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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Activists fight environmental-law changes proposed by Brown's staff


By Patrick McGreevy, August 19, 2013

SACRAMENTO -- Nearly 50 activist groups sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday opposing changes proposed by his office to state environmental laws to expedite development projects.

The governor’s Office of Planning and Research submitted proposed changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that “would actually do a tremendous amount of damage to the important environmental protections it currently provides,” said the letter, signed by representatives of groups including Sierra Club California, the League of Women Voters of California and the Planning and Conservation League.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) had proposed to no longer require new environmental studies for certain residential projects in cities that have a specific plan previously through an environmental study.

The groups opposed the proposal by Brown’s office to extend the streamlining to include commercial and mixed-use projects, saying they should not be allowed to proceed based on “stale” environmental studies.

The groups also opposed a proposal by Brown’s office that would allow cities to set their own environmental standards for issues such as traffic. “Allowing cities to set their own environmental standards would eviscerate environmental protections that have helped California retain its competitive advantage as a desirable place to live,” the groups said in the letter.

The environmental coalition also objected to a proposal to require court approval of settlements of CEQA lawsuits. “While the change proposed in this section may be intended to encourage speedy resolution of CEQA-related disputes, it instead creates additional hurdles that would make it more difficult for settlements to be reached and increase burdens to the already overtaxed court system,” the letter says.

Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown, said the concerns will be considered. "We appreciate the input from the interested parties on this matter," Evans said. "The Governor has made no secret of his support for modernizing CEQA in a way that works for California's environment and its economy."

50 injured in tour bus crash on 210 Freeway


By Brian Day and Zen Vuong, August 22, 2013

50 injured in tour bus crash on 210 Freeway

 IRWINDALE >> A freeway crash involving an overturned casino-bound tour bus sent more than 50 people to the hospital Thursday.

Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief John Tripp said he was amazed there weren’t more serious injuries in the 10 a.m. crash on the eastbound 210 Freeway just west of Irwindale Avenue.

A total of 52 people were taken to eight area hospitals with injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to broken bones, fire officials said.

“We did not have any severe injuries,” Tripp said.

Officials described 36 of the injuries as minor, 11 as moderate and 5 as more serious, requiring immediate medical attention, fire Capt. Brian Jordan said.

Seven patients were rushed to hospital by helicopter, Jordan added.

Fifty-one of them were believed to be on-board the bus, including the driver, while the Scion XB involved the crash contained only a driver, according to fire and California Highway Patrol officials.

The tour bus and the Scion were both eastbound on the freeway when, “Somehow, they collided in the number two lane,” CHP Officer Rodrigo Jimenez said. The cause of the initial collision remained under investigation.

“The bus veered all the way to the right, off the roadway, and overturned,” Jimenez said.

The bus came to rest on its side beside traffic lanes, with several passengers trapped inside, CHP Officer Francisco Villalobos said.

Once the injured people had been cared for, the focus shifted to sifting through the wreckage to figure out what happened. CHP Officer Rick Quintero said.

“Initially the primary focus is on the injured parties,” Quintero said. “Now it is just a matter of gathering the evidence on the scene as well as turning over that charter bus and opening up those lanes.”

All lanes in both directions of the 210 Freeway were briefly shut down as helicopters landed to pick up patients. The eastbound lanes remained closed hours after the collision. Officials worked to reopen traffic lanes as quickly as possible as cars backed up behind the closure.

Early reports from the CHP indicated a semi-truck was involved, though ultimately that was determined not to be the case.

A total of nine agencies took part in the rescue effort and investigation, Tripp said.

Stopped drivers exited their cars and crossed barriers to see what happened, but were ordered back in their cars by officials.

“We were crossing the concrete line (on the freeway) and walking to see what was going on, so a cop came by and told everyone to get back in their cars,” said Adrian Canto, who was stuck on the 210 Freeway just west of the Irwindale exit. The Pasadena resident had been on the freeway for more than an hour by 11 a.m.

The overturned charter bus operated by Da Zhen Travel Agency was en route to San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, according to Da Zhen travel consultant Anna Zhang.

The accident reportedly happen after a car cut in front of the bus, causing it to swerve into the embankment in an attempt to avoid a collision, Zhang said.

The company has only had minor fender-benders in the past, Zhang said.

“We’ve never had such a large accident before, the manager and owner are taking it very seriously, they’ve both gone to the scene of the accident to handle the situation,” Zhang said in Mandarin.

Roughly 40 people registered for the bus trip at $15 each, but the walk-ons are accepted at its stops, so the total number of passengers was higher. The passengers are mostly local, but some came from out of the country, Zhang said.

The company’s bus department went to the scene to find out more information and so details are limited, she said. Multiple families have called in trying to find out what happened.

Da Zhen Travel Agency, based out of Monterey Park, operates charter buses for tours, said Zhang when reached by phone Thursday. A bus schedule from the casino shows 14 Da Zhen Travel buses traveling daily from Hacienda Heights, Rowland Heights, Monterey Park, Rosemead and San Gabriel to the casino.

The company had a “Satisfactory” safety rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in September of 2010, which is the highest rating available, said Marissa Padilla, director of communications for the agency. A safety report from the Department of Transportation shows that the company is authorized to carry passengers, traveling 598,399 miles in 2011. Da Zhen had been flagged in the safety reports for unsafe driving, which prompted 30 vehicle inspections and 36 driver inspections over the past 24 months, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation website. Unsafe driving includes speeding and following too closely, the website says. The company had not been in any reported crashes, had no drivers taken out of service and only two vehicles taken out of service as a result of the inspections, the safety data shows. The company has a current $5,000,000 insurance policy through New York Marine and General Insurance Co. in New York.

LA Hit-And-Run Incidents The Subject Of ABC '20/20' Investigation


August 22, 2013

LA Hit-And-Run 20/20

It's no secret that Los Angeles has a serious problem on its hands when it comes to hit-and-run driving.

An investigative series by LA Weekly's Simone Wilson in 2012 revealed that 48 percent of crashes in LA were hit-and-runs in 2009 (the last year data was available), compared to a national rate of 11 percent. Now ABC's "20/20" news show is set to dig deeper into the tragedy this Friday at 10 p.m. ET.

The "20/20" piece focuses on LAPD Detective Felix Padilla, who has been working in the department's traffic division for over a decade.

Padilla told "20/20" that his division alone sees an average of 8,000 hit-and-run incidents a year, and so far in 2013 there have been 16 fatal hit-and-runs. He also goes into how difficult it is to solve these cases, which hinge on eyewitnesses that are usually reluctant to come forward.

"Witnesses are paramount in an investigation like this," he said to "20/20." "We can arrest the car, meaning I can impound it. But what good is that if I don't have the person who was driving?"
Padilla suspects that one of the biggest reasons for LA's high hit-and-run rate is the city's large number of undocumented immigrant residents, some of whom use a car despite not being able to obtain a driver's license.

