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, May 24, 2013

I-5 Bridge Collapse: A Painful Reminder of the Nation’s Misguided Priorities 


By Tanya Snyder, May 24, 2013

 A bridge on I-5 collapsed in Washington state last night, a reminder of the nation's need to focus more on repair.

In a searing reminder that the nation has to do a better job of keeping its infrastructure in safe working condition, the I-5 bridge between Burlington and Mt. Vernon, Washington, collapsed last night. Thankfully, no one was killed, and the three people whose vehicles fell into the water were hospitalized with only minor injuries.

Interstate-5 runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, connecting most of the major cities of Washington, Oregon, and California. The collapse of a bridge on one of the country’s most important roads reveals the fragile state of the nation’s critical infrastructure, especially coming six years after the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, which killed 13 people.

A truck with an oversize load apparently hit the overhead part of the steel truss bridge at about 7:00 p.m. last night, buckling the bridge and dropping two vehicles about 25 feet down into the cold Skagit River.
Google Maps has already been updated to show that the bridge no longer meets above the Skagit River.

The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records — well below the statewide average rating of 80. Still, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said the bridge was inspected twice last year, in August and November, and repairs were made. It wasdeemed “functionally obsolete” — but not structurally deficient — as recently as 2010.

Functional obsolescence means that the bridge was built to outdated standards but doesn’t indicate
that it’s necessarily unsafe. Often, a bridge is deemed obsolete simply for being more narrow than engineers would currently like it to be, given the level of traffic throughput. However, one factor in deeming a bridge “functionally obsolete” can be that it wasn’t built to withstand current vehicle weight loads — or heights.

ASCE’s 2013 infrastructure report card says 1,693 — 21.6 percent — of Washington’s bridges are functionally obsolete. Sixty-seven percent of the state’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

Though I-5 is an interstate highway, the collapse occurred in a state that has de-prioritized repair on its state roads. Washington spends just 14 percent of its total state highway budget on repair. Only six states spend less. According to a 2011 Smart Growth America analysis [PDF], the state spends $181 million a year on repair, when it needs to spend $426 million.

The collapse puts out of commission a bridge used by an average of 71,000 vehicles a day at the start of a busy holiday travel weekend.
Do high occupancy toll lanes really help congestion?
In the U.S. many states have built high occupancy toll lanes. Most don’t make a lot of money. But they do cut commuting times.
By Tess Kalinowski, May 21, 2013

It's too soon to write off the Virginia I-495 Express Lanes as money-losers, says the company that has the contract to operate them for 80 years.

It's too soon to write off the Virginia I-495 Express Lanes as money-losers, says the company that has the contract to operate them for 80 years.

Premier Kathleen Wynne is committed to giving them a try. But the Ontario NDP says high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are a boondoggle in the making.The revenue they produce doesn’t justify the expense of building them, according to NDP transportation critic Rosario Marchese.

But experts say that their ability to manage congestion can be worth the investment, given the productivity that traffic is sucking out of the area’s economy.

HOT lanes — sometimes referred to as “managed lanes” — are free to cars with more than one occupant just like the HOV lanes on highways 403, 404 and the QEW. Converting them to HOT lanes, however, means single-occupant cars are also allowed to use them — for a price.

 They have two key benefits: First, nobody is forced to pay a toll. Second, all lanes of traffic benefit from faster speeds if the pricing and volume of cars is managed properly. That’s a big “if.”

The potential complication for drivers already using the Toronto region HOV lanes: According to a KPMG report for Metrolinx , the HOV lanes here don’t have much capacity left to sell. Making them work might mean giving free access only to cars with three occupants or more.

That will annoy drivers who enjoy HOV access with only a single passenger.

In many of the more than 15 HOT lanes operating in the U.S., three occupants is the minimum for free use of the lanes.

Most make enough money to cover their operating costs, according to Ed Regan of CDM Smith a giant American engineering consultant, who has worked on many managed lane projects.
The NDP’s Marchese says the Liberal government should be looking at ways to make the existing HOV lanes more effective and its approach of lumping HOT lanes in with other taxes and charges to pay for transit expansion is just wrong.

HOT lanes could bring in as much as $250 million per year if and when the government acts on its plans to more than double HOV lanes in the region, says the Metrolinx report. But the existing lanes probably wouldn’t raise more than $45 million, says the KPMG report for Metrolinx.

The projections are unimpressive, given that the provincial agency says the region needs to invest $2 billion annually in transit expansion, said Marchese.

