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

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Doug McIntyre: Memo To Garcetti and Greuel: It's nice to be asked


By Doug McIntyre, April 9, 2013

With every imaginable demographic group calling L.A. home, building a winning coalition for the mayoral runoff in May has City Controller Wendy Greuel wolfing down bagels and lox for breakfast, City Councilman Eric Garcetti gobbling papayas on a stick for lunch, and both candidates knocking back Dodger Dogs for dinner.

All the stops are out. All but one.

Neither candidate has yet to speak to Republicans.

While rare in these parts, if you have a good pair of binoculars and camp outside a TD Ameritrade or Morgan Stanley office, you just might spot a real live conservative flitting about L.A.

You're also likely to find Garcetti and Greuel hovering nearby.

In one of the greater ironies of this campaign, the next mayor of L.A. (a liberal Democrat no matter who wins) may very well be crowned by L.A.'s least likely block of voters - conservatives.

When former talk show host Kevin James placed third in the March primary, he went from gadfly to power broker by rolling up a respectable 60,154 votes. Greuel and Garcetti covet those James voters - many of whom live in the San Fernando Valley - which made it a particularly bitter pill for Greuel to swallow when James threw his support to Garcetti.

But does an endorsement from James mean actual votes for Garcetti?

Not necessarily.

While Greuel has yet to explain how she plans on leading Los Angeles out of a fiscal crisis fueled largely by unsustainable public employee pension deals she voted for as a member of the City Council - especially when those deals are owed to the very unions pledging hundreds of thousands of dollars to her campaign, Garcetti has his own problems with conservatives.

As the former president of the City Council, it's not like Garcetti was an innocent bystander when the SS Los Angeles sailed onto the reef. He was the helmsman.

 Now the Garcetti campaign bashes Greuel for being too cozy with the very same public employee unions their candidate aggressively courted hoping to win the very endorsements he now criticizes.

You can't make this up.

Greuel's embarrassment of labor endorsement riches would, under normal circumstances, be an asset in a city election. However, she has the misfortune of needing votes from conservatives who see those endorsements as just an embarrassment.

Which is hardly a reason to vote for Eric Garcetti.

Garcetti and Greuel have nearly identical voting records; records most conservatives view with skepticism if not alarm.

And significantly, neither candidate has given conservatives a reason to vote for them. "The other guy would be much worse" is a pretty feeble boast.

Thus far conservatives have only heard generalities about making L.A. more "business friendly," rhetoric that rings hollow considering most conservatives believe Garcetti and Greuel are part of the generation of politicians that made L.A. "business unfriendly" to begin with.

While the James endorsement made a splashy headline for Eric Garcetti, this election is going to be won by the candidate who can persuade enough conservatives to show up on election day.

It shouldn't be that hard.

Conservatives like to vote. Sixty thousand did so in March.

Wendy? Eric? Are you listening?

Santa Monica OKs Regulations on Pedicabs 


By Jessica E. Davis, April 10, 2013


The Santa Monica City Council gave a green light Tuesday to an ordinance regulating pedicabs in the city.

In an unanimous vote, the council approved the ordinance, which requires pedicabs to have a business license and pay permit fees while prohibiting pedicabs from operating on the Beach Bike Path.

"I’d rather have it regulated than unregulated in Santa Monica," Councilman Robert Holbrook said.
Pedicabs, used mostly by tourists, are known by other names, like cycle rickshaws. They are similar to taxi cabs, but are human-powered.

During discussion, City Attorney Marsha Jones Moutrie said the pedicabs could not be outright banned.

"We can’t keep pedicabs off the street," Moutrie said, citing bicyclists' rights to share the road with vehicles.

Pedicabs are defined by the California Vehicle Code as either a person-operated bicycle that has three or more wheels or a bicycle with a trailer and is capable of transporting passengers for hire on seats attached to the bicycle or trailer.

The city's ordinance requires pedicab companies to have insurance and drivers with clean driving records and valid driver's licenses. Drivers will also be subject to criminal background checks. The pedicabs will be inspected to ensure they have headlights, taillights, turn signals and brakes.

The city opted not to cap the total number of pedicabs or enforce uniform rates. Instead, companies will have to obtain a permit and let the city know the pedicabs' routes. Pedicab drivers would also not be allowed to charge more than the posted rates. Companies will be required to register those rates with the city.

There will be no required loading zones. Instead, pedicabs will be allowed to use any open curb space where a car could pull over.

In June, a company named Trike Pilots Inc. applied for a business license to operate as many as 20 pedicabs in Santa Monica.

Pedicabs in California are currently regulated through the state's vehicle code, which classifies them as bicycles, which allows them to move with the traffic flow on city streets or in bike lanes on streets that have them, according to a city staff report.

The Santa Monica Police Department would enforce the rules of the road.

The regulations would also encompass "barcycles," which carry up to 16 passengers and act as a mobile bar.

Jay Miller of Beach Barcycles said he hoped that the barcycles would not be included in the ordinance.

"We’re more of a unique style vehicle than the pedicab," Miller said.

During discussion, Councilman Tony Vazquez raised concerns about barcycles, which are large in size. He said he first saw one while biking in Venice.

The council also directed city staff to return in six months with a report on the number of licensed pedicabs.

If bullet train is built, a taxpayer bailout may be needed, study says


By Christina Villacorte, April 10, 2013

 A think tank warns slower-than-promised travel times on the planned Los Angeles-San Francisco bullet train could turn off many passengers, leaving the California High-Speed Rail system bleeding up to $373 million a year and needing a taxpayer bailout to keep operating.
In a report being released today, the libertarian Reason Foundation said the California High-Speed Rail Authority - scheduled to break ground on the project in the Central Valley this summer - overestimated ridership by 65 to 77 percent.

Analysts Wendell Cox and Joseph Vranich, who authored "California High Speed Rail: An Updated Due Diligence Report," said the miscalculation would result in taxpayers having to pay $124 million to $373 million each year to cover the bullet train's operating costs and financial losses.

"This is a disaster waiting to happen," Cox said in an interview.

The report's findings contradict an audit released last month by an independent, nonpartisan agency working for Congress.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office's audit said the authority's ridership and revenue forecasts were "reasonable," prompting the authority's CEO, Jeff Morales, to call it "important validation from a highly respected government watchdog."

Authority spokesman Rob Wilcox on Wednesday did not respond to interview requests about the new study and instead issued a statement reiterating the GAO's conclusions.

"In the most thorough review of the Authority's program, the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability office recently gave the Authority high marks and found out ridership, revenue and cost estimates to be reasonable," he said via email.

"The Reason Foundation did not contact the Authority for any information on their study," he added.
Cox said the GAO audit merely checked to see if the authority met industry standards while computing its estimates. He said it never questioned any of the authority's assumptions.

