Earlier this month, we wrote about how the Expo Line — which opens to Santa Monica on May 20 — offers a sluggish ride through downtown L.A. because it stops for cross traffic. Following that story, a transit activist posted a petition on Change.org urging the L..A. Department of Transportation to allow trains to preempt traffic on downtown streets.
The petition is closing in on 500 signatures. Here are some of the arguments in support:
John McWhirter of Los Angeles:
I'm signing because the trains are PAINFULLY slow between USC and 7th St.
Thomas Tai of San Marino:
I am a frequent Expo Line rider. It is unacceptable that hundreds of people on a train must have their commute slowed because of a few people in cars.
Alisa Rivera of Los Angeles:
Efficient public transit is essential for the future of L.A. and the future of our planet. Time to prioritize trains over cars.
Andrew Sieger of Santa Monica:
It's ridiculous that this isn't happening already and LADOT needs to get the message that mass transit deserves signal priority.
As many of the supporters pointed out, Santa Monica has agreed to preempt street traffic on many of its intersections for the Expo Line expansion.
"It's about moving people," says Santa Monica Councilwoman Pam O'Connor. "People in cars with one or two people in them will have to wait for a train with 100 or 200 people to go through."
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been testing the trains for the last several months. Running west, the train will stop at Lincoln Boulevard and perhaps at Fifth Street. But eastbound, the train will run nonstop between the downtown station and the station at 17th Street, says Bruce Shelburne, the executive director of rail strategic planning at MTA.
"It's a very nice ride going down the street there," he says.
At the outset, trains will run every 12 minutes. But the MTA expects heavy demand will eventually force the agency to increase frequency to every five minutes. That would make it difficult to switch to preemption through downtown Los Angeles, Shelburne says.
"As we have more and more trains running, if we were preempting in downtown areas, some intersections may be out of business during certain times of day," he says.
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One factor that might improve the situation is the completion of the Regional Connector in downtown L.A., which is scheduled for 2020. That would make it easier to move Blue Line and Expo Line trains through the junction where they come together at Washington Boulevard.
Asked about the petition, a spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti said that he is "not opposed to preemption" but also wants to maintain the safety of riders.
Dwight Sturtevant, who created the Change.org petition, says he hopes to get the attention of the Department of Transportation.
"I just wanted to see how many signatures I could get, and try and poke the bear," he says. "Until there’s more and more pressure put on LADOT, the situation is not going to change."