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

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Long-term car loans: Experts weigh pros, cons


By Ric Romero, July 23, 2013

 For a video:  http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/video?id=9182735&pid=9182749

Even as the economy improves there are plenty of people who are struggling to make ends meet. For them, buying a new car means taking on a longer term loan in order to lower their monthly payments. 

This is the case for Veronica Viveros, who is shopping for a new car but will soon have new demands on her monthly budget.

"I am expecting and we do have a lot of bills and finances. So, I'm looking at about $300 to about $350 a month. That would help out so much," said Viveros.

If she's in the market for a $23,000 car loan and wants to keep her payments to $350 a month, she will have to look at a 72-month loan. That means her new baby will be 6 years old and going into first grade by the time she pays that car off.

"The consumer that's opting for a $25,000 new car loan can save around $200 per month by opting for a 72-month loan as opposed to a 48-month loan," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst of automotive insights for Kelley Blue Book.

A $350-monthly car payment can be enticing for many people, but it also could be very risky.
"The longer you extend your term, the longer it's going to take you to get out of a negative-equity position," said Gutierrez. "So those that take a longer term find themselves at greater risk of being under water for a longer period of time."

And that doesn't take into account what could happen over all those years. A car accident or a blown engine can devalue the car, putting consumers with long-term loans into a bigger financial bind. That said, more and more people are sticking with the same set of wheels further down the road.
"The trend in the last 10 years is people have kept their cars longer. The cars have been built better," said Steve Foresta, general manager at O'Hare Auto Group.

And experts point out not all long-term loans are bad.

"A general rule of thumb is that consumers should try and keep their monthly payments within 20 percent of their gross income," said Gutierrez. "So, if that means you have to opt for a five- or six-year loan as opposed to three- or four-year loan that generally makes sense."

But most experts do not recommend 96-month loans, which are also now available.

Whatever you decide to do, figure out what you can comfortably afford to pay for a new car before you go to the dealer.

Remember a longer loan means you'll be paying more in interest over the life of the loan. And loans that go 72 months and beyond will have higher interest rates too. So shop around over the Internet before you hit the car dealer.

New Plans For a Bike Path Along All 51 Miles of the LA River


By Eve Bachrach, July 23, 2013



The LA River is on fire lately--a recreation zone open for all manner of fun, a a new pedestrian bridge in the works, plans to rip out the concrete and restore 11 miles of the river, and, you know, sometimes there are actual flames, too. Now add Greenway 2020 to the list. It's a plan, launched today, to create a continuous greenway and bike path along all 51 miles of the LA River by the end of the decade. According to today's announcement, the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation--a public private partnership--will improve the existing 26 miles of riverside paths and work to turn the remaining 25 miles of publicly-owned land into "pedestrian and bike-friendly paths with bike shops, kayak rentals, and eateries along the way." And though it only launched today, Greenway 2020 is already counting the La Kretz Crossing pedestrian bridge and NBCUniversal's $13-million contribution to the bike path as early victories. If the plan is successful, the greenway would ultimately stretch from the western San Fernando Valley to all the way to Long Beach.
· Greenway 2020 [Official Site]
· LA River Archives [Curbed LA]



Ethics probe sought over lawmaker's high-speed rail opposition


By Richard Simon, July 23, 2013

 Artist rendering of California bullet train

 An artist rendering of a high-speed train, projected to run from Los Angeles to San Francisco at speeds up to 220 mph.

WASHINGTON -- A government watchdog Tuesday sought a congressional investigation into California Rep. David Valadao’s efforts to halt the state’s high-speed rail project, saying the freshman failed to tell colleagues that the project could affect the property values of his family’s Central Valley farmland.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to launch a probe into whether the Republican lawmaker "abused his position … to benefit his and his family’s financial interests."

Valadao said in a statement that he has been "both consistent and clear on his opposition to high-speed rail since entering public life, regardless of the potential route." He did not specifically address the watchdog group’s allegation.

The Hanford congressman recently won the approval of the House Appropriations Committee for a measure that the California High-Speed Rail Authority said would effectively kill the $68-billion project. The measure, included in a transportation spending bill, would require the federal Surface Transportation Board to consider the project in its entirety rather than in segments.

The spending bill could clear the Republican-controlled House this week but faces uncertain prospects in the Democratic-led Senate. The White House also objected to another GOP-sponsored provision of the bill that would prohibit federal funding next year for the California project.
The first phase of the system that would run 220-mph trains between Los Angeles and San Francisco is to be built between Madera and Fresno.

In seeking an investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington cited a Fresno Bee story that Valadao’s family dairy owns Kings County property that could be affected by either of the two rail routes under consideration.  

Melanie Sloan, a  former federal prosecutor who heads the watchdog group, said that Valadao’s "failing to inform his appropriations committee colleagues that he stood to benefit from the amendment is not merely inexcusable, it violates House rules."  

Valadao said he was acting "in the best interest of those who elected him. The proposed high-speed rail project will affect all Californians as it diverts billions of dollars away from essential services like public safety and education from communities who need it most," he said.

A few weeks ago, Valadao trumpeted committee approval of his amendments, saying they "dealt a blow" to the "impractical" project.  

The Office of Congressional Ethics does not, as a rule, comment on requests for investigations. The independent body can decide against opening a probe or spend up to 90 days conducting an investigation. It then decides whether to refer the matter to the House Ethics Committee for further investigation.

