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, June 14, 2013

Bike lanes will require patience, Los Angeles officials tell San Pedro residents


By Donna Littlejohn, June 12, 2013


 Crews restriped parts of 25th St in San Pedro taking it from two lanes to 1.


Boos and catcalls filled a meeting hall this week as Los Angeles city officials defended new bikes lanes that are proving unpopular with San Pedro commuters. And while city officials promised to address their concerns through traffic lights and other changes, the bottom line was this: Get used to it.

Over the next three decades, the city of Los Angeles will implement an extensive network of bikeways that could remove car lanes or curb parking spaces.

It's all part of the 2010 L.A. Bike Plan -- an initiative in the works for years, but that is attracting some fresh notice from motorists who are struggling to deal with changes in well-traveled roadways.

Tuesday's town hall meeting was convened by Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents the area, as a way to bring city officials and residents together to discuss the plans and the concerns -- especially complaints that have centered on Westmont and Capitol drives. Car lanes were removed on both streets to make way for new bike lanes.

Attendees heard promises to look into possible modifications aimed at easing the pain from traffic backups during busy commuting and drop-off times at nearby schools. Earlier that day, Buscaino introduced a motion to establish left-hand turn arrows at Westmont Drive and Western Avenue, where much of the backup has occurred since new bike lanes wiped out one car lane in each direction.

But in general, city officials urged motorists to be patient -- and to try leaving the house a bit earlier to reach their destinations on time.
"The best way to avoid the traffic problem is not to drive down Westmont or Capitol between the hours of 7:45 a.m. and 8:05, but that's just not possible," Buscaino said. "I want to do all I can to make those 20 minutes in the mornings and afternoons more bearable."
A new drop-off spot also will be opened up at the back gate of Taper Avenue Elementary School, diverting some of the traffic away from another problem intersection, Taper Avenue and Westmont.
Staggering school start times also might be a possibility, Buscaino said.
New bike lanes recently added to 25th Street west of Patton Avenue also drew complaints. Traffic engineers pledged to make changes in the traffic light pattern at 25th and Anchovy Avenue, where problems also are occurring.
City officials faced a tough crowd while trying to relay their message that the planned extensive network of bike lanes represents the "city
of the future."

In the big picture, officials said, the lanes are being installed over the next 30 years as a way to address global warming concerns. More immediate benefits include making L.A.'s heavily traveled streets friendlier to alternative modes of transportation while also "calming" and slowing down car traffic for everyone's safety.

"We'd encourage you to take a step back and realize the benefits of slowing down traffic during certain times of the day," said Tim Fremaux, a city Department of Transportation engineer.

But it was a message lost on many in the audience, who said the practicalities of life in Los Angeles -- where long work commutes and complex family schedules are standard fare -- are simply not conducive to cycling.

"This is Los Angeles and we do commute," one speaker said. "I'm a mother and I car pool. "¦ There's just no way I'm going to be able to get (five children) to school on a bicycle. It works in some areas, but it doesn't work in others."

The new lanes had their defenders, including some residents on the impacted roads who said their neighborhoods were quieter. Bicyclists said the lanes would make the streets safer.

"We're really just trying to ride down the road with our lives," one Redondo Beach man said. "It's a good model for you to embrace."

"I love what you guys are doing, it totally rocks!" said Seth Davidson, who said he represents injured cyclists in court cases.

"I live on Westmont, and I'm in favor of the bike lanes," said one resident. "It has slowed people down. "¦ It sounds like the most it takes is two more minutes (in rush time). So what?"
But others said the lanes aren't practical and cautioned that the new 830-home Ponte Vista housing development on Western Avenue will only make traffic conditions worse.

"We sit for four hours in traffic on the freeway coming home; we don't want to sit in traffic when we get here," said one woman who questioned whether it is safe for students to bike to school. "We live in L.A."

City officials acknowledged outreach for the 30-year bike lane plan could have been better.

"We want to improve our outreach," Fremaux said. "It may not have been perfect. "¦ We've dropped the ball a couple of times."

Despite five years of planning -- and holding more than 100 public meetings, including three in the Harbor Area -- the information was still very preliminary when presented to the public, engineers said.

No one locally seemed to know that any of the bike lanes would actually usurp traffic lanes.

When workers this spring began painting in new lanes -- complete with boxed "buffer" zones -- to replace lanes of car traffic, motorists loudly complained, organizing street-corner demonstrations and flooding the council office with telephone calls.

Others complained of problems getting out onto the street from busy shopping centers.

Fremaux said traffic data indicated the original four lanes -- two lanes in each direction -- on streets like Westmont may not have been warranted in the first place. Westmont, he said, sees about 10,000 cars a day while Gaffey Street gets 35,000 cars a day. Western Avenue sees 40,000 to 50,000 cars daily.

Since Westmont and Capitol were striped, other streets have also received new bike lanes, including 25th Street and Grand Avenue in San Pedro, Avalon Boulevard in Wilmington and Belle Porte in Harbor City. Not all came with car lane reductions.

But with the easier bike lanes already installed -- what city planners called the plan's "low-hanging" fruit in which lanes could easily be dropped in -- the next phases of the L.A. Bike Plan could potentially cause more disruption.

On some streets, either curb parking or a lane of traffic may have to be sacrificed to make room for the new bikeways, especially in older sections of the city like San Pedro, engineers said.
"We're at the point that something has to go," Fremaux said.

Altogether, some 1,600 miles of bikeways will be created over the 30-year plan to connect the sprawling, car-centric metropolis in hopes of persuading more Angelenos to travel green.

"This was adopted in 2011, and it's a pretty extensive document," said Michelle Mowery of the Department of Transportation's Bicycle Program. "It's never perfect and it's never enough. And there are always questions when (the lanes) go in. "¦ We're working through it little by little."

City officials said the new lanes will continue to be monitored and changed -- and possibly could even be eliminated -- should that be deemed necessary.

After the meeting, Mowery said motorists will eventually adapt to the new lanes.

"Change is hard," she said. "Some people are not going to like them no matter what happens, but it was interesting to hear from people on the street" who said the new lanes have made the area safer and quieter.

Metrolink commuter rail approves 5% fare increase starting July 1


 By Dan Weikel, June 14, 2013


 Metrolink trains fill Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. The railroad's board on Friday increased fares.

The board of the Metrolink commuter rail service on Friday raised fares 5% to help close a $10.2 million budget shortfall.

The hike will be effective on July 1, but monthly pass holders can expect to pay the new fares when they buy their July passes on June 25. Students, however, will be exempt from the increase.

In addition, the board changed the two-day weekend pass to a one-day pass. The cost will remain at $10.

The effect on riders will vary depending on the origins and destinations of their trips as well as the type of tickets purchased.

The standard fare for a one-way trip between Anaheim and Los Angeles' Union Station is now $8.75 and a roundtrip is $17.50.

Metrolink's board had considered reductions in service, but decided instead to raise fares and seek increased subsidies from the county transportation agencies that provide financial support for the railroad.

Metrolink has 512 miles of track and serves six counties -- Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura. It carries more than 40,000 passengers a day.
In other action Friday, Chief Executive Michael P. DePallo directed his staff to look into the possibility of conducting a health risk assessment of Metrolink's Central Maintenance Facility north of downtown L.A.

Earlier this month, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and residents near the facility urged the railroad to assess the health effect of air pollution from the yard on surrounding communities.
Leimert Park Station Award Rocked by MTA Construction Obstruction!


