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

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Caltrans working to sell SR-710 homes, legislators say

By Lauren Gold, April 2, 2013
Selling the Caltrans-owned houses in the Long Beach (710) Freeway path would be the worst financial option, according to an independent cost/benefit analysis commissioned by the transportation agency.

Financially, there's no good option for the state, the report concluded. But of the possibilities, a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) with Los Angeles, Pasadena and South Pasadena would be the best option.
The study was in response to a scathing audit released in August that slammed Caltrans for "poor management" and overspending on the more than 500 properties - many of them historic homes - it owns in the northern part of the freeway corridor.

In the six-month status report it submitted to
the State Auditor's office, Caltrans said it is "reviewing the final report and will work with legislators to determine the best option for Caltrans, the state and the tenants. "
But Suzanne Reed, chief of staff for State Sen. Carol Liu, D-Glendale, said the results of the analysis don't align with Caltrans' efforts in recent months toward selling the 710 properties.

"We've made it clear to them that a JPA is not going to fly, that our cities aren't interested," Reed said. "And they continue to tell us that their utmost objective is to get them sold. "

Reed said she expects to see the beginning of home sales in January 2014.

But before Caltrans can sell the homes, Reed said, it must set forth a series of requirements for the sale process, which will be subject to public review. Liu also has a bill submitted for consideration in the State Legislature that would allow Caltrans to sell the homes at face value without making any repairs, as was previously required by a law known as the Roberti Bill.

"We are moving forward, but it's never fast enough for us because we've been working on this for 12 years," Reed said.

The homes have long been a point of contention between local cities, tenants and Caltrans, and have been at the center of the decades-long debate over the extension of the 710 freeway to the Foothill (210) Freeway. Many have suggested that since Metro has eliminated a surface freeway route as a viable option most, if not all, the homes should be free to be sold.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is in the second phase of a three-year environmental impact report for the project and is studying five final options: "No build," traffic management solutions, bus, light rail and a dual-bore underground freeway tunnel. The draft report will be released in 2014.

In the audit report, Caltrans also stated that it has determined the Department of General Services is the most cost-effective company for property repairs, and that a contract between the two agencies was finalized at the end of March. The agency also said it has put in place a system to ensure that repairs made are actually necessary, and that they are done in a cost-effective manner in the future.

Former assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who pushed for the audit, said what is missing from the analysis is what Caltrans is doing to prosecute possible fraud or other violations in DGS's previous performance. A $70,000 roof is frequently cited as an example of waste in home repairs.

"Having a formal agreement with DGS is a step in the right direction, but I'd also like to know if any laws were broken in the past and if there were improprieties," Portantino said. "There should be some forensic accounting and some criminal investigation. "

And Reed said that although Caltrans seems to be on the same page as legislators about selling the properties, there are still questions and some controversy about the recent rent increases Caltrans imposed on its tenants. Caltrans increased rents starting this year in response to the audit's complaint that it was not charging "fair market" rates, but tenants and elected officials have questioned whether living in a Caltrans home qualifies as "fair market" and also said they want to know how Caltrans set the rates.

"We are still working and saying the way they are going about doing this is wrong, and we are still fighting the rent increases," said Lynn Bryan, a Caltrans tenant in Pasadena since 1989. Bryan said that members of the Caltrans Tenants Association have sent numerous public records requests to Caltrans about the rent rate determination process.

But when it comes to selling the homes, she said, at least Caltrans is moving in the direction tenants and elected officials have long pushed for.

"I believe they are already putting things in motion to get them ready to sell," Bryan said. "I absolutely do believe we are in the end game. "

Garcetti adds Kevin James to his endorsement list


By Kevin Roderick, April 2, 2013



Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti has a 10 a.m. presser scheduled with Kevin James, the former radio talk show host who came in third in the March 5 city primary election. They are doing the deed outside the Van Nuys city hall, officially the Valley Municipal Building, on Sylvan Street. During the primary campaign, James was hard on both Garcetti and rival Wendy Greuel, calling them insiders who were part of the problem at the downtown City Hall. But now James tells the LA Times that "I had to look at both of those candidates and decide which one is best to lead the city forward for the next four years. I think the opportunity for independence is greater with Eric.… The potential for independence he shows in the future I think is significant because of the way labor has lined up for his opponent in this race."

