Purpose

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

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Westbound 10 Freeway closed in Fontana after big rigs hit bridge

 http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-bigrigs-bridge-traffic-20130404,0,5829320.story

By Frank Shyong, April 4, 2013

 

A portion of the westbound 10 Freeway near Citrus Avenue in Fontana was closed for three hours Thursday after two big rigs struck a temporary bridge and showered the roadway below with debris, according to California Highway Patrol spokeswoman Terri Casinga.

The crash occured about 4 p.m., and a SigAlert was issued about 20 minutes later.

One truck carrying an earthmover on a flatbed trailer struck a beam supporting the wooden bridge, causing debris to hang down. The second truck, which was carrying a forklift, struck the hanging debris.

The impact knocked the forklift off the truck bed. It was dragged behind the second truck for about a quarter mile, Casinga said.

Online CHP logs of the incident said the forklift, weighing anywhere from 6,000 to 8,000 pounds, was on its side in the road at one point.

Both trucks, the construction equipment and a blue Toyota Celica traveling near the second truck were damaged, but no injuries were reported, Casinga said.

The incident created a traffic nightmare that had drivers making U-turns on the freeway, driving the wrong way and on road shoulders to escape the traffic, according to CHP logs.

The freeway was reopened about 7 p.m., Kasinga said.

Port of Los Angeles lauds finished dredging project

 http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_22942759/port-los-angeles-lauds-finished-dredging-project

By Brian Sumers, April 3, 2013

 
Standing aboard the retired battleship USS Iowa, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ordered, via walkie-talkie, one final batch of mud scooped from the Main Channel on Wednesday at the Port of Los Angeles.

It was more or less a ceremonial scoop, as the 10-year, $370 million channel deepening project had already been completed. The port's Main Channel, West Basin Channel and East Basin Channel are now 53 feet deep, about 8 feet deeper than they were a decade ago.

Officials say the waterways will accommodate even larger ships and allow the nation's busiest port to remain competitive with other facilities. The project, led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers removed about 15 million cubic yards of materials from the channel bottom.

"I tell you, 'size matters,' " said Geraldine Knatz, Port of Los Angeles executive director. "And a port is defined by the depth of its channel. There are a lot of ports around that country that are starting to get to 45 feet or 50 feet. But this effort, at 53 feet, is a testimony to our ongoing commitment to be the nation's premier gateway for international trade. "

A newer, larger class of ships requires considerably deeper water than the vessels they have replaced, port officials said.

"The capacity right here for larger vessels made possible by this dredging project will lead to more jobs because of additional shipping container volume, higher cargo value and more goods to be imported and exported," said Democratic U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn, whose district includes the Port of Los Angeles.

Elected officials tend to speak positively about most expensive infrastructure projects, but Jock
 O'Connell, an international trade economist based in Sacramento, said this development likely will give Los Angeles a competitive advantage. The channel will accommodate vessels as large as the CMA CGM Group Marco Polo, which is 396 meters long and capable of carrying 16,020, 20-foot container equivalents, a common industry measurement.

O'Connell said fully loaded modern ships sit considerably lower in the water than their predecessors. "It's a pretty big deal," O'Connell said. "In the near future, having a 53-foot channel means that shipping lines can now say, 'Well, we can use our most cost-efficient and cost-effective vessels at this Southern California port. "'Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the port, said the channel will help Los Angeles remain competitive even when the Panama Canal is widened, a project set for completion in 2015. The improved canal is expected to permit larger ships to sail directly from Asia to the East Coast of the United States. For now, many of those ships call at Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Logistics experts caution it's likely too early to predict how much of an effect the new canal will have on Southern California trade.

"As we continue to face increased competition from the widened Panama Canal and from seaports all across the country and around the world, it's clear that projects like this one are critical to maintaining our standing as America's No. 1 container port," Buscaino said.

