To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mike Antonovich will meet with the Pasadena City Council

From Paula Shatsky:

Antonovich to meet with Pasadena council on Wednesday, 3/27/13 at 8:00 am in basement at city hall.  710 and Hahamongha topics on agenda.

San Fernando Valley Council of Governments offers interesting list of transit priorities — check it out


By Steve Hymon, March 22, 2013


First, a caveat: don’t get too excited. The above list of projects recommended recently by the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments are just that — recommendations. And, as usual, funding is always an issue.

But I thought I’d post the motion because I know from reader comments and email there’s quite a bit of interest in some of the above. In particular, the idea of connecting Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport by transit is appealing; getting between Pasadena and Burbank by transit often involves a trip through downtown Los Angeles. I’m also a big fan of speeding up the long Metrolink trip (up to two hours, 10 minutes) between Los Angeles Union Station and Lancaster, which are about 70 miles apart.

By the way, Metro’s long range plan has a couple of similar projects, although both are in the tier 2 unfunded section (basically meaning they’re in the back of the line for funding for now). These include a Red Line extension to Bob Hope Airport and an undefined “transit corridor” between the NoHo Red Line station and the Gold Line’s Del Mar station in Pasadena.

One last note: it’s worth noting the four names on the motion for the Metro Board: Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian, city of Los Angeles appointee Mel Wilson and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Interesting.

Nearly half of toll lane users on 10, 110 are solo drivers


By Steve Scauzillo, March 22, 2013


 Since opening the the Expresslanes on the 110 and 10 freeways, Metro has given out 125,000 FasTrak transponders.

Drivers opting to ride the pay lanes on the 110 and 10 freeways are shaving 15-20 minutes off their trips while paying $3 to $4 in tolls on average per one-way trip, according to a report released Friday by Metro.

Since Metro converted carpool lanes into high-occupancy toll lanes called Expresslanes, the transit agency has given out 125,000 FasTrak transponders, something it calls "a major milestone."

Pay lanes opened Nov. 10, 2012 on an 11-mile stretch of the 110 Freeway south of Los Angeles, and on Feb. 23 on a 14-mile segment of the 10 Freeway in the San Gabriel Valley between the 605 Freeway and Alameda Street near downtown L.A.

One of the biggest changes - aside from paying to drive certain freeway lanes for the first time - is the mandatory requirement to install the dashboard device in order to travel the Expresslanes. During peak times, cars with two or more people and vanpools ride free on the 110 Freeway, while three or more are necessary to ride free on the 10 Freeway Expresslanes. Solo drivers can use the lanes for a toll.

The transponders send a signal to overhead readers, which assess the correct charge. The charge is deducted from an account staked with $40 by each driver. If the driver does not have a transponder, a fine is mailed to the car's registered owner or the driver may be pulled over by a CHP officer and issued a citation.

"We are extremely pleased," said Rick Jager, Metro spokesman on Friday. "This is phenomenal in terms of public acceptance. The number of transponders issued are through the roof. "

So far, the two pay lanes have cost 125,000 Southern California motorists who've signed up about $5 million in start-up costs. Gross revenues from tolls on the Harbor Freeway equaled $3.2 million, Jager reported. Toll revenue for the 10 Freeway is not available.

The one-year experimental pay lanes are part of a congestion-pricing scheme funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for $210 million. The project cost $290 million and included adding a second HOT lane in each direction on the 10, plus 41 new clean fuel buses. It also paid for a new El Monte Bus Station.

Metro reported about 40 percent of the riders on the 110 Expresslane from November through February were solo drivers, while 60 percent were carpoolers. On the 10 so far, it is 48 percent solo and 52 percent carpoolers, he said. The number of HOT lane users on the 110 is nearly the same as carpool lane users before the conversion, about 96 percent and growing, Metro reported.

That goes against the opponents' mantra, namely that all L.A. County freeways should remain free.
"Those 40 percent are the new people who have chosen to buy in," Jager said. "That is pretty impressive. "

Also, speeds on the 110 Expresslanes stayed at 45 miles per hour or above for 100 percent of the peak times, Metro reported. The Federal Highway Administration requires a 45 mph speed 90 percent of the time, Jager said.

However, speeds in the general purpose lanes during peak hours dropped. Some say the quarterly report is measuring bottlenecks from untrained riders and from those who previously illegally used the carpool lanes but are now exiting to avoid ticket cameras.

"That is typical when you are starting this type of conversion from carpool to pay lanes. Any time you change commuter behavior, it takes time for people to get used to it," Jager said.

L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe, also a Metro board member, said he has concerns that carpoolers may be exiting the program. "But I've had a lot of positive comments, mostly from solo drivers," he said Friday.

Metro expects traffic flow to improve in the general purpose lanes as more solo motorists move into the pay lanes and leave more space in the regular lanes.
Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition, a San Fernando Valley group that watches trends in transportation, said he's surprised by the lack of any formal opposition to the pay lanes.

"There is a realignment going on. There seems to be a defacto public acceptance of it," he said Friday.

Quotes from those surveyed by Metro were positive. "I luv (sic) the fast track on the 110 Freeway. My commute was 45 minutes to 1 hour, now 15 to 20 minutes ... stress free from traffic," commented one commuter.

Commuters can sign up for an account and a transponder by visiting metroexpresslanes.net. Albertsons, Costco and Automobile Club of Southern California are offering discounts to customers.

Harbor freeway's toll lanes faster, others slightly slower 


 By Laura J. Nelson, March 22, 2013

110 Freeway
 Cameras and electronic sensors stand over the express lane south of the Slauson Avenue transit station on the 110 Freeway.

Rush-hour traffic in the new 110 Freeway toll lanes are moving faster, but traffic in other lanes has slowed slightly, according to the first report on the project.

