CA: Transit firsts in 2023: 10 Freeway closure, 405 toll lanes open, new Metro rail lines

Jan. 2, 2024
What follows is a broad recount of the stories that altered the transportation landscape in Southern California, whether you travel by car, rail, bus, bicycle or foot.

Dec. 28—From a major freeway shutdown to the opening of carpool lanes and two new passenger rail lines, the transportation picture in Southern California saw some notable changes in 2023.

Since 21 million residents are fragmented by barriers, mostly by geography, but also by the daily blockages created by soul-stealing traffic, not everyone will have noticed these pins placed on the region's sprawling transportation map.

Nonetheless, what follows is a broad recount of the stories that altered the transportation landscape in Southern California, whether you travel by car, rail, bus, bicycle or foot:

—10 Freeway closure: When an arsonist torched pallets stored under the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles, the columns holding up the raised freeway were damaged and Southern California commuters let out a big "Uh-Oh!" On Nov. 11, all lanes in both directions were closed on a 450-foot span of freeway used by 300,000 vehicles a day, and officials initially said reopening the 10 would take weeks or months. But the lanes were reopened only eight days later on Nov. 19, after an around-the-clock effort by Caltrans and contractors. Crews used more than 100 tons of steel beams and enough wooden posts to stretch over a mile if placed end to end to shore up the freeway columns, Caltrans reported. Repairs continue, and for all you freeway wonks, you can spy the ongoing work at Fixthe10.ca.gov. There's even a video stream from multiple cameras.

—405 Freeway widening, express lanes: The drive from the L.A. County- Orange County border to Costa Mesa on the 405 Freeway may have improved on Dec. 1, when officials from Caltrans and the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) opened the I-405 Improvement Project. Here's what taxpayers got for $2.16 billion: two general lanes and two express lanes, one in each direction between the 605 Freeway and State Route 73. Carpoolers of three persons (mannequins not accepted) are free; two in a car will pay a toll during peak hours; solo drivers must always pay a toll. The first motorist to use the express lane in December was from Los Angeles County, using a FasTrak transponder from LA Metro.

—New rail lines in Los Angeles County: Called the Regional Connector, the 1.9-mile train line opened in downtown Los Angeles on June 16, filling in the gaps on three existing lines. The new connector line has reduced the time spent on a train, requiring fewer transfers for riders. Some rides have been reduced by 20 minutes each way, Metro officials said. The 10-year, $1.8 billion construction project, which went $400 million over budget, added three stops in Little Tokyo, Broadway and Grand Avenue/ Bunker Hill.

The Regional Connector for the first time provides rail service to the Japanese American National Museum, the Broadway area — with access to Grand Central Market — and the Angel's Flight funicular. The Grand Avenue station brings visitors to the steps of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Broad Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). "Those three stations in downtown L.A. opened up the whole system," said CEO Stephanie Wiggins on Thursday, Dec. 28. "Before, we had lines — but they weren't a network." The connector joined three lines into two, the A and the E lines. The new A Line runs north and south between Azusa and Long Beach, now a 50-mile-long light rail line, the longest in the country. The new E Line runs east and west between East Los Angeles and Santa Monica. Ridership on both has risen 30% since the Regional Connector was opened, Metro reported.

In October 2022, the 8.5-mile first phase of the $2.2 billion K Line, known as the Crenshaw Line, began service from the E (Expo) Line's shared Expo/Crenshaw station in Mid City, through South Los Angeles, Westchester and Inglewood, and stops at seven stations. It is included here because it was part of Metro's 2023-2024 FY budget for operations. In August the line and others connecting to it were heavily used to transport Taylor Swift fans to SoFi Stadium during a week of concerts.

—Meet Metro's Transit Ambassadors: They wear bright green shirts, carry no weapons, and in about a year have become the face of the agency. About 330 transit ambassadors came on board, mostly at train stations and on the rail, as part of a softer, gentler approach to boosting public safety. They've engaged in 700,000 customer interactions, said Dave Sotero, Metro spokesman. Metro also renewed contracts with LAPD, Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and Long Beach PD, and hired 48 more of its own Transit Security Officers, along with 24 homeless outreach teams. The combination is part of a new safety approach, especially after violent crime on LA Metro's transit system rose by 24% in 2022.

