From the Los Angeles Times
O.C. officials aren't moved by recent transit ideas
Authorities are paying cities for ideas to link population centers to Metrolink stations. But much of what they've seen is short on innovation.
By David Reyes
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
April 6, 2008
As Orange County transportation planners look to the future, they want cities to help find innovative ways to encourage motorists to forsake their beloved cars and embrace mass transit.
Cities were given $100,000 each for ideas to shuttle riders from Metrolink stations to residential areas, major employers, resort areas and shopping malls.
To the planners' chagrin, however, most cities wanted trolleys, shuttles or "fun buses" that rely on rubber-tire technology. Santa Ana wants to introduce modern streetcars modeled after Portland's popular circulator. Only Anaheim -- home to Disneyland's monorail -- has entertained the idea of constructing elevated people movers.
Why push Metrolink?
Two-thirds of the jobs and population in the county are within two to four miles of a Metrolink station, Orange County Transportation Authority officials say. .
In two years, residents will see a Metrolink train running every half-hour between Fullerton and Mission Viejo. A new bus system that stops once each mile will link the county's major east-west and north-south corridors, enhancing transit options, the OCTA said.
Commuter rail is successful in the eastern U.S. because suburbs are linked to large urban centers. Exporting that concept here is a challenge -- if not impossible -- because Orange County sprawls over nearly 800 square miles.
If transportation planners cannot move stations closer to employers and homes, they at least can explore moving riders more easily to and from stations, letting planners at the city level help create the system, OCTA officials said.
The agency is dangling $25 million to cities under its Go Local program to elicit further designs, along with the opportunity to tap into a potential bonanza of more than $1 billion for developing and building systems that link up with rail stations.
The idea is for a "seamless" system from the curb in front of homes to Angel Stadium, Mission San Juan Capistrano or Disney Hall in Los Angeles, said Paul Taylor, OCTA deputy chief executive officer.
But some of the concepts, such as streetcars and trolleys, are hardly cutting edge, say transportation consultants.
"These ideas are not innovative enough," said Roy Reynolds, a consultant for Personal Rapid Transit, an elevated people mover that runs on electricity.
He and other consultants challenged OCTA's approach, saying private developers should weigh in early rather than just government entities. They say public officials who design big transportation systems do not always focus on the fare box, instead relying on government subsidies to back-fill the system's costs.
Reynolds and others said small elevated systems could be built on street medians, rivers and the existing Pacific Electric right-of-way. The concept for personal rapid transit is a two- or four-seat pod traveling on its own elevated track.
One idea under consideration by Santa Ana and Garden Grove is to have a streetcar or bus use the Pacific Electric's right-of-way to run between Garden Grove and Santa Ana's train station.
Irvine Mayor Beth Krom said inviting cities to brainstorm has been a good exercise, albeit a late one: "The good news is there's a consensus that we need better transit; but the bad news is we're 20 years too late."
Irvine is proposing a shuttle from its Metrolink station to the Irvine Business Complex and a modern streetcar to travel within the city's planned 1,347-acre Great Park. Irvine considered an elevated system such as the Las Vegas monorail but there were too many land-use issues, city transportation officials said.
Typically, elevated monorails cost twice as much and are not as effective as other systems, experts said. Innovation for its own sake is not always good, said Jim Moore, chairman of USC's Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
"New technologies are always risky," he said. "And politicians don't like that. Using proven or even stodgy technology improves the chances that you've got a steady source of spare parts."
Irvine is already a step ahead. Last week, the city launched the i shuttle, a small bus, to transport passengers to the city's business center. It plans to expand that service in June to include the Metrolink station, John Wayne Airport and UCI shuttles. The shuttle is free through August.
In Anaheim, transportation officials view the more than 20 million annual visitors and anticipated density of the Platinum Triangle as plum targets for mass-transit riders.
The triangle includes 807 acres east of Disneyland wedged between the Santa Ana Freeway and the Santa Ana River, encompassing Angel Stadium and Honda Center. City officials envision a residential and entertainment center with 9,000 homes and 7 million square feet of offices and stores, including 11 high rises.
"We are one of the few cities looking at a fixed guideway system," said Natalie Meeks, Anaheim public works director, describing an elevated system that may one day take passengers to ballgames at the stadium or into the city's resort area.
Meeks said it's premature to discuss which system they may eventually select. Officials want to look at available technologies and possible alignments. The next step is to fund the design under the OCTA's program. The city also plans to build the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center near Honda Center, which would become the county's largest transportation hub. The ARTIC facility would include Metrolink, Amtrak, buses, Bus Rapid Transit and possibly high-speed rail, city officials said.
As always, however, the rub is creating a system that's as convenient as the family car.
"If more people would understand the relaxation and the less stress and [the] productivity you get while on mass transit like a Metrolink train, they would give it a try," said Jay Laessi, executive director of Auto-Free Orange County. "If public transit is cheap, convenient, safe, clean and even luxurious, it would attract riders."