Purpose

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, September 10, 2013

Ex-Senator Joseph Lieberman’s Firm Becomes Trial Counsel To Beverly Hills In Federal Subway Suit

“The Board is right, Metro is wrong.” -Joseph Lieberman

 http://bhcourier.com/ex-senator-joseph-liebermans-firm-trial-counsel-beverly-hills-federal-subway-suit/2013/09/10

By Laura Coleman, September 10, 2013


The Beverly Hills Board of Education voted 5-0 tonight to retain Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP in the district’s efforts to fight Metro with the lawsuit, Beverly Hills Unified School District v. Federal Transit Administration. As part of the district’s agreement, former Senator Joseph Lieberman, who joined the national firm as Senior Counsel in June, will be “available to counsel and advise BHUSD as appropriate.”

“I am thrilled to be representing BHUSD in this case because I believe strongly that the Board is right and Metro is wrong,” Lieberman told The Courier. “Our firm will do everything we can to make sure justice is done and BHUSD wins.”

The 20-year-old New York-based KBT&F, which primarily focuses on complex commercial litigation via nine offices across the U.S., will replace the DC firm Venable in representing the BHUSD in its federal lawsuit against Metro’s plan to run a subway underneath the City’s only high school through a National Environmental Protection Act legal challenge. The NEPA lawsuit is currently in its first hearing period.

As part of the board-approved agreement, which became effective Sept. 3, KBT&F will extend BHUSD a 23 percent discount off the firm’s standard hourly rates. Rates range from $250 per hour for a staff attorney up to $1,200 per hour for partners, less a 23 percent discount.

“We are fortunate that they have agreed to reduce their fees by 23 percent,” Board of Education member Lisa Korbatov said. “This is magnanimous.”

Board of Education President Jake Manaster emphasized that there would be “no cost” to the district for the legal representation move.

“Venable’s rates and these rates are identical,” he said. 

Manster told The Courier he anticipated that changing from a republican firm (Venable) to the politically diverse KBT&F, which boasts Lieberman, a former Attorney General and the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 2000, would serve the district well in working with L.A.’s new democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti and the democrat-controlled Federal Transportation Authority.

“We’re pleased to have the firm come on; a firm that has a little more of a broad political spectrum,” he said.

Venable will continue to work with the district through the transition period. Manaster said there would be no cost related to KBT&F “getting up to speed.”

How do they do that? Dig a subway tunnel

 How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.


http://thesource.metro.net/2013/09/10/how-do-they-do-that-dig-a-subway-tunnel/

By Kim Upton, September 10, 2013

 Video: Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension Tunnel Breakthrough Tunneling Begins at Mariachi Plaza Station 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4b7jloUldA



Lowering tunnel boring machine into the ground — Dec. 15, 2005 — for construction of Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension.

With the Crenshaw/LAX line, the Metro Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension readying for construction, there will be plenty of digging going on in L.A.County. But how do you dig a subway tunnel? Dynamite? Giant corkscrew? Spoon?

In the U.S. we’ve been mining subway tunnels for more than a century. At first there were men and shovels and dynamite and excruciating physical labor. (Think Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. Think pressurized compartments holding workers who had to be depressurized at the end of a shift to avoid getting the “bends.”) Fortunately, we now have machines to do the heavy work.

During the past 20 years Metro has constructed three sets of tunnels: one for the Metro Red and Purple lines, another for two stations of the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension and a third to carry the Expo Line under the busy Figueroa-Exposition Boulevard intersection.

Tunnel boring machine
Tunnel boring machine

For the Gold Line Eastside Extension, two tunnel boring machines nicknamed Lola and Vicki (see video above) were lowered into the ground in Boyle Heights to bore twin subway tunnels from First and Boyle to First and Lorena streets at a depth of 50 to 60 feet. Each TBM weighed more than two million pounds and was 344 feet long. Each built a tunnel that was 21 feet in diameter.


But before tunnel design or digging could start, massive planning took place, including a thorough site investigation that among things analyzed the type of soil (sand, clay, rock) and the presence of gas (methane, hydrogen sulfide).

Construction for the next three Metro Rail projects will include the same careful site investigation and two tunneling methods used successfully for the Gold Line Extension: 1) cut and cover for the subway stations and 2) pressurized face tunnel boring machines (TBMs) for the tunneling itself.

Cut and cover.
Cut and cover

For cut and cover, the surface street is removed, a temporary road deck is installed to maintain traffic, a trench is dug, the station box is constructed in the trench and, finally, the street restored.

For TBM tunneling, a shaft is sunk and the boring machine lowered to the depth of the tunnel. (On the Eastside Extension the Mariachi Station shaft was used as the boring machine entry point.) Then the TBM goes to work. As it did for the Gold Line Extension, Metro will again use “pressurized face” tunnel boring machines. This type of TBM maintains enough pressure on its face to prevent the surrounding ground from collapsing during construction. For obvious reasons, ground collapse is the enemy of a successful tunneling project.

Figuratively, the TBM is like a giant coffee can on its side but instead of a lid there is the rotating cutter head face with teeth that chew up the soil. Behind the rotating cutter head is a corkscrew-like device that carries the soil backward through the can and deposits it into waiting construction trains that carry the soil away so it can be lifted from the tunnel. (Yes, Metro even uses a temporary construction railroad to help build its rail transit lines.)

The TBM pushes forward, cutting and removing the soil and erecting tunnel lining segments inside the can, or shield, and then surrounding them with a cement grout, leaving behind a circular tunnel shell. The concrete tunnel lining must be built within the TBM shield so that not only is the face supported but also the surrounding ground before the tunnel lining is constructed.

Los Angeles has methane and hydrogen sulfide gas in places and this technique works well for those conditions. The closed face of the pressurized TBM prevents gas from reaching the workers during construction. A double gasket tunnel lining also resists water and gas. And all stations are lined with high density polyethylene (HDP) — a robust plastic — for protection from gas, water … well, anything we need to keep out of the tunnel. As part of the planning, tunnel paths are designed to run perpendicular to earthquake faults. The faster over a fault, the better. Running on or along a fault is to be avoided.

There are tunnels all over the planet. The Norwegian Laerdal Tunnel is the longest road tunnel (15.23 miles) in the world, linking the capitol Oslo with Bergen. The 31-mile Channel Tunnel (AKA Chunnel) links France and England under the English Channel. And the Cu Chi Tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam are an expansive labyrinth of tunnels — perhaps as much as 150 miles — that were used as a hiding place for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. They’re now a tourist attraction.

Metro issues Notice to Proceed for Crenshaw/LAX Line!

http://thesource.metro.net/2013/09/10/metro-issues-notice-to-proceed-for-crenshawlax-line/

By Steve Hymon, September 10, 2013

Good news this afternoon for the Crenshaw/LAX Line project, with Metro issuing the official “notice to proceed,” the document that allows the contractor to begin design/build work with serious construction expected to begin in 2014. As the notice says, the contractor — Walsh/Shea Corridor Constructors
— has five years to complete the work.

