Monday, July 27, 2009

It actually happened - LA (Metro) is now on Google Transit!

Earlier this month, Metro officially went live on Google Transit. Users can now get driving, walking, and transit directions for trips in the LA area via Google Transit, which is accessible through the Get Directions feature of Google Maps.

Maya Emsden, Metro's Deputy Executive Officer of Creative Services, said that Metro's launch on Google Transit means that users can now access a versatile, multilingual trip planner that integrates the features of Google Maps at a web-based media briefing held yesterday morning

Some of those features include the ability to do searches by business names, to provide street views of bus stops and train stations, and to generate itineraries that are accessible to the visually impaired. (Yes, these are things that the Metro trip planner cannot currently do.)

Ms. Emsden also spoke of how Metro saw its launch on Google Transit as a means to

   1. increase transit awareness
   2. convert potential riders into active riders and
   3. increase off-peak ridership.

Metro, like everyone else it seems, is under pressure to increase its operating revenues. Getting people to ride transit during off-peak hours seems like a no-brainer.

There are still barriers to overcome in increasing ridership, particularly during off-peak hours. With some exceptions (i.e. Wilshire), off-peak buses don’t run very often. I'd be hard-pressed to decide what is worse: getting to the bus stop just to see the bus you needed has pulled away, or not knowing when the next bus is coming.

But what if you could see where the next bus is on a Google Map? Might that change your feelings a tad about riding a bus?

UCSD and the University of Michigan draw on Global Positioning System (GPS) data from their shuttle buses to create what are called mash-ups on a Google Map. For fun, I click on these mash-ups and watch these bus icons move along a Google Map every couple of seconds. Via computer or smart phone, people can find out what time the next bus is coming … or pull up this map, which shows them where the next bus is. And when it’s late at night, you can look at the site to see where the next bus is, and figure out whether you should wait inside a little longer before heading outside to the bus stop.
University of Michigan Mash Up

UCSD mash-up

By providing this information, transit systems can make it feasible for more people to ride, particularly when buses run infrequently.

How far off are we from having these kinds of mash-ups available for Metro buses? And for buses operated by traditional municipal operators? Will there be a time when these agencies will open up NextBus/GPS data in a way that the public can also see the whereabouts of a bus from a computer or a smartphone?

I do think that Metro’s collaboration with Google Maps marks the beginning of something incredibly promising. The discussions with Google led Metro to open its timetable data to everyone at Perhaps this will lead to innovations such as the iBart application for iPhones.

Furthermore, Metro’s launch on Google Transit also expands the versatility of using Google Transit to plan itineraries that span across agencies and county lines. Locally, these agencies are on Google Transit: Burbank, Irvine, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino County, Foothill Transit, Metrolink and Thousand Oaks.

And finally…

Juan and I would like to thank all of the people who took the time to join the Los Angeles Wants Google Transit Facebook group. They include our friends, our mothers, our colleagues in the transportation field here in LA, and people we don't even know who found the group through Stalker Feed. We hope we didn't pester you too much. But because you joined the group on Facebook, key supporters of Google Transit, such as City Council President Eric Garcetti and Metro board member Richard Katz, were able to demonstrate that there was public support for this kind of public/private collaboration.

Transit Oriented Food Adventure: Mama's Hot Tamales, Lost Soul Cafe, Philippe's, and Scoop's

Earlier this month, Juan and I rounded up our good friends to visit Transit-Oriented Food Adventure. They included were joined by our friends Ryan and Hoi Ning from UCLA and my friend Ian from Wonderland, our elementary school in Laurel Canyon, and his wife Justine.

We started at Mama's Hot Tamales in MacArthur Park. It is not just a tamale restaurant, although we did order nearly all of the tamales on the menu (one each) to try. (My personal favorite was the tamale with spinach and mushrooms.) Mama's Hot Tamales is also an innovative example of community and economic development: the cafe is also a business and job-training restaurant which teaches people how to build on their skills from the informal economy of street food vending into more stable careers in the formal food service industry.

Mama's Hot Tamales is also a fine example of how a community economic development initiative can also act as a catalyst of local cultural tourism, as demonstrated by its ability to attract Angelenos from around the city, like us, to sojourn by transit no less.

We were served by none other than Mama herself, Sandi Romero. She was so sweet, knowledgeable, and nice. The food was delicious. My tamarindo drink was made from scratch, which I never had before. The decor was colorful and welcoming. I look forward to coming back.

Lost Soul Cafe
We took the Red Line to the Civic Center station, which was a few blocks from Lost Soul Cafe, a coffee and sandwich shop located off an obscure alley in the Old Bank District. The aesthetic of Lost Soul Cafe: Dark, unfinished ceilings, open mike space, very hipster-ish. Juan and I shared an Island Fresh smoothie, which was delicious. Ian and his wife got first an oreo shake, which turned out to be an accident. They also got their Ube shake, which was good, except for the fact that they'd had the Oreo shake first and well, there is sometimes too much of a good thing.