Dan Richard, chairman of the rail authority, said in an interview that although the authority is prepared to seek the approval of the federal Surface Transportation Board for segments of the rail project, the Valadao amendment is "very clearly constructed with one purpose: to stop the high-speed rail project in its entirety. Period."

Richard said the authority, which has received about $3.3 billion in federal funding, had no plans to seek additional federal dollars for next year. But he said the funding prohibition would hurt the authority’s ability to raise private funds for the project.

“This is the wrong time to be saying, 'We want to send a message to everybody that we don’t support high-speed rail,'" he said. "If that stayed in there, it would simply slow our efforts to expand the funding base to include the private sector."

Cities Need to Weigh Costs of Private Partnerships


By Donald Cohen, July 23, 2013

 Chicago’s 36,000 parking meters were leased to an investor group backed by Morgan Stanley.
 Chicago’s 36,000 parking meters were leased to an investor group backed by Morgan Stanley.

DealBook recently published a piece by Kent Rowey that makes a troubling argument for selling public services and infrastructure to Wall Street banks and other corporations. Under the guise of making recommendations for Detroit, Mr. Rowey tried to sell the idea that auctioning off our most vital services and assets to for-profit companies is a simple win-win solution for strapped governments.

It sounds simple, but the real track record of public-private partnerships is fraught with problems.

Mr. Rowey holds up the example of Chicago’s 36,000 parking meters that were sold in a 75-year lease to an investor group backed by Morgan Stanley as a success. In fact, Chicago taxpayers, investors and mayors across the country will tell you that not only was it an unmitigated disaster, it is also Exhibit A in the folly of blindly giving up taxpayer control of services.

An after-the-fact investigation by the city’s inspector general concluded that the decision to enter the lease contract lacked “meaningful public review” and neglected the city’s long-term interests to solve a short-term budget crisis. Specifically, it found that “the city was paid, conservatively, $974 million less for this 75-year lease than the city would have received from 75 years of parking-meter revenue.” That’s nearly $1 billion that could have been used for better police and fire protection, longer library hours and many other services that would benefit the public good rather than private profits. By Dec. 31, 2009, Chicago had only $180 million left from the $1.15 billion parking meter deal, forcing the city to consider alternative sources of revenue rather than relying on long-term reserve funds generated by the parking meter lease.

Parking rates increased to as much as $8 for two hours. The initial contract required seven-day-a-week paid parking. The city was able to negotiate out of that requirement but in exchange had to extend paid parking until 10 p.m. Downtown business owners have blamed the increase in rates for a decrease in economic activity.

Taxpayers are further harmed by the contract’s fine print, which says that they must reimburse Morgan Stanley and its Qatar-based business partner for any time the space is used for anything other than parking — including parades and festivals. The city is prevented from performing routine road maintenance that would occupy a parking space on all but a few days a year without paying a penalty.
Perhaps most egregious, Chicago cannot build parking lots for the entire duration of the contract because they might compete with the outsourced parking meters.

In fact, the “noncompete” and “compensation” clauses mean the city won’t be able to make, for 75 years, fundamental economic development, land use or environmental policy decisions — anything that would affect the revenue of the parking company. Roderick Sawyer, alderman for Chicago’s Sixth Ward, has called this parking privatization scheme “outrageous for taxpayers, undemocratic, and un-American.”

Public-private partnership deals across the country are riddled with similar problems. In the suburbs of Denver, a 99-year contract prevents affected municipalities from making improvements to nearby roads that might compete with the privatized road and interfere with the corporate profits.

Mr. Rowey contends that infrastructure assets are “relatively straightforward to value” and represent a reliable, steady source of revenue. Not so.

In 2010, San Diego County’s privatized South Bay Expressway filed for bankruptcy, three years after it opened late and over budget. The for-profit company running the toll road blames the recession for its low traffic, but drivers have publicly blamed the company’s steep toll increases.

A privatized toll road in Texas wasn’t meeting the project revenue targets. Fewer drivers were using the costly road. In an attempt to compensate for the shortfall, the state approved a speed limit of 85 miles an hour for a 41-mile stretch between Austin and San Antonio. Similarly, Virginia officials had hoped that privatized express lanes on the 495 Beltway would generate badly needed cash for the state. Once again, traffic patterns failed to match rosy projections and the project is losing money. Last month, the state increased the speed limit to 65 miles an hour, hoping to lure more drivers and generate more revenue.

A 2009 report in the American Journal of Public Health studied traffic fatalities in the United States from 1995 to 2005 and found that more than 12,500 deaths could be attributed to increases in speed limits on all kinds of roads. These perverse incentives cause government to change speed limits simply to generate profits for infrastructure investors. Those are public decisions that should be driven by public goals, not private profit.

Cities, counties and states should enact common sense reforms that ensure taxpayers get their money’s worth when one of those entities enters a public-private partnership. Public agencies should require that an independent audit show an actual taxpayer savings before outsourcing a service or asset (a similar law to this has operated with great success in Massachusetts since 1993). They should also outlaw fine-print “noncompete” and “compensation” clauses that prevent public officials from making decisions to advance the public good.

There is no doubt that we need to rebuild and retool American infrastructure for the 21st century. It is essential for our economic competitiveness, our efforts to stem the effects of climate change and to create a better quality of life for us all. And doing so will create thousands of jobs for middle-class American families. But it is equally as important that cities and states fully consider the costs and benefits of attracting private investment in public infrastructure and ensure that public goals and the public interest remain in full control.