“If the guard rails cost $720,000 per km. and the gantries cost $600,000 per km., not to mention maintenance costs, it’s hugely expensive and possibly risky and will not certainly be a reliable revenue tool for transit. They might even lose money,” he said.

Look no further than one of the newest U.S. HOT lanes projects, said Marchese.

Virginia opened 14 miles of Express Lanes on the I-495, part of the Washington, D.C. Beltway in Nov. Six weeks later, the news was they had already lost $11 million. Vastly over-blown user projections were to blame, according to news reports.

But a spokeswoman for the company that has an 80-year concession to operate the lanes, says it’s too soon to worry.

“There’s no expectation that when you open a facility like this it would make money,” said Pierce Coffee of Transurban Development, whose profits are tied to the success of the tolled carpool lanes.
Virginia’s Express Lanes are among the most technologically advanced in the U.S. Like most HOT lanes, they use dynamic pricing. Sensors planted at every third mile of the road collect data on the traffic density and the toll goes up or down depending on the level of congestion. In the morning rush hour, the price changes about every 15 minutes, said Coffee.

Charges are registered using electronic E-ZPass transponders.

Coffee did not provide figures on how many drivers are using the lanes, but some, she said, are reporting up to a 20-minute reduction in their commuting times.
In the U.S. all HOT lanes use electronic tolling technology. In most cases you have to have a transponder to use the toll lane. None of them accept cash and enforcement is frequently through photo-surveillance, so non-transponder carrying vehicles get a ticket in the mail if they use the tolled lane, said Regan.

“We run a project in Minnesota where the rates change every three minutes. On the I-15 in San Diego, they vary their rates every six minutes,” he said.

Dynamic pricing is essential in many U.S. jurisdictions. California legislation, for example, specifies that HOT lanes can’t degrade carpooling conditions.
Regan admits that hard data on who uses the lanes is scarce. But, he said, the number of vehicles
using the toll lane for free in California actually increased after tolling was introduced. If you can avoid traffic for $6 and you can get that for free if you ride with someone else, that’s an incentive to carpool, he said.

“By putting a price on single occupant vehicles, people actually start to see a dollar value on what it’s worth to get out of congestion,” said Regan.

He points to the I-95 between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. It was so congested that the carpool lanes moved at about 20 mph and the regular lanes at 19 mph. The Florida department of transportation re-painted the road, narrowing the lanes and reducing the shoulder to add two toll lanes, replacing one carpool lane and retaining four free lanes. It also restricted the use of the carpool lanes to vehicles with three or more occupants.

“The people who buy these lanes get the trip for 60 mph compared with 20 mph for carpools previously,” said Regan.

“Even the people who didn’t buy into the lanes had their speeds improved from 20 mph to 40 mph. There has been a 50 per cent reduction in delay even for people who didn’t choose the toll lanes. For people who did, it’s a 70 per cent reduction in delay.”

The tolls generate about $20 million a year and cost almost nothing to operate, he said.

When San Diego was looking to expand its toll lanes on the I-15 from eight miles to 20, it asked people the best way to solve congestion on other parts of the road. By a 2:1 margin, people supported extending toll lanes, said Regan.

Drivers have begun to understand that building new lanes for cars is only a temporary solution. If that road is going to fill up again in a few years, he said, most people will choose to reserve some traffic capacity through pricing.

Overturned big rig, fuel spill wreak havoc on West L.A. commute


By Joseph Serna, May 24, 2013


A big rig and a second vehicle collided on the northbound 405 Freeway, causing 700 gallons of fuel to spill and blocking three lanes of traffic during Friday morning’s rush hour.

The crash occurred just after 6 a.m. between Waterford Street and Sepulveda Boulevard in Brentwood. More than 700 gallons of diesel fuel spilled across about two miles of highway, said California Highway Patrol Officer Monica Posada.

The fuel might have spilled into a construction zone but was contained before it seeped into the ground, she said. The freeway’s three right lanes at Montana Avenue, the Santa Monica Boulevard onramps and Wilshire Boulevard's offramps and onramps were closed through at least 8:30 a.m., officials said.

Lawmakers form public transit caucus


By Keith Laing, May 23, 2013

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers in the House announced on Thursday that they were forming a caucus for public transportation supporters.

The lawmakers, Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), said the caucus would "provide a forum for members of Congress to engage in constructive dialogue on the challenges and needs of mass transit agencies across the country."

“Buses, trains, and light rail that run safely and reliably reduce congestion on our roads, improve travel times across all modes, cut down on air pollution, and make our communities more attractive places to live, work, and own businesses,” Lipinski said in a statement.

“Maintaining and improving our public transportation systems must be a part of the solution to creating jobs at home and ensuring our competitiveness in the global marketplace," he continued.

