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, August 6, 2013

Long Beach builds 'Great Wall of Mulch' to block road noise, pollution


By Tony Barboza, August 6, 2013

Long Beach has erected a new fortification in the battle against freeway noise and air pollution, and it’s decidedly low-tech.

It’s called “The Great Wall of Mulch.”

City officials gathered Tuesday to top off a 12-foot-high barrier of shredded tree clippings held together by two chain link fences -- a low-cost structure designed to dampen the sound and block the sight of diesel trucks from the heavily traveled Terminal Island Freeway.

“This is not just going to be good for sound pollution, it’s not just good for visual blight, but it’s the first sound wall that I know of that’s also going to improve air quality,” said City Councilman James Johnson as he hopped aboard a cherry picker with Mayor Bob Foster to dump a final, golden bucketful of mulch atop the 3-foot wide wall.

While more traditional concrete sound walls shield many homes from the freeway, there was nothing but a chain link fence between the complex of sports fields at West Long Beach’s Hudson Park and the trucks that serve the nation’s largest port complex.

Johnson said the city came up with the idea of using mulch from the its tree-trimming operations because it was more visually pleasing, graffiti-proof and practically free.

The city plans to plant trees and shrubs along the wall to absorb some air pollutants, such as the fine particulates in diesel exhaust. Dirty air is a long-running health concern in the neighborhood west of the 710 Freeway, which suffers from some of the worst air quality in the nation because of its proximity to port operations and has higher rates of asthma and respiratory illness.

For now, city officials are testing the wall on a 600-foot stretch of the freeway that fronts the popular park. The wall could be extended by thousands feet to protect nearby schools and ball fields if it proves effective at blocking the sound, sight and air pollution from thousands of diesel trucks that rumble by each day.

That would be welcome news to Rob Aho, a physical education teacher at Elizabeth Hudson K-8 School who takes his classes to exercise and play soccer at Hudson Park, just south of the school.
“You get the rubber smell if they slam on the brakes too much, you get the exhaust smell and you get the noise, which is insane,” he said. “My concern, of course, is the safety of my kids.”

The Port of Long Beach is funding the $150,000 demonstration project, mostly to pay for the green-colored chain-link fencing that holds in the mulch like a giant cage. The port also will conduct testing to gauge how well the wall blocks sound and how well the mulch holds up after it starts to settle and decompose.

The wall of mulch sits across the freeway from a 153-acre site slated for the construction of the Southern California International Gateway — a $500-million railyard that was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in May. Long Beach city officials, environmentalists and community groups fiercely oppose the project on the grounds that it will send polluted air into low-income neighborhoods, schools and parks.

Man struck and killed by Red Line train near Pershing Square station


By Ari Bloomekatz, August 6, 2013

A man died Tuesday afternoon after he was struck by a Metro Red Line train, authorities said.

The man "was struck or ran over by the train" about 3 p.m. at the Pershing Square station, said Erik Scott of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The man, who was pronounced dead on scene, was not identified except for his age of about 35.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is investigating the incident.

It was not immediately clear what sorts of delays were caused by the death on the tracks.

Head back to school with Safe Routes, School Pools and Metro


By Anna Chen, August 6, 2013

 Photo: East Bay Bicycle Coalition via Flickr Creative Commons

Do your kids walk or ride their bikes to school?

More than 50% of kids in Los Angeles County are driven to school in private vehicles, despite the fact that the majority of students live within 2 miles of their schools. Parents have cited different reasons for why they chose driving over other options, one being traffic safety: They just don’t think it’s safe for their children to walk or bike to school. However, walking and bicycling are an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle, and being able to start their day with a little physical activity greatly benefits children in many ways.

With this in mind, Metro has recently launched the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Pilot Program that will help schools, parents and students develop safe and active travel options. Ten schools within L.A. County have been selected to participate in this SRTS Pilot Program, and Metro is planning workshops and activities with the chosen schools and local communities. SRTS programs exist throughout the nation, and individual programs can be tailored to meet the specific needs of a school, community or city.

As part of the program, Metro will help train walk leaders and provide opportunities for kids to learn about pedestrian, bicycle and public transit safety. Metro will also work to make walking and biking to school a positive experience for kids by helping the schools implement Walk/Bike to School Days, hold community and school events and work with schools to develop pedestrian and bicycle travel plans.

The end goal of SRTS is to create an environment where children can get active while getting to school safely. In addition, by encouraging kids to walk or bike to school, SRTS hopes to reduce congestion related to school travel, which will also benefit traffic and air quality in local neighborhoods.

The pilot program is part of a larger effort by Metro, in partnership with the Southern California Association of Governments, to develop a Countywide Safe Routes to School Strategic Plan, which will identify strategies to help cities and local communities establish new SRTS programs. In places where these programs already exist, the strategic plan explores how existing SRTS programs can be sustained and enhanced. For more information, visit metro.net/srts.

If driving is still the best travel option, try carpooling. Metro School Pool alleviates traffic at schools by providing a free, voluntary and confidential service that helps parents find carpooling partners at participating elementary, middle and high school campuses throughout Los Angeles County. It’s easy to sign up. Just fill out a Metro School Pool Enrollment Form. For schools not currently in the program but interested in joining, there’s the Metro School Pool Interest Form to help them get started.

Then there’s the transit option. K – 12 students can acquire a Student TAP Card to ride Metro to school at reduced rates. Frequent riders will benefit from the Student 30-day Pass. And getting a Student TAP Card is free!

Beverly Hills City Council To Discuss Metro Westside Subway Extension Permits Today


By Matt Lopez, August 6, 2013

Before the Beverly Hills City Council must decide on what, if any, permit exemptions to grant Metro for its Westside Subway Extension construction work, the council today at its study session will examine its process for reviewing and approving Metro permit requests.

The discussion comes at the request of Mayor John Mirisch and will be discussed at the 2:30 p.m. City Council study session at City Hall.

The discussion is not to approve any permits, as Metro will not be presenting any yet. Instead, the discussion will simply center on what the City’s current process is for reviewing and approving Metro permit requests and whether that should be altered.