Bike Gadget of the Day: A Light That'll Live Forever


By Stephanie Garlock, July 23, 2013

 Bike Gadget of the Day: A Light That'll Live Forever 
Bicycle technology today is a lot about the bells and whistles (sometimes literally). Take, for example, the device produced by Dutch company Rydon: a bike light that lasts forever, without you doing anything. No new batteries or bulbs, no complex charging.

Straight out of the box, the Rydon Pixio comes charged with about two years of light. An embedded high-efficiency solar panel continues to charge as you ride. A single hour of sun produces three hours of LED light, and the battery is fully recharged—and good for another 2 years—after 5 sunny days.

The company is currently running a €20,000 Indiegogo campaign to fund its first round of production. A deluxe package, which includes front and rear lights and additional colored rubber sleeves (in brown, pink, and green) runs at €60.

If the light's integrated, anti-theft mounting mechanism truly works, this gadget could be quite a steal: €60 to light your evening commute, forever. It's even guaranteed water-resistant. And just in case you're skeptical, the Rydon team even tested it in a front-loading washing machine:

Armenia's Biggest Celebrities Are Offering People Free Rides Around Yerevan


By Giorgi Lomsadze, July 23, 2013

 Armenia's Biggest Celebrities Are Offering People Free Rides Around Yerevan



A bus boycott entered its third day in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, with hundreds protesting against an increase in public and private transportation fees in the wake of a hike in the price of imported Russian natural gas.

Fares have doubled or, at best, increased by 50 percent, depending on the type of transportation. A bus ride now costs 150 drams, which is just 35 cents, but is pinching wallets in this cash-strapped country. And sapping patience among an urban population which has already shown this year how economic hard-knocks can translate into protest power.

One crowd, gathered on July 23 in front of the office of Mayor Taron Margarian,  accused the Yerevan mayor of having business interests in private bus companies. Six people were detained by police, but later released. Scuffles with police persisted throughout the day. 

Ironically, not a few bus drivers back the boycott, RFE/RL reported. Many Armenian celebrities do, too, taking to the streets and offering ordinary Armenians rides in their cars. The tactic, billed Free Car, is meant to dissuade people from using public transportation and keep the pressure up on the authorities.

Some Armenians feel that they have been duped by officials, who, they claim, delayed the price hike until after the February 18 presidential election, which saw President Serzh Sargsyan re-elected. The government denies any such scheming.

Yet More Evidence of Peak Car


By Emily Badger, July 23, 2013

 Yet More Evidence of Peak Car

The handy thing about "peak car" as a concept is that it can nominally be proven in many ways. You’ve got Peak Driver’s License. Peak Registered Vehicle. Peak Gas Consumption. Peak Miles Traveled. There are peaks per person, per household, per demographic. Then you've got your absolute peaks when you add up all of our vehicles and miles together, as if we were all cruising the highways at the same time.

The point of all of this is that any one number is a little dubious, especially in light of that inconvenient economic recession. But Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has been methodically slicing the question every which way. And the totality of the picture he's built is starting to look pretty convincing.

Earlier this summer, Sivak released data showing that the number of registered light-duty vehicles in America (cars, pickup trucks, SUVs, vans) had peaked per person, per licensed driver and per household in the early to mid 2000s, before the onset of the recession. Because the U.S. population continues to grow, he predicted that the absolute number of vehicles had not yet peaked. But per person and household, we seem willing now to own fewer of the things.

Now he has released a follow-up study [PDF] of how much we drive. As a nation, our total mileage has leveled off (but again, because the population continues to grow, we may surpass this 2006 peak again):

Distance Driven by Light-Duty Vehicles, 1984-2011

More importantly, here is that same data crunched by individual person, vehicle and household, removing the factor of the ever-expanding population:

All of the peaks on that chart occur around 2004, a time that predates both the recession and the housing bust. That means, Sivak suggests, that other factors beyond the temporary state of the economy may be driving these downward trends, from the rise of telecommuting, urbanization and public transit usage to fundamental shifts in the age demographics of drivers. It's possible that miles driven per car alone will tick up as households come to rely on fewer of them, or as more people join car and ride-sharing services (or as we all pile into autonomous cars that never need to park!). But that would be a good sign that we're using vehicles more efficiently.

Put together, these two studies from Sivak suggest that Americans are now driving fewer vehicles than we used to, but also that we're driving each of those vehicles less. "This is an important finding of a double reduction," Sivak writes, "because one does not necessarily lead to the other."

Another big bridge rising for Gold Line Foothill Extension


By Steve Hymon, July 23, 2013

The Gold Line Foothill Extension project is under construction and making some big-time progress on the two dozen bridges that have to be built or modified to extend the Gold Line for 11.5 miles from eastern Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border. Here’s an update from Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority CEO Habib Balian:
Over the last several months, crews have made significant progress on the longest of the two dozen bridges being built or modified as part of the Foothill Extension project – the 700-foot long San Gabriel River Bridge. The new bridge will accommodate the dual-track light rail system, which must cross the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in Irwindale to connect the future Duarte and Irwindale stations.

Just this week, crews completed installation of twenty-one, 100-foot long concrete girders atop the recently completed piers and abutments. Beginning last Friday, each of the 100,000 pound girders was individually placed, a few each day. The work was completed late yesterday, as shown in the progress photos below:


With this important milestone now complete, the bridge structure is on schedule to be completed during the dry season, as is required by the United States Army Corp of Engineers and Los Angeles County Flood Control District. The next step will be to install the bridge deck. If you missed it, here is a link to a story that ran in the Pasadena Star News about the girder delivery through Monrovia and Duarte.

