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

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

CEQA Reform? What's In and What's Out with SB 731 (And What's Next...)


By Kristina Lawson, Brady McShane, Sean Matsler, and Richard Costigan, May 23, 2013


Lauded as the CEQA Modernization Act of 2013, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s SB 731 includes a number of amendments to CEQA that appear intended to appeal to a wide variety of interest groups. SB 731 replaces the idea of CEQA reform with CEQA modernization, implying that the bill makes changes to CEQA to bring the law current rather than overhauling the decades-old statute.

We’ve analyzed SB 731’s proposals and tagged them as good, bad, or status quo, and we’ll continue to follow SB 731 as it winds its way through the Legislature. While it’s too early to predict whether SB 731 will meet success in the legislative session – one thing is for certain: CEQA modernizing is the new CEQA reform.

SB 731’s Proposed CEQA Modernization What do these changes mean for project proponents?
For residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center projects in transit priority areas:
  • Aesthetic impacts would no longer be considered significant impacts on the environment but remain subject to local jurisdiction under design review/architectural review ordinances.
  • The Resources Agency is required to adopt statewide standardized thresholds of significance for noise, transportation and parking impacts.
  • Allows local governments to impose more stringent thresholds of significance.
Good: Removes a subjective matter from environmental review, resulting in possible time/cost savings for qualifying projects.

Potentially Bad: Noise, traffic and parking are quintessential local issues. Statewide standards may result in local battles over the need for more specific local thresholds of significance, and the nature/scope of local thresholds.
New requirement that a lead agency make available draft CEQA findings for public review at least 15 days prior to the proposed project approval date and provide a public “notice of availability” of the findings. Bad: Additional noticing will result in increased processing costs for project proponents and could result in significant delay if revisions to findings and additional public review are necessary.
Allows for concurrent preparation of an administrative record with project processing at the applicant’s expense. Currently written such that only the applicant may make this request. All record information must be posted on a website as soon as the draft environmental document is released and on an ongoing basis throughout the processing of the project. Potentially Bad: May encourage CEQA litigation since administrative record will already be prepared (and paid for) at time of project approval.

Potential to expedite CEQA litigation as delays related to administrative record preparation will be eliminated.

Provision of information concurrently with project processing will result in increased processing costs for project proponents related to maintenance of websites and processing of documents for administrative record purposes as those documents are received.

Potential for mistakes in preparation of record by lead agency during project processing, without any real opportunity for applicant to remedy.
Allows for “tolling agreements” for up to eight years to delay litigation for settlement. Currently written to require agreement of party alleging noncompliance, public agency and applicant. Status quo: No change to existing law or policy.
For all projects for which a mitigation monitoring and reporting plan was approved, SB 731 requires the lead agency to prepare an annual report on the project’s compliance with the MMRP. Potentially Bad: Heightened local agency oversight of project implementation and ongoing CEQA compliance.

Additional opportunities for CEQA lawsuits where report identifies deficiencies with implementation of mitigation measures.

Additional annual costs to project proponents until satisfaction of all MMRP conditions.
Adds clarifying language to the existing CEQA exemption for residential development projects consistent with a specific plan for which an EIR was previously certified. Status quo: No change to existing law or policy.
Makes clear that applicants for renewable energy projects may tout the environmental benefits of the projects during the CEQA process. Status quo: No change to existing law or policy.
Provides that it is the intent of the Legislature to amend Section 21091 of the Public Resources Code to prohibit and restrict late hits and document dumps if a project proponent or lead agency has not substantively changed the draft EIR or modified the project. Status quo: While the legislation states that it intends to make changes to Section 21091, no changes to Section 21091 are actually proposed in SB 731 as currently drafted.
Allows the courts flexibility to craft writs of mandate to require revisions only to those sections of the environmental document found to be in violation of CEQA. Status quo: No change to existing law or policy.

Federal Judge Issues Injunction Against $1.7B Wisconsin Highway Project

From Sylvia Plummer, June 4, 2013
Think about the implications for both 710 projects.

“Environmental attorneys in Wisconsin are doing tremendously important work. Groups representing people of color and poorer Wisconsinites recently won an injunction against a $1.7 billion interchange outside Milwaukee. They argued that such a costly highway project, with no provisions for transit, is discriminatory because it confers advantages to relatively wealthy commuters while offering nothing for the region’s transit-dependent population.”

Read the discussion about the possible precedent this decision may set.

UPDATED: Federal Judge Weighs Injunction Against $1.7B Wisconsin Highway Project


By Angie Schmitt, June 4, 2013


5:20 p.m.: This article has been corrected to reflect corrections in the original article.

Environmental attorneys in Wisconsin are doing tremendously important work. Groups representing people of color and poorer Wisconsinites won an injunction against are advancing a lawsuit against a $1.7 billion interchange outside Milwaukee. They argued that such a costly highway project, with no provisions for transit, is discriminatory because it confers advantages to relatively wealthy commuters while offering nothing for the region’s transit-dependent population.
The civil rights lawsuit against this $1.7 billion interchange project will proceed. 

