Los Angeles: Reader Feedback on the Gold Line


My attempt at a feel-good post on the opening of the East Los Angeles Gold Line light rail extension attracted a lot of comment from locals who don’t feel so good about it.

There are three big objections:

    • It’s slow: 24 minutes to go about six miles, which is 15 mph (25 km/h).  No question, that’s slow even for light rail.


  • It doesn’t go downtown, but only to Union Station, on the near side of downtown.  This will be a problem until the Regional Connector project is built connecting the two light rail networks through or under downtown, probably later this decade.  That project would probably break up the Gold Line into the East LA segment, which would run through to the Expo Line to Santa Monica, and the Pasadena segment, which would run through to the Blue Line to Long Beach.
  • It doesn’t serve the core commercial districts, which are along parallel streets: Whitter Blvd (0.7 mi to the south) and Cesar Chavez Ave. (0.25 to 0.5 mi to the north).  As Damien Goodman puts it in his comment:  “This line has all of the drawbacks of modern Los Angeles rail planning as we know it: laying tracks where right-of-way exists or lane drops can fit, instead of where most people are/want to
    go.”  To this I can only respond that I hope the Gold Line alignment along East 1st and 3rd Streets is tied to a redevelopment strategy that would create new points of focus that build demand on the line in the long term.  When building rail on the surface, or a subway with the “cut and cover” method, it’s always incredibly hard to thread through existing business districts, especially those dominated by small businesses, because these merchants tend to be extremely hostile to the prospect of disruption and loss of on-street parking.  Often, small businesses judge that they would not survive the construction period, and so have no interest in how great things will be once the project is done.

Meanwhile, for travel from East LA to downtown and points west, the
Metro Rapid bus line 720 on Whittier Blvd (parallelling the Gold Line about 0.7 mi / 1.1 km to the south) is much more direct, flowing right
through downtown and all the way out Wilshire Blvd. to Santa Monica.  What’s more,  the Metro Rapid is faster than light rail for a similar trip:  By my rough calculation, the 720 averages 17 mph (27 km/h) inbound from Commerce Center (Gerhard & Whittier) to downtown (6th & Main).  It
will be interesting to see if the Gold Line draws at all from south of
the line where the 720 is also in walking distance to most
customers.  Some people will walk well over 0.5 mi to get to a fast service that flows through to their destination, and for much of this area that fast service may continue to be the Metro Rapid, not the Gold Line, at least until the Regional Connector is completed.

The other common theme in the comments was Measure A, which prohibited underground rail construction in Los Angeles County.  The measure was a reaction to significant problems that plagued the construction of the Red Line subway.  Ironically, some of its proponents at the time also backed its repeal, as they have become supporters of the Westside rapid transit project that would extend the Red Line all the way out Wilshire Blvd. to Westwood and Santa Monica.

In the end, I completely understand the frustrations surrounding this project, and agree that it probably will not really begin to show results until it flows through downtown as part of the Regional Connector plan.  It may be that the political pressure to put some kind of rail transit into East Los Angeles led to a project that will turn out to be premature and inadequate.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rapid transit subway extension proposed into this same area, perhaps under Chavez, in the next few decades.

Still, understanding how difficult rail transit development is in Los Angeles, I do think MTA and their partners in city and county government deserve a few days of good feeling for having gotten something done.  So I’ll end on that note for now.

33 Responses to Los Angeles: Reader Feedback on the Gold Line

  1. Dan Wentzel November 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    Right now there is a study to extend the southern part of the Gold Line light rail further east to Duarte or Whittier. My guess is that both would eventually be built.
    However, one thing Eastside politicians and communities can ask themselves is whether it would be in their best interests to refocus extending the Gold Line further east and refocus efforts in getting the Red/Purple Line extended towards Whittier Blvd.
    It’s a gamble and would take longer and more money and more political will to build a HRT extension, but it is something the Southeast San Gabriel Valley can ask itself if it is worth pursuing.
    They could seek to extend the Gold Line to Duarte and then seek a whole new project to get to Whittier Blvd., or stick with advocating for two branches of the southern Gold Line.

  2. Alon Levy November 16, 2009 at 7:58 pm #

    They could fund it by scrapping the extension of the Gold Line further out into the northeastern suburbs. The distance from Pomona to Downtown is too much for all-stop light rail or even metro; rapid regional rail service on the San Bernardino Line would work much better.

  3. spokker November 16, 2009 at 10:42 pm #

    Alon, try telling that to the folks at IWillRide. Yeah, they’ll be riding an empty train to Montclair.
    Not all modes of transport are created equal. They have their pros and cons, and rapid regional rail as Alon describes has advantages that are best suited to such a distance. The Gold Line should go no further than Sierra Madre at this time.

