23
Thu, May

The Wheels Are Off at Metro

THE EASTSIDER - In researching this article, it turns out that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (LACMTA), or Metro,  is in fact a State Agency. Per Wikipedia: 

“The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority was formed on February 1, 1993, from the merger of two rival agencies: the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD or more often, RTD) and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC).

The RTD was founded on August 18, 1964, to operate most public transportation in the urbanized Southern California region, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange, and Riverside counties. RTD replaced the major predecessor public agency, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, and took over eleven failing other bus companies and services in the Southern California region. Services outside of Los Angeles County began to be divested in the early 1980s.

The LACTC began operation in 1977 after a state requirement that all counties form local transportation commissions. Its main objective was to be the guardian of all transportation funding, both transit and highway, for Los Angeles County.

The bickering between the two agencies came to a head in the 1980s. At that time, the LACTC was building the Blue Line (now A Line) light rail line between Los Angeles and Long Beach, while the RTD was building the Red Line (now B Line) subway in Downtown Los Angeles. It was revealed that due to disputes between the agencies, the LACTC was planning to end the Blue Line at Pico Station, instead of serving the 7th Street/Metro Center station being built by the RTD six blocks north.” 

I mention this because it is clear that the history came out of bickering and dirty politics, and I submit that recent events show that Metro has overstepped its mandate, gone into businesses beyond its authority, and needs to be reigned in or restructured. 

Ridership, What Ridership?

I think that a recent LA Times article this month tells the tale: 

“Drug use is rampant in the Metro system. Since January,  22 people have died on Metro buses and trains, mostly from suspected overdoses — more people than all of 2022. Serious crimes — such as robbery, rape and aggravated assault — soared 24% last year compared with the previous.

“Horror.” That’s how one train operator recently described the scenes he sees daily. He declined to use his name because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Earlier that day, as he drove the Red Line subway, he saw a man masturbating in his seat and several people whom he refers to as “sleepers,” people who get high and nod off on the train.

“We don’t even see any businesspeople anymore. We don’t see anybody going to Universal. It’s just people who have no other choice [than] to ride the system, homeless people and drug users.” 

and 

“Commuters have abandoned large swaths of the Metro train system. Even before the pandemic, ridership in the region was never as high as other big-city rail systems. For January, ridership on the Gold Line was 30% of the pre-pandemic levels, and the Red Line was 56% of them. The new $2.1-billion Crenshaw Line that officials tout as a bright spot with little crime had fewer than 2,100 average weekday boardings that month.” 

The Great Billboard Scam

And what about their latest digital billboard scheme, which probably violates their charter.  It’s a quick buck scam.  Barbara Broide rang the alarm last year in CityWatchLA. 

“LA DIGITAL SIGNAGE - Who would ever guess that a program titled “Transportation Communications Network” would actually be a plan to construct 97 digital billboards across Los Angeles?

Some of these structures will tower 50 feet over eight different freeways, others will be built adjacent to proposed housing projects, and still others will shine into sensitive habitat areas like the Ballona Ecological Reserve. 

But, in fact, that is exactly what will happen if the Metro “Transportation Communications Network” (TCN) gains full approval from the Metro Board and the City of Los Angeles.” 

Then, after the Metro Board approved this pile of filthy lucre buyoffs, the LA Times again talked about the real reasons for the push: 

“Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors approved a plan hammered out with the city of L.A. to put up as many as 93 bright, blinking billboard-size digital signs next to freeways and in communities across the city.

Metro pitched the billboards as a public service that could provide commuters with useful information about road conditions and transit alternatives. Really, this is about money. Seven out of every eight messages would show ads. Metro and city leaders see digital signs as a cash cow, and they’re willing to put up with billboard blight for the possibility of $300 million to $500 million in advertising revenue over 20 years, split between the transit agency and the city.” 

The Times got it right with their recommendation “The money may be tempting, but Los Angeles doesn’t need nearly 100 bright, blinking digital billboards marring the horizon.” 