The Metro and Caltrans data is the first evaluation of the county's initial attempt at "congestion pricing"— charging solo drivers to use the carpool lane to reduce backups. The high-occupancy or "HOT" lanes run from the Harbor Gateway Transit Center at 182nd Street to Adams Boulevard.
Transit officials have sold more than 105,000 transponders—the devices drivers need to use the HOT lanes. Tolls have brought in $3.2 million in revenue as of Feb. 28.

Average speeds in the northbound express lanes have increased 10 mph to an average of 45 mph between 7 and 8 a.m., the report said. To keep $210 million in grant money provided for the project by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Los Angeles must show that cars can travel 45 mph at least 90% of the time during rush hour.

Non-toll lane traffic in the most congested segment of the northbound 110 slowed by more than 8 mph during morning rush hour, the report said. At the most congested point in non-toll southbound lanes, traffic slowed 3.6 mph on average.

The number of cars taking the 110 Freeway has dropped slightly since the toll lanes opened, to about 96% of the volume measured in November, the report said.

Between Nov. 10 and Feb. 28, the California Highway Patrol cited 307 drivers and warned 412 more for not paying tolls or not having a transponder.

Metro and Caltrans will periodically evaluate the toll lanes, and next year an independent group will assess the experiment's performance. 

Redesign of the Day: A Truck That Won't Kill Cyclists


 By Henry Grabar, March 22, 2013


 Redesign of the Day: A Truck That Won't Kill Cyclists


The London Cycling Campaign, the British capital's biker advocacy group, doesn't build trucks.
But that doesn't mean it can't offer some free design tips. Say cheerio to the "Safer Urban Lorry," -- that's British English for truck -- a redesign whose modifications could reduce the number of injuries and deaths for urban cyclists. Though trucks make up only five percent of Greater London's vehicles, they are responsible for 50 percent of the city's cyclist fatalities.

The LCC-designed truck has a lower cab and larger windows in front and to the sides, to help drivers have a better view of their immediate surroundings. It also has lower bumper clearance, so that in the event of a collision, a cyclist is more likely to be pushed forward than thrown beneath the wheels.

Cameras mounted on the sides of the truck, linked to a screen in the cab, further help to eradicate the driver's blind spots.

The LCC keeps an interactive map measuring which London boroughs are doing the most to prevent bicycle deaths, including standards for vehicle design and courses in cyclist awareness for municipal truck drivers.

Local soil testing begins for 710 Freeway extension study


By Monica Luhar, March 22, 2013


Metro is conducting soil tests in Alhambra and neighboring areas in March and April as part of its study of the 710 Freeway and the various alternatives for closing the 710 gap. The initial soil testing — which consists of ground-level measurement, geotechnical boring through soil and rock, and vibration testing — started Monday in Alhambra and concludes Friday.  A 2012 map of the alternatives for closing the 710 gap. | Map courtesy of EGP NewsA 2012 map of the alternatives for closing the 710 gap.
In recent months, Metro and Caltrans have hosted a series of engagement workshops on the 710 Freeway project, including three open house workshops regarding the five alternative options for closing the 710 Freeway gap between Alhambra and Pasadena.

The workshops — which took place in Pasadena, San Marino, and at Cal State LA — provided the public with the opportunity to meet with the technical staff and discuss the five proposed options for closing the gap, said Helen Ortiz Gilstrap, communications manager for Metro. The alternatives include “no build,” traffic management solutions, bus light rail, and an underground freeway tunnel.
According to Metro, the options proposed will “accommodate north-south travel demands” in the San Gabriel Valley and areas of Los Angeles, reduce regional traffic and congestion, minimize environmental hazards, and improve “regional freeway and transit networks.”

Many residents of El Sereno, South Pasadena, Pasadena, and neighboring cities have expressed their concern over the construction of a possible tunnel, one of the options to close the 710 gap – citing problems such as increased congestion, trucks, or the addition of a possible toll fee, which would discourage individuals from using a tunnel.

Alhambra, San Marino, Monterey Park, and, most recently, Rosemead have all expressed their support for the extension of the 710 Freeway. In an e-mail interview, Congresswoman Judy Chu told Alhambra Source that she also supports a solution to the 710 gap and the completion of Metro’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which will assess the impact of different extension alternatives and be released in 2014.
A woman wearing a gas mask protests the 710 project at Cal State L.A. | Photo by Dan BednarskiA woman wearing a gas mask protests the 710 project at Cal State L.A.

Despite Alhambra City Council’s support of a tunnel, some residents question that the proposed solution, which is estimated to cost around $5.4 billion dollars if constructed, would be a feasible idea.

During a November 2012 Alhambra City Council meeting, residents debated the prospects of the tunnel and 710 extension. After transportation officials from Metro and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) presented the options, various residents came to the podium to make impassioned pleas against the tunnel.

One resident argued that the construction of a tunnel between the 10 and 210 freeways would not solve any of “San Gabriel’s issues” and would only increase street traffic in the San Gabriel Valley.

“We’ve got 50,000 [cars] right now getting off on Valley Boulevard,” the resident said. “If you get another 190,000 cars trying to get into this tunnel and you got to pay a toll, guess where they’re going to go? In the streets in the San Gabriel Valley.”

A decision won’t be made until the EIR, required by the California Environmental Quality Act, and the Environmental Impact Statement, required by the National Environmental Protection Act, are released in 2014.

‘Crack Spread’: An Obscene-Sounding Term but Key to Understanding LA’s Obscene Pump Prices

By Lisa Margonelli, March 22, 2013


VOICES FROM THE SQUARE - Sigh. Everyone wants to talk about gas prices—$4.25 a gallon for regular in L.A. last week. But no one wants to talk about crack spreads. “Crack spread” sounds a bit obscene, but it’s how the oil industry describes the difference between the cost of a gallon of crude oil and the retail price of a gallon of gasoline (aka “cracked” crude oil). 

You won’t hear about crack spreads on the news, and not just because there might be children watching. Crack spreads bring up the complexity of the oil market, the odd folly of our oil policies, and the morally compromised role of consumers.