His and Vranich's own analysis found the authority's ridership and revenue forecasts projected a nonstop trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco would take two hours and 40 minutes, even though that travel time is based on the original plan of building tracks dedicated exclusively to high speed trains.

They said a more realistic travel time is 3:50 to 4:40 because the current plan is to build a "blended system" where bullet trains would share existing tracks with slower commuter and freight trains.
They added trips with stops at various stations could take as long as 5:25, prompting passengers to decide to drive or fly instead.

"Based upon the more realistic ridership projections above, it appears likely that the California High-Speed Rail system will require operating subsidies to cover its day-to-day financial losses," the report said.

It projected that taxpayers would have to subsidize the system, at a cost of $124 million to $373 million a year, and that fares would have to be increased.

The 2008 ballot initiative to fund bullet train promised a fare of about $50. It is currently $81.
Cox said voters should go back to the ballot and cancel the project.

"If a used-car salesman sold you a car that didn't fulfill his promises, chances are he'd go to jail under California law," he added. "I don't know why it is that when government is the one that lies to you, it's OK. That's an outrage."

New study calls on O.C. tollway agency to shelve project


By Dan Weikel, April 10, 2013



 Looking west from Aliso Viejo at the San Joaquin Hills transportation corridor toll road where it crosses El Toro Road and snakes up the hill in Laguna Beach toward Newport Beach and Irvine.

Because of the weakened financial condition of Orange County’s largest tollway network, a new study recommends that its leadership postpone a road project and stop borrowing money until state authorities can review the operation.

The assessment released Wednesday by the nonprofit Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco is the second critical review in recent months of the Irvine-based Transportation Corridor Agencies, which oversees 51 miles of tollways, the biggest system of its type in the state.

In December, SNR Denton, a Los Angeles law firm that helped stop the TCA from building a route through San Onofre State Park, disclosed documents that revealed a host of issues plaguing the agency. They included sagging ridership and revenue as well as mounting debts and declining ratings for bonds sold to investors.

The institute’s report also coincides with plans by the California Debt and Investment Advisory Commission to assess the viability of a proposed refinancing of $2.4 billion in TCA bonds.

The new study agrees with many of Denton’s findings, but it goes one step further in recommending that the TCA halt the refinancing and shelve a proposed tollway project in southern Orange County until the agency’s finances are vetted.

Tollway officials said the issues raised by the new study are “old news regenerated by some of the same opposition groups” to TCA projects. They noted that the operation has a quarter million riders daily, earns about $200 million in annual revenue and has not missed a debt payment.

“We’ve had clean opinions on all our independent audits since the TCA was formed in 1986,” said Lori Olin, a spokesperson for the corridor agencies.

Rowena Itchon of the Pacific Research Institute said the organization has never opposed a TCA project until now. She described the tollway report as an independent effort under the institute’s California Studies Program.

Researchers looked at the economic health of the San Joaquin Hills and Foothill-Eastern corridors, two toll networks that were once touted as an innovative way to build public highways without taxpayer money.

Overall, their study concluded that construction of the corridors was based on overly optimistic ridership projections and plans that failed to provide a financial cushion during economic downturns or periods of slow growth.

“The operations of these toll roads presently appear to be unsustainable and may have been unworkable from their inception,” said researcher Donna Arduin, a former budget director for four states, including California during the Schwarzenegger administration. “Subsequent decisions by the TCA board members and managers have made matters worse.”

The report states that to make its debt payments, the TCA has raised tolls so much that its debt per mile is now far higher than the national average for toll roads. The Foothill-Eastern’s is $64 million, while the San Joaquin’s is $136 million. The national average is $17.1 million, the study notes.

Arduin warned that almost a quarter of the TCA’s total debt payments of more than $10 billion stem from capital appreciation bonds that delay principal and interest payments for years and can result in huge debt payments.

As such, tolls for both corridors are now among the highest in the country, researchers said, causing many price-sensitive motorists to avoid them in favor of free public highways.

Researchers contend that a refinancing would be “extremely risky” at this time and, like earlier borrowings, would rely heavily on costly capital appreciation bonds that might be difficult to pay off.

Olin said, however, that it is a good time to refinance because of today’s low interest rates. She added that board members are expected to consider the refinance plan by the end of June.


Metro's free ride may soon be over 


By John Healey, April 10, 2013

 The entrance to the Metro Red Line station in North Hollywood

 Commuters stream through the entrance of the Metro Red Line station in North Hollywood.

A sign of things to come: The entrance turnstiles to the Red and Purple Metro lines at Union Station were locked ("latched," in Metro-speak) Tuesday morning, forcing would-be riders to actually buy a ticket to get on the train.

What a concept.

The latch-down was part of the latest and largest operational test by Metro of the technology it will use to cut down on fare-beaters. Riders have been on the honor system thus far, forced to produce tickets (or more recently, plastic Transit Access Pass cards) only when sheriff's deputies were there to demand them. Although Metro officials assumed that the vast majority of riders did, in fact, pay their fares, some critics were not so sure.

SLIDE SHOW: 10 reasons to salute L.A.'s transportation future

Early tests of the new system suggested the critics were right. In late 2011 and early 2012, trial runs with latched gates raised revenue at two popular Red Line stops by 18% to 22%, The Times' Ari Bloomekatz reported. "Basically, when we latch, we see ridership dip a little and revenue go up," David Sutton, Metro's deputy executive officer of TAP, said in an interview Tuesday.

One key piece of the puzzle has been in place for a while: All the stations on the Red, Purple and Green lines have latchable turnstiles and gates, as do five each on the Blue and Gold lines. Metro is in the process of installing another piece, putting intercoms and cameras near the gates to help customers having trouble getting through. This equipment will let Metro officials open gates remotely if needed.

A third key piece is being tested now by Metrolink: tickets with an embedded microchip that can be used on both the Metrolink lines and the Metro trains. Those tickets will probably go into widespread use at the end of May, Sutton said. "They’ve tested it in some machines, they just don’t have their bulk product yet," he added. "That’s one hurdle we’re still going toward, and all systems are go on that."

So how are riders reacting? Sutton said Metro has staff standing by at the latched gates to help befuddled customers, "but people pick this up quite fast." He added: "We’ve been [latching gates at] the Normandy station on a regular basis for several months. It’s just like clockwork there."

The plan is to start latching gates permanently on June 19, although Sutton said Metro won't do all the stations at once. Instead, it will phase in the change methodically to "help our customers get used to the idea."

Once the latching is fully deployed, Metro will be able to redeploy its security forces to the light-rail stations whose designs won't accommodate gates, Sutton said. But he acknowledged that latching won't solve the fare-beating problem by itself. Unlike the New York subway system, which blocks its entrances with floor-to-ceiling barriers, the turnstiles and gates in Los Angeles can still be hurdled by the able-bodied. That means Metro will have to continue putting sheriff's deputies on trains from time to time to check TAP cards and deter gate-jumpers.