This lawsuit has the potential to set an important precedent about state highway spending and social equity in cities. Robbie Webber at the State Smart Transportation Initiative discusses the implications:
A federal judge in Wisconsin has allowed a lawsuit against a major urban freeway project to proceed, agreeing with community groups that low-income residents could suffer “irreparable harm” if the project moves forward. The groups contend that the project advantages wealthier auto commuters at the expense of poorer transit riders, and the judge found that the plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on the merits.

The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin and Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope targeted the project’s environmental impact statement, claiming that state and federal transportation officials failed to fully evaluate the project’s environmental and related social and economic impacts.

No one denies that the interchange at the junction of Interstate 94 and U.S. Highway 45—named the Zoo Interchange because of its proximity to the Milwaukee Zoo—needs to be rebuilt. Safety and design problems, as well as deteriorating pavement, need to be addressed. However, the objections by the community groups stem from a lack of transit components in the project, even though a 2006 regional plan commission plan recommended that public transit in the area be doubled by 2035 in addition to upgrading highway capacity.

The plaintiffs argue that transit-dependent city residents need access to jobs in the suburbs served by the project, that the project will accelerate development in suburban locations, and that the project will have detrimental effects on air quality. The project’s EIS provides evidence of substantial transit service between the core urban area on the eastern end of the project and suburban Waukesha County, the western terminus of the project. However with the exception of one route, this service is structured to provide peak travel-direction service for suburban residents accessing jobs in the city and does not provide reverse access.
One of the items the judge found fault with in the EIS was the failure to consider the “growth-inducing effects” of the project — sprawl, essentially.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Bike Portland notes that in Amsterdam, bikeways are designed to facilitate social interaction. The Greater Marin contemplates the love-hate relationship some activists have with their city. And the City Fix reports that in Brasilia this week, pedestrians are treated like royalty.

Azusa fails to pass resolution in favor of  "completing" the 710.

From Sylvia Plummer, June 4, 2013

As many of you have heard by now,  Azusa failed to pass a resolution in favor of “completing” the 710 by a vote of 2-2.  We should consider this a victory, and everyone who called Azusa and/or wrote messages to the City Council played a role in influencing them.

Thank you, Ellen Biasin, for this information:
There's an excellent video of yesterday's meeting online: http://azusa.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=453

Public comments regarding the 710 start at 014:15 with Tom Williams, Mayor Schneider, Joanne Nuckols, Harry Baldwin, Mayor Placido. After Mayor Placido, are a couple of commenters on other issues, then Bill Urban.

Those commenting had some interesting things to say. The 1st, Jorge Rosales, has an interesting aside regarding 710 at the end of his comments. The 2nd, Dennis Willet (?) makes some interesting comments about trains converting to LP in 2015 and Europe having much cleaner diesel trucks prior to his comments.

Placido mentioned Gil Cedillo and Judy Chu (both of whom favor the connection)
Discussion of resolution is at the end: 1:11:22.
The council members are not clear on how the 710 tunnel will affect Azusa residents.

This from Jan SooHoo:
I called the City Clerk this morning to find out how each concil member voted.   
Mayor Rocha -- No
Carillo -- Yes
Gonzales -- Yes
Alvarez -- No
Macias -- Absent
First Leg of Wilshire Bus Only Lanes Finally Opens 


By Damien Newton, June 4, 2013


Moments ago, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and representatives of the Federal Transit Administration celebrated tomorrow’s official opening of  1.8 miles of Bus Only Lanes on Wilshire Boulevard between Western Avenue and South Park View St. at MacArthur Park. The lanes open tomorrow morning at 7 am, just in time for the morning rush hour.

The 1.8 miles of bus only lanes, which are “bike ok!”, is the first portion of the 7.7 miles of lanes that will stretch from Downtown Los Angeles to the border of Santa Monica.

During peak hours, Metro operates buses every two minutes on Wilshire Boulevard west of downtown. There are 53,000 daily boardings with 44 percent of those during rush hours. More people travel along the Wilshire Corridor by bus than by car in peak periods. The currently completed bus only lanes will save transit commuters about two minutes in each direction.

A large chunk of Wilshire is excluded from the project in Beverly Hills and Westwood. An exuberant Metro press release brags that the lanes will “stretch 12.5 miles between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica and will shorten bus commute times by 12-15 minutes.” There is no mention of the Beverly Hills/Westwood shaped hole in the middle of the project.

Beverly Hills is excluded because the grant application was done by the City of Los Angeles and negotiations with Beverly Hills were not completed by the due date. While the city has not made a plan for its own, matching, Bus Onlu Lanes, some officials expressed regret that Los Angeles is getting the lanes and Beverly Hills is not.

Westwood is excluded because residents convinced Council Member Paul Koretz and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky that the lanes were a bad idea based on conjecture.

Now that this leg of the project is completed, there are still nearly six miles of lanes left to be repainted. Emails to Metro officials asking for a timetable yesterday were sent to LADOT. LADOT says they’ll have an answer for us “later this afternoon.” We’ll update this story when we hear from them.