James said that although he doesn't agree with Garcetti on all the issues, Greuel has made moves since the primary that troubled him, such as announcing an endorsement by an SEIU chapter the morning after the election, as well as statements that the city failed to engage in collective bargaining in the decision to roll back retirement benefits for new hires.
He also said he was impressed by the economic revitalization that has occurred in Garcetti's district.

"If I had been able to pick those numbers apart, I would have done so," James said. "We fact-checked them on our own."

Greuel has received the bulk of the blue-chip endorsements since coming in second in the primary, including from former President Clinton, basketball legend Magic Johnson and the county Federation of Labor. But James' decision to back Garcetti puts the councilman in the enviable position of having the unanimous backing of all other major candidates who ran for mayor. James said he anticipated that Garcetti would have the three of them campaign together.
Those other endorsers for Garcetti are Jan Perry and Emanuel Pleitez. So far, Garcetti's endorsements combined with the 33 percent of the vote he got represent about 70 percent of the votes cast.

A James campaign ad in the primary depicted both Garcetti and Greuel as shifty characters driving through the dark streets to bury a dead body on some hillside.

Despite Its Current Benefits, The L.A. Metro Needs Improvement




An Expo Line light rail on Flower Street. (JulieAndSteve, Creative Commons)

 An Expo Line light rail on Flower Street.

  dare you to confront any student on a college campus in Los Angeles and ask if he or she uses the Metro. You may get that “you must be kidding me” eyebrow raise, or possibly that “what’s the Metro?” blank stare. Either way, it is safe to say that the majority of college students in L.A. use the Metro about as often as they do their laundry – not very often.

Whether it is the idea that the car is king in Los Angeles, or that most people do not find the Metro to be very efficient, there are solutions to these problems. The Metro needs some enhancement. However, it deserves accolades for its substantial benefits for young people living in L.A.

The lack of incentive to ride the light rail or bus is justified. The signage at stops is sometimes vague, there usually involves a transfer from a train to a bus to go a significant distance, and it is very difficult to get to the beach. (As Californians, we know this is a touchy subject.) Also, there may be some apprehension to ride public transportation through surrounding neighborhoods that extend past students’ comfort zones.

Despite the problems the Metro system faces, there is room for improvement. A frequent user of the system knows that there is very little security enforcing rider payment and that many people ride free. If the system raised the fare by just 10 cents per average bus or train ride, to $1.60, operators could use the total revenue to increase the presence of security and thus make riders feel more comfortable using the system. Although the fare cannot be too high (because of the LA Bus Riders Union’s efforts to keep the Metro affordable), an increase of 10 cents is minimal. In addition, increasing the frequency of buses could allow for easier transfers from trains to buses if transfers are necessary. Carrying a beach towel and an umbrella is not so appealing when you have to hold them at a bus stop for 30 minutes. The most important alteration, though, is continual expansion. The Expo Line must extend to the beach within the next few years to allow for an influx of adolescent travelers. This recently built line may foreshadow future expansion.

In the meantime, while the Metro is working out its kinks, students should take advantage of its benefits. The cost of one average ride is a whopping $1.50, and the Metro expands further than one might think. Although you may have to transfer from a train to a bus to go a certain distance, it’s easy to become comfortable with the transfer system. Just try it a couple of times, and you will find yourself acclimating. With the cost of gas climbing, the Metro may be a great alternative to transportation by car. Knowing which lines to take and when to catch a bus is important, and this knowledge is easily accessible on the Metro website.