Additionally, this Friday, July 26th, marks the 10th Anniversary of passenger service for the Gold Line between Union Station and Pasadena. The line began operating on July 26, 2003 and now services more than 1.1 million riders every month. In recognition of this milestone for the region, the line’s importance to the corridor cities over the last decade, and to highlight the need for the future segments, the Construction Authority is hosting a 10th Anniversary event at the Del Mar Station in Pasadena this Friday from 9:30-10:30 AM. Everyone is welcome to join us. If you want to attend, please contact Linda Manning at lmanning@foothillextension.org or (626) 305-7026 to RSVP.


130-foot concrete beams transported through Monrovia and Duarte


By Sarah Favot, July 20, 2013
 Two 130-foot concrete beams is transported through Duarte Road in Duarte on Friday, July 19, 2013. The beams will be used to construct the San Gabriel River bridge as part of the Gold Line Extension Project.

MONROVIA - Two flatbed semi-trailer trucks carrying 130-foot concrete beams rolled through Monrovia and Duarte Friday afternoon.

The beams will be used to build the San Gabriel River bridge as part of the Gold Line Foothill Extension into Azuza. The bridge will require a total of 21 beams.

The oversized loads were just one aspect of the steady flow of construction vehicles that came in and out of the area Friday near the future Monrovia Gold Line Station, where construction is under way on the 24-acre maintenance and operation yard.

Coming off the I-210 at Myrtle, the trucks, which were followed by two pick-up trucks with yellow "oversized-load" signs and orange flags sticking out the sides, were sent down West Central Avenue onto Mayflower Avenue turning left onto Duarte Road into Duarte past the City of Hope and entered a construction yard under the 210 overpass.

The rest of the beams will be delivered between 4 and 5:30 a.m. through Tuesday.

Residents and shoppers in the area Friday afternoon said so far the construction near Myrtle Avenue and Duarte Road has been inconvenient, but tolerable. They are hopeful when the extension is completed as planned in 2015, the headaches construction is causing will be worth it.

Rick Nuss, who lives in a cul-de-sac off Buena Vista Street and was picking up lunch at Los Chiles Locos, said the closures have been "a pain in the neck."

"It's hard to see at the moment, but once it's done it'll probably be worth it for mass transit," said Nuss.

George Morrow, who lives in Azuza, said the lane closures on Duarte Road have created some back-ups being narrowed down to one lane.

"But the good news is when it's done it's going to be incredible," he said.

"Nobody likes to sit in traffic or extra traffic and wait, but it's necessary," said Megan Briggs, who was getting her car washed at Nuway Hand Car Wash, adding that she is more likely to take the Gold Line into downtown L.A. since a stop will be in Monrovia.

Alan Stolze, a civil foreman for Foothill Transit Constructors, a Kiewit-Parsons joint venture, the general contractor that has been awarded the extension, said most pedestrians he sees in the area are excited about the completion of the project, but get a little frustrated when the sidewalks or pathways are closed.

"If you go from Point A to Point B every single day and one day the road is blocked you're like, 'Oh, no,'" said Stolze.

Protestors question regional impact and safety of proposed 710 tunnel


 Former Assemblymember Anthony Portantino addresses the crowd | Photos by Alfred Dicioco

 By Alfred Dicioco, July 23, 2013

Local residents and lawmakers protested Saturday in Pasadena closing the 710 Freeway gap between the 10 and 210 freeways with a tunnel. While council members from Alhambra, San Gabriel, Monterey Park, Rosemead, and San Marino support the tunnel alternative, the No 710 Action Committee organized the morning rally to discuss the potentially negative impacts a tunnel could have on the environment and public safety.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard emphasized that a tunnel would impact more than just cities along the proposed tunnel routes. “This is not an acute local issue. This is a regional issue,” Bogaard said. “Eric Garcetti voted ‘No’ on the tunnel when he was on the L.A. City Council.”

A tunnel is one of five alternatives on Metro's list of ways to close the freeway gap. Others include transit services and ride sharing, a light-rail line, rapid bus route, and "no-build" alternatives. South Pasadena Mayor Dr. Richard Schneider — who rode to the rally on a bike — advocated for a transit alternative, arguing that better transit management would improve signal and intersection programs and promote the use of carpool and transit services. 

The protest was spurred by a July 13 accident during which an oil tanker overturned and caught fire inside a tunnel interchange on the 5 and 2 freeways. The accident caused major structural damage to the tunnel and lanes on the 5 Freeway had to be closed for cleanup. Members of the No 710 Action Committee used the accident as an example of the possible dangers of a tunnel, and according to La Crescenta resident and No 710 Action Committee spokesperson Susan Bolan, the accident “completely influenced” her thinking.

Metro has not officially ruled out banning trucks in the tunnel but according to their SR-710 FAQ series, trucks comprise only three percent of the vehicles north of the 10 Freeway.
Alhambra council members hosted "710 Day" on July 10 to declare their support for the 710 tunnel alternative. Although an environmental study of the extension alternatives is not due until Spring 2014, Alhambra council members believe that the tunnel is the safest and most environmentally friendly option for completing the 710.