 By Damien Goodman, June 14, 2013

 TRANSIT WATCH - Fresh off delivering the Leimert Park Village station to the project, Crenshaw Subway Coalition is now bringing daylight to a scandal of massive proportions that is rocking MTA's planned award of the Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail Line construction contract, currently scheduled to be decided on June 27. 

Because of our work, MTA staff now admits that THREE OF THE FOUR finalists for the $1.3 billion construction contract requested to bid a Crenshaw Line project with a tunnel the entirety of Crenshaw Blvd - undergrounding the final 11-blocks in Park Mesa Heights, and settling the biggest point of contention and primary reason for our lawsuit.

But, in response to the requests by the engineering firms, the MTA staff, led by CEO Art Leahy, refused!

To make MTA staff's decision even more unconscionable, at least one of the finalists proposed to build BOTH the Leimert Park Village station AND the Park Mesa Heights tunnel within the project budget!

We did our due diligence. We've spent thousands of hours over the past 5 1/2 years organizing our community and successfully executing a strategy that established a Crenshaw Blvd tunnel and Leimert Park station as the clear "community position" on the Crenshaw-LAX Line. It is a demand that could not be ignored and required response.

Our elected officials responded by doing something unseen in generations: unanimously agreeing with the community position. And 3 of the 4 engineering firm consortiums responded as well by requesting to bid the tunnel. But MTA CEO Art Leahy and staff appear inexplicably determined to deny our community and the region transportation of a quality that is right and just.

We've cited the California Public Records Act in our call for the full disclosure of the contractor's requests (known as Alternative Technical Concepts) and daylighting of the faulty staff review process that irrationally led to their rejection.

The staff's unreasonable refusal of the requests to bid the tunnel can be taken up by the MTA board on June 27th - and it must! Leahy and staff work for the MTA board, which is primarily comprised of elected officials.

LOS ANGELES – The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) will close the northbound Arroyo Seco Parkway (SR-110) between Avenue 60 and Orange Grove Boulevard from midnight to 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 15 and from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Sunday, June 16.

Southbound SR-110 will be closed between Orange Grove Boulevard and York Boulevard from midnight to 7 a.m. Saturday, June 15 and between Orange Grove Boulevard and Avenue 60 from midnight to 8.m. on Sunday, June 16.

On Monday, June 17, northbound SR-110 will be closed between the U.S. 101 connector and Avenue 20/San Fernando from midnight to 8 a.m.

Detours will be in place.

The closures are in relation to a slab replacement project. 

Sent by Carla Riggs, June 4, 2013 

Residents have Garcetti's ear before he takes office

The mayor-elect is preaching a gospel of civic rebirth and lower expectations in a series of 'Back to Basics' forums in the weeks before he replaces Antonio Villaraigosa.


By Catherine Saillant, June 13, 2013
 Eric Garcetti
 Eric Garcetti greets supporters at the Hollywood Palladium on election night.

Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti is preaching a gospel of civic rebirth in appearances across Los Angeles while gently lowering expectations about how much City Hall, and he himself, can do to bring about change.

In a city of 4 million, "I can't be everywhere, I won't be everywhere and do a good job," Garcetti told a crowd of about 250 at Cal State Northridge on Wednesday, one in a series of "Back to Basics" forums in the weeks before he replaces outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on July 1.

An earlier version of this article said that Pat Pope voted for Wendy Greuel. He did not.

After a campaign filled with promises of change, Garcetti is telling audiences that his administration will be engaged and visible in neighborhoods and that he will focus on bringing them jobs, restoring services and making City Hall a more user-friendly place.

But he's also warning Angelenos that addressing those challenges, as well as chronic ills such as clogged freeways and underperforming schools, will take sustained and cooperative efforts.

"Don't look for the mayor to do it all," he said. "Don't look for the mayor's staff to do it all. Don't look for our city employees to do it all. Because I need you all to be part of doing it."

Raphael Sonenshein, of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, said the tour is a smart move for Garcetti, who is still defining himself to a city that largely still does not know him.

His ability to pull together seven public workshops, including one online, just two weeks after his election showcases him as an urban innovator who pays attention to basics, Sonenshein said.
His large, tightly organized campaign operation spread the word about the workshops via social media and email invites distributed to neighborhood councils, business groups and homeowners associations.

"There's a certain logic to going out and continuing to introduce yourself," Sonenshein said. "In that sense it's a continuation of the campaign and that might be a very healthy thing. You tell voters you're not taking them for granted."

Though many participants seemed enthusiastic about what they were seeing Wednesday, others were skeptical. "It's a good start," said Pat Pope of Porter Ranch.  "Now we'll look for the results. It's kind of wait and see."

The so-called listening tour is one component of a mayoral transition that is taking a different path from previous administrations. Instead of naming a transition team of big-name donors, Garcetti decided first to hear what residents want to tell him.

He's set up a website, transition.lacity.org, to solicit applications for the hundreds of jobs he will fill in coming weeks not only in his office but also on dozens of commissions over which he has appointment authority. He has not named a chief of staff, leading to some criticism that he won't be on track to "hit the ground running" as he promised in his campaign.

Garcetti brushed off that concern in an interview after a workshop in Valley Village.

"The work trumps any symbolism right now," said the 12-year City Council member. "I'm not somebody who didn't understand City Hall. I don't need 15 experts telling me how the city works. I already have that Rolodex to call whoever I need."

Garcetti has also met with residents in Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles and held an "ask me anything" session on Reddit.com on Thursday. Additional stops are set for Mar Vista and San Pedro.
At Colfax Elementary School in Valley Village, about 130 participants munched homemade chocolate chip cookies. Among them was Judy Ames, who runs a crisis house for girls looking to escape sex trafficking.

"We get the government we deserve if we don't participate," said Ames, a three-decade resident of Valley Village.

At Garcetti's stops, the crowd is broken up into groups to offer comment on three broad topics: improving the economy, making City Hall work and making neighborhoods work. Participants are told not to list a problem but to offer a new idea or a solution to a problem.

Group No. 1 at Colfax came up with its top recommendations after about an hour of hashing things out: tax incentives to spur more jobs in Hollywood productions, student credit for community work and more town hall-style meetings.

Garcetti appeared as the groups were working, quietly standing near the rear and listening in. He moved from group to group, and then, as the hour ended, addressed them all. He pledged to work hard and hire good people.

And with their help, he told the standing-room-only crowd, the city would make steady progress.
"At most, there are 40,000 city workers in a city of 4 million people," he said. If 4 million people get engaged in their communities, at their schools, in neighborhood gardens and at senior centers, "that is a city that is unstoppable."

The 12 Best Parts of Eric Garcetti's Reddit Session Last Night


By Eve Bachrach, June 14, 2013


Mayor-Elect Eric Garcetti was on Reddit last night to field suggestions for how to "create jobs and solve problems in LA neighborhoods." The responses were surprisingly earnest and revealed a whole lot of love for the city's MyLA311 app. Garcetti replied to about 30 comments out of more than 600 on the thread. Here are some highlights:

And a few comments that didn't get responses:

-- From the history wonks at Esotouric: "Without an interior landmarking ordinance, there is no way to ensure the preservation of L.A.'s greatest interior spaces--no matter how historic, beautiful or significant. (Two examples of the type of unique spaces that have no protection are The Bradbury Building's atrium and Ernest Batchelder's tile murals in the Dutch Chocolate Shoppe.)"

-- From someone who maybe read this post: "We should make Hollywood and Highland pedestrian-only the way NYC did with Times Square. It's closed a good part of the time anyway for protests, festivals, The Academy Awards, etc."