But here are four reasons why people, and especially people in Los Angeles, should care about crack spreads:

1. Los Angeles crack spreads are among the highest in the nation. To put it another way, Angelenos pay some of the biggest markups on gas in the nation. Last year, the average barrel of gasoline in L.A. sold for $127.44, more than any other region of the country, while crude prices averaged $94.11-111.70 per barrel, depending on whether they were from the US or European oil exchange. Los Angeles refineries make a bigger profit than others, and one reason is us—local consumers, who have slightly higher incomes and a desperate need to drive to work. Even when a refinery breaks down and prices soar, we can’t cut back consumption.

2. You might assume that running a refinery is easy money. Crack spreads tell a different story. Last December, some refineries were running with a negative crack spread: They were selling gasoline for less than it cost to buy the crude oil. This happened because crude prices rose while refineries were running full tilt and consumer demand was stagnant, leading refiners to drop their retail prices lower and lower, taking a loss. (A note to follow up Point 1: Just as we are irrational consumers because we don’t cut back when prices are higher, we don’t buy more gas when prices fall.)

Refining, and the oil industry in general, is a rough game—so don’t assume that rising gas prices mean someone is making easy money on margins. On the other hand, don’t listen, either, when oil companies scream that they will shrivel up and die if we enact policies that do not benefit them. They are business survivors who go through difficult stretches but always find ways to make profits over the long run.

3. One reason gasoline prices and crack spreads have risen lately is that refiners are exporting gasoline at levels unseen since World War II. That’s right: The U.S., a net importer of oil, exports gasoline. So we consumers effectively compete for gas against anyplace in the world with customers willing to pay more for it. As long as the rest of the world wants gasoline, we’ll never have cheap gas again.

The export of gasoline points to another irrationality in our oil policies: We export almost no crude oil, because of a tangle of laws requiring that crude produced on U.S. lands stay here for the benefit of US taxpayers. When it comes to crude, we’re not exactly for the free market—another indication of how completely confused we are about what we think we believe as a country! (Of course, oil company CEOs are in favor of exports.) 

4. Some crack spreads are huge! Tar sands oil from Alberta was selling for $45 a barrel in December, $64 below the standard price for international crude oil. That’s bargain basement oil, and it can be refined to make the same gasoline that sells for $120 a barrel or more.

Why should you care? First, companies that were able to refine that oil and sell it as gasoline had high crack spreads and astounding profits. Second, the reason that tar sands oil is so cheap is that it’s landlocked, so it can’t get to ports where its price can be bid up. So, obviously, people in this situation want to have pipelines built—and you can hear them yelling about this all the time.

Finally, about those tar sands: The Canadians say their tar sands give them oil reserves on par with Saudi Arabia. But they spend $65-70 a barrel to get that oil out of the sands, so they’re losing money every time they sell a barrel of crude for $45. If they can’t find some way of getting the price up, Canada’s “Saudi Arabia” will disappear. In other words: Nobody wants to build a pipeline to give you cheap gas, no matter what they say. It’s just not about you.

Looking closely into the crack spreads helps dispel some of the myths we tell ourselves about gasoline. In fact, you could say there’s a bit of a crack spread in the American consciousness. Just 10 years ago, we paid $182 billion annually for gasoline. This past year, we paid $479 billion. Our gas tanks now soak up twice as much of our disposable income, and most of us cope with this ugly reality by averting our eyes. We’re too heavily invested in our own ignorance. And then, like the residents in the town in the Music Man, we follow anyone claiming a French horn or a Keystone Pipeline or a Fantabulous Frakinator will solve our problems and lower the price.

Our gas stations are part of the theater. Why else would they advertise credit cards on the pumps that will “save 5 cents a gallon” and give you “the power to lower your gas prices”—all with interest rates of 24.995 percent, as the Shell “Drive for Five” credit card offers? Really? You have to want to believe that. It’s lucky for oil companies that we do believe it, because running credit cards is a lot easier and more profitable than running a refinery.

Recently I’ve been reading a book about Alexis de Toqueville, the Frenchman who famously wrote about American democracy in the 1830s. He talked with American leaders who said that citizens cannot be trusted to understand complicated issues and make policy; instead they need to elect leaders. This, I think, is what has happened with oil. We’ve accepted a very simple public story about what is in fact an increasingly complex industry—and in doing so, we’ve lost … you could say “control,” or “power,” or gas.

We’ll have real “power” at the gas pump when we stop hoping the price of a gallon of gas will fall—and start figuring out how to run our lives using fewer gallons of the stuff. Instead of taking simple cues from gas prices, or waiting for simple answers, we need to embrace complexity and enact the policies that will give us a stronger economy, environment, and climate by using less petroleum.

In other words, the only path out of our current predicament runs right through the crack spread.
Will LA’s “Westsiders” Ever Take the Train?


By Lou Siegel, March 22, 2013


 THE CITY - A few years ago, the Los Angeles Times solicited readers input in mapping the region’s neighborhoods.  Defining the so-called “Westside” became very contentious, particularly in determining the eastern border.  Some residents insisted that La Cienega was the dividing line, though the winner, by popular demand, was the “405.” 

When I moved to Southern California in 1981, I had to accept that people here position themselves – by location and even class – in relation to the freeways.  And though I wanted to live near the coast with easy access to downtown, I couldn’t quite see myself as a “Westsider.”

Finally settling in the Mar Vista, Palms, Culver City cluster (CC is its own “municipality”), my ties to the neighborhood grew stronger when my kids went to the local schools and played at nearby parks and little league fields.  The parental connection made me feel more at home but – like many other areas in sprawling LA – my part of town was also developing its own pedestrian-friendly boutique business district.

Culver City’s hippified restaurant row followed this trend toward more intact and compact communities in suburban Southern California.  But neighborhood identity requires more than just a few well-placed coffee shops – and now there’s a new geographic designation in the making.

Just up the road at Venice and Robertson is a soon-to-open train station.  A bridge under construction across the eight lane boulevard will connect to Phase II of the Expo Line from downtown to Santa Monica.  