Metro will be coming to the City Council at a future meeting for several permit exemptions that will allow Metro to complete the project by its intended goal of 2023. Included in the exemptions needed by Metro are permits that allow for utility relocation, work during peak rush hours, overnight and through holidays for “Phase 1″ of the Westside Subway Extension, which includes the Wilshire Blvd/La Cienega Blvd. station stop.

State law allows Metro to use the public right of way for exploratory work, subject to conditions agreed upon by the City and Metro. If the City does not agree to the conditions, the matter is decided by the Supreme Court.

The Cars of the Future Will Come With Advertising


By Rebecca Greenfield, August 6, 2013

 The Cars of the Future Will Come With Advertising

With the increase in smart car apps to track gas usage and driving habits, it was only a matter of time before one of these apps used that tracking for somewhat invasive advertising. Dash Labs is the latest start-up to take advantage of the on-board diagnostics systems required in all cars made after 1996. Their Dash reader plugs into the 16-pin connector to the car's electronics that is generally used by mechanics and inspectors to figure out why the engine light is on. Their reader, though, connects to a smartphone app that they bill as "Fitbit for your car," diagnosing car problems and unsafe driving habits. There all sorts of benefits  — Dash won an Energy Department contest for its potential to improve vehicle safety and gas efficiency — but the normal gravitational pull of commercial app development has pushed the company to think about how all the data it collects can be used to serve ads.

So far, Dash Labs has siphoned 15 million data points, just from a "small number of closed beta participants," according to Advertising Age's Kate Kaye. "Each time a Dash user starts her car, the app begins harvesting data that can be transferred from the device to her phone via Bluetooth or  WiFi connections," she explains. Location data, for example, can then be used by gas stations or other retailers to push out relevant ads. Oh, you drive by that Taco Bell every day, maybe you want to try a Doritos Loco taco? Or a billboard network might use the data to improve its road-side ads, explained Dash Labs CEO Jamyn Edis. Most likely, Dash will sell these data sets to other car related companies, like Experian or Equifax, to use for their advertising.

This app joins a growing number of Internet companies tracking our offline behavior for advertising purposes. Facebook has started incorporating our drug store data for more relevant sponsored posts; department stores tap into our WiFi connections to track our in-store shopping habits. In theory, it's not much different than the browser cookies following us around the Internet, making sure those Piperlime ads show up on every website we visit. But, the reality can be jarring because of expectations. Location tracking in particular can feel spooky. Progressive, which has a similar smart-car app, specifically doesn't incorporate GPS into its app.

Location, it seems, isn't going away, with Foursquare's founder and CEO, Dennis Crowley, acting as one of the advisers for Dash. So, get ready for pop-up notifications for that drug store you pass on your way home, or for billboards that know exactly what you want. Of course, like all the offline data collected and sold today, the thing safeguarding privacy is that "the data Dash provides would be aggregated without including personally-identifiable information unless a user opts-in to exchange personal data for more targeted offers," notes Kaye. Dash may not know who you are, it just feels that way.

When your parking grows up: What curb spaces can become


By Alyse Nelson, August 6, 2013

This is part 6 of a Sightline series on parking requirements. Read parts 1, 2, 3, and 4, and 5.

In 2007, I saw this in a residential neighborhood near central Copenhagen:
Alyse Nelson
A rack for 10 bicycles had grown where an on-street car parking space had been. In Copenhagen, where 50 percent of residents commute by bike, on-street bicycle parking was a sensible idea — fit 10 bikes where one car could go, thus freeing up the sidewalk from a cluster of parked cycles.
Fast-forward several years, and Copenhagen parking has grown up to bigger and pinker things:
Mikael Colville-Andersen
This car-shaped storage unit provides secure, rainproof space for four cargo bicycles in a space equivalent to 1.5 vehicle parking spots.

On-street parking takes up a lot of space in North American cities: 5 to 8 percent of all urban land, according to UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup. If parking reforms — like pricing on-street spaces — reduce the need for curb parking in our cities, what will we do with all that extra space?

As it turns out, Northwestern cities are already trying out some exciting new ideas. In this article, we’ll look at four things parking can grow up to become: bike corrals, International PARK(ing) Day, parklets, and café seating.

In Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, this car-shaped bicycle rack creatively reminds people just how many cycles can fit in a space formerly used to park one car:
Alyse Nelson
According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, business owners can request an on-street bicycle rack out front, and the city will install one if warranted.
Alyse Nelson
Since 2010, San Francisco has created more than 300 bicycle parking spaces — in racks known as bike corrals — in place of 30 car parking spots. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency [PDF] will consider installing a bike corral in places where demand for bicycle parking exceeds available space on the sidewalk. The MTA prefers to place corrals near intersections, which helps improve sight lines for all road users.
Portland has nearly 100 bicycle corrals throughout the city:
Alyse Nelson
Alyse Nelson
Streetfilms, an organization with a mission to showcase smart urban planning solutions on film, visited Portland to learn about bicycle corrals:

Streetfilms spoke with Portland Department of Transportation’s Greg Raisman about the appeal of on-street bicycle corrals. “There’s something that’s quite empowering about parking your bicycle on the asphalt. It’s a real equalizer,” he said. “It feels like … when I’m riding my bicycle or I’m driving my car, my community and my city respects me equally.”

On-street bicycle parking is just the beginning. With streets making up a fifth to a third of the urban land area (for example, 27 percent in Seattle, 25 percent in San Francisco, and 20 percent in Portland), cities have implemented a host of creative ways to use on-street parking spaces for other purposes.

One idea that has spread around the globe is PARK(ing) Day, an annual event in September in which curb parking spaces are transformed into people places for a day. It all started in San Francisco in 2005, when a design firm called Rebar turned a single on-street parking space into a temporary public park with sod, a bench, and a tree.

Since then, San Francisco’s PARK(ing) Days have included places to kick back and listen to tunes:
And kick a ball:
Steve Rhodes
Card games, belly dancing, live cello music — these have all been part of PARK(ing) Day in San Francisco, as captured in a Streetfilms video.