  4. Alon Levy November 16, 2009 at 11:55 pm #

    Yeah, LA has the unique advantage of having lines that form a decent regional rail network, assuming through tracks at LAUS. Sylmar-Anaheim could make HSR unnecessary south of LA, at least until they built the San Diego extension.

  5. Pantheon November 17, 2009 at 3:17 am #

    I thought Damien Goodman made a great point which everyone has overlooked: “if the system is not going to be invested in to adequately serve the need and purpose of the region/provide substantial travel time savings (the importance of which is increased by placing stations far away from major activity points), is the rail expansion a sound investment compared to BRT?”.
    This has been my thinking as well, with respect to the MAX lines in Portland. Existing (non-BRT) bus lines often beat these cheapy rail lines for convenience and speed. It makes you wonder how a big-league investment in BRT would fare in terms of value for the dollar against light rail.
    These light rail investments represent exactly the danger you pointed to in a prior article – that of technology-centric thinking. There is a pernicious belief-system in place that rail is a superior mode of transit, and that our investments should be of that variety. However, superior rail investments are expensive and time-consuming (just ask Seattle). Consequently, municipalities that are unable or unwilling to spend the necessary amount are getting a poor return on their dollar.
    As Damien said, we have to think about these as long-term investments and the models for the kind of systems we want to build. If we can build one short rail line that awes people, it will help to change minds on transit and therefore build the political will for future expansions. Poor transit services will not get the middle classes out of their cars, and it will not change minds.
    The more I have read this blog and others, the more of a proponent of BRT I am becoming. BRT:
    a) is cheaper to build
    b) can be changed more easily if future needs/opportunities change.
    c) is better able to serve communities where people want to go
    d) has a shorter building/design phase
    e) is often just as fast as rail transit, maybe faster given (c).
    Another great innovation that increases bus speeds is timing signals so that they sense when the bus is coming and turn green for it. The combination of dedicated right of way for the bus, timed signals, and the ability of the bus to get into neighbourhoods is an unbeatable combination. Contrast this with rail services that can’t even be built along the best thoroughfares because of the problems with small businesses you described.
    The more I think about it, the more I am wondering why we even bother with rail at all. It seems like so much expense and hassle for so little return, and with far too many compromises.
    I would love to see someone do a study on what kind of BRT system you could get for the same money as we are spending on these subpar rail lines. I bet we could get an awesome BRT system for the same money as we are spending on just a few of these crappy lines.

  6. Pantheon November 17, 2009 at 5:20 am #

    Pursuant to the last paragraph of my final post, here is a quick comparison of the costs associated with some recent projects:
    MAX Green Line (Portland): $575 million.
    Gold Line Extension (L.A.): $898 million.
    “RapidRide” BRT (Seattle): $190 million.
    The $190 million figure includes both the infrastructure costs and the cost of buying the buses for five BRT lines throughout the region. By contrast, the rail costs quoted above are for one line only, with which there seems to be a great deal of dissatisfaction.
    This should provide a good basis for comparison in terms of the value for transit dollars spent.

  7. Dan Wentzel November 17, 2009 at 6:32 am #

    I would love to see someone do a study on what kind of BRT system you could get for the same money as we are spending on these subpar rail lines. I bet we could get an awesome BRT system for the same money as we are spending on just a few of these crappy lines.
    The problem with this approach is that people don’t like riding buses. Sorry, they just don’t. Buses just don’t attract choice riders, nor do they stimulate economic development.
    People would rather ride a “crappy” train than an “awesome” bus.
    If you ask ANY neighborhood or community is Los Angeles County whether they’d give up the possibility of light or heavy rail several years in the future for a Bus Rapid Transit project today and you’d be laughed out of the room.
    It’s part of why the so called Bus Riders Union cannont make any traction. People know that the ride quality of a bus or on a train are not the same thing and pretending that bus and rail are “equal” modes of travel just doesn’t fly in the face of what people feel to be true.
    Now if a community decides we are willing to settle for a lower quality bus ride that will be built sooner rather than a higher quality rail ride decades from now, that’s a perfectly okay choice to make. Just don’t expect anyone to equate a ride on a bus with a ride on a train as the same thing. It’s the one thing BRT advocates cannot seem to do is convince people there is no difference in ride quality, because there is a big difference.

  8. Dan Wentzel November 17, 2009 at 6:41 am #

    “They could fund it by scrapping the extension of the Gold Line further out into the northeastern suburbs. The distance from Pomona to Downtown is too much for all-stop light rail or even metro; rapid regional rail service on the San Bernardino Line would work much better.”
    I agree with you. But politically there is no chance of this happening. The San Gabriel Valley political structure is 100% behind this line.
    Personally, I wish they would have studied as an alternative double tracking Metrolink’s San Bernadino line and serving this northeast San Gabriel Valley corridor by branching off of the San Bernadino Line at El Monte Station.
    In fact, I wish the North San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Valley and the Gateway Cities would be more excited about Metrolink upgrades. It’s the most comfortable ride on any transit system in Southern California.

