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Pam O'Connor - 10/17/07

Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at noon PT

Pam O'Connor
Metro Board Chair

Launching Metro Interactive Chats is Pam O'Connor, Chair of the Metro Board of Directors, Santa Monica City Council Member and Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority Board Member.

Her topic: Metro's traffic-busting plans for L.A. County. Share your questions and ideas in Metro's first Live Chat.

Pam O'Connor: Good afternoon everyone! It's time for Metro's first Interactive Chat on the World Wide Web to get started.
I'm Pam O'Connor, Chair of the Metro Board of Directors, and I'm looking forward to our hour-long Chat! Remember, this is our first. Folks here at Metro have been working hard to make sure the Chat happens flawlessly -- but as we all know sometimes there are electronic glitches in cyberspace. If you have a problem getting through this time, let us know, and submit that question again.
Some of you have already submitted questions, so we've had a chance to give those some thought and prepared answers. During this hour we'll make every attempt to answer all serious questions -- and it may be that for some, we'll have to do a little research and won't be able to completely address the issue off the cuff. If that's the case, we'll post the answer after we've had a chance to do the research.
So, to get us started, let's see the first question that was submitted to Metro's Interactive Chat -- and start sending those live, interactive messages to us.

From E-mail: Jean in Torrance asks: What is Metro doing to ease traffic?

Pam O'Connor: Metro is working on a variety of fronts to help to relieve traffic congestion because no single solution will work. Let me tell you about some of the current projects.
The Metro Board of Directors recently awarded $454.5 million for 169 LA county transportation projects that range from bridge widening to traffic signal synchronization to make the network of streets work better. We're also funding an expansion of highway carpool lanes such as a northbound carpool lane on Interstate 405 from I-10 to U.S. Highway 101.
And we have a new vanpool subsidy program to encourage ridesharing. On the transit side, this fiscal year Metro will add eight more Metro Rapid lines and purchase up to 100 new high-capacity buses. Station canopies and rail are being installed on the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension from downtown LA to East LA, and construction is underway on the Expo light rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City.

From E-mail: Alex Romano writes: Right now the north San Fernando Valley and the Westside are woefully undeserved by public transit. When will the downtown-centric focus of transit routing be revised to reflect the multi-core reality of the Los Angeles area?

Pam O'Connor: You're right! Los Angeles County has many centers where there is a high concentration of jobs, residents and activity. Downtown Los Angeles is the biggest but Warner Center in the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Pasadena, Hollywood, Century City and other centers deserve decent transit, as well. The Expo Light Rail line now under construction to Culver City and, then onward to Santa Monica, will help ease traffic on the I-10 Freeway and major surface streets. And a western extension of the subway is also under serious consideration.

From E-mail: Michael Zoldessy writes: I think a great way to reduce traffic would be to make the public aware of how proper driving habits affect traffic. Get funding for a series of clever commercials that address patterns, such as not using a blinker, not knowing where you're going, entering an intersection you cannot completely clear, etc. People need to understand that the road is a communal environment and everyone has to chip in to make it work efficiently. By getting on TV and putting together a well-made campaign, maybe this message could reach more people and get them thinking.

Pam O'Connor: The sad truth is that many accidents are caused by bad driving, which in turn, causes traffic jams. Half of all traffic congestion is caused by non-recurring incidents. Metro had partnered with the Auto Club of Southern California and other government and private agencies to sponsor a "Watch the Road" media campaign aimed at preventing accidents.
It's not just speeding, tailgating and weaving in and out of lanes or failing to signal that cause crashes. Senseless acts like text messaging while driving, popular among teenagers, or eating and drinking behind the wheel often lead to serious injury accidents.
This summer Metro began a "Stop on Red" campaign, to remind motorists of their responsibility when behind the wheel of the car. And you may have seen Metro's bus ads spotlighting the plight of bicyclists trying to share the road.
The questions are coming fast and furious and we're multi-tasking here. We'll try to keep up as best we can and answer as many questions as we can...so let's take another.