Rebar decided to share its idea with the world, creating a free, downloadable PARK(ing) Day Manual [PDF] as well as graphics and posters for participants to use and a Google Earth map to track all PARK(ing) Day events.

In 2011, the event grew to nearly 1,000 PARK(ing) Day parks in 162 cities worldwide. Participants have adapted the design strategy to include temporary art exhibits, bicycle repair stations, and urban agriculture plots, such as this one in Seattle:
Jeanine Anderson
PARK(ing) Day 2010 brought chickens to Seattle’s streets:
Seattle Department of Transportation
An on-street café was part of PARK(ing) Day in Portland:
Elly Blue
The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to “call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!” The temporary parks help people see the power of public spaces and imagine a future where less space is dedicated to the private automobile.
The success of PARK(ing) Day has generated enthusiasm for more permanent installations in parking spots. In 2010, San Francisco became the first city in the world to create “parklets” — mini urban parks that typically take up a couple of on-street parking spaces. Platforms raise the parklets to the level of the curb, ensuring ADA accessibility; other features include landscaping, benches, tables and chairs, and bicycle racks.

This San Francisco parklet has café tables:
Michael Pucci of Pucci Residential Design
This one in the Mission District is hosted by three businesses: Revolution Café, Escape From New York Pizza, and Loló Restaurant:
SF Planning
This parklet on Noriega Street in the Outer Sunset neighborhood is hosted by Devil’s Teeth Baking Company:
SF Planning
This parklet on 9th Avenue near Golden Gate Park is hosted by Arizmendi Bakery:
SF Planning
SF Planning
Parking spaces at Haight Street Market in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood have grown this parklet:
SF Planning
The city accepts applications for parklets once a year. Selected proposals go through a vetting process that includes public noticing and construction review. Parklets are built, insured, and maintained by private property owners but must be open to the public and subject to city inspection.

Even though parklets take up on-street parking spaces, they are placed in neighborhoods that are busy with pedestrian and bicycle traffic. That helps businesses see them as a boon. According to Andres Power of the San Francisco Pavement to Parks Program, “it’s the businesses that are clamoring for this most. There’s a nexus that helps us move beyond the concern over parking loss.”

Three years after the program’s inception, 40 parklets have grown in San Francisco, with 40 more in the planning and permitting stages.

Other cities are following suit. Vancouver has a pilot parklet program in place to turn streets into community gathering places. The city’s first parklet, Parallel Park, was built in 2011 in the East Vancouver neighborhood of Mount Pleasant:
Joming Lau
The parklet takes the place of two parking spaces and includes a wooden deck, bench seating, and tables. Parallel Park was voted “Best Place to Park Your Butt for Free” by the city’s Georgia Straight newspaper, and it even has its own Facebook page.

VIVA Vancouver, the city program in charge of the parklet program, pitched the idea to business improvement districts across Vancouver. The South Hill Business Association submitted a proposal for the Hot Tubs Parklet, which opened in September 2012:
Paul Krueger
In Portland, a pilot program called Street Seats grew three parklets in 2012. This one, outside Wafu noodle bar, was the first:
 Sarah Figliozzi

Unlike the parklet programs in San Francisco, Vancouver, and Seattle, which require that the converted parking spaces remain open to the public, the Street Seats pilot program built only private café seating that business owners restricted to their own customers.

The 2013 program allows public Street Seats sites and accepts applications from any businesses, neighborhood associations, and nonprofit groups.

Seattle is in the process of creating a parklet pilot program through its department of transportation. Although the exact locations have yet to be announced, several parklets are being planned for Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Belltown, and Chinatown/International District neighborhoods.

As UCLA’s Donald Shoup points out, “The upside of the mess we have made [with overabundant parking] is that we have an accidental land bank readily available.” From on-street bicycle parking to café seating, creative ideas for using public streets are spreading. Temporary oases such as PARK(ing) Day parks are inspiring people to think differently about on-street parking spaces, and permanent modifications such as parklets are providing welcoming gathering spaces in dense neighborhoods. As successful pilot initiatives blossom into long-term programs, we may yet see more vehicle parking spaces growing up to become people places.

Bikes in Boston’s subway are guarded by a cardboard cop


By Jess Zimmerman, August 6, 2013

It would cost $200,000 a year to have a full-time police presence by the bike cage in Boston’s Alewife subway station. (I hope that’s the estimate for staffing the station more or less around the clock, or I need to consider a career change.) So the city is cutting corners by providing only two dimensions of cop instead of three. A cardboard cutout of MBTA officer David Silen has helped cut bike thefts by 67 percent.

Stealing a bike is kind of a split-second decision, so if you glimpse a cop — or something that looks like a cop — you don’t really bother to walk fully around him and ascertain that he has depth as well as length and width. You just move on.

Flat Stanley Silen hasn’t cut bike theft so drastically on his own; the MBTA also sprang for video cameras and a new lock on the bike cage. Perhaps they can defray this expense by selling collapsible cop cutouts you can put up wherever.

Precious cargo: These bikes carry just about anything — pianos included


August 6, 2013


Copenhagen designer and transportation consultant Mikael Colville-Andersen has perhaps done more than anyone else in recent years to put the cool back into bicycling. Colville-Andersen, CEO of the Copenhazenize Design Co., founded the Cycle Chic blog, a brand that has spread to cities worldwide. He spends a good deal of his time evangelizing about the benefits of bicycling to cities, and taking photographs of cyclists in the streets.

Colville-Andersen is a particular fan of cargo bikes — bicycles built to carry everything from parcels to people. (He himself pedals a Danish-designed Bullitt cargo bike that Grist Senior Editor Greg Hanscom recently took for a spin.) And in rifling through his photo archives not long ago, he realized that of the 15,000 or so photos he’d taken while documenting bicycle culture around the world, easily 3,000 were of cargo bikes. The result: A new self-published book called Cargo Bike Nation that features “photo after photo of cargo bikes, as well as bicycles with cargo.”

“At the end of the day I just wanted to produce the ultimate cargo bike photo book,” Colville-Andersen writes in the introduction. “Nothing sells cargo bikes like a long line of photos showing Citizen Cyclists and others using a cargo bike in their daily lives. As a vital tool for urban living.”