Sure, it’s only “light rail” but it’s West LA’s first trolley since the Red Car shut down in 1950.

Having a local train station recalls for me the old BMT line through Bensonhurst which stopped every few minutes above 86th Street at Bay Parkway to deliver thousands of workers to and from “the city.”  In intensely compressed Brooklyn, New York’s subway system – sometimes elevated, sometimes subterranean – divided and defined the borough’s neighborhoods.

If you’ve lived in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco or anyplace in the states or abroad with big-time mass rail transit, you might – as you pass these new bridges or crossings – wonder whether Expo and the other LA Metro train lines have a real shot at attracting riders.

We won’t know this for a while.  In the meantime, enjoy the fact that West LA (or whatever it’s called) is getting a train.  It will give us at least one more way – besides which freeway ramp to get off – to describe where we live.

Dodger Stadium Express and Megabus.com make following your team on the road easy



 Seats on the Dodger Stadium Express aren't quite as comfy as this! Photo from LA Dodgers Official Facebook


 Seats on the Dodger Stadium Express aren’t quite as comfy as this, but they’ll get you to the game.

The Dodgers open at home April 1 with a three-game home stand against the Giants, and Metro’s Dodger Stadium Express will be providing convenient, free service to the ballpark from Union Station Patsaouras Plaza to those with game tickets. Ride in and catch the Express on Metro Bus or Rail and skip the hassle of traffic and parking.

And when the Dodgers hit the road and travel to San Francisco in May – and July, and September? Or, if some die-hard Giants fan wants to follow their team to L.A.? Megabus.com can take you from Union Station Patsaouras Plaza and drop you off just a block from AT&T Park. Megabus.com fares start at just $1 but increase as the departure date nears or as seats fill up, so buy your tickets in advance to get them cheap. Megabus.com offers six trips to San Francisco every day.

Angels fans, don’t feel left out, there’s something for you too: Take advantage of the Metrolink Angels Express Train, which will provide special service from Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo or Union Station to Angel Stadium of Anaheim for weeknight Angels games.

Finally, I’d be a bad hockey fan if I didn’t mention the L.A. Megabus.com connection to San Jose.
The Western Conference is still anybody’s guess for the last few playoff spots, but if the Sharks squeeze in and somehow end up facing the Kings – all right, or the Ducks – would you be willing to make a trip to the Shark Tank? Megabus.com stops right outside HP Pavilion…


Capturing the Value of Public Transportation


By Deron Lovaas, March 21, 2013


The American Public Transportation Association (APTA, of which NRDC is a member) and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) rolled out a valuable addition to the lit on transportation today: A study of home-price performance near transit in five metro areas.

The top-line finding? Prices help up an average of 42 percent better from 2006-2011 if a home was located a mile or less from a transit stop.

The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) actually did the analysis, combing through recorder of deeds sales prices and transit station locations for these metros. This is no mean feat, given the regions selected and the sheer number of stops (and the number of sales!):
  • Boston: 134 commuter rail stations, 121 rapid transit stations and 35 bus rapid transit stations;
  • Chicago: 240 commuter rail stations and 144 heavy rail stations;
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul: 19 light rail stations and 6 commuter rail stations;
  • Phoenix: 32 light rail stations; and
  • San Francisco: 59 commuter rail stations (although only 28 are in the study area), 44 heavy rail stations, and 255 stations for light rail, cable cars and streetcars.
The findings of the study for each of the regions are summarized in the graph below, with the x axis set at the overall average residential home sales price for each region between 2006-2011.
The gap in Boston is a chasm, at 129 percent. Then, in order of gap size, Minneapolis-St. Paul (48 percent), San Francisco and Phoenix (37 percent) and Chicago (30 percent).

There's a lot of room for more research in this area moving forward. For example, an astute audience member at a briefing on this hosted by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) today on Capitol Hill in D.C. (for presentations and forthcoming audio and video click here) noted that the study correlated home price changes but didn't delve into how large a causal role transit-proximate location played in the large gaps between home prices.

And while these five regions are well-chosen since they represent a variety of characteristics vis-a-vis geographical siting (NE, MW, SW and W) and transit system attributes (some old and big, some new and small), it would be interesting to now perform similar research in other metros. The good news is that APTA staff tell me that the organization plans to build on this with much more study in more regions.

The bad news is that such analysis needs to happen quickly given new federal policy.

Studies like this can be very useful for making the case that public transportation is valuable beyond monies collected at the farebox, and that value can be captured in innovative financing arrangements. Specifically, if land adjacent to transit stops is projected to increase dramatically in value, then those who own the land can and should ante up to help build the lines and stops that generate that value. This has happened in several places, including right here in D.C. around beautiful Union Station and the "NoMa" Metro stop (NoMa stands simply for "North of Massachusetts Avenue" a main thoroughfare here in D.C.). But there us much untapped value, around both current and future stops.

And there is a newly expanded program that can be tapped for this kind of public-private partnership in the new federal transportation bill: Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). This program ballooned eightfold in the new law, bringing billions of dollars in loans, loan guarantees and lines-of-credit to bear in creative financing arrangements. However, historically TIFIA has mostly funded tolled auto traffic facilities since its inception in 1998. And currently more than 2/3 of "letters of interest" in expanded financing under the new program are for -- you guessed it -- toll bridges or roads!

That's not innovative any more. Submerged-value capture for transit system expansions sure is, though. It's time for transit agencies -- plus local governments, since as someone else at the event today correctly noted they often own the surrounding property -- to reach out to private partners and hammer out proposals that surface the value with analyses such as this new APTA-NAR-CNT study.

I look forward to learning more about the hidden value of transit systems, and expansion proposals, across the country.

California voter's supports for high-speed rail is slipping


By will Reisman, March 20, 2013



Courtesy Rendering

 Cost increases might be leading to less support for the high-speed rail project.

Fewer than half of likely California voters support the state’s proposed high-speed rail project at its current price tag, according to a poll released Wednesday.

