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

Monday, March 25, 2013

Study: Homes Near Transit Were Insulated From the Housing Crash 

By Tanya Snyder, March 22, 2013


Percent change in average residential sales prices relative to the region, 2006-11.

If you live close to a transit station, chances are you’ve weathered the recession better than your friends who don’t.

Your transportation costs are probably lower, since you can take transit instead of driving. Transit-served areas are usually more walkable and bikeable too, multiplying your options. And while home values plummeted during a recession that was triggered by a massive housing bubble, your home probably held its value relatively well – if you live near transit.

The National Association of Realtors and the American Public Transportation Association commissioned the Center for Neighborhood Technology to study the impact of transit access on home values during the recession. For the report, “The New Real Estate Mantra: Location Near Public Transportation” [PDF], CNT looked at five metro regions — Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and San Francisco.
While nearly everyone in hard-hit cities experienced some setback from tanking housing prices, transit-served areas were largely insulated from the worst of it, CNT found:
Across the study regions, the transit shed outperformed the region as a whole by 41.6 percent. In all of the regions the drop in average residential sales prices within the transit shed was smaller than in the region as a whole or the non-transit area. Boston station areas outperformed the region the most (129 percent), followed by Minneapolis-St. Paul (48 percent), San Francisco and Phoenix (37 percent), and Chicago (30 percent).
This is consistent with a study released last year by the Center for Housing Policy showing that access to rail transit created a “transit premium” for nearby home values of between six and 50 percent. That study, like CNT’s, looked at Minneapolis and Chicago, as well as Portland. The Center for Transit Oriented Development has also looked at this phenomenon and found transit premiums as high as 150 percent.

Not surprisingly, not all transit types fared the same in CNT’s research. Stations with frequent service that are part of a well-connected transit network gave the biggest boost to home values. Those households, naturally, have better access to jobs and lower transportation costs.

Additionally, there’s variation because different types of transit serve different types of neighborhoods. Commuter rail station neighborhoods tend not to be as walkable and compact as those served by high-frequency, well-connected transit like subways, light rail, or BRT — and one WalkScore point reportedly worth an additional $3,000 in a home’s value. In examining office rents in walkable and non-walkable areas, real estate developer Chris Leinberger attributed two-thirds of the walkable areas’ better performance to walkability.

In Boston, close-in residences lost the least value (dark green) compared to those in the suburbs (dark orange) but even close-in commuter-rail-served areas got hit hard. 

Phoenix is not known for being a transit-rich city. Indeed, only 2 percent of the region’s households live within a half-mile walk of a Metro station. Even within the transit shed, just 9.1 percent of workers commute via transit. Still, even a relatively weak transit system showed substantial benefits for nearby homeowners: Their home values outperformed the area by 36.8 percent, with apartments faring the best.

Apartment living also paid off in Boston, a far more transit-rich city, where a third of workers with transit access use it to get to work – and more than half of transit-served residents commuting via transit, biking, or walking. Those folks didn’t just save on transportation – their home values fared 226.7 percent better than the region as whole if they were served by rapid transit. Homes served by commuter rail actually declined even more than the regional average, even in relatively close-in areas. As in Phoenix, apartments lost the least value.

In Chicago, home prices dropped by nearly a third between 2006 and 2011, but if you lived near transit, your home lost almost 30 percent less value than the region at large – especially if you lived near the L, in which case you did 47.3 percent better. Commuter rail-served areas got a somewhat smaller boost at 22.7 percent. In Chicago, it was townhouses, not apartments, that saw the smallest decline.

San Francisco has the most widely-used transit service of any of the study areas, with 40 percent of workers with transit access riding it to get to work and another 21 percent walking or biking. San Francisco’s housing prices were among the hardest hit of the five regions, but those served by Muni outperformed the rest of the region by 61.6 percent. BART access added only about 35 percent, with transit access in general helping boost home values, relative to the region as a whole, by 37.2 percent.

Report from which this report is extracted,  "The New Real Estate Mantra:  Location Near Public Transportation", can be found here:

Community Guides on Air Quality Mitigation and NEPA for Freight Projects.

From Sylvia Plummer, March 25, 2013


NRDC recently wrote two new community guides that we hope will be a resource for communities across the country concerned about the harmful air pollution from the transportation of freight.  These toolkits are designed to assist communities, and suggest strategies to reduce diesel pollution in their neighborhoods.You can find them at this website: http://www.nrdc.org/air/diesel-exhaust/community-resources.asp.

On the website, you can also find infographics on the health impacts of diesel and an overview of freight transportation’s huge impacts and solutions. We've translated them into Spanish and have attached them here for your use. We hope to have the community guides translated into Spanish in the coming months.

Lizzeth Henao
Air Program Assistant
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
1314 Second Street
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: 310.434.2300  Fax: 310.434.2399
P  Please consider the environment before printing this email

Bill Clinton endorses Greuel for mayor


By Kevin Roderick, March 25, 2013


 Thumbnail image for greuel-presser-step-repeat.jpg

Mayoral finalist Wendy Greuel unveiled one of her big guns on Monday, announcing the endorsement of former president Bill Clinton. She served in the Clinton Administration for a time around the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

"I'm proud to support Wendy Greuel for Mayor of Los Angeles," Clinton says in an email from the Greuel campaign. "Throughout her career, whether in the public or private sector, Wendy has been a smart, dedicated, and creative problem-solver. She knows how to make government work for ordinary people, and she's been doing it for decades, not only when times are good, but especially during periods of crisis.

"I saw this strength of Wendy's first-hand in 1994, when she was a valued member of my administration's Department of Housing and Urban Development. When the Northridge Earthquake struck -- causing so much loss of life and destruction -- Wendy sprang into action. She helped deliver over a billion dollars in federal emergency aid to Los Angeles residents and worked around the clock to assist families who lost their homes."

Greuel will be at Cal State Northridge this afternoon to talk about her role in earthquake relief. She is billed as bringing along Supervisor Gloria Molina and Robin Kramer, the former chief of staff for mayors Richard Riordan and Antonio Villaraiogsa.

Bill Clinton endorsing Wendy Greuel? But why?*


By Mark Lacter, March 25, 2013



 This is certainly good news - at least it's headline news - for a campaign that's been a little glassy-eyed of late. And yet it's hard to understand how the former president has much genuine understanding of L.A.'s problems or why the L.A. Controller would be all that superior a choice than City Councilman Eric Garcetti. Both Greuel and Garcetti are Democrats, both are quite similar ideologically, and both are earnest, decent people. Why Wendy over Eric? From the LAT:

Clinton has often endorsed people who have been loyal to his family, either helpful during his time at the White House or supporters of his wife's unsuccessful 2008 presidential run. Greuel fits both categories -- in addition to being an early and active backer of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, she worked in the Clinton administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In announcing his support, Clinton highlighted Greuel's time at HUD. "When the Northridge earthquake struck -- causing so much loss of life and destruction -- Wendy sprang into action," Clinton wrote. "She helped deliver over a billion dollars in federal emergency aid to Los Angeles residents and worked around the clock to assist families who lost their homes."
Sprang into action? More than anyone else back home? And if she did such a great job with Northridge, why haven't we heard more about it? (I'm sure we will at an event later today in the Valley.) Maybe the biggest question is why Clinton felt the need to put his nose into this at all? It's not as if his endorsement will necessarily mean much - as the Times points out, he actively supported Gavin Newsom over Jerry Brown in the governor's race and we know how well that worked. Of course, he did help rescue President Obama from the brink.