Wiggins reported that crime has dropped 32% since June after peaking in April. "We have made progress not only in improving the perception of safety but actual incidents of crime has gone down," she said on Dec. 28. She pointed out that after being trained, the ambassadors have saved 101 lives by administering Narcan to opioid users, a medicine that revives overdose victims.

—PCH fatalities: Four Pepperdine students were killed on Oct. 17 after parking their car and walking along a dangerous stretch of Pacific Coast Highway. Authorities said a BMW going 104 mph on PCH crashed into parked cars, hitting and killing Niamh Rolston, 20, Peyton Stewart, 21, Asha Weir, 21 and Deslyn Williams, 21. Since 2010, there have been 58 deaths on this stretch of PCH in Malibu, often called "Dead Man's Curve." Friends of the students who were killed put up memorials and have demanded road calming measures. Caltrans allocated $4.3 million for upgrades on PCH from Santa Monica to the Ventura County Line. The upgrades include electronic speed feedback signs, new pavement markings, crosswalk and sidewalk visibility improvements, increased regulatory and roadway signage, and updates to detectors at intersection signals.

—Brightline train to Vegas: Want to go to Las Vegas but ditch the car? The Biden administration wants to make this happen. On Dec. 5, the federal government provided $3 billion toward a high-speed rail system connecting Southern California to Las Vegas. The fully electric rail system from Brightline West would stretch 218 miles along the 15 Freeway between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga. Aside from getting Southern Californians to the gambling mecca by rail, the developers of the $12 billion project say it will remove 3 million cars from the freeway and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 400,000 tons annually. The line is expected to be in operation by 2027.

—New blood at LA Metro: Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass joined the 13-member board in January, replacing outgoing mayor Eric Garcetti, and became chair on July 24. Also new to the board in 2023 were two other women who are very pro-transit: Los Angeles County Third District Supervisor Lindsey Horvath who joined on Dec, 13, 2022, and L.A. City Council member Katy Yaroslavsky who was appointed to the board by Bass on March 17 to replace Mike Bonin, a nine-year board member.

Eight of the 13 voting members are women, and Metro's CEO is a woman, and many high-ranking Metro staff members are women. "There's no doubt I would not be in this role as CEO without female board members championing me to get this opportunity," Wiggins said. Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition, a nonprofit that supports public transportation in L.A. County, said, "We have more females who use transit and support it. They've made a major difference." He pointed out how Second District Supervisor Holly Mitchell began holding public hearings in Torrance to discuss the extension of the C Line. " Holly Mitchell has escalated involvement with Metro to a new level," Reed said.

—A people-powered party: About 50,000 people roamed the closed down 110 Freeway in Pasadena, South Pasadena and northwest Los Angeles on Oct. 29 on foot, bicycles, scooters and the occasional equine. It was ArroyoFest 2: 626 Golden Streets, and it broke records. It marked the second time the same the freeway was closed to vehicles to allow the public onto the roadway. The first time took place in June 2003, when two professors from Occidental College and several environmental and cycling groups pulled off the inaugural ArroyoFest — drawing about 8,000 people who traversed the lanes of the emptied freeway.

—Speed cameras: AB 645 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D- Glendale) was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October, making speed cameras legal for the first time in the state. Under a six-city pilot program, Los Angeles, Long Beach and Glendale are allowed to install cameras that generate fines against speeders — without a law enforcement officer who stops the motorist. If caught by a speed camera, the motorist receives a ticket in the mail. The fines start at $50 for speeding 11 miles above the posted speed limit, $100 for 16 to 25 mph above, and $500 for going 100 mph or greater. San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland also are included in the pilot program. Cities are expected to choose the streets and erect the cameras in early 2024. The legislation attempts to reduce the rising deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists in the state. Traffic fatalities climbed above 300 in 2022 in Los Angeles, the first time in 20 years the city has reached such a grim milestone. The record 309 traffic deaths were fueled mostly by pedestrian fatalities, which rose 19% in 2022 over 2021, and cyclist deaths, which increased by 24% over 2021, according to data released in January 2023.

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