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

Friday, April 12, 2013

In 'Keeping Them Honest,' truth not necessary to 'report' on rail 


By Nicole Schlosser, April 12, 2013


While the typical griping continues in California over its plans for high-speed rail, projects across the U.S. were subject to a recent hatchet job, ironically, by CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360◦” in the segment, “Keeping Them Honest.”

The story, “High-speed rail Boondoggle,” claims to be about how $800 million in federal funds was spent only to take 10 minutes off a rail trip between Portland, Ore. and Seattle, while promising high-speed rail. However, it was really just making out the concept of bullet trains in the U.S. as a waste of money for something nobody wants without sharing any facts.

“Investigative Correspondent” Drew Griffin begins spinning his colorful yarn about how the public is supposedly being cheated with a really premature statement: “The dream, shared by those who stand to make money from high-speed rail, is turning into a pipe dream.”

He goes on to oversimplify the situation with this generalization: “Four years and $12 billion later, scattered projects across the country that slow trains moved just a little faster.” Griffin also implied that there was no other work being done to complete the projects nationwide.

Throughout the story, Griffin gave the false impression that building an entire high-speed rail program, basically from scratch, would or should only take four years, as the U.S. High-Speed Rail Authority pointed out in a release responding to the show.

“…it takes a lot longer than four years to launch a new national program, have new high-speed rail systems fully engineered, miles of land purchased and construction already underway,” the release said. “It also takes more than $10 billion to [build] multiple HSR systems. To question results after only four years demonstrates considerable ignorance of the complexity and timelines of these mega projects, even after we carefully spelled this all out for CNN and Anderson Cooper last time.”

Cooper and Griffin, at the end of the report, glibly referred to this attempt to let them know what they got wrong as being “email bombed.”

Additionally, in a doctored interview with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, CNN cut LaHood’s mention of the California high-speed rail project and his explanation of the progress of the comprehensive national program. LaHood at least gets to mention in the aired version that there have already been improvements in service and reliability in existing rail systems, which is the first necessary step in the process. He added that the $12 billion is just the federal portion of the funds, not including state and private funds, and that Amtrak is at an all-time ridership high, one key indicator that more, faster rail is something that the American public does want.

At the height of his patronizing tone, when LaHood explained that the goal is to get trains running at 200 mph in some parts of the country, Griffin made a stern face and asked, “When?”

Griffin, here’s your answer: We’ll get it when people like you and certain politicians stop using fear of these projects’ supposed “failures” and hiding the actual progress being made to manipulate people.

In the uncut version, which you can see on the U.S. High-Speed Rail Authority’s website, LaHood pointed out that state and private funding are also helping to support the projects.

Media Matters for America also responded, saying that "CNN shouldn't be so quick to declare these investments failures. Developing a high-speed rail system in America that rivals those in Europe and Japan is a massive undertaking akin to the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. As Federal Railroad Administration Chief Joe Szabo noted last year, 'The Interstate Highway System took 10 administrations, 28 sessions of Congress, to be completed. It also cost taxpayers more than $100 billion.'"

But let’s not compare rail to highways. Griffin and Cooper probably don’t have a single unkind word about all the spending needed and the taxes we have to pay to maintain them.

I was really disappointed in CNN and Anderson Cooper for presenting the issue in such a blatantly slanted way. There are certainly reasons to be cautious about aspects of high-speed rail, and the situation is complicated; different regions of the country have different transportation needs. Because it’s such a multi-faceted issue, the last thing we need are false reports masquerading as “journalism” that are designed as yet another scare tactic to convince the public that their tax dollars are being “misspent” and turn them away from progress.

In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "Building public transportation's next generation" here.

OC's Tollroad Agency Loses Federal Lawsuit Against Commerce Department


By R. Scott Moxley, April 11, 2013

 TCA toll liars.jpg

  Please stop: Wall Street wants all your change

In its determination to satisfy the continual demands of Wall Street investment houses for more profits, Orange County's Transportation Corridor Agency (TCA) wants to go billions of dollars further in bond debt by building a 16-mile tollroad linking state route 241 with Interstate 5.

But in 2008 the California Coastal Commission rejected the plan and the TCA appealed that decision to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who ultimately also determined the proposed road violated the California Coastal Act.