Here’s a sampling of the photos in the book. You can take a sneak peek on Colville-Andersen’s blog.

California high court lets Expo Line to Santa Monica move forward

California Supreme Court says the environmental review complies with the law. The ruling is a loss for homeowners associations fighting the project.


 By Maura Dolan, August 5, 2013

 The Culver City Expo Line station, above, opened in 2012

 The Culver City Expo Line station, above, opened in 2012. The extension from Culver City to Santa Monica is scheduled to start operating in 2015.

SAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court refused Monday to hold up extension of the Expo Line to Santa Monica for further review.

The state high court's fractured decision was a loss for a group of homeowners associations that had argued the project's environmental impact report failed to comply with state law.

The Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority approved the rail line from Culver City to Santa Monica even though the review of traffic and air-quality effects relied on a base line of conditions in the year 2030. The Expo Line segment to Santa Monica is scheduled to start operating in 2015.
A group called Neighbors for Smart Rail, supported by homeowners' groups, challenged the environmental impact report in court.

Four of the Supreme Court's seven members said environmental reviews generally should include analysis of a project's immediate effect, but only one justice was willing to reject the report.
In the lead opinion, written by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and signed by two justices, the court found that agencies generally should do an analysis of a project's effect on existing conditions.

But Werdegar wrote that the report's omission was not significant enough to reject the review because an analysis of traffic and air impacts in the transit line's early years of operation would not have produced "substantially different" information.

Justice Goodwin Liu agreed with Werdegar's opinion but said he would have ruled for the challengers because of the report's failure to assess immediate effects.

"Without knowing how significant this transient impact on traffic congestion might be, how are the public and decision-makers to decide whether the short-term pain is worth the long-term gain promised by the light-rail project?" Liu asked.

Three of the court's seven justices argued in a separate opinion that the rail line's environmental analysis complied fully with the law.

"The burdens and delay associated with preparing and defending EIRs are likely to increase" as a result of the majority ruling, wrote Justice Marvin R. Baxter, joined by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and Justice Ming W. Chin.

New House Caucus Focuses on Public Private Partnerships and their Role in Transportation Infrastructure


August 2, 2013

Congressional representatives this week announced the creation of a new House caucus that will focus on building and maintaining the nation's transportation infrastructure through the increase of public private partnerships across the country.

The Congressional Caucus on Public Private Partnerships is a bi-partisan group formed by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). The caucus aims to raise awareness of the use of public private partnerships to address a range of transportation infrastructure issues, as state transportation departments are utilizing these partnerships to deal with smaller budgets, rising costs, and growing infrastructure needs.

"Solid infrastructure is a key driver of good jobs and a growing, competitive economy," Rogers said in a statement. "We have an enormous backlog of infrastructure needs all across our country, but the federal government simply can't fund them all. Nor should Congress raise taxes. Building and maintaining infrastructure is an issue for both rural and urban areas, and I hope this caucus will help advance the debate in Washington and around the country."

The PPP caucus will also focus on other infrastructure areas, including defense, energy, technology, and water. Rogers said he and Connolly will approach other House members to be a part of the caucus while also involving public and private sector stakeholders. ​​​

Rise in pedestrian deaths may be due to texting while walking

Cities can apply for $2 million in federal grants to combat 'distracted walking,' which may have contributed to a recent increase in pedestrian deaths in traffic accidents.


 By Marina Villeneuve, August 5, 2013


 Cities with high rates of pedestrian fatalities, which may be partially due to "distracted walking," are eligible for federal grants to combat the problem.

WASHINGTON — The Department of Transportation announced steps Monday to combat a recent rise in pedestrian deaths that it said was partially due to what Secretary Anthony Foxx called "distracted walking."

Walking while texting or listening to music, or while on drugs, may have contributed to the increase, Foxx said.

"Distracted driving, distracted walking, if that can be a phrase. … Their behaviors as they are driving or walking can impact our ability to keep people safe," Foxx said.

After decades of fewer pedestrians being killed in traffic crashes, deaths rose from 4,109 in 2009 to 4,432 in 2011, and 69,000 were injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have the highest percentage of pedestrians killed relative to all traffic deaths. Pedestrians comprise 51% of all motor vehicle deaths in New York, 42% in Los Angeles and 30% in Chicago.

The top 22 cities with deaths far greater than the national average have until Aug. 30 to apply for a total of $2 million in safety grants.

Foxx said the answer was more enforcement and education, like a pedestrian safety campaign.
"Everyone in America is a pedestrian," Foxx said. "Every pedestrian death is one too many."
Foxx's plan includes a pedestrian advocacy summit this fall with the national nonprofit America Walks, a coalition of groups working to improve conditions for pedestrians.

"We need everyone to play a role in pedestrian safety," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, emphasizing that drivers and pedestrians needed to better follow driving laws.

More than 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency rooms in 2011 after being injured while using a portable electronic device like a cellphone, according to a recent U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report.

The Department of Transportation's data show that 3 out of 4 pedestrian deaths occur in urban areas, and more than 2 out of 3 happen at non-intersections. More than 70% happen at night, with a third of the deaths occurring between 8 p.m. and midnight.

Alcohol was involved in half of traffic crashes resulting in pedestrian fatalities, and 37% of pedestrians had a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit, compared with 13% of drivers involved in crashes.



National Night Out 2013
Tuesday, August 6th
455 Laguna Road
Pasadena, CA 91105
(North of La Loma Road) 
Hot Dogs
Snow Cones
Old Fashioned Lemonade
On August 6th communities nationwide, 
including the City of Pasadena, will recognize
30th Annual National Night Out.
What this event is intended to accomplish:
 Send a message to criminals that our neighborhoods are watchful and organized
Strengthen neighborhood support and police-community relationships
Heighten crime and drug prevention awareness
SRNA supports the National Association of Town Watch (NATW) 
& National Night Out (NNO). 
For more information go to: www.natw.org
This event is not an SRNA-sponsored event. SRNA assumes no liability.