So, leave your car in that overly priced parking garage on campus or forget about paying for street parking before every errand you run. Although it may be hard to overcome the notion that the Metro is frightening, in due time you will realize that it is a safe and efficient system, as long as you are a cautious traveller. Consider traveling with a group of people to help one another become comfortable using public transportation.

Try it out. If you’re a student, you know your wallet isn’t getting any fatter.

PERRIS: Ruling on Metrolink more complicated that it seemed


By Peter Surowski, April 1, 2013


What looked like a green light for the construction of a new Metrolink line last week is looking more like a yellow light this week.
6745117 bytes; 3324 x 2052; Commuters board a Metrolink train at the Corona station on Wednesday, May 9, 2012.  Metrolink is fac
The Perris Valley Metrolink Line would add four stations: one in Riverside, one near March Air Reserve Base and two in Perris.

Last week, I reported on information released by the Riverside Superior Court about a lawsuit against the Riverside County Transportation Commission for its planned Perris Valley Line.

The court released one sentence about the ruling on its public access website: “Writ of mandate is denied.”

I and folks on both sides of the lawsuit took that to mean that the judge ruled in favor of RCTC and shot down the writ of mandate filed in 2011 by Friends of Riverside’s Hills, an environmental group.

Then I got my hands on the full text of the ruling, which you can read by clicking here.

RELATED: Judge sides with opponents on some Metrolink issues

It showed that, sure, the judge ruled in favor of RCTC on the majority of the counts, but it ruled in favor of Friends on five. All it takes is one favorable ruling on one item to hold up construction, said Ray Johnson, an attorney for Friends.

The ruling was a surprise to people on both sides of the lawsuit who read the decision before receiving the full ruling in the mail later.

“We got whiplash,” from the about-face the full-text ruling seemed to be from the truncated one-sentence ruling, said Johnson.

RELATED: Perris approves construction on new Metrolink station

This leaves those involved — but especially me — to wonder why the court would offer such an over-simplified piece of information on its public access website.

“There’s no reason they couldn’t have had a more accurate statement,” said John Standiford, the deputy executive director of RCTC.

So what happens next? Neither side is 100 percent sure. They’re trying to figure out what happens next and how they can resolve the problem.

“What we hope is they take the judge’s criticisms to heart and mitigate the issues on which they lost,” said Len Nunney, the secretary for Friends.
Skin in the Game, Infrastructure Style


By Fawn Johnson, April 1, 2013

 President Obama upped his own ante on public-private partnerships last Friday, plugging a major construction project that will allow PortMiami in Florida to be linked directly to Florida's interstate highways through an under-the-bay tunnel. "State, county, and local governments got together and agreed to jointly fund PortMiami Tunnel. Everybody had some skin in the game," Obama said after touring the project. "They did something else--they partnered with a group of private sector companies to finance the design and construction of the project."

The PortMiami tunnel is being paid for by two French companies--Meridiam Infrastructure and Bouygues Travaux Publics--and several state and federal government funding sources.

It is also worth noting that the technological centerpiece of the PortMiami project is a "Tunnel Boring Machine" nicknamed Harriet by the Miami-Dade Girl Scouts that is 42.3 feet high (as high as a four-story building) and a 361 feet long. There's a great picture of Harriet on the Port of Miami Tunnel's web site.

Obama wants the business acumen that came with the PortMiami tunnel deal to be replicated elsewhere. He is proposing a $21 billion infrastructure plan that includes a national infrastructure bank, direct-subsidy bonds designed to attract new capital to infrastructure investment, and an expansion of the Transportation Department's TIFIA loan program. The details of the proposal, much of which have been discussed by the White House before, will be spelled out in the president's budget that will be released on April 10.

One of the more intriguing parts of the proposal involves increasing the size of private activity bonds that can be tax-exempt to attract private investors to large, complex projects like the MiamiPort tunnel. The ability to issue tax exempt bond to raise money has become increasingly more attractive to private investors since the upheaval in global bank markets, according to David Narefsky, a partner at the legal services firm Mayer Brown who specializes in infrastructure.