Sutton said his hope is that Metro will never follow New York's lead and install bars on its entryways from floor to ceiling. "I think our stations are really attractive," he said. "I like our travel to be a positive experience."

Positive but not free, that is.

Solo drivers could use carpool lanes on off-hours under proposal


By Daniel Siegal, April 10, 2013Solo drivers in carpool lanes

 The 134-5 interchange in Glendale.



A bill by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Sliver Lake) that would allow solo drivers to use carpool lanes during non-peak hours on the 134 Freeway in Glendale and Burbank has been amended to possibly include other local freeways.

Gatto’s bill, AB 405, passed its first hurdle Monday after it was approved by the Assembly Transportation Committee on a 15-1 vote.

It was originally drafted to only apply to the section of the 134 Freeway, but was amended to include other roads in Los Angeles County that are deemed appropriate by the California Department of Transportation, including the 210 Freeway.

“It's happened to anyone who lives in Southern California.  A late-night accident or mysterious slowing clogs the rightmost freeway lanes, while the carpool lane sits empty,” said Gatto in a statement.  “AB 405 is a cost-effective way to expand capacity on the state’s highway system and ensure that non-peak-hour travelers can travel to and from home and work and deliver goods and services efficiently.”

Currently, carpool lanes are restricted to vehicles with two or more occupants at all times.

President Obama’s proposed budget calls for $130 million for two Metro projects: Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector


By Steve Hymon, April 10, 2013


This page from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation booklet of budget highlights. Click above for the full document (pdf).

This page from the U.S. Dept. of Transportation booklet of budget highlights. Click above for the full document (pdf).

Some very welcome news via the proposed budget released today by President Barack Obama: the budget includes $130 million to help fund two of Metro’s big rail projects: the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector. The budget allocates $65 million to both projects.

This is the first time that both projects will actually receive federal money. The funds are extremely significant because they help supplement Measure R funds for two projects that are both very expensive and need additional funds. Although Congress still must approve the budget, historically these type of funds don’t change much during budget negotiations.

There’s another reason the money is important. The funds are the first payment for more federal dollars that will flow to both projects in future federal budgets via the federal New Starts program that helps local transit agencies pay for big, pricey transit improvements — such as new rail lines.

Formal agreements that detail the New Starts money are expected to be signed between Metro and the Federal Transit Administration later this year. The subway will be asking for $2.3 billion in New Starts money and has a budget of $2.4 billion for its first phase to La Cienega Boulevard. The Regional Connector will be asking for $671 million in New Starts money and has a budget of $1.3 billion.

Utility relocations are already underway for both projects and an exploratory shaft is being dug near Fairfax Avenue for the subway. Metro is trying to have construction underway on both projects within the next year with tunneling slated to begin in 2015. Under Metro’s current schedules, the Connector is expected to open in early 2020 and the Purple Line Extension to La Cienega Boulevard in late 2022.

The Regional Connector is a 1.9-mile underground light rail project in downtown Los Angeles that will tie together the Gold Line, Blue Line and Expo Line that will allow one-seat rides for most passengers through downtown Los Angeles. The Purple Line Extension will ultimately extend the existing Purple Line subway from its current terminus at Wilshire and Western for 9.5 miles to Westwood, mostly under Wilshire Boulevard and with a swing south to serve Century City.

The budget also contains some other welcome news for Metro: it contains a bond program that is part of Metro’s America Fast Forward proposal to help accelerate transit projects. But the President’s budget calls for the federal government to subsidize 28 percent of interest on bonds whereas Metro is seeking a 100 percent subsidy.

Here is the legislative update sent today to the Metro Board of Directors by Metro’s government relations staff about the release of President Obama’s budget:

This afternoon, the White House released President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget.  The budget request for the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is $77 billion, which is 6% more than the Fiscal Year 2012 enacted levels. Within the budget for the USDOT is $130 million in Section 5309 Capital Investment funds for our agency’s two New Starts projects, the Purple Line and the Regional Connector.  The funding recommendation for our New Starts projects can be found on Page 31 of this USDOT budget document - http://goo.gl/nhDyF

The budget released today also included an America Fast Forward Bond proposal, that while different in substance from our agency’s proposal, does seek to provide an additional financial tool to transportation agencies seeking to build major capital projects.

Specifically, the White House proposal for America Fast Forward bonds includes an interest rate subsidy of 28%, while our agency’s Board approved America Fast Forward bond proposal includes a 100% interest rate subsidy paid for by the Federal Government. 

With respect to highway funding, the budget includes $41 billion for the Federal Highway Administration, which is consistent with the funding levels set last year by MAP-21.  With respect to transit funding, the budget includes $10.9 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, which is over $300 million more than the Fiscal Year 2012 enacted level.  In addition to the President’s commitment to fully fund MAP-21, the budget includes an ambitious $50 billion proposal to spur economic investment.

This initiative, outlined on Page 4 of this USDOT budget document, includes $25 billion for roads and bridges, $6 billion to restore our nation’s transit systems to a state of good repairs and $4 billion for the TIGER grant program, among other initiatives. 

With the formal release of the President’s budget today, our staff will be carefully reviewing the document to fully understand its possible impact on our agency.

How President Obama's Budget Proposal Would Affect Cities


By Alex Dodds, April 10, 2013

 President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2014, released this morning, focuses on economic growth and a strong middle class. Better urban development isn’t the first item on that agenda, but it’s an important part of the administration’s priorities for the coming year.

Three agencies in particular are at the core of that work, with offices dedicated to making sure community development contributes to regional and national economic growth. The president’s 2014 budget would change how each of these agencies invest in community development. Here’s how it breaks down:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would see a significant increase in funds for neighborhood revitalization through $400 million in funding for the Choice Neighborhoods program (up from $120 million appropriated in 2012). The budget cuts funding for the Community Development Block Grant program to $2.8 billion (down from $3.241 billion in 2012), but includes $200 million in new competitive funding to reduce and repurpose vacant and blighted properties and create jobs in communities hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis.

HUD’s former Office of Sustainable Communities would combine forces with the Office of Community Planning and Development to improve the agency’s focus on economic resilience. The budget requests $75 million for new Integrated Planning and Investment Grants, designed to encourage regions and communities to comprehensively plan for new development. The grants would include incentives to align planning efforts across municipalities, invest public funds to attract private dollars, modernize land use and building codes, and sponsor robust community engagement efforts.
The Environmental Protection Agency sees some of the largest cuts, with an overall proposed budget of $8.2 billion (down from $8.496 billion in 2012). The budget proposal includes only $158.6 million for the brownfields program (down from $167 million in 2013). However it increases funding for brownfields technical assistance to help sites get cleaned up and get more projects off the ground. A bill currently moving through Congress—the BUILD Act—would reauthorize funding for the brownfields program. My colleague Craig Chester recently wrote about the bill and how it would help America’s neighborhoods.