Drivers without a license by definition have not undergone the state's mandatory training or test, and in
Just last weekend, for example there were four hit-and-runs throughout the LA area, and at least one of the suspects is an unlicensed driver, reports LA Weekly.
To address the issue, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck went on the record last year to voice his support for some kind of provisional driver's license for undocumented immigrants. His perspective, via the Los Angeles Times:
Why wouldn't you want to put people through a rigorous testing process? Why wouldn't you want to better identify people who are going to be here? It doesn't make any sense to me. And we could increase safety on the roads. When you make things illegal you cause a lot of other things by chain reaction.
Because the driver's license is a state document, there isn't very much for LA city government to do except support legislative efforts in Sacramento. That's why the LA City Council endorsed a proposed state bill last June that would grant people without a social security number the ability to apply for a license.

On a much larger scale, a reckless driver in the Venice neighborhood of LA made international headlines earlier this month when he drove into a pedestrian-only section of the beach boardwalk, killing one woman on vacation from Italy and injuring 16 more. The driver, Nathan Louis Campbell, fled the scene initially but later turned himself into the police. He has since been charged with one count of murder, 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and 17 counts of hit-and-run, reports the Associated Press. Campbell hails from Colorado and doesn't have a California driver's license.
the event of a collision their fear of deportation could motivate them to simply abandon victims.

'Ratpocalypse' plaguing downtown as tunnel drilling picks up steam


By Josh Kerns, August 21, 2013


 A Seattle pest control company says it continues seeing a surge of rats and roaches as the Highway 99 tunnel project continues picking up steam.

A Seattle pest control company says it continues seeing a surge of rats and roaches as the Highway 99 tunnel project continues picking up steam. And with the huge drill, dubbed Bertha, slowly making her journey north beneath downtown, extermination experts predict it's going to get a lot worse.

"Both the roaches and the rats like it quiet and like it dark, and I know the shaking of the ground is affecting their behavior," says Mark Schmidt, district manager for Sprague Pest Solutions.

The company services over 300 commercial properties in the downtown corridor. And Schmidt says they've seen between a 60 and 80 percent jump in business since tunnel construction first started.
"We saw specific events, days where the posts went into the ground, five blocks away we were getting roaches on the 17th or 21st floor," he says.

WSDOT project managers say the problem should subside since the preliminary work sent most of the rats and rodents scrambling. And they say the tunnel operates well below sea level, below where the vermin live.

But Schmidt argues as the drill moves north, far more critters will be fleeing the vibration.
"You're still making a 3.5 earthquake every single day. It's going under some very old dirt and it's going to shake the core of Seattle. So I think it's going to shake a lot of rats out," he says.

The company is playing up the problem, dubbing it "ratpocalypse" on rolling bicycle ads being ridden around downtown. But Schmidt says it would be a lot easier if people sealed up their buildings before the rats and roaches came calling.

"It's amazing how unsecured facilities are from the rats," he says. "All it takes is a nickel-sized hole or smaller for a rodent to get in through the plumbing or electrical. It might as well be an open doorway. It's way easier to keep them out than get them out."

With digging scheduled to continue for the next two years or so along with construction on a new Seattle seawall beginning this fall, Schmidt predicts "ratcpocalypse" will continue for the foreseeable future.

Peggy Drouet: I have been told that roaches in the Kaiser Medical Building in Pasadena became a problem when construction started on their new parking structure.

Southern California transportation interests ask Congress to improve freight network


By Andrew Edwards, August 5, 2013

SAN BERNARDINO -- Transportation interests asked a special congressional panel to support a new funding source to improve the movement of freight through Southern California and the rest of the United States.

The panel, comprised of members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, met Thursday at Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino, the city's historic train station adjacent to the BNSF Railway yard, which is part of the network of rail lines and freeways linking Southern California's ports to destinations across the country. The panels' members are charged with recommending plans to improve freight movement from coast to coast.

The day's discussions were fairly general, but boiled down to a handful of Southern California officials and executives from Union Pacific and Fox Transportation, a Rancho Cucamonga-based trucking firm, asking for Congress to create a special trust fund to pay for infrastructure improvements to rail lines and roads connecting ports with Inland Empire destinations. But beyond the relatively easy consensus that better infrastructure is a good thing lies the more difficult aspect of drafting a national freight policy — deciding who has to pay for it.

"I think there's a sense that we have to invest in our nation's infrastructure to create this seamless freight infrastructure," Rep. Janice Hahn, D-San Pedro, said after the conclusion of the day's talks. "Everyone was struggling wit: How do we fund this? Where does the money come from?"

Hahn suggested U.S. Customs Revenue or Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund dollars as potential funding source. Another panelist, Jerrold Nadler, D. N.Y., emphasized that a proposal to raise federal gasoline taxes would meet heavy opposition.

The Southern California interests who spoke before the panel said it's not fair for the region's taxpayers to pay the full costs of improving freight networks when the rest of the nation benefits from the goods being shipped from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

"What everybody is asking for is for the federal government to recognize that goods movement is a national issue," Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of Southern California Associated Governments, said after the conclusion of the hearing.

"The rest of the nation is bearing the benefit, and you need to be bearing some of the costs," he added.

In his testimony to the congressional panel, Ikhrata said 40 percent of shipping containers that reach the United States arrives via the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.

Southern California Associated Governments is a transportation planning agency for the region. The agency's 2012-35 transportation plan includes proposals for dedicated lanes for clean trucks along key goods movement routes, capacity increases at marine and intermodal terminals and improved road access to seaports and airports, according to Ikhrata's testimony.

Another issue facing the panel was the environmental issues associated with building new infrastructure and the day-to-day activities of the trucking, rail and shipping industries. Rep. Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga, mentioned during the meeting that current environmental laws can often delay projects.

An audience member, who identified himself as Jesse Marquez of the Wilmington-based group called Coalition For a Safe Environment, shouted at the panelists that logistics firms would not have to worry about having projects delayed by litigation if they bothered to do proper environmental reviews in the first place.

"This was a farce because they did not address environmental justice issues," Marquez told reporters before being escorted out of the building by security.

Clarification on Freeway Bill SB 811

From Sylvia Plummer, August 22, 2013

From Sam Burgess:  Clarification on Freeway Bill SB 811

Many of you recently read an article published by Streetsblog concerning State Senator Ricardo Lara's SB 811.  The article may have led some to believe the bill was a good piece of legislation.  Yes and No.

1st: SB 811:  The bill was last amended on August 19, 2013.  In its present form it states:

Sec. 103.1(a) (1):  "The I-710 Corridor Project" means the proposed program of improvements to the State Highway Route 710 Corridor...which extends from State Highway Route 60 in East Los Angeles to Ocean Boulevard in Long Beach".

(b) (1):  "The proposed I-710 Corridor Project is a project of National Significance that is intended to expand capacity on State Highway Route 710...to accommodate the movement of freight to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach".
(2):  "The proposed I-710 Corridor Project is a 'Goods Movement' Project...".

