In a new statewide evaluation of rail transit stations, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority received an average rating while the best marks went to two Bay Area agencies.
The study of six rail system operators gave Metro a C grade overall, though most of its subway and light-rail stations scored well, including Westlake/MacArthur Park, which was called a model for transportation agencies.
However, 4 out of the 5 worst-performing Metro stops were on the Blue Line — a 25-year-old light-rail system that runs between Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles.
"There's definitely room for improvement in Los Angeles," said Ethan Elkind, the main author of the study. "Putting in the infrastructure is just part of the job. Development favorable to transit use has not happened in that many instances. They need to make sure that new growth is focused around transit systems."
The analysis was done by the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment at UC Berkeley and Next 10, a nonprofit organization that funds research into state issues. The study, which was released Monday evening, evaluated 489 rail transit stations and the neighborhoods within a half-mile of each. The researchers graded the stations on "how well they encourage ridership and create thriving, rail-oriented neighborhoods," the report said.
Researchers said the best-performing stations are easily reached by walking, have high ridership and serve significant concentrations of employers, services, shopping and housing. The lowest-ranked stations were often on the fringes of rail systems in low-density, industrial or car-oriented communities.
"If rail transit stations are not located in good areas, our systems are not going to get good ridership," said Elkind, an associate director of the Center for Law, Energy and the Environment. "You need walkable communities, mixed land uses, an emphasis on pedestrians and bicyclists and giving people the option to live this way."
Researchers said transportation agencies in California have been investing heavily in rail service, but some communities have missed opportunities to generate demand for transit — steps that could accommodate population growth, reduce air pollution and increase mobility.
"Our goal is not to criticize the six agencies but to make them aware of the best practices and how they can improve their rail transit stations," said F. Noel Perry, the founder of Next 10.
Sacramento Regional Transit received a C, tying Metro. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, based in San Jose, tied for fourth place with C-minuses.
More than half of Santa Clara's stations received Ds, while San Diego scored the most failing grades with eight and had the worst-performing stop in California: the Gillespie Field Station. Only 4.26% of residents and 4.5% of workers in the heavily car-dependent area relied on transit.
Of 200 San Francisco MUNI stations, about 74% received an A or B. Its stop at Market and Church streets also was rated the best-performing station in California. It scored 93.8 points, an A-plus.
Researchers said the MUNI station obtained a near-perfect walkability score. They noted that the neighborhood is densely populated and has many shopping opportunities. According to the study, some 61% of residents and 40.5% of workers in the area rely on transit.
"San Francisco has many more built-in advantages compared to L.A.," Elkind said. "There are more walkable neighborhoods. People are more likely to ride transit if they live near stations. MUNI was built before the advent of the automobile and the city is high-density."
Of Metro's 88 rail stations, there were 18 A's, 34 Bs, 21 Cs, 14 Ds and an F. All stops on the Red and Purple subway lines received A's and Bs and were among the best-performing facilities.
The study concluded that Metro's top station was Westlake/MacArthur Park, which is on the Red Line and located in a densely populated, transit-dependent neighborhood west of downtown Los Angeles. It scored an A with 88.2 points.
According to the study, about 58.8% of residents and 18.8% of workers in the area use public transit.
Cal Hollis, Metro's managing executive officer for countywide planning, said he did not fault the study but contended the criteria skew the results in favor of densely populated, compact cities like San Francisco.
FOR THE RECORD
Oct. 6, 11:45 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of Metro executive Cal Hollis as Hollif.
"The less urban areas — Sacramento, San Diego and Santa Clara Valley — will score lower. Metro is in the middle, serving both urban and less urban areas," Hollif said. "If you applied the same criteria to New York City transit, MUNI and BART would rank lower."
Metro's only failing grade went to the Wardlow Station, which serves the Blue Line in Long Beach. The park-and-ride station in the Wrigley neighborhood has an island platform, 25 parking spaces and 10 bike lockers.
The study states that the low-density area is dominated by auto use and lacks the concentrations of employers and housing conducive to healthy ridership. Only 8.5% of residents and 8.4% of workers in the area take transit.
In addition to Wardlow, three other Blue Line stations were among the five lowest-performing stations: Willow, Artesia and Del Amo. The fifth is Norwalk Station on the Green Line.
Hollif said the findings are not surprising given the factors, but he questioned whether the criteria should be used to judge the performance of a transit system. He said the Blue Line is the most heavily used light-rail service in the country, averaging more than 76,200 boardings per weekday.
"These are park-and-ride stations in lower-density areas. They are designed to intercept commuters on the highway and encourage people to get out of their cars," he said. "The intercept stations serve as vital a purpose as the MacArthur Park station."
Since the 1980s, Metro has spent and earmarked more than $21 billion for subway and light-rail lines in the county. Now under construction are the Crenshaw light-rail line, a light-rail regional connector in downtown Los Angeles and extensions of the Expo and Gold light-rail lines, as well as the subway to the Westside.
Hollif said Metro does not control city and county planning decisions but is committed to encouraging land uses that increase transit ridership.
The authority has given some $20 million in grants to local cities to help plan transit-oriented developments. It also has provided local governments with "urban greening" tool kits with information about the best ways to improve the first-mile and last-mile connections to transit stations and destinations.
"We are supportive of the criteria and policies established in the study, but we serve a more diverse county," Hollif said. "We believe in higher densities, walkability and strong first- and last-mile connections. We also believe in getting commuters out of their cars."