The Grim Rapper warns MTA riders to 'stand back' from the tracks in subway  

Musical safety video featuring motorman Noah Rodriguez is a YouTube hit 

June 2, 2013

 **FOR MONDAY, JUNE 3RD DONOHUE COLUMN** "Stand Back," a rap / hip hop song by TWU Local 100 featuring Noah Rodriguez and directed by Mary C. Matthews. The YouTube video promotes subway safety by telling people to step back and not get to close to the edge of the platform. -- YouTube

No bones about it, this video from Transport Workers Union Local 100 pulls out the stops to warn in rap that death stalks the subways for those who stray too near the tracks.

The Grim Reaper rides the subway.

The skeletal figure can be seen standing on the platform edge as a 400-ton train races into the station, the rush of air blasts and billows his black hood and cape.

He walks silently through a subway car.

He glides up a station escalator, looking right into your eyes.

These are three scenes from a public service message by Transport Workers Union Local 100. The subject is death, or rather, how to avoid death by train.

The public service message comes in the form of a rap music video. I know, that sounds lame. Public service message-rap music video sounds like a recipe for disaster — three minutes of your life you won’t get back.

 MTA motorman Noah Rodriguez and Mary C. Matthews make it clear where straphangers oughta stay before subway trains roar into the station.</p>

MTA motorman Noah Rodriguez (right) makes it clear where straphangers oughta stay before subway trains roar into the station.

But this is a surprisingly good and impressive bit of work. The video takes on a serious subject, but manages at times to have fun with the catchy refrain “stand back,” as in stand back from the yellow line. With no solution to the carnage in sight, the production won’t be outdated anytime soon.

Trains and riders collided 657 times between 2008 and 2012, according to MTA data. I say ‘collided’ because it’s not uncommon for people to walk into the sides of trains that are entering, departing or idling in stations. These stumblers usually have had more than a few cocktails.

Nearly 230 riders, approximately 35%, were struck after they fainted, tripped or descended to the roadbed intentionally, sometimes to retrieve property dropped to the tracks, according to the MTA data. This group also includes the rare instances in which a lunatic pushes another person from a platform.

About 26% — 175 poor souls — killed themselves or attempted to commit suicide by train. A very small group — nine riders — fell between subway cars.

As of Sunday, the latest to die was a deejay who went to the tracks at about 1 a.m. Saturday at the Wakefield/241st St. station in the Bronx to retrieve an iPhone that he dropped, officials said. Francisco Diego Jr., of the Bronx, was just 22.
 Rodriguez warns straphangers that 9-to-5ers, or any subway patrons, most definitely don't want to become 12-9s (code for body on tracks).</p>

Rodriguez warns straphangers that 9-to-5ers, or any subway patrons, most definitely don't want to become 12-9s (code for body on tracks).

Motorman Noah Rodriguez, now assigned to the union hall, raps about such incidents in the video,
using the transit code 12-9 for body on the tracks:
“Every time I hear about a 12-9/that means somebody didn’t stay behind the yellow line.
Or they dropped something on the tracks/and just had to get it back.
But they ain’t make it back up in time.
Now there are rules you should follow if you drop/something of yours, call a transit worker or a cop.
STOP if you think you can outrun, you’re insane/that’s more than 400 tons of a train.”

 Trust me. It works when Rodriguez, straight outta the subway, raps it.

Local 100 has a three-point plan to reduce subway deaths: slow trains entering the stations, put more transit workers on platforms and give token booth clerks the ability to cut track power from their posts.

The MTA has rejected or been silent on all three, opting instead for pilot programs testing longer-term strategies that may or may not be feasible, like a network of sensors. The sensors conceivably would detect when someone is on the tracks that triggers an alert to any approaching trains.

In the meantime, stand back.

A Foldable Fix to Public Transit's Peskiest Problem


By Sarah Goodyear, June 3, 2013

A Foldable Fix to Public Transit's Peskiest Problem


How to get from the transit station to work or home: this perennial transportation challenge is known as “the last mile.” And it is a real obstacle to getting people out of their cars and onto trains and buses.

In Pasadena, California, they’re now trying to solve that puzzle with folding bikes, and a little assist from social media.

The city’s new FoldnGo program offers people who live, work, or go to school in the Southern California City $220 off the price of a folding bike. To hold up their end of the deal, program participants are supposed to ride transit with their folders at least twice a week, and are encouraged to check in with pictures on Facebook to prove it.

As last-mile solutions go, folding bikes have a lot of advantages, according to Fred Silver, vice president of Calstart, a consortium promoting clean transportation technologies that is implementing the program for Pasadena. "Folding bikes are less intrusive that regular bikes on trains during peak hours," says Silver, who says that folding bike technology has advanced a lot in recent years, making them easier to fold and more like conventional bikes in their ride. "You can bring them on the bus, which you can’t do with a regular bike. You can bring them to your cubicle. And they’re getting to be like luggage – you can drag them behind you now."