Metro’s Destruction of Eagle Rock Businesses for a Bike Lane

To me, Colorado Blvd in Eagle Rock is one of the neatest streets in a LA residential area.  It basically goes from the 2 Freeway east to Pasadena, and in the town of Eagle Rock there is a very cool mix of neat old houses, small town retail, and government buildings. Not to mention a major commercial building called the Eagle Rock Plaza. 

So why does a supposed Transit Company want to plow down Colorado Blvd so that a very small percentage of Angelenos who want to bicycle around their million-dollar houses, get the go ahead from Metro, a metropolitan transit company that last I checked has absolutely no jurisdiction over bikes? Or billboards. Could it also be the 3 digital signs planned along Colorado Blvd in Eagle Rock, one at each station? 

This craziness goes back to before 2019, as an inside slider between County Supervisor Hilda Solis and sometimes Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian. as I reported back then. 

“Our part of the plan, through Eagle Rock to Pasadena, had two basic choices: go on the 134 Freeway, or go along Colorado Boulevard. It turns out that in a Report presented to Metro in April (a month before the May vote), there were a multiplicity of reasons for the staff recommendation to eliminate the freeway route. 

The Recommendation says, “The refined Street-Running Alternative with Route Options is the most promising alternative in terms of ridership potential, improved service reliability, opportunities for Transit Oriented Communities, and regional connectivity.” 

This was the basis for Metro staff recommending the freeway alternative be scrapped in favor of running along Colorado Blvd. through Eagle Rock up to Pasadena. As word of the recommendation leaked out, folks freaked out, leading up to Saturday’s Scoping Meeting held in a small community room at the Eagle Rock Plaza.”  

By 2021, other Eagle Rock residents wondered why Metro wants to kill off the Eagle Rock business community. As reported in CityWatchLA: 

“The proposal would diminish “Eagle Rock's Shopping-Restaurant district to one lane and take out most of the parking. Aren’t these Road Diet Activists violating the Brown Act?  Sixty local businesses are angry and very concerned about going out of business. 

A group of Road Diet Activists have been bullying Eagle Rock residents and business owners for the past 2 years who speak out against the Road Diet at meetings or businesses. They are continually demanding a single lane Road Diet from Metro on Colorado Blvd, in our shopping district.   

There are 30 restaurants, and 30 other businesses on Colorado Blvd. very stressed by this Metro BRT Noho-Pasadena plan to accommodate bike activists and take out lanes and take out most of the parking. Metro adopted their "Refined F1" design to mollify the Road Diet activists demanding this redesign for 2 years.  It is one of 2 harmful designs being finalized in the next month by Metro for Colorado Blvd. in Eagle Rock.   

There is no traffic congestion problem to solve here in Eagle Rock currently, buses travel at 30 mph all day, and there is currently a bike lane although very few bicyclists use it. We know many Eagle Rock residents and businesses want the BRT bus to drive in the current mixed flow lanes (quickly like buses do now).    

The Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce, our residents group of 1600 petition signers, and 45 restaurants and stores on Colorado have been asking Councilman de Leon's office for a meeting for the business owners to voice their concerns for 2 months. Nothing yet. No response.  

If the Road Diet activists win in their demands that Metro redesign Colorado Blvd to one lane and take out parking and put in BRT only lanes and protected bike lanes, our shopping district will die off. ” 

Of course, Metro went for the plan that makes a handful of bicycle advocates giddy, and leaves the rest of us with the prospect of years of tearing one of the nicest residential and small business streets in Los Angeles. 

Against that Metro never made the case of exactly how many people would ride the bus from Glendale to Pasadena.  It’s probably just as well since they would have faked the study. All their other studies have been inaccurate. 

The Takeaway

Unfortunately, we can’t impeach or recall the members of the Metro Board of Directors, even as they repeatedly commit malpractice.  However, between this potential debacle and all of the other Metro initiatives that cost taxpayers and produced little to nothing, I think it’s time to get rid of Metro as we know it. 

Sooner or later all too many government institutions fall to the peril of politics, too much money, and ignore the problems that the enabling legislation was designed to fix.  

I think it’s time to see if Governor Newsom and the California legislator can re-purpose Metro or kill the beast.

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)