Doherty: What about more dedicated freeway bus lanes

Pam O'Connor: Dedicated bus lanes on freeways are difficult to do...it doesn't optimize the use of the lane. But there are other opportunities for bus rapid transit lines such as the Metro Orange Line that uses former railroad right-of-ways, and Metro is working with cities such as Los Angeles (LADOT) on bus only lanes on surface streets.

Stephen R.: Are there plans to expand the parking facilities at the North Hollywood and Universal City stations for the Red Line?

Pam O'Connor: As part of the joint development projects proposed for those stations, additional parking is planned.

From E-mail: Howard Sherman of North Hollywood asks: What can be done to get people out of their cars and onto mass transit?

Pam O'Connor: Another good question! We are known as the car capital of the world, so we have to work hard to expand people's horizons -- to let them know that there are other options, because as the car capital we've finally reached the point where we have many more cars and trucks and not enough roads and there's nowhere to build more roads or widen them.
I think many frustrated drivers are open to looking for alternatives whether it's mass transit or carpools or vanpools or living closer to where they work. At Metro we need to expand rideshare options and make them as convenient and affordable as possible. At the same time, many people are concerned about global warming and recognize we have to cut emissions and save energy. This involves a personal commitment to making a change for the greater good -- and it can start with something simple, like leaving your car parked one day a week, and walking, taking transit, sharing a ride. Educating young students early on that they can make a difference for the environment, their future environment, by sharing a ride, is another good approach. It was great to see some high school students riding the Metro Gold Line to their prom last June. They are our future leaders-- and I hope they continue to lead!

Liz: Will there be an increase of departure times for the Metrolink leaving the North San Fernando Valley to downtown, and vice versa? The final train from downtown leaves at 6:40pm. I can be home by 6:40 if I drive.

Pam O'Connor: Metrolink is a great sister agency; we coordinate our service with Metrolink, but they control their own schedules. We'll forward your comment to Metro's rep on the Metrolink Board Ara Najarian. And just FYI, there is a later Amtrak departure as an option but it is more costly.

From E-mail: Bruce of Los Angeles writes: Do you see the "subway to the sea"  happening in the next 10 years?

Pam O'Connor: Regarding building a subway in the next 10 years -- in theory, if there were money, community consensus, and agreement by the Metro Board -- it might be possible to extend the subway westward to Santa Monica in about 10 years. But those are big IFs. By next spring the Metro Board will adopt a Long Range Transportation Plan that prioritizes funding for transit and highway projects. A possible extension of the Metro Red or Purple lines will be considered but no decision has been made yet.

Carl: I would like to be able to use a day pass on all the region's carriers. Where I live I am caught between Metro, Montebello, and Foothill transit. I have to pay a different fare every time I board a different (carrier's) bus.

Pam O'Connor: A current option is to purchase a monthly EZ Pass. In the near future, riders will have a TAP card available. A TAP card is card that can be used to pay for fares on all carriers and acts like a debit card. You load it up with money and it deducts the fare amount as you ride.

tykejohnson: Is the "tap" pass EVER going to actually be implemented? It seems like such a great idea and could be so much easier and faster for all parties involved, from riders to drivers and you all at Metro and beyond. How come its taking so long and when, if ever, can we expect its glorious unveiling?

Pam O'Connor: TAP is currently in a demonstration phase and we hope to roll it out as the operators in the region obtain the equipment. We think it will be fully implemented by the end of 2008.

From E-mail: Dairenn writes: Looking at places like New York, London, Tokyo, Paris and San Francisco, rail seems to be the most environmentally friendly, cost effective, energy efficient way of moving millions of people in a city with diverse geographical topography. While the Gold Line expansion and Expo Lines are great starts, where are we with extending the Purple Line, adding new subway and light rail on the west side and underserved valley areas? Has Metro considered converting the BRT Orange Line to light rail for a less deterioration-plagued infrastructure?