“For me, it’s very important because it’s an environmental issue. If you read the news, Southern California, Los Angeles specifically, is the number one city in the country, in the entire nation, if you rank it in terms of contamination,” Councilman Luis Ayala said during a June 10 City Council meeting. "This is something that is going to impact most likely our generation, if we see this through. Our kids now living near this freeway are the ones being impacted the most.”

But La Canada Flintridge Mayor Laura Olhasso argued Saturday that a larger regional solution is needed. "I have a lot of sympathy for the residents of Alhambra," Olhasso said. "They need a solution, they really do. But their solution can't be one that means more congestion, more noise, more air pollution to all the other communities in the area."

Comments to the article:

Metro's claim that trucks compose only 3% of the vehicles on the 710 north of the 10 is misleading and revolves around semantics. Their definition of trucks in this case is a truck hauling a cargo container taken directly from a ship and loaded onto the truck. They call everything else a "local delivery". This category includes all the trucks that have picked up their cargo at warehouses and other distribution points and they may be headed for any destination in the county or the country for that matter. Take a look around next time you are on the 5 or the 210 for that matter. Most of the trucks that clog our freeways and threaten our safety daily are what Metro would categorize as "local deliveries". I don't know about you, but these are the trucks that I am concerned about.


From Sylvia Plummer, July 23, 2013

1. Metro Board Meeting

Thursday, July 25   --   
 9:30 am

What is on the agenda?

Item # 60:  RECEIVE response to Najarian Motion regarding Caltrans and MTA’s roles and responsibilities as it relates to the 710 North EIR/EIS.

(Metro staff has been directed to provide the Metro Board an accounting of Metro's (MTA) role and responsibilities as a Caltrans partner in the Alternative Study and any future analysis for the SR-710 Gap Closure Project.)

We need people to speak on agenda item #60.  You can use any of the Six Points under number 3 below to speak on this issue.

Metro Headquarters
One Gateway Plaza (corner of Cesar Chavez Ave. and Vignes St.)
Metro Board Room,  3rd Floor 
Los Angeles, CA  90012

Want to carpool?  Email me with your name, telephone # and where you live.

There is parking under the Metro Headquarters Building, $6.00. (Enter on Vignes St.)
The Gold Line is a great option, since the end of the line is next door to Metro's building.
(behind Union Station)

Meet us outside the Metro Board Room at 9:20 am

2.  Unable to attend the Metro Board Meeting?

We need everyone to email the Metro Board.  Let's get this tunnel dropped now!

Use Six Talking Points under number 3 (below) for your email to the Metro Board.  You can use one or combine as many as you want.

Email your comments to the Metro Board Secretary at:

Michelle Jackson:   boardsecretary@metro.net

Be sure to reference agenda item #60, July 25th, 2013 Metro Board Meeting, and ask that your email be distributed to all Metro Board members.

Also cc a copy to:  Brian Kelly, Secretary, California State Transportation Agency: contact.us@CalSTA.ca.gov
Then in a separate email send the same letter to the California Transportation Commission (CTC):
Ask that your email be distributed to all members of the California Transportation Commission and be sure to mention that your letter was also sent to the Los Angeles Metro Board Directors and to Brian Kelly.

3.  Six Points

Use any combination of the six points below in your emails to the Metro Board.

Point #1
Is there a Memo of Understanding (MOU) between Caltrans and Metro for the SR-710 North project? 

Metro has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Caltrans for the I-10/110 Express Lanes and the High Desert Corridor.   But, is there one for the SR-710 North project?

Point #2
Metro hired CH2M Hill to prepare the EIR and then the Metro Board authorized the contract.  
If the Metro Board approved CH2M Hill's contract, why isn't the board approving steps along the way such as reducing and/or choosing the number of alternatives? Why is this being delegated to staff?  
Legally, the Metro Board is free to determine now that it doesn't want the tunnel option.  

Point #3
If and when a lawsuit is filed against the SR-710 project, which agency would be liable and defend the suit?  This is the most controversial project in Metro's Long Range Transportation Plan.
(Any Metro board member should be concerned about this because the agency they represent and should be protecting, may be exposing itself tremendously with the current loose arrangement.)
Point #4
If Metro is the responsible agency, what is Doug Failing and the staff telling the Board if Caltran's does not agree on a final preferred alternative?  Will Metro proceed to revise the EIR portion?   Or is it a foregone conclusion that the two agencies will choose the tunnel option.
Point #5
The Metro Board could also determine that while it does not want to preclude the tunnel, it cannot be pursued as a feasible alternative until its financial feasibility is established, which staff has not adequately determined.  Take into consideration  the FHWA policy from the 1990's that required showing of financial feasibility before considering any future funding for the SR-710 North project.  So a motion by the Metro Board could alternatively call for deleting the tunnel, or deferring EIR prep until it's financing is assured.

Legally, the Metro Board is free to determine now that it doesn't want the tunnel option, based on the overwhelming opposition from the cities & communities that are directly affected by the negative environmental impacts. (Los Angeles, Highland Park, El Sereno, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, Garvanza, Tujunga, Pasadena, La Canada, La Crescenta, Glendale, Alhambra, etc)
 Point #6

The tunnel isn't a solution. This outdated, historically controversial construction project guarantees to deliver more congestion.  The tunnel's high tolls will ensure that the tunnel remains empty and local streets jammed.

The tunnel has serious safety, health and environmental risks to drivers and surrounding communities.