*Reader has an interesting point: "If Gruel wins election as mayor, her endorsement of Hilary Clinton in 2016 is more important than if she loses. This may help Gruel win and it ensures her loyalty."

This Could Be the World's Most Uncomfortable Pedestrian Crossing


By John Metcalfe, March 25, 2013


This Could Be the World's Most Uncomfortable Pedestrian Crossing

You've got to respect this curious bit of infrastructure out of Nanning, a city of about 6.6 million people in southern China. Do it right and you shave a few minutes off your commute; handle it wrong and you might find yourself sprawled on the ground with a golfball-sized knot growing on your forehead.

The ceiling of this highway underpass measures only 4 feet 3 inches tall, according to Newscom, which has a photo of pedestrians crouching under it with the unfortunate headline, "Peking Duck." The crossing is popular with bicyclists and motor-scooter riders as well, according to the below Mandarin-language news report. You really hope they have Navy SEALS-type situational awareness, given that so few of them choose to wear helmets.

The underpass has been the site of numerous close calls, according to one person quoted by Newscom: "I've seen lots of people nearly knock themselves out on it because they're not used to it." But local authorities say pedestrians are needlessly putting themselves in danger of a concrete K.O. That's because the shoulder-hunching thoroughfare is not designed for day-to-day foot traffic – rather, it's a "river crossing" meant to help out during Nanning's perennial floods. "If pedestrians don't like it they can walk somewhere else," said one town-hall representative.

Between the Lilliputian underpass and this rainbow-vomiting wonder, Nanning is building up a reputation for City of Improbable Bridges:

Will New Oil Supplies Slow the Transition to Green Transportation?


By Tanya Snyder, March 25, 2013

What if peak oil doesn’t take care of gas-guzzling by cutting off the supply?
Oil exploration has moved from deepwater drilling to pumping on the plains of North Dakota. 

The Saudi oil fields may be finite, but new sources like the Canadian tar sands and the North Dakota oil shale keep opening up. That poses a challenge to the shift away from carbon-intensive transportation, according to Deborah Gordon, who studies transportation oils at the Carnegie Endowment’s Energy & Climate Program.

“The real paradigm shift in the past year is abundance,” Gordon said last Friday at the book launch for Transport Beyond Oil, a new examination of the possibilities for transforming transportation.

“We’ve moved, in the last year and a half, [away] from oil scarcity,” Gordon said. “We’ve been living since the seventies, and even before, thinking, ‘America uses so much, there’s only so much oil to be accessed and there’s a scarcity.’ That’s the paradigm shift. The transformation of transportation off oil now in the face of oil abundance — North American and global oil abundance — is going to be the most important lift of all and the heaviest lift of all.”

There are 160 types of oils being traded worldwide today and some of them have a heavier carbon footprint than traditional crude. North Dakota shale oil fracked from the Bakken formation is light and emits relatively less carbon than normal crude, though fracking itself is a highly controversial and potentially environmentally devastating process. Meanwhile, Canadian tar sands oil, which is higher in carbon and as thick as window putty — and about seven times more abundant than the light oil from the northern plains – requires extra, carbon-intensive processes to extract it and make it flow through pipelines, producing high-carbon byproducts.

Transportation accounts for 70 percent of the oil used in the United States and a third of all carbon emissions. Any attempt to wean the U.S. off oil will have to tackle transportation. To avoid catastrophic climate change, that effort is as crucial as ever. But with a newfound abundance of oil supplies, will the incentives to make the shift lose power?

Maybe not. One thing that hasn’t changed with oil abundance is the price. “In spite of the decreased scarcity, price is still a problem,” said Deron Lovaas of the Natural Resources Defense Council at the book launch. “There is still a global marketplace that determines the price of oil and there’s still a cartel whose countries depend on a lot of revenue from oil sales.” Oil price volatility is likely here to stay, he added.

Gordon says she’s not so sure prices will remain high. “Look at natural gas,” she told me in an email today. “Abundance usually brings down prices.”

Then again, she said, the “oil paradigm shift” will probably cause the price to fluctuate as unpredictably as ever. No matter what happens with the global market price, she said, “we will need policy, now more than ever, to navigate oil abundance.”

Good policies can provide a strong incentive to burn less gas even if prices do fall. A carbon tax, of course, would be one path. Carnegie’s David Burwell has proposed another one, targeted specifically at the transportation sector: raising the gas tax when the price of gas goes down, which would make prices more predictable for consumers and prevent low gas prices from sending the wrong signal.
MyFigueroa Unveils New Designs: Promises Cycletracks, Transit Lanes and More for South Fig, MLK, and 11th


By Damien Newton, March 25, 2013


 The future of South Figueroa at 11th Street? Doesn't seem far fetched now.

The MyFigueroa team will be presenting all their images and renderings at the Andrew Norman Hall Orthopaedic Hospital at 5:30 pm on April 9th. Get the event details at the MyFigueroa website. Of course, we’ll be Live Streaming at Streetsblog TV. Bookmark our event page now.

It seems like just yesterday a team of Los Angeles’ most progressive planners and international planning rock stars from Gehl Architects unveiled some planning images showing how the rather bleak South Figueroa Corridor could be transformed into a complete street. While the public was “mostly positive,” it seemed a stretch that such a project would ever take place in Los Angeles.

In truth, it wasn’t yesterday. It was over two years ago. But despite some major hurdles, such as the minor issue of the dissolution of the Community Redevelopment Agency responsible for the project, the $20 million project should be completed on-time before the end of 2014.

The newly released images don’t look quite as dramatic as the ones shown a in 2011, but still promise bus only lanes, new transit waiting areas, fixed sidewalks, zebra crosswalks and the minor issue of separated bike lanes, proudly marked as “cycletracks” in MyFigueroa’s promotional materials.

“While our design still includes cycletracks on Fig, as we have always shown, we have more to share about the design of the entire corridor, and the multimodal components serving pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders,” writes Melani Smith, the president and principal of Melndrez Design Partners, the firm who has teh lead on the project. “We think there’s something in our design for all kinds of people using the streets.  Ultimately, we’re planning a corridor that is a safer, more comfortable place for people to be.”

The project isn’t just about improving Figueroa Street between 7th Street (in Downtown Los Angeles) and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard  (in South Los Angeles) by offering a full buffet of safe and comfortable transportation options. It also includes new streetscapes on 11th Street between Figueroa Street and Broadway and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Figueroa Street and Vermont Avenue.

“I am thrilled that the pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders in Downtown and South Los Angeles are benefactors of the 2006 State of California bond measure that provides funding for the implementation of new infrastructure,” writes Deborah Murphy of Deborah Murphy Urban Design + Planning, another project partner. “The MyFigueroa! project supports the development of new housing, particularly affordable housing, in dense transit-oriented urban neighborhoods.”

Funding for the project comes from Proposition C funds, dedicated towards improving transportation and quality of life for residents of affordable housing. Despite the advanced design and secured funding, the project isn’t finalized yet. LADOT, the lead agency with the city, is completing and environmental study on the traffic impacts of the study. Under new legislation passed into law last year, the city does not need to complete a full CEQA review.
11th and Hope. 