Senator Liu's 710 Freeway Properties Bill Sent to Governor

SB 416 expedites the sale of more than 500 houses no longer needed for the proposed 710 freeway extension.

By Ajay Singh, September 10, 2013

Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge).















 Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge).

This is a lightly edited news statement from the office of Senator Carol Liu:

The state Senate approved a bill this past week expediting the sale of state-owned houses no longer needed for a proposed State Highway Route 710 extension in Los Angeles, Alhambra, South Pasadena, and Pasadena, Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) announced Tuesday.

 Liu, who represents about 930,000 people in the 25th Senate District, authored SB 416, which streamlines the California Department of Transportation process for selling as surplus property houses that were purchased more than 50 years ago for the extension route. Assemblymembers Mike Gatto (D-Burbank) and Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), co-authored the legislation.

The Senate passed the bill on a 38-0 vote and sent it to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has 30 days to sign or veto the legislation.

"This bill gets Caltrans out of the real estate management business, generate revenues for local transportation projects, and returns these properties to our local tax rolls,” said Liu. "I want to thank Mr. Gatto and Mr. Holden for their support of this important measure,” Liu said. SB 416 passed the Assembly 77-0 last week.

The 4.5-mile, uncompleted portion of SR 710 transects neighborhoods and communities. Caltrans owns more than 500 properties within the originally proposed surface route corridor. About 400 homes are occupied by tenants for whom Caltrans serves as landlord, but many houses remain vacant and in disrepair.

The originally proposed North 710 surface route segment has been eliminated from further consideration by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is preparing the Environmental Impact Report and Statement on Caltrans’ behalf. SB 416 will codify this determination, clearing the way for properties to be declared excess and sold.

Current law, known as the Roberti Bill, establishes terms and conditions for the sale of properties to current tenants and affordable housing entities before offering them for sale at fair market value to the public. Single-family residences must first be offered at an affordable price to present occupants who qualify as low income. SB 416 enables those properties to be sold "as is" upon agreement with the buyer thus, relieving Caltrans of the need to make costly repairs prior to a sale. 

The bill further revises the definition of "fair market value" to reflect the "as is" condition of the property, taking into account any needed repairs, and gives current tenants priority to purchase residential and non-residential properties at fair market value.

Australia Just Had a Train Accident That's Being Blamed on ... Millipedes


When nature and infrastructure collide, things can get slippery. 

  http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/09/australia-just-had-a-train-accident-thats-being-blamed-on-millipedes/279380/

By Megan Garber, September 5, 2013

 A millipede, curled in a defensive position



In 1953, Australia got some accidental tourists from Portugal: millipedes. Black Portuguese millipedes, to be specific, which are known not only for their distinctive black shell, but also for the terrible odor they emit. Since then, the millipedes -- aided by the fact that, in Australia, they have no natural predators -- have made themselves at home in their adopted country. So much at home, in fact, that they have flourished (often reaching "plague numbers," some scientists put it). And the worm-like creatures have, in the process, became pests to the country's human residents.

The latest example of Australia's thousand-footed pestilence may be one that involves nothing less than the country's infrastructure. Yes. Earlier this week, 25 miles north of Perth, a train pulling into a station in the town of Clarkson ended up rear-ending a train that was parked at the station. And Australia's transit authority is blaming the accident on … the millipedes.

The creatures have a tendency to hang out on train tracks, it seems, their shiny-black exoskeletons acting as perfect camouflage. And when a train comes along, they … well, you know. And when there are a lot of millipedes being squished at the same time, that leads to tracks that are much less friction-filled than normal. "The train loses traction and the train has slipped," explained David Hynes, a spokesman for the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia.

Or, as Australia's Minibeast Wildlife puts it: "The mush and oils from millions of dead millipedes on the tracks caused the trains to lose traction."

In this case, the effects of a track suddenly acting as a biological Slip-n-Slide were minor. “There was one train at the platform and people were getting on and another train came up behind it and bumped into it,” Hynes put it“It was like a very bad park, as if someone just bumped into the car in front of them."

Which is, all in all, a good outcome, considering. But its seems pretty clear that millipedes were, indeed, to blame for the low-speed collision. "Hundreds of the creatures were found squashed in a slippery mess on the track," SkyNews reports.

And this wouldn't be the first time that millipedes were the culprits in train problems. In 2002, Minibeast Wildlife notes, "There were so many Portuguese Millipedes on the train lines between Melbourne and Ballarat that 50 trains were prevented from running." And in 2009, thousands of the millipedes overtook more than a mile -- more than a mile! -- of track near Melbourne, causing train delays and cancellations.

"What happened in previous instances," Hynes said, "is trains which were traveling at speed have gone over an infestation, crushed them and made the tracks slimy."

In the case of the Clarkson crash, six passengers were treated for neck problems following the collision, and that seems to be the extent of the human toll. But the accident led to a circumstance that serves as a nice reminder of how intimately connected nature and infrastructure are, even in the highly developed world of 2013. The Public Transportation Authority of Western Australia is now conducting an inquiry on the creatures' effects on the train tracks. They're calling it a "millipede probe."

Don't read this while driving: L.A. insurance rates highest in state

http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-autos-la-insurance-rates-highest-in-state-20130904,0,398572.story

By David Undercoffler, September 5, 2013


Insurance rates




LAPD investigators at the scene of 2011 crash in Los Angeles. A new study found that the 10 ZIP Codes in California with the highest car insurance premiums were in the L.A. metro area. 


Here’s another item to add to the "That costs more in Los Angeles" list, and it isn’t pretty: car insurance.

The 10 most expensive ZIP Codes for car insurance in the state of California are all in the L.A. metro area. L.A. County is also the most expensive county in the state, while Beverly Hills wins the honor of most expensive city in the state to insure a vehicle.

The findings are from a study commissioned by InsuranceQuotes.com.

"Where you live is playing a big role in the rate you’re paying," said Laura Adams, senior analyst for the website InsuranceQuotes.

With a higher population density than anywhere else in the state, Los Angeles has more traffic, more accidents and more claims, Adams said. This pushes premiums up.

Two Hollywood neighborhoods have the highest premiums in the state by ZIP Code, according to the study. Residents in North Hollywood (91606) and West Hollywood (90038) pay 51% above the state average of $746 per vehicle. Glendale (91205) comes in a close third with premiums 50% higher than the state average.

By city, L.A. residents pay about 32% more than state average. Beverly Hills residents pay the most of any city on average, with premiums that are 44% higher than the California average.

On the other end of the spectrum, Westchester (90045) has the cheapest rates of any ZIP Code in L.A., at just 7% higher than the state average. Culver City (90066) and Commerce (90040) both sit at 10% higher than California’s average.

To gauge how rates would vary, InsuranceQuotes' study used a hypothetical 45-year-old married couple with a clean driving record and two cars.