Someone at LADOT Wants a Monorail to Dodger Stadium

 http://la.curbed.com/archives/2013/04/someone_at_ladot_wants_a_monorail_to_dodger_stadium.php

By Eve Bachrach, April 4, 2013

 

 2013.04_dodgermonorail.jpg

 
A new post about Dodger Stadium traffic on County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's website really buries the lead: the Department of Transportation is pro-monorail. Well, at least one guy is. Asked for a long-term solution to the perennial problem of traffic before and after Dodger games, Aram Sahakian replied "my personal recommendation would be a monorail." The rest of the post deals with the Dodger Stadium Express, the rather more quotidian bus that runs between Union Station and Chavez Ravine, and its dedicated lane on Sunset. Ridership is up on the express bus, but traffic has still been a nightmare on game days. To improve matters, Sahakian has proposed letting carpoolers use the bus lane, and using the city's newly-synced traffic lights to help out before every home game (as they did on opening day). And then we should totally build a monorail.

Breaking: There’s Finally Light at the End of the Expo Legal Tunnel. Supremes Set Court Date. 

 http://la.streetsblog.org/2013/04/04/breaking-theres-finally-light-at-the-end-of-the-expo-legal-tunnel-supremes-set-court-date/


By Damien Newton, April 4, 2013


One of the longest-running Streetsblog stories is nearing it’s end: the ongoing legal battle over Expo Line environmental documents. The California Supreme Court just announced that it has scheduled a hearing of the Neighbors for Smart Rail v Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority on May 7, 2013.

Two lower courts have already ruled that the Expo Construction Authority (Expo) acted properly basing their traffic studies on future conditions instead of current conditions. However, attorneys for NFSR point to two cases Madera Oversight Coalition, Inc. v. County of Madera (5th District Court of Appeals, 2011) and Sunnyvale West Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Sunnyvale City Council (6th District Court of Appeals, 2010where state appellate courts ruled that agencies cannot use future conditions as a baseline when evaluating the environmental impacts of proposed projects.

Faced with conflicting opinions, it’s natural for the Supreme Court to want to have the final say in this case and establish case law for similar legal conflicts in the future. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of NFSR, it could require the traffic study for the entire Expo Phase II to be done over.

Of course, this isn’t television and a ruling won’t be handed down for months after both sides present their cases. One way or another, we’re one step closer to the end of Expo’s legal odyssey that began on Phase I.

Dance performances at Red Line stations Friday and Saturday

 http://thesource.metro.net/2013/04/04/dance-performances-at-red-line-stations-friday-and-saturday/

By Heidi Zeller, April 4, 2013

 Dancers rehearse at Union Station East Portal in preparation for Red Line Time performances on April 5 and 6

 Dancers rehearse at Union Station in preparation for Red Line Time performances on April 5 and 6.

On Friday and Saturday of this week, fleeting dance performances will take place at 14 Metro Rail stations as part of a conference on urbanism and modernism taking place at Metro. Stephan Koplowitz: Red Line Time is a time/space durational site-specific performance event presented by the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles and was conceived and created by award winning director/choreographer/media artist Stephan Koplowitz.

Through an ensemble of eight performers, Stephan Koplowitz: Red Line Time utilizes the diverse spaces at each individual station along the Metro Red Line to create a durational, and long distance performance that is in sync with the train in both space and time. Following the Metro Red Line trains’ schedule, Stephan Koplowitz: Red Line Time is performed both above ground at Metro station entrances and underground at various stations’ mezzanine level ticketing plazas. The entire event is designed to match the ebb and flow of the commuting public, and to take place within the strict schedule of the trains. In doing so, the performances aim to transform the Metro Red Line into a long distance performative space and invite the public to discover and re-discover a vital transportation artery of Los Angeles.

Stephan Koplowitz: Red Line Time spans all 14 stations of Metro’s Red Line, beginning at Union Station and continuing on to North Hollywood, lasting about 2 1/2 hours. Audiences are asked to meet at the Union Station East Portal, next to the Metro Customer Center, and purchase a Metro TAP card all-day pass, granting them access to enter and exit the Metro Red Line for the duration of the performance ($1.00 for the card for those who don’t already have one + $5.00 for all-day pass). Audience members are invited to follow the performance for as long or as short a time period as they wish as it travels through the Red Line stations.
Performances begin at the Union Station East Portal next to the Metro Customer Center on the following dates and times:

Friday, April 5, 9 a.m.
Friday, April 5, 6 p.m.
Saturday, April 6, 4 p.m.