Along Figueroa Corridor, there are two different sections with different layouts. Between 7th and Exposition, the road is 82 feet wide for nearly three miles. South of exposition, Figueroa shrinks to 67 feet for another mile. In this second stretch, the separated bike lane is replaced by a traditional bike lane as the parking buffer dissapears. The bike lane itself shrinks from eight feet to five feet in the same space. The number of traffic lanes also shrinks in the 67 foot section. North of exposition the road design calls for five mixed use travel lanes. South of exposition it’s down to four mixed use lanes and a bus only lane. The bus only lane provides a buffer of sorts for bike traffic heading south.
Along 11th street from Figueroa to Broadway, the existing two lanes of westbound one-way traffic will be shrunk to one lane.  The single remaining lane is designed for both the existing car traffic and the future L.A. Downtown Streetcar A one-way westbound bicycle facility will be provided on the street as well, and will be separated from moving traffic by a painted buffer. On the north side of the street, existing sidewalks will be expanded as possible, providing a much more generous pedestrian realm with planting and seating.

The improvements along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will be somewhat less dramatic, but will provided needed relief for pedestrians and transit riders in the under=supported area. Improvements will be made to the pedestrian zone on the north side of the street by repairing the paving, increasing pedestrian scale lighting and adding street trees.

On the south side of the street, the physical configuration of the sidewalk cannot be changed, but paving will be repaired and lighting improved as needed and possible. Transit waiting areas on both the north and south side of the street will be improved as needed, and to the extent that space constraints allow, and connections across the street facilitated by highly visible crosswalk striping.

In the weeks leading up to April 9th event, more and more details of the program will come out. As we mentioned above, we’ll be broadcasting the meeting on Streetsblog TV. We’re told the wi-fi isn’t the best at Andrew Norman Hall Orthopaedic Hospital, so we’ll repost all the raw footage on April 10.
San Rafael Neighborhood Update

Email from Councilmember Steve Madison, District 6, March 25, 2013


We recently held our quarterly District 6 Town Hall; here’s a quick update on some of the important developments we discussed.

·         Police Chief Phil Sanchez updated us on police activity in West Pasadena and Citywide, and the news was mostly encouraging: property crime is up slightly, violent crime is down. The multi-City burglary task force our Police Department formed has been effective at disrupting residential burglaries. We are supporting a gun buyback program to take guns off the street. For crime stats, click HERE; link HERE to learn more about the gun buyback.

·         The March 2 groundbreaking ceremony for the Fire Station 39 renovation was a tremendous success, and this vital Fire Station will reopen later this year. For more information about the ceremony, see the District 6 site HERE. (Video footage of Fire Chief Wells’ talk at the opening is here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=223M_vy8JI8)

·         On March 7, at sunset (6:01 p.m.), Mayor Bogaard, Tournament of Roses Executive VP Rich Chinen, City Manager Michael Beck and I held a ceremony at Defenders Parkway, celebrating the completion of a lighting project and the Tournament’s contributions. Pictures and updates about this terrific project are available on the District 6 website.

·         A small but significant victory in the ongoing battle against the 710 extension! My friend, Glendale Councilmember Ara Najarian was re-elected to the METRO Board last week, ensuring that the opposition to the 710 tunnel will continue to have a strong advocate on that body. For more information, see this summary HERE.

For information about the next Town Hall, and other happenings throughout West Pasadena, stay tuned to the District 6 website: http://www.ci.pasadena.ca.us/District6/.


Steve Madison
Councilmember, District 6
Balancing Safety, Security, and Saturation on the Blue Line — Part I

By Sahra Sulaiman, March 25, 2013 

 "Heads Up! Watch for Trains!" is seen on the train passing the memorial for Gilberto Reynaga, struck down by a Blue Line train at age 13 in 1999.

“Nobody uses it,” Liz told me. “There’s dookies in there!”

She was referring to the 53rd St. pedestrian bridge connecting the two halves of the Pueblo del Rio housing development split by the four sets of Blue Line and Pacific Rail train tracks.

Dookies, piss, and people waiting to relieve you of your possessions — the pedestrian bridge unfortunately appears to have it all.
The pedestrian bridge at 53rd St. 

The fact that it sits largely unused — although perhaps unsurprising, given the fact that it is both fully enclosed and very long (favoring ramps over stairs) — is disheartening to say the least. The bridge was constructed in 2001 with the intention of making the community safer.

The project had originally been proposed in 1996, but didn’t move forward until middle-schooler Gilberto Reynaga was killed in 1999 by a passing train. Reynaga and his friend were returning home from playing basketball on a mid-summer’s afternoon when they came across a stopped freight train blocking the intersection at 55th St. and Long Beach Blvd. Apparently thinking that the flashing lights were for the stopped train only, they clambered over it and made their way toward the Blue Line tracks (which run parallel with the Union Pacific tracks for much of their trajectory through South L.A.). They didn’t see the southbound Metro train until they were already on the tracks.

With neighbors screaming at them to get out of the way, they panicked and ran for it. Reynaga didn’t make it, and was subsequently dragged under the train.

The whole community mourned, Liz, whose family runs a mini-market at that intersection, told me. “The funeral was huge — so many people came. It was the biggest funeral ever.”

“The Deadliest Rail Line in the Country” or “The Greatest Concentration of Traffic-Sign-Disobeying People with Death Wishes”?

We’ve all heard the Blue Line called the “deadliest rail line in the country.”

Streetsblog has even done some of that name calling and railed against Metro for suggesting that some of the fault lies with us because “people have a responsibility to obey both the active and passive warning devices.”

Although Metro acknowledges that the deaths of 70+ pedestrians and 28 motorists over the past two decades isn’t something to brag about, it isn’t a title they are willing to accept without some qualification.
All systems engaged at the Vernon station, where a man was killed in January. Even the dog (center) is unconcerned about the approaching train (just out of sight to the left). 

A significant percentage of the deaths along the Blue Line are confirmed suicides — 30 since 1990. Four of the six fatalities last year, in fact, were confirmed as such.

The two pedestrian deaths this year also seem to point to questions of personal responsibility. The gentleman killed at Vernon in January ignored the flashing lights, bells, and lowered pedestrian crossing gate and, according to Metro staff, opened the pedestrian swing gates and, with his hoodie up over his head, walked right in front of the train. Sylvester Henderson, killed at the Century and Grandee intersection, ignored the lowered crossing gates and bells, crossed the Union Pacific tracks, and rode his bike into a Metro train that was already crossing through the intersection.

“People think they can beat the train,” says Vijay Khawani, Executive Officer for Corporate Safety.

And to a degree, that seems to be true. Looking over some of the incidents compiled here (only current through 2008), it is not uncommon to see witness descriptions noting it appeared the decedent or injured party was in a hurry, sometimes tripping and falling in front of the train as they were running to catch it. Implausible as that sounds, a teen I mentored told me that was exactly what had happened to her sister-in-law. Heavily pregnant and worried about being late, she made a dash for the station at San Pedro as the train was pulling in. She was unable to get up when she tripped and fell in front of the train, killing herself and her unborn child.

Even a Metro bus got its back end clipped last year after trying to get through an intersection before the train arrived.

Speaking about safety concerns with myself and Marc Littman (Deputy Executive Officer, Public Relations) in his office the other day, an exasperated Khawani said there wasn’t much he could do if people refused to obey the warnings and gates. He’s even been told by the Public Utilities Commission to be careful about over-saturating crossings with warnings and signs because it can overwhelm and confuse people, ultimately being counterproductive. And, while the Blue Line does not have all the safety features that you see along the Gold and Expo Lines, Khawani assured me it does meet and even exceed minimum safety standards.