Three primary factors affect how insurance companies determine insurance premiums, Adams said: the driver’s safety record, the average number of miles driven each year, and the number of years of driving experience the insured has.

This is a result of California’s Proposition 103, which was passed in 1988 in an effort to curb abuses by insurance companies seeking to unfairly setting premiums.

"Prop. 103 shifted the focus from where you live to more about how you drive," Adams said.

Yet what ZIP Code you live in will affect your rates because more residents in expensive neighborhoods generally drive vehicles that cost more, Adams said.

Things get more rosy as drivers get away from L.A. Rates in San Francisco are just 8% higher than state average. Drivers in San Diego pay 11% less than California's average.

There’s even some good news for L.A. drivers -- and those throughout the state.

California is one of only three states that prohibit insurance companies from using a driver’s credit score to help determine their car insurance premiums.

This is a boon for drivers with low credit scores, who might otherwise be charged higher rates.

Massachusetts and Hawaii are the other two states that prevents this, though others are considering adopting this policy, Adams said.

Look what’s next on Wilshire

http://zev.lacounty.gov/news/transportation/top-story-transportation/look-whats-next-on-wilshire

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, September 5, 2013

 

 Purple-blooming jacaranda trees, shown in rendering above, will be spared when new Wilshire bus lane is built.

As the Wilshire segment of the massive 405 Project winds down, with the completion of sweeping new flyover ramps in the months ahead, another big project is about to hit the boulevard.

The Wilshire Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, which is creating a dedicated bus lane running from MacArthur Park to the border of Santa Monica, is set to begin work in March, 2014, on a segment of Wilshire Boulevard near the V.A. Hospital in West Los Angeles.

Construction on the Wilshire segment of the 405 Project is expected to wrap up by January, 2014. With the exception of some landscaping work, the freeway project is not anticipated to overlap with the bus lane construction.

In the V.A.-area section of the bus project, Wilshire is being widened from Bonsall Avenue to Federal/San Vicente to incorporate a new eastbound lane that buses will be able to use exclusively during peak morning and afternoon rush hour periods. In the off-hours, the new lane will be available to all vehicles.

Initially, there were concerns that more than 30 jacaranda trees that line the median on Wilshire between Federal and Bonsall would need to be removed as part of the project.

Now, however, plans call for the trees to be boxed up during construction and replanted when the widening project has been completed. Trees deemed not healthy enough to survive transplanting will be replaced.

“We’re going to improve the situation,” said Lance Grindle of the county Department of Public Works, which is designing the project and overseeing work on the .8 mile stretch. New street lighting is being installed, along with a new, more reliable irrigation system.

“There are quite a few nice healthy trees there. There are also quite a few trees that are in distress because they didn’t get enough water,” Grindle said.

In addition to replacing the jacarandas in the median, more than 35 Brisbane box trees will be planted along the north side of the boulevard with other landscaping.

“It actually creates a nice little walking area,” Grindle said.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week authorized Public Works to move ahead with the V.A. segment of the project.

Martha Butler, director of regional transit planning for Metro, the lead agency for the project as a whole, said the new lane is essential to speeding up bus travel times along Wilshire.

“It’s the most important corridor in the county, our No. 1 in terms of ridership,” Butler said. She said the bus station at Bonsall, serving the V.A., is particularly heavily used, with 700 boardings a day.
“It really provides a critical service to veterans,” she said.

Butler noted that the new bus lane is an addition to the existing lanes on Wilshire and will not usurp any current travel space. Construction will take place in phases, beginning with the north side of Wilshire, and two lanes will remain open in each direction throughout the project. In addition to the new bus lane, there will be longer left-turn pockets on westbound Wilshire at San Vicente and on eastbound Wilshire at Sepulveda.

An initial segment of the BRT project—which in its entirety will span 12.5 miles, including 7.7 miles for buses only during peak hours—opened in June from MacArthur Park to Western Avenue.

Construction on the segment running from Western to San Vicente is expected to begin this month.
When the whole project is completed in November, 2014, average travel times along the corridor are expected to improve by 24% and spark a bus ridership increase of 15% to 20%.

Riding the Dubai Metro Is Like Driving a Porsche

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/09/riding-dubai-metro-driving-porsche/6831/

By Mark Byrnes, September 10, 2013

Four years ago, the Dubai metro hosted its first morning commuters. It was not smooth sailing -- one train malfunctioned, leaving passengers stranded for two hours.

Things have gotten better since then. The 46.5 mile, self-driving system (it still employs humans to supervise the train in case of emergency) currently has two lines (Red and Green) and 44 stations. Three more lines (Blue, Purple, Gold) are under consideration.

The system carried 109.5 million passengers in 2012, a substantial increase of 40 million from the previous year, thanks in part to the Green line's late 2011 debut. It's currently the world's longest, self-driving metro system.

The city's love of private vehicles (the fancier the better) and history of discrimination (see: shopping malls banning migrants) created marketing issues for the system. How do you convince wealthy, skeptical citizens that a ride on the Dubai Metro could be exquisite? Here's their answer: A promotional video that equates using the new rail system to driving a Porsche with your sunglasses on through a lightly trafficked road, or being a soaring bird of prey:




It even has "Gold Class" cars, the system's equivalent to an airline's "Business Class" section, filled with leather seats and plush pile carpets. For the common man, there's a "Silver Class" section (economy) as well as cars for women and children only.

Dubai Metro has had its share of problems beyond public transit stigma and opening day hiccups. Contractors slowed down work over billions of dollars in disputed payments with Dubai's Roads and Transport authority before eventually reaching a settlement in 2010. A migrant worker committed suicide on the tracks last year. The two lines that are operating cover mostly affluent areas of the city, making it difficult for Dubai's poorest residents to access one of the world's most affordable systems. Future expansion is on hold for now with no financing or timetable in place.

From the corporate side of things, a nice story was reported last year about the first ever Emerati woman to become a train supervisor in Dubai:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fy9buEGwRls

MYTH: Transit doesn't solve traffic congestion

http://lastreetsblog.tumblr.com/post/60455952815/charlotte-north-carolinas-transit-agency-cats

September 6, 2013

First, smart cars. Next, smart transport grids

A new world beckons in which urban transit networks will be able to warn about road conditions or adjust road speeds to relieve traffic congestion.

 http://news.cnet.com/8301-11386_3-57595743-76/first-smart-cars-next-smart-transport-grids/

 By Stephen Shankland, September 3, 2013

  A system from IBM and NXP Semiconductors gathers sensor data from cars in the city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. One result is that city planners get a real-time view of where rain is falling.

 A system from IBM and NXP Semiconductors gathers sensor data from cars in the city of Eindhoven in the Netherlands. One result is that city planners get a real-time view of where rain is falling.

Editors' note: Be sure to catch the other stories in this package: on how Google's robo-cars mean the end of driving as we know it, on self-driving cars bristling with sensors, and on real-world experiments with platoons of connected cars.

Haunted by the nightmare of global traffic paralysis, Ford Motor executive chairman William Ford Jr. has a global dream.

Given current growth trends, the world's population is expected to reach 9 billion people by midcentury. That also means a quadrupling in the number of cars to 4 billion by 2050 -- and that, said Ford, is a recipe for global gridlock that he argues will become "a human rights issue, not just an inconvenience."


For Ford, the executive chairman of the auto company his grandfather founded, the only answer is to create a future where pedestrians, bicycles, and cars become part of a connected network.

The world is still far from realizing that vision, but collaboration between urban planners and technologists is starting to provide the pieces to fit into that bigger puzzle. For instance, city planners in the Dutch city of Eindhoven know from data beamed from cars where roads are dangerously wet. In Lyon, France, the Optimod'Lyon network lets the public pick the fastest way to work. Drivers in Singapore now use location data gathered by taxis for a forecast of the next hour's traffic patterns.

We're only in the early stages of a larger transformation that technologists believe is inevitable given the prominent role that computer technology will play in the car of tomorrow. Some of the infrastructure already exists. Many cities now have central traffic control systems to adjust traffic-light timing and tweak traffic patterns. In the future, the idea is to turn the car into a four-wheeled networked data-collection device, offering city planners accurate information about local conditions so they can better manage urban congestion.

For people who've gnashed their teeth waiting for congestion to clear in downtown Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Los Angeles, or any of the other rush-hour hellholes that have become part of urban life, this sounds wonderful. But quite a bit of work -- and money -- will be required to turn that vision into reality and get getting cars communicating with each other and with infrastructure.

"The challenge is going to be the business model," says IBM's Vinodh Swaminathan, a director of industry solutions work. "We don't have enough money anywhere in the world to fill the potholes, much less to install wireless network communications into yield signs, street lights, and parking meters."

VTT Technical Research Centre's technology can create a real-time map of road slipperiness in Finland based on data from a relatively small fraction of the cars on the road.
VTT Technical Research Centre's technology can create a real-time map of road slipperiness in Finland based on data from a relatively small fraction of the cars on the road. 

Networks could improve safety, too. VTT Technical Research Centre, a government-owned research organization in Finland, is ready to commercialize technology to monitor road slipperiness and send alerts using data gathered from vehicles themselves, said Kimmo Erkkila, a senior VTT scientist. The technology monitors how much a vehicle's wheels slip using existing sensors such as those found in automatic braking systems.

The first phase of the technology works within an individual vehicle, detecting slipperiness and warning drivers based on data from the car. But it gets more interesting when multiple vehicles report back to a central station that can track trouble spots on the roads.

"In the automotive industry, we're seeing a shift from building cars to selling travel time well spent -- where the connected ownership and driving experience becomes a key differentiator."

--Andreas Mai, Cisco's Smart Connected Vehicles program
 
"The vehicles can actually have that warning before they are going to the slippery parts of the road," Erkkila said. He expects that alerts would cover stretches of road about three miles long so drivers wouldn't be constantly bombarded by alerts about changing conditions.

Singapore uses a system IBM built that marries traffic records with GPS location data from taxis to predict the day's traffic. Advanced analytics factor in historical data, which then get applied to a real-time GPS stream data to predict up to an hour into the future, all with about 95 percent accuracy, according to Swaminathan.

The system is in use in Lyon, too, where city staff can anticipate and therefore sidestep problems instead of responding only after they occur. Using their control systems, they can suggest alternate routes, or change pre-programmed timers on ramp control systems and lights on the arterials.

A system from IBM and NXP Semiconductors gathers car events like use of fog lights and windshield wipers then beams it to city planners who can find trouble spots. It also alerts city residents about nearby problems over smartphones.
A system from IBM and NXP Semiconductors gathers car events like use of fog lights and windshield wipers then beams it to city planners who can find trouble spots. It also alerts city residents about nearby problems over smartphones. 

Networked cars make it all possible. Taxi-based GPS data is one mechanism, but IBM also has worked with Vodafone so it could infer traffic density from mobile phones' cell tower usage.

The prospect of all this technology spreading into a new market has tech companies salivating. "In the automotive industry, we're seeing a shift from building cars to selling travel time well spent -- where the connected ownership and driving experience becomes a key differentiator," said Andreas Mai, director of product management for Cisco Systems' Smart Connected Vehicles program. "To connect millions of vehicles to other vehicles, to the roadside infrastructure (traffic lights, parking spots, etc.) and to the Internet, the industry will need highly scalable network architectures."

That's why NXP Semiconductors is interested, too, with an active program to develop chips and other electronics that can monitor car behavior and link back to the central network.

With that data, city planners can alter driver behavior through financial incentives, something now in testing by Eindhoven where users opt in to a system allowing traffic managers to see where they are heading. The early evidence is promising. City planners have been able to influence changes in driver behavior with the right kind of pricing incentives.

That's just for starters. The system also allows car to transmit all that data about the car's performance. That includes information about the number of times the high beams go on or the speed of the windshield wipers. Sound a bit too Big Brother-ish for your tastes? Perhaps, but with millions of bytes of data streaming into urban control centers, cities will be able to save lives by lowering speed limits when road conditions turn dangerous.

The VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland is commercializing a technology to detect slippery roads to warn drivers not just of the car with the detector, but others with a network connection, too.
The VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland is commercializing a technology to detect slippery roads to warn drivers not just of the car with the detector, but others with a network connection, too. 

 
"The vehicles can actually have that warning before they are going to the slippery parts of the road," Erkkila said. He expects that alerts would cover stretches of road about three miles long so drivers wouldn't be constantly bombarded by alerts about changing conditions.

Singapore uses a system IBM built that marries traffic records with GPS location data from taxis to predict the day's traffic. Advanced analytics factor in historical data, which then get applied to a real-time GPS stream data to predict up to an hour into the future, all with about 95 percent accuracy, according to Swaminathan.

The system is in use in Lyon, too, where city staff can anticipate and therefore sidestep problems instead of responding only after they occur. Using their control systems, they can suggest alternate routes, or change pre-programmed timers on ramp control systems and lights on the arterials.

A system from IBM and NXP Semiconductors gathers car events like use of fog lights and windshield wipers then beams it to city planners who can find trouble spots. It also alerts city residents about nearby problems over smartphones.
A system from IBM and NXP Semiconductors gathers car events like use of fog lights and windshield wipers then beams it to city planners who can find trouble spots. It also alerts city residents about nearby problems over smartphones. 

Networked cars make it all possible. Taxi-based GPS data is one mechanism, but IBM also has worked with Vodafone so it could infer traffic density from mobile phones' cell tower usage.

The prospect of all this technology spreading into a new market has tech companies salivating. "In the automotive industry, we're seeing a shift from building cars to selling travel time well spent -- where the connected ownership and driving experience becomes a key differentiator," said Andreas Mai, director of product management for Cisco Systems' Smart Connected Vehicles program. "To connect millions of vehicles to other vehicles, to the roadside infrastructure (traffic lights, parking spots, etc.) and to the Internet, the industry will need highly scalable network architectures."

That's why NXP Semiconductors is interested, too, with an active program to develop chips and other electronics that can monitor car behavior and link back to the central network.

With that data, city planners can alter driver behavior through financial incentives, something now in testing by Eindhoven where users opt in to a system allowing traffic managers to see where they are heading. The early evidence is promising. City planners have been able to influence changes in driver behavior with the right kind of pricing incentives.

That's just for starters. The system also allows car to transmit all that data about the car's performance. That includes information about the number of times the high beams go on or the speed of the windshield wipers. Sound a bit too Big Brother-ish for your tastes? Perhaps, but with millions of bytes of data streaming into urban control centers, cities will be able to save lives by lowering speed limits when road conditions turn dangerous.

The VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland is commercializing a technology to detect slippery roads to warn drivers not just of the car with the detector, but others with a network connection, too.
The VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland is commercializing a technology to detect slippery roads to warn drivers not just of the car with the detector, but others with a network connection, too.
 

Purple Line makes Beverly Hills, BHUSD see red: Wilshire Boulevard to be torn up for upwards of 9 years

 Newly released Metro schedule calls for construction during rush hour, nights and holidays

 http://www.prnewschannel.com/2013/09/10/purple-line-makes-beverly-hills-bhusd-see-red-wilshire-boulevard-to-be-torn-up-for-upwards-of-9-years/

September 10, 2013

 

 

As BHUSD and the city of Beverly Hills continue their fight against MTA’s proposed Purple Line Extension, the beleaguered agency has released a tentative schedule that has citizens even further up in arms.
Calling for nine years of construction on heavily used Wilshire Boulevard, Metro’s new construction schedule will have one of the busiest routes in the state ravaged with construction into 2023.
According to the Beverly Hills Courier, to complete construction within the nine-year window, MTA is planning to seek exemptions that will allow construction crews to work during “peak hours,” or rush hours, as well as overnight and on holidays. Without the approval of these exemptions, however, the project would extend well beyond the nine-year window.
“MTA is not only proposing to ruin traffic for the better part of a decade but is also planning to carry out construction doing the most inconvenient times possible,” Lisa Korbatov, Beverly Hills Unified School Board member. “At this point, I’m past the point of being surprised by MTA’s missteps.”
Proposing two different options for each phase of construction, Metro will decide on the final construction schedule after working through the details with city officials.
Perhaps one of the most shocking aspects of the proposed schedule involves the Deck Installation portion of the project. Current estimates call for 54 hours a week of work over a span of 20 weekends. However, during this time, full street closures will be required.
Even with 20 weekends worth of closures proposed, the Beverly Hills Courier reports that MTA has yet to finalize plans for where traffic will be directed during the construction.
A divisive project from the beginning, the MTA’s Westside Subway Extension Project has long been fought by BHUSD. After the project was approved, the city claims that at least eight studies warned of seismic risks involved with tunneling under the high school.
With the MTA’s scientific basis for routing the line under the school recently debunked by the Beverly Hills School District’s research in conjunction with the California Geological Survey, the MTA refused to acknowledge their mistake. Determined to stick with a plan that will burn through taxpayer’s dollars and unnecessarily cost Los Angeles county and taxpayers upwards of $200 million, the MTA’s decision making processes aren’t making the agency any friends in Beverly Hills.
Continually going against public sentiment, it’s clear that the agency isn’t doing itself any favors in the court of public opinion. However, if recent history is any indication, the MTA might not care.
- See more at: http://www.prnewschannel.com/2013/09/10/purple-line-makes-beverly-hills-bhusd-see-red-wilshire-boulevard-to-be-torn-up-for-upwards-of-9-years/#sthash.WjfuISSG.dpuf

 As BHUSD and the city of Beverly Hills continue their fight against MTA’s proposed Purple Line Extension, the beleaguered agency has released a tentative schedule that has citizens even further up in arms.

Calling for nine years of construction on heavily used Wilshire Boulevard, Metro’s new construction schedule will have one of the busiest routes in the state ravaged with construction into 2023.

According to the Beverly Hills Courier, to complete construction within the nine-year window, MTA is planning to seek exemptions that will allow construction crews to work during “peak hours,” or rush hours, as well as overnight and on holidays. Without the approval of these exemptions, however, the project would extend well beyond the nine-year window.

“MTA is not only proposing to ruin traffic for the better part of a decade but is also planning to carry out construction doing the most inconvenient times possible,” Lisa Korbatov, Beverly Hills Unified School Board member. “At this point, I’m past the point of being surprised by MTA’s missteps.”

Proposing two different options for each phase of construction, Metro will decide on the final construction schedule after working through the details with city officials.

Perhaps one of the most shocking aspects of the proposed schedule involves the Deck Installation portion of the project. Current estimates call for 54 hours a week of work over a span of 20 weekends. However, during this time, full street closures will be required.

Even with 20 weekends worth of closures proposed, the Beverly Hills Courier reports that MTA has yet to finalize plans for where traffic will be directed during the construction.

A divisive project from the beginning, the MTA’s Westside Subway Extension Project has long been fought by BHUSD. After the project was approved, the city claims that at least eight studies warned of seismic risks involved with tunneling under the high school.

With the MTA’s scientific basis for routing the line under the school recently debunked by the Beverly Hills School District’s research in conjunction with the California Geological Survey, the MTA refused to acknowledge their mistake. Determined to stick with a plan that will burn through taxpayer’s dollars and unnecessarily cost Los Angeles county and taxpayers upwards of $200 million, the MTA’s decision making processes aren’t making the agency any friends in Beverly Hills.

Continually going against public sentiment, it’s clear that the agency isn’t doing itself any favors in the court of public opinion. However, if recent history is any indication, the MTA might not care.
Newly released Metro schedule calls for construction during rush hour, nights and holidays - See more at: http://www.prnewschannel.com/2013/09/10/purple-line-makes-beverly-hills-bhusd-see-red-wilshire-boulevard-to-be-torn-up-for-upwards-of-9-years/#sthash.WjfuISSG.dpuf
Newly released Metro schedule calls for construction during rush hour, nights and holidays - See more at: http://www.prnewschannel.com/2013/09/10/purple-line-makes-beverly-hills-bhusd-see-red-wilshire-boulevard-to-be-torn-up-for-upwards-of-9-years/#sthash.WjfuISSG.dpuf

 

Newly released Metro schedule calls for construction during rush hour, nights and holidays - See more at: http://www.prnewschannel.com/2013/09/10/purple-line-makes-beverly-hills-bhusd-see-red-wilshire-boulevard-to-be-torn-up-for-upwards-of-9-years/#sthash.WjfuISSG.dpufhttp://www.prnewschannel.com/2013/09/10/purple-line-makes-beverly-hills-bhusd-see-red-wilshire-boulevard-to-be-torn-up-for-upwards-of-9-years/


Sacramento judge has a full plate of rail lawsuits

http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/09/09/3488426/sacramento-judge-has-a-full-plate.html

By Tim Sheehan, September 9, 2013



 HSR 2
 Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny listens as attorneys for Kings County and the California High-Speed Rail Authority make their oral arguments Friday, May 31.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/09/09/3488426/sacramento-judge-has-a-full-plate.html#storylink=cpy

The same Sacramento County judge who last month was critical of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's 2011 funding plan will soon decide the agency's request to approve the sale of Proposition 1A bonds for the statewide rail project.

