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Expo Line will get signal prioritization

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Cars will be held at intersections as trains are passing through

Expo Line trains travel through 22 street-level signals on their journey from Downtown LA to Santa Monica, which can significantly delay trips for passengers.
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Travel times on the Expo Line could decrease by as much a 15 percent under a new plan to give light-rail trains priority at intersections shared with vehicular traffic.

The plan—which will prioritize trains over cars at street-level crossings—was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council. The idea came from Councilmember Mike Bonin, and it’s one that he said has “frankly has been a long time coming.”

Expo Line trains travel through 22 street-level signals on their 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.

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.

Bonin is 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 will 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.

“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,” Bonin’s proposal 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.

“One of the most successful mass transportation projects we’ve ever experienced is the Expo Line,” Bonin told the City Council’s transportation committee last month, and it’s “bursting at the seams.”

But even adding more trains doesn’t necessarily mean transit riders will get prioritized over cars.

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.

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.

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.