The following year TCA lawyer Robert D. Thornton filed a federal Freedom of Information Act with the Commerce Department for records pertaining to the unfavorable ruling and were given access only to seven full documents out of 281. 

The TCA filed a lawsuit claiming the federal agency improperly withheld records.

This week inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, U.S. District Court Judge Josephine Staton Tucker formally handed the TCA another defeat.

In a 10-page ruling, Tucker declared that the TCA is not entitled to the withheld records because they were properly exempted from disclosure by federal law as part of the internal "deliberative process" used by the Commerce secretary.

TCA toll liars 241.jpg
Toll jam

In 1996, the TCA laughably hailed its San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor as the world's model for transportation projects. Within a year it became obvious that the agency's usage projections were worthless, deceitful numbers concocted only to sell bonds and make billions of dollars of profit for powerful Wall Street investment houses. That road is now a debt-ridden financial nightmare that will cost more than $12 billion more than originally claimed.

Note: I would approve of this project but only for my own personal benefit. I take the 133 off the 5 to the 241 toll road every so often to reach Rancho Santa Margarita. But to get back on the 5 to continue south to San Diego, I have to take the streets for quite a distance to reach it. However, the reasons why I like the 241 toll road is because when I go on it it is usually quite empty and it is a beautiful drive along the mountains and one of the few highways in Southern California that is actually a pleasure to drive. But empty toll roads do not pay for themselves.

Garcetti's $1 million traffic idea


By Mark Lacter, April 12, 2013



At last a little outside-the-box thinking in this dullest of mayoral campaigns. It came during last night's hour-long debate when City Councilman Eric Garcetti suggested offering a $1 million prize to anyone who could offer the best solutions to L.A.'s traffic problems (I'm told he would raise the money privately). His idea comes from Netflix, which offered $1 million for anyone devising an improved algorithm for recommending movies to subscribers. Certainly Google has no shortage of software engineers who can take the city's formidable system of sensors and develop novel suggestions that have yet to be tried - and which might actually work. Not that Garcetti's idea stands much of a chance among the neanderthals at City Hall who would question the need to pay $1 million to some techie when in, oh, 83 years or so the city can extend its skeletal subway system to Westwood! But at least Garcetti brought it up, and at least it will stir a bit of interest. Perhaps there's still time for substantive debate about issues that really matter.

Gov. Jerry Brown needs to come back from China with a pile of cash for bullet train project: Opinion


April 11, 2013


On his junket to China, Gov. Jerry Brown compared his job to the Herculean task of cleaning manure out of giant stables.

"I'm going to go home from China with renewed zest to, if I could use a classical allusion, cleanse the Augean stables," Brown told Chinese reporters in Beijing on Wednesday.

It's unclear how familiar the Chinese reporters were with the ancient Greek myth of the fifth labor of Heracles, or Hercules, which was to clean out the dung deposits from massive stables that housed a thousand cattle and hadn't been cleaned in 30 years. (The Greek hero accomplished the task by rerouting a couple of rivers to wash out the dung.)

But the biggest pile in Brown's stables back home right now is his $69 billion bullet-train project, for which only $13 billion in funding has been identified.

Today, Brown took a Chinese bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai, more than 800 miles in about five hours. California High-Speed Rail Authority officials traveling with the governor have been meeting this week with Chinese potential investors in California's project.

If the Brown administration can return from China with some major private investors lined up who want a stake in California's bullet train project, it will have been a wildly successful trip.

Otherwise, it's just another junket.

A Busy California Port Seeks to Grow, but a Neighbor Objects


 By Jennifer Medina, April 11, 2013

The Port of Long Beach, along with the Port of Los Angeles, takes in roughly 40 percent of container imports to the United States, making it the sixth-busiest harbor in the world.

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Just before officials at the Port of Los Angeles unanimously approved a plan for a vast new railyard last month, the mayor of Long Beach was incensed. How dare they, he angrily asked at a public meeting, value the lives of residents on Los Angeles’s side of the border more than those who live in his city. 