  9. Pantheon November 17, 2009 at 9:37 am #

    To Dan Wentzel: in response I am simply going to quote Jarrett Walker from his article “Streetcars: An Inconvenient Truth”. The basic point is that the public perception of buses is mired in the past. I urge you to read the entire article. For clarification, I am not against light rail in principle, but I am against subpar light rail systems that represent a poor return on investment.
    JW’s quote:
    “I’m not saying that the bus will ever be a perfect replica of the streetcar. It won’t. But they key fact is that buses are not just improving, they’re improving in the direction of emulating rail. This should suggest that the difference between bus and rail, as perceived by ordinary people who don’t know which features are intrinsic, is going to diminish over time, as it has been doing for the past two decades. Doesn’t this suggest that while the short-term urban-development advantage of streetcars is undeniable, the long-term advantage may be much less? Big capital spending has to make sense for the long term. Speed and reliability are eternal values; I’m quite confident that in 2050, people will still choose a faster service over a slower one. I’m not sure that in 2050, people will choose an electric vehicle on rails over an electric/hydrogen/whatever vehicle of the same size and shape, with many of the same characteristics, running on tires. Are you?”

  10. Dan Wentzel November 17, 2009 at 10:03 am #

    I’m not sure that in 2050, people will choose an electric vehicle on rails over an electric/hydrogen/whatever vehicle of the same size and shape, with many of the same characteristics, running on tires. Are you?”
    Yes, I am actually, if we are speaking of LRT vs. BRT. Jarrett was comparting streetcars to buses.
    I would guess that only people who aren’t riding buses everyday who think they are approaching anything like rail quality. The bouncy nature of tires on asphault rather than steel on steel makes for a big difference in ride quality. I still maintain that most people would rather ride a “crappy” train than an “awesome” bus. If the Gold Line has been a BRT project, you wouldn’t have had 50,000 people out there on opening day.
    There are no parts of Los Angeles county that I know of that would settle for a “BRT” today and give up the change of a LRT let alone a HRT tomorrow.
    The BRT folks would have had more success arguing their case before the Red Line opened, when there were only autos and buses to choose from.
    Nowdays, Los Angeles County has HRT (Red Line / Purple Line) and LRT (Blue Line, Gold Line, Green Line) and BRT (Orange Line, Silver Line), and the “Rapid Bus” network, people can see for themselves these modalities and which they want for their neighborhoods.
    After 2014 they will be able to compare streetcars to local buses and circulators.

  11. EngineerScotty November 17, 2009 at 10:20 am #

    There’s little doubt that when doing an apples-to-apples comparison between BRT and LRT, the vehicle choice has a minimal impact on the speed of the route–except for perhaps at the very high end (approaching Metro scale), where trains can outperform busses. What matters most are things like the directness of the route (the I-205 segment of the MAX green line has issues here due to the indirect route it takes downtown), stop density, and ability of the vehicle to not be interrupted by other traffic; none of which have anything to do with the vehicle choice.
    Where the vehicle choice matters is the following:
    * Capacity–rail has a big advantage here for high-density corridors. Even a single-car “train” can carry far more passengers than an articulated bus, and the peformance and handling of a train doesn’t suffer at crushloads like busses do. If you can’t fill trains at rush hour even at 20-minute headways, you’d probably be better off running busses instead; but the Gateway-downwon stretch of MAX is generally full much of the day running at 5 minute headways.
    * Comfort. Lots of ink has been spilled on this, but most passengers view trains as more comfortable than busses, all else being equal.
    * Flexibility. Here the bus has an advantage, as busses can leave the busway and enter the street network to provide local service near the end of a line, rather than terminating at some transfer point. BRT also have the flexibility to enter traffic at places where a dedicated ROW might be difficult or expensive, albeit with the performance penalty that mixed-traffic running entails.
    WRT MAX–what would the system look like had BRT been installed rather than LRT? If we assume the same level of service, the route would probably be the same with one major exception; and capital costs would be similar. (Maybe a bit less). The exception? If MAX were a BRT, the westside tunnel probably wouldn’t have been built, instead the busway would have likely followed the Sunset Highway up and over Sylvan Hill, as busses can deal with the 6% grade more easily than trains. That might have saved a couple hundred million, even given the cost of widening the canyon a bit.
    The question is, though, would MAX-as-BRT have been as successful? Hard to say–there are lots of yuppies in town who won’t ride busses but love trains.
    I’m all for dedicated bus infrastructure, including busways. Portland has a wonderful busway–the Transit Mall–although it now is a mixed-mode transit corridor. It’s important to note that busways aren’t necessarily about rapid transit–they can be useful to local bus service as well; to make bus service more reliable even when there’s congestion on the local streets.
    For medium- and large-city rapit transit (and Portland is definitely a “medium” sized city for these purposes), the choice between BRT and LRT isn’t all that clear cut, though–if you build a fully-separated BRT system with dedicated infrastructure througout, it will cost on par with LRT. The biggest savings with BRT come when you can “cheat” in difficult places, and route the busses onto the existing roadway bridge rather than building a new bridge or tunnel. If doing so doesn’t incur a significant performance penalty, that may be the way to go.