-- From a Greuel supporter: "Now to answer the actual question: If you build a monorail that connects major parts of the city and work with Santa Monica, Beverly, Hills, Westwood, etc; then everyone will love you and you will be remembered in LA history."

-- From someone who did not agree with Downtown News's field reporting: "Im currently moving out of LA. The Arts District Downtown lost their BID due to a lawsuit and now trash and crime is spilling out from Skid Row. We've had numerous car break-ins and apartment break-ins (myself included) as well as straight up biohazards from homeless using the streets as their toilets. My questions is: A) What are you going to do about skid row in general and B) What are you going to do about the only place downtown without an active BID?" -- The most popular question was about rail through the Sepulveda Pass. Here's the new mayor's take: "I support rail through the Sepulveda Pass, probably with a two-tiered tunnel that will take cars (for a toll, helping to pay for the cost of building the tunnel) and transit from Sherman Oaks to Westwood in 10 minutes. We need a rail line that starts in the north Valley and hopefully gets to Westchester eventually, even LAX. I have already met with Art Leahy and with AECOM (who is doing scoping plans for the tunnel) and want to include moving this forward as part of my transportation and transit agenda."

-- On the lack of north/south rail lines: "Crenshaw Line will be north-south, as would a Sepulveda/405 line. I've always thought it is strange how we fixate on East-West routes and streets at the expense of North-South ones."

-- On gang intervention and salsa: "Homeboy is excellent, and makes a killer salsa (I love the Morita)." -- On pot shops: "I supported (the successful) passage of Measure D to provide safe access and give us some tools to help regulate the number of dispensaries, just as we do with restaurants or coffee houses. And I have consistently said that the federal government needs to reclassify cannabis. And that if the voters of California wanted to legalize recreational use, I would support that."

-- On green jobs: "As mayor, I will implement my 20,000 green jobs program which will focus on solar installation, water clean-up (by the way, EVERYONE has to come to the re-opening of Echo Park Lake this Saturday, which was a great environmental clean-up and jobs-creating undertaking), and energy efficiency programs for local buildings. Check it out!"

-- On bringing Google Fiber (their high speed internet service) to LA: "Yum. Fiber."

-- On littering: "Tom LaBonge, my colleague, is very passionate about this and the problem is not increasing the fines, it is enforcement. No one fines anyone for littering right now. I'm also looking at smarter trash can systems like Big Belly Solar which can compress trash, sort recycling, uses solar energy, and communicates with us when the bins are full, so we more efficiently send out trash trucks for pickups when they are needed and we don't have overflow."

-- The comment that asked him to "allow music festivals to happen in LA again, especially at the coliseum. Huge festivals like electric daisy carnival bring in a huge inflow of cash to the city and surrounding neighborhoods" got a "YES" from Garcetti.

Upcoming CicLAvia on Wilshire to Add Pilates, Yoga and Korean BBQ


By Gracie Zheng, June 13, 2013



 CicLAvia 2012

Here it comes again, a precious trouble-free day for pedestrians and bicyclists in Los Angeles: CicLAvia! This one, for the first time, will feature urban yoga, belly dance, Pilates and even a Korean barbecue and Korean cultural festival, as well as new architecture programs.

As previous CicLAvias proved to be wildly successful, hundreds of thousands of bikers, walkers and skaters are expected to hit famed Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax Avenue and downtown L.A. from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 23, organizers say.

The next CicLAvia is the shortest route ever, covering a stretch of just six miles. But Angelenos will be able to ...
cycle and mingle for two hours longer than usual at the June 23 event.
According to Robert Gard, director of communications and marketing for CicLAvia:
Extended hours can spread out the crowds a little bit. They don't have to feel they are rushed to get out of the route. People can check more leisurely on the activities.
The last CicLAvia, in April, attracted more than 200,000 participants to a 15-mile route on Venice Boulevard between downtown L.A. and Venice Beach. People complained of bicycle jams on certain areas, especially near the construction sites for the Expo Line extension, Gard said.

Two pedestrian-only zones are for a couple of blocks at both ends of the route: the One Wilshire hub downtown and the Miracle Mile hub. Other hubs spread out along the thoroughfare are MacArthur Park, Mid-Wilshire and Koreatown, where you can find a Korean BBQ cook-off and a cultural festival.

You can enjoy the free event by entering Wilshire at any point along the route.

See Also: CicLAvia's Bicycle Traffic Jams Are the Price of Success?

The upcoming CicLAvia, themed Iconic Wilshire Boulevard, allows you a guided tour of historical buildings along Wilshire as part of the Getty's architecture program-Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.


CicLAvia, 2012

According to a statement from CicLAvia:
Participants will stroll through a snapshot of the city's architectural evolution from Victorian vision to modernist experimentation; massive towers of business to intimate houses of worship; world-class museums to working-class mercados. Radio broadcasts by noted architectural researcher and commentator Edward Lifson will be available for participants to download and listen to as free podcasts.
If you'd like to make a detailed plan beforehand on where to stop by for your favorite activities, here is a breakdown of what the hubs are about:


  • Miracle Mile: interactive games, photo booth, music, spoke-card printing, yarn decoration for bikes, saber-toothed cat puppet, crafts for kids, parklet, Oscar statue zone.

  • Mid-Wilshire: music, picnicking.

  • Koreatown: BBQ, cultural festival, music, aerobics, crossfit, cardio kickboxing and yoga.

  • MacArthur Park: urban yoga, face painting, crafts, clowns and post-event concerts, including a children's show and an evening show.

  • One Wilshire: climbing wall, pilates & art pilates, belly dance instruction, safe bicycle practices area, helmet decoration and helmet give-aways.
Or you can show up and find out for yourself.

Construction Authority Board Opposes Proposed Measure R Amendments

 Foothill Extension to Claremont continues to be Inaccurately Defined


— /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- At their regularly scheduled meeting last night, the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority (Construction Authority) board of directors voted unanimously to oppose the Measure R Expenditure Plan and Measure R Ordinance Amendments as proposed by Metro.

The Amendments are being proposed to allow Metro to accelerate funding to five Measure R transit projects ahead of the year approved by voters in 2008. The changes would only take affect if Metro is able to secure close to $6 billion in federal funding and grants for one or more of the Measure R transit capital projects. Metro is circulating the amendments for comment and plans to hold a public hearing on the matter on June 27.

"We are very disappointed and frustrated that Metro continues to blatantly ignore the voter mandate, which clearly defined the Gold Line Foothill Extension project from Pasadena to Claremont," explains board chairman and Glendora councilman Doug Tessitor. "Metro has yet again disregarded the request by the Construction Authority to update information in their Measure R Expenditure Plan to include an accurate cost estimate to complete the project to Claremont. As shown in their plan amendment, the project will end in Azusa."

Earlier this year, as required by statute, the Construction Authority board approved an updated expenditure plan for the Foothill Extension project. The updated project-level expenditure plan took into account the latest information known about the project, following significant study and planning completed since Measure R was approved in 2008.

"We have a much better idea what the total project will truly cost," added chairman Tessitor. "We have now awarded all contracts for the Pasadena to Azusa segment and have recently completed extensive environmental studies of the Azusa to Montclair segment. Together, this information allowed us to provide Metro a more accurate estimate for use as they update their overall expenditure plan. Unfortunately, they have chosen not to include the information in their proposed amendment."

The proposed Measure R Expenditure Plan Amendment includes a total estimated cost for the Foothill Extension project of $758 million, significantly less than the actual cost estimate ($1.714 billion) to complete the project to Claremont. The plan also includes an expected project completion of 2015-17, only reflecting completion of the first half of the project to Azusa. The Construction Authority's plan estimates completion to Claremont in 2022.