Still, suicides aside, pedestrian incidents along the other lines that run at grade are few and the vehicular collisions are usually the fault of an impatient or even distracted driver, like the USC student who, after leaving the showroom lot in his brand new car, was showing off the GPS system to his friends when he drove in front of the Expo Line test train, completely totaling the $67,000 vehicle.

So why does the Blue Line have such a poor record, comparatively?

What if it isn’t the Blue Line?

A number of explanations have been floated for the reason the Blue Line is comparatively deadly, ranging from suggestions that Metro is racist to the idea that the South L.A. community must be to blame. Perhaps the most unusual idea I heard was one offered by a member of Metro’s staff who suggested that the Mexican community that lived along the Gold Line in East L.A. were used to co-existing with rail lines because of their experiences in Mexico, and therefore had more respect for the line.

I am not quite sure how long one has to live near a rail line to get used to it, or what that says about the many people of Mexican origin in South L.A., some of whom have walked in front of trains, but this person was quite convinced that heritage held the key.

Moreover, the community structure and composition also made it easier to do outreach and educate the community, he said. It wasn’t so easy to reach adults in South L.A.

Setting aside any concerns about the implications of that line of thinking, given that Metro’s Spanish translation of the “Do you see lights?” signs their trains sport is incorrect, reading, “Do you look at lights?” (Mira luces?), I wouldn’t necessarily consider Metro Mexican cultural specialists.

After spending a day riding my bike alongside the Blue Line and hanging out at crossings, it seemed to me that, at least at present, the current problem is not racism, non-Mexicans who are not used to trains, the Blue Line itself, or (for the most part) current Metro safety measures.
In Watts, Union Pacific tracks are more easily accesible than the Blue Line tracks, which are fenced off.

The problem, at least from my casual observation, is that only one side of an intersection benefits from Metro’s safety infrastructure throughout much of South L.A.

One or two sets of Union Pacific rail tracks run alongside the Blue Line tracks for much of its trajectory. Because Union Pacific manages thousands and thousands of miles of tracks, they have been reluctant to supply their South L.A. crossings with anything more than the most basic of safety measures.

What this means is that, at present, pedestrian traffic is only partially adequately halted through the use of infrastructure like ped barrier arms (see photo below). People entering the intersection from the Union Pacific side encounter no such barriers and are consistently more likely to move across the tracks, even while the lights are flashing and trains are approaching.
Pedestrians cross the Union Pacific tracks, even as the Blue Line approaches along the far tracks. The gentleman coming towards me was leaving the Florence station. Note thecyclist waiting behind the pedestrian barrier.

I wondered if perhaps I was crazy for thinking this might be the problem, but a look at the pedestrian fatalities between 2002 and 2012 indicates that, of the 18 non-suicides, 13 happened at crossings between Vernon and Imperial, where a pedestrian must cross four sets of tracks. Only 5 happened in between the 7th St. Metro Center and San Pedro station (before the Metro tracks meet up with the UP tracks), and at least two were cases of the victim running for the train and falling on the tracks.
The majority of the incidents between Compton and Long Beach also seemed to follow this pattern (although there was on only one set of UP tracks in some spots instead of two), with the notable exception of a sight-impaired man falling onto the tracks at Del Amo and a few people being hit at major intersections where other factors may have come into play.

It certainly doesn’t explain everything — as noted above, the January incident at Vernon was due to someone ignoring the pedestrian barriers on the Metro side — and I don’t know how this plays out with regard to injuries and other incidents. There were 842 minor collisions with the train between July 1990 and June 2009 (1/5 of which involved pedestrians) and, according to a four-part safety series by Steve Hymon “complete data on who was to blame in all of these accidents [is] unavailable.” But the dynamics of the UP crossings may help explain why the other rail lines do not experience such incidents.

The wide openness of the crossings and lack of barriers on the UP side seem to give people a false sense of security — they are sure they will see a train coming. Because the freight trains only run once a day (instead of a dozen or more a day, as in the past) and move so slowly, often inching forward, backing up, stopping, and inching forward again, they may lull people into thinking that the Metro trains are less dangerous than they are. Or throw off their calculations of which side a train is coming from, how fast it is moving, or how quickly they themselves can get across the tracks. Ask any jaywalking pedestrian in the area and they will reassure you they are more than capable of getting across the tracks in time.

Add in the many distractions safety ambassadors report people are occupied with that keep their heads pointed down at their phones instead of looking around them, and it is no wonder that these crossings have been problematic.

Metro to the rescue?

As Khawani explained, much has been done to try to make the line safer in recent years.

Of note, Metro has conducted presentations at schools and left door hangers with safety information at people’s homes along the train route. Safety ambassadors at a few spots along the Blue Line deliver those messages in person while the LAPD has not been shy about ticketing those making unsafe crossings. Citations have also been delivered thanks to photo enforcement. Train operators have even been taught to drive defensively and use methods to get the attention of drivers that appear not to see them.

Pedestrian barriers (where a gate arm comes down across the sidewalk) or swing gates (peds must open to pass through) have been installed at a number of major intersections, as have flashing “train” signs, improved crosswalks, “Look Both Ways” signs, and quad gates (where all four lanes are blocked) at a few intersections in Compton that had previously seen several collisions. Trains sound their horns loudly as they approach intersections and stations, and their now brighter “cyclops” lights flash to draw attention as the conductor sounds the horn. Even the trains themselves are wrapped in banners reading “Heads Up! Watch for Trains!”

And now, Metro plans to go even further, Khawani said.

After finally getting the long-awaited go-ahead from Union Pacific, Metro set aside $7.5 million to install additional gates and signage along the UP side of the crossings.

He pulled out a thick packet of marked-up draft drawings of Blue Line crossings to show me how Metro was working to determine which safety measures could go where.

Some streets and intersections would need to be shut down in order to be reconfigured with the kinds of features seen on the newer rail lines — something they don’t see as being able to do.

That doesn’t mean that improvements won’t be made. But, it isn’t as simple as putting up gates everywhere, Khawani explained.

Some of the pedestrian walkways that lead toward the tracks just don’t have room for particular improvements. A wheelchair-bound person, for example, would have to roll back into the street to be able to open a pedestrian swing gate at some spots along Long Beach Blvd. In such cases, improvements like flashing lights embedded in the sidewalk may have to suffice.

They hope to have the projects ready to be submitted to the bidding process by July so that improvements could get started during the upcoming fiscal year.

Metro is also launching a partnership with the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center and will be posting 600 signs with information about where to call at the ends of platforms (where people are most likely to jump) and at different high speed crossings and known spots (i.e. there have been three suicides near Spring St.) along the train route in the hopes of reaching those in need.

“We can’t afford to put a bubble around the Blue Line,” said Khawani.

But, being able to move forward on the measures they have long had on the table are a good start. Getting the green light from Union Pacific to put safety infrastructure on their side of the crossings is a huge step forward.

Hopefully, people will heed them once they are operational. If not, perhaps Metro could make another call to the Teenage Ninja Turtles to help them get the word out about safety.