  12. Alurin November 17, 2009 at 10:32 am #

    On problem with BRTs is that they can end up as simply a fancy bus masquerading as rapid transit. The Silver Line in Boston is a prime example: it’s marked on the subway map, and the fare is the same as the subway (more expensive than a bus), but for most of its length it’s just a bus. You pay when you board, and the right of way is “enforced” by lane markings.
    I visited Berkeley a couple years ago, and was excited to see that there was now a BRT line on San Pablo Avenue. However, it turned out to be the same masquerade as the Silver Line.

  13. Dan Wentzel November 17, 2009 at 10:43 am #

    “if you build a fully-separated BRT system with dedicated infrastructure througout, it will cost on par with LRT.”
    And if the dedicated infrastructure costs are the same, and BRT has much higher operating costs (e.g. “labor”) per rider, and people prefer the comfort of riding on rails, and rail attracts more economic development, it is no wonder why most neighborhoods would prefer a LRT project rather than a BRT project, all things being equal.
    If a bus can “cheat” and the costs are significantly lower, and a community would prefer a BRT today at a cheaper cost, that’s fine. They’ve made that choice.
    There is a time and place for everything — commuter rail, heavy rail, light rail, streetcar, commuter bus, rapid bus, local bus, circulator, even funicular.

  14. cph November 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    I don’t know if it’s really all that clear-cut.
    For example; the Commuter Express buses do well, and so do the Foothill Transit buses, even though they run deep into “Metrolink Country”.
    I’ve even notice more and more people getting off the San Bernardino Metrolink like at Cal State LA, then taking a bus (#484 or #490) into Downtown; they say it’s faster than going all the way into Union Station, walking over to the Red Line and riding that to Civic Center station.
    Economic development: Yes, the Red/Purple and Pasadena Gold Lines now have condos and other developments near the stations. On the other hand, most of the Blue and Green Line neighborhoods are just as dumpy now as they were when these lines were built back in the 90’s. It’s not a magic wand. Time will tell whether the Gold Line will help things in East LA, although, truth be told, most of the areas near its stations didn’t look *that* bad.
    I’d like to see Whittier Bl. get a subway; heck, there could be three heavy rail (Red/Purple line) corridors east of Downtown: I-10 to Ontario Airport; Whittier Bl. to Downtown Whittier; and perhaps I-5 to Disneyland.
    The Orange Line BRT probably should be upgraded to at least LRT in the next 10 years. It could use the capacity. On the other hand, the Orange Line (and the #720 Rapid on Ventura) did take a little bite out of Metrolink ridership when they came online (lower fares and possibly closer to where people live).
    The jury is still out on the Gold Line extension. It (as well as the Pasadena arm) are
    handicapped by ending at Union Station; the Downtown Connector, and the routings made possible by it, will be a whole new world.

  15. Pantheon November 17, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

    To EngineerScotty:
    I’m not sure if a full-scale BRT system would cost the same as the equivalent in LRT. I know Eugene, Oregon studied both options and made the decision to go with BRT because it was less expensive. Clearly, the more the BRT system emulates rail, the more pricey it will become.
    Capacity is definitely a big advantage for rail. In the case of large cities, I believe an optimal system will use a mixture of rail and BRT. Rail will be used in established high-capacity corridors and BRT in less-established and/or lower capacity areas. This is the great advantage of BRT: because of the lower investment, cities will be more likely to take a “risk” in putting in a BRT line where the predicted ridership numbers would not justify LRT. And if the BRT does stimulate ridership, you can always put in rail later.
    I believe BRT will get much bigger in the years to come. It is great for smaller cities who could never afford rail but who want to provide their citizens with an efficient, fast transit service (again: Eugene, Oregon).
    It is impossible to say whether the MAX would have been as successful if it were BRT. But remember that BRT is still a new idea. I believe the general negative attitude towards BRT is based on the misconceptions of those who have never experienced it. If a system succeeds in providing mobility and access, public perceptions will change.
    When Starbucks first came out, they said nobody would ever pay $3 for a cup of coffee. Attitudes have a way of changing.