In 2008, 52 percent of voters backed a $9.95 billion bond measure for the high-speed rail network.
However, the projected cost of the plan has gone from $34 billion to $68 billion since then.

The more expensive plan has residents wary, as only 43 percent of the 1,138 likely voters interviewed said they would support the project at its current cost, according to the Public Policy Institute of California poll.

The institute’s president, Mark Baldassare, said the majority of opposition to the project came from residents who expressed skepticism about the long-term economic prospects of California.

In total, about $11.5 billion has been secured for the project, meaning an additional $57 billion is still needed. Backers of the plan said the federal government and private investors can make up the shortfall.

Construction on the first segment of the project is scheduled to begin this year in the Central Valley. The fully built-out network from San Francisco to Los Angeles isn’t forecast to be completed until 2028.

In Many Markets, Rail Beats or Competes With Air Travel


By Angie Schmitt, March 22, 2013

 Amtrak is a viable competitor against air travel in a number of city pairs.

It can seem like the image of Amtrak as a second-rate mode – a “Soviet-style monopoly” – is so firmly ingrained that it’s hard to shake. Even as more people choose to ride trains.

Today at Network blog Better Institutions, Shane Phillips shares this graphic that shows how competitive Amtrak is in certain markets. It’s amazing, given all the ways our political system undermines rail transportation, that it still manages to surpass air travel in some cases. But there are important reasons for that, he says:
Longer-distance intercity rail gets short shrift as a transportation mode in a lot of circles, often treated as more novelty than honest-to-god mobility solution. Air travel, on the other hand, is generally considered completely legitimate. In reality, even with relatively poor facilities by international standards–and massive federal investments in airport infrastructure–rail is competitive with air travel in much of the United States, and in some cases vastly more popular as this chart illustrates.

This is good for everyone, airlines included. Air travel is an incredibly valuable and important transportation mode, but its utility is severely diminished at distances of 100-500 miles. A smaller share of total travel time is spent cruising in the plane; more is spent getting through security, waiting to board, taxiing, taking off, and landing. Rail is also easier to locate nearer the core of dense metro populations (where people usually ultimately want to go), something airlines can’t really do with their huge geographical footprint and noisy planes. Where city-pair distances and populations warrant rail travel, pressure is taken off the airlines to provide these shorter, less profitable domestic routes. This then allows them to provide more international and longer-distance flights, improving airlines’ extremely thin profit margins and reducing overall airport congestion. Air travel is also much more polluting than rail–electrified rail in particular.
Just imagine if these routes were prioritized the way highway development is.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Baltimore Spokes shares a flowchart mapping the deleterious effects of widespread car ownership on society. And Streets.mn attempts an accounting of all the ways we subsidize growth in the United States.

Comments to the article: 
  • kevd  
    Let's not put down the fine rail transportation system of the Soviet Union by comparing it to Amtrak. While a state monopoly, the Soviet rail system served just about every city, town, and a heck of a lot of villages in the Soviet Union. The technology may have been (and possibly still is) some what antiquated, and the trains were not high speed, but they were and are affordable and frequent.
  • Andy
    I wish I could use train more, but it just never appeals to me. For all trips I always look at the cost to fly, train, and drive. What it comes to is that while I could drive anywhere in the country for cheaper than the other methods, it might take a few days and I value my time more apparently (a 7 day vacation with 4 days driving just isn't a vacation). Train travel has always come us as slower than flying even accounting for time to get to the airport a few hours early, and the worst part is that it costs more too. Why would I take a train for 20 hours at $400/pp when I can fly it for slightly less but in only 8 hours? As a result, my only train trip has been 4 hours in the PNW, as crossing the border by plane was exceedingly expensive but the train was the same amount of time.
  • Avatar
    tacony palmrya  

    Is there any way to get mode split numbers that include buses and private auto? You're missing so much of the picture by only looking at rail vs air. LA to SD looks impressive until you consider that the vast majority of people traveling between those two cities are driving their private auto.
  • Avatar

    I'm an avid transit supporter and regular Amtrak rider between NYC and Albany, and NYC and Philly or DC. (20+ Amtrak trips/year.) Unfortunately, Amtrak sure feels like a Soviet-style monopoly. Trains regularly have baffling three or even four hour delays, are typically packed, and the wifi is unreliable. The airline style, yield management pricing means that you can pay a lot and then have to hope you get lucky and not sit next to a sloshing toilet with no window, and no Wifi. Bolt Bus is much cheaper, better wifi, and more reliable schedule. (How that is possible is hard to fathom since Amtrak has a dedicated right of way, and Bolt has to deal with road congestion. ) The bright side is that given how lame Amtrak can be, it's still competitive in short haul markets. An Amtrak that wasn't saddled with massive legacy costs and wasn't using cash flow from the NE Corridor to subsidize German tourists visiting small towns in Texas, could be an amazing thing.

Long Beach Transit, Please Go (More) Electric


By Brian Addison, March 22, 2013

 Mitsubishi, and other bus makers, have developed all electric buses.

Long Beach Transit (LBT) is considering two common, albeit game-changing RFPs (depending on their decisions): to purchase new buses that fit within the so-called alternative fuel sectors–that is, hybrid, CNG, or electric.
Before I even make another statement, there are two that shouldn’t even be on that list–and it isn’t electric.

As dollar signs float through the various minds of various transit board members across the globe, let’s first break down LBT’s two current RFPs.

The first one was issued last October following the receiving of the Department of Transportation’s Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) grant. It also acted as one of LBT’s most progressive: instead of simply following the grant’s requirement of reducing GHG emissions and energy costs, which means any alternative fuel buses could be purchased with the grant monies, LBT decided to offer an addition of Prop Bond 1B funds to obtain a 10 bus fleet of zero emission electric buses. If succeeded and followed through, it would be the largest electric bus fleet in the nation.