In its attempt to mitigate the many adverse effects of the proposed I-710 Expansion this bill does contain some good points.  But, it has been watered down to require only a report to the legislature identifying mitigation measures to be undertaken as part of the EIR.  In effect it does nothing.  It does not stop Caltrans' plans to expand (widen) the freeway nor does it support the Community Proposal.  

2nd: Senator Lara:  Ricardo Lara is a former aide to Kevin De Leon.  He is presently Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on California Ports and Goods Movement.

I recently spoke with a (Sacramento) staff member who worked on this legislation and was informed that Senator Lara has not taken a position on the SR 710 Tunnels (as they are not in his district) but that he supports the proposed extension of the SR 710 from Valley Blvd. to the 210.

Hmmm... Let's see...Lara supports mitigating measures on the lower 710 because of his concerns about the health and safety of those along the I-710 (and rightly so)  but does not believe those concerns should be applied to those along the SR 710....

Am I wrong or is this a classic form of NIMBYism?   

Impact of AB483

From Sylvia Plummer, August 22, 2013

Notes from Tom Williams about impact of AB483
August is the Cal.Legislature's "Gut and Amend" Period

The New “specific benefit” and “specific government service” of AB483 has been selected for the Stealth Bill for the 55% Tax approval bill in the Assembly at http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB483
This would allow immediately that any project with a "special" designation could be paid by any "special assessment district" (LACo Stormwater Fee) or other revenue generating bonds (Ex-Measure J) can be funded locally, county-wide (Stormwater Fee)  and probably state-wide (Delta Tunnels).

Charter bus overturns; 210 Freeway closed in Irwindale


By Jason Wells, August 22, 2013

 Bus crash

 An overturned tour bus on the eastbound 210 Freeway near the 605 Freeway.

A charter bus overturned on the eastbound 210 Freeway near the 605 Freeway on Thursday, injuring an estimated 30 people and closing both sides of the 210, authorities said.

There was no information immediately available on the extent of the injuries passengers suffered in the 10 a.m. crash in Irwindale, east of the 605, said Officer Ed Jacobs of the California Highway Patrol.

Emergency crews were still en route to the scene of the crash, and it was unknown if other vehicles were  involved, he said.

A Sigalert was issued after authorities closed the three right lanes of the eastbound side of the freeway.

Calling all transit and history fans! Hundreds more “Then & Now” historic L.A. transit photos available here!


By Kenn Bicknell, August 22, 2013

 Broadway at 6th
 Broadway at 6th Street, 1938 vs. today (Click for more information)

It’s a beautiful thing when Southern Californians take pride in their fascinating and diverse history.  This past weekend the Metro Transportation Library & Archive logged its 3,000,000th view on our online Flickr photo gallery (yes, 3 million in less than five years).

Over here at The Source, the reaction to “then and now” photos has prompted the Library & Archive to share its own version of historical images compared to the street scene today.

Our Library has selected and uploaded over 200 photos to Historypin, a social media site that maps images and mashes them up with a chronological data layer so you can view photos of a particular place AND time.  With the local transportation conversation ramping up month by month, we know this is a great way to engage our community in the past AND present.

Most of our images on Historypin and concentrated in and near downtown Los Angeles.

Metro Library on Historypin
Zoom in or click a photo cluster to see more detailed photos

We were a global launch partner for Historypin when we began in July, 2011.

Fortunately for us, most of our photos are of streetcars and buses.  Good thing: Historypin has partnered with Google to leverage powerful mapping tools with “street view” imagery.  This serves us well in providing an “augmented reality” effect — superimposing views of yesteryear on the streets of today.  We have taken pains to position many our images onto Street View so they match up as well as possible.

Hollywood Boulevard Christmas decorations

Hollywood Boulevard, decorated for Christmas,1953 compared to today (The “fade” slider is below the historic image)

But Historypin isn’t limited to just our collection. Metro is a leader in helping other local archives and libraries in our LA as Subject network to get their photos digitized and onto Historypin.  Los Angeles Public Library’s collection is particularly interesting, as well as other transit agencies, including the wonderful history shared by San Francisco Muni.

Even better, Historypin images feature a slider allowing you to fade in and out the historical image compared to today’s street scene.
When you find an image in our col
lection (or any other!) with the little yellow man indicating “Street View,” click “Street View” in the bottom right and then slide the “Fade” button below the centered historical image to see the effect.  Get ready to spend hours getting lost in historic Los Angeles…or elsewhere in the world!

1st & Alameda, 1918

Los Angeles Railway “P” Line, 1st Street at Alameda, 1918 with today’s view 95 years later
Historypin is also available as a mobile app, so you can check out historical views of your location wherever you go!

Still not sure what it is or how it works?  This video provides an overview of the Historypin concept in just over a minute:

Customers Lead the Way in Determining How SCE Prepares for Electric Vehicles

SCE’s 12,000 electric vehicle customers provided data for the utility’s white paper, ‘Charged Up’.


By Vanessa McGrady, August 6, 2013

When it comes to electric vehicles, the top three things customers want to know are how much it will cost to charge their vehicles, where the public charging stations are located, and the environmental benefits of these non-gas guzzling cars.

These are just a few of the findings of a white paper released today by Southern California Edison (SCE) that took a look at its 12,000 customers who currently drive electric vehicles and how they can shape what the company does to get ready for widespread adoption of these eco-friendly vehicles. 
“My sense is that SCE is a very forward-thinking company and will do what they can to help their customers make the change to home-vehicle charging,” said Marc Gebauer of Lawndale, who took part in the research for the white paper, “Charged Up: Southern California Edison’s Key Learnings about Electric Vehicles, Customers and Grid Reliability."

As a leader in electric vehicle and battery research for more than 20 years, “Charged Up” shares information based on data provided voluntarily by customers and utility operations gathered since SCE began to prepare the distribution system for its customers who opt to plug in to fuel their vehicles.

Some of the six major findings in the white paper include:

1. SCE’s approach to managing plug-in electric vehicle-grid impact is meeting customers’ needs. 

Since 2010, of all the nearly 400 upgrades SCE made to (or identified for) circuits that serve plug-in electric vehicle customers, only 1 percent of that work was required due to additional power demands from plug in electric vehicles. The rest of the work was required under SCE’s regular infrastructure upgrade and maintenance schedule.

2. Using the ''end charge time" programming feature is good for electric vehicle customers and their neighbors.

It’s better for grid reliability and neighborhood circuits when drivers program their charging to be completed by a specific time. When customers set an “end charge” time for charging to be complete, they randomize the start time of their charging, which prevents a large number of vehicles from coming online at the same time — avoiding power load spikes that potentially could affect the local distribution system.

3. What SCE customers want to know most about electric vehicles:

When 15,000 customers visit SCE’s electric vehicle website monthly, about 46 percent make their first stop with the Plug-In Car Rate Assistant Tool, which helps estimate charging costs. Customers also click to find out more about public charging station locations from the link to the U.S. Department of Energy’s map, watch videos on electric vehicles and read background materials on environmental benefits and home electric infrastructure requirements.

4. Initial findings show early adopters of battery-electric vehicle technology demonstrate consistent and predictable behavior.