  16. EngineerScotty November 17, 2009 at 2:09 pm #

    I have no objection whatsoever to Eugene going with BRT. It’s a small metro area, the distance covered by the EmX line is only a few miles (downtown Eugene to downtown Springfield), the University is smack dab on the line, and Franklin Boulevard had a nice wide median which could be cannibalized for bus refuges, but which couldn’t accomodate a fully dedicated rail line without major ROW acquisition.
    The stop spacing along EmX (stops averaging every 2000 feet or so) is a bit dense for “rapid transit”, though given the short corridor length it’s not a problem.
    And, I’d like to see some of that in Portland.
    But–as improvements to the local Tri-Met bus service; not as a separate service packaged as “rapid transit”. The term, to me, implies fast service over greater distances, and EmX style service barely qualifies. Neither does MAX downtown, for that matter; but given that crosstown trips are probably the exception rather than the rule, this is tolerable for now.
    Bus-based rapid transit systems can be built, of course, as the Brisbane example illustrates. (And LRT can be made less effective by excessive mixed-traffic and close-proximity running) But when you build BRT to true rapid transit standards, the cost advantages over rail become less and less.

  17. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 17, 2009 at 2:56 pm #

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    Yes, although I don't believe Rapid Ride envisions anything like the level of complete protection from traffic impact that you get with exclusive-lane LRT, though I may be wrong.  See today's post on Brisbane for an example of what fully separated BRT feels like.

  18. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm #

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    I think today's post on Brisbane is a good response to some parts of this comment.  My point there is precisely that they didn't "cheat" in a way that would compromise speed or reliability.
    It's interesting to imagine MAX as a busway.  The biggest difference is that at Gateway, buses from the inner segment would have branched out onto all the outer-east arterials (Sandy, Glisan, Stark) and you'd have a lot more no-change servcie to the CBD.

  19. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 17, 2009 at 3:05 pm #

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    @ Dan Wentzel.  To the extent that public perception of rail vs bus is out of sync with their actually mobility vs cost tradeoffs, it's reasonable to suspect that this difference will diminish over time, as more people come to have experience with functional BRT systems.  I'd be curious to see some polling on how San Gabriel Valley perceptions of rail vs bus differ from those in, say, the San Fernando Valley.  The SG valley has long had the benefit of the El Monte transitway, which, while depressing, is pretty crucial to the whole San Gabriel Valley transit system, and definitely beats any other mode for travel right to the center of downtown LA.

  20. Dan Wentzel November 17, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    @ Jarrett at HumanTransit.org
    As you know, the San Fernando Valley has had the Orange Line BRT now for several years. When I ride on this crowded alread-at-capacity line, what I hear people say is “why isn’t this thing rail yet”?
    (The El Monte Transitway and the Harbor Transitway have been combined as a new “Silver Line” which will debut with the December 2009 Metro maps.)
    I just don’t agree with the belief that the more experience people have with the Orange and Silver Lines that this means people in Los Angeles County who are hoping for rail will be happy with BRT systems, as they look jealously at other neighborhoods with light rail and heavy rail.
    If Metro had come back from the Crenshaw Transit Corridor study recommending BRT instead of LRT, you would have seen a MAJOR uproar from the community.
    What is good transit planning and what is good politics differ. No reputable transportation planner I know believes the northern Gold Line extesnion should be extended all the way to Montclair and the Ontario Airport any time soon. However, it is going to happen because there is political unanimity among the communities involved and the elected officials representing the San Gabriel Valley at every level. (I would have preferred Metrolink Commuter Rail branching off from the San Bernadino Line at El Monte).
    There is already 50 years worth of transit rail projects already in line at Metro. What one could do in Los Angeles County is go to a neighborhood that isn’t in line and say, “you’ll never see a train going through here in your lifetimes, but if we work together we might create a bus-only lane or some BRT to help mobility through here” (to which they would ask, “how does this affect my single-occupancy automobile”?
    Sunset Blvd. between downtown and the Red Line (Silver Lake and Echo Park) is a place that would love rail, but isn’t even in line yet. If residents were willing to give up a lane of parking/traffic, they could put a streetcar in or even just a bus-only lane within five years.
    I’m not anti-bus at all. However, until they find a way to improve the quality of sitting on tires on bumpy asphault, as compared to steel on steel, the average transit rider, as opposed to the average transit planner, is really going to have a hard time believing that a seat on a bus is just as good as a seat on a train.