Grimm agreed, saying that “a strong public transport system is crucial to our economy and our livelihood, which is why it must be maintained and updated to meet growing demand and ensure the highest levels of safety." 

"Unfortunately, there is currently a gap between where our public transportation infrastructure needs to be and where it is today, which is why this caucus is so important," he offered as his rationale for starting the transit caucus.

Transit advocates cheered the formation of the caucus Thursday.

"Transit is a key component of America’s transportation system, which is the backbone for the country’s economy,” Getting America to Work founder Joe Costello said in a statement. “We appreciate the leadership of Congressmen Lipinski and Grimm in creating this caucus to focus more national attention on this critical need.”


The Case for Caution When It Comes to Building Street Cars


By Eric Jaffe, May 24, 2013


 The Case for Caution When It Comes to Building Street Cars


The Atlanta streetcar is expected to open in spring 2014. Needless to say, city officials are pretty excited. The mayor's office sent out a press release in March just to announce that a few sections of the track had been laid. Officials believe the new streetcar line will provide crucial connectivity to the MARTA bus and rail system, encourage enormous local development, and generally improve alternative transport in the city [PDF].

Not everyone shares in the excitement. Writing in the Atlanta Journal Constitution last week, transit planner Jarrett Walker tempered emotions by questioning how useful the streetcar will really be. The piece is behind a paywall, but suffice it to say that Walker answered his rhetorical question with: not very. While everyone hopes the streetcar will "make people value transit as a whole," writes Walker, the fact is the Atlanta streetcar won't run frequently enough to improve mobility:
The Atlanta streetcar line will only be 1.3 miles long from end to end, and a streetcar will come every 15 minutes if everything's on time. So if you just missed one, should you really wait? Or should you just start walking?
Walker's question applies to cities far beyond Atlanta. A streetcar revival movement has been sweeping across the United States for the past several years. Charlotte, Dallas, Kansas City, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Cincinnati, and Baltimore are just some of the cities looking to add or expand streetcar lines. Washington, D.C., expects to start service sometime this year on what planners hope will become a 37-mile, 8-line network. Last week, as if to counter Walker's skepticism, Salon asked if streetcars are "the future of public transportation."

In many ways the attraction to streetcars is understandable. Advocates such as Darrin Nordahl like to point out that streetcars are far more charming than buses and are capable of drawing all types of riders — not just commuters. Done right, as in Portland, streetcar lines can be parlayed into millions or even billions of dollars of economic development for a corridor. Well-planned routes can also expand a city's transit footprint into areas where subway or metro expansion wouldn't be financially feasible.

In just as many ways if not more, however, the attraction is a very curious one. For one thing, as Walker makes clear in his op-ed (and a popular old post from his blog, Human Transit), they don't offer much in the way of mobility improvements. At the end of the day, there's very little they can offer that transit buses can't.

There are several reasons why that's the case. In the abstract, streetcars can carry more passengers than buses, perhaps 200 to 120, but if the frequency isn't as great then that advantage gets lost. Streetcars can't navigate around delay like buses can, so if the tracks aren't well-placed from the start — in exclusive lanes away from parked cars and other moving traffic — they will lose time to the general flow of a street. Walker has held up the F-Market line in San Francisco as an example; any street upgrades that facilitated streetcar movement, such as island platform boarding and conflict elimination, could have been made with buses:
I'm saying that they are a major capital expense that requires a justification other than mobility ("getting people where they're going fast and efficiently") when we compare them to the bus routes they replace, or that could be developed instead.
Often that justification is economic development. Here, too, streetcars are no automatic fix. As Yonah Freemark has pointed out, cities often forget that streetcars won't lead to transit-oriented development if zoning doesn't permit mixed-use density in the corridor. Portland's streetcar corridors have experienced a boom because they did just that. Other places, like St. Louis, have overlooked the role of zoning in streetcar development, according to Freemark:
In places where regulations make building large, mixed-use buildings difficult, transportation projects that will not do much to improve mobility will be incapable of encouraging much construction either.
Even where strong development does occur, cities must be mindful of the transformation they're encouraging. The H Street corridor in Washington, D.C., for instance, exploded with businesses following streetscape improvements made in advance of the streetcar (which, of course, could have been made for buses). But as wealth gathers near the tracks, cities must consider how to keep the corridor affordable to the residents whose lives the line was supposed to enhance in the first place.

