Why travel time will be reduced for Metro riders on Long Beach’s stretch of Blue Line

It has been a frustrating discussion for transiters since Metro’s Blue Line opened in 1990: The Long Beach stretch of the light rail hits street signal after street signal, adding on minute after minute for thousands of daily commuters.

Now, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel: With the southern stretch of the Blue Line open following a four-month closure, workers are fine-tuning the systems attached to create the priority for the Blue Line train to save even more time for commuters.

“The Blue Line Signal Synchronization Project is saving five minutes of travel time in each direction, between the Willow Street and Downtown Long Beach Stations,” said Sharon Weissman, senior advisor to Mayor Robert Garcia, who also sits on the Metro board. “In addition, Public Works staff are working with the project contractor to implement additional refinements to identify additional travel time savings.”

The project included synchronizing approximately 52 signals, all primarily along Long Beach Boulevard and Pacific Avenue, according to Jennifer Carey of Public Works.

Light synchronization was first given a call for funding back in 2013. Then it was announced that it would be finished by the fall of 2017:

However, due to the “fair amount of coordination between the City and Metro,” it was pushed yet again into 2018 due to the procurement process, bidding, fiber cable replacement, and more.

The project, grant-funded through Metro in a partnership with the City’s Public Works Department, will not be full preemption—impossible according to traffic engineers for both the City and Metro—but light synchronization.

In fact, the Long Beach stretch of the line is the only stretch that doesn’t have a signal preemption or synchronization system—that is, controllers for the movement of traffic that gives preference to Metro trains rather than street traffic (and not to be confused with signal priority technology used for buses).

When the line was first implemented, it had been foreseen that the train would be given priority signalization. In other words, a longer green light. However, the system failed countywide, eventually prompting the City of Los Angeles to score a grant in which it developed its own traffic signal priority system.

The Blue Line has faced signal issues in Long Beach along with other lines. Through the previously mentioned grant, LADOT provided signal priority on Washington Boulevard in 2011 after a multitude of complaints and three years of studies. Much to the chiding of public transit commuters, that preemption was not implemented since signal priority attempts to either hold a green light longer or give a green early rather than providing a guaranteed green for trains.

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 19 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.