  21. anonymouse November 17, 2009 at 4:08 pm #

    Regarding buses vs. rail: I think it’s to some extent a very gut-level sort of feeling. I personally can comfortably read a book on a train, but not a bus. On a bus I get motion sickness, and I can’t be the only one. So people have come to the subconscious association of “bus = barf”. The smell of diesel fumes can’t help either.
    As for “beats any other mode for travel right to Downtown LA”, keep in mind that Metrolink’s 3 trains an hour provide about as many seats as all of the Foothill Transit and MTA buses on the busway put together.

  22. Joseph E November 17, 2009 at 4:20 pm #

    Even though the Gold Line extention currently takes 25 minutes and averages 14 mph to travel the whole route to Union Station, many of us have noted that Metro said the route should take about 17 minutes, substantially faster. We believe that Metro is currently operating the trains much slower than is possible, to ameliorate safety concerns for the time being.
    Once a few million dollars of safety improvements (additional fences, gates and pedestrian warnings) are in place, it is likely that the Gold Line will speed up to 35 mph in the street-median portions to make the trip in 16 to 18 minutes, for an average speed of over 20 mph, according to what others have said on The Transit Coalition forum.
    You are right to note that the bus on Whittier will be faster than walking to the Gold Line for people in that area. But that is more due to the distance between Whittier and 1st/3rd. Also, 720 goes to the other side of downtown, so the two routes will serve different markets. I do hope that the Red Line or Purple Line subway is extended to Whittier/Atlantic someday.
    See this article:
    And this discussion at The Transit Coalition:

  23. Alon Levy November 17, 2009 at 4:56 pm #

    Pantheon, even small cities can fill trains when they design their rail systems decently. The low ridership levels you see on modern light rail systems in the US are pretty much an American issue. In Calgary, with a metro population of 1.1 million, the light rail carries 250,000 people per weekday, and is approaching capacity, requiring longer trains at headways of less than 5 minutes. In Lyon, with a metro population of 1.7 million, a short Metro whose combined length is the same as this of LA’s Red Line has 700,000 weekday boardings, about the same as the Washington Metrorail.
    When you build rail as part of a whole public transit system, rather than as a way of bringing in yuppies to cause gentrification, you soon need the capacity it offers.

  24. Ben November 17, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    If you think this line is bad, you should see the proposed Sheppard “LRT” in Toronto that is to begin construction soon. Over $1 billion dollars for a 15 km/9 mile “rapid transit” line with stop spacing every 450 meters (about 500 years or a little over 1/4 mile) average through suburbia! To top it all off, it virtually runs parallel to an expressway with a speed limit of 100 km/h (62 mph).
    On internet forums, some Toronto urbanists believe that this line will spur a strip of high density commercial and residential, similar to what is along the Bloor-Danforth subway line (which also has far too many stops). What they don’t seem to realize is that human settlement has generally been very core based rather than strip based. Even along Bloor and Danforth Avenues, you have cores of high density nice neighbourhood strips connected with high density ghetto neighbourhood strips.
    The only way this line will be any kind of success is if urban sprawl continues in the north-east Greater Toronto Area without any extension of the 407, thus making the 401 (the highway this line runs near) virtually unusable due to congestion.
    As for the Gold Line, I haven’t checked out how it runs compared with other infrastructure, but if it offers parking it could see some appeal with commuters going downtown and skipping highway congestion.

  25. twitter.com/calwatch November 17, 2009 at 9:12 pm #

    When the parking lot at Atlantic and Pomona is completed, the 25 minutes to Downtown will be roughly comparable to driving during rush hour. The tunnel section more or less makes up the time spent creeping along the elevated section south of Union Station.
    Outside of rush hour, I can usually make it from Atlantic Boulevard to the East LA interchange on the Pomona Freeway in five minutes. (This is not counting time spent once off the freeway mainline.) You can normally drive to Atlantic Boulevard from Union Station in less than 10.
    Is it worth parking? It depends on where you are going. I have my secret parking spot that is a five minute walk from Union Station to take transit, when I want to avoid driving through Westside traffic or paying for parking (I would rather pay the MTA than deal with parking lot owners and their odd lot closure times). I’ll probably keep parking at Union Station. However, when the Silver Line opens up, I’ll probably take that from El Monte instead. The Silver Line covers 12 miles in less than 20 minutes. Of course it is on the freeway and it makes only two stops in between Downtown and Union Station. I currently avoid taking existing bus service because it costs $1.20 in addition to the day pass, but when it is implemented I can board with just a $5 day pass (while still charging the $2.45 express fare). If I lived on that side of town, though, I might park at Atlantic, but I would probably avoid the Union Station transfer and either transfer to surface bus at Little Tokyo or walk to my destination, time permitting.