Not mentioned in the budget is the EPA’s Smart Growth program, a key part of the administration’s overall community and economic development strategy. The Smart Growth office is administered by EPA’s Office of Environmental Programs and Management (EPM), and the budget requests $2.8 billion for that office as a whole (up from $2.694 in 2013). It’s not clear if the Smart Growth office’s budget would reflect that change.

The budget also cuts EPA funding for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements through the state revolving loan funds program, requesting $1.91 billion (down from $2.388 billion in 2013). These funds help smaller communities improve their drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. Reducing these funds would make it harder for communities to make these improvements.
The Department of Transportation’s budget includes $50 billion in immediate transportation spending across a number of modes:

The $4 billion for credit assistance and grants includes a capital investment program similar to the existing TIGER program. DOT’s budget also includes $1 billion for TIFIA, a federal credit assistance program for national or regionally significant transportation projects.

Of course, any president’s budget proposal is just a jumping-off point that starts a long process of negotiating with Congress. And this president and this Congress have rarely seen eye to eye on spending priorities. But President Obama’s proposals today at a minimum shed light on which community development programs the administration sees as worth fighting for.
Los Angeles Council District 1 Candidate Debate

No Gilville In Council District 1

Posted on Facebook, April 10, 2013


Gil presiding over the re-made CD 1 District known as Gilville, with L.A. River development scrapped, a new 710 Freeway tunnel underneath, Wal-Mart free to open a predatory new superstore and the political mess of Sacramento dumped on our doorsteps.

In Gilville, Gil Cedillo can actually wear his corporate backers logos. Last I checked, none of these financial sponsors were headquartered or lived in Council District 1.

How does he reconcile his interest in the re-rivering of the LA River and Arroyo Seco confluence with polluting the aquifer from drilling, etc.?


Does Classical Music at Train Stations Really Deter Crime? 


April 8, 2013

Move along, hoodlums. Antonio Vivaldi is playing at Newark Penn Station.

When New Jersey Transit upgraded the public address system at the Newark transit hub a year ago, they began piping in classical music along with the announcements on train arrivals and connections.
The authority subscribed to a music service and station agents could select from different channels, which also include easy-listening and jazz.

The idea, said a NJ Transit spokesperson, is to relax customers "and make it more pleasant to traverse the facilities."

But in cities from Atlanta to Minneapolis and London, there's often a bigger strategy at work: turn on the great composers and turn away the loiterers, vagrants and troublemakers who are drawn to bus stations, malls and parking lots. Last month, the Associated Press reported on a YMCA in Columbus, OH that began piping Vivaldi into its parking lot, and claiming to disperse petty drug dealers as a result.

In this podcast, host Naomi Lewin asks why classical music in particular seems to be the weapon of choice – and whether it works.

"It's been used as part of a larger strategy of crime prevention through environmental design," said Jacqueline Helfgott, chair of the criminal-justice department at Seattle University. She noted that classical music is often accompanied by upgrades like better lighting, improved traffic flow or trimmed shrubbery in public areas.

Studies on the specific effects of music on criminal behavior are lacking. But Helfgott believes classical music is historically associated with "a cultural aesthetic that is pro-social as opposed to antisocial," making it a preferred crime prevention tool. Put another way, rowdy teenagers don't find classical very cool.

Nigel Rodgers, the head of Pipedown, a group that campaigns against background music in any form, believes the strategy presents a slippery slope. “Yes, young people commit crimes and it’s a problem," he said. "I do appreciate that. But we must seek out other pro-sociable ways of dealing with the problem rather than just squirt acoustic insecticide at young people.

"People who really like music of any sort don’t want to have it piped at them when they’re trying to talk, eat or shop when they don’t want it."

It's also worth keeping in mind that not all classical music works as a soothing agent. As anyone who has seen "A Clockwork Orange," knows, even Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has its dark associations.

In Columbus, OH, where the YMCA piped in Vivaldi, the strategy is being hailed as a success. A local business improvement district executive told the AP: "There's something about baroque music that macho wannabe-gangster types hate. At the very least, it has a calming effect."

Classical Music and Crime Prevention

 A Los Angeles Primer: The Subway


By Colin Marshall, April 9, 2013


Los Angeles has a subway. This surprises almost as many visitors as it does natives. First moving here, I only considered apartments within walking distance of a station. Even then, I sensed this criterion, all-important elsewhere, has historically meant little to Los Angeles apartment-hunters. Despite taking four or five journeys underground every week, I understand, without the sneer of the least agreeable sort of public transit booster, why many Angelenos have never boarded so much as a station escalator. The Red and Purple subway lines serve this city of 500 square miles with less than eighteen miles of track, combined. Add in the above-ground train lines and the system's total comes, as of this writing, to more like ninety miles. Too much of the time, the question of whether you can get from where you are to where you need to go by subway, or by any line to which it connects, meets with a flat "no."

I never look forward to explaining this to visitors from Europe or Asia. To whose satisfaction can I, or any Angeleno, account for why the westward Purple Line dead-ends
thirteen miles from the coast, or why the northern end of the Red Line passes through one side of Hollywood but not the other? Shortly after setting myself up in Los Angeles, I asked a friend, well-placed by day job to know about Metro matters great and small, these very questions. His response, in full: "Politics." A fair point, but whenever I return home from a trip to Osaka, Mexico City, or even Washington, D.C., I wonder where else politics has so suppressed infrastructure as essential, to my mind, as water pipes, garbage dumps, or power lines.
But even here, politics hasn't suppressed it completely. What we have of the Los Angeles subway wends an odd tripartite path, beginning downtown at Union Station, taking you west through MacArthur Park (whose lake the tunnel's construction necessitated draining, of both water and a heap of discarded handguns), then offering you the choice of continuing west to Koreatown or breaking north, up Vermont Avenue through the east of Hollywood. The oft-heard criticism that the Red and Purple Lines "don't go anywhere" misses the mark, given the attractions of downtown, the pupusas of Westlake, the copious food and drink of Koreatown, and the presence of Amoeba Music so near the Sunset/Vine station. You could spend weeks, and I often do, satisfied with the social, cultural, and business opportunities along the subway's path. But then you feel like going to Silver Lake, or Leimert Park, or Santa Monica, and so feel just how much progress Los Angeles transit hasn't made.