Silver says that the folders provide a "triple bottom line" – good for the environment, good for people’s health, and good for the finances of transit agencies, which typically have to pay about $25,000 to build each parking spot at a transit station – if the land is even available.

Altogether the program will hand out 600 vouchers for the purchase of folding bikes from Dahon, which is partnering in the effort. Depending on the model the recipient chooses, the final cost will be anywhere from $214 to $258. Pasadena City College students can get another $80 knocked off the price.

Silver says that Calstart hopes to create programs like Pasadena’s elsewhere in the sprawling region covered by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and has published a “Folding Bike Implementation Plan” to assist interested municipalities [PDF]. He says subsidies on folding bikes could represent a meaningful part of the solution to many of the transit problems in the region and around the country. "It’s a win, win, win situation."

APTA: Public Transportation users save $9,795


May 31, 2013 

Individuals who ride public transportation instead of driving can save, on average, more than $816 this month, and $9,795 annually, according to the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) May Transit Savings Report.
The savings are based on the cost of commuting by public transportation compared to the cost of owning and driving a vehicle, which includes the May 29, 2013 average national gas price ($3.62 per gallon- reported by AAA) and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.

APTA releases this monthly Transit Savings Report to examine how an individual in a two-person household can save money by taking public transportation and living with one less car.

The national average for a monthly unreserved parking space in a downtown business district is $166.26, according to the 2012 Colliers International Parking Rate Study. Over the course of a year, parking costs for a vehicle can amount to an average of $1,995.
Update on the Azusa Resolution to Support the Completion of the 710

Posted on No 710 on Avenue 64 Facebook page, June 4, 2013

The resolution to support the "completion" of the 710 did not pass at the Azusa City Council meeting last night. The Vote was 2 to 2 . Those who opposed it wisely cited the need for more information.

China Set to Impose Pollution Tax in Beijing


June 3, 2013

China’s Beijing is polluted more than you think. And, before things run beyond repair, the Chinese government is planning to intervene. The administration is set to impose an automobile-pollution refueling tax soon. If that happens, Beijing will acquire fame of being China’s first city to implement such a pollution tax. When the tax comes in to play, the gas tax will total 10 yuan ($1.62) per liter.

Current taxes in the country are very liberal, and come to just one yuan per liter plus 0.1 percent for construction and educational funding.

The World Health Organization has pointed fingers at China’s pollution levels where fine airborne particulates pose health risks. Beijing breached pollution levels and even pierced 10 to 15 times the prescribed level.

The government has now realized that it cannot run away from this health affecting phenomenon. As an initial step, Beijing will try to push out as many as 180,000 older vehicles from the roads.
Reports also suggest that Chinese government will launch country’s first-ever fleetwide fuel-economy standard of about 34 miles per gallon by 2015.

Steinberg's CEQA and Redevelopment Bills Move Forward


By Bill Fulton, June 3, 2013


After a variety of setbacks, Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is doggedly moving forward with bills to reform the California Environmental Quality Act and revive redevelopment. Both bills – SB 731 for CEQA and SB 1 for redevelopment – have cleared the Senate and are now pending in the Senate.

The CEQA bill is more likely to be enacted into law. Steinberg deliberately created a consensus bill with little opposition and it passed the Senate 39-0. The redevelopment bill – a rerun of last year’s SB 1156, which passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown – passed the Senate 27-11 on a party-line vote and Brown may well veto it again.

Perhaps the biggest CEQA change called for in SB 731 is the creation of state significance thresholds for parking, transportation, and noise. The bill would allow local governments to create stricter standards – but one can imagine quick a battle at the Natural Resources Agency and the Office of Planning & Research over whether the state thresholds should be strong or weak. In addition, the bill would ditch aesthetics as a CEQA issue.

Steinberg’s bill originally called for an appropriation of $30 million per year to fund planning grants through the Strategic Growth Council, but the language was watered down simply to say that this is the Legislature’s intent. With such broad support, it seems likely that Brown will sign the bill.

An excellent rundown of the bill was prepared by the Manatt law firm.

The redevelopment bill, SB 1, continues to mirror last year’s bill, permitting the creation of a “sustainable communities investment authority” with limited access to tax-increment financing if both the city and the county agree to it. The redevelopment areas to be created would be limited to transit-rich locations, “small walkable areas,” and clean energy manufacturing sites.

Although the bill appears likely to pass the Legislature for the second year in a row, there is no reason to believe Brown has changed his mind on vetoing it.
Update: 56-year old bicyclist killed in Huntington Beach early Sunday; 6th bike death in the city since 2010


 June 2013


This isn’t the news any of us wanted to come home to after a beautiful SoCal Sunday.
According to the Southwest Riverside News Network, 56-year old Orange resident Susan Stripko was killed while riding in Huntington Beach early this morning.

Citing the paywall-blocked Orange County Register as its source, the news site says Stripko was attempting to cross busy Yorktown Ave on or near Beach Blvd at 12:08 am Sunday when she was hit by a white 2002 Silverado pickup truck traveling east on Yorktown.