 It was a provocative statement from the mayor of this city of nearly half a million people, where the port, one of the busiest in the nation, has long driven the economy. For years, Mayor Bob Foster said, he has favored development projects in the region, looking for ways for the port to bring in more business. But the $500 million project by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway would increase traffic and pollution and have a devastating effect on residents in adjacent working-class neighborhoods, he said.

“This is really taking advantage of poor people for the advantage of others,” Mr. Foster said in an interview. “The city of Los Angeles and a major corporation are really treating Long Beach in a deplorable manner — one city is literally ignoring another city’s residents. We’re asking them to be clean and to be a good neighbor and help mitigate this, but they’re basically thumbing their nose at us.”

The fight over the proposed railyard, which would serve as a large center for trains that move shipping containers from the Port of Los Angeles to other parts of the country, is the region’s biggest battle yet over threatened competition from the expansion of the Panama Canal, set to be completed by 2015.

Community activists say the project’s supporters have ignored the negative effects it would have on the neighborhood already hurt by pollution, but those who back it contend that it is the most environmentally friendly way to grow businesses in the region and maintain the port’s dominance.

“We have to start moving things faster and cleaner, and we have to have the infrastructure to do that as close to the port as you can, which is what this does,” said Wally Baker, the chairman of Beat the Canal, a coalition of industry and labor groups supporting projects that they say will bring thousands of jobs to the area. “The last thing we want to do is create more uncertainty. That’s the kind of goofy thing that drives business away from California.”

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have long been economic engines for the region, which is now home to the nation’s largest hub of distribution warehouses that sort the imported goods before they are sent to retailers across the country.

Roughly 40 percent of the country’s container imports, including cars, clothing and household items, mostly from Asia, pass through the two ports, making it the sixth-busiest harbor in the world. Many here worry that competition with ports on the East Coast is the most important threat, because so many of the products that arrive in Long Beach and Los Angeles are on their way elsewhere, often crisscrossing through a web of trains and trucks to get to consumers in the East.

Other ports along the East and Gulf Coasts are rushing to make significant changes to compete with the widened Panama Canal. Last year, the Obama administration moved to speed up the review process to deepen the harbor for many of the ports, saying that deeper harbors would help to create new jobs and strengthen the economy.

Mr. Baker’s group has estimated that the ports could lose 100,000 jobs once the Panama Canal expansion allows larger ships to bypass California and go directly to the East Coast. Without the canal’s expansion, these larger ships could not fit through the waterway. And while Mr. Foster and Long Beach port officials have said that they do not see an immediate threat in the expansion, Los Angeles officials seem to disagree.

David Arian, a retired longshoreman and the vice president of the commission that oversees the Port of Los Angeles, called the railyard “essential to our future.”

“It is the only way to stay competitive, it’s the only way to deal with the canal,” he said during the hearing in March to approve the project. “It’s the only way we’re going to get that market share.”
Officials from the port declined to comment further, concerned that they could provide more fodder for a lawsuit from the plan’s opponents.

The ports have long been known as the biggest contributors to air pollution in the region, with local officials complaining that such pollution has caused an epidemic of asthma, stunted lung development in children and chronic lung disease in adults.

But in recent years the ports have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up their operations. In 2006, they approved policies that now ban the use of any truck built before 2007. Both ports are also expanding plans to require some of the ships to shut down their power generators, which run on diesel fuel, and instead “plug in” and use the electric power grid at the docks.

The railyard project, known as the Southern California International Gateway, would create a 153-acre cargo depot just off Interstate 710 along the western edge of Long Beach, bordering Los Angeles. Roughly 5,500 trucks would use it daily, according to a report by the Los Angeles Harbor Department.

Los Angeles port and railway officials say that taking trucks off the local freeway and shortening the distance they must travel will improve the air quality and lower the health risk for the region. They have also promised to spend $100 million on energy-efficient machinery and other technologies for the project.

“We have a plan that helps the region as a whole, both with jobs and the economy, and in addition the environmental impact is better, not worse,” said Lena Kent, a spokeswoman for the rail company.

“Why in the world would you not want to get behind a project that does all that?”

But Andrea Hricko, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California who has evaluated the effect of pollution in the area, dismissed the claim as misleading, because the railyard would increase capacity in the region over all.