Yet on the whole, those I introduce to our subway emerge impressed. Say what you will about their limited reach; the Red and Purple Lines surely must rank among the cleanest,
most comfortable, least urine-smelling systems in America. You may lose twenty minutes waiting on platforms, but you'll have taken a subway -- in Los Angeles! Some transit observers regard this town as a child who, having broken a leg on the playground, started school only after a considerable delay: perhaps he hasn't caught up with his peers yet, but you should've seen how far behind he was a year ago. This sense of Los Angeles in the remedial class intersects with the notion, correct or not, that transportation just works differently here: differently when we didn't have a subway, and a different kind of subway now that we have one.

This latter difference expresses itself most strikingly in the design of the Red and Purple Line stations, each one practically a site-specific art installation. The filmmaker Michael Mann, though like many high-powered Hollywood types surely not much of a Metro rider himself, has praised their beauty and used them more than once as shooting locations. I'd be lying if I said the jaunty tilework figures along the walls of Civic Center, the vintage motion picture camera mounted at Hollywood/Highland, or the spare THX 1138 set that is Pershing Square don't draw a smile from me. But I'd also be lying if I said I never questioned the choice of aesthetic lavishness over geographical reach, if indeed the officials themselves faced such a choice. How much more easily could we traverse this city by now, I wonder, if they'd just gone with the blunt, utilitarian, exceedingly cheap style of an ex-Communist capital?

You can sense on the subway the persistent Los Angeles confusion between display and function. The city has struggled to resolve for itself whether public transit provides an elective, even appealing alternative to the automobile, or a support system for those too
poor, infirm, or foreign to drive one. While avid travelers and transplants from other urban centers consider this a long-settled issue, Los Angeles as a whole seems not to know quite what to want to believe. High praise for Metro's recent extensions -- conveyances that aren't cars, after all! In Los Angeles! -- may, perversely, only cloud the issue. While it does have far superior dedicated transit than most outsiders (or even insiders) expect, that right now only comes to, speaking with the greatest generosity, about half of what it needs. Easy on the gold stars; the kid may have stopped sniffing glue, but he still needs to learn his multiplication tables.

Still, we live in changing times. My generation of under-35 urban-dwellers shows mounting impatience with the cost and hassle of buying, fueling, parking, and insuring a car. The expectation held by Los Angeles of decades past (or, keeping perspective, most American cities today) that each and every citizen own and operate a whole motor vehicle sounds increasingly unreasonable, like asking us all to run our own individual generators or dig our own individual wells. Some of my peers respond by putting the brightest possible face on the situation, rejoicing whenever a few more miles' worth of train line opens up. While I admire this attitude, and certainly value what it celebrates, I can't help but compare it to throwing a party over 38 rather than 35 percent of a population getting clean water. The effort merits a round of applause, surely, but the hole remains perilously deep.

Peggy Drouet: The writer is a recent transplant to Los Angeles, so he is not aware that many people in the LA area won't go on a subway here because they don't want to be caught in one during a major earthquake.  This will also be a reason that many drivers will not use a 710 tunnel if it is built.

Mayoral candidates miss the train


By Bill Boyarsky, April 9, 2013

 Thumbnail image for expo-line-work-expo.jpg




 Expo Line construction near Pico and Sepulveda.


Of the many items that haven’t made it to the mayoral campaign agenda, one of the most important is how the growing number of rail transit lines will reshape Los Angeles.

The candidates, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, each have advocated more light rail
and subways. Garcetti has been more specific, calling for the start or completion of 10 new rail lines, including a tunnel under Sepulveda Pass connecting the Valley to West L.A.

But as is the case with much that happens in the city, none of this seems to have dented the consciousness of a populace that doesn’t pay attention to civic affairs or projects until the earthmovers and dump trucks show up. Understanding this, Garcetti and Greuel focus on hotter subjects.

Some residents, however, are good at pre-emptive action, such as those fighting a proposed new runway at LAX or people in my neighborhood opposing a huge apartment-retail-restaurant complex at the Expo line rail station to be built at Sepulveda Avenue and Pico Boulevard.

The project, by developer Alan Casden, is a perfect example of how train lines will change Los Angeles from a sprawling flat city to a denser, high-rise one. To find out what the city is going to do about it, I dropped into a meeting April 2 of the Westwood South of Santa Monica Boulevard Homeowners Association at St. Timothy’s Church.

Instead of a mayoral candidate, the homeowners got a couple of city planning department officials who spoke in the impenetrable bureaucratic language favored by so many city planners. The officials wanted to talk about process. The homeowners wanted to talk about the 638 apartments; five buildings, one 15 stories high; the 1,566 residents; and the congestion expected at 27 area intersections. The latter figure was in a draft environmental impact report.

Rather than listen to a tedious discussion of how the city will plan for future development, the homeowners were interested in the here and now, specifically Casden’s political clout, as seen in city approval of his big developments in Westwood and elsewhere. “Casden has been able to steamroller everything with money and power,” said one of his critics.

What was missing here and in other city policy discussions was an examination of what these train lines would do for—and to—the city. In the Valley, there is talk of converting the popular Orange Line express bus to light rail, better able to handle the growing patronage. A Crenshaw rail line will be built and light rail is changing East L.A. The subway extension will remake the neighborhoods in the Wilshire corridor.

It’s definitely something for Greuel and Garcetti to discuss. But the subject deals too much with Los Angeles’ future to attract attention in a campaign where both candidates are worried about a short-term gain of votes in an election less than two months away.

Oxy Professor Hopes to Win $100,000 to ‘Make L.A. More Connected, Equitable and Sustainable’ 

 Read and vote for a proposal by Urban & Environmental Policy Institute Director Mark Vallianatos in a $1-million competition to solve L.A.’s most urgent problems by 2050. 


By Ajay Singh, April 9, 2013


By 2050, the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College wants Los Angeles to be more about people than cars.

That overarching vision is part of LA2050, a $1-million competition being held by the Goldhirsch Foundation to shape the future of Los Angeles along eight key indicators:

Arts and cultural vitality
Environmental quality
Income and employment
Public safety
Social connectedness

The foundation has its own assessment of L.A.’s health (click on the above links for details)—and it has received 279 project-based proposals, including the one by Oxy’s UEPI, for the LA2050 competition to tackle the city’s most pressing problems.

Further, the foundation will award grants worth $100,000 each to the top 10 proposals that win in a
round of online public voting that began April 2 and is scheduled to end at noon next week on Wednesday, April 17 (Pacific Daylight Time).

UEPI submitted its proposal in a partnership with the Latino Urban Forum, a Los Angeles-based organization that draws on the expertise of architects, city planners, administrators and lawyers in an attempt to understand and improve the cityscape in which L.A.’s underserved Latino communities live.

Written by UEPI Director Mark Vallianatos in consultation with James Rojas, founding director of the Latino Urban Forum, the proposal focuses on what Vallianatos refers to as a “once in a lifetime opportunity to change the DNA of land use in the City and shape Los Angeles as a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable place.”

