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

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The impacts of privatizing the turnpike


By Dave Anderson, July 18, 2013

"We are privatizing ourselves into one disaster after another,” veteran journalist Ted Koppel said recently on NPR. “We’ve privatized a lot of what our military is doing. We’ve privatized a lot of what our intelligence agencies are doing. We’ve privatized our very prison system in many parts of the country. We’re privatizing the health system within those prisons. And it’s not working well.”

The privateers have an army of contractors, consultants, think tanks (with the Reason Foundation in the lead) and lobbyists. In particular, they see the country’s huge aging transportation infrastructure as a great money-making opportunity. Our roads and bridges are crumbling, and traffic congestion is widespread. The federal highway trust fund is running out of money.

In a 2007 article called “Roads to Riches: Why investors are clamoring to take over America’s highways, bridges and airports — and why the public should be nervous,” Business Week noted that “[i]nfrastructure is ultra-low-risk because competition is limited by a host of forces that make it difficult to build, say, a rival toll road. With captive customers, the cash flows are virtually guaranteed.”

A few months ago, the Colorado Department of Transportation reached a 50-year deal with a private consortium to handle the improvement, maintenance and operation of U.S. 36.

This is a “public-private partnership,” or P3, which is a concept pushed by an infrastructure-industrial complex composed of global construction corporations, investment banks, private-equity firms and elite law firms organized as vertically integrated consortiums. The influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has pushed “model legislation” for P3s in statehouses across the nation.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a consumer advocacy group, issued a report in 2009 entitled “Private Roads, Public Costs,” which said that P3s can result in governments ceding substantial control over regional transportation policy to companies accountable only to their shareholders, and not to the public.
Phineas Baxandall, a senior analyst for tax and budget policy with PIRG and author of the report, considers the U.S. 36 plan a “mixed bag.”

“There are a lot of positive things about this project,” he said, “but the private financing is essentially just a high-priced loan. Instead of raising more of their own public revenue to finance the road, the state will make larger annual payments to the private road builders.”

The consortium’s financial adviser is Goldman Sachs, the big Wall Street investment bank. Mother Jones, in a 2007 exposé on highway privatization, revealed that Goldman simultaneously has lobbied governments to privatize highways, advised them as they structure the deals and bought a piece of the action.

Other Wall Street firms — Morgan Stanley, the Carlyle Group, Citigroup and many others — have also “fallen in love” (in Business Week’s words) with P3s.

Elliott Sclar, director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University, is concerned about this new craze. In a 2009 paper, he drew parallels between the way bankers and investors are bundling P3s and the way they handled mortgages just a few years ago. He even wonders if P3s have become the “new sub-prime.”

“If sub-prime is no longer the magic elixir that produces money, what’s beginning to happen is the public-private partnership is becoming that, and nobody is looking closely at them,” he says. “The problem becomes, in a stagnating economy, when there aren’t very many private opportunities to get return on investment, the last thing left standing is the public stream of revenues. And that’s what they’re going after.”

In the midst of the financial crisis in 2008, in an address to the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships, the chairman of a major finance company said, “Desperate government is our best customer. There will be a lot of desperate governments out there.”

Many costs of these partnerships can be hidden (such as high fees or poor service). In Denver, the private consortium that operates the Northwest Parkway has a clause in its 99-year contract that prohibits any public road improvements near their toll road because they “might hurt the parkway financially” by providing an alternative route for drivers.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. But there is a common good.

Metro to Share Refined SR-710 Alternatives

Meetings will be held in El Sereno, Pasadena and Monterey Park.


 By Gloria Angelina Castillo, no date

While people for and against a project to close the gap between the 710-Long Beach Freeway in Alhambra and the 210-Foohill Freeway in Pasadena may disagree passionately on whether the project, over 50 years in the making, is a good idea, it’s likely they can all agree on one thing: It is important for stakeholders to attend at least one of three “All Communities Convening” information sessions being put on by Metro starting next week.

The 710 Freeway gap closure would create a connection between Pasadena and East Los Angeles. Currently the freeway ends in Alhambra on Valley Boulevard, commuters cut through local streets because there is no North-South route.EGP 2012 Photo Archive
The 710 Freeway gap closure would create a connection between Pasadena and East Los Angeles. Currently the freeway ends in Alhambra on Valley Boulevard, commuters cut through local streets because there is no North-South route.EGP 2012

The sessions will update the status of the 5 project alternatives still under consideration in the SR-710 North Environmental Study, and give people an opportunity to ask questions and be heard during the planning process, according to Metro.

The study looks at the various options to reduce traffic congestion caused by a gap from where the 710 Freeway ends and the 210 Freeway.

While many residents see it as a local control issue, the gap closure project has regional transportation implications. It’s goal is to relieve street congestion in several cities, along State Route 2, Interstates 5, 10, 210 and 605, as well as East/Northeast Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, say transportation authorities.

$780 million in voter approved Measure R tax revenue has so far been approved for the project; about 10 percent is being used to complete required environmental studies, according to Metro Highway Program Project Manager Michelle E. Smith.

Measure R is expected to generate $40 billion over the next 30 years for projects aimed at traffic relief, and for transportation upgrades in Los Angeles County. The 710 gap closure project is one of many projects under Measure R.

The upcoming information sessions — July 18, July 20 and July 23 — will include a presentation by a moderator, with members of the 710 study technical team on hand to answer questions, according to Metro spokesperson, Helen Ortiz-Gilstrap.

The sessions will layout refinements and variations made to the designs for the four build alternatives that address stakeholder comments, and better meet the “performance measures and objectives” of “improving connectivity and mobility, reducing congestions, increasing transit ridership and minimizing environmental and community impacts,” Ortiz-Gilstrap told EGP in an email.
Those alternatives include a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that among other things would include more dedicated bus lanes to provide “high speed, high frequency bus service” between East Los Angeles and Pasadena/La Canada; a light rail system similar to the Gold Line; better traffic management including synchronizing traffic signals, ramp metering and street widening, and the most expensive of all the alternatives, an underground tunnel connecting the 710 and 210 freeways.
Leaving things as they are, or a “No Build” option is the fifth alternative under consideration.
Ortiz-Gilstrap told EGP that the information being presented at each of the sessions will be identical, so residents only need to attend one meeting.

Metro completed the project alternative analysis last year and is now in the environmental document preparation phase which includes an extensive number of technical studies that will look at the impact of each of the alternatives on the air, water and cultural resources in the affected communities as required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The results will be included in the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS), Metro Highway Programs Executive Director Frank Quon told EGP recently.

Despite Metro’s statements to the contrary, residents in some communities have alleged that the transportation agency has already decided on its preferred route. They are concerned their homes and businesses could be taken to make room for a tunnel or light rail system.

Quon told EGP that at the information meetings residents will be able to look at detailed maps of the alternatives to see what is really being considered, ask questions and raise any concerns.