Yet another reason for streetcar caution, offered by transit scholar David King, is that few cities were demanding the lines before the federal government began to hand out money for them. King has wondered whether this temptation makes streetcars the "latest incarnation of the people mover," those old monorail systems that a few cities rushed to pursue with federal grants. Just last week he noted how rare it was for a streetcar feasibility report to find the streetcar line unfeasible — a sign that political interests, rather than mobility needs, are driving the trend.

(One notable exception to King's point about feasibility was a study of streetcars for Red Hook, in Brooklyn, which recommended against the project on many of the grounds noted above: namely, a low expected ridership increase, significant costs, narrow streets that would have hindered streetcar movement, and zoning policy that precluded mixed-use development.)

Ultimately these concerns must be addressed one city at a time. For some places, in some corridors, with proper planning, streetcars might inspire that perfect blend of development and mobility and community. But if everywhere were Portland, then everywhere would be Portland. What many cities need to ask is whether they really want streetcars or just really don't want to ride the bus. If it's the latter, then streetcars are rather expensive therapy.


Next Tuesday's PUSD Meeting: Playing the Race Card All Over Again?


May 24, 2013

 Surprise ...

 There is a certain journalistic territory that I have decided I am going to have to call Colemania. Named in honor of the Pasadena Weekly's very own Andre' Coleman, it is a place where the more delusional political stratagems advocated by the hidebound remnants of what was once the blushing flower of Pasadena progressive politics still gets its airing out. Mostly from the pulpy piles of neglected PW's stacked once every seven days or so upon rusty street racks placed long ago in front of liquor stores, real estate offices, lottery shops and other places where the legendary real people go.

Having often observed the results of this longterm process (so to speak) myself, I can only conclude that the legendary real people apparently don't read very much. Or they don't read the Pasadena Weekly. Something that might also explain the sidewalk success of the picture rich Pasadena Outlook. Not that I revel in that sort of thing, mind you.

Anyway, one of the topics that enchants the still wheezing progressive rump represented by the Colemanian remnant is packing the Pasadena Board of Education with what are nostalgically referred to as minority members. Even though they represent the majority population not only in the Pasadena Unified School District, but quite soon the entire state of California as well. Something that is going to turn a now weary world view upside its head once certain folks get around to grasping the true meaning of it all. Which, based on past performance, will likely be about a decade or so after the fact.

As an example of the Colemanian redaction in action, here is a sample of the rich harvest that was published in the Pasadena Weekly on Valentine's Day of this year:

Making the grade - Minority candidates poised to take on incumbents for new school district seats (link): Should two of three incumbent candidates lose re-election on March 5, minority officeholders for the first time could hold a majority of votes on the recently reconstituted Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education.

Seven minority candidates — four Latinos and three African Americans — are running for four vacant seats, three of which are occupied by white incumbents seeking re-election. 

The emergence of Latino and African-American candidates is a result of the district’s going from at-large elections, in which each voter was able to cast ballots for all of the candidates, to district-only or neighborhood elections in seven districts.

The change, approved by a special task force hoping to stave off potential lawsuits that might be filed against the district under provisions of the California Voting Rights Act, was later approved in June by 54 percent of voters in Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre, the three communities that make up the district. The 2001 Voting Rights Act prohibits “racially polarized” elections that impair the election of minorities. 

None of that quite happened as planned, of course. The incumbents all handily won their races for re-election, deeply confounding the old white guys responsible for this so-called "subdistricting process." These being a rather effete folk who somehow believed that the majority minority voters would only vote for minority candidates. Which, technically, they did when they elected the incumbents. But I digress.

So that was then, and now I probably shouldn't gloat anymore. Today we find ourselves in an entirely different predicament, though equally odd in a way that the PUSD does better than anyone else. Let us peer into the Colemanian cranium for a brief overview of this latest woe offensive.

Filling the void - Pasadena school board set to review applications for district’s open at-large seat (link): The Pasadena Unified School District Board of Education will begin screening applications next week in hopes of filling a two-year board vacancy, a byproduct of the decision to change elections in the Pasadena Unified School District from at large to districts.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the six sitting board members will begin poring over 38 applications for the seat left open by Board member Kim Kenne’s decision to leave that post and seek a four-year term in her newly created District 1. Board members Ramon Miramontes and Ed Honowitz did not seek re-election in March, and Tyron Hampton won the April runoff for the new District 3 seat. With incumbent Board members Scott Phelps and Elizabeth Pomeroy winning re-election in their respective districts, and Board President Renatta Cooper and Board member Tom Selinske still serving their previous terms in Seats 4 and 6, respectively, one seat remains open.

From the pool of candidates for the job, board members will select eight names for consideration and rank them in descending order. The top three rankings will receive four, three and two points, respectively, and the remaining five will each receive one point.