Starting this year, writes Vallianatos, a strong advocate of bicycle lanes and pedestrian traffic, the City of Los Angeles will under take a Comprehensive Zoning Revision for the first time since 1946.
This presents a golden opportunity to make land use in L.A. more democratic and diverse because:

By controlling physical places, zoning has sometimes kept less powerful socioeconomic or ethnic groups “in their place” at the margins of society. And, by favoring cars and private backyards over high quality public space, it has reduced the types of social interactions that build community. In a diverse city, we cannot afford to exclude some residents from amenities and opportunities or to wall people off from their neighbors.

Click here to read the full UEPI proposal written by Vallianatos as well as to vote for it.

“I intended to explain and pitch our concept of using creative planning to identify ways to improve rules on the built environment, and thereby make L.A. more connected, equitable and sustainable,” Vallianatos told Eagle Rock Patch.

Click here to view all 279 proposals received for the LA2050 competition and vote for the project of your choice. (Remember, you can vote only once—and the deadline is April 17.)

Average speed in non-toll lanes


This refers to the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles.


Street Smart reminds people that hitting others with your car is bad


April 10, 2013

The 2013 Street Smart campaign started yesterday. While the press release (below the fold) has some good reminders in it, the main part of the campaign are the "Tired Faces" images that show people with tire tread marks on their faces with reminders that "Bicycles Don't Come with Bumpers."

As usual, I'm suspicious of how effective these ads are.

"Most people do not stop to think how vulnerable pedestrians are on our streets and sidewalks,” said District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray.

That's probably true, but people do KNOW that pedestrians are vulnerable. So this campaign only reminds them of something they're not thinking about.

I feel like a campaign telling people they don't know - like lights are required on bikes at night, or the safe passing distance - would be more effective.

Bicyclists are reminded to ride with traffic and stop at red lights. Pedestrians must stay in crosswalks and look both ways before crossing

Good luck with that.
But the enforcement part of the program, though brief, may still be effective.

Results indicated that the percentage of drivers yielding to pedestrians increased following the introduction of the enforcement program in each corridor and that these increases were sustained for a period of a year with minimal additional enforcement. The effects also generalized somewhat to untreated crosswalks in both corridors, as well as to crosswalks with traffic signals.

Like millions of others in the area, most days Stephen Grasty walks several blocks a day–to work, to a Metro stop, to a friend’s house. Though he has had his share of close calls, he has never been hit by a car and he would like to keep in that way. Stephen’s face—symbolically blemished by a tire tread—will soon be appearing in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ new public awareness safety campaign urging drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists to look out for each other.

The Street Smart campaign offers safety tips to prevent pedestrian and bicyclist deaths and injuries in the DC metro area. The campaign gets underway next week in the wake of recent pedestrian crashes that left a 71-year-old woman dead in the 1100 block of Florida Avenue and at least 12 other pedestrians killed in crashes in the Washington metropolitan region in 2013 to date.

“Most people do not stop to think how vulnerable pedestrians are on our streets and sidewalks,” said District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray. “But the reality is that we must protect pedestrians from cars and other vehicles, because when they collide with a pedestrian, the pedestrian never wins.”

The “tired faces” visuals call attention to the dangers confronting pedestrians and bicyclists with the larger-than-life faces of area residents on ads on buses and in transit shelters in the District, Virginia and Maryland.  State and local officials want drivers to actively watch out for pedestrians and bicyclists, especially when turning. They also are reminding bicyclists to ride with traffic and stop at red lights and urging pedestrians to use crosswalks and wait for the walk signal before crossing the street.

In 2012, preliminary data indicates there were 3,033 crashes in the DC metropolitan region involving pedestrians and bicyclists, which resulted in 70 fatalities. On average, pedestrians and bicyclists account for 30 percent of all traffic fatalities in the Washington region.

During the Street Smart campaign, which runs through May 13, law enforcement officers in Maryland, the District of Columbia and northern Virginia will be watching for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists who violate traffic safety laws. Drivers and cyclists who fail to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks, as well as pedestrians who jaywalk, can face fines that range from $40 to $500. Drivers also are subject to getting points on their driver records.

Information on the new campaign and the Street Smart public education program may be found at www.bestreetsmart.net.

About the Street Smart Campaign & the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB)
Sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB), the Street Smart public awareness and enforcement campaign is in its eleventh year. Its goal is to reduce pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths in the Washington metropolitan area. For more information about Street Smart, please visit www.bestreetsmart.net and twitter.com/COGStreetSmart. The TPB is the regional transportation planning organization for the Washington region. It includes local governments, state transportation agencies, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) and members of the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies.

Street Smart Safety Tips
If you’re driving…
  • ·         Slow down and obey the speed limit
  • ·         Look twice for people in crosswalks and yield to pedestrians and bicyclists
  • ·         Be careful when passing stopped vehicles
  • ·         Yield to pedestrians and cyclists at intersections when you're turning
  • ·         Allow three feet when passing bicyclists
  • ·         Look for cyclists and cars before you open your door
  • ·         Avoid using your cell phone and never text while driving
If you’re walking…
  • ·         Cross the street at the corner and use marked crosswalks when they’re available
  • ·         Wait for the “Walk” signal to cross the street
  • ·         Watch for turning vehicles. Before crossing look left, right, and left again
  • ·         Be seen! If you’re walking after dark or in bad weather, make it easier for drivers to see you by wearing light clothing or something reflective
  • ·         Don’t text while you’re crossing the street
  • ·         If you’re on an off-street trail, obey all posted signage and approach intersections with caution
If you’re biking…
  • ·         Obey all traffic signs and traffic signals
  • ·         Ride in the direction of traffic, at least a car door width away from parked cars
  • ·         Use hand signals so drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians know what you’re going to do
  • ·         Always wear a helmet
  • ·         Use lights if you’re riding at times of darkness
  • ·         If you’re on an off-street trail, obey all posted signage and approach intersections with caution
  • ·         Slow down and watch for pedestrians on sidewalks, trails and in crosswalks

Ideas for Downtown LA: Minor Tweaks to 110 Overpasses Will Encourage Pedestrian Activity


By Brigham Yen, April 9, 2013


 Some ideas on how to bolster pedestrian connections -- between City West and the rest of Downtown LA -- includes making the 110 overpasses safer and more attractive (mainly Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street)

 Some ideas on how to bolster pedestrian connections — between City West and the rest of Downtown LA — include making the 110 overpasses safer and more attractive for pedestrians (mainly Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street)

As Downtown LA continues to evolve and mature into a multi-faceted urban center that’s not only a commercial hub but a bona fide residential community, it becomes even more important that we focus on creating an environment that is pedestrian friendly making it enjoyable and convenient for residents to live, work, and play in. That enhancement to the pedestrian realm — wider sidewalks, narrower streets, more bike lanes, etc. — in Downtown LA is needed to create the strong walkable connections that eventually spawns a walking culture.