Obama's proposal also is a tacit acknowledgement that public-private partnerships are the one of the only ways major projects will get financed over the next several decades, absent billions of dollars magically appearing in the federal treasury. The goal of increasing the volume of the bonds, according to Narefsky, is "to make more of this incentive available and there's a recognition that the use of this will be increasingly popular."

TIFIA, the Transportation Department's direct loan/loan subsidy program already is tremendously popular, with a hand most major projects underway in the United States. Both the private bonds and TIFIA also enjoy wide bipartisan support in Congress, which must approve any of the changes Obama suggests.

What does Obama's latest infrastructure proposal indicate for the future of transportation and the role of government? How would raising the cap on private activity bonds impact the transportation construction market, and how quickly would the effects appear? Is expanding TIFIA a viable option? What about the infrastructure bank, which has consistently been rejected on Capitol Hill? Can there be new life breathed into that tired proposal?
The Drive: Transit information offered in 200 languages


By Tim Harlow, March 31, 2013

Sprechen sie Deutsch? ¿Hablas EspaƱol? Koj puts hats lug hmoob?

Whatever your tongue, Metro Transit and suburban transit providers are speaking your language.

Riders whose primary language is not English now can get trip planning assistance and transit information through a network of interpreters who speak more than 200 languages.

More than 100 callers have used the new Language Line since its soft launch in September, but officials expect those numbers to rise when marketing efforts start this spring and summer. So far, more than 90 percent of users have requested interpreters who speak Spanish, Somali and Hmong. But there have been requests for translations in Amharic, Oromo, Swahili, Tamil, Tagalog and Vietnamese, said John Howley, manager of the Transit Information Center (TIC). The center fields calls for Metro Transit riders as well as SouthWest Transit, Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, Plymouth Metrolink, Maple Grove Transit and Blue­Xpress customers.

Westside Subway Extension gets a new official name: Purple Line Extension


By Steve Hymon, April 1, 2013



13-1681_stn_WestsideSubway_contact card_art_mech_OLThe re-branding has been in the works for a while and the project has, at times, been referred to by both names. The project extends the subway from its current terminus at Wilshire and Western to a station at the VA Hospital in Westwood.

Why wasn’t it just called “Purple Line Extension” from the get-go? The short answer: the project wasn’t officially a subway until the environmental studies were complete.

Here are the new addresses:

Web: metro.net/purplelineext
E-mail: purplelineext@metro.net
Twitter: @purplelineext
Facebook: facebook.com/purplelineext

 Comments to the post:


  1. The current schedule has the first phase to La Cienega opening in late 2022. The second phase to Century City is scheduled for 2026 and the third phase to Westwood in 2036. Metro is working to accelerate the construction of Measure R transit and road projects, including the subway.
    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source
  2. Do you know Steve is that time frame due to a trickle in of funding or does the project simply take that long? Are there any other cities building subways in the 21st century to compare? Would that county measure that failed last November have made a difference?
  3. Hi Matthew;
    The original timeline was spelled out in the Measure R spending plan because tax revenues can’t flow to one big project all at once. So the big constraint is funding although tunneling and construction of underground stations obviously makes this a longer time frame.
    In the U.S. the two subway projects underway I’m aware of are the 2nd Avenue subway in New York and the Central Subway in San Francisco. I also know that part of a new light rail in Seattle is underground. The feeling at Metro is that if money can be found, the project could probably be built in a decade or so.
    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source
  4. Im not sure whose brilliant idea it was to only build it to wilshire/western and not at least to miracle mile so people go get to the museums and other tourist places.
  5. Metro needs to look at making profits on their own and use them as a source of funding instead of waiting for Congress to send money to them. Politicians in Washington can’t be trusted. We’re better off finding money on our own. We used to be the awe of America when it came to this. Somewhere along the way we got lazy and started being dependent on the feds to give us welfare.
    It’s time we go back and make Los Angeles a “can do” city once again all on our own. We don’t need the feds. We can do it all on our own. We did it way back when we had the Pacific Electric rail lines. No government money was used to build them. And it was the best in the nation! What happened to this spirit?
    Can’t Metro look into making money off of the real estate properties they own? Build a luxury condo or a shopping mall on top of a Metro owned subway entrance and sell it or rent it for profit or something. Or how about converting those free parking lots to paid lots? All of these are gold mines in which Metro can earn serious profit on. Instead they are just sitting on them.
    Stop wasting time with Washington and start finding new ideas of making money. If that can be done, then it solves the funding issue to start accelerating more projects on their own, instead of finger crossing for years waiting for the dullards we have in Congress to pass a funding bill. Los Angeles has always been a city that found solutions for the most difficult problems. It’s time we get serious and do exactly that.
  6. Here are two links to fact sheets that provide some additional construction & schedule details:
    Some of the issues that lengthen the time required for a tunneling project include the time needed to design/order/build/ship/assemble the Tunnel Boring Machine(s) (these are not off the shelf pieces of equipment, they are custom ordered/built so that’s a year or more). Once tunneling starts, the machines push ahead 4 feet at a time, about ten pushes (or 40 feet) a day. Given the over four miles of tunneling (for each bore) just in Section One, that’s over two years just driving the tunnels (five days a week), then there’s the time needed to construct the interior finishes of the tunnels, hand mining the cross passages, installing all the systems (track/power/lights/life safety, etc.) not to mention building the stations as well.
    It’s just not possible to build them overnight….
  7. @Reawakening of LA : converting park and ride to paid parking – perfect way to encourage population to use public transportation instead of car. Many people use metro because this way they can avoid parking fees in downtown.

    1. With adequate funding Metro could order several TBMs, accelerating construction 2-3x. It all hinges on $$$.
    2. @Ralph, thanks for the numbers. Get two TBM’s, work the tunnel from both sides six days a week and the tunneling will be completed in 10 months. Figure another year for the finishing touches, a few months of testing, another six months of slack, and this could open the same weekend as Expo II. =)
     Queue the conspiracy theorists.

To Fight Gridlock, a City Synchronizes Every Red Light


By Ian Lovett, April 1, 2013


 Los Angeles has synchronized all of its 4,500 traffic lights in an attempt to keep vehicles moving.

LOS ANGELES — To combat its infamous traffic, Los Angeles has built subways and light rail lines. It has widened highways and added car pool, toll and bus-only lanes. But the roads have remained stubbornly clogged, creating a drag on commerce and the quality of life that has persisted here for generations.  

Now, in the latest ambitious and costly assault on gridlock, Los Angeles has synchronized every one of its 4,500 traffic signals across 469 square miles — the first major metropolis in the world to do so, officials said — raising the almost fantastical prospect, in theory, of driving Western Avenue from the Hollywood Hills to the San Pedro waterfront without stopping once.

But with the number of cars on the road here continuing to rise (and almost seven million commuters already on the road each day during the rush in the metro area), even the system’s boosters admit that it may not be enough to prevent gridlock from growing worse. The average time commuters waste in traffic has climbed since 2008, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s annual urban mobility report from 2012, and the latest improvements may ultimately do little more than slow congestion, rather than reverse it.

Built up over 30 years at a cost of $400 million and completed only several weeks ago, the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control system, as it is officially known, offers Los Angeles one of the world’s most comprehensive systems for mitigating traffic.

The system uses magnetic sensors in the road that measure the flow of traffic, hundreds of cameras and a centralized computer system that makes constant adjustments to keep cars moving as smoothly as possible. The city’s Transportation Department says the average speed of traffic across the city is 16 percent faster under the system, with delays at major intersections down 12 percent.

Without synchronization, it takes an average of 20 minutes to drive five miles on Los Angeles streets; with synchronization, it has fallen to 17.2 minutes, the city says. And the average speed on the city’s streets is now 17.3 miles per hour, up from 15 m.p.h. without synchronized lights.

Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, who pledged to complete the system in his 2005 campaign, now presents it as a significant accomplishment as his two terms in office comes to an end in June. He argued that the system would also cut carbon emissions by reducing the number of times cars stop and start.

“I am proud that we are the first big city in the world to synchronize all of our traffic signals,” Mr. Villaraigosa said in an e-mail. “By synchronizing our traffic signals, we spend less time waiting, less time polluting.”

James E. Moore II, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Southern California, said it was “the first U.S. deployment” of such a sophisticated system. But in the long term, he said, any traffic synchronization system — no matter how technologically advanced or comprehensive — is unlikely to keep gridlock at bay.

“If we reduce average travel time in Los Angeles by 20 percent, then we will see more people traveling,” Professor Moore said. “It’s money well spent, but part of the benefit is not speed, but throughput.”

The city started the traffic system in preparation for the 1984 Olympics at a handful of intersections surrounding the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where crowds flocked to watch Carl Lewis and Evelyn Ashford.

Other cities have chased to keep up, adopting centralized control of at least some traffic signals. But Los Angeles has remained at the forefront, with a system that is not only more widespread, but also faster and more autonomous than most others.

Now, the magnetic sensors in the road at every intersection send real-time updates about the traffic flow through fiber-optic cables to a bunker beneath downtown Los Angeles, where Edward Yu runs the network. The computer system, which runs software the city itself developed, analyzes the data and automatically makes second-by-second adjustments, adapting to changing conditions and using a trove of past data to predict where traffic could snarl, all without human involvement.

Long Beach and Gilroy, Calif., have already adopted the Los Angeles software, and Washington — the only city in the country that had worse traffic congestion than Los Angeles last year, according to the Texas A&M report — has considered buying it as well, Mr. Yu said.

“One intersection affects the entire network, so our system is very dynamic, constantly responding to demands of traffic,” Mr. Yu said. “But it takes a lot of infrastructure to do what we do. Other cities have similar operations. Ours is just very comprehensive.”

In concert with toll and car pool lanes, as well as other initiatives like changeable signs warning of road closings, traffic light synchronization saves $1.3 billion in fuel and time per year, according to David Schrank, co-author of the Texas A&M report.

When buses are running behind schedule, the network automatically extends green lights in bus-only lanes. (When buses are running on time, they have to endure red lights along with everyone else.) When roads are closed for special events, like the Oscars or a presidential visit, light patterns direct cars to other streets, though that does not always solve the problem. President Obama’s visit here in August 2010, for example, forced the closing of a major thoroughfare, unleashing gridlock on the entire west side of the city.

The magnetic sensors pick up most bicycles as well. Pedestrians are tougher to record, but they are also accounted for. Walk lights are extended automatically in some cases — outside the Staples Center after Lakers games, or in Jewish neighborhoods on Saturdays — even if no one pushes the walk button.

Still, many residents have not yet noticed the city’s efforts to ease gridlock. Professor Moore said that to really reduce road congestion, cities must start charging commuters to drive on the busiest corridors and freeways, which, controversially, began recently on one freeway in the area.

“Traffic really just defines your possibilities at any given time,” said Jeremy Fuller, 29, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was born and raised here. “I think it’s gotten worse since I was a kid. As the city continues to grow in population, and the infrastructure doesn’t grow, it’s just always going to get worse.”
Study: Building Roads to Cure Congestion Is an Exercise in Futility 


By Tanya Snyder, May 31, 2011 ( reposted April 2, 2013)

We hear it all the time: The road lobby insists that the only way to reduce mind-numbing traffic congestion on the roads they built is to build new roads. Federal funding gives huge blank checks to state DOTs, which tend to prioritize road building over transit, bridge maintenance or anything else. But mounting evidence suggests that building new roads won’t do anything to alleviate congestion.

In a paper to be published soon in the American Economic Review, two University of Toronto professors have added to the body of evidence showing that highway and road expansion increases traffic by increasing demand. On the flip side, they show that transit expansion doesn’t help cure congestion either.