The railyard would replace a handful of trucking and other industrial companies that sit on the large plot of land just behind the working class residential neighborhood of West Long Beach, which local residents already refer to as the “diesel death zone” because of its proximity to so many trucks.

The local park was mostly empty one recent afternoon, perhaps because it was impossible to escape the smell from the exhaust coming from the trucks several feet away.

“People in this neighborhood completely lose,” Ms. Hricko said. “There is no question about it, you cannot have thousands of trucks coming in each day and say that is an improvement.”

Mr. Foster, Long Beach’s mayor, said that he wanted a buffer park between the railyard and residential areas, along with a stronger commitment to zero emission technology for the future and money to help residents install better windows and air filtration systems.

John Cross, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 60 years and is now the president of the West Long Beach Residential Association, dismissed the idea that because the area is already near an industrial site, more should be added.

“If you have a pile of you-know-what, you don’t just add more on it because it’s there,” he said.
Metro’s Point Person for Regional Rail Featured Speaker at Saturday’s SO.CA.TA Meeting


By Dana Gabbard, April 12, 2013

In 2001 Don Sepulveda joined Metro as Executive Officer–Regional Rail. This Saturday at 2 p.m. he’ll be the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of Southern California Transit Advocates. This is in downtown Los Angeles at the Angelus Plaza senior living complex, 255 S. Hill St. (1/2 block north of Grand Central Market), on the 4th floor. It is free and open to the public. After his remarks there will be a q&a session.
Don Sepulveda

Here is a chance to hear more about all sorts of regional rail issues: the Sprinter situation, LOSSAN, Amtrak, the statewide bullet train, Las Vegas party train, the Victorville-Vegas high speed proposal, Union Station run through tracks (aka the Southern California Regional Interconnector Project) etc. etc. Sepulveda has a full plate and keeps busy interacting with agencies, local jurisdictions, key stakeholders, etc. building support and seeking input. Like his appearance on Saturday!

Metro CEO Arthur T. Leahy has put an emphasis on multi-modalism and regional connectivity as illustrated in his remarks at Railvolution when it was held in Los Angeles last year: “The region is being transformed with transit. What do the key players in this regional Renaissance have to teach us?”

Sepulveda is Metro’s point person for the renaissance Mr. Leahy was referring to. For a snapshot of the regional rail situation I try to always read the regionl rail update Sepulveda helps prepare that is a receive and file at the Metro Board Planning & Programming Committee monthly meeting. But even better will be the opportunity tomorrow to hear him speak and ask questions.
I’ll be there. Will you?
What do we get in return for ultra-strict train safety regulations? 


By Shane Phillips, April 10, 2013

Transit projects in the United States are known for being unreasonably expensive compared to their European and Asian counterparts, but the reasons for the discrepancy are far from clear. As this Bloomberg article notes, some of this may be due to poor incentives and little transparency for private contractors, conflicts of interest between engineers and builders, and legal roadblocks. Over at Systemic Failure, they dug up some recent press release quotes from the San Diego-area transit district to make the case for one more cause behind those exorbitant costs: incredibly redundant and over-the-top safety regulations.

Case in point: The North County Transit District needs to replace the brakes on a bunch of their trains (they had worn out much more quickly than expected), and this is how they plan to do it:
The next step is for us along with our contractors, Veolia and Bombardier, to determine the proper procedure for the installation of the new 100g split disc rotors. Together we will take all safety factors into consideration. Once all parties approve this process, we will begin the installation of the new rotors onto the Sprinter test vehicle. FRA and CPUC officials will observe the installation. We have invited representatives from Siemens (the Sprinter manufacturer) and certified California engineers to observe the installation and the testing and to review the data.
So not only are the contractors joining up with the transit agency to replace the brakes, they're also going to be "observed" by two additional government agencies, one federal and one state-level. And they're bringing in a third corporation as well engineers from the area to "observe" even more. One has to wonder if they might also need to rent some stadium seating to ensure that all these men and women are able to see over each others' heads.

