjoy the changes. If you are in Los Angeles for a short period of time, do yourself a favour- skip the beach and head Downtown. If you are there after the extension of the Metro Line you will soon be able to do both.


7th Street, Jewelry District, Downtown Los Angeles

What we can learn from LA

Len Brown has said that this year we’re going to be seeing the council start a conversation about how to raise money to cover the estimated $12-15 billion funding shortfall that has resulted from their wish list of projects that will still most transport metrics get worse. While I feel there is a strong desire amongst Aucklanders to see us getting on with improving transport I do think the council will be hard pressed to sell extra taxes for a programme of works that doesn’t really solve the problems that exist.

Over the last few days we’ve run a couple of guest posts on the revival and future of rapid transit in Los Angeles. You can read the two posts Part 1 here and Part 2 hereWhat I want to do with this post is look at what we can learn from LA.

I think the most amazing and most relevant thing about the LA experience is this part from Darren’s guest post

Los Angeles is by no means sitting on its laurels. At the height of the Global Financial Crisis in late 2008, 67% of Los Angeles County voters voted to tax themselves more by increasing the county sales tax by 0.5% for the next 40 years. 65% of this is dedicated to bus and rail capital projects and operations; 20% to roading and 15% to local projects (which can be public transport, roading, walking & cycling). This is allowing the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) to get a whole new raft of rail projects off the ground much earlier than would otherwise have been possible.

That in the middle of a recession people voted to increase tax is extraordinary, further I understand that more than 50% of all voters in every district within LA County area voted yes on it so it wasn’t just popular in the areas that stood the most to gain from investment (it actually needed 66.7% to pass so just squeaked over the line). In 2012 elections a further vote was held to extend the funding measure by an additional 30 years taking it out to 2069. That would have enabled additional lending against the future revenue and allowed even more projects to be fast tracked. That fell just short with 66.1% voting in favour, again with it needing to reach 66.7% to pass.

In both Measure R and Measure J it appears that one of the key elements in the debate was that authorities made clear just how the money being raised was going to be spent. This goes deeper the 65% PT, 20% roading and 15% local projects as mentioned in the post yesterday by going into specific projects that would be built with the extra funding. For example this is an interactive map of all of the projects that will be built with Measure R funding.

LA Measure R Map

In Auckland it would be nice if the council could be more open about what is actually planned to be spent which is ~70% on roads. The reason that this is important is that so far when the debate about extra funding comes up it is almost always blamed on the big PT projects on the list like the City Rail Link and not the roading list almost three times larger.

Tied to this is another important aspect that the council/AT will need to get right and that is a map to communicate the vision. The one above is good from an individual project level but as I pointed out the other day it can be hard to see what the longer term plans are or how the individual rapid transit services would operate. For that a network map showing the overarching vision – like the one shown yesterday – is extremely useful as it allows for the existing network to still be seen.

LA Metro future

For Auckland an official map like the CFN for the PT side of things would be incredibly useful in getting the general public to understand what’s planned.

The other big thing I think we could learn from LA is the relative importance they are placing on getting large parts of the network built. They have taken the Measure R funding and used it to come up with an initiative they call 30/10 which basically means taking 30 years of transit projects and building them over a 10 year period meaning the benefits of the projects can start to be seen faster. Again this is something similar to what we’ve done with the CFN – although not quite as quick as 10 years.

There’s probably quite a bit more we can learn from the experience LA has had but these were just a couple of the quick ones that I thought about.

CFN 2030A

The revival and future of rapid transit in Los Angeles – Part 2

This guest post is the second in a two part series from Darren Davis who is a Principal Transport Planner for Auckland Transport looking at the revival and future of rapid transit in Los Angeles. The first part which looks at the revival is here.

Los Angeles is by no means sitting on its laurels. At the height of the Global Financial Crisis in late 2008, 67% of Los Angeles County voters voted to tax themselves more by increasing the county sales tax by 0.5% for the next 40 years. 65% of this is dedicated to bus and rail capital projects and operations; 20% to roading and 15% to local projects (which can be public transport, roading, walking & cycling). This is allowing the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) to get a whole new raft of rail projects off the ground much earlier than would otherwise have been possible.