The Construction Authority board's action will now be sent as official comments on the proposed Amendments. The Metro board is scheduled to hold a public hearing at their upcoming board meeting on June 27.

Read more here: http://www.heraldonline.com/2013/06/13/4945316/construction-authority-board-opposes.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.heraldonline.com/2013/06/13/4945316/construction-authority-board-opposes.html#storylink=cpJune 13, 2013


More evidence that we have reached "Peak Car"


By Lloyd Alter, June 13, 2013



beach boys
 Screen capture Kids don't aspire to this anymore

Tyler Hamilton of Clean Break quotes a definition of Peak Car as being "characterized by an unprecedented deceleration in the growth of car ownership, total miles driven and annual sales." TreeHugger has been writing about this for a while, noting that Driving is so 1995.
In Europe, they are probably well past peak car. April has noted that they are selling a lot more bikes in Italy, and Tyler notes that "There has been significant growth in bicycle commuting — 47 per cent growth between 2000 and 2011. In more bike-friendly cities, growth has jumped 80 per cent."

© Doug Short
But the Italian and most European economies are in the tank, and for most Americans, things aren't much better. Is it real change, or is it a blip due to the state of the economy? Are young people giving up cars because they really do prefer iPhones, or is it because they have crappy low paying jobs? Tyler speaks to the wonderfully named transportation analyst Phineas Baxandall:
I got the sense from the call that Baxandall doesn’t think it’s temporary, which isn’t a bad thing depending on where you sit. “It’s going to mean less pollution and oil consumption, less stress on our existing roadways, and less need for new and wider highways,” he said. But there’s bad news for some. There will be more risk for public-private toll ventures, shrinking North American auto sales, and the amount of federal tax revenue collected through gasoline sales is going to fall significantly — a combination of more efficient vehicles, electric vehicles and reduced driving. “We can no longer continue to believe there will be an increase in driving,” he added. “Policy in our country has yet to catch up to these trends and still reflect old driving assumptions.”


Has North America hit “peak car”? The signs are there…


MEC-EVNavigant Consulting held Wednesday what I thought was a fascinating webinar on whether vehicle sales and use in North America have peaked — or are close to peaking. Dave Hurst, principal research analyst at Navigant, defined “peak cars” as a point of market saturation “characterized by an unprecedented deceleration in the growth of car ownership, total miles driven and annual sales.”

At the outset, he made the following points:
  • Auto sales have been relatively slow to rebound in the United States, whereas in past economic rebounds we’ve seen car sales lead the way;
  • He figures sales of light-duty vehicles peaked in 2005 and those record levels won’t be reached again until about 2020, despite the growth in population between now and then;
  • There has been significant growth in bicycle commuting — 47 per cent growth between 2000 and 2011. In more bike-friendly cities, growth has jumped 80 per cent;
  •  E-bicycle sales are growing strongly, particularly in Europe. While they aren’t necessarily displacing car sales, they are reducing the amount of miles driven in cars;
  • Influencing trends being noticed: urban planning with attention to more transit-oriented designs and streets that accommodate multiple modes of transportation; more people telecommuting; a rise in car-sharing as an alternative way to travel in cities; increased political interest in congestion pricing.
But can we say with certainty that we’ve hit “peak cars” yet? “I would argue in western Europe we’re likely there. Right now it looks like North America is going to be next,” said Hurst. “The jury is still out.”

Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst for transportation policy at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, came across as more certain in his comments. Up until 2004, he said, there has been a steady increase in per-capita miles driven since WWII. But nine years ago it suddenly began to fall, and this happened well before the economic downturn. “What we see in 2004 is truly a break with an almost 60-year trend.” Total miles driven also began to fall in 2007, despite ongoing population growth. So what explains this? Baxandall said a big part of it has to do with younger drivers — at least that’s what the data says between 2001 and 2009. “During this period, driving among younger Americans fell much faster than the rest of the country — a breathtaking 23 per cent per person.” Young people are taking fewer vehicle trips and shorter trips. “This trend was seen with young people both with and without jobs,” he added, pointing out that younger people are embracing alternatives modes of transportation much more aggressively than their parents. “This group’s public transportation trips increased (between 2001 and 2009) by 40 per cent. Bicycle trips increased 24 per cent, and walking trips by 16 per cent. A truly big change.”

And let’s not forget driver’s license statistics. In the mid-1980s more than 80 per cent of young people between 16 and 20 years of age had a driver’s license. Today, that number is in the mid-60s. Another interesting point that Baxandall made has to do with the recent decoupling of GDP from driving miles per person. For decades driving miles per person almost shadowed the movement of GDP, but in recent years they have diverged. This likely has much to do with rising gasoline prices following a long period of relatively cheap fuel.

All of this raises the big question: Is it temporary?

Is it a blip? Will the shift we have seen be enduring? Will it grow more intense to the detriment of the auto industry? I got the sense from the call that Baxandall doesn’t think it’s temporary, which isn’t a bad thing depending on where you sit. “It’s going to mean less pollution and oil consumption, less stress on our existing roadways, and less need for new and wider highways,” he said. But there’s bad news for some. There will be more risk for public-private toll ventures, shrinking North American auto sales, and the amount of federal tax revenue collected through gasoline sales is going to fall significantly — a combination of more efficient vehicles, electric vehicles and reduced driving. “We can no longer continue to believe there will be an increase in driving,” he added. “Policy in our country has yet to catch up to these trends and still reflect old driving assumptions.”

There’s much to think about here, for auto manufacturers, urban planners, political leaders and consumers. Of course, some of the market demand issues will be offset by rising demand from Asia and elsewhere, but in North American and Europe these trends beg a much closer, careful look.
Shifting Lanes: The Demise of the Southern California Autotopia 


By Ryan Reft, June 13, 2013

To understand the City of Angels, Joan Didion once wrote, one needed to immerse oneself in the freeway experience or, as she put it, "the only secular communion Los Angeles has."1 Between 1968 and 1979 Didion published three books -- two collections of non-fiction essays: "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" in 1968 and "The White Album" in 1979; and one work of fiction: "Play It as It Lays" in 1970 -- that depicted a modern Southern California, buffeted by "the weather of catastrophe, of apocalypse," but grounded by its highways and relaxed by its pools. Southern California combined the elemental extremes of nature with the rigidity of the decade's car-centric urban planning. For 1960s and early 1970s Californians, the car provided solace in an age of discomfort; but soon after the liberating effects of the freeway appeared increasingly diminished.

Prior to the age of gridlock, few writers captured the essence SoCal automobility than Didion. In the months after splitting with her significant other, Maria Wyeth, Didion's protagonist in "Play It as It Lays," drives the freeway:
She dressed every morning with a greater sense of purpose than she had felt in some time [...] for it was essential (to pause was to throw herself into unspeakable peril) that she be on the freeway by ten o'clock. Not somewhere on Hollywood Boulevard, not on her way to the freeway but actually on the freeway. If she was not she lost the day's rhythm, its precariously imposed momentum.2
Imagistic and fragmented in its structure, "Play It as It Lays" aligned neatly with a decade that seemed awash in randomness as the idealism of the 1960s faded into oblivion. Maria's drug- and sex- soaked travails expressed a certain moving stasis: plenty of activity but no real movement.

The prototypical Southern Californian image and lifestyle continued to depend on the newest of the nation's established enterprises: its highway systems. The organization of its freeways provided clear, rational, safe passage in a decade that followed the violence of the late 1960s -- embodied by the brutality of the Sharon Tate murder -- with the environmental disaster of the 1970 Malibu fire and the protest and chaos of the 1970 Vietnam Moratorium march.