 The story does not say which direction she was going, or if she had lights on her bike. Nor does it suggest how fast the driver was going, whether the intersection was lighted, or any other factor that may have contributed to the collision or shed light on how it might have occurred.

The Orange County Coroner’s office describes her as a pedestrian, which could suggest she may have been walking, rather than riding her bike at the time of the collision, and places the collision site east of Beach Blvd.

However, police reports sometimes refer to bicyclists as pedestrians on bikes, for reasons which will forever escape me, so that may or may not mean anything.

Stripko was pronounced dead at UCI Medical Center in Orange less than an hour later, as 12:55 am. The driver reportedly remained at the scene and was cooperating with investigators, and no arrest was made or citations issued.

However the Injury Law Central website places the collision one block further east at the uncontrolled intersection of Yorktown and Worchester; based on the conflicting reports, it could have happened anywhere between the two intersections.

Stripko leaves behind a daughter and two sons.

This is the 31st bicycling collision in Southern California since the first of the year, yet just the 3rd I’m aware of in Orange County this year, which normally averages over one bicycling death per month.

Remarkably, it’s also the at least the sixth cycling fatality in Huntingon Beach since late December 2010, making the small city of just under 200,000 one of most dangerous places to ride a bike in the entire seven county SoCal region.

My deepest sympathy and prayers for Susan Stripko and all her loved ones.

Adam Schiff and Mitch O'Farrell urge Metrolink to study health risks of Taylor Yards soot


By Molly Peterson, May 30, 2013



 Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) stands at the podium flanked by LA City Councilman-elect Mitch O'Farrell and Elysian Valley and Cypress Park residents to urge Metrolink to study the health risk posed by diesel soot emissions from Taylor Yards.

A congressman and a councilman-elect are urging Metrolink to assess the health risks of its operations at Taylor Yards on surrounding communities in Cypress Park and Elysian Valley.

People living in northeast L.A. have long expressed concern about diesel particulate matter emitted by locomotives and other equipment at the Metrolink facility. So far, Metrolink has resisted community calls to conduct a health risk assessment.

Congressman Adam Schiff said Taylor Yard trains are noisy and dirty. “Metrolink has consistently failed to address community fears about the health risk of living near the facility and stonewalled calls for a health assessment," said Schiff.

L.A. City Councilman-elect Mitch O’Farrell also boosted calls for a study.  “As a Councilmember, I will demand nothing less than a health risk assessment, because if we don’t have a baseline of where we are now, then we won’t know how to proceed,” said O’Farrell.
Metrolink has long defended its operations at Taylor Yards, pointing out that mass transit helps keep freeway maintenance and construction costs down, even as it touted its efforts to cut emissions.

Last year the yard's neighbors wrote to Metrolink’s John Fenton arguing that “with more than 30 locomotives serviced daily, often idling for 2 or more hours each, they are creating a hazardous environment for our community’s health and our children.” Following petitions and public meetings, Metrolink began running a quarter of its trains on electric power while they were idling, and taking other measures to cut pollution.

Northeast LA Residents for Clean Air Coalition has commended Metrolink for its voluntary measures to cut emissions. But concerns about the health effects of diesel soot loom large, inflamed by the World Health Organization’s finding last summer that particulate matter from diesel engines causes cancer.

Last year KCET’s Departures talked to Ceci Dominguez, a 40-year Elysian Valley resident:
When you went to the doctor, you didn't question him, you drink your medicine. You listen to what the teachers have to say about your children. We now realize that's not the case with our air quality. No one is watching this yard. What about the health of our community? We have now become the caretakers.

China Cracks Down on Jaywalking


 By Lily Kuo, June 4, 2013

 China Cracks Down on Jaywalking


Chinese officials are cracking down on illegal street crossing, in an attempt to instill rule of law in Chinese cities known for their chaotic roadways. The latest urban center being subjected to the crackdown is Shenzhen, where at least 2,000 people have already been fined for jaywalking, or what is described in Mandarin as “Chinese-style street crossing.” In the province of Zhejiang, over 8,000 were charged for the offense in March.

Jaywalking in China, when pedestrians disregard traffic signals and walk into the street (usually in groups), contributes heavily to traffic jams and bottlenecks in China’s urban areas. Beijing, and provinces like Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Zhejiang and Hainan have already started charging jaywalkers with fines of up to 100 renminbi ($16) or assignments to help direct traffic as punishment.
Some analysts think the issue is more cultural than logistical. Chinese state media have attributed the jaywalking to a national short-sightedness or lack of principles. Others say it reflects the population’s disregard for rule of law.

But according to Chinese writer Yuan Xiaobin, the high incidence of jaywalking reflects the government’s lack of attention to pedestrian rights. As Yuan explained in an editorial last year, Chinese police and officials have little regard for the millions of Chinese who rely on biking and walking to get around. In March, a video of a police car driving away after hitting a pedestrian went viral. In the same month, officials in the city of Nanning built a bridge over a walking path with such a low clearance that residents had to duck to pass under it. Because drivers rarely yield to pedestrians (even though it’s required by law), Chinese jay walking is a kind of collective action to force cars to stop.