This RFP, whose applicants were narrowed down this past February, has been slightly delayed following LBT staff’s recommendation of one company over another and has prompted the Board to reevaluate their recommendation process. Deferring their vote and holding study sessions, the LBT Board was presented with a breakdown of how the staff went about not just the RFP, but their decision.

In an interesting contradiction to bringing in electric buses, Board Member  Lori Ann Mitchell asked if LBT was required to spend the grant on electric buses–to which LBT Maintenance and Facilities Executive Director Rolando Cruz explained that, while not required, the 1B funds LBT would put up themselves allow them to purchase ten of the more expensive, zero-emission electric buses that the grant alone would not permit them to do.

Mitchell’s mind was thinking finances: so LBT could purchase 10 CNG vehicles with just the grant alone–thereby saving the transit company some $3.8 million in 1B funds–or they could get 10 electric buses and lose said funds.

Devil’s advocate. And not in a good way.

The second RFP, whose submissions were due earlier this week after being issued back in December of 2012, is a five-year procurement of some 118 transit buses. Though not specified in the RFP, electric bus makers CAN apply–and one can only hope they do. If they go electric, it will become the world’s largest electric transit fleet.

So I ask LBT one thing: please go electric.

CNG is, for the most part, just slightly cleaner than the next worst thing–even though it wows municipalities with its lower price of fuel.  As one study explicitly states in its conclusion, “the use of natural gas is not a guarantee that emissions will actually drop.”

Even further, we have a tendency to immediately feel positive about things that we call “green”–a point made in New York Times article by University of Manchester Professor Kevin Anderson, who flat-out called natural gas a “very bad fuel” with “very high emissions indeed.” And this stirs fears that we end up, like diesel, dependent upon natural gas rather than actually substituting it.

Studies have concluded that, while CNG buses are more advantageous regarding emissions of particle mass compared to diesel buses, they actually emit MORE CO particles1,2,3–particularly when they are lean burn fuel controlled (which had significantly higher NOx and THC emission rates than diesel as well) rather than stoichiometric fuel controlled (which has relatively lower CO2 and THC emission rates but significantly lower CO and NOx rates).

CNG also has a higher fuel consumption rate than diesel, an inept fuel performance rate, and a cost that doesn’t seem to outweigh the benefit.

Electric buses, you have zero emissions–and TRUE zero emissions. Given that electricity rates are increasing at some 2% per year versus crude oil increasing at 8%, you save–while keeping the money in-state rather than abroad since electricity money is generated typically in-state. This isn’t mentioning other maintenance costs: an electric bus’s centered maintenance point is replacing a battery–not an engine, alternator, tranny…), noise pollution decreases, a smoother ride…

And the future. To use an all-too-common phrase used today, we want history on our side–and that, at least to lil’ ol’ me, most certainly includes the planet, probably the most important of all.

As LBT, in a show of progressiveness that I am deeply proud of, moves forward with green technology, one can only hope they leap instead since they have the chance to.


1. A. M. Hallquist, M. Jerksjo, H. Fallgren, J. Westerlund. and A. Sjodin (2012). Particle and gaseous emissions from individual diesel and CNG buses. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion.

>2. Comparison of Unregulated Emissions from CNG Buses With and Without After-Treatment Technologies, presented at the 22nd CRC Real World Emissions Workshop, 2012.

>3. Proposed Exhaust Emission Rates for CNG Transit Buses in MOVES2013, presented by the EPA on September 25, 2012.

Mapping the Noxious Ozone Plumes Over Houston


By John Metcalfe, March 22, 2013

Mapping the Noxious Ozone Plumes Over Houston


Smartphone technology makes it easy nowadays to avoid thunderstorms. Just download a Doppler-radar app, and you'll rarely be caught in the middle of a cornfield with a monster tornado passing through.

And now there's an app that monitors chemical weather – in particular, the noxious clouds of ozone that noiselessly drift through cities, scorching lungs, triggering asthma attacks and herding urbanites toward their premature deaths.

The free "OzoneMap" (iTunes, Google) will only help the residents of Houston, but that's no small thing: The Houston/Baytown/Huntsville region comes in eighth place for most ozone-polluted cities in America, as ranked by the American Lung Association. Persistently sunny weather, a battalion of petrochemical facilities and scads of fuming cars on the road make Houston a nightmare for anyone who's chemically sensitive. For these folks, walking outside is like playing a lower-stakes version of Russian roulette, with 30 to 40 days of the year fogged with hazardous levels of ozone.

Texas does post hourly ozone readings from a couple dozen monitors throughout the Houston area, but their Excel-like appearance with flurries of numbers might be daunting to people who like a more visual presentation. That's where the OzoneMap comes in. Designed by specialists at the University of Houston, the Air Alliance Houston and the American Lung Association, the program shows a real-time map of Houston stalked by huge red and purple blobs, representing ozone blown about on the wind.

The app makes it clear that while some neighborhoods might be rife with foul air, others are relatively clean. Theoretically, if people were fleet-footed enough they could use the app to beat a course through the city that avoided these crawling toxic air masses altogether.

The researchers say they hope this technology will be helpful to people who've become desensitized enough to Houston's reoccurring ozone storms that they don't check the weather each day. Now, all we need is an app like this for every major city in the world (London's already got one!), and we all can breathe safely.

Car Exhaust Hurts Children as Much as Second-Hand Smoke


By John Metcalfe, March 22, 2013

 Car Exhaust Hurts Children as Much as Second-Hand Smoke



Having your children live near a busy highway is kind of like keeping them penned in the smoking area of a Greyhound bus station, according to a new study.

European researchers applied a statistical technique known as "population-attributable fractions" to existing data to root out how much childhood asthma can be blamed on heavy traffic. Their conclusion: 14 percent of chronic asthma in kids is caused by car exhaust, which falls into the 4 to 18 percent bracket of childhood asthma cases resulting from exposure to second-hand smoke, as per World Health Organization estimates.