Concrete and steel stitched SoCal together -- metaphorically and literally -- providing passage and, oddly enough, a Futurist's vision of the world as people seemed to merge with their vehicles. "The customized automobile is the natural crowning artefact of the way of life, the human ecology it adorns," argued Reyner Banham in his oft-referenced 1971 work "Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies."3 "[T]he freeway is not a limbo of existential angst, but the place where they spend the two calmest and most rewarding hours of their daily lives."4

Didion recognized as much in her character Maria and her own non-fiction work. One could drive on the highway, but it paled in comparison to actually participating in the melding of machine and human. "Anyone can 'drive' on the freeway, and many people with no vocation for it do, hesitating here and resisting there, losing the rhythm of the lane change, thinking about where they came from and where they are going," she argued in the mid-1970s.5 Even before Banham, Didion exhibited a keen awareness of this reality in 1970. When the freeway ran to its end at a San Pedro scrap metal yard, a sleepy Palmdale main street, or morphed into "common road," human intuition reentered the picture: "When that happened [Maria] would keep in careful control, portage skillfully back, feel for the first time the heavy weight of the becalmed car beneath her and try to keep her eyes on the mainstream, the great pilings, the Cyclone fencing, the deadly oleander, the luminous signs, the organism which absorbed all her reflexes, all her attention."6

Maria ate boiled eggs and drank Coca-Cola as she sped past the architecture of highways: Union 76 stations, Standard stations, Flying A's in an unending array of signage and fuel. The horrors of her life vanished when conjoined with her vehicle. Throughout the decade, Didion continued to point out the unique experience of driving Los Angeles' freeways. "Actual participants," she noted, "think only about where they are. Actual participation requires a total surrender, a concentration so intense as to seem a kind of narcosis, a rapture of the freeway. The mind goes clean. The rhythm takes over."7 Yet, Didion captured a cultural moment in flux as the highway morphed into a symbol of imprisonment rather than liberation.
Still from ''Play It as It Lays''
Still from ''Play It as It Lays''

"[F]or the first three quarters of the twentieth century, car culture and freeway culture represented the notion of liberation in space and time and also provided a source of power for the user," reflected writer Robert Gottlieb in 2007.8 As the century came to a close gridlock dominated California highway life, as epitomized by the recurring congestion that occurs in places like the interchange of Route 405 and Route 5, more commonly referred to as "Orange Crush" -- a reference to the daily struggles of Orange County commuters.9 As evidenced by Didion's writings, things had not always been so -- after all, Los Angeles' original freeways served a different purpose. Before WWII, the Arroyo Seco Parkway (built in the 1930s, also known as the Pasadena Freeway) functioned as a scenic and relaxing escape. Likewise the Hollywood Freeway, completed just after WWII, "pursued affluence over the hills into the valley's beyond. They were strictly foothill affairs," asserted Banham.

In earlier decades, like the 1930s, "efficiency and aesthetic delight had been inseparable goals of parkway design," as evidenced by the construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway (later known as the Pasadena Freeway), the first in California and the American West. But by the 1940s efficiency had already begun to win out, noted Gottlieb.10 Multi-lane freeways represented the future, planners asserted, and soon after highways imposed themselves on Southern California, creating rather than following the landscape. "Dingbats" -- wood and stucco two story walk up apartment blocks -- began to populate SoCal geography. Highways carved the land shifting local land values so that they encouraged the construction of dingbats simultaneously demonstrating the consuming nature of the freeways and Los Angeles's embrace of the normative.11

As correctly pointed out by KCET Departures contributor Colin Marshall in his recent piece on L.A.'s Blue Line, Banham saw the city's transportation future in light rail or rapid rail system that never came to fruition. It took 22 years from the publication of "Four Ecologies" for the Metro Purple Line to come into existence. Unlike Banham however, Didion never envisioned a rapid rail, but bemusedly observed the early attempts by Caltrans to shape Los Angeles driving habits. "We are beginning a process of deliberately making it harder for drivers to use freeways," one Caltrans official told Didion in the mid-1970s. "We are prepared to endure considerable public outcry in order to pry John Q. Public out of his car."12

At the time the Santa Monica Freeway, 16.2 miles stretching from the ocean to downtown L.A., served the most drivers in the L.A. basin, providing passage to roughly 240,000 cars and trucks daily -- the equivalent of approximately 260,000 people.13 Message boards flashed traffic reports sent from its central H.Q. on 120 South Spring Street. Caltrans' attempts to encourage car pooling and bus ridership more or less hinged on its "diamond lane" project (more commonly referred to as HOV lanes today), which essentially reserved faster inside lanes on the Santa Monica for cars carrying three or more people. Unfortunately, Didion argued, this policy had created a 16-mile parking lot, saving 25 percent of the freeway for 3 percent of the cars.
Citizens Against the Diamond Lane picket Gov. Brown's presidential campaign headquarters, 1974 | Herald-Examiner Collection, Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times
Citizens Against the Diamond Lane picket Gov. Brown's presidential campaign headquarters, 1974.
Predictably, lawsuits followed and Caltrans' efforts unwittingly united Los Angeles County residents in opposition. Aggrieved Angelenos "splashed paint and scattered nails" along the diamond lanes and sometimes hurled projectiles at maintenance workers. Caltrans blamed the media. Nearly two decades later, some motorists continued to harbor ill feeling toward the diamond lanes. Irvine resident Lester P. Berriman welcomed Governor George Deukmejian's 1987 proposal advocating for more spending on highways, but opposed any monies going to diamond lanes. "In all instances where diamond lanes have been added to freeways, accident rates increase, as with the Costa Mesa Freeway," concluded Berriman. "Whereas, in all instances where mixed-flow lanes are added, accident rates decrease." When Caltrans expressed a desire to add more diamond lanes in 1993, Los Angeles resident Michael Lawler told the L.A. Times: enough already. Drivers moving eastbound on the 10 Freeway from downtown experienced bumper to bumper traffic that hardly moved, while motorists stared longingly at an underused and "empty diamond lane, the typical pattern," wrote Lawler. Wayne King, director of the Drivers for Highway Safety Transportation Forum, called the diamond lanes "a doomed ... experiment" in 1999.

Nonetheless, despite the low murmur of dissent, HOV lanes proliferated. By 2010, California could claim the greatest number of HOV lanes in the nation. Didion may have tapped into a vein of unique California despair: the imposition of bureaucracy on what even Didion admitted was a SoCal illusion: individual mobility.14 The idea of the government imposing itself on one of Southern California's most cherished habits no doubt troubled Didion and others. However, while Caltrans undoubtedly made errors in moments, the simple multiplication of people and cars in the post-WWII period could be identified as the real culprit in California's late twentieth century automotive angst.