What’s that you say? You didn’t know the Ninja Turtles have saved the day for Metro before? Behold:

The Week in Livable Streets Events 


By Damien Newton, March 25, 2013

 This is a funny week for events, trapped between Passover, Easter, Cesar Chavez Day and April Fool’s Day. That being said, there’s some big stuff on the calendar, including a major series of debates on the candidates for the remaining City Council offices, Controller and City Attorney next Monday.
  • Wednesday – The public meetings for the East San Fernando Valley Corridor Projects wrap up with this meeting. If you have an idea how to get from Van Nuys to Sherman Oaks via transit, be sure to check out their meetings. Tell them Streetsblog sent you. Get the meeting details, here.
  • Wednesday – Join the Safe Routes to School National PartnershipPrevention InstituteLos Angeles County Department of Public HealthLos Angeles County Bicycle CoalitionLos Angeles Walks and partners and friends from all over Los Angeles County to discuss Transportation Policy and Investments to improve the built environment for our communities.This event is open and free for all to attend, but RSVP’s are required. Get more details, here.
  • ThursdayLive from the Metro Board Room at 9 am, it’s your monthly dose of political dysfunction known as the Metro Board of Directors. Ara Najarian still included! Check out the agenda, here.
  • Thursday – Anyone who is truly excited about congestion pricing should head up to the Santa Clarita Valley for this public hearing on turning one lane in each direction on a portion of the I-5 into a HOT Lane. Exciting times for lane management. Visit The Source for a lot more details.
  • Next Monday – Climate Resolve is hosting a major forum with the candidates for the remaining City Council races, city attorney and controller next Monday. The topics will include the environment, global warming and transportation. This could be the closest we get to Livable Streets forums, so be sure to check it out if you can. Get the details, here.
  • Saturday, April 27 – Celebrate Streetsblog Los Angeles’ five year anniversary in style at our fundraiser at Deborah Murphy’s house in Silver Lake. Hang out with our writers, board, and 2012 Streetsie Award Winners. Get the details, here. RSVP on Facebook, here…or drop me an email at damien@streetsblog.org.
Parking Madness: Los Angeles vs. Dallas


By Angie Schmitt, March 25, 2013


Streetsblog’s own “Sweet 16″ of the worst downtown parking craters in America — Parking Madness! — continues today with two cities that grew up in the auto age.

Known for their mega-highways and congestion, Los Angeles and Dallas have the parking scars to go along with all those cars.

An anonymous commenter submitted this entry, calling it ”the vast expanse of nothing in-between the Civic Center and Bunker Hill in downtown L.A.”

The Civic Center area is home to Los Angeles’s city, state, and federal government buildings.
Streetsblog LA editor Damien Newton filled in some background on this eyesore:
Located a mere two blocks from City Hall, and basically adjacent to the busy “Civic Center” subway station, this particular lot is a true abomination on the L.A. landscape. While some sanity is coming to Los Angeles’s parking policy, the city has a long way to go. Consider this image, put together by Gehl architects, showing a shocking 545 acres of parking lots within 1 km of the Figueroa Corridor connecting Downtown Los Angeles with South Los Angeles.
The competition, submitted by Streetsblog Network member Systemic Failure, is this depression in Dallas:


A new building — the Perot Museum of Science and History – has actually sprouted up in this parking crater, but it might not actually be much of an improvement to the public realm. James Howard Kunstler singled this area out in his ongoing “Eyesore of the Month” feature, calling it “a wilderness of surface parking, freeway ramps, and pointless ambiguous ‘green spaces.’” The Perot Museum, designed by starchitect Thom Mayne, was no doubt meant to demonstrate Dallas’s civic might.
Which city has the worst parking crater?
Last week, Tulsa triumphed over Philadelphia (which was also disqualified for technical reasons), and Milwaukee mopped the floor with Jersey City.

While the NCAA tournament takes a breather, the action never stops on Streetsblog. Tomorrow’s match-up: Louisville vs. San Diego.
At 40 Years, San Francisco’s Transit-First Policy Still Struggles for Traction 


By Aaron Bialick, March 22, 2013

Four decades after San Francisco's transit-first policy was adopted, Geary Boulevard remains designed to give priority to auto drivers over people walking, cycling, and riding Muni's busiest bus line.

The first private automobile users on early 20th-century American streets were generally accorded no special privileges on the public right-of-way. “The center of the road was reserved for streetcars, and the new automobiles had to move out of the way,” as Renee Montagne describes it in the 1996 documentary Taken for a Ride, which chronicles the decline of American public transit over the 20th century.

When the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted a transit-first policy on March 19, 1973 — 40 years ago this week — a return to the early 1900s streetscape may not have been what they had in mind, but the city’s intent to undo decades of urban planning and governance geared towards promoting driving at the expense of public transit was clear. A key provision of the policy reads, “Decisions regarding the use of limited public street and sidewalk space shall encourage the use of public rights of way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit, and shall strive to reduce traffic and improve public health and safety.” (The policy was amended to include pedestrians and bicyclists in 1999.)

Yet today, the vast majority of San Francisco’s street space remains devoted to moving and storing private automobiles, making the public right-of-way hostile to walking and bicycling. Muni remains underfunded, with vehicle breakdowns and delays caused by car traffic a daily part of riding transit.

“When there’s excess road space that cars don’t need, it’s given over to bikes, peds, and transit,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, “but where there’s a real shortage of road space, in the most congested parts of the city, the car is still the priority.”

“It seems like the transit-first policy is just a recommendation,” said Jason Henderson, a geography professor at SF State University and sustainable transportation advocate. “There’s no requirement for the city’s decision-makers to actually follow it.”

Since Ed Reiskin became director of the SF Municipal Transportation Agency in July of 2011, he’s helped develop a new strategic plan for the agency that sets a five-year goal of reducing driving to 50 percent of all trips, down from the current estimate of 62 percent — a number that hasn’t changed significantly since the 70s.

“We haven’t really moved the needle that much,” said Reiskin. “In the big scheme of things, a lot of people are still relying on their own single-occupant automobile to get around the city.”

This poster created in Muenster, Germany helps illustrate the rationale behind allocating street space to encourage walking, biking and transit. 

Even though action on the transit-first policy has been lacking in the decades since it was adopted, Reiskin commends the elected officials who enacted it for being ahead of their time. “Today, people are thinking much more about active transportation and being multi-modal, but 1973 was a different time, and the fact that the Board of Supervisors had that foresight was tremendous.”
Geary, 1973. 

Geary, 2010. 

Still, the scant visible progress toward the transit-first vision over the last 40 years might lead anyone using San Francisco’s streets to ask: What happened?

In the years immediately after the adoption of transit-first, advocates say the opening of BART and the Muni Metro system may have quelled the city’s sense of urgency. The entire decade of the 1970s was marked by construction of the BART and Muni Metro tunnels under Market Street. The city did paint some downtown transit-only lanes soon after the policy adoption, but by the time the Muni Metro opened in 1980, other priorities may have put transit improvements on the backburner.

“We’d made some major leaps from where we were in the 60s, where we had ripped out the rail lines and basically forced everyone on to buses — it was a really bad place,” said Joél Ramos, a community planner for the sustainable transportation advocacy group TransForm and a member of the SFMTA Board of Directors. In the 1980s, Ramos surmises, “We were distracted trying to fight so many other battles, from a flailing economy, to fighting for more affordable housing, to dealing with environmental concerns.”

Without any elected officials championing the implementation of the transit-first policy, Henderson says planners also found it difficult to overcome opposition to re-allocating road space from cars to transit, and the city failed to lay a foundation of stable funding sources for Muni improvements and operations. “Nobody owned it,” said Henderson. “It’s amounted to just maintaining the existing service, barely.”