A sample of Nissan Leaf owners has indicated that any "range anxiety" had been eliminated after driving their new battery-electric vehicle over time. Most reported their overnight charging at 240 volts was sufficient to support their daily driving patterns.

5. Multi-unit residents may face complex challenges.

Despite high interest in electric vehicles from condominium and apartment dwellers, fewer than 5 percent of building owners or condominium associations are even considering installing the necessary charging infrastructure. There are multiple rebates and incentives in the works to improve the situation.

6. SCE and the cities it serves are charged up and ready to go.

Virtually all of the 180 cities in SCE’s service territory are committed to helping their residents plug in by streamlining permitting and inspection processes.

To learn more about SCE’s work in electric vehicle readiness, please visit www.SCE.com/PEV.

Tesla may build safe electric cars; when will they be affordable?


By Brian Thevenot, August 21, 2013

 Now that Tesla Motors has turned a profit, and its Model S electric car has scored the top federal safety rating and the top Consumer Reports rating, what’s left for the upstart Palo Alto automaker?

What Tesla has accomplished is remarkable, and it appears on track to become the first successful automotive start-up in a century. Investors certainly think so, having pushed the stock up 323% this year.

But whether the bullish bet pays off in the long term will depend on whether Tesla can break out of its niche of selling government-supported cars to rich people. Despite the hot start, some huge obstacles remain in Tesla’s path.

Remember that much of Tesla’s profits rely on government policy. Without pollution regulations that the automaker has effectively turned into an ATM, it would be far from profiting on what remains a small-volume, expensive car. The Model S may be the darling of the Los Angeles luxury market, but it's way off the shopping list of almost every U.S. driver.

Photos: Electric cars

Tesla sells its Model S sport sedan for prices starting at $63,570 and running to more than $100,000, with the largest battery and other options. And it’s selling as many as it can make, expecting to move 20,000 or more Model S sedans this year.

But the cars themselves aren’t making the company any money.

Tesla has reported a profit in the last two quarters because its chief executive, the intrepid Elon Musk, has deftly extracted millions from government environmental policies, all the while establishing himself as the country’s leading corporate futurist, a modern Henry Ford.

On the more expensive Model S -- with the biggest battery and longest driving range -- Tesla collects seven environmental credits from California's Air Resources Board. It can sell those credits for an estimated $5,000 each to other automakers, as Los Angeles Times auto reporter Jerry Hirsch reported earlier this year. Other automakers need the credits to meet state pollution regulations.

So Tesla can net as much as $35,000 per Model S -- more than most cars cost. It's the difference between profit and loss. During just the first six months of this year, Tesla has sold about $150 million in environmental credits.

That’s on top of the up to $10,000 in state and federal government subsidies directly to buyers of electric cars. Strip all that away, and Tesla presumably would have to sell its top-end Model S for something more like $150,000, in the same volume, to make any money.

This is not to attack the subsidies. Many people fairly argue that the government has a vital role in jump-starting innovative businesses that can’t otherwise survive in a free market but serve a public good, in this case pollution control.

But the long-term survival of Tesla -- and all that Wall Street money riding on it -- ultimately depends on whether the company can stand on its own. Government startup subsidies aren't meant to be permanent.

It will also depend on the grand question facing all electric cars: When can we buy one with a sticker price less than $25,000? That’s a reasonable limit for most mainstream household budgets. (The spate of cheap leases this year on many electrics makes them cost-competitive for some drivers, but they remain heavily subsidized.)

Tesla plans next to release a Model X sport utility vehicle. Based on much of the same technology as the Model S, the Tesla SUV may be cheaper but certainly not cheap. Only after that, Musk says, will Tesla attempt a mass-market model.

Most new technology comes down in price with time. But serious questions remain about the future of cost of electric car batteries. The fact that the technology has been around since forever and yet still needs subsidizing provides the clearest evidence of the engineering challenge.

Meanwhile, traditional gasoline and diesel engines, along with gas-electric hybrids, are getting far more efficient, in part because of another kind of government intervention. Ever-stricter federal fuel economy standards have produced a rush of innovation. Efficiency is the new horsepower -- the new cool car -- and automakers are embracing the challenge like never before.

Musk and Tesla have taken the tougher path, insisting with missionary zeal that zero emissions cars such as electrics are the only answer to pollution concerns; hybrids, to Musk, are a half-measure.
The question of whether Tesla becomes the next Ford is just as complicated. Tesla’s success so far, although impressive, represents the first mile in a marathon.

But that’s less a comment on Tesla’s performance than the enormous challenge the company has embraced. It’s no surprise, really, that Musk's other business is space travel.

Quick Ticket


August 2013

Want a faster way to purchase your Metrolink ticket? Now you can with Quick Ticket.

If you frequently buy the same ticket type using a debit or credit card, you can use Metrolink’s Quick Ticket feature.
  • Within six months of the initial purchase, you may go to any Metrolink TVM and insert the same debit or credit card used for the initial purchase into the credit card reader.
  • A message will appear: "Retrieving records." Up to the last three ticket purchases made with that card within the last six months will be displayed.
  • By pushing the button next to the ticket type you wish to repurchase, the TVM will charge the card and issue an updated version of that ticket type.
Quick Ticket reduces the time and effort required to purchase a ticket and reduces the chance of making an incorrect choice.

The Quick Ticket option is available for all ticket types.

Establish a National Infrastructure Bank Capitalized by a Repatriation Tax Holiday – Brookings


August 21, 2013

U.S. Congress should establish a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) capitalized with the proceeds from a onetime repatriation tax holiday. The primary barrier to an NIB—a targeted mechanism for financing infrastructure projects of national significance— is finding a way to build the loan fund. Untaxed overseas corporate profits, which currently provide little support to overstretched federal budgets, represent an untapped revenue source that could quickly fund an NIB, without a direct appropriation.

While a similar repatriation holiday created through the 2004 American Jobs Creation Act failed to generate significant domestic stimulus, a targeted program focused on infrastructure has the potential to deliver job creating and economy building projects for decades to come.

No "magic wand" to fund infrastructure, U.S. Chamber of Commerce says


By Apille Hanson, August 22, 2013

DALLAS — While Drew Preston, manager of congressional and public affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tried to be positive on the future of infrastructure funding, he was frank: “I’m sorry I don’t have a magic wand to help.” 

Preston, along with moderator Tom Lehner, vice president of public policy, the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association, gave a dismal view during “The Future of Our Nation’s Infrastructure and What it Means for Trucking and the Economy,” discussion at the fourth annual Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference here Thursday. 

The overall theme: there are major infrastructure problems and funding, somehow, is needed to fix it. The Highway Trust Fund – which finances the country’s interstate system and other transportation infrastructure investments – has been funded through taxes on gas and diesel fuel. However, with the presidential administration’s tough stance on environmental protection and society’s desire for more fuel-efficient vehicles, the fund has dwindled. It currently spends $15 billion more than its revenue. 

However, as Preston pointed out, “it’s only really the tip of the budgetary iceberg awaiting us this fall … it’s going to take compromise which is sadly in short supply these days.” 

