Last week I discussed some of the sights and sounds associated with a typical Metro bus ride. I did neglect to cover the olfactory aspects of the ride. One's sense of smell can be stimulated from the reeking garbage bags of beer cans which some “collector” drags aboard with him, the passenger himself or both!
On the rail lines, where some transverse seating is 168 cm or greater in length, a passenger, even one taller than average, can lie down and with some slight knee bending, get some sleep. Usually this sort of rider will also contributing, negatively, to the aural or olfactory ambiance. Since both Fare Inspectors almost always ignore this type of rider and Sheriff's Deputies will only check for fare payment – these people are left to sleep in peace. A seating design, more in keeping with urban realities, with a fixed “arm rest” between each pair of longitudinal seats will easily solve the problem.
The almost insurmountable challenge to the LACMTA is to increase ridership given the atmosphere which I have described. Who, given any other alternative – even when it requires sitting stopped in freeway traffic for long periods – would ride public transportation? Few indeed, other than your mole!
The Times published a piece on a trial run of the Orange Line(1). Ms Liu does a nice job in reporting, what I assume to be her personal experience on the Orange Line test run. Especially noted was her writing about the six-way intersection at Burbank Bl. and Fulton Av. AND an emergency stop.
But, the article screamed for a side-bar with detailed diagrams and a complete explanation by the “planners and traffic engineers” who designed this * (asterisk), as to why a six-way crossing is “safer” than ALL other alternatives, along with rebuttal(s) by other “planners and traffic engineers” who don't have a stake in the matter.
But all is not for naught, the LACMTA could sell “I survived a ride on the Orange Line” T-shirts, likely priced at $27, at their web site store.
Prior to my ride on the Orange Line ride, on Thursday afternoon 27 Oct. 2005, I checked the “Trip Planner” at http://www.metro.net/ . I used the North Hollywood Red Line Station as my point of origin and an address in Tarzana as my destination. The “Trip Planner” suggested that I use “ Metro Bus 154 (VENTURA BL- RESEDA BL) heading south From: N HLLYWD STA BAY -No.10 To: VENTURA/RESEDA(NW corner) Ride Metro Bus 150( VENTURA BL- TOPANGA CYN) heading west From: VENTURA/RESEDA(NE corner) To: VENTURA/WILBUR(NE corner)” which in total required about 42 minutes, IF, that is, both buses were on time. The “Trip Planner” did not offer any other alternatives! I planned to meet a friend for lunch in Tarzana, so after planning the trip myself, using schedules available on the Metro web site, I decided to break the trip at the Reseda Station on the Orange Line and use the 240 line from the Reseda Station to Tarzana and then use the 150 line co complete my trip on Ventura Bl.. Timing the trip proved impossible, even though the Orange Line has a detailed published schedule, the line 240 schedule is merged with the line 150 schedule, i.e., a distinct row for each line based on departure time AND column headings only for common time points). The schedule has not been updated to take into account arrivals or departures from the Reseda Station (surprise!). Inexplicably, a new schedule, splitting out the line 240, with the important times for the Reseda Station shown is not available. I did not check all the intersecting lines for other Orange Line Stations – Reseda Station is only served by line 240 – but I am sure that none of the others, e.g., the Van Nuys Station is served by five Metro buses, and DASH and two other buses, designated SC793 and SC 798, but I am confidant that the LACMTA has performed as usual, according to what should be their motto: “Striving for Mediocrity” -I must translate that to Latin in order to soften it :-).
Again, and not unexpectedly, we have the lack of systems thinking on the part of the LACMTA. Neither were intersecting bus line schedules considered in this long much hyped run-up to O day (Orange Line start of operations day) nor was the “Trip Planner” feature on http://www.metro.net/ updated. The Orange Line is also known as the 901 line. This is perhaps a ploy to confuse us into thinking that it is really a light rail line. I will, from this point forward, refer to it only as the 901 line!
My trip on the 901 line
On Saturday 28 October, I started out from Pasadena where my thinking about Metro signage was reinforced. My plan was to take the 780 Rapid line through Glendale to the Red Line Wilshire-Western station. I waited, and watched a 180 line, which parallels the 780 route at a slower pace bus pass the corner and stop at its designated place (Rapid stops are usually separate from regular bus stops). After another 15 minute wait I caught a 181 line bus which follows, essentially, the same route as the 180 and 780. It was then that I found out that the 780 was a weekday only line! The usual bus stop signs indicate that the line operates only Monday through Friday, Rush Hour only and etc., but not so with the Rapid signs.
I arrived at the North Hollywood Red Line station and found that there were many smallish signs directing one to the “Orange Line” , they seemed to be after thoughts or perhaps even temporary. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it took only 3 minutes, walking at a leisurely pace, from the Red Line platform to the Line 901 boarding area. I was soon on board, my bus, number 9209, had three TTVs on board – none of which were completely visible because of the many standing passengers. I arrived at the Reseda station in, by my stopwatch, 29 minutes and 18 seconds. I will have a little more to say about this portion of the trip in the “Report Card” section below.
At the Reseda station, I asked one of the the many, perhaps up to thirty, orange shirted LACMTA employees where the South bound line 240 stopped. After repeating my question about ten times, I finally found someone who could direct me to the stop. When I asked for a schedule for the line (although I had one) I got variations of duh. One employee, proving my point about lack of systems thinking on the part of the LACMTA, said, approximately, “we are opening a new line here, users of connections are supposed to know the other routes and schedules”. This was in spite of the fact that the Los Angeles Times(2) covered that very point, and gave the LACMTA a heads-up on the issue, in a Friday, 28 October piece.