One of alternatives to address the 710 Freeway gap is a light rail that would travel both underground and above traffic.
One of alternatives to address the 710 Freeway gap is a light rail that would travel both underground and above traffic.

“I would like to … be able to say, ‘here’s your home, what do you want to know about what’s going on around your home? What do these alternatives mean to you?’” Quon told EGP.

For example, one of the light rail transit variations includes an elevated track that goes down Mednik Street in East Los Angeles toward Cal State Los Angeles, before going underground in Alhambra and heading to Pasadena. It’s possible eminent domain could be used to get land needed for the stations, Quon told EGP.

The light rail option is estimated to cost between $2.4 and $2.6 billion and would require funding beyond the $780 million approved. The bus route is estimated at $50 million, the traffic and transportation management system would be less than that, and the “no build” option would basically be $0, Quon said.

A surface route, considered too disruptive to communities, has been eliminated, Quon said. The route involving Avenue 64 in Northeast L.A. is also long gone, according to Metro officials. However, one of the equally, if not more controversial alternatives, an 8-lane tunnel 150-200 feet below ground, is still on the table.

A public-private partnership could be formed to build the tunnel which could cost upwards of $5.4 billion, with the private investor operating the tunnel as a toll road to recoup their investment. If built, the tunnel would have portals on the south end of Valley Boulevard and the north end between Green St. and Del Mar, according to Metro.

Exhaust vents would utilize the latest technology to clean the air. Quon said. “It’s not going to be an open-ended pipe, regulating agencies won’t allow that.” Because some of the studies are still very preliminary, Quon said Metro is not yet able to answer every question being raised, but is attempting to share the information as it is developed.

The Draft EIR/EIS are expected to be published this fall and Metro envisions conducting another round of meetings before the release, according to Ortiz-Gilstrap.

Metro’s Board could receive a recommendation by the summer of 2015, she said.

For some of the opponents to the SR-710 freeway extension, however, it’s not about which route; they oppose all of the build alternatives. They say all four options are aimed at making it easier for companies to move goods at the expense of people’s health and finances.

However, two recent occurrences are giving them hope that the tide may be turning in their favor: The Metro’s Board’s vote to remove the SR-710 Gap from the list of highway projects to receive accelerated funding through Measure R, and the addition of new Metro board members, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Last week, about 150 opponents of the SR-710 freeway marched and chanted “No 710” at South Pasadena’s July 4th Festival of Balloons Parade, according to Joanne Nuckols of the No 710 Action Committee. The committee was marking a 60-year anniversary fighting the extension of the freeway through their community.

Nuckols says the removal of the 710 from the list of accelerated projects is a major victory: “It is the first time the majority of the board has voted against something on the 710,” Nuckols told EGP.

She also noted that as a councilman, Garcetti, along with Councilman José Huizar and former Councilman Ed Reyes authored a resolution opposing the 710 Freeway extension; above ground or by tunnel.

The 710 Freeway currently ends on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, just bocks north of Monterey Park where some city officials say they are frustrated that the project’s been stalled for so many years. It needs to be completed to help alleviate all the traffic spilling off the freeway and onto Monterey Park streets, the city’s mayor, Teresa Real Sebastian told EGP.

Monterey Park residents are tired of dealing with the pollution and traffic that has resulted from their main streets — Fremont, Garfield Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard —being used as connector roads to Pasadena, she said.

As a former South Pasadena resident, the mayor says she prefers the tunnel option because “it does not divide the city in half.”

Metro says it is doing extensive outreach to residents and community, religious, business and non-profit groups.

It emphasises that while all the alternatives are viable, the “no build” option would not resolve traffic congestion problems.

“When voters voted [for Measure R] the 710 was identified as a project in this area and it identified $780 million toward that project. So it’s a significant message that came from the voters of LA County,” Quon said.

The board’s decision to not fast track the project doesn’t kill it, it just doesn’t speed it up.

The “All communities Convening” schedule is as follows:  
– Thursday, July 18, 2013 – 6-8 pm at Los Angeles Presbyterian Church, 2241 N Eastern Ave. in El Sereno 
– Saturday, July 20, 2013 – 9:30-11:30 am at Blair High School, 1201 S. Marengo Ave., Pasadena, CA. 
*This meeting will be streaming live or on-demand at SR 710 North Study USTREAM channel.
– Tuesday, July 23, 2013 – 6-8 pm at the Langley Senior Center, 400 W. Emerson Ave., Monterey Park, CA

Mike Bonin Focuses on Listening to Build New Transportation Consensus in Los Angeles


By Damien Newton, July 18, 2013

(Note: Mike Bonin has been picked by Mayor Eric Garcetti to sit on the Metro Board of Directors.)

 Step One, Get on the Bus.

(Editor’s note: We’re breaking out interview with new Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee Chair Mike Bonin into three parts. Today will focus on his role as Chair. Tomorrow will focus on local issues on the Westside’s CD 11. Monday we will post the unedited audio from the interview.)

“Hello, my name is Mike and I want to listen to you. And I mean genuinely listen to you.”
When I asked City Council Member, and newly minted Transportation Committee Chair, Mike Bonin what his opening line to transportation advocates, he responded with this simple line.

Whether the city has turned a corner to embracing a truly multi-modal transportation network, or whether the victories of the last couple of years are hiccups and Los Angeles will return to its car-centric history depends a lot on the decisions that Bonin and the Transportation Committee make over the next four years. So when we sat down last week, it was the little things that we looked for. We already knew he could talk the Livable Streets talk. We also know what really matters is if he can walk the Livable Streets walk.

The early returns are good.

Not only did he and his staff insist that we do the interview on the 733 Metro Rapid Line that connects the Westside and Downtown Los Angeles on Venice Boulevard, the choice of the bus wasn’t just for show. The 733 was how he was going to work that day, to meetings in his office before walking to a meeting for the Expo Construction Authority Board of Directors. To top it off, he walked to the bus stop from the Mar Vista home he shares with his partner, Sean Arian.

“I want to hit a reset button,” Bonin responded to my very first question. “I don’t want this to just be Bill’s third term, but a fresh look at stuff.”

For a man who has spent the last eight years working as the Chief of Staff for a popular City Council Member, Bonin is emphasizing that now is the perfect time for both the West Los Angeles Council District he represents and the city as a whole to take a fresh look at the problems and opportunities that face their communities. In fact, one of Bonin’s first acts as Council Member-Elect was to meet with planners and leaders in neighboring Santa Monica to start talking about ways the neighboring cities can work together on transportation issues.

But while building, or re-building, relationships with neighboring city leaders is important; Bonin recognizes that the sharpest challenge in changing the way Angelenos think about transportation is changing the way make their choices.

Step 2: Talk to Reporter.