Stephan Koplowitz: Red Line Time will be performed by Rachel Butler-Green, Roya Carreras, Leslie Curtis, Nick Duran, Monica Mordaunt, Kerrie Schroeder, Alexandria Yalj, Sadie Yarrington and Jacob Campbell (understudy). Anne C. Moore is the Rehearsal Director and Costume Designer.
Re:street is a public conference that serves both as an introduction to the new science of streets and as a basis for discussion about the form of the future city. The conference is jointly organized and hosted by the Bauhaus Universitaet Weimar in Germany and California State Polytechnic University in Pomona.
Dancers rehearse at North Hollywood Station in preparation for Red Line Time performances on April 5 and 6. Photo: Stephan Koplowitz
Dancers rehearse at North Hollywood Station in preparation for Red Line Time performances on April 5 and 6. Photo: Stephan Koplowitz
Dancers rehearse in preparation for Red Line Time performances on April 5 and 6. Photo: Natalie Metzger
Dancers rehearse in preparation for Red Line Time performances on April 5 and 6. Photo: Natalie Metzger

Official Video of the Special Joint Meeting of LA County Supervisor Michael Antonvich March 27, 2013

l hour, 29 minutes, and 46 seconds:

http://pasadena.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=25&clip_id=2484


Preparing One's Property for a Fire Inspection

Email from Carla Riggs, April 4, 2013

 We attended a meeting last night which SRNA hosted. Fire Chief Calvin Wells and other fire department members patiently explained what is happening with the notices we've all received concerning our homes being in a 'very high' fire hazard area.

The information below is that which I've copied off the Fire Department's webpage. You may want to use this as an informal check list before the fire personnel arrive to check your yards.
Especially be aware of dead leaves in your roof gutters. Clean them out, and any other dead branches or bushes you may have.

Homeowners do not need to be home for the inspection to proceed. This is a very non-invasive inspection... a business card will be left on your front porch stating that the FD was there. If your home did NOT pass inspection, the FD will leave a check list for you.
Any questions, please call the fire department.
~Carla

THE PASADENA FIRE DEPARTMENT ANNOUNCES HAZARDOUS VEGETATION NOTIFICATIONS

MEDIA ALERT

Contact: Lisa Derderian
(626) 744-7276 (office)
(626) 945-5169 (cell)

The Pasadena Fire Department will begin brush clearance inspections will commence on April 1, 2013 and continue through June 2013. Residents in high prone brush areas should receive a brochure outlining the requirements mandated by the State to keep you and your neighbors safe. Firefighters will be available to answer any questions you may have about our existing fire codes and ordinances regarding hazardous vegetation management and brush clearance.

The Fire Department does not recommend indiscriminate clearing of native chaparral due to the important role that it plays in slope stabilization and erosion control. Additionally, grass and weeds should be mowed and shrubs and trees should be trimmed. Re-landscape with ground-covers under 24-inches tall with high moisture content and retain shrubs and trees 18 feet apart from each other. Plants with high moisture content are recommended such as: citrus, oak and oleander at least 18 feet apart.

Other Fire Safety recommendations include cleaning leaves, needles and twigs from roof gutters, soaking trees and shrubs monthly to maintain leaf moisture content, pruning trees properly, keeping your property free of accumulated combustibles such as dried vegetation, cuttings and wood piles and mulch flat planting areas three inches deep to suppress weeds.

For further information please contact the Fire Prevention Bureau at 626-744-7178.

L.A. City Hall Finds New Way To Ignore You -- With MyLA311 App

 http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2013/04/los_angeles_pothole_app_311.php#more

By Dennis Romero, April 2, 2013

 city hall Corey Miller law flickr.JPG

 

 
Technology is just amazing.

Besides providing new ways for you be embarrassed by your mom (Facebook), called out by your peers (Twitter) and dumped by your lesser half (texting), smartphones can now give you a whole new way to be ignored by your taxpayer-funded representatives at City Hall:

Yes indeed there's an app for that. It's called MyLA311 -- you know, it's yours, like MySpace, which is so, like, now.

L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa this week announced that the city for the first time has a smartphone app, developed by downtown's 3Di Systems and available for both Android and iOS phones, that connects you to the 311 system online.

 http://youtu.be/X863DyU5EBs


You can now get the city to ignore your request for couch removal, graffiti abatement, or pothole repair -- from the convenience of your smartphone.