While supporting the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) legislation, which was signed in July 2012, it only lasts two years and is not a viable long-term solution, Preston said. 

The first and age-old option Preston said is using gas and diesel taxes to help sustain it.
“Politically however … no one, Republicans, Democrats, House, Senate, the White House are ready to step up and lead,” Preston said, adding however that trucking companies showing support for at least this type of legislation will help for longer-lasting legislation in the future. 

“Trucking [industry members] will need to be at those tables to help [political leaders] stay rooted in business reality … What we need to hear from you is how it’s helping your business.  Trucking also has to come up with plans B and C in case our desired funding doesn’t work.” 

“The point is, as long as the overall pie is not growing funding, it’s going to have to come from cuts from something else. We’re making the same argument as,” other lobbying groups for issues such as education, Preston added. “Transportation makes up 2 to 3 percent of the federal budget. If we want more money, we don’t need to just advocate for transportation, but tax reform … things that are eating at the bigger piece of the pie.” 

Another option Preston stressed was the use of more public-private partnerships to fund infrastructure projects. Preston reiterated what the Chamber announced at the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure at the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 13 – it is willing to invest in private capital, pumping as much as $250 billion into infrastructure projects. 

“The Chamber feels it’s sort of a priority to get more private money to fill this gap,” Preston said. “The problem politically it creates … there are plenty of folks on Capitol Hill who think, ‘Oh great, the federal government can get out of the business of paying for this stuff … and that’s not how it works.” 

In order for private companies to make the commitment to infrastructure, there has to be incentive.
“These are private companies. They expect return on that money, it’s not a gift,” Preston said. “They expect money from that investment. They’re looking for safe, long-term investments.” 

Preston pointed out that each state has different needs from public-private partnerships, which creates “a big question mark about what the federal government’s role is in public-private partnerships.”
Lehner, with the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association, addressed several questions from the audience, one of which being foreseeable future funds for trucking companies that invest in Natural Gas initiatives, such as fueling stations. 

“The general funding outlook,” Preston said with a laugh, “You’re going to run up against the same problems we’re up against … the federal government willing to kick money into this kind of stuff.”
Lehner also touched on the need for funding for bridges in particular. 

“There’s an old saying that Congress does two things very well: nothing and over-reacting,” Lehner said. “There are roughly 600,000 bridges in the United States … 150,000 have been deemed structurally deficient, meaning they need replacement. The average age of a bridge is 43 years old. $140 billion is estimated just for starters to begin the process,” of replacements. 

Citing recent structural damage to bridges such as the Interstate 5 Skagit River bridge in Washington state, Lehner said that congress should be “over-reacting.” 

“We’re getting to the point where we’re the greatest country in the world, but we have third world bridges. These are literally bridges to nowhere,” Lehner said. “Why can’t we as a country replace these types of roads and bridges with efficiency and speed that made us the greatest country in the first place?” 

Preston pointed out on the positive side that there are new, up-and-coming engineers that are working to make bridges more structurally sound. However, funding is what’s need for current struggling bridges, Preston said. 

“It will take a bridge falling every week before they realize this is something we need to look at,” Preston said. “Unfortunately it’s going to take a lot more of these incidents before they wake up. Wait until one of these giant dams pops open; there will be loss of life, loss of money … but I am starting to seeing greater recognition, almost seeing universal recognition that this is a real problem.”
On a final note, Lehner reiterated that need for truckers, carriers and other industry professionals to actively participate in discussions on future infrastructure funding. 

“It’s so very important for all of you to participate in your trade organizations to weigh in when they have these meeting and conferences in Washington,” D.C., Lehner said. “There aren’t any magic solutions to these problems. There are some bright spots on the horizon, but it’s going to take a lot of work to get there.”

Watch: “People Behaving Badly” Consults Streetsblog SF on Bike Lane Safety


By Aaron Bialick, August 21, 2013

Stanley Roberts asked me to come out yesterday for one of his “People Behaving Badly” segments and help explain how drivers should legally make a right-turn, since CBS 5 didn’t get it quite right. Roberts still didn’t touch on the point that CBS got wrong — drivers can’t just jump in front of people on bikes because they got to the intersection first — but it’s good to see him devote attention to the issue.

Hopefully, I’ll have fewer jitters the next time I’m in front of a camera.

Left Coast


By Ted Rail, August 22, 2013

Why Do You Hate the L.A. Parking Violations Bureau So Much? Maybe Because It Lies and Steals Your Money


By Adam Gropman, August 22, 2013

You return to your car to a disgusting sight: a rectangular slip of paper tucked under your wiper, which could cost you $63, $68, $93 or more — and double that if you pay late. In fiscal year 2007-08, parking citations in L.A. generated about $128 million, and by 2011-12 the total take for the city was $153 million from about 2.65 million tickets.

 That's a ticket for roughly every driver in this city of 4 million.

Last August, having already jacked up towing with a special $100 "release fee" purely to boost city revenue, the L.A. City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa boosted all parking fines by $5 and disabled parking–related fines by $10.

Now, angry drivers are questioning the accuracy and fairness of the powerful Parking Violations Bureau, which both enforces and then adjudicates its own rules for its growing mountain of revenue.
"Mistakes happen, but there's a whole systematic, intentional design to make it difficult to fight," says Kenneth Larson, of the West San Fernando Valley.

Larson launched the Stop Los Angeles Parking Enforcement Corruption website (slapec.org) when he was hit with a ticket after a bumbling city crew installed a street-cleaning restrictions sign — with the wrong days and times on it. Believing the sign and parking there on a legal day, he got a costly ticket.
After Larson presented the city a photo of the screwy sign, he says, a city crew replaced the sign — yet the Parking Violations Bureau enforced his citation, accusing him, he says, of photographing the incorrect sign before he got his ticket.

After Larson demanded a "field investigation," the Parking Violations Bureau sent him a letter telling him he could take his beef to L.A. Superior Court in Van Nuys — where a judge ruled in his favor. That's when the next incredible thing happened: A high-up bureaucrat in the Parking Violations Bureau told Larson he still had to pay the citation.

Larson has "received hundreds of letters from people with similar complaints" via his website. "Most of the people I hear about haven't gone to court yet. I always tell people to pay the ticket promptly — and send it certified or registered."

They include a baffled person in New Mexico, who never owned a car in California; a guy in Monterey, who got two tickets from Los Angeles yet has never been here; and a U.S. Navy sailor stationed in the Atlantic Ocean, whose car was parked at a base in Fresno when he was ticketed by the L.A. Parking Violations Bureau.

One man's car was in San Diego the day a ticket was written against it in L.A.

"His boss wrote a letter saying that the guy was down there all day," Larson says. "And this testimony was thrown out by a [bureau] hearing examiner — because the [boss's] driver's license number wasn't on the letter."

"Everyone in the world has a telephone that takes a picture," Larson says. "Why isn't the [Los Angeles Parking Violations Bureau] required to take a picture of your car when they see it parked illegally?"