Seriously, Get on the Bus! New Analysis Shows Fiscal, Environmental Benefits of Buses


By Deron Lovaas, August 1, 2013

As I’ve written (here, here and here, for starters) it’s high time buses received more attention and investment in this country. Everyone loves to talk about other modes – especially bikes and trains – as the sine qua non for energy-efficient, livable and sustainable communities. Meanwhile, year in and year out, ridership on buses eclipses other non-auto modes. They are oft-maligned workhorses of the transportation system.

Thankfully, within cities there’s a sizzling new entry in the bus marketplace – bus rapid transit. As friends noted a few years ago in a report, these lines are cropping up across the country as signs of transit innovation. Launched originally in Curitiba, Brazil decades ago by a visionary mayor (don’t cities usually lead the way?), this means of bus travel is spreading around the world as well as across the U.S. In fact, there’s even an effort afoot to standardize and grade “bus rapid transit” projects to make sure they live up to the name so the brand won’t get tarnished over time.

Now is the time to turn our attention to bus routes between cities. Right now more than 16,000 buses ply our roads, connecting nearly 2,800 cities and towns. This week friends at Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Reason Foundation and the American Bus Association Foundation released an analysis by respected consulting firm MJ Bradley and Associates, comparing bus to Amtrak service linking 20 city pairs. One of the performance metrics examined is air pollution, and buses shine here (although, to be clear, both modes shine when compared to driving alone). The graph below illustrates this for heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution:

While this may seem surprising considering the bad rap buses get vis-à-vis tailpipe emissions, it makes sense when you think about it. First of all, trains pollute too, although you (like me) probably suffer from “availability bias,” meaning that images readily spring to mind of being stuck in traffic behind a bus annoyingly spewing pollution while none of us gets trapped behind a train. But buses are getting cleaner, and trains aren’t pollution-free (the analysts note that the electrified Northeast Corridor is cleanest). And more importantly, these vehicles are only as clean on a per-passenger basis as their load factor determines. A fully loaded vehicle looks good compared to an emptier one, per-passenger, as you can see from this graph from a report I co-wrote a few years ago (pdf of whole report here):

What about costs? Again, buses compare well. First the analysts examined fares charged, finding that while they vary they are usually comparable on these routes. However, the cost differential between them is huge, as you can see from the graph below.

How is the gap filled? If you guessed government subsidies, you are right. The graph below shows just how large they are, with two exceptions: The Boston-NYC and Washington, DC-Lynchburg, VA stretches of eastern corridor service. These latter routes actually make enough revenue to more than pay for themselves. The analysts note that a few other routes pay for their operating costs, but fall short when capital costs are included.

To wrap this glimpse of this study up, I want to make clear that I am not saying we should rob Peter to pay Paul. We need more, and upgraded, rail service connecting our cities. However, we also need real competition if consumers are to benefit (this is the whole point of a little coalition we formed with the American Bus Association, among others, called Mobility Choice). Consumers deserve multiple options for traveling between cities. That means that we need more, and upgraded bus service as well. I used to travel regularly on C & J buses in the northeast and can testify that it can be cost-effective and comfortable already, so there's a solid foundation for expansion and improvement.

But all too often buses get a bad rap, and not enough attention in national, state and metropolitan policy. That needs to change, given the data presented in this report, and in the wake of the BRT revolution underway. Let’s get to work on delivering more rubber-tired transit service linking cities, by giving buses a seat at the table when making transportation investment plans and programs.

Volvo Unveils Portable Solar Charging Station That Fits In The Trunk Of Your Car


By William Pentland, August 4, 2013

 Pure Tension Pavilion

Volvo, Sweden’s largest car manufacturer, is planning to unveil a foldable solar charging station that can be broken down and stored in the truck of a car.

The so-called “Pure-Tension Pavilion” was developed by Synthesis Design + Architecture, a design firm based in Los Angeles, CA, for Volvo’s diesel V60 Plug-in Hybrid. It will make its debut appearance at a trade show in Rome, Italy in September.

The V60 can ‘plug’ directly into lightweight, rapidly deployable, free-standing portable charging station, which was commissioned by Volvo Car Italia for the new Volvo V60 Hybrid Electric Diesel car.

The futuristic Pavilion design was constructed with a high-density polyethylene fabric embedded with solar photovoltaic panels surrounded by a ring of carbon fiber, which makes the design foldable.
Per Synthesis Design’s website:
The “PURE Tension” Volvo Pavilion, a collaborative effort between Synthesis Design + Architecture, Buro Happold, and Fabric Images . . . was developed through a parallel process of both analogue and digital form-finding to explore the material behaviors of composite tensioned membrane skins (relaxed meshes) and bending active frames. In short, the carbon fiber tube ring is deformed into shape by the tailoring of skin which binds it. In response, the frame pushes out while the skin pulls in, creating a form-force equilibrium that is lightweight, cost-efficient, and easy to assemble and disassemble. The pavilion is designed so that when it is disassembled it will fit inside the V60′s trunk dimensions for easy transportation.

Freeze in transportation funds could lead to layoffs, longer waits


By Neil Nisperos, August 5, 2013

The Inland Empire's regional bus services may consider potential workforce and service reductions with the freeze of millions of dollars in transportation funds. 

Omnitrans, which serves about 50,000 riders daily, said it would be losing about $30 million in operation and maintenance funding from the Federal Transportation Authority, because of a labor dispute over California's pension legislation.

The issue could lead to the agency laying off more than a third of its employees -- about 200 employees -- including coach operators, said Omnitrans marketing director Wendy Williams.

The possible plan, Williams said, may also include reducing stopping frequencies from every 15 minutes to every 30 to 60 minutes. In addition, the funding issue could potentially delay the San Bernardino Transit Center Project, a bus station at E Street and Rialto Avenue to which all of the lines in the East Valley would connect, she said.

"There's an impact on capital projects, but it's not as imminent a problem as the service impacts on the employees," Williams said. "It could also mean trouble for the people that use our service daily. We have upwards of 50,000 boarding daily and certainly all of those people that are making trips would be impacted. The convenience of service would be impacted. People are getting to jobs and to school so there's the human element."

Williams said agency officials are in the process of developing a detailed contingency plan to deal with the loss of funds.