China’s traffic infrastructure doesn’t help. As Yuan pointed out, in Germany traffic lights are programmed to last no longer than 60 seconds, which is the amount of time studies found that German residents would wait to cross the street. In China, a study from Tongji University in Hangzhou found that pedestrians waited up to 90 seconds for a signal to walk. Even when they get a walk signal, there’s no telling when cars will actually allow pedestrians to cross the road.
Attacking the Language Bias in Transportation Engineering 


By Angie Schmitt, June 3, 2013


 “Improvement.” “Upgrade.” “Level of Service.” The traffic engineering profession is full of buzzwords laden with meaning — and, for the most part, the embedded meaning is something to the effect of “cars are king.”

Ian Lockwood, P.E., has been working in the engineering profession for 30 years. He served as the chief transportation official for the city of West Palm Beach, Florida, before joining the engineering firm AECOM as a consultant and completing a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard.

Lockwood is on a mission to reform the way his profession uses language. I got a chance to sit down with him last week at the Congress for New Urbanism conference in Salt Lake City. Here’s what he had to say:

Angie Schmitt: Are there any words in particular you are targeting?

Ian Lockwood: What I’m really targeting are the values that are behind the words. The words were coined during the golden age of the automobile, the 1930s through the 60s, by the transportation experts. Those folks memorialized those words in our books and technical manuals, like the Highway Capacity Manual. And the intention was to express the values of the profession in those words. The values, of course, were very automobile-oriented.

And we still use those words today, even though our value sets have shifted dramatically. What the words do is perpetuate the bias of the time. So if we want to reform and change things, it’s much more difficult if the automobile biases and culture are literally hard-wired into the language.

I compare it to the women’s movement somewhat. In the 1970s, women were trying to become more equal to men. They changed the language from gender-biased words like fireman, chairman, man hours, man-powered to firefighter, police officers… and it leveled the playing field. What I’m hoping is that we can substitute out the biased language. I just want a level playing field so we can have rational discussions without the value-coded language skewing things all the time.

AS: Can you give us some examples of biased words?

IL: Probably the one we hear the most is “improvement.” When a conventional traffic engineer talks about an improvement, often it might mean a widening. It’s hard to argue against an “improvement,” because it’s a subjectively labeled word and it implies it’s getting better, even though it might not be getting better for all the user groups. It contains a bias for the automobile user over and above the other folks.

Ian Lockwood, PE, is on a mission to reform the "biased language" in transportation engineering.

AS: Does that word have a really technical definition?

 IL: No, it’s just the habit. But it’s used in definitions, like the “Transportation Improvement Plan.” Quite frequently those transportation improvement plans are mostly widening plans. And transportation improvement sounds like an inherently good thing to a layperson or a politician, but if they knew it was just a set of widenings, perhaps they would think differently.

The word “upgrade,” when you talk about changing a street from a collector street to an arterial street, it implies things are getting better. Why would you argue against an upgrade on a street –unless you’re a business person, or a cyclist, or someone that lives in the neighborhood that thinks the neighborhood is going to get worse because of it?

AS: Are there any formal efforts underway around the country to change this?

IL: There ought to be one. In the city of West Palm Beach, years ago, we passed a transportation language ordinance where we required our staff and consultants to use objective language. I don’t know if they still practice that, but they did when I was in charge there.

AS: Can you give me some examples of words that were switched, or how that worked?

IL: For example, “alternative mode of transportation”: The “alternative” sounds weird or odd or abnormal, but maybe an objective term would be “non-automobile mode of transportation.” Or if they mean bicycle or walking, maybe “human-powered,” but certainly not “alternative.”

We talk about the “capacity” of street. My profession thinks of that as how many cars can cross a line in an hour. But that’s really just the motor vehicle capacity of the street. Everyone else knows that streets have the capacity to nurture businesses, be great addresses, to create identity, to be recreational facilities. They can be lots of things. But to let conventional thinkers own that word is just wrong.

Another good example is “protect” — protecting rights of way. Protect, to you and me, means shielding something from harm. Protect, in that context, means that you’re going to build a road on it somehow, that you’re going to widen the road. “Protecting right of way” means that it’s doomed to be covered over. So perhaps “purchase” might be good, or “designate.” “Protect” is a nice word that means you’re doing something inherently good and that just might not be the case depending on the nature of the work.

AS: Do you know of any other cities or places that have looked at this critically?

IL: After we published [our language ordinance in West Palm Beach], I know Chicago was interested. We got an email from Sri Lanka about it. We got calls from all over.
At the time I first got interested in this, probably 15 or 20 years ago, I sent a proposal to the [Institute of Transportation Engineers] to talk about the language and they replied that it was not only unnecessary, it was inflammatory.

AS: What was their explanation?

IL: They didn’t explain. I think it violated their paradigm. They were part of a conventional paradigm. Now today the ITE is a lot better; the ITE has changed dramatically and perhaps the time is right to do this reform now.

AS: There is a whole discipline that is part of linguistics called conflict theory that looks at how different words reinforce existing power structures.