Two rail extensions are already under construction. The 10.6 km second stage of the Expo Line, extending it from Culver City to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica, is 50% built and due to open in late 2015. With this, it will be a 48 minute rail trip from Santa Monica to Downtown at any time, not subject to the wild fluctuations in travel time on the often intensely congested 10 Freeway. The Gold Line is also being extended 18.2 km east from Pasadena to Azusa in the San Gabriel Valley, is due for completion in 2016 and will provide an alternative to often congested 210 Freeway across the valley.

Santa Monica Pier

However, three projects currently in pre-construction are key enablers of a brighter transit future for Los Angeles, each for different reasons.

LA Metro future

The first is the Crenshaw/LAX light rail project which will serve a heavily transit dependent north south corridor in South Los Angeles and will link to the Expo Line at Expo/ Crenshaw and to the Green Line also at Crenshaw Boulevard. Significant effort is going into to targeting economic development and well-paying construction jobs so that the communities impacted by construction benefit from the project during construction and not just at the end when it opens. In addition, it will bring rail significantly closer to LAX and will allow for the Century/LAX Station to be integrated with a proposed LAX people mover. There is finally a real prospect of a more satisfactory rail connection to LAX than that provided by the Green Line. In addition, the Crenshaw Line will make the Green Line significantly more useful by further expanding its connectivity.

The second project is the long-awaited extension of the Purple Line in the densely developed Wilshire Boulevard corridor. After much lobbying, the ban on subway construction in the Wilshire Corridor was lifted and pre-construction activities are underway on extending the Purple Line further west. The first 6.2 km stage will serve the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Fairfax District to reach Beverly Hills with a second 4.2 km stage to the major employment hub of Century City and a final 4.6 km stage on to Westwood, home to the University of California Los Angeles and the Veterans Administration Hospital just west of the 405 Freeway. Wilshire Boulevard has 60,000 daily boardings, including the 720 Metro Rapid limited stops bus which runs articulated buses every 3-8 minutes during the day on weekdays; at least every 15 minutes evenings to 10pm; then every 20 minutes to 1.30am. However, buses are heavily impacted by the Westside’s chronic congestion. The first stage of a major project to implement 12.4 km of peak period bus lanes on Wilshire Boulevard has been implemented with further stages over the year so that the Metro Rapid can more closely live up to its name. Even so, the Purple Line extension cannot come soon enough.

The third project is the Regional Connector, a 3 km underground light rail line in Downtown which will link the Blue and Expo lines, which end at the western side of Downtown to the two legs of the Gold Line which only reach the northeastern edge of Downtown. This will significantly improve penetration of Downtown by light rail; provide a second high frequency underground rail circulator in Downtown and will enable many more one-seat rides across Los Angeles, for example from East LA to the Westside or from Pasadena to Long Beach.

And if this isn’t enough, there are a bunch of other rail projects working their way through the planning and funding pipeline including an extension of the Green Line further into the South Bay; and further stages of the Gold Line deeper into the San Gabriel Valley and the Inland Empire and further into East LA.

While an enormous amount of activity is happening with public transport, a lot of good land-use planning is also occurring. LA Metro has effectively leveraged its land holdings to create Transit Oriented Developments at various of its stations, delivering a range of market-rate and affordable housing (e.g. Wilshire/Vermont Station) and creating trip attractors (e.g. Hollywood/ Highland Station) all of which generates more public transport patronage. In addition, LA Metro has purchased Union Station, a masterpiece of Spanish Revival architecture – and a hub for local, regional and long distance public transport used by 60,000 people a day – to make it work better for public transport, enhance its significant heritage features, generate transit oriented development and to improve its connectivity to the wider area.

Union Station

At the same time, Downtown Los Angeles is getting its mojo back big time. An Adaptive Reuse Ordinance led to a wave of converting heritage buildings in the historic core – which has an amazing collection of beaux-arts architecture – to residential and other uses leading to significant growth in residential population. This in turn has led to a major revival of retail activity, especially in Broadway, once LA’s theatre district but somewhat down of heel until recently when it has once again become the favoured locale for national and international retailers. And once again the only places for retail chain’s flagship stores are where they should be – Downtown. The development pressure from this revival means that many of Downtown’s ample supply of surface car parks are being converted into higher and better value intensive mixed-use.