Williams said there is enough money to complete the SBX rapid bus transit system and for several months of operation, which is slated for completion at the end of the year, and service by April of next year. She said it's too soon to say whether the funding issue will be an impact to future operations and maintenance for SBX. The agency has yet to hire additional employees for the system, which will have stops running north and south on E Street.

"We did include a couple of months of operating the service into the current year," Williams said. "I think this is part of something we will assess and maybe have to discuss as we develop a more detailed contingency plan."

Bradley Weaver, spokesman for the Riverside Transit Agency, said the lack of federal funding is a major concern for the bus service - which stands to potentially lose about $31 million.

Weaver said the RTA is currently looking at a possible contingency plan that could reduce service by about 30 percent. The RTA, which serves about 31,000 riders on weekdays, employes about 700 people, including coach operators, maintenance crews, administrative staff and contract employees.

"We simply cannot absorb that big of a hit without taking significant steps and this could include employee layoffs and service reductions," Weaver said. "In terms of the numbers of people and what kind of service reductions, I cannot say, because it's too early. We're not at that point yet."
Weaver said, "The real victims are the customers who rely on us to get to work, medical appointments, and school."

The Amalgamated Transit Union in April filed objections to the U.S. Department of Labor regarding transit agency application for grant funds. The objection is in response to California's new pension reform legislation, The Public Employee's Pension Reform Act of 2013. The union claims the legislation takes away its bargaining rights.

Daniel Pellissier, president of California Pension Reform, a group that worked with Gov. Jerry Brown last fall, said the unions are trying to get the Democratically controled Legislature to exempt mass transit employees from rollbacks on pensions that extended the age of retirement, capped retirement awards and required new workers to pay 50 percent of their own pension costs.

Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, authored legislation that would exempt about 20,000 mass transit workers from the pension reform act in order to free up federal transit funds. That bill is still in committee.

What's worse: drunk driving...or drunk walking?


By Joan Lowy, August 5, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — Just as drinking and driving can be deadly, so can drinking and walking. Over a third of the pedestrians killed in 2011 had blood alcohol levels above the legal limit for driving, according to government data released Monday.

Thirty-five percent of those killed, or 1,547 pedestrians, had blood alcohol content levels of .08 or higher, the legal limit for driving, according to data reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by state highway departments.

Among the 625 pedestrians aged 25- to 34-years-old who were killed, half were alcohol impaired. Just under half the pedestrians killed who were in their early 20s and their mid-30s to mid-50s were also impaired. Only among pedestrians age 55 or older or younger than age 20 was the share of those killed a third or less.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, center, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator (NHTSA) David Strickland, left. stand with students wearing crossing guard belts during a news conference outside the Transportation Department in Washington, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013.
By comparison, 13 percent of drivers involved in crashes in which pedestrians were killed were over the .08 limit.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx released the data as he kicked off a new effort to reduce pedestrian deaths. There were 4,432 pedestrian fatalities in 2011, the latest year for which data is available. That was up 3 percent from the previous year.
Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Council, which represents state highway safety offices, said anti-drunk driving campaigns may be encouraging more people to walk home after a night of drinking.

"What it (the data) says to us is that nationally we've done a good job of educating people about the dangers of drunk driving, but we haven't done such a good job of reminding them that other drunk behavior, including walking, can be just as dangerous," Adkins said.

San Francisco Has Needed This for a Long Time: a 'Hill Mapper'


By John Metcalfe, August 6, 2013

 San Francisco Has Needed This for a Long Time: a 'Hill Mapper'

There's much to love about San Francisco – great food, gorgeous parks, tolerant people – and much to despise, like the infernal rents and the way nobody seems to pick up dog poop. Perhaps highest on the hate list for many locals, however, are the number of hills, awful, ridiculously steep mini-mountains that can turn a novice's legs into wiggly spaghetti.

Everybody has their own approaches to dealing with the seven major hills and 40-or-so demi-humps that protrude from the city's 7-by-7 mile plat. Some tough it out and subsequently grow calve muscles the size of cantaloupes. Others go great lengths to dodge them, doubling their travel time and looking from above like aimless, addled ants. The more extreme hill-loathers will only rent homes in flat neighborhoods or, as is the case with somebody I know, have a friend physically push them up inclines with a gentle hand on the back.

Bicyclists, who research has suggested would often go a mile out of their way instead of pedaling up a 100-foot climb, have long had a way of avoiding the more annoying hills. It's called the Wiggle, a 1-mile path from Market Street to Golden Gate Park that never gets above 6 degrees in elevation. But for pedestrians it's often a matter of intimately learning the city's curves and slopes or else carrying around crumpled, topographic maps printed out from the U.S. Geological Survey, like some kind of foreign explorer. (You could also use your eyes to judge the best route, of course, but this city has a weird way of trapping you in corrals of hills that require strenuous effort or tedious backtracking.) That's why Sam Maurer should be hailed as a local hero: The U.C. Berkeley student has created perhaps the best-yet way to navigate this lumpiest of burgs, the "Hill Mapper of San Francisco."

"Two years ago I moved to San Francisco. Whenever I take long weekend walks around the city, I wish I had a map of where the hills are," Maurer says via email. "One day while walking it occurred to me that the beauty of digital maps is that they can adapt based on your actual location – so I could make a map that showed not only how steep the streets were, but whether they'd be going uphill or downhill when you got there."

Maurer, who is chasing a Ph.D. in urban planning, fiddled around with Google Map's elevation service to build a color-coded guide to beating the hillocks. Here's a screenshot from the computer version (he's still working on a mobile app):

The yellow dude at the bottom is where you are now, and the red and blue streets indicate uphills and downhills, respectively. The more intense the color, the steeper the slope; move the human to a different spot and the map redraws itself to reflect the topographic layout relative to that location.
What becomes instantly clear with this service is that, for people who object to difficult climbs, you're screwed if you live in this city. But there is a way to minimize the pain by sticking with the non-shaded areas of precious, flat pavement. In doing so, you might grow flabby and prone to wheezing when confronted with two flights of stairs, but such is the price of never having to hump up ridges that tower to 900 feet and above.