“I want every Angeleno to try transit at least once,” Bonin said, shortly after chatting briefly with a constituent that recognized him and wanted to say hi. Streetsblog always asks our interviewees what they would do if they could wave a magic wand and change one thing about transportation. Candidate Bonin and Council Member Bonin gave the same answer. Convince everyone to try transit just once.
But it needs to be a process of convincing, not forcing.

“There’s been a movement in transportation to try and punish people into good behavior,” he explains. “You also need measures that will pull people and incentivize people the best way to do that is to make it convenient and make it safe.”

At the core of this is the belief that once people try riding the bus or train, using their bicycle, or walking down the street, that they will continue doing it. “Not everyone will change over, but many will.”

And how does a city incentivize walking and bicycling? By building networks that make sense from a transportation standpoint and are perceived as high-quality and safe. When asked what he would like his legacy as transportation chair to be, Bonin focused on three areas: building out the bicycle plan, making sure the city has the finances to rebuild sidewalks and road crossings for pedestrians, and changing the mitigations the city requires for new developments.

When building, or rebuilding, a bicycle and pedestrian network, Bonin claims the focus should be on building the highest quality system, not in building as much infrastructure as possible.

“(We need to) identify projects first that are most essential and least controversial,” Bonin said of the city’s bicycle plan. “We can do quality or we can do fast. I want us to do quality. I don’t want to slap down a bunch of Sharrows to increase quantity, we want to build bigger projects, such as protected bike lanes.”

“There’s more interest than willingness to use our bike system in Los Angeles right now. If we can demonstrate that bike lanes are safe, fun and convenient, than we can get those people to try.”
But perhaps a bigger issue, since the city seems to be building out its bicycle and pedestrian systems, is the third focus area: coming up with better mitigation plans.

“I don’t know that there’s a major or medium development project where the community feels the mitigation is adequate,” Bonin continues. He proposes looking at the impacts developments have on local residents and businesses as well as the broader transportation network. For example, a developer might be required to build an extra turning lane for mixed use travel to improve regional traffic flow. However, that does little for a local resident who wants or needs to get to the store, especially if they are on foot. In fact, the additional turning lane might make things more difficult.
Instead a shuttle program would be a better system, for the people most impacted by new development.

But this is going to be a larger project, one that would end with a major City Council vote after hearings and outreach.

The good news is, Bonin is planning to do a lot of listening. To make any changes in the way the city works with developers over mitigation, he’s going to need to.

Meet Garcetti’s New Team on the Metro Board of Directors: Bonin, Krekorian and Dupont-Walker


By Damien Newton, July 18, 2013

 Then Council Member Wendy Greuel, Jackie Dupont-Walker, then Council Member Jan Perry, and Eric Garcetti P

Earlier today, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced his three appointees to the Metro Board of Directors. The Mayor’s Office controls four of the thirteen appointments to the body (Garcetti being the first himself.) The appointments include two City Council Members: Mike Bonin and Paul Krekorian, as well as Jackie Dupont-Walker, a community activist from the West Adams Neighborhood in South Los Angeles.

Some critics are complaining that Garcetti violated state law by appointing two Council Members to the Board. We are currently researching that claim, first made by John Walsh in an email to journalists and editors, but for now we’re assuming that this list of Garcetti’s appointments will stand.
Here’s a quick look at the Mayor’s team on the Metro Board:

Jackie Dupont-Walker:

Dupont-Walker is the freshest face for most Streetsblog readers.  She is the founding president of Ward Economic Development Corporation, a faith-based community development. She also chairs the USC Master Plan Advisory Committee where she represents the residents of the West Adams district.  

Dupont-Walker’s appointment may also represent an olive branch to the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, a group of community groups and advocates advocating for a grade-separated Crenshaw Light Rail Line for the twelve blocks that the line will run through the Crenshaw Business District. In addition to advocacy, the group has sued Metro over the environmental documents for the light rail.

Dupont-Walker, in addition to being a resident and activist in South L.A., was part of a delegation that met with then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to push for a station at Leimert Park. Villaraigosa eventually backed the station and it was added to the project plan literally days before the Mayor left office.

Dupont-Walker will join Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas as Board Members dedicated to making sure that jobs created by the construction of the Crenshaw Line stay in the South L.A. Community.
“I am looking forward to collaborating with Mayor Garcetti to create an L.A. transportation system that will help bring our city’s diverse neighborhoods closer together in every way,” Dupont-Walker said. “A world-class system should be accessible to every L.A. neighborhood, and new transportation hubs and corridors are opportunities to spark
much-needed job creation and neighborhood revitalization by spurring local economies.”

Mike Bonin:

Bonin is certainly the easiest for Streetsblog to write about since we’re in the middle of publishing a two-part interview with Bonin conducted because he is also the Chair of the Transportation Committee for the City Council. For a man who took office less than three weeks ago, Bonin is now one of the most important people on transportation policy in the region.

The good news for Livable Streets advocates is that Bonin may be the first true-believer in “people powered” transportation ever appointed to the Board. Together with the car-free Santa Monica Council Member Pam O’Connor, who founded and chairs Metro’s ad-hoc sustainability committe, they form a powerful block of votes for funding a variety of transportation options.

“I’m excited to work with Mayor Garcetti to improve and increase bus and rail service in Los Angeles to cut congestion and make commutes faster,” Bonin said in a prepared statement. “We on the Westside are especially eager to get moving with real solutions that give us back the family time and dollars we lose while we are stuck in traffic and gridlock.”

Krekorian at a 2008 press conference where he introduced legislation changing state law regarding speed limits. 

Paul Krekorian:

Krekorian has a reputation as a budget hawk, which seems to be a major reason for his appointment to the Board. Krekorian also sits on the City Council Transportation Committee. Krekorian is a solid vote on sustainable transportation issues and has been a leader on fighting against speed limit increases for motor vehicles at both the city and state level. Krekorian’s Council District 2 represents a portion of the San Fernando Valley.

“I look forward to working with Mayor Garcetti, my MTA colleagues, and all stakeholders to tackle Southern California’s most pressing transportation issues,” said Council Member Krekorian, also through a statement. “Through innovation and efficiency, we need to get more for our transportation dollars and accelerate MTA’s work toward enhanced mobility throughout the entire region.  This is a critical moment in our pursuit of a seamless public transportation system that cost-effectively reduces congestion in the San Fernando Valley and all of Los Angeles, and I’m honored that the Mayor has entrusted me with this responsibility.”

LA Union Station Master Plan




Join us in shaping the future of Union Station!

Please join us for our summer Community Workshop to learn about Metro’s progress on the LA Union Station Master Plan. Building on our May 2nd workshop, where we shared the preliminary draft alternatives, we will present the refined alternative concepts that have incorporated stakeholder input and further technical analysis. The meeting is open to the public and we urge you to invite your friends and neighbors.