IL: Words are the clothing that ideas wear. There’s an idea under there that, depending on the word that’s used to describe it, we can clothe it one way or another.

AS: So how would you imagine a word change would change the way a project played out on the ground?

IL: Well if you can imagine yourself in front of a city commission, objecting to a road widening. And the supporter of the widening says, “we have to put the road widening [or improvement] in to create an acceptable level of service.”

So first of all, “improvement” is biased. Second of all “acceptable” to whom? Is it the pedestrian? The shop owner? And then “level of service,” for whom, again? The automobile is anonymous in this whole discussion. “Acceptable” just assumes that we have to make things great for motor vehicle users passing by.

So they should say, “adding the automobile lane to increase” – increase instead of improve – “to increase the level of service for automobile users” – because then at least you know what they’re talking about: All they’re talking about is the car.

It levels the playing field because the person objecting can say, “Hey look, that’s where my kid’s school is,” or, “That’s where my stores are,” or, “The streets are in a neighborhood that you’re going to create a barrier in.” Those are the kind of concerns that get washed away by the built-in anonymity for the car in all of our language.

AS: Do you think the work you’ve done in West Palm Beach has the potential to impact the profession?

IL: It certainly impacted that city. When I first started there, I had a difficult time convincing anybody of the wisdom of what I was doing, because I was working against a cultural bias. But through exposing the bias through the language reform, I got a lot more projects done, a lot more reformist elements of the projects built. I think that has set some precedents which have helped other cities.

AS: What are some examples of that?

IL: We did some of the first big road diets, before the term was even coined. To create precedents in a biased environment is really hard. The first woman CEO was really difficult because they had to become chairman and they’re a woman. “Chairman” has a biased connotation to it. To do the first road diets when the language and the culture was completely unsupportive was really difficult. And now it’s easier, they’re all over the country.

Comments to the article:

In southern California our streets are all highways, and our highways are all freeways. This term originated as "free from intersections" but is now a barrier to roadway pricing, because, ya know its a "free"way.

 I am 100% behind Ian's effort. In my own writing (for Streetsblog Chicago), I stick to generic, objective words like "change" or "modification".

 This is great. Good to know people, even if only a few, on the inside think about this.

 This article brings to mind a proposal in the late 1980s to widen the Long Island Expressway. This was the only thing I could find on it ( http://www.nytimes.com/1988/09... ). The proposal was later amended to widen the expressway within city limits as well. There was a grassroots movement to stop it in neighborhoods like mine ( http://www.tstc.org/bulletin/1... ). People would have lost a good portion of their front lawns. Even worse, the benefit of widening about 6 or 7 miles of the expressway within city limits would have been a reduction in travel time of only 30 seconds. It boggles the mind how anyone ever even got the idea that it's worthwhile to spend billions of dollars and disrupt many people's lives just to save suburban auto commuters a lousy 30 seconds. This is an amount of time which is worthless in the grand scheme of things. Thankfully the proposal was defeated. The only "improvement" for the LIE should consist of removing traffic lanes to put rail transit and/or bike lanes in the median. That would be seriously useful to the city folk whose neighborhood is dissected by the expressway. And long term we should seriously consider putting all urban expressways underground. The land above them could be developed. This would more than pay for the cost of burying them.

 Positively brilliant notion: re-define "capacity".
In my dream world, capacity is redefined as "the number of people moved past point X per unit time, divided by the mass of the vehicles used for conveyance."  This would of course motivate transportation engineers to bias our routes toward walking and cycling...

 Will Transportation Alternatives be re-naming themselves?

I've always found it to be a stupid, almost self-insulting name.
When I take the subway to work in the morning, it's not an alternative to anything - it's how I get to work. If, for whatever reason (I can't imagine what it would be), I were to drive to work one day, that would be the alternative.

this video is a great summary of this mindset. and its sort of funny

My favorite example of "language bias": WE are progressive elements, marching forward, shoulder to shoulder. THEY are an unholy alliance.
 Terms like "mobility", "access", and "level of service" are the particles that make-up the clouds in smoke-filled back rooms where major capital investment decisions are made down at the state DOT.

Take this statement from an ongoing EIS' Purpose and Need for major investment, for instance:

"The purpose of this proposed action is to provide an improved transportation facility along the I-290 Eisenhower Expressway multi-modal corridor. The specific needs identified for the project include: improve mobility for regional and local travel, improve access to employment, improve safety, improve modal connections and opportunities, and improve facility deficiencies."

Hooray, we're improving the facility along the multi-modal corridor!

TRANSLATION: The state is planning to completely reconstruct the interstate highway and leave the equally-aged transit service infrastructure located in the highway median untouched, where it can continue to decay to dust for all they care, despite its significant contribution to corridor travel needs. "We're highways and transit is neither our concern, nor our problem", they scoff.
Wow, improved mobility!