After all of the points are added, the top-ranked applicants will be interviewed by the board early next month. From there, board members will once again rank their choices until someone is chosen. The at-large board member will serve until the seat, along with the two remaining seats — 2, 4, 6 — sunset in 2015

“Hopefully we will have some consensus or commonality on the top six to eight candidates and then they will be invited back for interviews in June,” said Cooper.  “I am hoping we will be able to reach clear consensus. I know there are people who are trying to organize to push for an election, which would be very expensive, and most likely voter turnout would be very low and take money away from the kids."

Yes, there are some exciting commonality themes that do need to be discussed here. One being that the Board of Education had promised all of those brave souls who stepped up and declared themselves candidates for appointment to this "at large" seat a fair share of time to discuss their bad selves before the six remaining Board of Education members. It looks now as if that may be in doubt. A potential bait and switch that, if true, is certain to have at least 30 of the applicants scratching their heads in chagrin.

Another concern going around is what the criteria will be for weeding out the vast majority of these candidates and choosing what Renatta Cooper happily refers to as "the top six to eight candidates." For some insight into that issue we dip back into Colemania for this insight:

Not for sale - Underdog Tyron Hampton easily wins District 3 school board seat (link): Hampton’s victory leaves the school board without an elected Latino board member for the next two years, despite the work of a special task force, which did away with Pasadena Unified School District’s at-large voting system and divided the school district into seven neighborhood voting districts in order to increase Latino representation on the board. The change was made to stave off potential lawsuits that might be filed against the district under provisions of the California Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racially polarized elections.

Although Latinos make up about 61 percent of the district’s student population, over the past four years there has been only one Latino board member, Ramon Miramontes, who did not seek re-election in March.

The board could still end up with Latino representation if board members appoint a Latino member in June to fill the at-large seat vacated by Kenne, who, following implementation of the district-only voting system, opted to run for the District 1 seat instead of finishing the remaining two years in the at-large seat she won two years ago. Longtime Board member Ed Honowitz decided to not seek re-election, leaving one seat open.

So is it possible to assume here that we are being told that the main criteria for making it into the final eight (or six) next Tuesday will be Latino ancestry? I believe so. Based on some of the statements made by Board President Renatta Cooper, that could very well be the case. Here is one of them from an unattributed PW article:

Calling all candidates - Five political hopefuls — none Latino — vie for open Pasadena School Board seat (link): "I believe the school board should be representative of the constituency served by the school district,” said School Board President Renatta Cooper. “With that in mind, given our demographics, clearly we need Latino representation at the school board level, at least one person.”

Now there are people whose opinions I respect that strongly believe Renatta Cooper is engaging in a form of progressive racism by making such a statement. That race should be the reason why someone is appointed to this at-large Board of Education seat, rather than talent or experience in that line of work, has some folks decidedly put off. Especially when you consider that race could very well have been why the PUSD Districting Task Force ripped off Sierra Madre's voting rights in last March's BOE election.

However, I have a moderately different take on this. The current six members of the Board of Education are split into two equally divided camps. One faction, led by Scott Phelps, takes a more pragmatic approach to running a school district, and is more apt to exercise fiscal constraint when it comes to spending the taxpayer dollar. Given the depressing fate of Measure TT's bond sale millions, I'd say there are some good reasons for supporting this viewpoint.

The other faction, led by Renatta Cooper, seems to believe that the PUSD should become an appendage of the social equity delirious ACT crowd. The notion being that public schools shouldn't serve merely as places where children go for an education, but also as shining beacons of hope where the world gets saved from its many evils, and on a regular basis.

Attempting to save the world in this way being a very expensive, and almost always futile, proposition.

The so-called "subdistricting process" was, in my opinion, never really about gerrymandering racial equity. Rather it was a political race card designed to further empower the kinds of outre' political agendas advocated by Ms. Cooper, along with the likes Peter Dreier, Ed Honowitz, Bill Bogaard, John Buchanan, and the rest of that crowd. It was a race based political ploy, played in hopes of achieving dominance over the hundreds of millions of dollars controlled by the Pasadena Unified School District. Especially the $240 or so million left from the Measure TT bond fiasco.

It really is always about the money, you know. And more often than not, development as well.

Next Tuesday the race card will be played again. And largely for the same political purpose. That being to do for the Renatta Coopers of this world what they could not achieve at the polls, retain political and ideological control of the PUSD's Board of Education.

With the result being yet more years of the kind of abject failure these same people have already brought to our public schools.

That election idea is starting to sound better all of the time, right?