No doubt, San Francisco could have suffered a much worse, car-blighted fate. By the 70s, the city had already benefited from the Freeway Revolt of the previous decade, largely averting what befell other American cities, where highways tore apart the urban fabric. Even if the transit-first policy was “never fully implemented,” a 1999 report from the SF Planning and Urban Research Association credits it for city planning decisions to accommodate massive downtown job growth with transit instead of driving, largely by restricting new parking:
Were it not for the transit-first policy, the city would have followed the path of so many other American cities, widening roads, narrowing sidewalks, demolishing downtown buildings and then filling the spaces with parking garages. We would have destroyed the very density and walkability that makes this city different from the rest of the country, that creates the high economic values of downtown, and that provides the quality of life we enjoy.
Stockton Street in Chinatown. 

Peter Tannen first learned of the transit-first policy when he applied for a job as a San Francisco transportation planner in 1992 at what was then the Department of Parking and Traffic. “I was actually shocked on two counts,” he said. “I thought, gee, I had no idea San Francisco had such a wonderful policy. And my other shock was looking around seeing that it wasn’t being implemented very much.”

When he started at DPT, Tannen said the agency had no staff dedicated to bicycle or pedestrian projects. He was the first manager of the department’s Bicycle Program. When the SFMTA was created in 1999 (at the same time that voters approved the addition of priority for bicyclists and pedestrians into the transit-first policy), DPT was folded into it. Looking back from the vantage point of today’s SFMTA, which has a Sustainable Streets Division and a Livable Streets subdivision, Tannen, who retired in 2006, said he’s witnessed an organizational, cultural, and political shift when it comes to putting safe walking and bicycling ahead of driving convenience.

Projects like one of the city’s first road diets on Valencia Street — a 1999 trial project that added bike lanes, leading to a 144 percent increase in bicycling on the street [PDF] in the first year — or the removal of one parking space along the Wiggle, were a “really big deal,” he said. “It happened, but now I see proposals to remove 30 or 40 parking spaces, and things actually happen.”
Valencia Street, where in 1999 bike lanes replaced two traffic lanes -- one of the first such cases in San Francisco. 

But make no mistake: SFMTA efforts to reclaim parking and traffic lanes still often face strong resistance from residents with a car-first mentality. Just this week, angry residents fueled by a misinformation campaign rallied against SFMTA proposals at a neighborhood meeting, upset by the potential removal of parking spaces on Polk Street to make room for protected bike lanes and more public space.

“While I think most San Franciscans believe in the principles of the transit-first policy, when you start talk about changing traffic, parking, or transit, it very quickly becomes very personal for people,” Reiskin told Streetsblog after the meeting. Still, he says, “We have a very clear policy mandate.”

The SFMTA’s Polk proposals would only remove, at the most, half of Polk’s on-street parking, which altogether makes up just 7 percent of parking within a block’s range of the business corridor, to create a safer street in an area where virtually every street is designed to be dominated by cars.

“You have a very continuous network for motorists in cars,” notes Livable City’s Radulovich. Meanwhile, “The pedestrian network, the transit-priority network, and the bicycle network, are still gappy, uneven, and completely missing from some parts of town.”

While such fierce resistance might be on a downward trend, Morgan Fitzgibbons, who leads a sustainability-focused group called the Wigg Party, points the finger at the SFMTA and elected officials like Mayor Ed Lee for dragging their feet and placating car owners rather than firmly standing by the transit-first policy. Fitzgibbons wrote in an op-ed in the Huffington Post this week that while San Franciscans have waited for delayed projects like the Fell and Oak Street bikeways — in which the SFMTA took time to create parking spaces on side streets to make up for parking loss — officials in cities like New York and Chicago are setting concrete goals and moving ahead with bike lane implementation.

Dave Snyder, who previously served as head of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and transportation policy director for SPUR, pointed out that even today, the city is building a “ridiculous” amount of car parking in the redevelopment area of Mission Bay, which sits on flat bike-friendly terrain close to major regional transit lines and downtown.
One possible vision from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition for protected bike lanes on Polk Street.

“Transit-first needs to be owned by a politician,” says Henderson. “A politician has to care for it in a way that they understand all the nuances, understand all the issues, and become a champion and spokesperson for it, because it’s a political issue.”

Henderson doesn’t believe anyone has filled the role of transit-first champion, but Supervisor Scott Wiener has by far taken the most action on transportation reform at City Hall. Even if transit advocates don’t always agree with his approach, Wiener has introduced legislation attempting to do everything from increase Muni funding to streamline pedestrian safety improvements to increase the availability of car-share.

If San Francisco were to be graded on its implementation of transit-first, “I would give us a C+,” said Wiener. “In a lot of areas, the MTA is moving in the right direction, but it needs to move faster and more aggressively.”

Wiener emphasizes that the transit-first policy is “not about making it hard to drive, but about giving people options other than driving their car.”

“There are some people that are always going to drive their car, but there’s a certain percentage of people who would get rid of their cars, or drive them a lot less, if they had other viable options,” he said.

Ramos said “it’s probably only in the last 10, 15 years that we’ve started to understand transit-first, and that it’s not just something that we should be providing as part of our social fabric, but it should also be something that corresponds to improving the economy and a better, healthier environment. And I think it’s going to take a while for that value to catch up with the mainstream.”

“Most people are accustomed to a car-based lifestyle,” he added, “and I think it’s going to take some time to help people really understand that that’s not really economically viable for the city. All of the subsidies that go into providing parking for cars, or the ramifications of not having safe places for people to ride bikes or even walk, are having an impact on the city as it continues to grow, and as cars become more ubiquitous on our streets.”

Details of Senate’s $100 Billion Infrastructure Plan


By Larry Ehl, March 24, 2013


This more detailed section of the Senate’s FY 2014 budget blueprint describes the Senate Democratic plan for transportation investment in 2014. To learn if the $100 billion plan has a chance of being enacted, and to learn more about the Senate budget, see our story “Will Congress Enact Senate’s Proposed $100 billion for Transportation in 2014?“.

The Senate 2014 budget, which passed largely on party lines, includes $50 billion to fix the most deficient bridges, airports and transit systems, $10 billion for ports and maritime infrastructure, and $10 billion to create an infrastructure bank. The Senate budget doesn’t identify a long-term funding source for surface transportation revenues but would continue two financing tools, TIFIA and an infrastructure bank.

From the Senate document:

Investing in our infrastructure to lay down a strong foundation for long‐term growth

On February 22, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a message to the U.S. Congress, explaining why the country needed more investment in its national highway system. He began with the following:
“Our unity as a nation is sustained by free communication of thought and by easy transportation of people and goods. The ceaseless flow of information throughout the Republic is matched by
individual and commercial movement over a vast system of interconnected highways  crisscrossing the country and joining at our national borders with friendly neighbors to the north and south.
“Together, the united forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear—U.S. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.”107

 Today, we are still held together by free communication and a reliable transportation system, but we are again facing the need to reinvest in the infrastructure that makes it all possible.

We need to strengthen the roads and bridges, transit and rail systems, ports and waterways, and air transportation systems that connect people across town and across the country. We need to invest in broadband technology, which makes it possible to communicate and share information. We need to fix our water infrastructure in order to provide clean drinking water and protect our communities from floods. Finally, we need to update our energy and transmission system at a time when so much of our daily lives depend on access to reliable electric power.

