Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A decline in carpooling on Los Angeles toll lanes

The Transit Coalition would like to reiterate its position on high occupancy toll lanes: We generally support congestion pricing, but toll lanes need free non-transponder carpooling. What is happening in Los Angeles clearly shows why.

With that, the Metro ExpressLanes pilot project in Los Angeles released its second performance report earlier this week. Both Metro and Caltrans stress that such data is still preliminary and subject to change. There is some truth to that; carpoolers are still adapting to the fact they must pre-register for a FasTrak transponder--more specifically LA's switchable FasTrak--to travel for free in the high occupancy lanes. However, this ill-advised usage policy is why LA's system has received so much negative feedback in contrast to other HOT lanes throughout the country which support free non-transponder carpooling.

Here are some facts according to the report:

The I-110 Freeway:

In the former 2+ dual carpool lanes, an average of 54,000 high occupancy vehicles used the high occupancy lanes per day. In April, an average of 57,256 cars use the I-110 toll lanes. Even though there's a growth in the number of vehicles, the real question is how many of the 54,000 HOV's that the former carpool lanes carried are still using the high occupancy lanes? Take a look at this discouraging stat: Of the 57,256 cars using the I-110 toll lanes, 59% are toll-free HOV's and 41% are toll-paying solo drivers. Do the math and we have 33,781 toll-free HOV's. That could mean a displacement of well over 20,000 high occupancy vehicles per day and portions of that traffic may have stopped ridesharing altogether and gone back to driving alone since the incentives to carpool were declined due to the transponder mandate. That's why traffic congestion has worsened in the general purpose lanes. That's why LA is seeing more cars on the I-110 freeway.

The I-10 Freeway Stats:
Things aren't much better for the I-10. An average of about 28,000 HOV's used the former carpool lane (3+ peak/2+ off-peak). An average of 24,613 cars used the toll lanes last spring (57% HOV's, 43% toll). That adds up to 14,030 HOV's in the ExpressLanes, almost a 50% displacement ratio from before.

On the plus side:
To be fair, the number of actual people (not cars) moving through lanes may still be up, but that could also be attributed to a recovering economy. Public transit usage on the toll lanes has blossomed. Metro-sponsored vanpool programs are up. Income stats show that these "Lexus Lanes" are not just for the rich. If LA continues to work on revitalizing South LA and combatting gang and drug crimes, it may be finally safe for I-110 commuters to set up more park and ride arrangements south of Downtown. It's still too early--and difficult for that matter--to determine how many people are moving through the high occupancy toll lanes.

However, if Metro wants to move even more people through their express lanes than cars, the agency needs to get the 34,000+ displaced HOV's back into the high occupancy lanes by dropping the FasTrak mandate for private carpools. The central concept of the high occupancy lane is to move more people—rather than more cars—and to offer a practical alternative to adding more general-purpose lanes. During peak hours, high occupancy lanes can carry the majority of the people carried on the entire freeway. That's a notion that is in no way too preliminary to adopt.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Exploring Express Bypass Lanes

A diagram of a grade separation of two streets.All throughout the Western United States, The Transit Coalition took note of how local agencies are dealing with transportation issues. Many agencies have explored free express lanes or more simply--bypass lanes. Unlike carpool and high occupancy toll lanes, bypass lanes are open for free for any motorist. Express traffic can get on and go. In some jurisdictions, the law even permits truck traffic.

Like many express carpool and toll lane corridors, bypass lanes are express lanes which bypasses local exits in a developed area to let through traffic seamlessly travel through the corridor--at least that is the intent of such lanes. Here are some examples:

I-15 Bypass Lane - Ontario:
Caltrans is currently replacing the slab and upgrading bridges along the I-15 corridor between Ontario and Devore. Construction crews built a temporary construction bypass lane in the northbound direction earlier this year to get around much of the construction activity.  Crews later switched the direction of the bypass lane for southbound motorists. Any traffic except for trucks or other vehicles restricted to the right two lanes may use it. The bypass lane will only be there for the duration of construction; SANBAG is currently studying the feasibility of high occupancy toll lanes through this area all the way up toward Victorville.