What's really cool about it, though, is that it does so while using photos you upload and GPS coordinates provided by your phone to pinpoint the problems that will not be addressed any time soon. This is high-tech neglect, people.
You can also let the DWP ream you virtually with online bill-pay. Less butthurt, instant broke!
Villaraigosa:
MyLA311 is a major leap forward in making City Hall a tech friendly place. Angelenos now have a direct mobile portal to vital services and key city information. This will spur a more open and transparent government. MyLA311 puts the power of City Hall in the palm of your hand.
Yes, if you've ever called 311 or 911, this app eliminates the busy signals without compromising the trademark lack of service you've grown accustomed to.

Access Across America 

 http://www.cts.umn.edu/Research/featured/access/

 

About the study

Aerial view of office buildings and roads
Access Across America, a study by David Levinson, the R.P. Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation Engineering at the University of Minnesota, goes beyond congestion rankings to focus on accessibility: a measure that examines both land use and the transportation system. The study is the first systematic comparison of trends in accessibility to jobs by car within the U.S. By comparing accessibility to jobs by automobile during the morning peak period for 51 metropolitan areas, the study tells us which cities are performing well in terms of accessibility and which have seen the greatest change.

To generate the rankings for this study, Levinson created a weighted average of accessibility, giving a higher weight to closer jobs. Jobs reachable within ten minutes are weighted most heavily, and jobs are given decreasing weight given as travel time increases up to 60 minutes.

Map of U.S. metro areas ranked by accessibility

View full-size map


Top 10 accessible metro areas (2010)

  1. Los Angeles
  2. San Francisco
  3. New York
  4. Chicago
  5. Minneapolis
  6. San Jose
  7. Washington, D.C.
  8. Dallas
  9. Boston
  10. Houston





LAX transit link finally becoming a reality.

 http://archpaper.com/news/articles.asp?id=6579

 April 3, 2013







For the many who have doubted that there would ever be a rail connection to LAX airport, there’s some very good news. It looks like it’s going ahead.

At the end of January, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) unveiled its LAX land use plan, known as the Specific Plan Amendment Study, or SPAS. The document, which calls for hundreds of changes to the airport itself—from new runways to enlarged and renovated terminals—includes a call for an automated people mover that could link the upcoming Crenshaw light rail line, the Metro Green Line, and the airport. Meanwhile, LA’s transit agency, Metro, has completed a preliminary “alternatives analysis” for an airport transit connector. Metro plans to complete its study this summer. Now the two agencies need to come together on how and where all these connections will take place.

The dashed green line shows possible connection from light rail to LAX Airport.
 
     
“We’re getting pressure from the public to just do a connection already,” said Roderick Diaz, Metro director of system-wide planning.
In addition to the construction of a people mover, LAWA’s SPAS plan calls for the development of an intermodal transportation facility at 98th Street and Airport Boulevard—east of the airport—that would contain shuttles, buses, and other transit options. According to SPAS, the people mover could be designed to link this facility and the airport, traveling on a new elevated guide way.

But the location of the people mover is still very much up for debate. In addition to the proposal of a path between the intermodal facility and the airport, and one linking the Metro Crenshaw and Green line stations at Century and Aviation Boulevards—further east than the intermodal option—to the airport, another option would see light rail traveling straight to the airport, from where it would connect to a people mover linking all terminals.

 
LAWA project manager Lisa Trifiletti pointed out that a people mover will be a part of the equation one way or the other because it is an efficient means of transportation capable of linking all terminals while not obstructing other transportation at the airport. The people mover also would be under the scrutiny of airport security, unlike a direct link via Metro’s rail lines. LAWA would pay for the people mover, said Trifiletti, while Metro would pay for any light rail connections.

“We will continue to evaluate all alternatives and combinations of alternatives to determine the best course of investment for Metro,” said Diaz. “There’s some good cooperation going on,” he added.
Metro hopes to have the connection completed by 2020. Trifiletti said the entire SPAS plan is scheduled to be carried out by 2025.

“We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress and we’re very proud to be working with Metro. We just have a tremendous amount of work to do,” said Trifilleti.