Pam O'Connor: Extending the subway all the way west to Santa Monica could cost more than $5 billion (of course, building a shorter segment would cost less). Metro is currently holding community meetings as part of its Westside Extension Transit Corridor study to review different routes and various transit alternatives including Bus Rapid Transit on dedicated lanes, at-grade or aerial Light Rail transit, subway or aerial heavy rail. For more information on these community meetings go to www.metro.net. As part of its Long Range Transportation Plan update, the Metro Board by next spring will make a decision how to prioritize funding for the subway extension and other highway and transit projects.
Regarding converting the BRT Orange line to light rail…it will be a possibility if (or when!) ridership reaches the 40,000 to 50,000 daily boardings range. It's currently about 25,000 average weekday boardings. Regardless of the mode that's eventually selected, new sources of funding need to be found to accelerate this and other worthy--and sorely needed--projects.

Pam O'Connor: ******NEW COMMENT****

Pam O'Connor: From Pam...there are over 80 participants...so we're trying to keep up as best we can, there was a question from Aaron who asked about a station at USC...The Metro Board just passed $23 million in additional funding that includes a station at Trousdale to serve USC and adjacent neighborhoods....GO TROJANS!!

Pam O'Connor: We're sifting through questions, so let's post a question submitted in advance...

Doherty: what about UCLA?

Pam O'Connor: GO BRUINS...too...ok I'll be in trouble when they play each other.

From E-mail: K. Jordan writes: re traffic-busting plans for staving off gridlock. Larger letters on Freeway and Street Signs (too many times people break their neck trying to lane change so he/she will not miss their exit, freeway or street). All Metro Rail/trains (commercial/passenger) should pass over/under all street intersections -- At least the main/busiest ones. Alert all Metro transportation drivers of major events and have additional bus/light rail/trains to accommodate large groups of people. Outreach to industries (Aerospace companies --Lockheed, Northrop, Solar companies, High Speed Rail companies, etc.) to create a better mass transporter. High Speed trains that can carry people/cargo and cars. Something like the east coast ferries, but on a railway system. Incidentally, we have many CEO's, celebrities, actors and millionaires/billionaires who would gladly donate money - knowing a train or station will named after them. We have a lot of visionaries and talented people working at various places. We have the tech. We just have to catch up with it.

Pam O'Connor: These are good ideas, some more feasible than others, and some we're already doing--like adding more Metro bus and rail service when there are large public events such as the Marathon and the New Year's Tournament of Roses events to Pasadena. It can cost several million dollars for a single grade separation for Metro Rail at a busy intersection so it's not practical to do it everywhere. However, there are a number of safety features such as quad gates that have worked well on the Metro Gold Line, which has had only two serious accidents in four years of operations. Your cargo/car/people carrier concept is intriguing. I'm not so sure about naming Metro stations after wealthy people who pay for the naming rights, but Metro does encourage celebrities to help promote Metro services. Recently, actors Antonio Banderas, Edward James Olmos and Ed Begley have volunteered as spokespersons.

From E-mail: Hilda Delgado writes: Congratulations on your new capacity. We look forward to keeping prices down to increase ridership. Especially for people like my husband that has to take up four lines to get home from work.

Pam O'Connor: I assume when you refer to my new capacity, you mean my position as Metro Board Chair. Thanks! Metro also has a new capacity in the form of new high-capacity buses -- which is good news for riders like your husband. By the end of June, Metro will have 391 articulated 60-foot buses on the road, which seat almost 50 percent more passengers than a standard 40-foot bus. We also have 100 high-capacity 45-foot buses on the road and are experimenting with a 65-foot bus on the Metro Orange Line. (Since you submitted your question early, I was able to get these numbers!) For only the second time in 12 years, Metro reluctantly raised fares this past summer but our $1.25 cash fare is still considerably less than the $2 or more charged by New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and other large transit properties. It's unusual for a rider to take up to four bus lines, considering Metro operates on a grid system, however, we are working to provide more direct service to major activity centers as part of Metro Connections, which will be phased in over a two-year period starting next June.