He also notes that "testing is expected to go on for months," presumably with representatives from these myriad institutions all hanging around getting paid to watch trains roll by over and over, sagely nodding their heads at each pass. According to the NCTD's own web site, the current round of testing is only the beginning. Not until late April do they expect to start the real testing, which will take another 24 days. And just to prove they're serious, even though no one appears to have ever been in danger due to the accelerated wear on the old brakes, these tests are going to "go above and beyond the testing of the original brakes required by the state." What additional gains in safety will result from this over-achievement are unclear. What is made clear, however, is that the trains might not be back in action for upwards of four months.

The one thing they've done that seems to be reasonable was to take the trains out of service when they discovered the unexpected wear-and-tear on the brakes in late February. Safety is the highest priority from a public service perspective, and although no cracks or other dangerous circumstances seem to have resulted, it was probably correct not to take any chances. The trains were shut down on March 9th though, so perhaps a full month wasn't needed just to get started on the replacement testing...

All sarcasm aside, this is insane. While this is an example of operations being catastrophically disrupted by an overbearing regulatory environment, Systemic Failure has frequently documented exactly the same type of hyperventilating, leading to vastly-increased capital costs.

What's behind these regulations? Is there an epidemic of passenger train-related deaths sweeping across the country? Not even close. From 1999-2008 about five passengers have been killed in trains for every ten billion miles traveled [PDF, page 144]. This, compared to 72 per ten billion miles traveled by car and truck, a rate that is more than 14 times higher and a total fatality count that is almost 2,400 times larger. (Yes, twenty-four hundred.) The vast majority of people killed by trains are pedestrians, about 70-85% of them trespassers, and an estimated 20-50% of the total number (including trespassers) are suicides, not the result of an accidental collision.

From the National Safety Council's report, Injury Facts, 2011 edition.

Despite this reality, the vast majority of safety regulation, and therefore cost, seems to be centered around preventing the 5-10 train passenger deaths that occur every year. Compare this to the 600+ pedestrians struck and killed by trains and the thousands more injured. (The number of pedestrian deaths has been on a slow decline from over 1,200 per year in the early 90s.) Requiring reinforced, super-heavy train cars certainly isn't doing anything to solve that problem.

The financial burden of these cumbersome, ill-targeted regulations very likely reaches into the billions of dollars. Imagine how many more lives could be saved and injuries prevented if that money was reinvested into improving passenger rail service--rather than turning our trains into tanks we could recognize and celebrate the fact that they're already the safest way to travel and commute regionally, and then redirect our efforts into making them a viable, convenient option for a greater number of people.

Transportation offers mixed reaction to Obama budget


By Sean Kilcarr, April 11, 2013


Some faint praise and a lot of scorn are being heaped upon President Obama’s 2014 federal budget proposal by the transportation industry, with some groups supporting his request for $50 billion to repair highways, bridges, transit systems and airports and others condemning funding cuts to other programs, such as the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA).

Yet others, such as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) had hoped the White House would take a stab at trying to create a “long term” solution for funding transportation needs; something the President’s budget proposal touches on only obliquely in a desire to create a National Infrastructure Bank to bring together public and private capital for “important” infrastructure projects.

"We remain supportive of proposals like President Obama’s that would increase investment in transportation infrastructure, especially those that address the nation’s growing backlog of preservation and maintenance needs,” said Bud Wright, AASHTO ‘s executive director.
“[Yet] AASHTO and its member states remain convinced the principal challenge will be to identify a long-term, sustainable revenue source for transportation investments,” he stressed.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) takes an even harder line against President Obama's budget proposal, with both its chief executive and chairman saying it fails to provide adequate detail and direction for how the country should pay for its infrastructure needs.

"The backbone of our economy is the asphalt, steel and concrete of our roads and bridges and proposals to fund those roads should be equally concrete," explained Bill Graves, ATA’s president and CEO. “For five years, we've waited for President Obama to clearly state how we should pay for these critical needs and, I'm sad to say, we continue to get lip service about the importance of roads and bridges with no real roadmap to real funding solutions."

"A safe and efficient network of highways is critical not just to my business, but to all businesses in this country," added ATA Chairman Mike Card, who is also president of TL carrier Combined Transport. "Trucking is willing to step up and pay more to ensure this country has the world-class highways it deserves, but until the President and congressional leaders advance a plan with real funding solutions, I worry about the continued deterioration of one of our nation's most critical competitive advantages."