After visiting Lost Soul Cafe, we actually walked all of the way to Philippe's for French Dipped Sandwiches, which is several blocks north of Union Station and just below the hill from my family's regular Chinese restaurant, CBS Seafood Restaurant. (It is worth noting the proximity between Philippe's and CBS... I find it fascinating to see how swiftly neighborhoods change, from Chinatown to ... well, not Chinatown.) Anyway, Philippe's has been around since 1908 and moved to its current location in 1951 following the construction of the 101 freeway.

Philippe's "Frenched Dipped Sandwich" is the specialty of the house and consists of either roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham served on a lightly textured, freshly baked French roll which has been dipped in the gravy of the roasts. This was a hit with the group.

Finally, we went back on the train at Union Station - which is wonderfully iconic and beautiful - to visit Mel-Hel, the new hipster zone by LA City College. We got off at Vermont/Santa Monica and walked half a mile to eat gelato at Scoops. Scoops has gotten major press for its homemade gelato. You can get gelato with flavors that include ingredients like bacon. I don't really get that part. But hey, these kinds of amenties didn't exist when I was a kid growing up nearby before we decamped to the SFV.

Transit: $5 day pass; we used Google Transit to figure out our itinerary ( Ian, Justine, and I started our journey by walking or driving to the North Hollywood subway station while Juan, Hoi Ning, and Ryan rode the 720 Wilshire bus to MacArthur Park.

Mama's Hot Tamales, 2122 West Seventh Street (a half a block west of Alvarado St., and directly across the southern border of MacArthur Park), Los Angeles, CA 90057. Tel. 213.487.7474 - Fax (213) 487-8475. Open: 11 am - 3:30 pm seven days a week. Metro Red Line: Westlake/MacArthur Park.

Lost Soul Cafe - Old Bank District - Harlem Place Alley 124 W. 4th Street Los Angeles, CA 90001, 213.617.7000. On Twitter (; Facebook (; MySpace (; and the web ( Metro Red Line: Civic Center.

Philippe's. 1001 N. Alameda Ave, Los Angeles, 90012, 213.628.3781. Metro Red Line: Union Station.
Scoop's, 712 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles, 90029, (323) 906-2649, Hours:Mon-Sat. 12:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m., Sun. 2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. Metro Red Line: Vermont/Santa Monica.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Two Car Purple Line Trains

It's the 747-SP of the Metro Rail Lineup.

We spotted this horizontally-challenged subway on a transit-oriented food adventure to Mama's Hot Tamales, Grand Central Market, Lost Souls Cafe, Philippe's, and Scoop's this weekend. Although these two metrorail cars may look lonely, shortening trains is one way to control costs while keeping headways low (having more frequent service) during times of decreased demand for service (mid-day on a sunday, in this case). I understand from MetroRiderLA that they were running mid-day on a Monday as well.

I did see a 1-car green line train a few weekends ago, but I didn't get a picture of it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

LA Streetcar now online (thanks to Eric Banghart!)

For the past year or so, my and Juan's friend Eric Banghart has talked a lot about streetcars. He became our go-to friend for anything about the streetcar after he started an internship with CRA/LA, where he worked closely with community leaders, business people, and politicians on the Bringing Back Broadway initiative. Bringing Back Broadway turned into LA Streetcar Inc., a non-profit org that will lead - get this - the development of a streetcar to connect the vibrant shopping district along Broadway to other parts of downtown Los Angeles.

I'm really excited to introduce you to LA Streetcar Inc.'s new website, which just launched today. Eric helped write a lot of the content on the website. His talent as a writer shows in the website's cogent explanations of what, exactly, LA Streetcar seeks to do and a rundown of Streetcar 101.

I know that Juan and I have talked a lot about a subway and other transportation initiatives, but we think that a streetcar has an important role in LA's transportation network as well. Once upon a time, LA had one of the most extensive streetcar networks in the world. The streetcar was integral to commerce in many parts of LA, including along Broadway in downtown.

With the dissolution of the streetcar network came drastic changes to the LA urban landscape. Many parts of the city that thrived with the streetcar went into economic decline for a long time. And the proliferation of automobiles led to in-fill of one sort - areas that had gone undeveloped in the era of the streetcar were snapped up for housing, which in a way also sealed LA's fate as an auto-dominated metropolis.

Streetcar supporters see the return of the streetcar as a catalyst to revitalize the Broadway corridor, which has 12 historic theaters (and a lot of empty commercial space.) The streetcar will also connect Broadway to other parts of downtown. And people are more likely to ride a form of transit on a fixed right-of-way - it's reliable, you know where it goes and where it stops, and so on.

Anyway, congratulations, Eric, on the launch of!

- Sirinya