Walking as a daily practical lifestyle, such as running errands and doing your shopping, could be a lot more dynamic and serendipitous than driving, parking, and struggling with the incessant LA traffic that most suburbanites must deal with on a daily basis. Not surprisingly, that’s why more and more people have switched over to the “urban camp” in LA forsaking the inconvenience of the suburban lifestyle that depends so heavily on the car just to live. Not only is it not sustainable (a society dependent on driving), but it’s definitely not enjoyable as many Angelenos can attest to while sitting frustrated in their cars, crawling and stuck in traffic, and staring into the sea of red brake lights ahead of them.

If there is no question how important it is to invest in our communities to encourage a healthier lifestyle that includes walking as a part of urban life (think how the typical New Yorker lives, for example), then our attention should be directed, for a moment, to the two barren overpasses — Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street — that are the only tenuous pedestrian connections we have right now between Downtown LA’s Financial District and the burgeoning neighborhood of City West just across the 110 freeway.

Both overpasses — Wilshire Blvd and 7th Street — share the same anti-pedestrian issues that, I believe, can be addressed relatively quickly if the community vocalized for some simple tweaks to resolve the deficiencies. Something immediately that should be addressed are the short railings on both overpasses that make walking across feel a bit unsafe. I stood next to the railing on Wilshire Blvd — that separates pedestrians from falling off the overpass and into the 110 freeway — and the railing came barely up to my hip (about 3 feet tall). Changing out the current railings to taller ones will not only be more safe, but provides an opportunity to implement a potentially interesting design that could also help block out the noisy freeway below, which makes for a more pleasant walking experience.

In addition to taller railings, what if we went a step further and added some aesthetic enhancements that encouraged people to walk along the overpass even more. Perhaps we can add planters and artistic banners (attached to the lamp posts) spaced evenly across the expanse of the bridge. For a real life example, we look no further than neighboring Alhambra to the east of Downtown LA that added colorful planters along their freight track overpasses that does actually improve an otherwise very barren concrete environment. The main idea is to give pedestrians the visual cue that this bridge is “for me” and not only for the car.

City West was actually one of the first districts in Downtown LA to get a residential mixed-use project back in the very beginning of downtown’s urban revitalization in 2000. The resort-like Medici, developed by Geoff Palmer, was developed almost concurrently along with Tom Gilmore’s adaptive-reuse project at 4th and Main where Gilmore converted three separate historic office buildings into 230 residential lofts, forming a neighborhood that we now refer to as the Old Bank District.
Over the last decade, a fair amount of residential development has been added to City West, including 
the 37-story tower, 1100 Wilshire tower built in 1987, which was converted in 2007 to luxury condos from a vacant office building that was never actually occupied before. The most recent addition to the neighborhood is the 1111 Wilshire project (directly across the street from 1100 Wilshire), developed by Holland Partners, that just opened last month with its first new resident move-ins. With 210 market rate apartments added to City West, that’s potentially several hundred new residents that will call City West home.

Because the lion’s share of amenities are still across the 110 freeway toward the center of Downtown LA, many of City West’s residents still must cross the overpasses every day to access those amenities. However, it’s not a secret that many City West residents view the short walk as “unpleasant” and even “a chore” due to the poor condition of the overpasses that make walking across them not enjoyable. That’s a problem that we as a community cannot ignore and will need to address as City West continues to gain more residents.
To encourage more residents who live in the growing City West district to walk, it is important to improve the overpasses that connect to the Financial District
To encourage more residents who live in the growing City West district to walk, it is important to improve the barren overpasses that connect to the Financial District
Does this bridge look inviting to you as a pedestrian?
Does this bridge look inviting to you as a pedestrian?
The short railings (about 3 feet tall) make it feel unsafe to walk across, especially for taller people
The short railings (about 3 feet tall) make it feel unsafe to walk across, especially for taller people
We can improve the bridge substantially by replacing the railings, adding planters and artwork
We can improve the bridge substantially by replacing the railings and adding planters and artwork

CASE STUDY: Bridge of Gardens (600 feet long) at South Coast Plaza
In 2000, a 600-foot "Bridge of Gardens" was completed by South Coast Plaza in Orange County, CA (designed by Kathryn Gustafson) that successfully tied together the main shopping center with their struggling west wing because the new bridge and it's visually appealing design encouraged shoppers (read: pedestrians) to walk across without complaint
In 2000, a 600-foot “Bridge of Gardens” was completed by South Coast Plaza in Orange County, CA (designed by Kathryn Gustafson) that successfully tied together the main shopping center with their struggling west wing because the new bridge and it’s visually appealing design encouraged shoppers (read: pedestrians) to walk across without complaint

L.A. MTA, Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center join efforts to combat pedestrian fatalities on Metro Blue Line




April 2013


Faced with an increase in suicides occurring on one of the busiest light-rail lines in the United States, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (L.A. MTA) has partnered with the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center on an educational campaign that authorities hope will help stop people from stepping in front of on-coming trains.

The initiative is part of L.A. MTA’s broader strategy to improve safety on the 22-mile Metro Blue Line, which stretches from Los Angeles to Long Beach, Calif. L.A. County’s first modern rail line — it opened in 1990 — the Blue Line carries about 27 million boarding passengers annually.

Although train-versus-motor vehicle accidents have steadily declined on the Blue Line in recent years, incidents involving pedestrians remain a problem, with suicides becoming a major concern, L.A. MTA officials say.

The problem involves pedestrians who intentionally step in front of a train, as well as those injured or killed accidentally after ignoring or overlooking train safety warnings. Last year was “particularly bad,” according to L.A. MTA spokesman Marc Littman.

“Nine people were killed on the Blue Line, and, of those, four were suicides,” Littman said.

Despite the agency investing $7 million on pedestrian gates and train warning devices along the line, “we’re still seeing an uptick in pedestrian versus train incidents,” said Littman.

L.A. MTA isn’t the only transit agency or railroad to face the problem. Last year, trespasser fatalities on railroad tracks and property spiked 7.5 percent to 442, while trespass injuries climbed 10.4 percent to 405, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s 2012 preliminary statistics.

At the same time, U.S. crossing collisions between trains and motor vehicles decreased 5.1 percent to 1,953 compared with 2012's total; crossing fatalities remained essentially unchanged and crossing injuries fell 11.4 percent to 917.

Last year’s rail trespass deaths and injuries were the highest since 2008, according to Operation Lifesaver Inc.