  26. Pantheon November 20, 2009 at 6:13 am #

    After some reflection, I want to make a point here that perhaps crystallizes my thoughts on this Busway vs. Light Rail discussion. Let’s go back to the original problem, as posed by Jarrett Walker in the Gold Line article:
    “Los Angeles has the worst deficit in transit infrastructure of any city in North America. No other city on the continent grew so large without retaining and expanding its rapid transit. Today, most of the region’s leaders understand this was a mistake, and are trying to build rapid transit as fast as they can. But underground construction is massively more expensive, so if you insist on undergrounding everywhere, you’ll get a much smaller network.”
    America in general has a transit infrastructure deficit, nowhere more so than in Los Angeles. Today, one would hope that we understand the need to build transit infrastructure. But our resources are still constrained due to economic and political pressures. So the question is: what is the best way to make up for this infrastructure deficit?
    On the point above, I agree completely. Why spend an extra billion dollars for undergrounding on a short 6-mile line in a city with the transit problems of Los Angeles? In a perfect world with unlimited resources we would do that, but we are living in the real world.
    I favour building busways over rail in Los Angeles right now precisely because I am carrying Jarret’s argument to its logical conclusion. If we have, say, $900 million to throw around, how many miles of busways could we get instead of this 6-mile rail line? And this is a city that desperately needs transit.
    The problem can be posed in the abstract in the following way. Let’s say we have a city with 20 neighbourhoods, A-T. Our city has a big deficit in transit infrastructure, and limited resources for redressing it. We have X dollars to build infrastructure, which is enough to do one of the following things:
    1. High-speed, premium rail serving neighbourhoods A-F.
    2. Really good busways (a la Brisbane) serving neighbourhoods A-L.
    3. Busway network with ROW on city streets and traffic priortization, a huge improvement over what exists currently, but with some compromises and thus not a ‘perfect’ system that emulates rail. Nonetheless, serves all neighbourhoods A-T.
    I don’t know if my assumptions on the financials are perfectly accurate, so feel free to correct them. But as you can see, this is really a political question. What represents the most just approach for the citizens of our city? Is it fair to ask the residents of neighbourhoods G-T to make due without transit so we can build a premium rail network in A-F? And what about the poor residents in neighbourhoods M-T? They don’t get any transit unless we go with the cheapest option.
    This is the heart of my argument against those who insist on rail over busways, or ideal busways over good busways. They are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.
    This is an uncomfortable truth, but it is time we admitted it: when it comes to transit, the United States is a developing country. Our transit infrastructure and resources bear greater resemblance to other developing countries in Latin America than it to the civilized nations of Europe and Asia. Therefore, we need to lower our expectations.
    The residents of our sprawling, hypothetical city need transit solutions now. It is not fair to ask some of them to make due without any solutions for the rest of their lives, so that others can have an ideal, high-capacity rail service. This only perpetuates the society of haves and have-nots that America is unfortunately quite famous for.
    This is what I think everyone has been missing in this debate over less-than-perfect busway systems that entail certain technical compromises. If at some point in the future America decides to get serious about transit, we can always convert these busways to rail or make improvements. But given our huge infrastructure deficit and limited resources, it is better and more just to build something good now that serves all of the residents, rather than something perfect that serves only some of the residents.
    I think this is what frustrated Damien Goodman, and which led to our debate. I share his frustration.

  27. EngineerScotty November 20, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    An interesting take on the situation, Pantheon.
    A couple comments for your consideration.
    1) Quite a few transit projects in the US (and transit agencies in their supporters) are more motivated by green concerns as opposed to mobility concerns; which may well change the coefficients to the equation a bit. Any time you hear “transit oriented development” uttered–wherein a transit agency is proposing transit service to speculative new development instead of to existing neighborhoods–it is wise to assume that environmental concerns are informing much of the decision-making. (Whether TOD is a wise or efficient way of achieving these goals is another matter).
    2) One of the fundamental issues which you have identified as a constraint on the US (which, despite the recent recession, remains a wealthy country which could afford significant transit build-out if it wanted to), is a lack of political will. Many people in many cities have autos, and cannot imagine a car-free lifestyle–unlike the developing world, where any level of transit is frequently an improvement. (And in many quarters in the US, those who are transit-dependent are held in contempt). In large parts of the country, busses remain associated with poverty and squalor, fair or not. I suspect that many rail projects are motivated by a desire to increase popular support for transit (and thus the likelihood that transit funding won’t be opposed or voted down altogether)–in other words, to increase the popular and political support for transit. Again, I’m not saying that this is wise or correct, but that it’s there.
    3) Due to the highly diffuse nature of political power in the US, transit projects (and the design choices) are often subject to much public scrutiny. Unfortunately, the choice you outline, where dollars are fixed, and planners and their constituents are then asked to trade off network size for service quality (generalizing a bit), isn’t often put on the table–instead, it’s “what’s the cheapest way we can provide a given level of service”, where “cheap” refers to the capital costs, which invariably carry a bit of sticker shock.
    4) One other issue that constrains transit planning (especially projects involving infrastructure improvements) is the reluctance of planners, in many cases, to use eminent domain. This is another legacy from our history of massive freeway construction–and it isn’t always a bad thing (as it makes modern urban freeway projects harder to do)–but the system in the US is designed to give NIMBYs a seat at the table–and a busway or LRT line through the neighborhood is frequently regarded as no better than a freeway through the neighborhood. (More generally, a desire among many to live apart from urban noise is responsible for MANY of the urban design woes in the US). There’s a reason that MAX lies (mostly) along freeways, in street medians, and along abandon freight RR ROWs.
    I’m not really disagreeing with you–for a given capital budget, you can do more if you don’t install a premium service (I’ll set aside the question of bus vs rail). But frequently the choices involved are more complicated than simply “comprehensive bus network” vs “premium LRT line to rich part of town”.

