Expo Line might get signal prioritization

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Travel times on the Expo Line could decrease by 15 percent if a new plan is approved that would give light-rail trains priority at intersections shared with vehicular traffic.

The plan, which comes in the form of a motion filed last week by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, notes that the train travels through 22 street-level signals on its journey from Downtown LA to Santa Monica, which can significantly delay trips for passengers. The 15-mile trip is supposed to take 47 minutes, but often takes longer.

“The success of our transit system depends on improving speed, frequency, and reliability, particularly where our rail and bus lines are affected by traffic congestion on city streets,” the motion reads.

Frequency and reliability have become an issue on the Expo Line due to service cuts that riders said have led to packed cars and long waits between trains. Metro added additional service during peak hours to address overcrowding concerns.

But even adding more trains doesn’t necessarily mean transit riders will get prioritized over cars. When trains get even a little bit behind schedule, they can get slowed down dramatically by red lights, especially through Downtown, where the Expo Line travels through the most non-gated intersections.

Long Beach implemented signal prioritization for trains as part of the Blue Line improvements, which, when the line is reopened completely, is expected to shorten travel times by 10 minutes.

The decision whether to prioritize cars over trains is left up to the cities, meaning that for the Expo Line, it’s LA’s transportation department, not Metro, that will have the final say for how fast trains can travel within city limits.

Bonin’s motion is actually proposing a two-part solution to the problem.

The first is ordering the city to give signal priority for trains making street-level crossings, meaning that cars would be held at intersections as trains are passing through. The second is asking the city to take 60 days to examine how LA’s traffic control system, known as ATSAC, could become more responsive for people who are walking, biking, or taking transit.

Longterm solutions for the second item might mean the addition of bike-only traffic signals, like the ones in place on some protected bikeways, or signal prioritization across other forms of transit, which are already used for some rapid bus routes.

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