That would be especially nice if it is going to order that the vehicle be towed.
"I had picked a spot to park that I always use, that's safe," Robin Roberts, a corporate entertainer from North Hollywood, says of her parking nightmare. "The street was all rough because they were working on the blacktop, but there were no signs that said 'No Parking.' I'd checked."

When her car vanished overnight, it required detective work even to find out where it was. She had to pay more than $260 for the tow, plus $73 for a ticket.

"I found a 'No Parking' sign a block away facing the other direction," she says. She snapped a photo of it "with perspective, so that you could tell how far it was — and at the wrong angle from my car."
But remember, the L.A. Parking Violations Bureau is both rule maker and rule enforcer.

Roberts' hearing examiner behaved reasonably but showed her a cellphone picture taken by the ticketing officer. That photo depicted a temporary "No Parking" sign right in front of Roberts' car.
Yet it wasn't there when Roberts carefully chose her spot, then parked. She says that can only mean a city worker put the sign up next to her car, then took a photo.

What to do when the city of Los Angeles is the cheater?

"I told her it wasn't there when I parked," Roberts declares. "But the cop's evidence trumped mine. I can't believe that that hearing examiner didn't believe me. But what is she supposed to say, that the police and the parking department are corrupt?"

Mona Aguilar's story is even more painful. The Boyle Heights restaurant worker was warned by a meter maid that her partially disabled, parked car had to be moved within 72 hours.

She says she was told, personally, by the ticketing officer that she had until Monday to move it. She made preparations to do so but discovered early Monday that her car was gone — it had been towed on Sunday.

She "couldn't take it to the mechanic" earlier than Monday "because they need the space for storage themselves."

For this minor wrongdoing on her part, Aguilar lost her car — pink slip and all. She had to hand over her car title and $117 to the towing company to pay onerous towing and storage charges, "around $2,000 at that point to get my car back," she says.

Jeff Galfer, an Atwater Village actor, who maintains the site nomoretickets.org, has sued top city officials in a class action lawsuit, and has launched an online petition against ticket abuse by the city.

He and a few citizens represented by Van Vleck Turner & Zaller have qualified to bring a class action lawsuit in federal court against the city and L.A. Department of Transportation manager Jaime de la Vega, executive officer Robert Andalon and senior management Analyst Wayne Garcia. The suit also names the city's ticket-handling contractor, Xerox State & Local Solutions Inc.

Among other things, the class action suit alleges failure to provide notice of citations or the results of initial reviews and mishandling the administrative hearing process. It accuses Xerox State & Local Solutions of acting as a government agency.

"I think that the parking situation has gone far beyond parking regulations," says Galfer. "It's transformed into a parking tax — and that's not something the people of Los Angeles have agreed to."

Andalon, one of the city bureaucrats named in the lawsuit, emailed the following response to L.A. Weekly: "Mistakes issuing citations can happen and the adjudication process ensures that citizens have multiple opportunities to contest the citation. Adjudicators review all of the facts presented and either uphold the citation or dismiss the citation" based on existing codes.

If only the reality were as tidy as that.

"One parking ticket is an entire day's wages for a minimum-wage employee," Galfer declares, "and now he's got to try to fight it. He's gotta pay $160 just to go down to City Hall, and he's missed another day of work. The name of my site, nomoretickets, is a bit of hyperbole. We just want the tickets to be fair."

Op-Ed: Why Too High Greenway Tolls Violate State Statute; A Litmus Test for Public–Private Partnerships


By Geoffrey R. Kostal, August 22, 2013

In Richmond Sept. 24, the Virginia State Corporation Commission will commence evidentiary hearings in its investigation into toll rates on the Dulles Greenway.

The toll rates on the 14-mile road between Dulles Airport and Leesburg are among the most expensive in the world. The Greenway was built in the late 1990s by a public-private partnership, with $144.2 million of equity invested. In 2005, the holding company that operates the Greenway, TRIP II, was sold by the original ownership consortium to the Australian investment bank, Macquarie.

Evidence shows that the high level of Greenway tolls violates Virginia statute and embodies the failure of collaboration between the public and private sectors on this project.

Virginia statute mandates that the SCC regulate tolls at a level that:

1. Will provide the operator no more than a reasonable return;
2. Will not materially discourage use of the roadway by the public; and
3. Is reasonable to the user in relation to the benefit obtained.

SCC…Bamboozled in 2006

In 2006, TRIP II, at the behest of Macquarie, applied for a massive toll increase. The SCC dismissed concerns related to the reasonable return criteria, writing, “Our duty to determine if the earnings derived from this toll facility exceed a reasonable level is fulfilled with relative ease. As staff witness Oliver states in his pre-filed testimony, the Partnership has lost money every year it has been in existence.”

The SCC commissioners and staff apparently got through Accounting 101 but never made it to Finance 101. While it is true that TRIP II has experienced accounting losses, those were largely attributable to noncash items (note the SCC’s inappropriate use of “earnings” in lieu of “returns”). Indeed, Macquarie itself stipulates that accounting “losses” are largely irrelevant in evaluating investor returns. In a 2012 publication entitled “Valuation of Toll Roads,” Macquarie wrote, “It is not unusual for toll road concession companies to generate accounting losses for many years.”

Macquarie even used the Dulles Toll Road as an example, emphasizing that while the road showed an accounting loss of $24.7 million in 2011, it generated net cash flow available to investors of $3.5 million.

Ultimately, TRIP II and Macquarie prevailed in 2006. As a result, tolls today—$4.90 (peak)/$4.10 (off peak)—are 71 percent and 43 percent, respectively, higher than $2.86, which is the 1997 toll rate of $2 adjusted for inflation.

2013:  The Evidence is In

While the 2006 case relied on projections, the current investigation offers the advantage of hindsight, and the results prove that Greenway tolls now violate all three statutory criteria.

• Greenway Owners are Realizing Reasonable Returns, and Then Some

Only 28 percent of concession years have elapsed, but owners have already recovered 71 percent ($101.7 million) of their original equity investment of $144.2 million.

The $42.5 million remaining owners’ equity position in the Greenway was valued by Macquarie at $281 million as of December 31, 2012.

TRIP II’s CEO claims that “There is no monopoly aspect to the Greenway.” However, Macquarie claims in marketing documents targeting investors, “many infrastructure assets are monopolistic or near-monopolistic in nature, thereby providing a strategic competitive advantage.”

• The Level of Greenway Tolls is Unreasonable to the User in Relation to the Benefit Obtained

Greenway peak toll expenditures for individuals earning less than $45,000 exceeds their Virginia state tax burden.

Greenway off-peak benefits do not exceed costs for users earning less than $58,000 assuming all benefits in a consulting study commissioned by TRIP II. When certain of the consultants’ unrealistic assumptions (related to accident avoidance benefits and vehicle operating cost differentials) are adjusted, users need to earn at least $133,472 (peak) and $42,742 (off peak) to realize an economic benefit from using the Greenway.