President Obama noted in his speech unveiling the budget yesterday that “to make America a magnet for good jobs” he proposes to invest in new manufacturing “hubs” to create global centers of high-tech jobs while placing some $50 billion worth of funds in his Rebuild America Partnership to attract private investment to help rebuild roads, bridges and schools.

Yet some groups, such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said that several proposals within the President Obama’s budget could actually retard the very infrastructure investments he seeks to generate.

"The nation's mayors believe the President's budget proposal today moves us toward a balanced approach to achieve deficit reduction while promoting growth and investing in national priorities … and we are pleased that there is increased funding … to immediately repair highway, transit and other transportation facilities and [fund] additional freight and passenger rail investments [plus],” noted Michael Nutter, Philadelphia’s mayor and the group’s president.

"However, we are disappointed that the budget cuts Community Development Block Grant funding, which is the largest funding stream of federal dollars to cities and municipalities used by local governments to leverage additional investment,” he stressed.

"We are [also] extremely disappointed that the budget included a provision that severely limits the tax exemption on municipal bonds that finance the nation's schools, hospitals, roads, transit, water and other critical infrastructure,” Nutter added. “The proposal would result in billions of dollars in increased interest annually for communities all across the country.”

He pointed out that in meetings with the White House, the group continually expressed strong opposition to this proposed tax exemption limitation and reiterated that tax-exempt municipal bonds are essential to providing services for middle-class Americans.

"We support the President's new proposals on infrastructure, but they should not come at the expense of the primary tool for infrastructure financing and job creation,” Nutter said. “[But] we do not believe that the Administration will take actions that could damage municipal financing in our country.”

Another part of the President’s budget drawing transportation ire is the proposed 70% reduction in funding for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA); an effort Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum (DTF) said would “nearly decimate one of the nation’s most successful clean air programs.”

According to the White House’s 2014 budget proposal, DERA funding would fall from $20 million in FY 2013 to $6 million in 2014. Originally authorized as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, DERA provides funds to upgrade older diesel engines in order to reduce their emission production levels.

Schaeffer said DERA provides “consistently” high environmental, fuel-saving and clean air value, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimating that this pool of federal funds provides $13 in benefits for every $1 dollar invested.

“Ironically, just as state and local clean air officials develop plans to help meet President Obama’s new more stringent clean air standards, this proposed budget virtually eliminates a valuable and proven means of emissions reductions to many non-attainment areas,” he added. “At the same time proven clean air programs here in the U.S. are being slashed by 70%, the President is increasing direct funding to other countries for climate and clean energy programs by over 30%.”

That’s just one example of why ATA’s Graves believes the White House must craft a longer-term and sustainable funding strategy to address the many diverse needs of the U.S. transportation industry.

"Accounting gimmicks and budget tricks only get you so far," Graves said. "Sooner or later you need to take a hard look at the situation and decide that we're going to invest in these things or we're not and if we are that we need to generate more revenue than we do now. It's time to show us the money and where you intend to get it from. Simply letting states borrow more is no substitute for increased federal investment."

Vote for Your Favorite City-Changing Bike Proposal


By Sarah Goodyear, April 11, 2013

 Vote for Your Favorite City-Changing Bike Proposal



If you believe that bicycling can change the world -- or at least a city -- you’re not alone. You’re really, really not alone.

In case you need proof, look no further than Velo-city 2013, an urban cycling conference slated to be held this June in Vienna. The weeklong event will include discussions on kids and cycling, cycling in multicultural communities, the economic benefits of cycling, the science of cycling, the great helmet debate, and much, much more (there's even going to be a bicycle bell concert).

In order to bring people from around the world to this meeting of the city cycling minds, the conference organizers are awarding 30 “Cycling Visionary Awards” to people who have submitted ideas in five areas: advocacy and social projects; science, research, and development; design, fashion, and cycling equipment; urban planning and urban design; and cycling and the arts. The winners will  be invited to present their ideas at the conference. You can vote for your own choices through April 15 at the Velo-city website.