Port railyard plan must heed West Long Beach concerns: Editorial

http://www.dailynews.com/opinions/ci_22942605/port-railyard-plan-must-heed-west-long-beach

April 3, 2013

Southern Californians should be rooting for the proposed railyard project at the Port of Los Angeles, which would create shorter truck routes, helping the region's economy and environment. But that doesn't mean they should be rooting against the people in West Long Beach, who fear the facility would hurt that immediate area. Money and effort must be spent to limit the potential damage and bring the plan to approval.

It became clear this week how far there is to go to make the project shipshape.

Siding with Long Beach city officials and project opponents that allowing Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. to build the Southern California International Gateway railyard could harm the neighborhood, the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners voted to direct port staff to work with the city to solve the problems. The railyard first proposed in 2005 is making another trip back to the drawing board.

Done right, it could be a great thing for a region that's always looking for ways for economic and environmental improvements to work hand in hand.

The $500 million railyard promises 1,500 jobs. Trucks would deliver containers from the L.A. and Long Beach ports to the 153-acre location near the Terminal Island Freeway instead of driving 24 miles to a yard south of downtown L.A.

Proponents say this would reduce the number of truck trips on the Long Beach Freeway (710) each year by 1.5 million.

 Less traffic, less pollution.

As for the neighborhood impact, reports by the Port of L.A. say that given BNSF's promise to spend $100 million on green technology like electric cranes and clean-burning locomotives and big rigs, the railyard would be better than the trucking company now using the site in Wilmington bounded by Sepulveda Boulevard, Pacific Coast Highway, State Route 47 and the Dominguez Channel.

Neighbors beg to differ, worrying about health risks from increased train and truck traffic. A group protested last week outside the home of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, because he appointed the L.A. harbor commissioners who voted unanimously March 7 to support the project.

Long Beach officials want stronger efforts to mitigate environmental impacts, including better sound walls, a stronger commitment to zero-emission trucks, and a buffer zone to protect local homes and schools.

These seem essential if the plan is to win approval.

Coincidentally - or ironically - BNSF is scheduled to be honored at a May 2 dinner with the Long Beach-area Boy Scouts' 2013 Distinguished Citizen Award. The company can show what a good scout it is by doing more to allay the real concerns of West Long Beach residents and help its railyard project to fulfill its promise.



What Transportation Says About Lifestyle

 http://www.globalsiteplans.com/environmental-design/what-transportation-says-about-lifestyle/

By Maxwell Vidaver, April 4, 2013

 

Each day, millions of people depend on reliable transportation for access at a high level of efficiency; and in this way, cities are the largest people movers around. From a logistical standpoint, the efficiency as well as effectiveness and sustainability of these systems is directly correlated with intelligent planning techniques that are able to react to changing population needs.
Transportation networks are synergistic, and become more functional and effective as transport modes are interlinked. This is because one mode is not able to service an entire city; systems must be multimodal to address weak points in first and last-mile connections and other low-service areas. To achieve this type of network with efficient transfer points involves coordinating schedules and stops of bus routes, streetcars, subways, urban rail lines, and car and bicycle sharing stations. For example, European cities, such as Milan and Paris, have high population densities that support these services and facilitate movement because of mass accessibility to public transportation.
Milan Lancetti Train Station with Frecciarossa
The American context shares both ends of this spectrum. It can be argued that historical dense cities such as New York and Boston are both products of their intricate transit systems. However, overcoming system deficiencies in contemporary automobile oriented places, such as Los Angeles or Atlanta, is complicated due to an automobile-scale characterized by extensive sprawl. Transit systems in these cases are more expensive from large infrastructure and distance demands, and even a developed network will still have problems with connections between individual homes and transportation nodes.
Milan Bike Sharing BikeMe Station at Politecnico
Ameliorating this issue is no simple task, and has inherent conflictual demands. We can choose to live in dense city centers, but relinquish the precious personal space found in more suburban areas. In return, we gain proximity to work and school, and added health benefits from increased physical activity. Higher density areas can even further induce demand for services as the effectiveness and accessibility to transportation options increases.