We’ll spare you the calculus in the report. Here’s the upshot: “Roads cause traffic.”
Duranton and Turner: If you build it, you will sit in traffic on it. 

Professors Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner analyzed travel data from hundreds of metro areas in the U.S., resulting in what they call the most comprehensive dataset  ever assembled on the traffic impacts of road construction. They write:
For interstate highways in metropolitan areas we find that VKT [vehicle kilometers traveled] increases one for one with interstate highways, confirming the “fundamental law of highway congestion” suggested by Anthony Downs (1962; 1992). We also uncover suggestive evidence that this law may extend beyond interstate highways to a broad class of major urban roads, a “fundamental law of road congestion”. These results suggest that increased provision of interstate highways and major urban roads is unlikely to relieve congestion of these roads.
Duranton and Turner say building more roads results in more driving for a number of reasons: People drive more when there are more roads to drive on, commercial driving and trucking increases with the number of roads, and, to a lesser extent, people migrate to areas with lots of roads. Given that new capacity just increases driving, they find that “a new lane kilometer of roadway diverts little traffic from other roads.”

Given the huge amount of time consumed by driving (the average American household spent nearly three hours per day in a car in 2001), the authors note that “the costs of congestion are large.” Considering the economic value of time spent doing anything but sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, that becomes an economic problem of the first order.

“Transportation accounts for about one dollar in five that Americans spend,” Turner said in an interview with Streetsblog. “The interstate highway system eats up on the order of two dollars of every $100 of every market transaction in the United States. That’s a huge part of the economy and a huge part of people’s lives. Understanding how that works is really important; you don’t want to make mistakes on something that important. You don’t want to build roads and have them not deliver the effects that you expect them to.”

The implications for this research are significant, especially as Congress considers whether to integrate performance measures into federal transportation spending decisions. These findings make a strong case that Congress should not allocate too many scarce resources to road expansion when that’s not a real solution for congestion.

Duranton and Turner say that metropolitan areas tend to get new roads regardless of whether or not the prevailing level of traffic warrants expansion. They urge the establishment of transportation policies based on their findings and the data they compiled, rather than the “claims of advocacy groups”:
Unfortunately, there is currently little empirical basis for accepting or rejecting the claims by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association that “adding highway capacity is key to helping to reduce traffic congestion”, or of the American Public Transit Association that without new investment in public transit, highways will become so congested that they “will no longer work”. Our results do not support either of these claims.
They didn’t find that transit reduces congestion. But that doesn’t mean that metro areas shouldn’t build transit as a way to maximize the efficiency of their transportation networks, they say. Turner said transit is a good way to get more “person-miles” out of roads. But more buses and trains won’t reduce congestion, he added, because regardless of how many drivers switch to transit, other drivers will fill the vacuum.

“If you think about the result that we’re finding for roads – if you add a little bit of capacity, someone uses it, right?” Turner said. “So there are all these people out there waiting to take trips as soon as there’s space on the roads. So if somebody stays home, or if you add capacity to the road, there’s somebody there waiting to use that space. Well you should expect the same thing to happen if somebody gets out of their car and gets on the bus, it’s bringing up a little bit more room on the roads, and there’s somebody out there waiting to use it.”

Still, Turner says transit plays a vital role in maximizing the value of our transportation networks. “Transportation infrastructure is just so expensive,” he said. It’s important to use it efficiently.
The researchers didn’t discern between light rail, commuter rail, and buses. Turner said he feels that buses allow cities to move just as many people with a much cheaper infrastructure network, but there are passionate arguments on both sides of the bus vs. rail debate, and the authors don’t choose one over the other in their paper. In fact, they only have one significant policy recommendation:
These findings suggest that both road capacity expansions and extensions to public transit are not appropriate policies with which to combat traffic congestion. This leaves congestion pricing as the main candidate tool to curb traffic congestion.
“The menu of policy responses to congestion is not really that long,” Turner said in our interview. “You’ve got building more roads, building more transit, and congestion pricing, and if you’d like you can put smart growth on there. We looked at two of those really carefully and found that they didn’t perform as advertised. So if you’re thinking about these things purely as responses to congestion, it doesn’t look like they work. There is some evidence that congestion taxes work. So if you were going to pick one of these things to go for, that would be it.”