Thursday, August 1, 2013
5:30 PM - 7:30 PM

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
Ballroom A/C
555 West Temple Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Served by Metro Red Line Civic Center/Grand Park Station; Metro Lines 4, 10, 48, 81,90/91, 92, 94, 701; Commuter Express 419, 431, 437, 438, 448; and DASH B.

This meeting is scheduled to be live-streamed from http://www.ustream.tv/channel/lausmp and will be recorded for later viewing.

Spanish and Mandarin translation services will be provided at the meeting. Additional language translation services are available upon request. ADA Requirements: Special accommodations are available to the public for Metro-sponsored meetings. All requests for reasonable accommodations and additional language translation must be made at least three working days (72 hours) in advance of the scheduled meeting date. Please telephone the project information line at 213.922.2499 or California Relay Service at 711.

Contact Us:


Union Station Master Plan Team

Councilmember Steve Madison's Town Hall for the San Rafael Neighborhood

We hope you will be able to attend this town hall which will focus on issues related to your neighborhood, San Rafael.
If you have questions, please send us an email or call--see above.

Privacy group warns against California plan for digital license plates


By Melody Gutierrez, July 17, 2013

California license plates could get a high-tech makeover with a digital screen and wireless capabilities as part of a Senate bill making its way through the Legislature.

Senate Bill 806 authorizes the Department of Motor Vehicles to create a pilot program at no cost to the state with as many as 160,000 cars testing the digital plates patented by San Francisco-based Smart Plate Mobile. The state hopes the technology will improve efficiencies in vehicle registrations and potentially save the DMV some of the $20 million spent each year in postage for renewals.
Privacy advocates say the approach could leave motorists vulnerable to government surveillance by undoing a Supreme Court ruling that required authorities to obtain search warrants before using vehicle tracking devices.

"It means everyone driving in California will have their location accessible to the government at any time," said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In 2010, the Legislature considered a similar bill supported by Smart Plate Mobile, with the noted addition of allowing for scrolling advertisements when a vehicle comes to a stop for four seconds or longer.
Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angeles, carried both bills, although Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, took over this year's version after Price moved to the Los Angeles City Council. Price billed the 2010 legislation, which died in committee, as a potential revenue generator for the cash-starved state because the DMV would have been able to sell ad space on the plates.

Advertisements are not envisioned under the current bill being considered, which cleared the Senate and is now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Jim Lites, a lobbyist hired by Smart Plate Mobile, said the pilot program created under the current bill will focus on vehicle registration efficiencies that can be created, not advertisement revenue.
"Let's focus on that and let the Legislature decide what they would like this technology to do, assuming this pilot is successful," Lites said.

The bill is supported by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Bay Area Council and Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. No opposition is listed, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation said it is paying attention after learning about the bill Friday.

"We're surprised and disappointed that this bill seems to be proceeding without any serious exploration of the privacy risks," said Lee Tien, senior staff attorney at the nonprofit group. "Just because it's a pilot doesn't excuse the Legislature of responsibility."

The digital plate is essentially a 12-inch-by-6-inch computer screen with "California" in red across the top and license numbers in blue.

The law would create a three-year program run by the DMV to test the digital plates on California roadways. Lites said the pilot program would likely focus on vehicle fleets owned by large private companies. These companies often have to spend an inordinate amount of time managing the various registration renewals of fleet vehicles to ensure they are up to date.

"When you have 400 to 500 vehicles, you can imagine having one person parked at a DMV office every day processing registrations," Hueso said. "The DMV would prefer not having that person in their office every day and just send the registration electronically."

Hueso said the bill is about encouraging innovation in California.

"It could definitely take hold in terms of people who put a lot of effort into the appearance of their car," Hueso said. "It would be a novelty for people."

The technology is also capable of displaying Amber Alerts or acting as a toll reading device, Lites said.

He said concerns over privacy have come up, but dismissed them because it is an opt-in program and there would be security controls in place to protect information.

Cardozo of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said the technology could lead to police monitoring, particularly in light of a Supreme Court ruling last year that said law enforcement needed a search warrant to place a tracking device on a vehicle.

"If the technology is already on the car, then the government wouldn't need a warrant to place the device because it's already there," Cardozo said.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/07/16/5571548/privacy-group-warns-against-california.html#storylink=cpy

'Blue Paint Is Not Enough'


By Feargus O'Sullivan, July 18, 2013
 'Blue Paint Is Not Enough'

If you tend to think of Europe as a uniformly bike-friendly place, you might well be shocked by events in London this month. In the past three weeks, three cyclists have been killed here. This Monday, 2,500 cyclists packed into central London to protest this unacceptable death rate, cycling a route near where 54-year-old Alan Neve was killed by the driver of a truck on Monday morning. This came just 72 hours after a vigil for 20-year-old Phillipine de Gerin-Ricard, the first user of London’s bike-share scheme to die on the city’s roads. What makes these deaths even more worrying is that they happened on London’s network of cycle superhighways, a high-profile cycle lane system whose flaws bike advocates have been warning Londoners about for some time. Alan Neve’s death, for example, happened at a point where cyclists are funneled onto an exceptionally busy road, and fined by police if they avoid it by using a bus lane.

The fatalities have also happened at a time when the London mayor’s office has been promoting city cycling like never before, promising a grand transport vision that places bikes close to its heart. So what on earth is going wrong?

A ride on one of the designated lanes. Courtesy of Transport for London
(left); A bike highway in London. 

One problem is that much of London’s cycling infrastructure is little more than half-hearted green-washing. Launched in 2008, the city's twelve grandly titled bike "superhighways" gave cycling a greater visibility than it’s ever had before, and in some modest ways have been a success. While narrower than their name suggests, they attract bikes to a single route and the resulting morning and evening crowds of cyclists thus gain some visibility and safety in numbers. They also provide a clear network for London’s bike-share scheme, which managed six million journeys in its first year alone. Beyond making cyclists more visible, however, the superhighways offer no specific protection and have been described hyperbolically as "£2-4 million per mile for some blue paint." As Mike Cavenett, communications manager at the London Cycling Campaign comments, the network’s road markings provide an illusion of safety:
The cycle superhighways probably lull people into a false sense of security – you see a blue painted lane and you assume it has some protected status. In fact they have no legal status at all, they’re not demarcated, the markings are just there supposedly to warn motorists that cyclists are around. The young woman who died recently on Cycle Superhighway Two had only been in London for a few weeks. You can’t presume to get inside somebody’s head, but it’s possible she assumed she was protected on a route that I would only recommend to very experienced cyclists.  In fact, the majority of Londoners wouldn’t dream of getting on a bike. I’m a cycling advocate and even most of my friends won’t.
The alternative scheme the London Cycling Campaign advocates, based on Dutch models, would not be uncontroversial or cheap. They recommend cycle lanes of at least 2 meters width, protected by proper curbs. Along routes like East London’s recently lethal Cycle Superhighway Two, this would mean losing a lane for motor traffic on either side. This might be a step too far for some, though the LCC assert that it would mostly be drivers on unnecessary short journeys that are deterred by lane reductions.