At this point we must ask ourselves: which lifestyle do we want, and at what cost?
Big tunnel digger 'Bertha' arrives in Seattle

 http://seattletimes.com/html/picturethis/2020694548_berthaarrivesinseattle.html

By Heather Trimm, April 2, 2013



 



A crew member of the ship carrying Bertha, the giant boring machine, is in red (far right) dwarfed by the 57 1/2-foot cutting face of the machine.






 



Bertha, the tunnel boring machine, arrives in 41-pieces aboard a ship from Japan Tuesday. It's welcomed by the spray from a Seattle fireboat and a harbor tour cruise by the bow.



For more photos from Bertha's arrival, visit the gallery.

For more information on Bertha's arrival and where you can see it, check out our graphic.



Feds Posit Ambitious Plan for Northeast High Speed Rail

 http://transportationnation.org/2013/04/02/64607/

By Kate Hinds, April 2, 2013



The shoot-for-the-moon, Level D plan: a second Northeast Corridor "spine," Long Island-to-New England service, and 220-mph rail

Over a dozen plans for improving rail in the Northeast Corridor are under consideration by the federal government, ranging from minor improvements to a future with 220-mile-per-hour bullet trains between Washington and Boston — not to mention new service between Long Island and New England.

These various options are detailed in a new report released Tuesday by the Federal Railroad Administration. NEC FUTURE sketches out 15 alternatives representing different levels of investment through the year 2040 in the 457-mile corridor.

Related: Amtrak Updates High-Speed Rail Vision, What’s Changed

The options, in turn, have been grouped into four separate categories which grow progressively more ambitious: while those in Level A focus on achieving a state of good repair, Level D would build a separate high-speed rail line between Boston and D.C. and bring new service in the region, primarily in Long Island, New England and the Delmarva peninsula.

The report aims to jump-start public debate about how rail capacity should be shaped in the region. “It is intended to be the foundation for future investments in the Northeast Corridor, a 150 year-old alignment that has guided the growth of what is now one of the most densely populated transportation corridors in the world,” said Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, NEC FUTURE program manager for the Federal Railroad Administration.  “(It) will further the dialogue about the rail network in the Northeast and how it can best serve us over for the years ahead.”

Over the next year, these 15 options will be winnowed down. The federal government wants to have a single alternative in place by 2015.

Because it’s conceptual, no cost estimates are included in the report. But existing documents provide a baseline. In 2010, Amtrak identified $9 billion alone in state of good repair projects for the NEC, with an additional $43 billion in investment just to meet projected 2030 ridership levels for the current system. Meanwhile, another Amtrak report estimated the cost of bringing high-speed rail to the NEC at $151 billion.

Related: Amtrak’s 220mph Vision for the Future

Dan Schned, a senior transportation planner at the Regional Plan Association, said “what’s possible and what Congress has the stomach to spend are two different things.”

But he said that funding need not come solely from Congress. “Successful high-speed rail projects around the world have private sector participation,” Schned pointed out, adding that “the arrangement of public and private financing and project delivery issues will be the most challenging” aspects of overhauling the NEC.

The Federal Railroad Administration is holding workshops in New Haven, Newark and Washington D.C. next week to present the plan to the public. For more information, go here.  Read the full report below.

With an Influx of Cars, Yangon's Public Space May Be in Peril

 http://www.theatlanticcities.com/design/2013/04/influx-cars-yangons-public-space-may-be-peril/5187/

By Zoe Blackler, April 4, 2013

 

 With an Influx of Cars, Yangon's Public Space May Be in Peril

 

YANGON, Myanmar—The Premier coffee shop on Bogyoke Aung San Road, a wide boulevard marking the northern limit of this city's downtown, used to spread out plastic tables and chairs beneath a row of trees along the edge of the broad sidewalk adjacent to its storefront. Much Yangon social life takes place in sidewalk cafes. They're where friends meet, politics is discussed and business conducted.

In February, workmen hired by the municipal government arrived, unannounced, and began digging up the sidewalk. They reduced its width by nearly two-thirds, felled the smaller trees, and marked out car parking spaces where the cafe's chairs and tables once were. "It's so sad," said Premier's owner, who asked not to be named (reluctance to publicly criticize the government endures in this former pariah state). "People used to love sitting out under those trees."