TRANSLATION: Although we have one of the most advanced road networks on the planet, we need some incremental capacity in this short, heavily urbanized corridor in order to allow cars to go farther faster - sprawl is inevitable, you know. As for the concentrations of low to moderate income families and persons residing in the study area that can not benefit from an urban add-a-lane, too bad. "We've considered (and dismissed) their needs although none of our study documents even mention 'environmental justice' and the only occurrence of 'poor' in our Purpose and Need is in relation to interchange geometry - what's your point??", they counter. Also, never mind your pretty little head that it seems intuitively obvious that adding incremental capacity to address a condition where the highway is 100% over capacity (built to accommodate 100,000 cars daily but now handling over 200,000) is pure folly.

Improved access to employment - sweet, bro!!

TRANSLATION: If you can take advantage of a HOT lane, you may be able to avail yourself of some dubious travel time savings we've calculated. If you can't, well we suggest that you buy a car and get a better paying job.

Improved safety - yeah, of course!

TRANSLATION: Our models predict huge reductions in crash rates. Although our previous investments promised the same thing and didn't deliver, this one is going to live up to our projections. What, you say - getting people to use transit is much safer than encouraging more driving, and most accidents are caused by driver behavior rather than highway design problems, anyway? C'mon, just stand behind the safety banner and smile - our number one priority is safety and there are a lot of crashes on this highway. Surely you can see that adding thousands of more cars each day and trying to make at least one lane travel fast on the other side of the painted buffer is going to solve our safety problem - are you clueless??!! Oh, and by the way, we know Bobby Cann died and that you are all shouting it is our fault for issuing a moratorium on protected bike lanes in the City. Well, snap out of it and stay focused on the golden ring! We need to study bike lanes for a few years, but need to reconstruct this highway today so we can pump more cars into the central city! What was that guy's name again?

Improve modal connections and opportunities - yeah, I'm all about opportunity!

TRANSLATION: Maybe we can try to improve some crosswalks so that you don't have to dodge vehicles exiting the highway as you try to access the old train station in the median. Would a painted island of refuge in the middle of the exit lanes help?

Improve facility deficiencies - hmmm, yeah, I guess we need to address any facility deficiencies, whatever that references and means.

TRANSLATION: Expand the urban highway, put ramps outside of peoples' bedroom windows, and leave the complementary transit facilities to die a slow and agonizing death.

One of the worst is the use of 'highway' to describe municipal streets in NYS code. Municipalities, as creatures of the state, borrow this language for their own local ordinances. This leads to odious jargon like 'highway improvements to facilitate level of service B' when you're really just talking about something like, say, new left turn bays on a secondary, residential street, not widening the Thruway or double decking I-95.

This seems like a great way to clarify the true goals and intentions of a project. Have any large cities or, perhaps more importantly, states implemented such de-biasing of the language?

Just in Time for Summer, a Bicycle That Sprays You in the Face With Water


By John Metcalfe, June 4, 2013

 Just in Time for Summer, a Bicycle That Sprays You in the Face With Water



For bicycle commuters, the difference of a few seconds can mean making or missing an important meeting or, almost as bad, arriving to a depleted coffeemaker. The need to get to the final destination quickly can translate into severe discomfort in the summertime, at least for cyclists who would rather risk mind-scrambling heat stroke than be late.

A couple of Israeli inventors think they have a solution to biking hyperthermia, though. Kobi Rein and Arik Bar Erez are in the process of raising funds for a doodad called the Q-Fog, described on its Indiegogo page as the world's "first spray device for cyclists." Here's part of their pitch:
We all know that weather can be tricky and unpredictable. The urge to ride though, is very predictable. Passionate bikers just want to ride, even when it's hot outside. Sometimes however, it's just too hot, even for the most passionate, devoted and professional cyclists....

Cooling apparatuses for cyclers available in the market today, however, are not the most comfortable and efficient. They have to be carried or worn on our bodies and this can create discomfort while riding. Q-Fog is a new and innovative, field proven cooling water sprayer that addresses the cyclist's need for a minimalistic, comfortable and easy to use device. Q-Fog is also efficient and low on drinking water consumption.
The little fogger works on the same basic principle as those fake, water-spitting flowers found on clown lapels. A reservoir near the fork feeds a spray nozzle on the handlebars with water that's released in misty puffs anytime the rider clicks a button – with as few as three clicks "completely [moistening] the cyclist's torso," the inventors say. The wind rushing past the cyclist completes the job, evaporating the liquid to conjure a pleasant cooling effect.

With an empty weight of less than 3 ounces and more than 300 clicks per full reservoir, the Q-Fog has some things to recommend it. One potential problem I could see is the droplets of water landing right onto the biker's eyeballs – not the best thing to increase one's situational awareness. (And no doubt an unpleasant surprise to anybody borrowing your bike who's unaware of the Q-Fog.) There's also the question of whether cramming yet another device onto the handlebars next to the speedometer, light, bell, GPS and brakes is better than stopping for a minute to chill out or pour some water over your head.

At about $300 raised on Monday night toward a goal of $70,000, it's questionable if the Q-Fog will make it to market. Here's an illustration of how the handlebars support the reservoir, which conceivably could be filled with Gatorade to make tasty, if wasp-attracting, clouds of aerosolized hydration: