Thursday, December 31, 2009

One day, I will be able to tweet underground: Metro to write RFP to install cell service in subway tunnels

Metro is looking to make it possible for people to use their cell phones underground, according to Steve Hymon at The Source, Metro's official blog.

Juan thinks this is super exciting. He could go on lengthy diatribes about how this upgrade further positions the system to meet the needs of working professionals (aka the transit choice rider), who would rather leave the driving to Metro while fiddling around on their smartphones during their commutes to work.

I, on the other hand, would like to take a moment to talk about how this could shape preferences for a particular cell phone provider around the region.

Right now, my closest friends in LA have split their allegiances amongst a number of providers: Juan is with T-Mobile; our friend Nurit is with AT&T; BeccaKlaus is on Verizon; and I'm sure somebody I know is on Sprint, except I probably don''t call them very often because they're not IN, as in, IN the Verizon network.

This is because I am IN. I have been a Verizon subscriber for the past six years. And it's certainly not because I love Verizon. Their customer service often leaves something to be desired, and their website is clunky. They charge what I consider an excessive premium to use a Blackberry, so I have stuck to using a phone once touted by the New York Times for its child-friendliness. (GPS? Check. Ability to restrict phone calls? Check twice.)

But Verizon's actual wireless service has been, in my experience, top-notch. With a Verizon phone, I was actually able to make phone calls while I was a student at Smith, which is located in semi-rural western Massachusetts; while I was working at a nerd camp site in a dense redwood forest; and, most importantly, while I was riding the subway in the DC-metro area.

That's right, Angelenos: Cell phone reception doesn't always have to die underground like it does right now in LA.

Out in the DC Metro area, Verizon subscribers have been able to use their phones underground for years (although this has recently been expanded to include three other providers.) This is one of the reasons why so many of my friends and contacts in the DC Metro area are also on Verizon. (Sprint subscribers with roaming-enabled phones could also use their phones underground, but who knows anyone on Sprint?) And because so many of my friends are on Verizon, I have been reticent to leave Verizon myself. Never mind that I don't really talk to people on the phone anymore. I just like having the security of knowing that I'll never get slammed with an egregious bill in case I need to have a marathon sob session with Lizzie G during the weekday hours of 6AM and 8:59PM.

So in conclusion, this whole prospect of an RFP going out to sniff out potential vendors has got me wondering. Who will win? Will underground subway service be limited to just vendor? If so, what criteria will be considered? And would this be enough to change a region's allegiance to a particular vendor, like it has out in DC?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Thin Red Line: A Review of Taylor, Kim, & Gahbauer

Brian Taylor, our esteemed professor of Urban Planning at UCLA and transportation finance expert, and John Gahbauer, our favorite transit geek and UCLA colleague, along with Eugene Kim, co-authored a paper on the history of transportation planning in the Wilshire Corridor in Los Angeles.  This is a review of their paper, which appears in the Journal of Planning Education and Research (requires subscription or library access).  I believe you can also visit the Metro Library to view a copy.

Taylor begins by discussing the tendency of politicians to pursue large capital projects in favor of incremental operational improvements.  The "monument" or "ribbon-cutting" effects of new capital projects have proven very attractive to politicians.  It's difficult to hold a photo-op in front of increased bus frequency, but much easier in front of a subway station:

Post-Measure R Victory Press Conference.

Most transit capital projects are subjected to cost-benefit analysis, but costs are often underestimated and benefits are almost universally overestimated.

These generalizations are present to varying degrees in the history of the Wilshire Subway.  Planning on what will eventually become the Wilshire Subway began in the 1970s, but encountered many hurdles along the way.  A giant hurdle was the 1980s prohibition of the use of federal funds to tunnel under Henry Waxman's district in Beverly Hills, which came after a methane deposit under a Ross store exploded and burned for several days.  Out of the political negotiations surrounding this ban came the present day Purple line stub at Wilshire & Western.  In order to circumvent this ban, planners proposed less cost-effective routes.  Taylor shows how these alternate routes, which were never seriously studied, were inferior to the proposed Wilshire route.

Proposed Southern route

Taylor argues that the Wilshire Route, along the "linear downtown," is one of the most transit-friendly corridors in the West.  With over 100,000 bus riders per day, traffic congestion, expensive parking, high residential density, high peak hour volumes, Wilshire Boulevard is likely the most cost-effective subway corridor in Southern California.  There are 7x more workers on the Wilshire foute than the southern alternative along San Vicente & Pico.  Later on, Taylor points out that just 3 of nearly a dozen lines which travel on Wilshire (18, 20, and 720) have a combined ridership of 90,033 per day, 1/3 more than the Gold, Green, and Orange lines combined (66,871 per day).

In 2005, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was elected.  A strong proponent of the subway, he negotiated with Waxman to lift the ban on tunneling, and took implicit responsibility for any incidents that may arise from tunneling under Wilshire.  Villaraigosa and other politicians pushed for Measure R, the voter approved 1/2 cent sales tax which will provide the funding for the first two segments of the subway.  Federal loans and grants could build more subway quicker.

The proposed 2009 route isn't much different from the 1979 route.

Taylor, Gahbauer, and Kim offer a great overview of the history of the Wilshire Subway in Los Angeles.  I learned a lot about the political tumult in the 1980s and early 1990s, and the power of one man, Waxman, to impact the urban form of a city for so many years.

Side Note: Monorails have been proposed along Wilshire for well over 100 years.  They've never been taken seriously, as aerial structures would severely disrupt the nature of the neighborhood.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays from the LA Subway Blog!

Our Transit-Oriented Christmas Tree included a Metro 2 bus button; a Metro Rail cardboard car; a replica of a Metro Bus in California Poppy; a traffic cone, and a Dump the Pump stress toy from an old UCLA Transportation campaign.
And yes, John Gahbauer, that is an actual (heavy paper-stock) Metro Rail car on our Christmas tree.

The bigger question this Christmas:
John, quick: Make, model, year of manufacture of the rail car.