Pershing Square

And a final good omen for Los Angeles is the gradual rediscovery of the pleasures of public life in a city that has traditionally feared the street and turned its back to it. Downtown redevelopments are finally embracing the interface with the public realm and New Year’s Eve 2013/2014 saw its first ever public celebration in Los Angeles, bringing 25,000 people to Downtown’s Grand Park, many of whom came by train (which was free from 9pm on New Year’s Eve until 2am on New Year’s Day and ran all night).

If you want to in learn more about Los Angeles rail development read: Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City by Ethan Elkind http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520278271

The author the above article is an employee of Auckland Transport, however, the views, or opinions expressed in that article are personal to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Auckland Transport, its management or employees. Auckland Transport is not responsible for, and disclaims any and all liability for the content of the article.

The revival and future of rapid transit in Los Angeles – Part 1

This guest post is the first in a two part series from Darren Davis who is a Principal Transport Planner for Auckland Transport looking at the revival and future of rapid transit in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is virtually a metonym for car-based mobility based on an extensive freeway network. Sadly, the early promise of unlimited mobility on uncongested freeways has turned from autopia to dystopia where Los Angeles is routinely in second place in the United States (after Washington DC) in time wasted stuck in traffic and where the picture postcard sunsets are the result of photochemical smog refracting the rays of the sun.

However, all is far from lost for Los Angeles and it has much going for it as a once and future transit city. It was originally developed on the basis of the world’s largest streetcar network, the Pacific Red Cars, with 1,600 km of track. It is relatively dense; it has a largely intact rectilinear grid street and arterials well-spaced for excellent public transport access. Its polycentric nature actually works to its advantage as it promotes bidirectional travel, making better use of available public transport capacity. And in addition, a lot of the former Pacific Red Car corridors were still available to be reused.

In October 1992, I travelled to Los Angeles for the first time and spent a week with the then Metropolitan Transportation Commission (LAMTC) at the early stages of the LA rail renaissance. I wrote an article about my experience entitled “LA: City on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

At the time of my visit, Los Angeles had just one light rail line, opened two years previously to typically great LA fanfare, including the presence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This was the Blue Line which covers the 35.4 km between Downtown LA and Long Beach via South Los Angeles. By 1992, the line was carrying 35,000 passengers per day, half of whom were new to public transport. My then interpretation was that this was not good value for the $US887 million capex investment and $42.6 million annual opex requirement, less than 11 per cent of which was being recovered through the farebox. However, hindsight is the greatest teacher and the Blue Line is now carrying 90,000 passengers per day, making it the second busiest light rail line in the United States after Boston’s Green Line.

Also while I was in Los Angeles in 1992, the first stage of the Metrolink commuter rail network opened on three lines and has since been progressively expanded to seven lines over six Southern California counties, covering 624 km of track and carrying over 40,000 weekday passengers on an average trip length of 60 km and an average operating speed (including station stops) of 60 km/h.

January 1993 saw the opening of the first stage of the underground Red/Purple Line subway linking Union Station to MacArthur Park in the Westlake District. The line was originally slated to continue west on Wilshire Boulevard corridor, one of the densest urban corridors in the United States. However, politics got in the way and a methane explosion in the Fairfax District was used as a pretext to prevent subway construction west of Western Avenue on the Wilshire Corridor, purportedly on safety grounds. So the Purple Line subway ended up as a 3.7 km stub line to Western Avenue in Koreatown, completed in 1996. The main Red Line was diverted up Vermont Avenue and then under Hollywood Boulevard, reaching the legendary intersection of Hollywood and Vine in 1998 before continuing west to Hollywood and Highland and then north under the Cahuenga Pass to Universal City and North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley in 2000