The array of choices gives just some idea of the way that people around the world – especially young people – are using bicycles to make their cities better, or hoping to use them. Here are a few that seemed particularly inspirational:
  • The Bombay Greenway Project, a proposal to enhance the Mumbai railway system by turning it into a verdant bike network.
  • Bikehangar, a smart-card-operated bike locking and storage system that would provide secure parking for 12 bikes where there’s only space to park one car.
  • A cargo bicycle counting system in Rio de Janeiro, where the use of such bikes to solved the “last mile” problem of delivery in crowded city centers could serve as an international model.
  • Bikenapped, an online anti-theft mapping platform being piloted in Boston.
  • Escuela BiciMujer, an educational program for women in Santiago, Chile, which has already taught hundreds of women to ride bikes in a city where only 3 percent of bike riders are female.
  • Auto-Mobile Beijing, a proposal for bicycle transit centers in China’s capital that would restore bicycle culture in a city where the number of bike has fallen from 11 million to 4 million since the 1990s, as cars, congestion, and pollution have proliferated.
Go take a look at the range of ideas and vote for your own favorites. You may come away thinking that the world is already being changed by bicycles, and definitely for the better.

California Gov. Jerry Brown rides Chinese bullet train


By Anthony York, April 11, 2103

 Go to the website for a video.

SHANGHAI -- The focus of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s trip to China on Thursday intersected with one of the most controversial issues of his governorship -- high-speed rail.

Brown rode a bullet train from Beijing to Shanghai, walking the aisles, shaking hands with Chinese passengers, and marveling at the country’s construction of more than 5,000 miles of high-speed railroad in less than a decade.

Brown was joined by Dan Richard, the head of California's high-speed rail board, and representatives of the Chinese company that designed and built the train.

As the train hit top speeds in excess of 180 mph, the governor, who has made a high-speed train a centerpiece of his long-term vision for the state, had rave reviews.

“I like it because I can read and it’s easy to get on,” he said. Brown brought his own reading material for the five-hour trip -- a copy of the Chinese government’s five-year plan.
Brown also said he liked the fact that he can walk the aisles during the journey.

“I’m restless,” the governor said.

Brown has a full itinerary. He will officially open the state’s new trade office here Friday and attend events promoting state agriculture and tourism. In between, he will be the guest of honor at a traditional Chinese banquet lunch, hosted by local government officials.
Inter-Con Security Systems. Did the Mayor and City Council Really Do Their Jobs?


April 12, 2103

 Welcome to Ticket Madre?

 Once in a while a story comes along that attracts a lot of attention, becoming in time a metaphor that takes on a much larger meaning than anyone might first have thought possible. And one of those stories is the hiring last Tuesday of a for hire parking enforcement outfit called Inter-Con Security Systems. This in a city grown long weary of being heavily ticketed already. Here is how an article in today's Pasadena News describes the situation.

Sierra Madre hires parking enforcement contractor (click here): Looking to beef up its lax parking enforcement after budget cuts last year, the city is contracting with the same company that handles enforcement in several Pasadena-area cities. Inter-Con Security Systems is the only company in the area that handles parking enforcement, so the City Council had few options when it approved the new contract Tuesday.

Police Chief Larry Giannone said it would have been preferable to compare qualified vendors, but he's certain that Inter-Con will bring some consistency to the city. "I'm confident by the referrals we get that they'll do a good job," Giannone said.

Patrol officers have been handling parking enforcement since the Police Department's code enforcement position was eliminated last year, but ticketing is a low priority. Police have received several complaints about lax enforcement, particularly from businesses and schools, Giannone said.

Inter-Con is expected to boost the number of tickets issued per day from seven to 15, which could bring in an extra $36,000 in revenue, according to a staff report. The Inter-Con contract is for about $64,000, expected to be covered by parking fines.

The company has a heavy-handed reputation in Pasadena, and council members noted a large number of complaints during a contract renewal in 2009.

As you just read, in this article James Figueroa alludes to Inter-Con having a "heavy-handed reputation." Nothing at all like that came up during our City Council's discussion of this matter, so I decided to take a look around the Internet. It didn't take but a minute to find this June of 2009 Star News article:

City renews parking-control contract (click here) The City Council renewed its parking enforcement contract with a company residents and businesses have criticized for being too aggressive in handing out tickets. The company, Inter-Con Security, was criticized last year when its contract was renewed. Many residents said they had been unfairly ticketed.