They’re working on research now to investigate the impacts of smart growth on traffic.

Lots of Cars and Trucks, No Traffic Signs or Lights: Chaos or Calm?


By Sarah Goodyear, April 2, 2013

 Lots of Cars and Trucks, No Traffic Signs or Lights: Chaos or Calm?

No traffic lights. No traffic signs. No painted lines in the roadway. No curbs. And 26,000 vehicles passing every day through a traditional village center with busy pedestrian traffic.

It’s called "shared space." Is it insanity, or the most rational way to create a pleasant place where drivers, cyclists, and people on foot all treat each other with respect?

The village of Poynton in the U.K. has undertaken one of the most ambitious experiments to date in this type of street design, whose most prominent advocate was the Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman. Variations on the shared-space model have been implemented in other European cities since the early 1990s, but never before at such a busy junction. Poynton's city leaders sought the change because the historic hub of their quaint little town had become a grim and unwelcoming place.

"Over the years, the increase in traffic and the steps taken to try to deal with that have changed this place from being the heart of the village into being merely a traffic-signal-controlled wasteland," said Ben Hamilton-Baillie, the street designer whose firm executed the change, before the work began.

The project didn’t come cheap, costing about $6 million. Engineers completely reconfigured the intersection at the center of town, replacing a traffic light with two "roundels" that cars must negotiate without the guidance of traffic signs. Pavements of varying colors and textures are the only signal as to which type of road user belongs where.

It was a controversial move for the community of some 14,000 people, which lies about 11 miles from Manchester in the northwestern part of England. Now, a year after construction wrapped up, a video called "Poynton Regenerated" makes the case that the shared space scheme maintains a smooth flow of traffic while simultaneously making the village center a more attractive and safer place for pedestrians, leading to increased economic activity downtown.

The film, which documents conditions before and after the change, is made by Martin Cassini, himself an avowed foe of traffic lights and signs and advocate of the shared space concept. So consider the source, and be aware that the shared space concept has come under criticism in the Netherlands, where it originated, for being unfriendly to cyclists. Local online forums in the Poynton area have seen their share of negative commentary as well, much of it from people who predicted an increase in collisions and injuries before the plan was fully implemented.

But in at least one other U.K. community where a shared-space scheme has been in place for several years, dire predictions of rampant crashes have proved unfounded. The town of Ashford has seen its roads become measurably safer since the implementation of its traffic transformation, according to the Financial Times:
In the three years before the scheme opened in November 2008, there were 17 accidents involving injury on this stretch of ring road. Since its creation, there have been just four, and Kent police have reported only one serious collision, when a pedestrian sustained a broken ankle.
In the "Regenerating Poynton" video, several people who admit to having been skeptical of the plan say that after it was put in place, they came to see it as a dramatic improvement. A local city councilor says that the main street no longer seems like a dying place, as it had for years before the change. Some 88 percent of businesses in the area are reporting an increase in foot traffic, and real estate agents say they're seeing new interest in buying property in the area.

The social interactions that result from shared space — eye contact, waves of thanks, and the like — are one of the main selling points for advocates.

"Shared space is a term that simply describes a shift in thinking away from the regulated highway towards using the natural skills that humans are blessed with to negotiate movement and allow the normal civilities of life to continue," says road designer Hamilton-Baillie. "I think what Poynton has demonstrated is that it is possible to create a continuous-flow, low-speed environment, still cope with pedestrian crossing movements, and, most importantly, recreate a space, a place outside the church in Fountain Place, that is part of the town — and no longer merely an appendage to the highway."

"It has a very calming effect," says one resident in the film. "And I think we’re all being kinder to one another, motorists and pedestrians alike."