"I'm actually a big fan of hills," Maurer says. "I live on a fairly steep hill, which helped me get used to them quickly, and sometimes I try to take the hilliest route between two points. But Hill Mapper is agnostic; I think it will be helpful for cyclists and others looking for flat routes."

The Hill Mapper is only the latest in Maurer's curious collection of maps – he's also made a visual diary of all the streets he's trodden in San Francisco and maps of Boston that locals draw from memory. But it could be his most popular creation, especially given how BART is once again threatening to go on strike.

Despite What Developers Say, Philly Keeps Getting Less Dependent on Cars


Jonathan Geeting, August 5, 2013

With the era of “peak car” upon us, few cities have exemplified the trend away from auto-dependent lifestyles better than Philadelphia.

Center City is now growing faster than the suburbs after decades of population loss, and transit-served neighborhoods are seeing high demand for rental housing. SEPTA ridership is at its highest level in two decades, and its regional rail service is also breaking ridership records.

Philly has the highest rate of bike commuting of the 10 largest U.S. cities, with bicycle mode share twice as high as that of the next-best city, Chicago. Neighborhoods in Center City and South Philly are in the same league as all-stars like Portland and Minneapolis for bicycle ridership. With bike share allegedly rolling out next year, and car share networks gaining popularity, it’s only going to get easier and more convenient to live car-free.

Yet some politicians and developers haven’t gotten the message, and are still trying to oversupply private car parking to the city’s most walkable neighborhoods. Philadelphia’s new zoning code, adopted in 2012, reduced regulatory requirements for developers and businesses to provide off-street parking. But since then, there have been intermittent efforts to reinstate the statutory parking minimums, rather than allow Philly’s walkable neighborhoods to naturally evolve in the more pedestrian-friendly direction envisioned by the new code.

And even where off-street parking isn’t legally required, some developers are still pushing to build the block-blighting ground-floor parking garages and curb cuts that the city, to its credit, is explicitly pushing back against. Jared Brey at PlanPhilly quoted one such developer in an article about the ongoing remapping of city neighborhoods:
[Developer Anne] Fadullon also pointed out that some more specific provisions are likely generating variance requests, such as the residential height limit of 38 feet combined with the prohibition on rear-yard parking. (At a zoning board hearing last week, attorney Hercules Grigos argued that those rules needed to be reconsidered as well.) The market, Fadullon said, “really seems to want” residential housing with ground-floor garage space and three stories above that, which can’t be squeezed into 38 feet.
Is this true? Do most of the people moving to Philadelphia really want a lot of new attached private parking garages?

I was inspired by Michael Andersen’s recent post at Bike Portland to check the Census numbers and find out. Andersen came up with a conservative measure of what he calls “low-car households,” or those that have fewer than one car per person. He included all households that don’t own a car, the two-person households that own one car, and the three-person households that own one or two cars. When he looked at their share of Portland’s population growth between 2005 and 2011 (the most recent data we have from the American Community Survey), he found that low-car households accounted for 60.3 percent of the growth.

Philadelphia, it turns out, had similar net growth over this period — in no-car households. Between 2005 and 2011, Philadelphia’s population grew by 10,996 households, and 6,919 of those, or 62.92 percent, did not own a car:
But it’s the second half of that period that is really surprising. Between 2009 and 2011, when Center City population growth started to accelerate, the share of car-free households increased by more than 244 percent:
The number of households increased by 6,594, but those identifying as non-car owners jumped by 16,127 — much more than the net growth in the number of households.

We’ll see if this trend holds when the 2012 American Community Survey results come out in September, but the most recent evidence we have shows that there were fewer car-owning households in 2011 than in 2009. Either Philadelphians have been retiring their cars, or population churn has been replacing car-owning households with car-free households.

Whatever the cause may be, the trend clearly shows that the people who have been moving to Philadelphia will require less space for cars than many public officials and developers have been expecting. It may be time to update city land use and transportation policies to reflect this new reality.

When a Car Becomes a Weapon


Sarah Goodyear, August 5, 2013

 When a Car Becomes a Weapon

Scene of accident at a farmers market in Santa Monica, July 16, 2003.

Driving down Route 1 in South Miami on Saturday, I passed a strip mall with the sign that contained an amazing juxtaposition: "Gun School/Accidents." Funny, right? But also pretty sad.

The accidents that are being advertised are, of course, completely separate from the gun school and don’t have anything to do with firearms. The "accident" sign is touting the services of a group of lawyers who handle the legal fallout of motor vehicle crashes, of which there are many in the state of Florida.

In 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 2,398 motor vehicle fatalities in Florida. That’s 12.58 per 100,000 population, compared to the overall national rate of 10.39 -- between six and seven people dying every day because of motor vehicle wrecks, with many more injured and countless lives disrupted beyond those injured and killed. The good news is that the number has been going down slowly but steadily since 2007. But it’s still very high. Cars are a way of life in Florida, as in the rest of the country, and so are car crashes.

Later on the same day that I took that picture, a man named Nathan Campbell allegedly used his car as a weapon on the boardwalk in Venice, California. Police arrested him on suspicion of murder after he drove his blue Chevrolet sedan at an estimated 60 miles per hour through a crowded pedestrian area in the beachfront community, killing one woman and injuring another 11. Witnesses said he appeared to be zigzagging in order to hit as many people as possible. Campbell, 38, is apparently a "transient," according to the cops, a homeless person from Colorado who may have been living out of his car. His motive is unknown.

In the aftermath of the Venice carnage, the Los Angeles city councilman who represents the area said that more barriers are needed to protect people who use the boardwalk from drivers who might drive through either intentionally or by mistake.

Everyone in the area remembers the last time that a car invaded pedestrian space in this part of the world – in 2003, when an elderly driver rammed into the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, killing 10 and injuring 70.

That time was different from this one – it was what people like to call an "accident." The driver, an 86-year-old man, apparently became confused and accelerated into the crowd. Among those he killed were a grandmother and her seven-month-old grandson. One witness testified that he said, "You saw me coming, why didn't you get out of my way?" when he finally stopped. The city of Santa Monica eventually paid $21 million in settlement money after a court ruled that traffic arrangements had not afforded adequate protection to market-goers.