If the mayor’s office is unwilling to push cycling safety, however, they should stop trying to coax Londoners and visitors onto a network where people are dying even in the spaces designed to protect them. As one of the placards at Monday’s protest read, "blue paint is not enough."

More transportation options can cut congestion, costs, report says


July 18, 2013

If commuters integrate carpooling, public transit, and telecommuting into their daily commutes, they could save more than $1,800 annually, according to a new Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study.

By adopting the strategies contained in the report, NRDC estimates that individuals can reduce their total vehicle miles traveled by 10% to 50%.

"Driving Commuter Choice in America, Expanding Transportation Choices Can Reduce Congestion, Save Money and Cut Pollution" found that the four types of commuters in America — city, suburban, rural and town, and non-commuters — could see the greatest amount of savings between $400 to $1,800 if they switched to carpooling every day. Transit savings range from nearly $450 to $600 annually.

“All across the country, a shift is taking place,” said Rob Perks, Transportation State Campaign Director for NRDC. “Increasingly, Americans are choosing to live in walkable communities, where they have more transportation choices that allow them to live closer to their jobs, and shops and schools, rather than stuck in traffic. Along with the personal freedom these communities provide, it’s exactly the kind of growth our country needs to cut pollution, save money and create a vibrant quality of life.”

If 25% of Americans adopted one of these alternative driving choices, the U.S. could reduce annual transportation emissions by 3% to 12%, reduce transportation fuel use by billions of gallons per year, and save consumers tens of billions of dollars in transportation spending each year.
In addition, more choices in transportation would allow commuters to drive less, leading to less congestion in metropolitan areas, less wear and tear on roads, and less spending to maintain the nation’s infrastructure.

Report recommendations include:
•    Increase transit use: Increasing transit round-trip work commutes by four days (or eight trips) each month can reduce driving costs by 14% to 26%.

•    Increase carpooling: Switching to carpooling 20 days per month reduces the number of driving trips and vehicle miles traveled, and can reduce driving costs by about 40% to 50%.

•    Increase trip-chaining: Use trip-chaining (mostly by planning trips in advance) for errands, appointments, etc. Reducing non-work trips by 75% per month could reduce driving costs by 10% to 15%.

•    Increase telecommuting: Telecommuting four days each month could reduce driving costs by 11% to 14%. Commuters could save billions on transportation expenses while reducing our nation’s vulnerability to oil price shocks and helping the environment. A modest expansion of telecommuting could save Americans a total of $1.9 billion annually and reduce oil demand by 20 million barrels of oil per year. An average telecommuter (twice per month) saves $169 in auto-related costs annually (gas, maintenance and tires), not counting savings from tolls or parking.

“With gas prices on the rise, many commuters are turning to transit as a convenient, low-cost alternative to paying more at the pump. One of the fastest, cheapest ways to solve the problem of high gas prices is to break our nation’s addiction to oil by investing in clean, efficient modes of transit that go farther on a gallon of gas — or no gas at all,” said Perks.

NRDC’s report recommends policy solutions to invest in expanded transportation choices allowing Americans to enjoy the freedom of being able to travel shorter distances or less often by car.
Building more compact, walkable, transit-oriented neighborhoods and better transportation solutions will ensure our communities are sustainable. Improving the country’s infrastructure, lessening traffic congestion, decreasing oil dependence, reducing harmful air and global warming pollution, and improving our quality of life are choices to move America beyond oil.

Who pays for the damage from the I-5 and 2 Freeway tanker crash in Los Angeles? Taxpayers, for now


By Ben Bergman, July 15, 2013

 Caltrans isn’t giving an estimate yet of how much damage that tanker truck fire on Saturday caused to the freeway, but it’s likely to be expensive. The destruction was so severe that some of the freeway’s support structures may have been compromised, and the repairs could take months to complete.

For the time being, taxpayers will be on the hook. Why not go straight to the trucking company?

“Because that is a legal proceeding that can take a long time,” explained Caltrans spokeswoman Kelly Markham.

RELATED: MAP: NB I-5 may be fully open Tuesday; 2 Freeway tunnel interchange may be closed for weeks

She says right now her agency is focused on getting the freeway fixed, not on who pays for it.
“Ultimately what we do is try to get reimbursed by the Feds," said Markham. “Then if there’s a determination of fault, Caltrans would seek funds from the insurance company that represented the trucking company.”

The agency isn’t naming the company involved in Saturday’s crash. Figuring that out can be difficult, according to L.A.-based attorney Vibhu Talwar.

“The trickiest part is finding all the different insurance policies that may cover the claim,” said Talwar.

The lawyer has experience suing trucking companies. He says it involves a lot of work because they sometimes hide behind complicated corporate structures in order to shield their assets.
There can also be other entities at fault. For instance, if the accident was caused by a truck’s cargo shifting, he can sue the company that loaded the truck. And that’s not all.

“Often times if you have defects in the vehicle itself, the manufacturer can also be responsible,” said Talwar. “If there’s a brake issue, and the maintenance didn’t take it up, you have a maintenance company getting involved in a case like that.”

Truck drivers are only required to carry $750,000 in liability insurance. But that goes up to $5 million for a commercial truck carrying hazardous materials.

DC Road Lobbyist: Since Most People Drive, We Shouldn’t Invest in Transit


By Angie Schmitt, July 18, 2013

Last week, the Washington Post ran an editorial calling for a “balanced” approach to transportation investments. That rather mundane stance was enough to set off alarm bells for an advocate of suburban highway expansion in Virginia.

Residents protest the "Outer Beltway," a proposed highway in northern Virginia.

Bob Chase, head of the group calling for a new “Outer Beltway” in Virginia, issued an “action alert,” saying future investments in transportation in the D.C. metro area should correspond to the way people currently get around: mostly by driving.

David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington is firing back, calling Chase’s argument — most people drive, so we should mostly invest in roads — “nonsensical.”
What we spend on transportation, except for repairs (which are important) really should have nothing to do with the current mode share percentages.

Let’s imagine we are in an alternate reality where we never built Metro. Very few people ride transit because there is very little of it. Does that mean in this alternate world the case for building transit is weaker? Why? Maybe it’s stronger because we would be even further behind than we are today.

Or when we first built Metro, fewer people rode transit, so by Chase’s logic, that makes it a bad idea to have done it then?

A region’s preexisting mode share matters little. If you want more driving and traffic and car dependent housing build more roads. If you want more transit riding and TOD build transit.