More recent HOV controversies centered on hybrids and their use of the lanes, thereby further illustrating how much driving in Los Angeles has changed since Didion's 1970s. If some residents resolutely opposed the diamond lanes, environmentalists like Laurie David and Al Meyerhoff argued that the traffic innovation had done much good. After all, in 2004 Southern California's smog levels rose to their worst levels since 1999 and as a state, drivers burned over one million barrels of gas a day. With an ever-increasing array of cars and motorists, HOV lanes offered an important step towards a better environment and more efficient road use. David and Meyerhoff pressed for extending HOV lane use to unaccompanied hybrid owners.
ExpressLanes on 110 Freeway | Photo: Metro
ExpressLanes on 110 Freeway | Photo: Metro
Apparently legislators listened. Between 2005 and 2007, the state issued yellow stickers to hybrid owners enabling them to access HOV lanes, even when driving alone. By encouraging motorists to buy fuel efficient cars, California policy makers aimed to reduce emissions. In the ensuing years, hybrids became increasingly common. In 2004, approximately 85,000 hybrids sold nationally; by 2007 that number climbed to 353,000. Though always meant to be a temporary incentive, the stickers' life expectancy lasted several years more than intended stretching, until July 2011. Toyota Prius drivers, among others, now had to carpool like everyone else or purchase all electric or natural gas powered automobiles. While some observers lamented the policy's sunset, others believed it appropriate. "It's really frustrating when you're sitting there not moving and cars are zipping by even though the driver's alone," Granada Hills resident Taghrid Chaaban, told the Times. "That's not fair -- I want to get places too." Between charges of elitism (not everyone can afford a hybrid) and gumming up the HOV lanes, the yellow stickers, despite the black market that arose around them, were not long for this world.

Other schemes have entered the debate. Some advocate congestion pricing, much like what London implemented a few years back. But Southern California's dearth of non-bus public transportation makes such policies more controversial. "Congestion pricing will reduce traffic as well, but it will do so by allocating a precious resource by income," noted Tim Rutten in 2008. When Los Angeles' first "ExpressLanes" opened on portions of the 110 Freeway in 2012, lanes once reserved for car poolers or energy efficient vehicles were now open to individual drivers as toll express lanes, based on congestion pricing. This has resulted in some activists labeling them "Lexus Lanes." Even less animated observers admit that such schemes favor opportunity cost over "nominal transportation equality," since people who need to get somewhere quick and can pay will and those who can't won't.

"[T]he freeways become a special way of being alive ... the extreme concentration required in Los Angeles seems to bring on a state of heightened awareness that some locals find mystical," Banham famously pointed out in 1971. Today, extended police chases, gridlock, and road rage seem to define the Los Angeles driving experience more so than freedom. Didion and Banham witnessed the last gasp of autoutopia, as the sheer volume of Southern California drivers eroded illusions of mobility and necessitated controversial state intervention. Since then the controversial diamond or HOV lane has become a way of life in SoCal and around the nation, but now the fight is no longer about their existence, but exactly who gets to use them.

1 Joan Didion, The White Album, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1979), pg 83
2 Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1970) pgs. 15-16.
3 Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971), pg. 204.
4 Ibid, pg. 204.
5 Joan Didion, The White Album, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1979), pg 83.
6 Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays, pg 18.
7 Joan Didion, The White Album, pg 83.
8 Robert Gottlieb, Reinventing Los Angeles: Nature and Community in a Global City, (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 2007), pg. 175.
9 Ibid, pg. 176.
10 Ibid, 187.
11 Reyner Banham, Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, pg. 179
12 Joan Didion, The White Album, pg. 82.
13 Ibid, pg. 82.
14 Ibid, pg. 81.

South Pasadena gets bragging rights for winning 'Bike Week LA' challenge


By Zen Vuong, June 13, 2013



 A South Pasadena mother shakes hands with a bicycle police patrol officer on May 16, 2013, at Marengo Elementary. The cyclists were setting a good example for residents on Bike to Work Day.

The results of last month's “Bike Week LA” challenge are in, and South Pasadena tops the list for the city with the greatest participation relative its population.

The City Council and Metro challenged elected officials of San Gabriel Valley cities and Los Angeles to secure the most pledges on Thursday, May 16 or “Bike to Work Day,” said Dennis L. Woods, South Pasadena's transportation manager.

"I think very clearly it demonstrates a propensity for improved mobility options and a desire for a healthy lifestyle," Woods said. "San Gabriel Valley and the City of Los Angeles suffer from congestion and poor air quality, and this is an opportunity to promote bicycling as a viable transportation with its many benefits."

Earlier this year, Caltrans awarded South Pasadena $400,000  to implement its bicycle master plan. The city will implement parts of the master plan in conjunction with road updates that have been approved in the city's fiscal year 2012-2013 budget, Woods said.

In addition to bike lanes and bicycle parking facilities, South Pasadena also has a bicycle ride share program at City Hall. The pilot program only includes one bike so far, but Woods said the city is heading in the right direction.

"It really demonstrates a 21st-century solution to congestion,” Woods said. “If we can reduce the number of
vehicles on the street even by one trip, we're improving air quality, we're reducing congestion, and we're giving people an opportunity to exercise.”

Assembly to weigh constitutional amendment on local taxes, bonds


 By Chris Megerian, June 14, 2013

Bob Blumendfield, John Perez

 Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), left, speaks with Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) at the Capitol in May. Blumenfield is proposing a constitutional amendment that would make it easier for cities and counties to raise property taxes or issue bonds.

SACRAMENTO -- The budget won't be the only big issue being considered by the Assembly on Friday.

Democrats have scheduled a vote on a controversial constitutional amendment that would make it easier for cities and counties to raise property taxes or issue bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements.

Under the amendment, bond issue proposals would need only 55% of the vote to pass, rather than the current two-thirds. The same reduced threshold would apply to votes on raising property taxes to cover the cost of the borrowing.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. said the decision to hold a vote on the measure on the same day as the budget was a "sneak attack on property owners" and Proposition 13, the 1978 constitutional amendment limiting property taxes.

The measure's author, Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), noted that school districts can already pass bonds with 55% of the vote. He said in a statement that his amendment would provide cities "with new tools to invest in their prosperity."

He added, "California is in an untenable position that jeopardizes our economy, jobs and way of life. Most of our infrastructure was designed and built over 40 years ago to accommodate a much smaller population."

The amendment is, in part, a response to the failure of Measure J, a Los Angeles tax initiative that fell barely short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass.

If Blumenfield's amendment is approved by the Assembly, it could still face opposition in the upper house. Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has said lawmakers should hold off on tinkering with local tax laws until at least next year.

The amendment would also need to be approved by California voters, and could wind up on the next June primary ballot unless lawmakers schedule it differently.

With bicycling on the rise, motorists get a new round of driver’s ed


By Lori Rotenberk, June 14, 2013


At the turn of the 20th century, with the clickety-clack of hoof beats waning and the chug of the automobile fast approaching, bicycles ruled city streets. As the number of cars increased, etiquette on how to share the road began to emerge.

In some cities, “street sprinklers,” who tamped city streets with water to keep down the dust clouds kicked up by cars, left four to six feet along the curb dry so cyclists didn’t have to wheel through mud. They were the first bike lanes.

But city life wasn’t all informal bike lanes and smooth cycling, according to Chicago magazine:
During the midst of the bicycle craze, the [Chicago] Tribune could report that “woe follows the trail of the bicycle,” with 100 accidents logged by police in the course of two summer months in 1897: 10 pedestrians run down by cyclists, three caused by clothing catching in the bike, and one poor soul who rode into the river.
“Woe follows the trail of the bicycle.” Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz would heartily agree. While our current national love affair with hulking SUVs and tendency toward road rage present new challenges for bicyclists, as biking booms, history seems to be repeating itself, even as it pedals by on two wheels.

Luckily, a plethora of efforts aiming to keep the bicycling and car worlds from literally colliding are springing up in cities across the U.S. and Europe: bike lanes and paths, traffic-slowing devices, sharrows, and safety warnings written on crosswalks, to name a few.