Siel: I live in Santa Monica and take both the Big Blue Bus and Metro a lot. Are there plans to offer a weekly / monthly pass that'll work on both systems?

Pam O'Connor: The Santa Monica Big Blue Bus will be part of the TAP program (talked about TAP earlier)...so it'll work with many other operators in the county.

From E-mail: Robert A. Radlein writes re traffic-busting plans for staving off gridlock. Convert some major/minor streets to one way to minimize left turns. Use the center left turn lane as a reversible lane during rush hour and do not permit left turns from that lane during rush hour. Extend no parking hours on major streets so that the parking lane becomes a through lane. Create express bus car poll lanes on major streets. Synchronize traffic lights within LA and neighboring cities. Have truck deliveries at night or early mornings. Promote reduced fares or free transit to gain more rider ship on buses and trains to get people out of their cars. Run express buses with minimal stops. Increase or add more parking at park and ride stations to make it easier for people to find a parking stall. Stagger working hours. Go to a 4 day work week with the proviso that the 5th day the car is not used.

Pam O'Connor: Excellent suggestions … and they reflect an understanding that there is no single solution to easing traffic. We need to work on many fronts. The good news is Metro already is implementing some of the projects you suggested. For example, Metro has helped fund the synchronization of more than 1,000 traffic lights throughout the county. We're expanding our popular Metro Rapid service. Those buses are about 25 percent faster than local bus service because they make fewer stops and have signal priority. By June 2008, 500 Metro Rapid buses will serve 28 transit corridors covering 420 route miles and 35 cities.
Metro is working with LA and neighboring cities to get bus only lanes on major streets such as Wilshire, at least during rush hours, and we're looking at one way streets but these are complex issues. There have been complaints by merchants worried about losing parking spaces for their customers and cities also have voiced concerns about lost revenue from parking meters if bus lanes are created, and residents are worried about traffic spilling over into their neighborhoods if major streets like Olympic and Pico on the Westside become one way streets.

Billie: Not sure if my message got through. My husband is a software engineering consultant. He has worked for Toyota in Torrance, Yahoo in Burbank, etc. There is absolutely no reason that employees who are engaged in similar work need to be on the road. He works in silence in a cubicle all day long with occasional meetings. Corporations should team up with Starbucks or someone, create hub centers with cubicles and web cams and ease the traffic that is affecting us all. It's a moral imperative.

Pam O'Connor: This answer is for Billie and to Bartee who submitted a similar question last night. Metro encourages employers to provide opportunities for telecommuting. Metro also works with employers and individuals to form van pools and provide incentives to take transit. Many managers believe people need to be in the office to be productive. It comes down to educating organizations that telecommuting can work for them and for the employee.

fox: How about offering some kind of incentive (taxes?) to trucking businesses to keep their trucks OFF of the freeways and highways during peak traffic times, such as 6am-9am and 4pm-7pm?

Pam O'Connor: Metro is currently working on a congestion pricing study that will include options for commercial and private vehicles pricing on roadways and highways. I've initiated a Congestion Pricing Committee that will be reviewing these options--and other innovative ideas--and make recommendations to the Board.

From E-mail: Samantha O'Neil writes: Santa Monica's Mini Blue buses have successfully used green marketing strategies to increase ridership by different market groups. Is this something Metro can do county-wide?

Pam O'Connor:
Of course I know Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus! In Santa Monica we are encouraged by the success of our Mini Blue neighborhood circulator bus routes. Santa Monica has had a Sustainable City Plan for over a decade and an important component is clean, efficient and green transportation options for people. Metro is moving toward developing its own sustainability plan as is the transit community throughout the country. Metro already has one of the largest clean fuel bus fleets in the country! The new Metro Ad Hoc Committee on Sustainability and Climate Change will address these issues, and along with Metro's five-year plan to increase ridership will help direct the approach with the public on how transit is a good choice for all of us who are concerned about the environment. Go Green, Go Metro!!!

Dana Gabbard: Pam should plug the Alt Transportation Expo this Friday-Saturday in Santa Monica -- http://altcarexpo.com/index.html

Pam O'Connor: Thanks for the reminder...the Alternative Transportation Exposition is taking place this weekend. In addition to informative panels, there will be exhibitors. And some of them will be showing incredible, innovative vehicles. Hope to see you there! Thanks for sharing the link.

Manushkin: why can't MTA mtgs ever be on weekends or nights? People cannot ditch work to attend them at ridiculous times like 1pm!!

Pam O'Connor: Metro does have night and weekend meetings relating to specific projects and often they take place within the communities. Some Sector Governance meetings take place in the evening, for example, the Westside/Central meets in the late afternoon/early evening and the San Fernando Valley Sector meets in the early evening. Check out the Metro web page Metro.net which will have all the meetings, their time and locations listed.

From E-mail: Rick Viduka writes: I am a construction worker and I live in Palmdale. For 25 years I have had to commute to the L.A. area for work. I have logged at least 500k miles. It is stupid to not allow construction to begin till after 8 AM or later it only causes more congestion. Construction is a temporary thing to force late start times only adds to rush hour traffic. I will no longer work in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills and when asked to do so my price triples. Does any good come from mandatory late start times but to appease a few selfish people who complain about a little noise? They could just close their windows.

Pam O'Connor: Some cities, such as Santa Monica, limit construction hours; some think it's a good idea and other folks think it's a bad idea. But regarding transportation, you make the point that staggered and off-peak travel and commuting can help to relieve congestion.

bromike: As a member of the IAAL and a recently born again bicyclist I'd like to know what we can do to make this town more bicycle friendly. I've been using the Red Line and my bike for errands that I used to do in my car but I need to tell you, there's a lot of hostile cars out there.

Pam O'Connor: And your carbon footprint is really small riding that bike! Metro has provided tens of millions of dollars to cities and the counties to provide bike facilities, more than a thousand miles of bike paths and lanes throughout the counties....all of our buses are equipped with bus racks and you can take your bike on the train, and the Orange Line. An important component is ongoing education programs including one where Metro is educating motorists to safely share the road with bicyclists. Bikes are an  important piece of a sustainable Los Angeles county, so we'll keep on working on this.

From E-mail: Jay Tyzzer writes: I am a property owner on the corner of Loma Alta and Fair Oaks in Altadena. Every morning at around 5:15 am the bus comes up Fair Oaks Ave. It travels up and past my home, goes around the block, comes back down the other side of my house and then stops cattie corner to my home. Currently they usually stop and idle for about 15-45 seconds and then turn off the engine at which time the engine usually backfires. I moved up here for the peace and quiet that North West Altadena can bring and it is relatively peaceful and quiet up here at 5:00am until the buses come. I strongly suggest that Pam O'Connor get her supervisors up here and address this issue.

Pam O'Connor: Sorry about the inconvenience this has caused you. Metro is dispatching supervisors to come out and monitor the situation and continue to keep us informed if the problem persists. We're always trying to strike the balance of providing the services and being good neighbors.

Pam O'Connor: We've run out of time...we're working through how to do this...someone just submitted a question but signed off, so we can't post it...but she asked if we were going to post the questions and answers. We have a log of the questions and we'll go over that and come up with responses and post them on Metro.net. This is the first in a series of live chats on the Internet and we're learning our way around the keyboard. Check Metro.net for the schedule for the next chat. Thanks to all of you for being part of our VERY FIRST internet chat!! Hope to see you again soon. (Go, Cal State LA, Go Metro, Go Green....)