The sky high price tag to build the tunnel threatens other transportation priorities. We will waste billions on a six mile project that doesn't fix the problem and may even worsen it.

This is the most controversial project in Metro's Long Range Transportation Plan.
Legally, the Metro Board is free to determine now that it doesn't want the tunnel option.  
By dropping the Tunnel option, Metro can probably complete all the remaining alternatives with the available Measure R funds.

Think you can’t afford an EV? Think again


By Claire Thompson, July 22, 2013

 You could be as happy as this guy.

 You could be as happy as this guy.

It’s easy to see the electric car as a symbol of the kind of offbeat elitism often associated with eco-conscious living — the rich man’s veggie oil-powered VW bus, if you will. But that could change as the industry starts going Model T on EVs, making them more affordable for the masses. Automakers are now offering an array of discount leases and perks that, when combined with government tax incentives, make EV ownership accessible for a much broader segment of the population.

Owning an electric vehicle automatically slashes drivers’ fuel costs by as much as 80 percent. But it’s the up-front cash that presents a barrier to most prospective buyers, not to mention the lack of widespread charging infrastructure. Of course, growing ranks of EV drivers would spur the construction of more charging stations and attract still more electric converts. But with so few choices on the market, none of them wildly affordable, it’s hard to get that cycle started.
Until now. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Bronson Beisel, 46, says he was looking last fall for an alternative to driving his gas-guzzling Ford Expedition sport utility around suburban Atlanta, when he saw a discounted lease offer for an all-electric Nissan Leaf. With $1,000 down, Mr. Beisel says he got a two-year lease for total out-of-pocket payments of $7,009, a deal that reflects a $7,500 federal tax credit.

As a resident of Georgia, Mr. Beisel is also eligible for a $5,000 subsidy from the state government. Now, he says, his out-of-pocket costs for 24 months in the Leaf are just over $2,000. Factor in the $200 a month he reckons he isn’t paying for gasoline to fill up his hulking SUV, and Mr. Beisel says “suddenly the car puts $2,000 in my pocket.”
Beisel also got a charging station installed at his house for no up-front cost. He’s spending less than $15 a month so far for the electricity needed to power the Leaf. That means that, including charging costs, he’s paying no more than $1,180 a year to drive his EV around town. Compare that to the $9,000 per year it costs to own and operate a typical gas-powered car.

Beisel compared the deal to “a two-year test drive, free.” Another Leaf driver is taking that approach literally:
Matt Brooks, a software engineer in Rochester, N.Y., says he decided to replace a hybrid Prius with a Leaf because the lease was so cheap. He’s paying $239 a month for 24 months with no money down. Mr. Brooks says he likes the car, but doesn’t expect to buy it when the lease is done. Used Leafs are selling below the purchase price written into his lease, he says.
Manufacturers are under pressure to comply with state regulations like California’s, which requires that by 2018, 4.5 percent of cars sold in the state be zero-emission vehicles; by 2025, 15 percent. Only the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S sold more than 1,000 cars during the first quarter this year. But discount leases like the ones Brooks and Beisel have could help those numbers rapidly accelerate.

In an effort to ramp up production and lower costs, Nissan is increasingly manufacturing the Leaf and its pricey battery packs at factories in Tennessee instead of in Japan (creating American jobs in the process). This helped drop the 2013 Leaf’s starting price ($28,800) by $6,400 compared to last year’s model.

Of course, the one major drawback of EVs is that they’re primarily city cars because most roads still lack charging stations. That’s why many EV owners still keep a gas guzzler around for out-of-town trips. But one automaker has a solution to that problem: As part of the $32,500-plus cost of its new 500e electric, Fiat USA offers 12 days a year of free access to a gas-powered rental car. So unless you’re planning a truly epic road trip, you don’t need to own a second car in order to hit the highway.

And hey, if a guy with a name as bro-y as Bronson Beisel, not to mention a veteran New York cabbie, can proudly pilot an electric car, they’re clearly not just for highfalutin hippies anymore.

2013 Consultant Roundtable: 8 Top Execs Talk Transit Trends


By Richard Amodei, Sr. VP/Northeast Regional Manager, Transportaton & Infrastructure Division STV Inc., July 20, 2013

What global trends could make their way to the U.S. or perhaps grow in popularity?
One of the most impressive global trends — which, hopefully, will take root in the U.S. — is the level of investment other nations have been making in their infrastructure. Europe invests 5% of gross domestic product (GDP) in its infrastructure, and China invests 9%. By contrast in the U.S., total public spending on infrastructure has declined over the past four decades and now stands at 2.4% of GDP. Increased pressure on the U.S. to address its aging infrastructure and maintain its global competitiveness should demand a comprehensive strategy to reverse course — the expiration of MAP-21 in 2014 coupled with the projected bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund by 2015 may force this issue.

Public-private partnerships (P3) have had a lengthy and successful history, internationally, so they may be the trend that has commanded the most attention, not only in our industry, but also among elected officials and policymakers at every level of government. While Europe leads the infrastructure P3 market, you can look much closer to home for a remarkable commitment to and track record on P3 infrastructure projects. The Canadian federal and local governments have long recognized the merits of well-structured P3s, having put in place a federal program dedicated to improving the delivery of public infrastructure and achieving better value by increasing the effective use of P3s. From the Canada Line in British Columbia to the Confederation Bridge linking New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, P3s have been playing an important role in meeting public infrastructure needs across Canada.