“It’s a sobering fact that the number of Americans killed while trespassing on train tracks continues to outpace fatalities from vehicle-train collisions,” said OLI President and Chief Executive Officer Joyce Rose.

In response to the trend, OLI — in partnership with railroads and law enforcement agencies — is stepping up its efforts to encourage people “to make safe decisions around tracks and trains,” Rose said in a recent press release.

To raise awareness in its Blue Line neighborhoods, L.A. MTA officials recently distributed 700,000 door hangers featuring train safety messages for pedestrians, reminding them to avoid walking on train tracks, keep their head up when walking near tracks and not circumvent pedestrian gates at crossings. L.A. MTA also wrapped several trains with safety messages that read, “Heads Up! Watch for trains!” and prepared 15 passenger safety “ambassadors” on the Blue Line to watch for people engaging in unsafe behavior around trains.

And, in mid-March, the agency held a press conference to announce its campaign with the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center. Hundreds of signs promoting the center’s suicide crisis hotline are being posted at stations, on train platforms, at crossings and near high-risk locations.

The hotline (877-727-4747) receives more than 50,000 calls a year from people contemplating suicide as well as from callers who are worried about someone they know who may be suicidal, said Lyn Morris, the center’s director. The hotline is staffed by English- and Spanish-speaking counselors, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Metro Blue Line initiative will “increase awareness that there is help and there is hope,” Morris said.

Meanwhile, L.A. MTA will continue to examine ways to reduce pedestrian incidents around trains on the Blue Line.

“We are doing everything we can,” said Littman. “But we can’t build a bubble over the Blue Line. It’s not just a suicide problem, it’s an unsafe behavior problem.”

Beijing's polluted air provides Jerry Brown a political opportunity


By Anthony York, April 9, 2013

 (See website for a video.)

The local media have given it a name: "Beijing Ke," or the Beijing Cough, defined by the China Daily as "a bout of persistent dry cough or throat tickle because of Beijing's poor air quality."

Earlier this year, the local air-quality reading was so bad that citizens were warned to stay in doors for days on end. The international media called it the "Airpocolypse."

For Beijing's 20 million residents, pollution has become a way of life. Even on the relatively good air-quality days, such as the ones that cold winds have brought here this week, locals take precautions.

But protecting one's self from particulate matter isn't just a matter of public safety. It's an opportunity to accessorize. Couples walk hand in hand down busy sidewalks wearing matching blue surgical masks over their noses and mouths. For some, the face coverings have become fashion statements -- masks of cow print, wild paisley and neon green are seen on city streets.

Beijing's air pollution also presents an opening for Gov. Jerry Brown to promote his environmental credentials.

The governor is meeting with top Chinese officials on Wednesday, including the minister of environmental protection, Zhou Shengxian.

They are expected to sign a nonbinding agreement to work together to clean up the dirty air in the Chinese capital and other cities across the country that are also suffering from crippling smog.

Traffic zips in toll lanes, but slows in free lanes

 Preliminary data on the 110 Freeway experiment are released. Officials hope that eventually the toll lanes will relieve congestion on the entire freeway.


 By Laura J. Nelson, April 9, 2013Toll lanes

L.A. County's first foray into toll lanes shows that those willing to pay are getting a slightly faster commute, but everyone else is seeing more traffic. Some trips now take 15 minutes longer than before the carpool lanes were reconfigured on the 110 Freeway.

When Los Angeles County's inaugural toll lanes opened on the 110 Freeway late last year, Scott Sternad decided he could do without.

"Nearly $1,000 a year?" said the 24-year-old engineering student, who commutes from Hermosa Beach to USC three times a week. "That's a lot of dinners and drinks."

But remaining in the free lanes has cost Sternad time. His commute now takes 15 minutes longer than it did before the carpool lanes were reconfigured, he says.

That's not what was supposed to happen. But the 110 remains something of a laboratory, and officials are hoping the toll lanes ultimately will relieve congestion on the entire freeway. The results from the experiment are expected to strongly influence decisions on possible expansion of toll lanes countywide.

Preliminary data backs up Sternad's experience: Average travel speeds have increased in the lanes formerly reserved for carpoolers, but traffic has slowed on the rest of the freeway.

So for solo drivers paying up to $15.40 per trip, the new toll lanes are providing a faster commute. More than 135,000 motorists have purchased FasTrak transponders since the toll lanes opened. Officials have collected more than $3 million in tolls along an 11-mile stretch of the Harbor Freeway, south of downtown.

Operating and maintaining the lanes cost $2.9 million in the first three months. Any profits from the operation will be reinvested in transportation improvements along the Harbor Freeway corridor, officials said.

Traffic on the 110 toll lanes flowed at least 45 mph during peak hours, and 10 mph faster in the morning northbound rush than before the project, according to data covering the period from December to February. But non-toll lanes in the most congested segment — near Gage Avenue — slowed by more than 8 mph, to 29.6 mph, during the morning peak period.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials say that's because solo drivers are no longer illegally using the carpool lane, and other drivers are still deciding whether to buy a transponder. Some delays could be caused by drivers braking to read toll signs, they said.

About 7% of drivers who entered the toll lane during the study period did so incorrectly. After a brief grace period, the California Highway Patrol issued 412 verbal warnings and 307 tickets.

Traffic in the carpool lane initially decreased by about 10,000 trips a day or about 20%. Separate data from the California Department of Transportation, which is partnering with Metro on the project, showed that traffic volume declined by half in some segments of the toll lanes. But those numbers are gradually recovering, according to Metro's data.

Many of those drivers presumably moved into free lanes, a Metro spokesman said, contributing to the traffic slowdown there.

Kathleen McCune, Metro's toll lane director, stressed that the data are preliminary and drivers are still adjusting to the new system.

Some commuters may have avoided the freeway all together, said Clifford Winston, a government performance analyst at the Brookings Institute. Until — and unless — more drivers buy transponders, he said, extra traffic will be crowded into the no-cost lanes.

"Growing pains. It's not surprising," said Winston, noting that similar projects in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere saw the same pattern during the early months.

USC professor James E. Moore II said that if more drivers don't start using the toll lanes, the fee may have to be reduced.

"I don't sweat much that the lanes are being underutilized at first," he said. "Prices can always be changed."

In all, Los Angeles County has 453 miles of carpool lanes, and 53 more miles are under construction, according to Caltrans. If the current experiment succeeds, every carpool lane in the county could add tolls within 20 years, predicted Robert Poole, a Reason Foundation policy director and toll lane advocate.

"The truth of the matter is, there aren't that many options left" to increase freeway capacity, Poole said.

A second phase of testing has begun on the 10 Freeway, where a 14-mile toll lane from downtown to the 605 Freeway near El Monte opened in February. Officials also have held a public hearing on proposed toll lanes for the 5 Freeway near Santa Clarita.