Las Vegas Strip I-15 Express Bypass Lanes:
The I-15 express lanes through Las Vegas are free express lanes which allow traffic to seamlessly bypass the exits adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip. Truck traffic may also utilize it. Think of it as a four lane rural desert freeway within an urban highway. The Coalition will continue to watch this facility as growth continues along the south side of the Las Vegas region; commuters headed to Downtown Las Vegas from the south and tourists patronizing the resorts outside of the Strip may soon fill the express lanes up during rush hours and weekends. If local officials are in a position to have to convert the bypass lanes into a high occupancy facility in the future, there will be controversy.

OCTA's 2010 Ill-advised Arterial Interchange Proposal:
Back in Orange County, one idea from a 2010 OCTA meeting that needs to be highlighted was the grade separation of local streets, also known as arterial interchanges. Major intersections would be elevated in order to minimize the need for drivers to stop at stoplights, possibly looking something like the concept design pictured above. Without transit infrastructure, the proposal had a terrible effect for cyclists, bus riders who need to transfer and pedestrians. Here is a clue: The Harbor Transitway.

Utah Timpanogos Highway Commuter Lanes:
Between Salt Lake City and Provo, Utah State Highway 92--Timpanogos Highway--houses commuter bypass lanes which connects I-15 to a Salt Lake City suburb several miles from the freeway. The lanes allows commuters and mountain tourists to bypass several traffic signals on the mainline. An adjacent dedicated multi-use pathway caters to bicycle and pedestrian traffic and offers friendly connections to the local streets. The suburbs in the area are built out and land use control in the mountains is protected. Overall, this project wasn't bad.

I-15 Express Lanes - Utah County:
Okay, the I-15 Express Lanes through Salt Lake City is a high occupancy toll lane facility, but since we're in Salt Lake, how is the facility faring since LA's system is mired in so many problems? Things aren't so bad in the Beehive State. Like San Diego's HOT lane system, Utah's toll lane facility allow for free carpools or a switchable FasTrak-like toll transponder called the Express Pass. Carpoolers and other 2+ HOV's do not need to preregister or get a transponder beforehand to use the lanes. They can get on for free and go! Tolls for non HOV's range from $.25 to $1 per zone; each zone spans the length of a local exit. Local highway patrol units use intelligence-driven enforcement tools to combat carpool/toll payment cheating. The region also has a fast expanding passenger rail and BRT network and plans are underway to develop a direct access ramp linking the HOT lanes with a local multi-modal transit center. These are amenities we would like to see in the Inland Empire.

Back to bypass lanes. There also several dedicated bypass roads throughout the country and many of them work. It certainly takes strong land use controls to prevent urban sprawl along these lanes and roads. Unchecked growth along these routes would basically turn these bypass lanes into ordinary suburban roads they were intended to avoid. Agencies must also follow Utah's example of including transit-friendly pathways for people traveling without a car. The Transit Coalition will continue to watch the progress of such highway expansion proposals.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Traffic Trouble in Temecula and the state

A park in Murrieta. Huge development plans are in store in Temecula and The Transit Coalition is keeping a close watch on such smart growth proposals in order to combat exacerbated traffic trouble in Temecula where forced traffic flow and congestion are already present. One major development project advocated by the city is the revitalization of a commercial corridor linking the Old Town district toward the northern city border. The Jefferson Avenue vision calls for large parks, an uptown district, a sports area, an arts district and mixed use buildings ranging from 3-8 stories. A second major plan proposes additional housing, a school and potentially a second hospital or college/university campus in between the Old Town area and the foothills to the west.

Transit and highway infrastructure must be upgraded if this development is to prosper—no question. The existing infrastructure near the I-15 freeway corridor simply cannot sustain current demands let alone the additional vehicles generated by the development proposed. Try heading into or leaving Temecula during the afternoon peak hour at 5 pm. Ask the locals just how bad traffic can get near the I-15 freeway. Earlier this month, a large event in the region caused a local Temecula freeway off ramp queue to back up into the main freeway lanes, causing a chain reaction that slowed traffic for five miles. We don't want Temecula to become the next Corona Crawl.

To be fair, both Temecula and its neighbor Murrieta have been proactive in getting infrastructure built and plans are moving forward with a local interchange project which involves shutting down a major off ramp in the area next weekend.