• Greenway Tolls are at a Level that Materially Discourages Use of the Roadway by the Public

Since 2006, tolls have increased by 78 percent (peak) and 48 percent (off peak). Greenway utilization declined from 65 percent to 52 percent of capacity. Over the same period, utilization of Waxpool Road and Rt. 7 alternate routes have both increased from 65 percent to 87 percent of capacity.

Since 2006, toll increases have contributed to a decline in Greenway traffic of 16 percent despite Loudoun County population growth of 19 percent. TRIP II’s consultant produced a regression analysis suggesting that demand for the Greenway was inelastic with respect to price...but failed to consider the 19 percent growth in population.

The SCC’s Decision Matters

…not only in a legal context, but also as a litmus test regarding the fairness of public private partnerships. To the extent that regulators fail to curb monopolistic pricing of civil infrastructure, public resistance to future partnerships will understandably increase, and the public will demand duplicative (often unnecessary) public investment to provide an alternative to excessive tolls.
The SCC should mandate that tolls be reduced to a sensible level. A good place to start would be the original 1997 rate of $2 adjusted for inflation, which comes to $2.86.

Brazil announces investments in urban mobility for the state of Sao Paulo


By Muriel MacDonald, August 20, 2013
 President Dilma Rousseff and Minister of Cities Aguinaldo Ribeiro made the announcement of funding in São Bernardo do Campo, yesterday, August 19th.

This year, São Paulo has launched 100 km (62 miles) of bus lanes across the city, doubling the speed of public transport. Recently, a Sao Paulo newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, ran an experiment, in which two teams traveled a 23 km (14.2 miles) path through the city by both bus and car. The team that took public transport made the trip in 29 minutes, from 6:47 a.m. to 7:16 a.m. The car’s trip took one hour and 11 minutes.

The time-saving advantage, however, still hasn’t persuaded many of the drivers stuck in traffic decide to switch to public transport. A survey of the Institute of Education and Research (Insper) concluded that simply improving public transportation is not enough to get drivers out of their cars. Researchers Rodrigo Moita and Carlos Eduardo Lopes developed an algorithm to simulate the pattern of choice of the population, considering factors such as income, passenger flow, and route to be traveled. They concluded that for drivers to migrate to public transport, the cost of driving a car must increase. According to research, a toll of 1 Brazillian Real ($0.42 USD) per vehicle would reduce congestion by 6%.

Yesterday, on August 19th, President Dilma Rousseff and Minister of Cities Aguinaldo Ribeiro announced investments of R $ 2.1 billion ($880 million USD) from the Growth Acceleration Program (CAP 2) for the industrial region of Greater Sao Paulo, known as “The ABC Region.” $331 million USD (R$ 795 million Brazillian Reals) of this amount will be dedicated to improving the ABC region’s urban mobility.

Most of this funding will go to improving bus transport, focusing on building additional rapid transit corridors. The new lanes will benefit many cities in the state of Sao Paulo:  Santo André, São Bernardo do Campo and São Caetano do Sul, Diadema, Maua, Ribeirão Pires and Rio Grande da Serra.

Though many drivers may need coaxing to switch to public transport, the improvements brought by exclusive bus lanes are already visible. In one stretch, the bus-only lanes have improved the average bus speed from 15 km/h (9 mph) to 24 km/h (15 mph), a 58% increase. Unfortunately for car users, the lanes have also slowed car traffic, at least temporarily. The average speed of cars in this particular corridor dropped from 22 km/h (14 mph) to 18.5 km/h (11.5 mph) after the implementation of the bus lanes.

The goal is to reach 220 kilometers (136.7 miles) of exclusive lanes for public transport by the end of the year. For everyone in the state of Sao Paulo to benefit from these investments, public transportation needs to be more than just an option. It should be the best option.

Editorial: Free California's transit funds

U.S. Labor Secretary Perez is threatening to withhold billions of dollars in grants for state projects. State officials should keep pressing to change his mind.


August 21, 2013

 U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez

 U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez

The rising cost of public employee pensions represents one of the biggest fiscal challenges for California governments over the long term. The state took an important step to rein in those costs last year when the Legislature adopted a pension reform law pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Transit unions complained about the law to U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, however, and he's threatening to withhold billions of dollars in grants for California mass-transit projects in response. Perez is wrong on the issue, and state officials should keep pressing to change his mind.

The secretary's authority over transit grants comes from the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act, which sought to preserve collective bargaining rights for transit workers as private bus and train lines were being taken over by public agencies. The law calls on the secretary to withhold grants as needed to assure "the preservation of rights, privileges and benefits (including continuation of pension rights and benefits) under existing collective bargaining agreements or otherwise."
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority workers claimed in Nove
mber that the new state Public Employee Pension Reform Act violated that stricture, and the Labor Department has since refused to release the grants that would otherwise have flowed to California transit agencies. The impasse has cost Metro more than $250 million so far; the agency fears that $3.6 billion in grants could be lost, most slated for the so-called subway to the sea project.

But the state pension law doesn't eliminate current workers' right to bargain over wages, terms of employment or provisions of their existing pensions. It would eliminate some techniques used to artificially inflate pensions, but such practices hardly seem to be the sort of thing Congress was trying to protect in 1964.

The Labor Department seems to object mainly to changes that make pensions less generous for workers hired after the new state law's enactment, such as raising the retirement age and requiring larger pension contributions. That's a specious complaint. Under long-standing state rules, "prospective employees have no vested right to any benefits prior to accepting employment."

By Perez's reading of the law, states could alter the terms of employment for transit workers only at the negotiating table, even for people and positions not yet on the books. That's a warped and shortsighted view, considering the role pension obligations have played in driving cities such as Stockton into bankruptcy. As Brown wrote to the Labor Department in May: "Bargaining rights are a moot point if you do not have a job in which to exercise them." Just as the state has left current workers' pensions to collective bargaining, Perez should respect the state's right to alter the terms of future workers' benefits.

Desperate to Keep Highway Money Flowing, Texas Foists Costs Onto Cities


By Angie Schmitt, August 21, 2013

Faced with an impending budget crisis, the Texas Department of Transportation has decided not to rethink its $5.2 billion plan for a third outerbelt through undeveloped grasslands around Houston. Instead, the agency has developed a proposal to basically shift a big part of its costs to the state’s major cities.

The Houston Business Journal reports that the state government plans to shift responsibility for more than 100 miles of roads to cities with populations larger than 50,000, and urban communities are in an uproar. The additional maintenance will foist $165 million in new annual expenses onto Texas’s major cities.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, told the Texas Tribune that “shifting $165 million of state costs onto cities would be a massive unfunded mandate that would require higher property taxes on homeowners and businesses.”

The shift amounts to a backdoor tax to fund the big highways suburban developers want. Rather than asking drivers on those suburban highways to pick up the cost, through a gas tax or tolls, Texas will make city residents pick up the tab.

Jay Crossley of local smart growth advocacy group Houston Tomorrow said many state-controlled roads are already in terrible condition thanks to TxDOT’s habit of prioritizing new road construction over maintenance.

