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DLANC: Transportation & Public Works

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, January 26, 2005, at 09:35AM

Obviously the big transportation news this minute is the tragic Metrolink accident in Burbank. As of right now they're reporting nine dead; including at least one (I think I heard two) Sherriff's deputies. I've sure you can find a story on any news agency you can think of (Google News already shows 300+ stories), but the best summary I've seen online so far is the one on the LA Business Journal site.

This morning's news makes it hard to move to other transportation news, but we did have a DLANC Transportation & Public Works Committee meeting last night, so I'm going to summarize it. It was a guest-filled evening: Department of Public Works talked about the proposed sewer rate increase, both LADOT and the MTA weighed in on the Spring Street contra-flow bus lane, and LADOT presented information on several traffic studies concerning Downtown.

There was so much information at the meeting last night that I found myself taking notes, something that those who know me would attest I rarely do. I apologize for this post reading almost like an essay, but I think this is all interesting stuff that needs to be passed along.

Proposed Sewer Rate Increase

First up was the city's Department of Public Works, who came to give a presentation on the proposed sewer rate increases. They gave a good talk about all the improvements that are being made, particularly focusing on a more than thirty percent reduction in all spills over the last three years. They also showed how sewer rates have remained largely steady over the past decade, and how Los Angeles' rates are very middle-of-the-road when compared to other big cities (and are lower than California cities such as San Francisco and San Diego). The rate increases now on the table are a result of the settlement in the lawsuit brought by Santa Monica Baykeepers in 1998. Though we didn't take a vote, our committee was generally in favor of the department's plans, and didn't raise any serious objections.

Spring Street Contra-flow Lane

First of the transportation presentations was the discussion of the Spring Street contra-flow lane. LADOT started off by presenting the results of their traffic study that looked at different options for surface street bus lane connections from the Harbor Transitway (110 freeway) to the El Monte Busway (10 freeway, but starting on the 101 downtown). A key element of this connection is the Spring St. corridor.

LADOT studied three options regarding Spring St.:

  • Do nothing, leaving Spring St. one-way (southbound) and the one contra-flow bus lane heading north.

  • Make Spring and Main a paired couplet, with southbound buses on Spring and north-bound buses on Main.

  • Make both Spring and Main back into two-way streets.

The study's report included an interesting figure that I think clearly illustrates the problem: The average travel time for a northbound bus to travel up Spring from 9th to 1st is 7.5 minutes. That's nearly a minute per block. That number's so high because the buses only have one 12-foot lane northbound. When one bus stops three or four others can back up right behind it.

The paired couplet of Spring and Main is LADOT's operationally preferred solution. The MTA doesn't exactly disagree with this solution, but it has some concerns that have led to unresolved debate internally. They presented three of these:

  • Spring St. is closer to destinations, including Broadway and Hill.

  • Some MTA buses continue up Spring past Downtown, staying on New High St. in Chinatown. Having them come up Main would mean having them jog left at some point to return to this course, and in general straighter is better when it comes to bus routes.

  • There's concern over Main St. as a safe environment in which to wait for a bus, particularly at night.

The LADOT study addressed the first and third of these concerns. Random polls of passengers on Spring St. buses showed that roughly the same number of people would benefit as would be disadvantaged, making the location change a wash. I think this is an area that could use a more thorough study, but in general I'm inclined to believe that not too many people will be majorly inconvenienced by walking one block farther east. I know I regularly walk two blocks west to Hill and catch a bus there instead of waiting for one on Spring, and that's never seemed that far to me. Downtown's east-west blocks are very short.

The third concern, environment, would also be addressed in the changes. LADOT has grant money available for streetscaping that would accompany any changes. Pedestrian lighting and other amenities would greatly change the feel of Main Street. LADOT expressed willingness to work with the CRA's recently unveiled streetscaping plan for the area. Additionally, the opening of the PE Lofts project and the expansion of the Santa Fe Lofts means hundreds more people will be living right there on the corner of 6th and Main. When you combine that with the changes brought to 5th and Main by the new galleries and 4th and Main by Gilmore, that street starts to look like a better place.

General feel is that the MTA is a little too internally conflicted to make an out-and-out recommendation, but they won't stand in the way if LADOT and the city decide to move on these changes.

An interesting rumor is that somewhere at a high level they've already decided to return Spring and Main to two-way, regardless of these findings. I'm highly suspicious of this rumor's veracity, however. I think the disadvantages of two-way (greatly reduced street parking in particular) make this impractical.

Figueroa/Flower Study

In the same vein, LADOT presented results from a small study conducted to study whether the one-way portions of Figueroa and Flower could be turned back to two-way operation. This study looked just at traffic operation, and looked just at those two specific streets. Executive summary: two-way operation would result in generally worsened traffic flow, including worsened freeway access backups. A little history: LADOT converted Fig and Flower to one-way operation about 20 years ago. At that time traffic was bad enough to require traffic officers at nearly every intersection. One-way operation and computerized signals have helped greatly, even though those two streets still suffer from bad traffic. One thing to always keep in mind about turning one-way streets to two-way is that you inevitably lose a lane, since you need to have space for left-turn pockets. In many cases along Fig and Flower two-way operation would result in lost on-street parking.

One note I'll interject here: If you go to a meeting like this, don't take out your general traffic frustrations on a study consultant. He can only tell you about the area he was studying. Similarly, don't complain to LADOT about issues with MTA buses. Just things to keep in mind...

Downtown Traffic Circulation and Access Study

Finally we get to the end, and to LADOT's study with the widest scope. This study, just getting underway this month, will take a consolidated look at Downtown circulation, freeway accesses, and freeway flow-through traffic. It's important that the two be looked at together because their problems are so interconnected: make the 110 and the 10 and the 101 move more freely and downtown traffic will move better as well. Public outreach for this project will start in April. It's a $250,000 study funded through local Prop. C funds.

Whew... I have more stories from last night, but I'll have to post those later on today.

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