However, much more needs to be done in order to get the region's transportation network into stability and the state needs to be held accountable for getting this done. On top of what is locally proposed, Temecula is going to need several more amenities in order to sustain the continued growth demand: Dual high occupancy lanes in each direction along the I-15 between Corona and Escondido which support free non-transponder carpooling, direct access ramps between the HOV/HOT lanes and transit hubs, additional north/south connectors between Temecula and Murrieta, an extension of the Metrolink Perris Valley Line into the region, a BRT line between the Pechanga Resort and Lake Elsinore, hourly all-day intercity bus service offered by the private sector between LA and San Diego, and a more direct hub-and-spoke local bus network. All this will not be possible unless the state stops displacing transportation funds and gas tax revenue to other special interest programs.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday tips: Recyclables only in the Recycle Bin

The Transit Coalition is in a quest for a better Southern California advocating for the best transportation system in the Inland Empire second to none and a pollution free environment that is fit to live in. To combat pollution, citizens have long had the opportunity to recycle. Trash pick up companies offer recycle bins and dumpsters in conjunction with the regular garbage bins for both single family homes and larger establishments.

However, we have noted that in many residential areas, the recycle bin has been mistakenly used as a "dry waste" bin. That is, kitchen and bathroom trash may end up in the garbage; all other dry waste land in the recycle bin. The issue has been so problematic that trash companies have been cracking down on such errors by refusing to pick up such waste all together.

Please remember that trash companies only allow recyclable items to be placed in the recycle bin. Generally speaking, this includes cardboard, junk mail, newspapers, computer paper, glass bottles, soda cans, many plastics, and anything else with the recyclable symbol. While the list of recyclable waste continues to grow, remember that other dry waste such as torn carpet, scrap metal, most extruded polystyrene foam (aka. Styrofoam), broken dishware, light bulbs, electronics, window glass, and tires don't go into the recycle container. By doing your part, we can increase the productivity of those working to process recyclables which reduces costs. This allows us to further cut the amount of waste that gets disposed at Southern California landfills. That's a solution to a pollution-free environment.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Getting between Corona and Lake Elsinore by bus

A Better Inland Empire was writing up this blog post while planning for an errand trip which includes traveling between Lake Elsinore and Corona during the middle of the day, a time when RTA CommuterLink express bus service is not available. With the destination located within a few blocks north of the busy Ontario Avenue commercial corridor in Corona, we thought it might have been a good idea to explore possible local bus routes which might connect into the area from the south from Lake Elsinore.

Well, as you may have guessed, there are no public bus lines other than the peak-only CommuterLink bus between Lake Elsinore and Corona; so it's taking the automobile for now. The Transit Coalition continues to hear more and more requests to close transit gaps like this all over the region from area bus riders. At present, if a transit-dependent rider needs to travel between these two regions outside of rush hour, ...well, good luck. Plan on spending a few hours navigating the transit system. To be fair, the Riverside Transit Agency has hinted in its Short Range Transit Plan that it may be ready to close some of these gaps within the next few years with through-routes as Riverside County's economy continues to recover. We will continue to watch for such proposals which are long past due.

In the mean time, we're making no excuses. Even with such a car-centric trip, there's a nearby park & ride lot located a few blocks south of Ontario Aveue, which gives transit-conscious individuals an option of parking offsite and walking the rest of the way in order to eliminate the need of driving along the busy Ontario Avenue for the last half mile. However, it is without question, that having an option to park at the Lake Elsinore Outlet Center bus transfer hub and riding an all day regional connector transit route into town would have been better a choice.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Examining the Metrolink Perris Valley Line lawsuit settlement

A Metrolink locomotive.
Case closed. Friends of Riverside Hills, a local Riverside group responsible for stalling the Metrolink Perris Valley line extension project has agreed to withdraw its case in a $3 million settlement, RCTC officials reported July 10th. With that, the project can move forward with groundbreaking to take place by this fall or winter. The extension is set to open by 2015.

The Perris Valley Line is long past due. The rail line promises to ferry commuters living in or around the Perris and Moreno Valley areas to jobs in downtown Los Angeles and points in between via the Metrolink 91 Line, eliminating the need to drive or take a connecting express bus to downtown Riverside. Now that this trivial CEQA lawsuit is out of the way, public officials can finally move on with this environmentally friendly transit alternative.

That's the good news.