“TxDOT is saying, ‘We need our crack,’” said Crossley. “They’re basically handing over some broken local roads and saying ‘Now it’s your problem.’”

The Larger the City, the More it Pollutes, Right?


By Emily Badger, August 21, 2013

 The Larger the City, the More it Pollutes, Right?

NASA Goddard's MODIS Rapid Response Team

As we've previously written, researchers now know that cities obey some fascinating scaling relationships. The larger they grow in population, the more patents, infrastructure, crime and economic output cities produce, each according to its own exponential equation. When a city doubles in size, for instance, it more than doubles its GDP.

Until now, though, the relationship between population and pollution has been less clear. Larger cities must produce way more of it, right? Beijing, with its 20 million people, seems perpetually steeped in the kind of smog that's visible from space. And yet, larger cities are also supposed to have all kinds of energy-efficiency benefits, and 8 million New Yorkers can't possibly drive as much as 8 million people who live just about anywhere else in America.

NASA scientists have been studying satellite data from across the globe in an effort to tease out the connect between population and pollution. In a paper recently published in Environmental Science & Technology, they've determined that cities follow a fairly similar scaling principle on the pollution front, too, although the relationship between population and air quality varies depending on where in the world you look.

The scientists focused on measures of nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, stuff that's produced from burning fossil fuels and car traffic. It's bad for you, but good for science: NO2 offers a close proxy for air quality. And the researchers were able to model NO2 levels in urban areas around the world (excluding obvious culprits like power plants) using data collected by the Ozone Monitoring Instrument on NASA's Aura satellite.

The results suggest, unsurprisingly, that a million people in particularly energy-intensive parts of the world produce more pollution than a million people in a city where personal cars are still uncommon.
A European city of that size, for instance, experiences six times as much NO2 as a comparably sized Indian city. And Indian cities, as they grow in size, experience different rates of pollution growth than cities in America, Europe or Asia. As the scientists, led by Lok Lamsal at the Goddard Space Flight Center, conclude:
Urban NO2 pollution, like other urban properties, is a power law scaling function of the population size: NO2 concentration increases proportional to population raised to an exponent. The value of the exponent varies by region from 0.36 for India to 0.66 for China, reflecting regional differences in industrial development and per capita emissions.
Or, as NASA explains in this slightly more user-friendly diagram:

The population growth of Chinese cities, in other words, apparently comes at the greatest cost in the growth of pollution.

Robert Reich: Private gain for the few trumps public good for the many Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2013/08/21/3036253/robert-reich-private-gain-for.html#storylink=cpy


August 21, 2013

Congress is in recess, but you'd hardly know it. This has been the most do-nothing, gridlocked Congress in decades. But the recess at least offers a pause in the ongoing partisan fighting that's sure to resume in a few weeks.

It also offers an opportunity to step back and ask ourselves what's really at stake.

A society -- any society --- is defined as a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions: public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on.

Public institutions are supported by all taxpayers, and are available to all. If the tax system is progressive, those who are better off (and who, presumably, have benefitted from many of these same public institutions) help pay for everyone else.

"Privatize" means "Pay for it yourself." The practical consequence of this in an economy whose wealth and income are now more concentrated than at any time in the past 90 years is to make high-quality public goods available to fewer and fewer.

In fact, much of what's called "public" is increasingly a private good paid for by users -- ever-higher tolls on public highways and public bridges, higher tuitions at so-called public universities, higher admission fees at public parks and public museums.

Much of the rest of what's considered "public" has become so shoddy that those who can afford to do so find private alternatives. As public schools deteriorate, the upper-middle class and wealthy send their kids to private ones. As public pools and playgrounds decay, the better-off buy memberships in private tennis and swimming clubs. As public hospitals decline, the well-off pay premium rates for private care.

Gated communities and office parks now come with their own manicured lawns and walkways, security guards and backup power systems.

Why the decline of public institutions? The financial squeeze on government at all levels since 2008 explains only part of it.

The slide really started more than three decades ago with so-called "tax revolts" by a middle class whose earnings had stopped advancing even though the economy continued to grow. Most families still wanted good public services and institutions but could no longer afford the tab.

Since the late 1970s, almost all the gains from growth have gone to the top. But as the upper-middle class and the rich began shifting to private institutions, they withdrew political support for public ones.

In consequence, their marginal tax rates dropped -- setting off a vicious cycle of diminishing revenues and deteriorating quality, spurring more flight from public institutions.

Tax revenues from corporations also dropped as big companies went global -- keeping their profits overseas and their tax bills to a minimum.

But that's not the whole story. America no longer values public goods as we did decades ago.

The great expansion of public institutions in America began in the early years of 20th century, when progressive reformers championed the idea that we all benefit from public goods. Excellent schools, roads, parks, playgrounds and transit systems would knit the new industrial society together, create better citizens and generate widespread prosperity.

Education, for example, was less a personal investment than a public good -- improving the entire community and ultimately the nation.

In subsequent decades -- through the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War -- this logic was expanded upon. Strong public institutions were seen as bulwarks against, in turn, mass poverty, fascism and then communism.

The public good was palpable: We were very much a society bound together by mutual needs and common threats. It was no coincidence that the greatest extensions of higher education after World War II were the GI Bill and the National Defense Education Act, or that the largest public works project in history was called the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act.

But in a post-Cold War America distended by global capital, distorted by concentrated income and wealth, undermined by unlimited campaign donations, and rocked by a wave of new immigrants easily cast by demagogues as "them," the notion of the public good has faded.

Not even Democrats still use the phrase "the public good." Public goods are now, at best, "public investments." Public institutions have morphed into "public-private partnerships" or, for Republicans, simply "vouchers."

Medicare is growing faster than the GDP only because the costs of health care are growing faster than the economy. That means any attempt to turn Medicare into a voucher -- without either raising the voucher in tandem with those costs or somehow taming them -- will just reduce the elderly's access to health care.

Other safety nets are in tatters. Unemployment insurance reaches just 40 percent of the jobless these days (largely because eligibility requires having had a steady full-time job for a number of years rather than, as with most people, a string of jobs or part-time work).

Outside of defense, domestic discretionary spending is down sharply as a percent of the economy. Add in declines in state and local spending, and total public spending on education, infrastructure and basic research has dropped dramatically over the past five years as a portion of GDP.

America has, though, created a whopping entitlement for the biggest Wall Street banks and their top executives -- who, unlike most of the rest of us, are no longer allowed to fail. They can also borrow from the Fed at almost no cost, then lend out the money at 3 percent to 6 percent.

All told, Wall Street's entitlement is the biggest offered by the federal government, even though it doesn't show up in the budget. And it's not even a public good. It's just private gain.

We're losing public goods available to all, supported by the tax payments of all and especially the better-off. In its place we have private goods available to the very rich, supported by the rest of us.

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of "Beyond Outrage," now available in paperback. His new film, "Inequality for All," will be out September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2013/08/21/3036253/robert-reich-private-gain-for.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.adn.com/2013/08/21/3036253/robert-reich-private-gain-for.html#storylink=cpy