Restoring the competitive advantage afforded by a strong and modern transportation system will create a more productive environment for American businesses to expand and grow and will help families and communities. The shortsighted, cuts‐only Republican approach to our infrastructure needs leaves little room for needed upgrades, but the Senate Budget prioritizes them—tackling a major obstacle to our future economic strength and potential for broad‐based growth.

Investing in transportation infrastructure

For decades, the U.S. enjoyed the benefits that came with having one of the most modern transportation networks in the world. Thanks to American ingenuity and pragmatism, freight moved efficiently, air travel was reliable, and our highways were the envy of the world. Massive investments in infrastructure, much of it initiated by President Eisenhower, built the networks we have today. That vision helped create decades of economic prosperity and supported the rise of a strong middle class.

Fifty years later, much of our transportation system is old and crumbling, a reality as evident to the average commuter or traveler as it is to those who evaluate the overall condition of the nation’s infrastructure. Those assessments are alarming:
  • The Federal Highway Administration rates 70,000 of the country’s bridges as “structurally deficient;”108
  • The World Economic Forum now rates the quality of U.S. roads 20th in world, just ahead of Taiwan and Cyprus; 109
  • Our roads, transit and aviation systems fared no better than a grade of “D” on the American Society of Civil Engineers 2009 report card.110
The failure to adequately maintain and modernize our transportation infrastructure, and to expand it to keep pace with the needs of a population that has grown almost 40 percent since 1980, has real consequences. According to the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, freight congestion alone now costs $200 billion a year, equal to 1.6 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.111 We now waste 2.9 billion gallons of fuel each year in congested traffic,112 and as roads become more clogged, Americans spend more time in their cars, putting them at greater risk of accidents. An estimated 36,000 Americans were killed on our roads in 2012, an increase of about five percent.113

We continue to rely on the Highway Trust Fund as the principle source of revenue to cover the costs of maintaining our road and transit networks. However, each year it generates less revenue, even as Americans drive more miles. States, desperate for funding, have tried to make up the shortfall, with the result that in 2010 they owed almost three times as much road debt as they did in 1995.114 Many of the nation’s largest transit agencies are in the same predicament,115 incapable of generating the revenue they need to modernize their systems. Like the roads it helped build, the Eisenhower‐era funding structure for surface transportation programs is in desperate need of an overhaul.

In aviation, the story is only slightly better. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) handles more aircraft each year than does any other country, moving an average of almost 2 million passengers each day with an unequalled safety record. Yet the expected future growth in air travel risks overwhelming our air traffic control system. At a time when tens of millions of Americans carry smart phones that take advantage of the latest computer and satellite networks, the FAA continues to rely on ground‐based radar developed during World War II. The result is a quarter of U.S. flights arrive more than 15 minutes late, a situation that is likely to worsen as air travel increases.116

Increases are a certainty because the U.S. is projected to grow an additional 100 million people or more in the next 35 years, with most of that growth expected to occur in already congested areas. Consider that if car ownership rates remain unchanged, the country would see an additional 81 million vehicles on our roads by the time we reach this population milestone. Clearly, to do nothing in the face of these realities is to leave the next generation with levels of congestion that will strangle the economy.

A vision for transportation in the 21st century

The U.S. needs a new transportation vision that will serve its people as well as President Eisenhower’s proposal for the Interstate Highway System did in the 1950s, when our population was half its present size. That vision must modernize the existing aging infrastructure and provide innovative new solutions that help us to compete successfully in the 21st century. It must take advantage of new and emerging technologies to make travel speedier and safer. It should be transformative, as the creation of the FAA in 1958 was for air safety. Central to its success will be strategies that support economic growth and strengthen the middle class. To be successful, it will need to solve one of our greatest challenges, the lack of resources, by leveraging private capital and identifying a sustainable source of federal funding.
  • Roads – Our nation’s roads and bridges are a legacy that we need to protect. Today, the Interstate Highway System is over 50 years old. It needs repairs and reconstruction so that it can continue to serve the U.S. economy for another 50 years. The Federal Highway Administration has designated over 143,000 bridges as either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.117 Those designations mean that either the condition of the bridge has deteriorated and the bridge no longer performs as it should, or that the design of the bridge no longer meets the needs of the surrounding road system. Without additional investment, we will continue to lose the kind of mobility and safety that we have been able to take for granted for so many years.
We must also add to our legacy, and continue to shape and improve our communities. More than ever, state and local governments are planning road projects that make room for bicyclists and pedestrians, bridge projects that include transit as well as cars and trucks, and regional plans that require multiple jurisdictions to work together. While we continue investing in our roads and bridges, we need to make sure that federal programs remain compatible with each other to accommodate the innovation happening at the State and local level.
  • Freight – Freight transportation serves as the backbone of the global economy, and over the past 30 years, the efficient movement of goods has helped drive U.S. economic growth. Retailers rely on our transportation network to efficiently deliver a steady stream of goods from across the country and around the world. U.S. manufacturers rely on just‐in‐time delivery to produce their goods and get them to market. But the increased congestion on our highways, railroads, and ports adds to the cost of moving freight.118 The investment in our transportation systems has not kept pace with basic maintenance, nor has it added capacity to meet our growth needs for the future. The value of U.S. trade in goods is expected to double in the next 13 years119 and if U.S. infrastructure does not keep pace, we risk diminishing productivity and higher costs for businesses and consumers alike.
Major changes in transportation planning and funding will be necessary to keep pace with anticipated growth. The federal government must partner with states, local governments and private entities to target investments at improving the national and regional movement of freight, reducing congestion, fostering economic growth and promote global competiveness. Freight investments should focus on projects that involve multiple states or jurisdictions, or that involve both public and private resources, such as multi‐state trade corridors.
  • Transit – As Building America’s Future, a bipartisan coalition of elected officials, notes, building more roads alone will not solve the nation’s congestion challenge.120 We must also expand access to public transit to more Americans, offering a reliable, lower‐cost and energy‐efficient alternative to the large portion of the population that has no other alternative today but the automobile. This is a pragmatic  recognition that in many heavily congested areas, we will never be able to build enough new bridges or roads to ease congestion, especially as our population continues to grow.
  • Passenger rail – The growth in passenger rail ridership in the Northeast U.S. offers an energy‐efficient and environmentally‐friendly mode of transportation that could be replicated in other parts of the country. However, in the Northeast and elsewhere, reliance on track, tunnels and bridges that are over a century old limits our ability to provide reliable service and increase capacity to meet demand. Currently, the corridor serves 13 million Amtrak passengers, 200 million commuter rail passengers, and 25,000 freight trains annually.121 This volume is expected to increase 59 percent by 2030.122 To accommodate this growth, the U.S. will need to establish more reliable passenger service comparable to the world class systems operating across Europe and Asia. These systems increase mobility and promote regional economic development, and the demand for new passenger rail equipment will create new jobs in the nation’s manufacturing sector.
  • Aviation – The technology that our air traffic controllers use to keep air travel safe is outdated. We need to continue our investments in the FAA’s modernization to make possible projected future growth in air travel.
  • Ports and waterways –Ports are the gateway to the nation’s transportation web,  handling more than 95 percent of our overseas trade.123 However, as the volume of trade quickly increases, we must ensure that our ports can handle the additional volume to support US economic growth. We need to ensure our ports can accommodate the new deep draft post‐Panamax vessels, and seamlessly integrate the movement of cargo into the nation’s vast multi‐modal transportation systems.