To come up with this concerning conclusion, the researchers examined health data in 10 European cities and ruled out contributing factors like chain-smoking parents and socioeconomic status. Here's the nut of their findings as reported by the European Lung Foundation:
Until now, traffic pollution was assumed to only trigger asthma symptoms and burden estimations did not account for chronic asthma caused by the specific range of toxicants that are found near heavily used roads along which many Europeans live....
Lead author, Dr Laura Perez at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, said: "Air pollution has previously been seen to trigger symptoms but this is the first time we have estimated the percentage of cases that might not have occurred if Europeans had not been exposed to road traffic pollution. In light of all the existing epidemiological studies showing that road-traffic contributes to the onset of the disease in children, we must consider these results to improve policy making and urban planning."
The full study will be coming out soon in the European Respiratory Journal in the midst of the European Union's celebration of the "Year of Air," a very necessary-sounding campaign to improve air quality across the continent.


NFL Stadium Failure Could Tank Pershing Square Makeover


By Eve Bachrach, March 21, 2013


It looks like the big Pershing Square redevelopment might end up being collateral damage in the big (probable) Farmers Field failure. Last month City Councilmember Jose Huizar announced that LA Live/Downtown NFL stadium developer AEG would kick in $700,000 to get the project started, but it seems there were some strings attached. Downtown News reports that Huizar "acknowledged that the funds will only materialize if the Farmers Field football stadium moves forward." Another hurdle? Huizar expects fans of Ricardo Legorreta--who designed the latest Pershing Square iteration--to object to any reimagining of the space. But despite all that, the councilmember is optimistic that the project will move forward with or without AEG. "Where there's a will, there's a way," he said--words that have signaled the death of many a project before this one.

New Development Not Top Priority for Union Station Area Plan


By Eve Bachrach, March 21, 2013



The Union Station Master Planners released a project update this week, laying out how they intend to move forward with the enormous task of improving the historic station and the 40ish acres around it. The planners have concluded, quite sensibly, that there will have to be some compromises and tradeoffs in the decisions ahead of them--for one thing, top priority in the plan will go to making the station work as a transit hub, rather than to the development of the land around Union Station. This reverses the priorities of the station's previous owners, and explains some of the site's current user unfriendliness. The report lists a loooong list of challenges facing planners, from Union Station's distance from many of Downtown's attractions and its poor connections to the surrounding site, to the mishmash of incremental changes the station has seen through the years. So instead of bringing mixed-use development to the area, the focuses of the coming plan will be: improving the passenger experience, making Union Station a destination for visitors and not just a place to pass through, and better connecting the site to its surroundings.

And since that's unlikely to all be accomplished for Union Station's seventy-fifth birthday next year, a few more immediate projects were identified for the meantime, including improving wayfinding around the station and finding new uses for underused historic and unbuilt spaces on the site. But first things first: staff will draft some options for the plans and do another round of public outreach before final alternatives are presented in September.

· Union Station Master Plan Staff Report [Official Document]

German bullet train wins praise from Chattanoogans


By Dave Flessner, March 22, 2013


Germany's DB ICE train arrives at the Dusseldorf train station. The trains are capable of going up to 180 miles per hour.

Germany's DB ICE train arrives at the Dusseldorf train station. The trains are capable of going up to 180 miles per hour.

MUNICH, Germany — As Germany's bullet train whisked through central Germany on Thursday at nearly 180 miles an hour, cars speeding along adjacent highways appear to be barely moving.

"It's a lot different from the Amtrak trains I've ridden in the Northeast," said Greg Vital, president of Independent Healtcare Properties of Chattanooga and one of 40 Chattanoogans who rode the Deutsche Bahn ICE train from Dusseldorf to Munich.

Germany's fastest train won universal acclaim from the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce delegation on Thursday as part of the group's weeklong trip through Germany.

"It was much smoother than I thought it would be and I would recommend it to anyone." said Dick Dillard, a former owner of Fast Break Athletics in Chattanooga. "I think if people get a taste of this kind of train riding, they are going to love it."

Choo. A decade and a half after the federal government first began putting money into studying a high-speed maglev train between Chattanooga and Atlanta, the train has yet to leave the station or even to get much on track.

An initial $7.9 million environmental impact statement has been prepared outlining four different routes along Interstate 75 for a new bullet train. Backers hope the Chattanooga-to-Atlanta link could be a starting piece for a high-speed line that could eventually run from Miami to Chicago.

The preliminary study was completed last spring and another $3.3 million of local funds have been pledged to match federal funds for a more detailed, $16.3 million study of the engineering and site analysis for any high-speed train.


But before additional studies are made and funds spent, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Highway Administration must approve the initial "Tier 1" environmental study.

Jill Goldberg, communications director for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said the final "record of decision" from the federal government may not come until mid to late 2015. Only then could the next study phase begin.

GDOT, which is handling the study of the proposed Atlanta-to-Chattanooga rail link, has asked for an expedited decision, and both FRA and FHA will try to decide on the case at the same time.
The Georgia Legislature has allocated the money for its share of the second environmental study.

Support for rapid rail also appears to be slowing in much of the country and Washington's budget shortfall threatens to undermine federal support for ambitous new projects.

Other states that once pushed for high-speed rail, including Florida and Wisconsin, have backed away from such projects, claiming they are too costly during tough economic times. California continues to pursue a high-speed rail network since 52 percent of the voters in 2008 backed a $9.95 billion bond measure for high-speed rail link from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which was originally forecast to cost $34 billion. Since then, however, the projected cost of the plan has swelled to $68 billion and a Public Policy Institute survey released this week found that only 43 percent of California voters say they would support the project at its current cost.

In total, about $11.5 billion has been secured for the California project, meaning an additional $57 billion is still needed. Backers of the plan said the federal government and private investors can make up the shortfall.

Despite the delays, Chattanooga backers of the high-speed rail project insist the project is still on track and eventually bullet trains will be needed as another transportation option in America.

"The recession changed a lot of things, but the money has been appropriated and we believe this is certainly a very worthwhile project that is moving ahead," said Wayne Cropp, president of the Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, which is coordinating Chattanooga's role in the multi-state project. "This could be another transforming project in Chattanooga's development and a key to our future."