Judge Michael Kenny will hear arguments from attorneys for the rail authority and from opponents, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, on Sept. 27 in his Sacramento County Superior Court courtroom. The California High-Speed Rail Authority wants the judge to validate the sale of bonds from Prop. 1A, the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by voters in 2008, so that it can move forward with construction of its first 29-mile segment from Madera through Fresno.

Kenny is also the judge deciding a lawsuit by Kings County and two of its residents, farmer John Tos and Hanford homeowner Aaron Fukuda, who allege that the rail authority's 2011 funding plan and a draft business plan are in violation of Prop. 1A. That lawsuit asserts that the plans failed to fully identify all of the sources of money for the authority to build its "initial operating segment" from Merced to Los Angeles -- the first stretch on which high-speed trains would carry paying passengers.

The suit also states that Prop. 1A requires the authority to certify that it has completed or received all of the environmental approvals needed for the entire Merced-Los Angeles section. To date, the only portion of the route that has been environmentally certified by the authority is the Merced-Fresno section -- and even that omits the area around Chowchilla, where a Y-shaped junction would merge the Merced-Fresno line with tracks connecting to the Bay Area.

Kings County, Tos and Fukuda also said that by proposing to share tracks with existing commuter rail lines in the Bay Area and Southern California, the project is substantially different than what was promised to voters in 2008.

Kenny last month agreed with Tos, Fukuda and the county that the agency's plans did not comply Prop. 1A. But he stopped short of blocking work on the Madera-Fresno section, where the authority hopes to break ground for construction within weeks. Instead, he asked attorneys to submit arguments about legal remedies to the violations. Those arguments will be heard by Kenny on Nov. 8 in Sacramento.

The bond validation lawsuit is focused solely on the sale of the Prop. 1A bonds, not with how the rail authority will use that money.

In June, the Kings County Water District filed a countersuit to the rail authority's bond validation case, asking the judge to overturn the authority's award of a $985 million contract for the design and construction of the Madera-Fresno section. That countersuit has since been separated from the bond validation case, and a trail date is scheduled for January.

The rail agency's board will discuss the Kings County lawsuit and the validation action, as well as other litigation, in a closed session Tuesday before its regular public meeting in Sacramento.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/09/09/3488426/sacramento-judge-has-a-full-plate.html#storylink=cpy

Long Beach Transit Board Unaware Staff Added 20-Bus Option to Contract for Low-Emission Buses

 http://lbbusinessjournal.com/long-beach-business-journal-newswatch/1784-long-beach-transit-board-unaware-staff-added-20-bus-option-to-contract-for-low-emission-buses.html

September 10, 2013 – An option for purchasing 20 more zero emission buses was added to Long Beach Transit’s contract with BYD Motors without the board of directors’ knowledge, Boardmember Maricela De Rivera pointed out at their meeting on August 27.

Rolando Cruz, executive director and vice president of maintenance and facilities at Long Beach Transit (LBT), admitted that including the option without board approval was a “mistake” and that staff oversight was to blame. The board approved the contract with BYD, an American subsidiary of a Chinese company, for 10 of these buses back in March.

Apparently, the August 27 meeting’s staff report was the first that boardmembers had heard of the contract amendment, which allows the board to approve the purchase of 20 additional buses within the next five years.

Lori Ann Farrell, one of two boardmembers who voted against contracting with BYD for the bus order, firmly opposed the addition to the contract. “It sounds to me like the contract was written in error and went above and beyond what the board approved. On the fundamental issue of inclusion in the contract, it should not have been in there,” Farrell said at the meeting.

Farrell, the former director of financial management for the City of Long Beach, and currently holds a similar position with the City of Huntington Beach.

De Rivera and Farrell both questioned the legality of including the option without board approval, but the amended contract is still legally sound, Gary J. Anderson, deputy city attorney, told the Business Journal.

“The fact that there is an option to purchase 20 additional buses does not make the contract illegal. It’s not on the material terms of the contract,” Anderson said. The board has to provide consent if the option were to be exercised. “If they are really concerned, they can amend the contract to delete the language,” he suggested.

Barbara Sullivan George, chair of the transit board, told the Business Journal that the board and LBT CEO Kenneth McDonald are discussing the issue of how staff added language to a contract without board approval. We are “in discussions to address the oversight . . . that was included in the BYD contract,” Sullivan George said.

Issues of product quality also arose at the meeting. Following the discovery of cracks on the BYD-engineered testing bus during Altoona testing, first reported by the Business Journal on August 23, Cruz told the board there are potential financial and scheduling impacts to the project, including a one-year delay in bus completion. The U.S. requires Altoona testing before buses can be put into service. Before the board chose BYD, they also had the option to contract with Proterra, an American company that already had Altoona-tested buses.

The BYD bus was repaired and sent back for testing, which put the project behind schedule. “There definitely will be a monetary impact as a result of what’s going on,” Cruz told the board. He said LBT would negotiate with BYD regarding costs incurred.

LBT spokesperson Kevin Lee did not say who would be responsible for any costs incurred, because “those negotiations have not been finalized, so no cost or schedule terms have been outlined at this time.”

Not included in the report was a request dated August 20 from the Federal Transit Administration to review BYD’s Buy America documentation. The FTA requires that over 60 percent of all bus materials be U.S.-made. An audit before the contract was awarded estimated 71.71 percent of the buses’ material to be U.S. content.

The only portion of the buses manufactured in China is the bus frame, according to Lee. The major workings and interior of the bus are to be manufactured in Lancaster, California. Lee said the review is “a normal practice of the FTA for new bus procurements.”

Note: Los Angeles Metro has also contracted with BYD for electric buses.

LA Metro Chooses Electric Buses From Chinese Company BYD

 http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1085091_la-metro-chooses-electric-buses-from-chinese-company-byd

By John Voelcker, June 28, 2013

 

BYD electric buses 

 












BYD electric buses



You might think that the 25 electric buses to be purchased by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority would be roundly applauded.

That's not necessarily the case.

LA Metro announced yesterday afternoon that it would spend $30 million to buy up to 25 of the battery-electric buses made by BYD Motors.

 hey'll be the region's first zero-emission buses, and they'll be put into "revenue service" as part of a pilot project to evaluate how well electric buses meet the transit agency's demands.
Metro will start with five of the 40-foot-long buses, and test them. If they perform well, it can then choose to buy up to 20 more.

The BYD buses have lithium-ion battery packs, with cells using BYD's own iron-phosphate chemistry, that are projected to provide 155 miles of range with a full load of passengers.

So far, BYD has built more than 1,000 of the buses, which are used in several cities in China.

But as LA Streetsblog and other outlets pointed out two weeks ago in an editorial, the choice of BYD--a Chinese company--over Proterra, a U.S. company, has been controversial.

And it was similarly controversial back in March, when the California city of Long Beach became the first to opt for BYD electric buses.

BYD says its proposal to La Metro received the highest ratings for technical compliance, project management and past performance.

But critics note that it has repeatedly made and broken promises to set up operations in Los Angeles, to get its E6 electric crossover vehicle certified for sale in the U.S., and to put that car on sale.

The Long Beach Post reported on many of these failures, along with allegations that BYD may not have been entirely truthful in some of its statements about other U.S. cities testing and operating its buses.

Losing bidder Proterra, based in South Carolina, has had its electric bus tested in Altoona, Illinois, at the national proving ground where buses are certified by the U.S. government as safe to operate.
BYD has not.

In the end, LA Metro is proceeding cautiously with its electric-bus tests. Five buses should provide data to determine whether or not BYD's claims for safety and performance are valid.

Federal officials probe cause of Angels Flight derailment

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-feds-probe-angels-flight-derailment-20130909,0,4099962.story

By Samantha Schaefer, September 10, 2013



 Angels Flight derailment
 Pedestrians stroll past Angels Flight after one of the funicular's two rail cars derailed. Six stranded passengers were assisted off "the world's shortest railway," which may remain closed for months.

The National Transportation Safety Board will issue a report and recommendations after investigators determine what caused an Angels Flight car to derail, stranding six passengers.

In the meantime the funicular, the shortest railway in the world at 298 feet, could be shut down for months while federal officials investigate Thursday's incident in downtown Los Angeles.
The car called Sinai derailed and left one passenger stuck at the lower end of the track. Five passengers on the other car, Olivet, which was near the top of the railway, were assisted off shortly after the incident. No one was injured.

Dave Watson, a senior railroad accident investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, said officials from the California Public Utilities Commission and Angels Flight Railway President John Welborne spent Monday afternoon inspecting the equipment, running tests on the stalled trolley and gathering documentation.

Video cameras installed on the system show Sinai descending the hill, derailing at the bottom and maneuvering before it was pulled back up the track, Watson said.

“We got some insights but didn’t really come to a probable cause,” he said.

Officials hope to have representatives from the company that manufactured the funicular’s complex system fly in for further testing later this week, he said.

Welborne said the fix probably won't be expensive and he doesn't foresee any major trouble. He's hoping it will reopen sooner than anticipated.

Angels Flight carries passengers up and down a steep incline between Hill and Olive streets. The tiny rail line originally opened in 1901, operating alongside the 3rd Street tunnel until 1969, when it was shut down because of a lack of ridership. It reopened in 1996 in a different location.

The railway was shut down after a fatal accident in 2001 that killed an 83-year-old passenger and injured seven others when the brakes on Sinai failed, sending it crashing into Olivet.

Federal investigators concluded that faulty mechanical and brake systems, combined with weak oversight, led to the crash.

The railway was rebuilt entirely in 2009, with several layers of safety systems to prevent such accidents. After the $3.5-million overhaul, the funicular reopened in March 2010.

It was briefly shut down in June 2010 after a car was seen operating with an open gate and again in 2011 because of wheel deterioration. Inspectors for the California Public Utilities Commission discovered damage to the flanges — which hold the cars' wheels on the rails — during a routine inspection. Angels Flight reopened shortly thereafter when safety inspectors signed off on repairs.

Hope on the Horizon?: The Crenshaw Line and the Question of Jobs

http://la.streetsblog.org/2013/09/09/hope-on-the-horizon-the-crenshaw-line-and-the-question-of-jobs/

By Sahra Sulaiman, September 9, 2013


 
The Crenshaw/LAX Line office on Crenshaw Blvd.


At the Ready-to-Work rally on Saturday organized by the Black Worker Center, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas reassured the crowd of job hopefuls gathered in Leimert Park that the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) Metro had adopted in 2012 would ensure a portion of the jobs for the Crenshaw Line would go to the disadvantaged.
Said the L.A. Times:
“This is economic justice in real time,” said Ridley-Thomas, who serves on Metro’s board and was one of the most forceful proponents of the agreement. He promised to closely monitor hiring and received a round of applause after announcing that if mandates weren’t met he would look to “penalize” contractors or “declare them in breach of contract.”
The problem is, it isn’t clear that the disadvantaged hires — or any of the hires, for that matter — will be from L.A.

The agreement requires that a sizable percentage of workers on any job be hired from within specific pools of “targeted workers.” For locally-funded projects, a minimum of 40% of project hours would have to be worked by local community residents. A percentage of those workers would be disadvantaged (those living within economically depressed zip codes or having at least two barriers to entry to the workforce) or apprentices. Projects that have a federally-funded component must dedicate 40% of work hours to workers from disadvantaged circumstances, but must also draw from a national pool.

Therein lies the rub.

The fact that nearly $546 million of the funding for the Crenshaw Line is from a federal loan means that the search for hires must be national.

And while, thus far, Metro has been diligent in monitoring the extent to which contractors have been (mostly) compliant with hiring requirements, ensuring that jobs go to targeted workers is still a challenge.


At an informational session held at Metro’s Crenshaw office earlier this summer, some workers complained that contractors will sometimes move their work team into apartments that fall within economically disadvantaged zones in order to meet eligibility requirements.

Others noted that, because the construction industry is 75% Latino and foremen like to build their own teams (meaning job access is linked to who you know), it is hard for African-Americans to break in. Some have been told their Spanish isn’t good enough to work on a site. Workers who have been at the top of their trade for 20 years suggested discrimination kept them from being hired for anything more than piecemeal jobs. A man who worked in job placement said it was still hard to get women placed, regardless of their qualifications. Or they would be given jobs their supervisors knew would push them out.

Verifying income or a worker’s period of residency in a particular zip code might help deal with some of these concerns. As would ensuring that the jobs going to the more disadvantaged workers were actually of some longer-term benefit to them. Because compliance is measured in project hours worked, it may be easier for contractors to give lower-paid or less steady work to the disadvantaged workers, saving the longer-term jobs for more privileged workers.

Having a strong local worker pool is also important.