Using innovative approaches to investing in our infrastructure

While we need to strengthen the federal programs that provide basic investments in our nation’s infrastructure, that is not going to be enough to keep the US competitive. We also need to create new opportunities for financing our infrastructure needs.

For this reason, the Senate Budget proposes two innovations for financing infrastructure investments: tax‐credit bonds, and an infrastructure bank. Both initiatives build on past successes of the federal government to make strategic investments in transportation projects that make a difference in regions and communities across the country, and leverage investments from the private sector and other sources.

Tax credit bonds to support new jobs and infrastructure

The Senate Budget allows the use of tax‐credit bonds, such as recent proposals for TRIP bonds, as part of a fiscally responsible infrastructure plan. Under a tax‐credit bond program, states or local governments are authorized to issue bonds and use the proceeds of those bond sales to fund roads, bridges, railroad projects, transit systems, ports, inland waterways, or other kinds of infrastructure. Investors who buy the bonds will receive tax credits instead of interest on the bond.

Authorizing tax‐credit bonds would build on the success of Build America Bonds, which expired on December 31, 2010. In less than two years, there were 2,275 separate issues of Build America Bonds, and ll 50 states participated in the program. The bonds supported over $181 billion of financing for new infrastructure projects such as schools, bridges and hospitals.124

Traditionally, the federal government used tax‐exempt bonds to support infrastructure investments by state and local governments. However, according to the CBO, tax‐credit bonds offer a more cost‐effective way for the federal government to support state and local investments.125 Build America Bonds show what happens when you put better tools into the hands of our states and local communities.

Infrastructure bank

The Senate Budget includes $10 billion to start an infrastructure bank, which can provide direct loans and loan guarantees for a variety of infrastructure investments. These investments may include roads and bridges; transit and rail systems; port and water infrastructure; or other critical projects that help sustain our economy.

By providing credit assistance, an infrastructure bank can leverage federal dollars to achieve significantly more project funding through private investment and other sources.
An infrastructure bank can also provide an opportunity to support crucial infrastructure projects that currently seem out of reach, particularly projects that cross state boundaries, involve several local jurisdictions, or include more than one mode of transportation or sector of the economy. These projects can be difficult to fund through traditional federal programs or formula grants.

An infrastructure bank would build on the success of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program. This program provides direct loans and loan guarantees to support transportation projects of regional or national significance. Because the TIFIA program offers credit assistance and only covers 33 percent of a project’s total cost, the federal investment leverages significant contributions from the private sector and other sources of funding. In fact, every dollar used through the TIFIA program can provide about $10 in loans and support up to $30 in total infrastructure investments.126

However, the demand for investment opportunities is greater than what our current infrastructure programs can provide. An infrastructure bank would create new opportunities to build the kind of infrastructure that our economy demands.

The Senate Budget approach: lay down a strong foundation for long‐term economic growth

Given the high stakes for our country and its future, this budget protects investment in transportation infrastructure and makes sure that as we save money responsibly, our investments go toward the highest‐value projects that help the greatest number of families and communities. By comparison, House Republicans would damage our national economic prospects by making deep cuts to transportation investment, accelerating the deterioration of roads, bridges and transit systems.

Last year, Congress passed legislation that continues our investments in highways, transit and road safety. This budget protects those investments and makes room for needed growth in them in responsible ways if Congress can agree on how to produce the additional revenue they require. It also replaces the damaging automatic reductions to the FAA, transit, and transportation safety programs as a result of sequestration with alternatives that save money without hurting our economy.

The House Republican solution: make it worse

Over the past decade, a long list of think tanks, bipartisan coalitions and blue ribbon panels have pressed for action to address America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure, and warned of the danger inaction poses to our economic competitiveness. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL‐CIO, which disagree on most issues, joined together to press for greater federal investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

The Chamber’s President, Tom Donohue, warned in February 2011 that the “consequences of an underperforming system are hundreds of billions of dollars annually in wasted fuel, lost productivity,”127 and other costs. Yet, as our levels of investment lags behind other countries, the House Republicans have proposed deep cuts to what funding remains available. In doing so, they offer no explanation of how disinvestment supports the long‐term growth of the economy, or addresses the daily transportation challenges facing millions of Americans.

Despite warnings about the economic consequences of allowing our infrastructure to fall still further behind, the House Republicans’ vision of small government drowns out other considerations, even if short‐term savings result in far greater long‐term costs. Their proposals make no mention of how transportation fits in their vision for the future. Other countries have a far better idea of its importance.

China, one of our major economic competitors, has used public‐private partnerships to develop a transportation system focused on competing in a global economy, as well as supporting the transportation needs of its people. After 20 years of investment, it now has a state‐of‐the‐art 53,000‐milelong network of expressways modeled on our own interstate highway system.128 The productivity of its ports, according to a 2008 DOT analysis, is unmatched by any port in the U.S. It is making rapid progress in rail and aviation. As the same DOT report notes, “China competes as a nation. For the U.S. to remain competitive globally, it needs to invest in transportation infrastructure”.129

107 Letter from President Eisenhower to the Congress, Office of the Press Secretary to the President, 2/22/55
108 White House Office of the Press Secretary, “Fact Sheet: The President’s Plan to Make America a Magnet for Jobs by Investing in Infrastructure,” 02/20/13.109 Schwab, Klaus, “The Global Competitiveness Report,” World Economic Forum, 2012.
110 American Society of Civil Engineers, “2009 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” 03/25/09.
111 The President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, “Infrastructure Investment and the Creation of a National Infrastructure Bank,” 12/04/09.
112 Texas A&M Transportation Institute, “As traffic jams worsen, commuters allowing extra time for urgent trips.” 02/05/13.
113 “U.S. traffic deaths rose 5 percent in 2012,” The Detroit News, 02/20/13.
114 Polly Trottenberg, Testimony before the U.S. Senate, Committee on the Budget, 02/26/13.
115 Ibid.
116 Puentes, Robert, and Adie Tomer, “Expect Delays: An Analysis of Air Travel Trends in the United States,” 10/08/09.117 Federal Highway Administration, “Deficient Bridges by State and Highway System,” 02/07/12.
118 Federal Highway Administration, “Public Roads, Vol. 68 – No. 3,” November/December 2004.
119 IHS Global Insight, “The U.S. Economy: The 30‐Year Focus,” First Quarter 2012.
120 Building America’s Future, “Falling Apart and Falling Behind” 2011.
121 National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), “National Railroad Passenger Corporation: 2012 Update Report,” July 2012.
122 National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), “The Northeast Corridor Infrastructure Master Plan,” 03/24/10.
123 Frittelli, John, “Port and Maritime Security: Background and Issues for Congress,” Rep. no. RL31733. 27 05/27/05.
124 Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Analysis of Build America Bonds Issuance and Savings,” 05/16/11.
125 Frank Sammartino, Testimony before the U.S. Senate, Committee on Finance, 04/25/12.
126 Federal Highway Administration, “Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program” accessed 3/8/13.
127 [editors note – this footnote is missing from the Senate document]
128 Central Intelligence Agency, “The World Factbook: China,” 02/14/13.
129 Federal Highway Administration, “Freight Mobility and Intermodal Connectivity in China,” May 2008.