A typical wide sidewalk in downtown Yangon. (Zoë Blackler)

Myanmar's principle city has changed little since the 1960s. Downtown, where development was stifled by decades of military rule, the colonial core, though decaying, is largely intact. Rows of four-to-eight story, mixed-use buildings line the streets, where betel nut stands, newspaper stalls, palm readers and cane sugar vendors all share sidewalk space with pedestrians and idlers. Yangon has the sort of vibrant street life most modern cities have long lost.

But last year, as part of its program of political and economic reforms, the government of Myanmar eased restrictions on the import of foreign vehicles. Yangon, flooded with cars, is experiencing gridlock for the first time. Drivers complain of escalating journey times and fierce competition for parking space.

In a bid to ease congestion, the Yangon City Development Committee, the city's planning authority, has been widening roads.


A sidewalk being replaced with car parking in downtown Yangon. (Zoë Blackler)

Downtown, work has focused on principle thoroughfares Bogyoke Aung San Road, Merchant Street, and Bo Aung Kyaw Street, where workers are narrowing once spacious sidewalks by a lane-width, displacing the cafes and street vendors to create rows of parking spaces. And this is just the beginning. In an interview with the Myanmar Times, U Tin Tun Oo, executive engineer of YCDC's roads and bridges department, said the road widening program would be expanded, budget allowing, to more streets and townships.
Prioritizing cars over people could have a detrimental effect on the character of the city, says Lucy Musgrave, director of Publica, a London-based urban design consultancy. Far from reducing congestion by the 30 to 40 percent the YCDC expects, decades of research has shown "that if you make more roads you will have more cars." And if you rub out street life in the process, as so many first-world cities have discovered, "it is very difficult to ever manufacture it again."


Narrowed sidewalk with new parking spaces in downtown Yangon. (Zoë Blackler)

While it's too soon to tell whether Yangon will learn from others' mistakes or replicate them, there are good reasons to be concerned.
As researchers from Harvard's Ash Center warned last year [PDF], the city is ill-prepared to cope with mounting pressure for development as foreign investors stream into Yangon. There is currently no proper democratic planning process, cronyism and corruption are widespread, resources scant and infrastructure inadequate. In recent months, insensitive developments have reportedly been approved in private back room deals, and a number of heritage buildings are under immediate threat.
There is also no city-wide master plan, and while the YCDC is currently preparing one with the support of the Japan International Cooperation Agency, it won't be complete until the end of the year, during which time irreversible mistakes could be made. Even once the plan is in place — however exemplary — the great hunger for rapid economic development as Myanmar opens up could eclipse all other considerations.

Moe Moe Lwin, director of recently formed heritage body The Yangon Heritage Trust, is nonetheless confident the political will exists to make Yangon the most liveable city in Asia. She believes it will be possible to protect Yangon's unique character — its many parks, lakes and green spaces, and the British-built residential blocks and civic buildings downtown — and to incorporate much-needed development without forcing out existing residents or sanitizing the streets.

Both city and national governments have welcomed the trust's input, she says. And while she acknowledges the road widening program is a mistake, she puts this down to unilateral action on the part of Yangon's roads and bridges department.

"Everyone is working so hard in their own way. The one who is responsible for the policy on importing cars is working on his own, and the one who is managing public transport is working on their own. But I'm sure everybody has good intentions. Everyone is so enthusiastic about the changes in the country and where they have a chance to work for the county."

Even so, the vulnerable are already losing out.


A Yangon newspaper vendor improvises during sidewalk construction work. (Zoë Blackler)

Daw Su Su Maw sells newspapers on Merchant Street. Today, she sits amid building rubble, her former sidewalk patch now a gash in the road where soon there will be finished concrete and rows of flashy SUVs. Vendors weren't forewarned about the plans, she says, let alone given the chance to object. Like other street vendors, she believes the authorities want to clear them off the streets. A recent law banning vendors on major thoroughfares outside the hours of 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. is being enforced now as never before, even on roads where the sidewalks remain untouched.

For Daw Su Su Maw, moving her stall won't be too damaging, she says. But for other vendors she knows, being forced into quiet side-streets will put them out of business. "For the rich people who are buying cars, [the creation of car parking space] is good. For the poor people already struggling to buy food to eat, it is not so good."