MacArthur Park, Westlake District

Ironically, more politicking, based on local neighbourhood concerns, got in the way of a further extension of the Red Line at grade west of North Hollywood on a disused Pacific Red Car corridor. This ended up requiring any further rail to be fully underground, a prohibitively expensive proposition for the relatively low density San Fernando Valley. This turn of events led to some lateral thinking and a flying visit to Curitiba in Brazil which resulted in the corridor being used by the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to Warner Center and Canoga Park at the western end of the valley in 2005 with a northern extension to Chatsworth Metrolink Station completed in 2012 for a total line length of 29 km. The Orange Line is one of the best BRT implementations in the United States. It carries around 30,000 passengers per day with frequencies of every 4 minutes at peak times; 8 minutes interpeak and 10 minutes at weekends and is a significant feeder to the Red Line at its North Hollywood terminus. Ironically, its peak capacity is close to being maxed out due to the east west line’s interaction with numerous heavily trafficked north south arterials. This issue could be solved with absolute traffic signal priority for buses or the use of bi-articulated buses.

After the Red Line, the next rail line to be built was the 32.2 km Green Line which resulted from a judicial compromise over the construction of the last freeway to be built in Los Angeles, the Glenn Anderson Freeway linking Norwalk with LAX Airport and the South Bay. This required the inclusion of rapid transit into the freeway median. Due to the then booming aerospace industry in the South Bay, the decision was taken to prioritise servicing the South Bay over a spur into LAX Airport, instead requiring airport-bound customers to transfer to a free bus shuttle at Aviation/LAX Station, 4 km from the airport. The line was also foreshortened at its eastern end well short of its originally intended (and more useful) terminus at the Norwalk Metrolink Station.  The Green Line opened in 1995 just as the South Bay aerospace industry went into major decline and it has since been mocked as the line that goes from nowhere to nowhere. Nevertheless, it still carries 40,000 weekday passengers; connects to the very heavily used Blue Line at Willowbrook and to LAX at Aviation/ LAX (via a free bus shuttle). Due to the line being fully grade-separated, it averages 52.2 km/h (including station stops).

Aviation_LAX Green Line Station

Further rail development took place with the opening of the Gold Line from Union Station to Pasadena in 2003, a project that jumped up the priority queue due to energetic lobbying and political support in the area and the San Gabriel Valley to its east as well as the absence of other suitable “shovel-ready” projects.  This line was extended from Union Station into East Los Angeles in 2007 including a 2.9 km underground section with two stations under East First Street in Boyle Heights. The Gold Line has a total length of 31.7 km carries around 43,000 daily passengers.

Apartments by Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station

The latest light rail line to be completed is the 13.8 km first stage of the Expo Line from Downtown Los Angeles to Culver City on the Westside, again utilising a disused Red Car corridor parallel to Expo Boulevard. This line brings the University of Southern California and the various museums and sports venues in the Expo Park/ LA Coliseum area into the rail network and is the first rail line to serve the heavily congested Westside in over 50 years. Only opened in 2012, it is already exceeding its 2020 patronage estimates with 27,000 daily passengers just one year after opening.

In 1990, Los Angeles had 0 km of rail. Since then, it has progressively built out 28 km of fully underground metro heavy rail; 113 km of light rail and 624 km of commuter rail. Underground heavy rail carries 160,000 passengers per day; light rail 200,000 and the largely peak-focused commuter rail 40,000. Going from 0 to ~400,000 daily rail passengers in a little over 20 years is not an achievement to be sniffed at.

As of today this is the extent of the LA rapid transit system. Metro have also put together this neat interactive timeline of the development of their rapid transit network.

Tomorrow Darren will cover what’s planned for the future of rapid transit in LA and how they are paying for it.

The author the above article is an employee of Auckland Transport, however, the views, or opinions expressed in that article are personal to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Auckland Transport, its management or employees.  Auckland Transport is not responsible for, and disclaims any and all liability for the content of the article.

LA investment in PT is reducing driving

When we invest in good quality public transport, walking or cycling it is normally not about providing some sort of social service to those who can’t drive – either for age/medical reasons or that they simply can’t afford to. It’s really about giving people a choice in how they get around the city as in cities like Auckland far too often the only viable option is to drive.

Over the last decade we’ve already strong uplift in patronage, especially on the rail network and Northern Busway as people have responded to the investment. While that is really good it is often quite hard to tell just what specific impact an investment might have on peoples transport decisions. Knowing about changes in travelling behaviour is really important – not just to ensure existing projects have delivered what was expected of them but the information should also be being used to help better inform future projects.