  28. Alon Levy November 20, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Pantheon, your comment is long on theory, but short on evidence. It’s possible that BRT is cheaper per route-km than LRT. I’m not sure it actually is – in the US and Canada, physically separated BRT and LRT both usually cost about $15-30 million per km. But in either case, LRT attracts more ridership. You can chalk this up to the fact that BRT isn’t done well, but in Los Angeles, the Orange Line is currently nearing capacity with 7 million riders per year. It actually cost more per passenger than the Blue Line LRT.

  29. Jarrett November 20, 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    @Alon. I’m not sure what kind of BRT you’re referring to with those cost numbers.
    Brisbane’s busways are completely grade separated and should therefore be compared to third-rail rapid transit, and on that comparison it’s much much cheaper. It’s patronage outcomes are excellent both because (a) services in it can branch onto many local routes and (b) it’s incredibly frequent — every 3-5 minutes all day. Only a driverless metro could compete with the second point.

  30. Alon Levy November 20, 2009 at 4:36 pm #

    Metros with drivers have 5-minute all-day service, too, on high-ridership lines. In New York, I think the 1, 6, and 7 have those frequencies until the evening. In Tokyo, the Chuo and Yamanote Lines maintain those frequencies until about midnight.
    The BRT I’m thinking of is a lot of lines that haven’t been built – they ran the cost projections, and they turned out to be higher than what Jaime Lerner had pitched. In LA, the Orange Line cost $15 million per route-km, on a par with the cheaper LRT lines in North America. This compares with $22 million per km for the Green Line, which has 70% more ridership, and $25 million per route-km for the Blue Line, which has almost four times as much ridership.
    While the Red Line had much higher construction costs, even after adjusting for ridership, its operating costs are much lower – about $2 per ride, compared with a little over $3 per rider on the Orange Line. When ridership is high, metros are worth that extra investment.

  31. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 20, 2009 at 4:45 pm #

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    No quarrel about that.  But the threshhold densities needed to support such high frequencies at midnight are much higher for metro with drivers than for driverless metro.  Open-style BRT such as the Brisbane busways may not maintain such high frequencies at midnight, but tend to be more frequent than a metro would be in the same situation, if only because they have so many branches. 

  32. Pantheon November 25, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    To EngineerScotty: That is a very strong summary of the situation, and I think points 3 and 4 are particuarly important. In many cases, the issues with building transit in America are structural political problems. From its origins, governance in America was designed to avoid the kind of concentrated political power that is highly advantageous for building transit networks. The litigious nature of American society is another structural problem. I believe the Seattle Central Line was held up for years by lawsuits.

  33. Nathanael November 29, 2009 at 1:26 am #

    “I would love to see someone do a study on what kind of BRT system you could get for the same money as we are spending on these subpar rail lines. I bet we could get an awesome BRT system for the same money as we are spending on just a few of these crappy lines.”
    No, you can’t. In fact, it would cost even more. 🙁
    The main operating costs are in fuel and salary, and rail wins on operating costs above a certain number of passengers per day, period. The main maintenance costs, again, are cheaper for rail if there are more than a certain number of passengers per day.
    The main capital costs in any system are in civil engineering. This is essentially the same whether you’re running a bus on asphalt or concrete or a train on rails. There may be some rare differences due to grade negotiation, and there are some inherent extra costs to busways over grade-separated railways. :-/
    “If we have, say, $900 million to throw around, how many miles of busways could we get instead of this 6-mile rail line”
    About 5 miles, because the busways have to be wider. 😛 The tracks keep the train in place and allow narrower construction.
    Get the picture?