But as usual, the LACMTA people who may have read the article either did not see its relevance OR failed to communicate it to someone who could take action. I any event, I asked someone waiting for the 240 bus about its route, he cheerfully and incorrectly informed me that I should cross the street in order to catch the correct bus. Hewing to my “Rider's Rule”, i.e., always get three opinions, I found a knowledgeable lady who, in Spanish, directed me how to get to my destination by using the 240 line from the stop where we stood and then to transfer to the 150 line on Ventura Bl. The experienced passengers are most often the best source of information, better even than drivers, who may know their route but may not know the street names for minor stops or any connecting lines.
I had an enjoyable lunch and retrace the route, in reverse, back to the the Reseda station. While waiting 25 minutes for my return bus 150 on Ventura Bl, I was passed by two 750 Rapid lines headed for Universal City. However, as a Rapid Line with limited stops, they did NOT stop on the corner where I was waiting. I boarded the next line 901 bus and restarted my stop watch. I noted that the buses were scheduled to stop at every station yet, the stop signal cords were not disable so we experienced many unnecessary “stop requested” announcements. Too, the AVAs (Automated Voice Announcements) were not activated AND the drivers made no announcements. This fact coupled with the smallish, too few or non-existent station signs left me and fellow passengers often wondering where we were.
I arrived at the Warner Center station in a total travel time – including only time on the two Line 901 buses – was 45 minutes 42 seconds. I walked around the “celebration area” and picked up an nice Daily News insert which had “Orange Line” information. I wondered why the larger slightly remote shopping center did not run a shuttle bus to take advantage of a crowd which the Times(3) estimated at 30,000 or at minimum, why the department stores did not attempt to open some credit card accounts. I waited almost 15 minutes to board my return bus because of sequential loading – loading several buses in parallel to about two thirds capacity would have seeded up the operation and saved some seats for down line passengers who pretty much had to stand if they did not board at Warner Center. My return trip to North Hollywood, using a single bus, took 52 minutes and 58 seconds. I also noted that the squarish line 901 buses had the standard front mounted bike racks while as noted by the Times(4), the silver buses allow for on-board bicycle stowage. Those who shared their opinion about the matter with me were in agreement. People will readily give up their seat to a wheel chair, perhaps somewhat more reluctantly to a senior citizen will object to having to stand for a bicycle, especially one that may be dripping mud and/or water.
Line 901 Report Card
The bad news is that the “Bus that thinks it's a train” is really a bus. In summary, I give the LACMTA a C- for concept and a D+ for execution. From a conceptional standpoint, this bus line should have been implemented as a light rail line. Doing so would allow it to carry more passengers per operator and therefore, reduce operational costs. In execution: It appears that not attempt was made to level grade the bus way. There were lots of dips which were accentuated when one rode in the back half of the articulated buses. There are way too many red lights – all out of control of the driver – and absolute no crossing gates. Station placement, outbound stations on one side of an intersecting street and inbound on the other. This frequently results is two stops – one at a red light before the station and then the stop at the station itself. On my outbound trip there was one near miss while I was aboard a bus and I watched another as I waited to cross the street to board the second bus of my outbound trip. These near misses occurred in spite of a heavy presence of both police and many Orange shirted employees in and around the stations. Finally, as a project, it appears that a number of steps were missed: Failure to update the “web Trip Planner” , lack of new schedules for connecting buses, employees ill prepared to answer questions about connecting lines and etc.
The signage at intersections reads “Busway” - which may mean little to the average driver, even one who would look up at a relatively large angle and see the sign. A driver might think this to mean the a lane will be used by buses? Serious consideration must be given to signage and words like “Danger!”, “Watch for Buses!” should be added to signs. Unfortunately the design of the busway makes for an accident waiting to happen. I predict that serious accidents will happen. They will happen for the following reasons: Driver fatigue – the busways combine the worst features of freeways and surface streets which make driving much more hazardous than on city streets; Sudden apparition of buses – buses in the busway are often concealed, by sound barrier walls, shrubbery and etc., so they appear quite suddenly, surprising motorists; Inadequate stopping distances – travel will be at, for buses, relatively high speed. This fact along with a mass that is almost twice that of the standard bus means that even with above average response time means that once the brakes are applied the bus will travel through the intersection. Longer periods of darkness will exacerbate the situation. Multiplying the number of daily bus “runs” times the number of intersections will yield a rough “exposure factor”. Multiply that factor by 365 and you will see that accidents are almost a statistical certainty. At 144 daily round trips and 36 intersections, and 22 weekdays per month it works out to: 244 X 36 X 22 X 12 = 2,737, 152 chances for a weekday intersection accident per annum. It easily becomes 3 million chances per annum when weekends are factored in.
I predict that after an initial peak in ridership, discretionary riders who, after an initial trial period on the “Orange Line”, will find that the queasy feeling they experience at each intersection, will send them back to their cars.
(1)Liu, Caitlin. “Busway Test Run Gives Riders a Jolt”. Los Angeles Times 25 Oct. 2005:B3
(2)Liu, Caitlin. “Connections Critical for Orange Line”. Los Angeles Times 28 Oct. 2005:B3
(3)Liu, Caitlin, Covarrubias, Amanda. Valley's Orange Line a Hit Out [of] the Gate”. Los Angeles Times 30 Oct. 2005:B1
(4)Liu, Caitlin. “Road Is Paved for Valley Busway's Opening Day”. Los Angeles Times 26 Oct. 2005:B2