Orange Elephant

The Los Angeles Times(1) published an excellent article which exposes the duplicitous actions of the LACMTA to the brilliant light of public scrutiny. My only question centers around the pre-accident travel time - “ ... just under 40 minutes.”. The empirical values which I published here earlier, are: 45 minutes 42 seconds outbound (to Warner Center) and 52 minutes 58 seconds inbound (to the North Hollywood Red Line Station). Not covered, as well, were the number of intersections found on the Miami busway which served as a “model” for the Orange Line. The Orange Line is almost twice as long, 14 miles vs 8 miles for the “model”, so, assuming only 18 intersections for the Miami line, then Miami's experience factor could extrapolate to almost twice the expected frequency accidents on the Orange Line. I computed that the Orange Line involves 2.7 million weekday intersection crossings per annum, which becomes over 3 million intersection crossings per annum when weekends are considered (see earlier post for details). Now, admittedly, this only a crude estimate of true exposure. I will leave it to other statisticians to develop a more elegant value, one that considers the traffic on the North-South streets which intersect the busway and other important elements.

Holding the reporters of this article blameless, I wonder:

  1. Where was the Los Angeles Times on the dangers inherent of the LACMTA's Orange Line scheme during the design and planning phases?;

  2. Was political pressure applied to force through the Orange Line?.

Here again, we see the NIH (Not Invented Here) attitude of the LACMTA, i.e., “Oh, we are different, We are better, We can do this, It is no problem!”. Along with the never ending search for the “magical” transportation segment that must contain the word cheap in its definition, all the while refusing to think about a transportation system, as in – Ok, we'll cancel other lines to fund the Orange Line!

I is my strong belief that a thorough housecleaning is overdue at the LACMTA. The cleaning should start at the top and everyone who concealed material facts about Miami's experience and refused to extrapolate those facts to the Orange Line plan should be fired! The LACMTA should no longer be allowed to spend public funds for anything without the approval of an independently constituted approval committee. Said committee should consist of ten members, of which no fewer than 80%, in total, are certified transportation engineers, industrial engineers and safety experts.

I looked over a brochure (06—110ns) published by the LACMTA's Marketing Department. The brochure seems to put all the responsibility for Orange Line safety on the backs of everyone except the LACMTA. In the Los Angeles Times(2) the facts are professionally presented. That said, I also feel that the piece needed an extra paragraph, which specified the approximate effect on the advertised time of travel of the newly mandated 10 miles per hour speed through green lights.

The Times seems to follow the TV dictum: “If it bleeds, it leads”, since this was the first LACMTA article – certainly the first Orange Line article that appeared on page one above the fold. Notably, what is lacking in this piece is editorial support for the reporters. Specifically, on page A22 we find the same old recycled map of the Orange Line. What is needed is a LARGE map showing all 36 Orange Line intersections AND the nature of the obstruction to vision where they are present.

Also, I contend that the coloration of the buses, primarily silver, is not that which makes the vehicles most visible to motorists and pedestrians.

This, below, regarding coloration, from a web site.

"Of the two studies identified that actually sought to test the association between vehicle color and crash involvement, one found that silver cars were least likely to be involved in injury crashes (Furness 2003), and the other found that white or yellow cars were least likely to be struck by other drivers who committed infractions (Lardelli-Claret 2002). The finding that silver cars were safest was contradicted by many anecdotes of silver being seemingly invisible to other people and to animals, especially against the sunset."

A Los Angeles Times(3) piece covers part of the scramble now taking place to “fix” the Orange Line. It covers a brainstorming session at the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation. Brainstorming is a useful technique by means of which to generate a free flow of ideas, in this case however, it is being applied on the wrong side of project completion. What is missing from the Times article is a brief description of the role, if any, played by the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation in the review and approval process, if any, which let to the building of what is shaping up to be an Orange elephant. Of note too, was the idea of using strobe lights on the Orange Line buses. I have seen strobe lights in use in Phoenix, AZ as a means of signaling other buses that there are passengers on board the signaling bus who wish to transfer to the signaled bus. This avoids stranding passengers in the heat for long periods. In the San Fernando valley, the strobes would be most visible where they are least needed, i.e., where there are no visual barriers. I believed that where obstructions exist, the strobe would only result in the flash that is seen before the crash. The Times sets out the facts but gives us no background. It does not help one understand why the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation, obviously a city agency, is advising on a Los Angeles County matter. And what does Mr. Yaroslavsky, Mr. Snoble and the LACMTA have to say about the issue that just days ago they were trumpeting? In addition, we readers would like to know the real costs of the Miami “model”. This means initial design and construction costs, increased, retrofit costs and increased insurance costs along with costs associated with accidents and injuries. Access to these data will allow us to estimate the true costs of the Orange elephant.

In fact, a lengthy piece, which will allow readers to understand exactly how and why the accident statistics of the Miami were apparently ignored, is needed. Even more importantly, why the actual Miami operating procedures and methods which were used to reduce accidents there, were not in place on day one of Orange Line operations here, is a question screaming to be answered. These issues can be addressed in the “Los Angeles Times” by publishing a carefully researched, detailed chronology which investigates the Orange Line from conception until today.

(1)Liu, Caitlin. “Orange Line Model Beset by Crashes”. 4 Nov. 2005:B1
(2)Covarrubias, Amanda and Liu, Caitlin. “Crashes Heighten Busway Concerns” 3 Nov. 2005:pages1A and 22A)

(3)Liu, Caitlin. “City Moves to Improve Safety on Orange Line Busway” 5 Nov. 2005:B3

Next Week: More Orange Elephant, no doubt

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