Chase wants to see Virginia develop another tier of detached house suburbs beyond the existing ones. That’s his right to believe that but he should be honest about it. He’s also misguided.
Elsewhere on the Network today: Transit Miami questions the wisdom of allowing the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority to act as a developer in parts of downtown. Streets.mn, using a new tool from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, explores how life expectancy in greater Minneapolis varies from one side of the highway to another. And the Green Lane Project blog looks at how class and gender privilege helped shape American street design for the worse.

Seattle Makes Guerrilla Bike Lane Permanent


By Angie Schmitt, July 16, 2013

How about a round of applause for Seattle? This spring, a group of activists calling themselves “Reasonably Polite Seattleites” installed a protected bike lane on Cherry Street. How did Seattle officials react? Well, this week the city made it permanent.

New pylons installed on the Cherry Street bike lane are nearly identical to the ones installed by a group of activists months before.

Tom Fucoloro’s report at Seattle Bike Blog indicates that Seattle may have the coolest traffic engineer in the world:
To recap, the anonymous group installed the pylons under the cover of night this spring. They then sent an email to Seattle Bike Blog and SDOT explaining why they did it and pointing out the fact that they used a simple adhesive to make them easy to remove should SDOT choose to do so.

In many other cities, such acts are met with scorn and threats of legal action from city officials. But Seattle’s Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang did not. Instead, he wrote an equally polite email back apologizing for the fact that they needed to remove the pylons, but thanking the group for making a statement about road safety.

Well, now Chang and the city have gone a step further. They have installed permanent pylons with safe clearance space for bike handlebars and extra buffer space on the roadway. They also completed a safer connection to First Hill by installing a bike lane on 7th Ave between Cherry St and Marion, which is a signed bike route across First Hill that will soon connect to the Broadway Bikeway when it is completed.
Chang even wrote a friendly letter to the “Reasonably Polite Seattleites” saying, “I have good news to share. SDOT worked with WSDOT to reinstall your thoughtful protector treatment on Cherry Street.” Confirmed: Coolest traffic engineer ever.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Raleigh Connoisseur shows off the city’s impressive new parklets. Urban Indy explains how arterial roadways divide city neighborhoods. And Greater Greater Washington reports that while D.C. works to make streets more walkable and less highway-like, Virginia is endeavoring to do just the opposite.

A Press Conference and Protest Rally for everyone against the 710 Tunnels

From Sylvia Plummer, July 18, 2013

A Press Conference and Protest Rally for everyone against the 710 Tunnels (See Press Release down below) 

We are getting together prior to Metro's Information Session at Blair High School in Pasadena at 8:45am. We need people to show up in order to have a rally. 

Invited Speakers:  Pasadena Mayor, Bill Bogaard; South Pasadena Mayor, Richard Schneider; La Canada Mayor, Laura Ohasso; MTA Board Member and Councilmember, Ara Najarian; Pasadena Councilmember, Steve Madison and Former State Assemblymember, Anthony Portantino
Bring your No710 fans, wear your No710 buttons, wear No710 or Red shirts, etc. Just show up!! We will have signs to pass out.

Blair High School
1201 S. Marengo Avenue

The school parking lot will be open and street parking is available.  The school parking lot is on the corner of Marengo and Glenarm. The entrance to the parking lot is on the south side of Glenarm.  From the parking lot, stay with the main building.  You will see a flagpole.  You should see us near the flagpole

Unable to attend Metro's All Communities Information Session...

On Saturday, July 20th at 9:30 a.m. Metro will have a live-stream of the Pasadena presentation.

View and comment via a live-stream of the presentation or on-demand at:

Metro's Doug Failing on County Transit Agency's Embrace of Public-Private Partnerships


 (From Sylvia Plummer, July 18, 2013:
I want to remind you that in the AirTalk interview 


with Doug Failing he was asked (by me) why they were talking to PPP's before the EIR was completed.  Doesn't that taint/corrupt the EIR process. Failing stated on the radio interview that ' we have been approached by the PPP's' .  I would say that this article proves the opposite. How many times have we been told: we are evaluating all the alternatives with an open mind.  It sure sounds like Metro is in favor of a Tunnel.)




July 8, 2013



 Doug Failing


With state and federal transportation funding slow, Metro and Caltrans are embracing public-private partnerships to finance and accelerate planned infrastructure projects. Doug Failing, Metro’s Executive Director of Highway Programs, outlines their Accelerated Regional Transportation Improvement (ARTI) program, a series of small projects through which the county transit agency plans to demonstrate its viability and desirableness as a partner with private enterprise. Failing outlines the specific focus of ARTI (including the FR 710 gap between the 10 and 210, the high desert corridor from LA to San Bernadino, and the 710 freight corridor), the benefits of P3 funding, and what Metro and Caltrans expect to learn about project delivery under a P3 system.


Doug, TPR/MIR has featured financing infrastructure via public-private partnerships (P3) for years, interviewing Mayer Brown’s David Narefsky, California’s Dale Bonner, Goldman Sach’s Kathleen Brown Rice, and yourself. Metro now has a Design Build P3 opportunity on the street—what’s the financial goal and rationale for Metro’s RFQ? 

Doug Failing: We recognize here at Metro that there’s not enough money to do everything we want to do—even with Measure R. A lot of our long-range plan counted on both the state and federal government realizing their need to help fund transportation. That’s not coming along as quickly as we had hoped it would, so we started looking at some of the projects we have here to see if any made sense to be pursued as a public-private partnership.

We have four that are currently under development; three of them were all part of the original plan. The big three are the SR710 gap between the 10 and the 210; the interstate 710 freight corridor from the Ports of LA and Long Beach up to the East LA and Hobart yards, where Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific Railroads have their yards; and then there’s the High Desert Corridor from the 14 in LA County/Palmdale/Lancaster to the 15 Victorville town of Apple Valley in San Bernadino County.

Those are great projects, but they are very big, 5-10-billion-dollar projects. We recognized at Metro that we don’t have a track record with the industry for large projects and that we need to develop something smaller, work through the decision-making processes, and gain some confidence with the public-private sector that Metro is a good partner and that they want to work with us.

So we came up with what we call the ARTI project: Accelerated Regional Transportation Improvement. We took six projects that were already planned—mostly programmed, not entirely funded—in our long-range plan. These were projects whose funding was mostly controlled by Metro, a local agency, whether through Measure R or Prop C. We put together a package looking at funding, trying to create a stable funding flow over a 35-year period. We thought we could go to private industry and have a conversation about getting those projects built now rather than waiting 15-20 years for them to go to construction. We started looking at this as a straight availability payment structure type of deal. We had the money, but it’s out in the future. We could create a stable funding stream out of that and have the private sector come in and build the projects for us today.

One of the projects is I-5 widening: a carpool lane from the 5/14 interchange through Santa Clarita out to Parker Road. That was not fully funded—at the time we proposed it we were about $100 million short. Next project is SR71 in Pomona, a four-lane expressway today, and we have an environmental document to turn it into an eight-lane freeway all the way from the Rio Ranch near the 60 up to Holt Avenue near the 10 Freeway.