Most people consider Los Angeles one of the prime examples of a car dominated city but they are working to change that through some substantial investments in PT. A team of researchers decided to find out just what impact the construction of the Expo Line has had on how people travel and some of the changes have quite dramatic. Just a quick background, the Expo line is a light rail line that opened in April 2012 and is roughly the same length as our Onehunga Line. It runs from Downtown to Culver City and an extension to Santa Monica is already under construction. The line is shown in the image below.

 The Atlantic Cities reports on the outcome of the research.

 The success of L.A.’s rail program will take years to determine, but an early analysis released this week suggests it’s on the right track (so to speak). A research team led by Marlon Boarnet of the University of Southern California reports that the Expo Line led to significant changes in travel behavior — mostly in the desired direction. Boarnet and company found major reductions in driving and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as increases in rail ridership and physical activity.

The researchers followed about a hundred people who lived within a half mile of a new Expo Line station, and about a hundred more who lived in a comparable neighborhood nearby. In the fall of 2011, before the line began service, these test participants tracked their travel behavior for a week (logging trips, recording car odometer readings, and carrying a GPS device capable of measuring both location and physical activity). In the fall 2012, when Expo service began, the families did the same thing for another week.

The changes in driving behavior were most striking. Before Expo service began, the household travel patterns between the two types of groups looked similar. Afterward, the non-Expo group showed no statistical change in their daily vehicle-miles traveled (in fact, it increased slightly), while the Expo group reduced their daily miles driven significantly.

Overall, people near the Expo stations reduced vehicle-miles by 10 to 12 miles a day relative to those in other neighborhoods — a 40 percent drop in driving. This impact was greatest near rail stations surrounded by more bus lines and near stations on streets with fewer traffic lanes. In other words, a strong bus network and a limited road network likely enhanced transit behavior.

The researchers spotted other significant changes, too. Train trips increased among those living near the stations (as one would expect), and these households produced 30 percent fewer emissions, compared to the other households. The least active people living along the Expo line also engaged in about 8 to 10 minutes more of physical activity each day — presumably as a result of increased transit use.

That is a pretty striking change in behaviour and it’s occurred within about six months of the line opening. It’s likely the change in behaviour is even stronger now as patronage has increased from 2012 when this research was undertaken. I would also guess the change will be even stronger still once the extension to Santa Monica opens in a few years-time.

LA Expo Line Patronage

Apart from being quite interesting in seeing what impact improved investment in PT can make, it also highlights to me that perhaps AT should be looking do similar research. Over the next few years public transport in Auckland is about to undergo some massive changes with the roll out of electric trains, the new bus network and integrated fares (something the LA report noted would likely have improved uptake of the Expo line further). Being able to really show with detail the positive impact that these projects will have could end up being extremely useful in helping to justify future investment in PT.

The difference that street width makes

I stumbled (via Price Tags) across a really fantastic site earlier today which really highlights the difference that street width makes to the feel of a place – taking a number of streets in Los Angeles and manipulating the image to reduce the street width. Let’s take a look at a narrowed Sunset Boulevard:

And compare it to the real thing:

And now a narrowed version of the intersection of Ocean Ave and Santa Monica Boulevard, in Santa Monica:

Compared to the real thing:

While I’ve always been a fan of narrow streets, these images really show how narrowing down our roadways can have a hugely beneficial impact on the look and feel of our urban areas. While obviously we can’t easily narrow down every street and road, I think that there are some pretty compelling reasons to look to make our roadways as narrow as possible while still enabling them to do what we want. I know this approach will probably annoy traffic engineers who seem to like roads to be as wide as possible, but for some reason I often tend to find myself liking things which annoy traffic engineers.


Learning from Los Angeles

Typically Los Angeles is considered a textbook guide on what “not to do” when it comes to transport and land-use planning. In so many ways it is the utterly stereotypical post World War II city: without a strong core, without a functioning public transport system, with enormous congestion, with terrible air pollution, and so forth. However, as I noted back in March, Los Angeles is changing its ways.