Cropp said consultants working with the Enerprise Center are working to expedite federal approval of environmental studies to move the project analysis along much quicker.


A high-speed train built on Maglev technology would be faster, smoother and more efficient than the old passenger rail service that Chattanooga lost in 1971 when Amtrak pulled out of Chattanooga. Maglev trains like the Shanghai Maglev train China has operated since 2005 could reach up to 300 miles an hour. China recently set a new record by successfully testing the longest high-speed rail line in the world, capable of covering 700 kilometers in only two and a half hours.

"That's getting to be aircraft speed and at that point, they're almost flying on the rail," said Dr. Will Sutton, dean of the UTC school of engineering. "It's amazing for a country like Germany to be able to get across it in only a few hours.. I'd like to see that technology come to America."

The train carries students, business leaders, families, tourists and others at speeds more than double the fastest Amtrak routes in the United States.

But its unclear if Americans are willing to give up their love affair with the automoible and climb on board the train.

"It's hard to get started in America," said Brian Anderson, president of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce. "The Germans have developed an intermodal system in a tradition of using rail transportation."

But Anderson said a high speed rail line between Chattanooga and Atlanta would help ease traffic congestion and offer an important alternative for transportation for the future.

California bullet train approves MOU freeing up $705M for Caltrain


By Eric Young, March 21, 2013



Caltrain can expect funding for its electrification work thanks to a new deal with bullet train planners.

 Caltrain can expect funding for its electrification work thanks to a new deal with bullet train planners.
California bullet train planners have approved an agreement with Caltrain that will help the Peninsula commuter train modernize and electrify.

The deal, approved March 18, will free up $705 million authorized under Proposition 1A, the California ballot measure passed in 2008 approving nearly $10 billion in bonds for the bullet train.

That is a little less than half the amount needed to electrify the 50-mile Caltrain route between San Francisco and San Jose. The state’s $705 million will be matched thorough a combination of federal, regional and local funding, the California High-Speed Rail Authority said.

Caltrain hopes to electrify the corridor by 2019.

Another element in the memorandum of understanding between the bullet train and Caltrain is a so-called “blended system” in which California’s high-speed rail will share tracks with Caltrain along the Peninsula.

Caltrain officials promoted the idea of sharing track, saying it would both save money and address concerns from residents that building additional tracks would increase the likelihood of seizures under eminent domain.

The MOU won approval from Caltrain’s board March 7. The California High-Speed Rail Authority approved the MOU 5-0. Board member Lynn Schenk, who has opposed the blended approach and voted against it in the past, was absent.

Ride Your Bike to These Cafes, Get a Free Beer or Meal


 March 21, 2013

If you show up on a bike at one of a string of businesses in São Paulo, Brazil, you'll get a reward for leaving your car behind. A bar, two restaurants, a creperie, and a cake shop all offer treats for cyclists, ranging from fresh juice or mate to a free salad.

Though biking is becoming more popular in São Paulo, it still isn't common; the city of 11 million got its first bike lane only a few years ago, and for many, biking is still seen as a form of recreation rather than transportation. The small steps these local businesses are taking might help nudge more people to ride. Each business also has bike racks outside. The racks actually came first, and the businesses soon realized there would be advantages to giving cyclists an incentive to come inside.

For other cities, could this type of program help alleviate (car) parking woes? Cafes and other local businesses might end up with more customers if they're arriving on two wheels instead of circling the block in a car. And every bike-riding customer is also a win for the environment. As cycling infrastructure in cities struggles to catch up with the need for alternative transportation, is there a need for more creative incentives like these?
This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship—weekly steps to being an active, engaged global citizen. This week: Take An Alternate Route. Follow along and join the conversation at good.is/citizenship and on Twitter at #goodcitizen.

San Francisco set to push transit benefits for commuters


By Joshua Sabatini, March 21, 2013


Getty Images File Photo

The City is working to strengthen enforcement of a law that requires larger businesses offer employees commuter benefits.

After fighting to stave off reductions to federal tax breaks for public transit commuters, San Francisco is on the verge of strengthening enforcement of a 4-year-old law that requires larger businesses to offer employees commuter benefits.

The Environment Commission will vote Tuesday on new enforcement regulations, which would create a process for how complaints and investigations would be handled to ensure compliance with the 2009 law.

Last year, Mayor Ed Lee and other city officials lobbied Congress to restore funding for the pretax commuter benefit. The program allows commuters to use pretax dollars to pay for riding public transit. Last year, Congress failed to extend a parity provision in the program and the benefit decreased from an allowable deduction of $230 per month to $125. At the same time, the benefit for parking increased to $240, adjusted for inflation.

But on Jan. 1, the pretax commuter benefit increased to $245 as part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

With the parity of the benefit restored, “the department wants to ensure that all eligible San Francisco employees are aware of and take advantage of the benefit,” said Guillermo Rodriguez, spokesman for the Department of the Environment.

Under the proposed regulations, a complaint filed with the department would trigger an investigation, and if the grievance had merit the business would receive a warning notice. The business would also face penalties of up to $500 if it did not come into compliance within 90 days.

Under San Francisco’s Commuter Benefits Ordinance, all businesses with 20 or more workers nationwide must offer one of three transit benefits: The pretax deduction, up to $245 per month, for transit or van pool expenses; transit subsidies valued at $74, the cost of a monthly Muni pass; or a van pool from a worker’s home to place of business. Businesses with fewer than 20 employees are exempt.

“Thousands of San Francisco workers have taken advantage of the commuter benefit, saving hundreds of dollars annually,” Rodriguez said. “The proposed regulations simply make the process of enforcement clear, easy to understand and aligned with how The City manages other required employee benefits” such as minimum wage, per-employee spending on health care and paid sick leave.

Employees using the benefit save between 25 percent to 40 percent on their transit expenses, or between $200 and $1,000 annually, according to information provided by the department.