Then we have a couple of sound wall packages that aren’t necessarily unique, but their funding is out there, and they help fill the gaps for us on a funding plan to make a continuous appropriation of money available. The state was going to do a pavement rehabilitation on I-5 between Parker Road and 5/14, so we put that in the package as well. Those projects combined are about $700 million, which is a lot of money. But it’s not in the billions, so it gives our board a chance to work with public-private partnerships, to work with Caltrans, to make sure that we’re delivering something that’s going to be useful well into the future for the public and for Caltrans. We wanted to give something smaller so the financial industry can take a look and decide to work with us, and if it works well, they can invest in some of the multi-billion dollar plans we have coming up.

Elaborate on Metro’s rationale for this RFQ, P3, design/build package of projects. What are Metro’s benchmarks for success?

Really the key part is that Metro and Caltrans can partner to create a substantial and continuous funding stream that the private side can count on, so they can go to their banks and borrow money to build us the projects now and rest assured of repayment through Metro and Caltrans in a manner that keeps their interest rates low. Right now, low interest rates are important, and the lower-risk the project, the lower the interest rates. So we need to be seen as a very trustworthy agency; we need to work well with them so they can understand how they will administer a project without undue risks. We need to show that we are willing to keep the risks that we should best manage and therefore get the best price out of it.

Doug, you mentioned the leveraging of local revenue and allocation of risk. Address how Metro anticipates accelerating project delivery through the P3 program and how public-private financing might reduce project cost through procurement contracting and construction.

We’re right now engaged in the process of doing a very strict value-for-money analysis of this project, looking at three different delivery methods. If we do it as originally planned—as a designed, bid, build type of project, like we normally do—whether we do it just as a design-build project, or whether we go through the maximum risk transfer under a P3 scenario. It’s very clear that the way these projects are designed now (designed/bid/build), the earliest we could start is in 2020, and we’d be building them out until 2040, so the public wouldn’t see much benefit for 30 or 40 years. By using a P3, we’re able to change the point in time at which this financing becomes available, and we actually anticipate closing the deal in 2014, being under construction in 2015, and having all of these facilities available to the public by 2019. So we would be done before we would start under any traditional scenario.

The real benefit in a P3 is giving the contractor the appropriate incentive to do a little bit more work, to build a better project upfront, because they will operate and maintain that project for the concession period. This one is 35 years; that’s one of the shorter ones you’ll find in a concession period. If that contractor has to worry each day about how many resources he’s going to have to fix potholes, pick up signs, etc., it’s in his best interest to do a slightly better project on that first build. It reduces his backend cost, which also reduces our backend cost. So when we look at this, P3 can make a 10-15 percent difference in total cost to the public versus just using the traditional method, not to mention that we get the project sooner.

Doug, as a veteran of both Caltrans and Metro, you know how hard it is for public institutions to learn new tricks. What are the challenges for Metro and Caltrans as they proceed with the implementation of these P3 financing projects? 

Let’s start with Metro. The real change here is that most of the projects Metro builds are obviously on the transit side, dealing with Federatl Transit Administration (FTA) rules and regulations, so we’re very familiar with the federal process. But the FTA has different rules than the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)—making sure that we’re following the FHWA federal process as opposed to FTA process is very important. We have a very strong relationship with the FTA; as we’re a direct recipient.

On the federal highway side, the FHWA only works through the State of California. We don’t have a direct relationship there, so we need to understand how the rules are different. But aside from that, usually it’s about the same for us. We’re overseeing a large project, and we want to manage how it’s going to be delivered. We’re very engaged in the procurement process, making sure that we follow a slightly different process with slightly different rules.

On the Caltrans side, they are giving up some control on this project to us at Metro. We are the primary funder of the capital piece, so we’re very conscious of how the risk lays out and how that can impact capital outlay decisions. We’re playing a much closer role with them on the delivery of this project.

First, they have to get used to relinquishing some control to us on project delivery. On top of that, Caltrans has always traditionally done design/bid/build projects—it’s a very prescribed process that they are exceedingly good at. When you go to design build (which they have a little experience with) or P3 (where they’ve done one project), the role changes from quality control assurance to quality assurance auditing, because the concessionaire has that maintenance and the legal liability well into the future. So recognizing that it’s a different procurement method even though the end goal is the same: making sure the public gets a good product for their dollar.

It’s very important that we administer the project differently. This is not a widely known method, so getting the right staff assigned and putting them through a training process are some of the big issues that we need to work out. We need to let the industry know that we’re working on these issues, so that they know that we’re working on reducing their risk so they can give us a good price.

Who now is designated to be on the Metro P3 project team?

Right now I have Lan Saadatnejadi, she is my executive officer that’s overseeing the project. Chris Margaronis is our designated lead for that project. We have a wealth of staff here—I tell you, our procurement, financial, legal, and P3 experts are all doing a great job in working with us to make sure that this first one is as good as it can be.

Could you give our readers Metro’s timeframe? 

The RFQ went out May 31. We expect to receive qualifications of teams back in July. We will shortlist those in August and September (and probably share a Draft RFP with those short-listed teams). We hope to actually get a Request for Proposals out to the industry in November of this year, with proposals back in and evaluated about the middle of the year, then financial close near the end of 2014.

In closing, after you and Metro get the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for financing and building these projects, what will your acceptance speech highlight? 

I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about the people of Los Angeles and how they’ve let us proceed with things that help them. I’ll talk about the great team that we’ve developed here at Metro and Caltrans. It’s all about the project and showing that we can work together well. No big project gets done in isolation; it’s all about partnership. Any speech I give better say a lot about the importance of partnership and the trust that the people of LA put in us.

Bicycles: the new conservative enemy

The rise of bike-sharing programs has created an unlikely new target in the culture wars


By Jaime Weinman, July 16, 2013
 The spoke club

In the 1980s, the conservative humourist P.J. O’Rourke wrote “A Cool and Logical Analysis of the Bicycle Menace.” He was joking. In 2013, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz said, “the bike lobby is an all-powerful enterprise” and the presence of a bike-sharing program in New York was an example of “the totalitarians running the government of this city.” She wasn’t joking. Rabinowitz’s widely discussed appearance on a Wall Street Journal video, which was picked up by many news outlets and The Daily Show (“Slow down, lady, they’re just bikes!” Jon Stewart exclaimed), did more than draw attention to complaints about the effectivness of the Citibike program, New York’s attempt to compete with the bike-sharing in other cities such as Paris and Montreal. It made people aware of just how hostile some conservative commentators are to bikes.