In Ontario, which has been a leader on P3s, the City of Ottawa is building a new light rail transit line as part of an ambitious plan to develop a world-class transportation system. STV, in a joint venture, provided preliminary engineering and continues to support this $2.1 billion design-build-maintain-finance project with project management and construction administration. And, Canada has more P3 projects in the pipeline.

Comparatively speaking, use of P3s in the U.S. is still in its infancy. But, as federal, state and local governments struggle under mounting deficits that have limited their ability to improve aging and deteriorating roads, bridges and airports, we will likely see an increase in the viability and use of P3s.

Have you seen growth in design-build? If so, how will it impact your business?
Many states have passed laws permitting design-build as an option for some or all types of design and construction, and there’s no question that the actual use of design-build has increased substantially over the past 10 or so years. Even states that have more recently enacted design-build laws have started to invoke them to deliver projects faster and more efficiently. New York State is a great example. Since passing legislation in 2011 to allow design-build for certain infrastructure projects, New York has already awarded one of the largest design-build contracts ever for the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, and preliminary work on the project is getting underway.

From an industry perspective, this growing trend toward design-build seems to bode well on a number of fronts, beginning with the ability of design-build to get projects off the ground faster. In addition, the greater focus of design-build on communication efficiencies and collaboration of team members throughout the project schedule may have a spillover effect by fostering best industry practices that can be applied beyond design-build to other methods of project delivery. On a more micro-level, for design firms like STV, the design-build approach accelerates and increases opportunities nationwide and widens our pool of potential clients to include the contractor community.

What is your company’s greatest challenge?
In our industry, business relationships are a key component to success. Considerable effort goes into forming and cultivating good, productive relationships with new and existing clients and teaming partners and, more often than not, those relationships have been years in the making. The value and importance of those relationships, however, become that much more apparent when viewed in the context of the ‘Silver Tsunami,’ or the aging workforce, as leaders within our firms approach retirement age. With those impending retirements, any firm — including STV — has to consider how best to capture critical business, technical, operational and interpersonal knowledge before it is lost. When it comes to interpersonal knowledge, the question is, how do you pass on a relationship? This is a significant challenge.

The aging workforce and knowledge transfer issues implicate still another challenge: finding enough talent to meet the growing demand for mid-career level technical professionals in certain specialized areas. At STV, we have been addressing this challenge by taking a multifaceted approach that involves intelligently investing in our people through training and mentoring programs. We are also looking to the horizon for the skill sets that will be in demand, so we can best direct our training and recruitment efforts to keep pace with, and get ahead of, that demand.

Reports can only help public transit's case


By Alex Roman, July 17, 2013

A new National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) study solidifies what the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Transit Savings Report has been telling us for years now: riding public transportation can save users money.

The new report, “Driving Commuter Choice in America, Expanding Transportation Choices Can Reduce Congestion, Save Money and Cut Pollution,” found that if commuters integrate carpooling, public transit and telecommuting into their daily commutes, they could save more than $1,800 annually and reduce their total vehicle miles traveled by 10% to 50%.

This falls in line with APTA’s quarterly Transit Savings Report, however, APTA’s predicted cost savings is much higher — $816 a month, $9,795 annually, as of May 31 — because it factors in the cost of fuel and parking amongst other factors.

 “All across the country, a shift is taking place,” said Rob Perks, transportation state campaign director for NRDC in a press release. “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.”

The NRDC’s report found that 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.

Specifically to transit, the report found that increasing transit round-trip work commutes by four round trips each month can reduce driving costs by 14% to 26%.

NRDC’s report also recommends policy solutions to invest in expanded transportation choices, including building more compact, walkable transit-oriented neighborhoods and better transportation solutions.

The findings of these two studies — that public transit is a key alternative for the traveling public — can only help the industry’s case with politicians when it comes time for a new transportation authorization bill. With the strain on federal funds continuing to be an issue, however, these studies can perhaps more importantly help the industry enforce its case when it comes to referendums at the state and local levels, which have found tremendous success over the last several years.

In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "From tee to green: SEPTA service an ace for U.S. Open spectators."

Muni seeks to bring order to shuttle bus chaos


By Michael Cabanatuan, July 19, 2013

 Commuters in San Francisco board a private shuttle bus going to the Google campus in Mountain View in October.

Muni wants to share 100 of its stops with the growing swarm of private commuter shuttles, give priority to its own buses and charge a fee to the private operators in an effort to impose some order on the out-of-control industry.

The Municipal Transportation Agency is proposing an 18-month test of a shuttle policy designed to support the private buses, which transport as many as 35,000 workers a day, mostly to and from tech companies in Silicon Valley, while reducing conflicts with Muni buses and establishing guidelines to help the private and public buses get along.

"We're trying to be balanced," said Carli Paine, project manager. "This is our best approach. It provides for operation of the shuttles and recognizes their benefits while minimizing the impacts on Muni."

The framework of the plan, which is still being developed, will be presented to a committee of the MTA Board of Directors on Friday.

Many of the private shuttles are chartered by big-name tech firms including Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple, Genentech, Intuit and eBay. San Francisco schools and other businesses, including UCSF, Academy of Arts University, Zynga and Gap also run shuttles as does the Presidio. All would be covered by the policy.

City law restricts use of Muni stops to the transit agency's buses and railcars but allows the Municipal Transportation Agency to establish "stands" as needed. The agency's approach so far has been a combination of looking the other way, trying to work out problems with shuttle operators and issuing citations.