We don’t usually think of cars as weapons, except in the context of terrorism, as potential bomb delivery devices. We protect our federal and state buildings against car and truck bombs with barriers and bollards. But places like the Venice boardwalk, with its lively pedestrian culture, its street performers and vendors, are not so protected – in this case, it seems, to ease access to certain parking areas.

But as the Venice case makes clear, cars can be used as weapons. J. Peter Rothe, an associate professor at the University of Alberta, has written a whole book about it, Driven to Kill. In the introduction he says this:
We benefit from the convenience of automobile travel, which may be why our abhorrence at vehicle-related mayhem quickly fades. Our initial shock at hearing of another vehicle-related crime becomes acceptance that auto-centered violence is a common subset of an increasingly violent society. It is not that we don’t care. Rather, we don’t understand the widespread impact. For example, few of us know or think about the fact that automobiles kill more people than do all weapons combined…. The most dominant weapons are firearms. Yet, although we insist that firearms have strict controls placed on them, it would be difficult to insist that motor vehicles require similar controls.
As Rothe points out, "when rage, retribution, or the urge to harm others enters a person’s mind, a motor vehicle can be a convenient weapon-at-hand." And yet when people drive aggressively or vengefully, the resulting destruction is often dismissed as "an accident."

Incidents such as the one in Venice open a momentary window into a reality that most of us never think about, or prefer not to think about. The cars most of us drive every day as a condition of being productive members of the society possess incredible destructive potential. And yet we can’t allow ourselves to worry about it. What would happen to the American way of life if we did?

There is another sign that caught my eye as I was driving through Miami. It’s an enormous billboard, again an advertisement for legal services that are obviously often needed in these parts. The example pictured here looms over a car dealership with brand-new vehicles all lined up and ready to go. "Car Accident," it says. "1-800-411-PAIN."

In Vancouver, Traffic Decreases as Population Rises


By Angie Schmitt, August 5, 2013

Can we all just pause for a moment and give Vancouver a standing ovation?

Vancouver prioritized the movement of people over cars, and it got more people and fewer cars.

The perennial contender for the title of world’s most livable city has accomplished what Houston or Atlanta never even dream of: It has reduced traffic on its major thoroughfares even as its population has swelled. How did the city pull off this feat? The answer is intentionally, with smart policies.
In the 1970s, the people of Vancouver decided they wanted their city to be walkable and healthy. The city established a policy that it wouldn’t widen any roads to accommodate more single-occupancy vehicles.

Vancouver was in better shape than the average U.S. city to begin with, because it’s the only major city in North America with no freeways going through it. That meant the original street grid, constructed between 1880 and 1920, would have to suffice. To make that work, Vancouver worked hard to establish the kind of land use policies that would make living car-free a natural choice. The city prioritized walkable, mixed-use development and established a strong transit system with light rail, streetcars, and buses, as well as walking and biking connections.

And guess what? That strategy has worked exactly as planned. Vancouver officials recently trotted out traffic data to make the case for overhauling a traffic-heavy road by the waterfront into a street that prioritizes biking and walking while eliminating through traffic. The figures showed that on major streets, traffic has dropped 20 to 30 percent since 2006 — although the city has grown 4.5 percent percent over that time. Pretty neat trick.

Here’s the city chief transportation engineer, Jerry Dobrovolny, on the wider trend, as quoted in the terrific blog Price Tags:
We have seen a trend, a downward trend over the past 15 years – vehicles entering the city, vehicles entering the downtown, we have seen a downward trend on vehicles crossing the Burrard Bridge, we have seen a downward trend on vehicles entering and leaving [University of British Columbia].
So we’re seeing those continual drops city-wide.

Price Tags’ Gordon Price, a former city legislator in Vancouver, says every time a project is proposed for bikes or transit that reduces space for cars, there’s an outcry. “They keep predicting intolerable gridlock,” he said. “And it never happens. You can be in downtown Vancouver and it’s not congested.”

When you give people convenient transportation options that don’t involve driving, like Vancouver has, they will make practical choices not to drive, Price said. Vancouver isn’t the only place to demonstrate that transit-oriented growth can reduce traffic. Arlington County, Virginia, set off on a similar path in the 1970s, focusing development near Metro stations, and has seen traffic counts drop on major arterial roads even as population grows.

Vancouver’s newest street transformation — the creation of a waterfront biking and walking route by repurposing motor vehicle traffic lanes on Point Grey Road — got approved by the city council last week. While the project faced intense opposition from people who believe traffic will be shunted to other streets, experience shows that this type of change will help people get around the city without driving.

“It’s the kind of city you get when land-use matches up with transportation priorities,” writes Price. “And it’s the kind of city that’s healthier and … maybe even happier.”

“It’s the city we said we wanted – and the city we are getting.”

US Imports Via Rail Jump From NAFTA Partners


August 5, 2013

U.S. cross-border imports from North American Free Trade Agreement partners Mexico and Canada via rail soared in May 2013, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Truck imports declined, however, in May, keeping overall import growth to 1.6 percent year-over-year.

The value of May U.S. imports by rail from its NAFTA partners climbed 13.4 percent year-over-year to $9.49 billion. However, May’s value inched down 0.9 percent from $9.57 billion in April. January-May 2013 rail import value was up 8.5 percent from the first five months of 2012.

U.S. truck imports from its NAFTA partners declined 1.7 percent to $28.87 billion in May, down from $29.37 billion in May 2012. Month-to-month, U.S. imports by truck from NAFTA partners rose 1 percent. The value of January-May 2013 imports by truck inched down 0.5 percent year-over-year.
The value of May U.S. exports by rail to Canada and Mexico increased 7.7 percent year-over-year in May and edged up 0.4 percent month-to-month to $5.43 billion. Rail export value for the first five months of 2013 increased 3 percent year-over-year.

The value of U.S. exports to NAFTA partners by truck rose 2 percent to $31.1 billion, up from $30.45 billion in May 2012, but slipped 1 percent from April. The combined value of January-May 2013 truck exports rose 2.3 percent year-over-year.