Rabinowitz was hardly the first conservative pundit to express scorn for bicycles and the people who ride them. One of the most-publicized recent bike-bashers was Don Cherry, who showed up to meet Toronto Mayor Rob Ford in 2010 wearing a loud pink shirt, explaining: “I’m wearing pink for all the pinkos out there riding bicycles.” Popular southern California radio host John Kobylt, an opponent of plans to build more bike lanes in Los Angeles, recently explained that cyclists are members of “a bizarre cult that worships two-wheel transportation, not a traditional God.” And Rush Limbaugh, the leader in conservative radio punditry, has always been willing to tee off on the pesky pedal-pushers: “Frankly, if the door opens into a bicycle rider, I won’t care,” he once said. “I think they ought to be off the streets and on the sidewalk,” where bike riders aren’t actually allowed.

Why would bicycles become a political issue? Partly because things like bike-sharing programs are often placed in opposition to cars and the people who drive them. Lloyd Alter, an adjunct professor at Ryerson University’s school of interior design and the managing editor of TreeHugger.com, says conservatives sometimes associate bikes “with environmentalism and anti-capitalism. Bike riders live in denser places, don’t go to big-box supercentres, lead a suspiciously different lifestyle.” The political splits in cities are often strongest between urban areas and the suburbs or exurbs, and that pits suburb-friendly transportation, mainly cars, against more “urban” vehicles such as bikes and light rail.

So just as conservative politicians such as Ford have often won votes for their support of the automobile against non-traditional transportation, conservative pundits often stick up for suburban car drivers in the culture war, and portray bicyclists as elitists. Kobylt, cited by The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf as a practitioner of “the paranoid style in bicycle politics,” told his listeners he fears that cyclists are trying to make him feel like, “I’m second class because I drive a car, or I have a commute to work, or I live in a suburban neighbourhood.” Journalist George Will, a prominent opponent of trains, also mocked then-U.S. secretary of transportation Ray LaHood for his support of biking: “Does he think 0.01 per cent of Americans will ever regularly bike to work?” Will sneered. Alter says that, to some pundits, cyclists are “a powerful force trying to squeeze cars off the road,” and “every advance by the cyclists is seen as an attack on the suburban way of life.”

But just as there are plenty of liberals who drive SUVs, there are plenty of conservatives who contradict the bike-hating stereotype. Nicole Gelinas, a contributor to the conservative urban policy magazine City Journal, published an article about Citibike that, while critical of the program, also tried to counteract some of the stereotypes about it: “Despite fears to the contrary, especially among the elderly,” she wrote, “bike share won’t harm pedestrians.” Still, as bike-friendly conservative radio host Mitch Berg told the Utne Reader, “people on both sides of the political aisle do ascribe political significance to biking.” Or, as P.J. O’Rourke put it all those years ago, “I don’t like the kind of people who ride bicycles.”

How to Fund Transit Without Raising Fares or Cutting Service


By Eric Jaffe, July 18, 2013

 How to Fund Transit Without Raising Fares or Cutting Service

When Mark Aesch became head of the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, back in 2004, the metro area's bus system was in terrible shape. The agency carried a $4.5 million deficit and on-time performance was stuck at 76 percent. Officials wanted to approach the problem the way so many other city agencies were handling similar situations at the time: with a fare hike. Aesch said no.

"There was no way in my judgment we could ask the customer to pay more for an underperforming experience," he recalls.

Not only did Aesch keep his pledge not to raise fares, but in 2008 he actually lowered them. By the time he left the position, at the end of 2011, Aesch and his creative approach had transformed Rochester's bus system into a total winner. Buses drove fewer miles, carried more passengers, and boasted a 91 percent on-time record. The agency accumulated a $35.5 million surplus while decreasing its reliance on taxpayer funding by more than a third.

Aesch has since started a consulting firm called TransPro and written a book called Driving Excellence. His mission with both is to encourage transit officials to bring a "private-sector mindset" to public transportation. So far it's working. Last year, Aesch even stabilized the bus system in Detroit, of all places. If his methods can succeed there, they should do well in any number of struggling systems across the country.

"I think the model works in almost any location," says Aesch. "Improving the quality of the customer experience, creating that atmosphere where the individual employee is rewarded for organizational success — that's critical. You can do that anywhere."

These days the public expects transit agencies to cut service or hike fares when funding runs low. But Aesch's entire philosophy is based on the belief that the best way to raise both ridership and revenue is by improving the transit experience.

In Rochester, Aesch and colleagues took aim at the poor on-time performance of city buses. Using data to evaluate system routes, they realized that much of the problem came from buses that were early, not late. Soon they identified the culprit: because routes had down time built in at the end, drivers were rushing to finish up and take a longer break.

As the system began to improve, Aesch created incentives to keep things moving in the right direction. He concocted a so-called "stock price" for the system and tied it administrator compensation. When performance improved, so did pay. Eventually enough drivers realized the advantages of merit-based compensation that the union voted to tie their paycheck to performance, too — something Aesch says would have been "unimaginable" when he first arrived.

His biggest achievement came through securing partnerships with the community. Once bus service improved, Aesch sent out a sales force to college campuses, shopping centers, apartment complexes, and the like, and asked them to pay for the better service that now carried so many students and customers and residents through their corridors. Sometimes he drew a comparison to a utility: just as a housing development might pay the water bill for tenants, so too should it pitch in for transit.

"If the model of public transportation is simply to ask the taxpayer for more money or the customer for more money, it's a short path to reducing service and reducing quality," says Aesch. "You've got to go identify new business partners to fund public transportation with non-taxpayer dollars."

A big fear that many people have about a private-sector approach to public transit is that rewards efficiency at the expense of providing a social service. If a particular route isn't capturing much fare revenue, for instance, then business-minded officials might be more apt to cut it. That approach could end up stranding riders — particularly those in low-income corridors.

Aesch says he's responded to this concern by creating a service metric that gives equal weight to ridership and fare recovery. So if a certain route does well at the farebox, it's a keeper, and if another route has a lot of riders, it's a keeper, too. What won't score well on this metric, he says, are those routes that neither make money nor seem to play a vital role in the community. These are the ones that efficient systems should be aiming to cut.

"You ask yourself the fundamental question: is public transportation responsible for providing service to the community, or providing return to the taxpayer?" he says. "The answer to that question, we concluded, is yes. So what we built was a performance-measurement system which takes both of those competing metrics and combines them into one score."

Last year Aesch's system passed what some might call the ultimate test. In the wake a series of embarrassing bus crises in late 2011, Detroit brought in Aesch to overhaul service. Despite being given only a year to produce results, Aesch improved on-time performance, kept ridership stable, avoided a fare hike, saved the agency roughly $39 million, and even improved customer satisfaction by 40 percent.

While he says the future of Detroit's public services is up to the emergency manager, he does think his year there proved that his methods can apply to transit agencies big and small.

"It's one thing to transform a transit agency Rochester, New York," he says. "It's another thing to reduce cost and improve customer satisfaction in the city of Detroit, where very few things succeed."