In fact, Taras Grescoe – writer of the fantastic book Straphanger – reckons that Los Angeles is the American city most at the cutting edge of improving its public transport system. He penned this recent op-ed in the LA Times, noting:

When people ask me which major U.S. city is at the cutting edge of forward-thinking transportation planning, they’re always surprised when I reply that it is Los Angeles — those “72 suburbs in search of a city,” according to the tired put-down — that is working hardest to improve transit. Some express astonishment that transit is an option in L.A. at all, which leads me to soliloquize, a la Joan Didion, on the “rapture-of-the-freeway” and the joys of strap-hanging in SoCal.

L.A. has a two-line subway, I tell them, running trains through cavernous stations, like the one at Hollywood and Vine, where the ceilings are covered with oversized film reels. (You can actually get to the Oscars by subway!) The Orange Line’s buses shoot into the heart of the San Fernando Valley along dedicated busways. The articulated, air-conditioned buses look like something dreamed up by the set designer of “RoboCop”!) Connecting on one of the city’s four light-rail lines can take you from Pasadena to Mariachi Plaza in East Los Angeles, or from Culver City to the Long Beach Aquarium. When you’re downtown, or in more than a dozen other neighborhoods, you can hop a ride on the peppy, pint-sized DASH buses. (And get this: The fare is only half a buck!)

If Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans go through, I add, someday your gateway to the city won’t be LAX but the gorgeous Mission Revival-style Union Station, after a ride on the nation’s most advanced bullet train.

Many Angelenos are surprised to learn that their city’s reputation is at an all-time high among international transit scholars. This is the place, after all, that consistently ranks first in measures of commuter stress, as well as in hours wasted in traffic. (According to the Texas Transportation Institute’s latest urban mobility report, traffic delays in Los Angeles now amount to half a billion hours a year.) Of the nation’s 10 most congested commuter corridors, seven can be found in Los Angeles.

Of course, for a city of its size in the developed world, Los Angeles probably does have one of the world’s most under-developed public transport systems (especially rail). So it has a lot of catch-up to play. But they’re doing it!

After decades of neglect, Los Angeles now finds itself playing catch-up on its rail and bus transit networks. To its credit, the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, or Metro, is taking the long view. It is working hard to boost density to levels that will encourage ridership by entering into public-private partnerships that are turning station-proximate land into condo developments and multifamily dwellings, like Del Mar Station and 1600 Vine.

And in recessionary times, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has successfully lobbied for Metro to place a measure to extend a half-cent sales tax, which was first ratified by voters in 2008, on the November ballot. If approved, the extension of Measure R to 2069 would channel tens of billions of dollars to improving transit for decades to come — including a continuation of the Purple Line subway far into the Westside and, eventually, all the way to the Pacific.

It’s not just in relation to the “big things” where LA is leading the way though. The structure of their bus network, and the marketing of public transport as a viable alternative to driving, are relatively cheap when compared to giant subway projects, but vitally important. Grescoe discusses the bus network:

About 78% of L.A.’s transit users get around on buses. The Metro Rapid system, which runs 36% faster than a regular bus line, is a good start. But for it to achieve its full potential, its buses need to run in dedicated busways — and, inevitably, that’s going to mean taking away entire lanes from cars. I’ve seen successful bus rapid transit in action in such cities as Ottawa, Canada; Istanbul, Turkey; and Bogota, Colombia, and when buses consistently whip past lines of backed-up cars, even the most transit-phobic citizens start to weigh the merits of investing in a fare card.

Ah yes, the inevitable debate around bus priority. That sounds like a familiar argument.

In relation to better marketing, I hope that marketing department at Auckland Transport takes a good long look at this video:

One particularly important element of marketing PT better in Auckland will be shifting to our buses having a consistent livery, dependent on what they do (QTN services, express services, etc.) rather than the bus company which operates the service. We’ve made some progress on that with the Link Buses and the Northern Express – let’s hope it’s something Auckland Transport stands firm on in the next round of contract negotiations.

While Auckland has made some great progress on improving its public transport system in the past few years, and we have some exciting things coming up, I don’t think we can be complacent at all. But there’s plenty we can learn from what other cities around the world are doing – and not always the cities we might have thought to look to for advice.