Complaints increase

But as the number of shuttles has boomed in recent years, so have complaints about shuttles forcing Muni buses to disgorge passengers in the middle of streets, blocking crosswalks, backing up traffic, traveling on restricted streets and interfering with bicycles using bike lanes. Citations have been issued, Paine said, but because there's no ordinance governing shuttles, they're lumped in with all other tickets for illegal use of Muni stops, and it's difficult to tell how many were issued to shuttles.
"We've been dealing with it on a complaint basis and with ad hoc, site-by-site solutions," she said. "That's not going to continue to work for us, and it doesn't create a consistent policy for the shuttle providers."

Google employees wait for a private shuttle bus to take them from San Francisco to the company's Mountain View campus in June. Muni plans to test a policy that would bring order to shuttle operations.

The agency's test plan would:

-- Create a network of about 100 Muni stops suitable for sharing with private shuttle buses.

-- Establish guidelines giving Muni buses priority, limiting the amount of time at stops, and requiring shuttles to pull to the front of the stop.

-- Require shuttles to display an identifying placard.

-- Prohibit shuttles without permits from using Muni stops.

-- Step up enforcement, issuing citations to shuttles without permits or using unauthorized Muni stops.

-- Require operators, some of whom have been reluctant, to share with the MTA data including the number of passengers, routes and boarding locations.

-- Charge operators a still-undetermined fee based on covering the costs of the program and helping to maintain the stops.

The MTA has been working with some of the companies that operate shuttles, Paine said, and they've been briefed on the agency's plans.

Genentech's response

"We look forward to working with SFMTA to create a comprehensive program that allows Genentech to continue providing practical transportation solutions for our employees that help to limit the number of cars on the road and reduce CO2 emissions," said a Genentech spokeswoman, Lisa Slater.
Representatives of Google, which operates the most shuttles in San Francisco, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. Paine said some of the shuttle providers' concerns included controlling the costs of the program, perhaps by using technology, avoiding unnecessary bureaucracy and increasing the number of shared stops.

Paine said the agency is willing to consider more stops - shuttles now use about 250 of Muni's 2,500 stops, she said - and will continue to work with shuttle operators on a plan that will allow the private buses to coexist with public transportation.

Details of the 18-month test project, including fees, are expected to be worked out this summer, then presented to the MTA board and the Board of Supervisors for approval, possibly this fall, with the goal of starting the program in early 2014.

TTC unveils internal whistleblower program to attack theft and fraud


ByTess Kalinowski, July 22, 2013

Making the better way bettter
Carlos Osorio/Torstar Network
The TTC's new whistleblower program aims to root out 'the few bad apples that do real and serious harm to our reputation and the reputation of all public servants,' wrote CEO Andy Byford in a memo to TTC board members.

TORONTO — The TTC is trying to root out internal fraud and theft through the launch of a new whistleblower program that will allow its 13,000 employees to anonymously report unethical or illegal behaviour by co-workers or TTC contractors. 

Transit workers will be notified today of the new $33,000 "Integrity" program whereby they can write, phone or email their suspicions of wrongdoing to ClearView Strategic Partners, a Toronto consultant group, to trigger an investigation. 

"The $33,000 cost is a justified expense if it means preventing or detecting fraud and theft, as well as rooting out the few bad apples that do real and serious harm to our reputation and the reputation of all public servants, " wrote CEO Andy Byford in a memo to TTC board members. 

The Integrity initiative takes place as the TTC strengthens its other whistleblower and fraud/theft policies, he said. 

Spokesman Brad Ross denied the impetus for the new program was the January firing of eight transit enforcement officers. Five of them were arrested for allegedly writing fake tickets to homeless people to make it appear they were working when they weren't really on the job. 

But, he said, "We've had occasion where employees have breached codes of conduct, doing things with contractors that they ought not to do. There have been instances where we catch these and the system works but we think there may be more and we want to get to them more quickly, get better information so investigations can be wrapped up more quickly." 

In June 2011, a TTC manager, his wife and son, as well as the owner of IPAC Paving were charged in connection with an alleged fake invoice and paving scheme at TTC bus stations. Other incidents have involved fare theft by a bus driver and subway collector. 

The Integrity program is similar to the Toronto auditor-general's Fraud and Waste hotline that allows employees and the public to report misuse of city resources. The difference, said Ross, is that the TTC is using a third party to act as a reporting agent. 

"We are entrusted with $1.5 billion every year, so we have a responsibility and a duty to protect the taxpayers' money, " he said. 

The Integrity initiative is not designed for public use. The TTC's public complaints process, its internal grievance procedures and human rights processes remain unchanged, according to Byford's memo.

Both he and Ross said they expect the program will boost TTC employee morale. 

"When these news stories go public, that hurts everybody's reputation. It paints everybody with the same brush, " said Ross. "If we can get to the cases more quickly and nip them in the bud and have employees bring these cases to light, it improves the organization's reputation." 

Under its contract with ClearView, the TTC is prohibited from knowing the identity of employees who report their suspicions. The employee simply goes on the website, logs in with a password and makes a report. They can also write or call a tip line. 

The advantage of the email system is that investigators can follow up with specific questions, said Ross. 

TTC workers' union president Bob Kinnear could not be reached on Sunday. 

Transit board member, Councillor Maria Augimeri (Ward 9 York Centre), who opposed the TTC's contracting out of bus-cleaning jobs, said she "very cautiously" supports the policy — on paper.