The city reviewed some of those complaints and corrected them, officials said, and the council elected to renew the company's contract at its meeting Monday night. In doing so, however, city officials noted they've received multiple complaints from members of the city's business community, who continue to be unhappy with Inter-Con.

"The businesses really bear the brunt of the complaints from customers who are upset when they get a ticket," Paul Little, president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview.

Although he was not necessarily opposed to renewing Inter-Con's contract, Little said he wanted the city to first arrange a meeting between business community members and Inter-Con officials to work out some issues. Michael Hawkins, who owns the Green Street Restaurant, said he has had problems with Inter-Con. He recounted how a parking enforcement officer caused trouble for a vendor delivering cases of wine to his restaurant.

"The guy walks up and tells him he has three minutes to move 40 cases of wine," said Hawkins. "We've been in business over 26 years and never been harassed this way."

In a letter to the council, Steve Mulheim, president of the Old Pasadena Management District, said he had received numerous customer complaints about officers, describing them as "aggressive," "rude," and "disrespectful."

Even so, council members renewed Inter-Cons contract, over the objections of Councilwoman Margaret McAustin, who opposed the renewal. She cited a number of complaints she had received. "When this came to us a year ago, there were a number of complaints expressed, and I'm not positive anything has been done," said McAustin, who cast the sole vote against the contract renewal.

Several council members said they, too, had received complaints from residents, but many of the complaints were about the city's parking policies.

Several residents who contacted the Star-News complained about poor posting of information on parking signs and about the appeal process for tickets. Melissa Michelson, a Pasadena City College professor, said she got a ticket for breaking a two-hour parking restriction. She moved her car within the two-hour period to another spot on the same block, not knowing that the two-hour restriction applied to the entire block.

"The hearing officer told me that was common knowledge," said Michelson. "But I never heard of it... it wasn't posted on the signs, and I couldn't even find it when I read the municipal code."

Michelson lost the case when she appeared in front of Inter-Con's hearing officer. She planned to appeal it but elected not to stand in a long line at the courthouse to fill out the paperwork. "That line was enormous," said Michelson.

You can't help but wonder if any of the referrals Chief Giannone spoke of came from the residents of Pasadena. My guess would be that while the Chief might have spoken to some people from other jurisdictions, the majority of these referrals would have likely been pointed out to him by Inter-Con themselves.

And if you are sick to death of our City being sued, you will be relieved to know that Inter-Con apparently can be litigious as well. This from the Los Angeles Times:

Council Votes to Settle With Security Firm (click here): The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday agreed to pay a security company $430,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging libel and breach of contract against the city. The suit stemmed from security work performed by Alhambra-based Inter-Con Security Systems Inc. at several city locations, including all of the San Fernando Valley's quake-damaged "ghost towns."

Initially, the dispute centered on disagreements over pay rates and work-related expenses. The libel charges came into play after former city security chief Gonzalo Cureton strongly criticized Inter-Con's job performance at the ghost town sites.

The settlement with Inter-Con had been delayed because some council members insisted that a provision be added to the agreement stating that the payment was in no way connected to the allegations of libel contained in the suit. Language to that effect was included in the final agreement, said Deputy City Atty. Dion O'Connell.

The council, O'Connell said, was worried about the "chilling effect" that a settlement of the libel charges might have on city employees speaking in public. "The council didn't want to send a message that they were caving in on the libel/slander issue," O'Connell said. "The payment is only for contractual obligations and expenses."

It could be that the prospect of grubbing up a little extra cash from parking tickets clouded the minds of four of our City Council members, causing them to neglect their duty to conduct a reasonable investigation into a company they were about to sign a contract with. Particularly with a third party security guard company having law enforcement ramifications. More money possibly being just about all they care to consider these days.

Perhaps this matter should be put on the agenda for another look. You know, before unleashing these possibly problematic rent-a-ticketers on an already ticket weary town?

Of course, this would mean that certain members of the City Council would have to admit they were wrong. I'm not too certain they're really up to it. Or, for that matter, if they would even care.