One of the biggest challenges has nothing to do with infrastructure, however, and everything to do with the way we behave when we’re behind the wheel. Put another way, drivers need some education on how to coexist with all these bicyclists.
On that front, Gabe Klein, a bike enthusiast who heads the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), is trying some particularly innovative tricks. Last month, his department plastered stickers reading “Look! Before Opening Your Door” to the back passenger-side windows of the city’s 7,000 cabs. The initiative is designed to reduce the number of dooring accidents (numbering 250 last year) in the city. CDOT officials anticipate expanding the sticker initiative, possibly affixing them to city parking meters.

And this week, CDOT mailed out 1.5 million leaflets to car owners along with their registration renewal forms, with pointers on how to carefully navigate streets with bicyclists and pedestrians. Here’s a taste of its suggestions for drivers:
  • Pass cyclists at a safe distance, leaving at least three feet of clear space when passing cyclists.
  • Never park in bike lanes. Parking in the lanes forces cyclists to move into faster traveling traffic.
  • When turning right, check behind you for cyclists. Wait for cyclists to pass before turning. Turning in front of a cyclist is illegal and could cause a serious crash.
  • Look both ways at a stop or red light near intersections before continuing and crossing.
CDOT’s Share the Road initiative sends “bike ambassadors” from the Active Transportation Alliance to public events to teach residents about bike safety. And later this month, the League of Illinois Bicyclists, a cycling advocacy group, will begin a campaign to get residents to take its free Bike Safety Quiz that educates both motorists and bike riders on rules of the road. Last year, the league introduced a bike safety license plate, with Illinois joining several states nationally that have adopted similar programs. Money from the plates is funneled back into safety education.

In case all these messages fail to sink in, the Chicago City Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bike safety ordinance last week, raising fines for cyclists disobeying traffic laws and doubling certain fines for motorists causing bike accidents. Fines jumped from $500 to $1,000 for motorists who cause a crash by dooring and from $150 to $300 for leaving a vehicle door open in traffic.
bike rulerMeanwhile, across the pond in London, many riders are purchasing clothing that looks and reads somewhat like police gear in an effort to gain some road respect. Other riders fit their bicycles with an extended ruler that keeps drivers at an appropriate and safe distance. British driving schools are making bike safety part of their programs. In the Netherlands, drivers are taught to reach with their right hand to open car doors; the movement turns their body slightly to see oncoming traffic — mainly bike riders.

Stateside, taxi drivers in San Francisco are now receiving training on how to share the streets dense with bike riders. Many driving schools now teach clients how to share the street with bikes, and bike advocates are calling for a revamp of state drivers-education programs.

Of course, this is a two-way street. Bike riders, too, can make the streets safer. Ethan Spotts, a spokesperson for the Active Transportation Alliance, suggests if you’re riding a bike you should treat it as if you’re driving a car. Ride with traffic, not against it. Obey all traffic laws, signs, and signals. Communicate with other people who are driving, walking, and riding by signaling your intentions. Don’t ride on the sidewalk if you’re over 12 years old.

But perhaps the best thing you can do, says Klein, is bike a mile in another’s shoes. Unless drivers know what it’s like to bike on city streets — and unless cyclists remember that driving a car comes with its own set of distractions — these worlds will continue to collide.

Accident closes southbound I-5 lanes north of Oceanside


By Tony Perry, June 14, 2013

 Collision on I-5

 A collision between a flatbed truck and three big rigs two miles south of Basilone Road led to a fuel spill across all lanes of southbound Interstate 5 freeway south of San Clemente.


A traffic accident Friday morning has led to closure of southbound lanes of Interstate 5 north of Oceanside, the California Highway Patrol reported.

A collision between a flatbed truck and three big rigs two miles south of Basilone Road led to a fuel spill across all lanes, the CHP said. Hazardous-material crews have been summoned for cleanup.

The closure was reported by CHP at 7:18 a.m. By 8:27 a.m., drivers were being allowed to use the shoulder, the CHP said.

The closure has caused a massive backup of vehicles.

California bullet train obtains exemption from federal review

The initial 65-mile segment of the train line can proceed without extensive oversight, a federal transportation board rules.


 By Ralph Vartabedian, June 13, 2013

Rendering of California's proposed high-speed rail trains

 An artist's rendering of the proposed California high-speed trains.

California's bullet train agency won a key legal ruling Thursday, obtaining an exemption from regulatory oversight by the federal Surface Transportation Board for construction of the first segment of the rail system that would run 220 mph trains from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

The ruling is among several barriers it has successfully navigated in the long-sought start of construction, though the state still must secure a deal with powerful freight railroads, obtain a key permit from the Army Corps of Engineers and prevail in a lawsuit that alleges the rail plan violates a 2008 voter-approved bond measure. The rail authority has yet to buy any parcels of land and may face considerable delays in fighting angry farmers for land in the Central Valley.

But over the last year, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has weathered hostile congressional hearings, legal challenges, allegations of a flawed contracting process and eroding public support in its drive to begin construction of the $68-billion system. It is in the final stages of signing a contract with Sylmar-based Tutor Perini to build 29 miles of bridges, tunnels and rail bed through Fresno, a deal worth $985 million.

The exemption by the Surface Transportation Board is among the most important victories the state has secured. An adverse ruling could have resulted in lengthy bureaucratic delays and extensive reviews of the project by federal regulators.

"We welcome this decision and will continue to work with the Surface Transportation Board on the implementation of the nation's first high-speed rail program," said Jeff Morales, the state's rail authority chief executive. "We can now focus on starting major work on the project this summer and providing thousands of jobs in the Central Valley."

The ruling was largely expected by political observers. The federal board consists of three presidential appointees, two Democrats and one Republican. Legislative debate on the project has tended to split along party lines, with Democrats and the Obama administration supporting the project and Republicans sharply criticizing it. Indeed, the review by the Surface Transportation Board was requested by Rep. Jeff Denham, the Central Valley Republican who chairs the House rail subcommittee.

Denham said Thursday that the exemption "is unprecedented and ignores the scope of the project, the impact on taxpayers and the variable nature of the Authority's construction plans. Unfortunately, it seems the [federal transportation board] is bending over backwards to hastily meet the Authority's and Administration's self-inflicted tight deadlines. Valley residents deserve a transparent process and have the right to know all the details before the project begins."

Though the board endorsed the merits of the bullet train project, Thursday's 29-page decision was largely a legal analysis of whether an exemption was permissable under federal law. The new ruling still supports the validity of federal jurisdiction over the project but grants an exemption from a full review for an initial, 65-mile segment to be built between Merced to Fresno.

The board, a successor entity to the once powerful Interstate Commerce Commission, agreed with supporters that the bullet train would provide legitimate transportation service to the public.

"The Project has logical end points in Merced and Fresno and would provide transportation benefits to the rapidly growing Central Valley and beyond, even without the construction of additional facilities," it said.

O.C. toll road agency could keep fees through 2053

Officials approve a $2.4-billion bond sale to refinance the Foothill-Eastern system, which has lower-than-anticipated revenue despite higher charges. 


 By Dan Weikel, June 13, 2013

 Tolls could be extended until 2053

 Tolls in Orange County — which cost nearly $11 for a round trip on the San Joaquin — are among the highest in the nation on a per-mile basis.

The leaders of Orange County's toll road network on Thursday approved a $2.4-billion bond sale to refinance one of its highway corridors — a move that would probably extend the number of years drivers must pay to use the system.

The planned restructuring could shore up the operation's sagging finances but add 13 more years of tolls, meaning that the Foothill-Eastern system would not become free to motorists until 2053.
The corridor includes the 133 tollway in central Orange County and the 241 and 261 tollways, which slice through the hills from Yorba Linda to Rancho Santa Margarita.

