System Thinking

The LA Weekly published an excellent article, “The Subway Mayor”1 detailing the history of Los Angeles area public transportation going back to the “Red Car” days. Berkowitz uses such terms as: bumbling, mismanagement, and incompetence ,in describing the past and present LACMTA. I agree with Berkowitz and I further charge the agency with being dysfunctional, suffering from the NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome and lacking a systems approach to transportation. The dysfunctionality should be apparent from my prior blog posts. The NIH syndrome can be inferred my prior comments in that the agency failed to do due diligence in reviewing how other domestic and foreign transportation systems approach common problems. I believe that the agency is, in truth, comprised of “administrators” who have recourse to few if any staff transportation and/or industrial engineers.

Let us turn to just two examples of how other transportation agencies approach their systems and then compare them to our own LACMTA's world view, as I see it.

Chicago, although “smaller”then Los Angeles has had rail transportation for many years and integrates (please, remember that word) buses into the total system. Here is the CTA (Chicago Transportation Authority) view of their system. Nice, isn't it?
Closer to home, let's visit the San Francisco's Muni for a view of itself. Again we can note that San Francisco has an integrated transportation system.

But alas, when we look at the LACMTA's self view we see separate maps: one for buses and one for rail/subway. Point made. One can almost see the employee cubicals in the Taj Mahal , one grouping for bus another for non-bus, separate, distinct and uncommunicative.

Note, also that unlike, the CTA, which has html maps available, and the Muni, which both have the popular Adobe PDF format available for their maps while metro.net uses “Flash” format, also owned by Adobe since earlier this year – but still less popular- this provides a perfect example of NIH syndrome in action. Although the LACMTA bus/train timetables/schedules are presented in pdf! Reviewing the two system maps and the multiple LACMTA maps demonstrate a lack of “system thinking” I will cite other examples here.

Last week I described the money wasted on bus pads. An example of this waste is the former routes at Westfield Shopping Center in Arcadia. Two years ago there was a transportation center located within the shopping center less than 30 meters from an entrance. When construction started on Phase II of the shopping center, the transit center was relocated out to Huntington Drive approximately two blocks from the nearest store. This was intended to be a temporary move until Phase II was built and was so indicated on the schedules for the Metro buses which severed the area: Bus lines, 79, 264 and 268. The same stop was served each day by Foothill Transit's line 184.

Phase II construction was completed just about a year ago. Two weeks ago the new transit center opened in the shopping center with the only user being: Foothill Transit's line 184 and now only weekdays because the weekend service has been canceled. Although line 79 continues to use the stop on Huntington Drive- with its magnificent bus pad- lines 184, 264 and 268 no longer stop there. The line 264/268 stops have been relocated, close to two blocks away, on Baldwin Avenue! In the past riders had the possible choice of lines 264 OR 268 for a trip to Pasadena, now they must walk across busy streets to take advantage of one or another of the lines. All the while checking the their bus timetables and watches while estimating probabilities that their intended bus is late or that they should start crossing the busy streets to catch another bus. This example simultaneously demonstrates a lack of systems thinking and an extremely thoughtless approach to the people who they “serve”.

Lines 264 and 268 pass near the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line station. In this case near means about two blocks. These buses could easily be routed through the Sierra Madre Villa Station as are Metro lines 181 and 267, along with the Montebello line 20 and Foothill Transit lines 184 and 187. But no, our LACMTA wants us to have our two block morning run, which is especially fun on those rare rainy days! Here is integration LACMTA style. Their attitude is: don't worry they can always catch the NEXT Gold Line train and they are not made of sugar so they won't melt in the rain.

Ms Liu2 does an excellent job in pointing out yet another flaw in the LACMTA's planning process in her coverage of the extremely poor linkup of the new Valley Orange Line with the Red Line station in North Hollywood. In short, the lack of a crosswalk forces riders either to detour to the nearest crosswalk or jay-walk. Such a routing, even with a crosswalk, will guarantee that someone will get wet when it rains and seems to make no allowances for the handicapped. It is almost like building only an airport's runways and then as the first planes are landing, attempting to work out the forgotten logistical elements. The Times deserves credit for forcing? embarrassing?? the LACMTA into reconsidering their initial stand against the crosswalk. LACMTA is now squabbling about who will pay for the costs associated with the crosswalk. The piece is illustrative of the the poor planning and lack of systems thinking which seems to permeate the LACMTA.

In nature, many things naturally fall into bifurcated groups. At the LACMTA there appears to be a bus group and a rail/subway group. Each one begins their day exclaiming, in turn, “Buses, the only way!” and Rail/subway rules!”. When in reality they should chant in unison “A Seamlessly Integrated Rational Coherent Transportation System for Los Angeles”. Tim Rutten, also recognizes the bifurcation in his – to me at least – unhelpful piece3. So what the Los Angeles Times contributes in one area, viz., possibly gaining a needed crosswalk, it trivializes in another i.e., belittling those who must rely on public transportation.

Why the new “speedy” bus line was not planned to terminate within feet of the Red Line station is difficult for a thinking person to imagine. Now, time and money is wasted arguing about something, i.e., building a crosswalk so their botched effort has some semblance of user friendliness, which should not have happened in the first place. Once again, the LACMTA has attempted to plan and build unencumbered by the the advice of transportation and/or industrial engineers. My impression is that the LACMTA's Marketing Department was, once again, overly involved in an area in which it has absolutely NO expertise. The most used word at Metro headquarters must be “duh”.

1Berkowitz, Eric.”The Subway Mayor” LA Weekly 19~25 Aug. 2005: 32
2Liu, Caitlin. “Valley Express Busway to Get Crosswalk at Transfer Stop” Los Angeles Times 14 Sept. 2005:B5
3Rutten, Tim. “Don't lead or follow, just get out of the way” Los Angeles Times”15 Sept. 2005: E2.

Next week: Yet more LACMTA money wasting

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