Lots and lots of cash.Now let's take a look at the $3 million settlement and where that taxpayer money is headed. According to the Press Enterprise, RCTC agreed to pour more than half of the cash toward protecting the environment, by establishing a $900,000 land conservation fund which would be used to develop trails and/or acquiring open space. An additional $650,000 will be used to provide for multi-modal pathways and trails in the area. If RCTC can work together with other public entities in the region and designate these new open spaces and trailways as a countywide regional park, this portion of the settlement would benefit the community as whole and would be certainly considered a fair deal for the public. Otherwise this will be a $1.5 million handout to the opposing party.

$132,000 of the pot will be spent to minimize train noise and vibration. Of course, something like this should be addressed and regulated through reformed CEQA law in lieu of the courts, but keeping noise levels down by placing noise reduction materials under the tracks through the UC-Riverside area is somewhat of a fair trade. Overall, this portion isn't bad.

The rest of the settlement handouts is not so pretty. Over one third of the pot--$1,005,000 to be exact--will be set up for homeowners to tap into for various home improvements in the name of countering noise pollution. Residents can apply for up to a whopping $15,000 per dwelling--for window treatments and another $500 for trees. Google "Noise Minimizing Window Treatments" and you may find that products offered in the marketplace do not add up to $15,000 for an entire house. RCTC must examine each applicant clearly to minimize the waste. Any unspent funds will be allocated to the land conservation fund.

The last portion is perhaps the icing on the cake. It is the $250,000 in public money that went to the attorney who represented Friends of Riverside Hills during this lawsuit...

It's now safe to say that exploiting CEQA loopholes is all about the money and demonstrates how current environmental law can be abused. Public entities must therefore do what ever they can do in their power to close up these loopholes at the state level and stop the wasteful madness in the courtroom.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The western United States and local transportation issues

A diagram of a grade separation of two streets.The Transit Coalition went on a field study, traveled in and out of the Colorado Plateau region and surrounding states and gathered useful information of how these western states are addressing present-day transportation, economic and environmental issues.

The Coalition saw in action how a rapid transit shuttle system was established in Zion National Park to eliminate--that's right--eliminate traffic and parking problems within the park. How about express bypass lanes along the major throughfares near Salt Lake City and near the Las Vegas Strip? How is the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System near the California-Nevada state border faring? Would any of these solutions work in Southern California?

Stay tuned for more information as The Transit Coalition places the information gathered into perspective.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday!

Have a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday! The Transit Coalition wishes to thank you for your continued input for our projects and campaigns. The Inland Empire Transit Talking Points blog will be on vacation through the first three weeks of July. We will resume commentary Monday, July 22nd.

For up-to-date coverage of transit happenings in Southern California, please subscribe and check out our eWeekly Newsletter.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Watching over Duroville and its agricultural workers

The Transit Coalition has been keeping watch on the quality of life in the agricultural villages east of Indio in the southeastern Coachella Valley. Linked together by SunLine transit buses, numerous substandard mobile home parks and housing can be found throughout the area. One major development, the Desert Mobile Home Park (aka. Duroville) could be once described as a third-world slum housing up to 4,000-6,000 people all within a square mile. The federal government finally ordered the trailer park to close. Duroville and other trailer parks house the region's agricultural workers. If you've ever eaten locally grown grapes or similar produce, chances are they could have been harvested by these laborers who work in blazing heat, only to come home in a hot and stuffy trailer.

Harvey Duro, Duroville's operator, had plans to improve the living conditions of the trailer park, but claimed resources were instead spent on legal fees. According to local reports, most of Duroville's residents relocated to a new trailer development, Mountain View Estates, with the help of Riverside County. Concerns over the mass relocation of Duroville's residents were therefore averted, but getting to that point was far from smooth sailing in regards to securing public funding.

Fair-minded individuals recognize that taxpayer-funded redevelopment agencies are certainly debatable statewide, but there is no question that this agricultural region is not an entitlement or a me-myself-and-I society. The majority of residents here are hard working farmworkers working in intense heat to provide for their children and give us the produce we eat. Numerous local non-profit organizations have been gracious enough to step in and help fix up the housing conditions in this area. To be fair, the region does need to be policed better to combat drug-related crimes and debates need to continue for solutions to improve marketplace wages with additional agricultural jobs, but nobody who works all day in 110 degree heat should be subject to come home without air conditioning or clean water.