All three roads along with their sister highway, the San Joaquin Hills near the coast, have been battered by lower-than-projected ridership and revenue at the same time that their debt payments have been increasing.

When they opened in the 1990s, Orange County's toll roads were among the most ambitious and extensive in California, and they were held up as a model for building highways at a time when state dollars were lean. But the roads have long struggled to attract drivers and make money.
In response to the proposed bond sale, the state treasurer's office announced Thursday that it has begun a financial review of the entire 51-mile tollway network operated by the Transportation Corridor Agencies in Irvine.

By taking advantage of today's lower interest rates, Transportation Corridor Agencies officials say, the refinancing would protect the agency's credit rating, reduce the pressure to increase tolls and lower the annual growth in debt payments from 4.4% to 3.5% or less.

The restructuring, however, would extend toll collection and the date to pay off the Foothill-Eastern's bonds from 2040 to 2053. If revenue increases, agency officials said, they might be able to retire the debt earlier and hand the 133, 241 and 261 over to Caltrans to operate as free state highways.
"This is like refinancing a home mortgage," said Lisa Bartlett, Dana Point's mayor pro tem and chair of the Foothill-Eastern's Board of Directors.

Board members voted 12 to 1 to approve the bonds, with Bob Baker, a San Clemente councilman, casting the only no vote. He said he was concerned that the agency was extending its debt longer than originally planned and would incur enormous costs.

At earlier meetings in which the refinancing was discussed, other board members said they did not like the idea of breaking a promise to motorists that they would not be charged tolls beyond 2040 to use the Foothill-Eastern system.

"This is a very difficult vote to swallow, because it's changing expectations and commitments of a lot of different people," Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer said at a May board meeting. Spitzer was in Sacramento on Thursday and did not vote on the bonds.

The Foothill-Eastern corridor and the San Joaquin Hills have been battered by tough financial times, overly optimistic projections, lower-than-expected population growth and competing public highways. Interstates 5 and 405 have been widened and improved in recent years.

Ridership and revenue for Foothill-Eastern are now substantially below forecasts, a change from earlier times when the road was steadily running 8% to 10% ahead of projections. Agency officials say, however, that there has been a recent increase in revenue because of higher tolls.

The San Joaquin Hills has never performed as expected. In 2011, the agency restructured about $2.1 billion of the road's debt and pushed back the retirement of its bonds to 2042, extending the toll collection period by six years. It was the second time the original deadline of 2033 was reset.

Tolls in Orange County — which are nearly $11 for a round trip on the San Joaquin — are among the highest in the nation on a per-mile basis. Though ridership on the San Joaquin has never reached projections, tolls on the road have been raised at least a dozen times since 1996.

Rating agencies have given the newly approved bonds the lowest investment grade, except for $206 million in notes that have received a speculative or junk rating. Analysts noted that traffic appears to be stabilizing on the tollways as Orange County emerges from recession.

Nicaragua canal project is approved despite few details

Critics accuse President Daniel Ortega of pushing through the sea-to-sea Nicaragua canal project to benefit his family and inner circle.


By Tracy Wilkinson, June 13, 2013

 Nicaragua canal expected to incorporate Lake Nicaragua
 A worker prepares a flag to hang on a wharf at Lake Nicaragua. A Hong Kong company won the concession to build and operate the Nicaragua canal, which is expected to include the lake.

MEXICO CITY — The project is of mind-boggling proportions: It would cost $40 billion, take a decade to complete and be more than twice the length of the mighty Panama Canal.

Yet on Thursday, the Nicaraguan legislature controlled by President Daniel Ortega approved just such a plan, for a sea-to-sea canal from the Pacific to the Caribbean, with a little-known Chinese firm footing much of the bill.

Proponents say the canal megaproject could bring to Nicaragua and the region a major share of the expanding global maritime trade business, especially from U.S. and Asian markets, worth trillions of dollars.

By creating competition for Panama Canal traffic, it could lower the cost of shipping for major American importers such as Wal-Mart and could become a tourism destination for cruise lines. It also could siphon off some business from West Coast ports in the United States by making it easier for Asian companies to reach the East Coast.

Despite the grandiose scale, Ortega revealed few details to the public and fast-tracked a bill granting the concession to build and manage the canal. The measure sailed through the legislature with little debate or scrutiny and was approved by a 61-25 vote and one abstention, with one Ortega supporter arguing in the National Assembly that failure to approve the project would be unpatriotic.

Ortega has said the project will provide tens of thousands of jobs for Nicaraguans and dramatically improve the economy in one of the hemisphere's poorest nations, perhaps even doubling the GDP by 2020.

But the lack of transparency, which critics say is typical of Ortega's secretive way of governing, has raised innumerable doubts about the canal, its real benefits, its potential environmental toll and whether another such waterway is really necessary so close to Panama's.

Many Nicaraguans suspect that the project, which grants a 100-year concession to the newly formed Hong Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. (HKND Group) to operate the canal, is another example of Ortega cutting a deal to earn millions of dollars for his family and inner circle.

"He is selling off the national patrimony, without firing a single shot," said Carlos Langrand, an opposition congressman who opposes the deal.

Not that many in Nicaragua don't relish the idea of a canal.

In fact, for a couple of centuries, through the brazen eras of exploration and exploitation by the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt and the filibusterers, 19th century adventurers who periodically invaded Nicaragua, Nicaraguans have nursed the dream (some would say fantasy) of carving a land-and-water route across their section of the Central American isthmus.

The dream was raised and dashed time and again. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 seemed to relegate the idea to the realm of fanciful musings. Nicaraguan politicians started floating the idea again in the 1990s but the last serious set of studies was shelved in 2006.

Now, Ortega, taking advantage of his steady takeover of nearly all the decision-making institutions in the country, has revived the dream in hope, perhaps, of sealing what he sees as his legacy.

Opponents are not convinced and staged a small protest outside the National Assembly building Thursday as legislators discussed the project.

"Despite this having been the dream of Nicaraguans for more than 150 years, the way this is being approved without consultation is unacceptable," Langrand, the legislator, said by telephone from Managua, the Nicaraguan capital. "Without taking into consideration environmental issues, without taking into consideration the impact on towns along the route, nor the impact on indigenous communities and protected biospheres."

In fact, a lot of behind-the-scenes work has gone on in preparing the project that ordinary Nicaraguans are not aware of. The Chinese firm, HKND Group, says it is assembling a team of world-class consultants and engineers to work on plans. It is standard practice in a developing country such as Nicaragua for the concession for such an enormous project to be granted before the multimillion-dollar feasibility and environmental studies are conducted, they said.

"In Nicaragua, they don't have the funding available to do all the upfront work before they've chosen a concessionaire," HKND senior project advisor Bill Wild said in an interview from Managua. So HKND assumes the risk, he said, "but no one can do it without the certainty of [the] concession."

Several routes for the canal are under consideration. HKND officials say the one route that has been eliminated is a highly controversial previous proposal that would have taken the canal along the San Juan River bordering Costa Rica. Nicaragua and Costa Rica maintain a dispute over that border.
Any route is likely to incorporate the great Lake Nicaragua, the vast, ecologically sensitive inland water body that dominates the western half of the country.

Wild said the changing nature of maritime trade — including the increasing volume, expanding customer base in Asian markets, and the size of ships — makes the Nicaragua canal an important, bigger alternative to the Panama Canal, currently undergoing a $5.25-billion expansion. Especially as the United States eventually moves toward becoming an exporter of oil, the kinds of supertankers it and other suppliers would use would not fit in the Panama Canal, he said.