A number of local organizations have gotten involved in trying to prepare L.A. workers to join the workforce. Even before Walsh/Shea won the bid, the Young Black Contractors had been trying to network with them just to get a foot in the door. The Black Worker Center has long been active in teaching workers how to build relationships with contractors, attend meetings to network, take advantage of services offered by employment agencies, and link themselves to unions. LAANE, We Build, and others inform potential workers about opportunities and help them enroll in pre-apprenticeship programs that put them on the path to construction careers.

It isn’t always easy.

Because these potential workers are often truly disadvantaged, things like not having a driver’s license (required for the We Build program), reliable access to a phone, or confusion regarding the process of getting a job in a skilled field can really set them back.

So can the fact that there are so few jobs available.

In fact, the contractor is currently projecting there will only be 350 positions open for work on the Crenshaw Line.

Yep.

350.

It’s a far cry from the “thousands” that elected officials had told people in the area that they would be likely to see.

But, say Metro representatives, people shouldn’t be discouraged.

Metro is dedicated to the PLA model in future projects, and there are many in the pipeline. Because of Measure R, Metro and Public Works will be regularly rolling out new projects for the next 25-30 years. So, even though they might not get hired for the Crenshaw Line now, the best thing workers can do is make sure they are trained and prepared to take advantage of those future opportunities.

They are on the horizon.

 For more about the PLA, click here.

China's Newest Market Opportunity: Pollution Control

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/technology/2013/09/chinas-newest-market-opportunity-pollution-control/6827/

By Gabrielle Jaffe, September 9, 2013

 China's Newest Market Opportunity: Pollution Control


It’s a rare "blue sky" day in Beijing. The city is bathed in a beautiful late-afternoon light—the kind that makes people rush outside just to enjoy it. But rather than bask in the weather, a small group of expats and Chinese locals have instead chosen to hole themselves up in a café.

With screwdrivers in hand, the group hacks away at cheap blue plastic fans. A moment later, they strap onto the fans’ standard issue HEPA filters, gauze-like panels that are as white as bridal veils. In less than five minutes—and for less than $30—they’ve managed to construct an air purifier that the instructor of this DIY workshop claims is just as effective as professional models selling for thousands of dollars.

One of the workshop’s participants, a 27-year old PhD student named Gu Yaobao, is particularly pleased with his new machine. "I don’t understand why the professional purifiers have to be so expensive," he says. “"’ve only seen them being sold in the last few years. Before, I had no idea about the effects of pollution on my body. Now I hear about it on the news, all these respiratory diseases it can cause, so I’ve bought plants, facemasks, everything."

The Chinese government recently announced that it will invest $275 billion—an amount equivalent to Hong Kong’s GDP—over the next five years to combat air pollution. But many in China aren’t prepared to wait, and are taking matters into their own hands.

Nearly 3 million air filters were sold in 2012, an increase of roughly 50 percent on the previous year. And following January’s "airpocalypse"—a particularly nasty stretch of gray skies—demand skyrocketed even further, with the electronics giant Suning reporting that sales of filters rose 170 percent in the first four months of this year from the same period last year.

The rush to capitalize on China’s dirty air isn’t limited to large retailers. Small start-ups such as O2ganic promise to "clean air, naturally," with plant packages that come in a variety of themes, such as "Mediterranean" and “Near and Dear." Thousands more air-filtering plants are hawked by hundreds of small shops on Taobao (China’s version of eBay), with vendors highlighting exactly how many milligrams of indoor pollutants their green specimens can eliminate.

Face masks are also popular buys on the e-commerce website and come in a multitude of shapes and styles, from cuddly, fluffy panda faces and cartoon expression protectors to serious black numbers which cover the nose and mouth and make the wearer look like a comic book villain. Some retailers are pushing consumer choice a step further, selling customizable and company-branded anti-pollution masks.

One company, PureLiving China, goes even further: They offer to completely pollution-proof offices and homes. For $500 to $800, they will carry out a complete diagnostic assessment of inside air and water quality ("It’s better to know," says their tagline) and suggest solutions, ranging from photocatalytic and oxidation treatments to the humble green plant. Founded in 2010 by a Chinese-American, the company initially catered almost exclusively to expats, but in the last six months they have had a flood of inquiries from Chinese families. “In January, traffic to our website was 30 times the usual,” says company spokesperson James Westwood. "Finally the pollution problem is becoming public knowledge. In the past, people would blame gray skies on fog."

Interestingly, public awareness and the rising sales of anti-pollution products hasn’t actually coincided with consistently worse pollution. Using PM10, SO2 and CO as measures, pollution levels have actually dropped since 2006 in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. PM2.5 measurements are less exact, as the government has not made these figures public in the last decade, but according to a study by U.S. scientists using satellite data average annual PM2.5 levels have slightly decreased or remained stable in cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Yet while the air may technically be getting cleaner, pollutants remain at worryingly high levels. Meanwhile, the increased willingness of the Chinese government to talk about pollution and to allow others to talk about it, coupled with a number of high-profile bad pollution days , has placed the air problem firmly on the public’s radar. Pollution levels, including PM2.5, are reported in Beijing weather reports and in January, this once-obscure term “PM2.5” received over 3 million mentions on Sina Weibo.

"I only really started to think about pollution as a problem after the government announced they would release data on PM2.5 at the beginning of the year," says Zhang Tianshu, an attendee at the DIY air filter workshop, whose first name, appropriately, means "comfortable sky." "Before I just used to think Beijing wasn’t very sunny. Now I think I need several filters in my house."

Public knowledge of China’s pollution may be growing, but understanding of what can be done to combat it is limited. Thomas Talhelm, a Fulbright scholar behind the Particle Counting website and an instructor at the DIY workshop, says that "people don’t know how to judge the value of an air filter or a face mask. They don’t have reliable information like we do in the U.S. with publications such as Consumer Reports. So it’s like wine: They use the price as their guide and assume the more expensive it is, the better."

With a series of graphs, Talhelm shows that this trade-off isn’t necessary. At the end of the workshop, he brings out his particle counter, so that participants can test the $30 filters they’ve just made. As the screen clicks down to almost zero, excitement levels in the room rise. "It’s funny, now that the Internet knows I’ve been researching air purifiers, I keep getting blasted for ads for expensive machines. And I think, that’s where the money’s going, to pay for advertising," says Talhelm. "It really bothers me when I see people ripping others off. I mean, rip them off when they’re on holiday, but this is their health we’re talking about."

The Real Future of Ride-Sharing May All Come Down to the Insurance

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/09/real-future-ride-sharing-may-all-come-down-insurance/6832/

By Emily Badger, September 10, 2013


 The Real Future of Ride-Sharing May All Come Down to the Insurance

Shortly before midnight on a Tuesday night in March, a black Lincoln Town Car was heading south on Divisadero Street in San Francisco at the same time a Dodge Charger was approaching from the opposite direction. The accident that occurred next is a fairly common one: the Town Car was preparing for a left-hand turn as the Charger neared the intersection. The two cars collided along their front driver’s side bumpers (at varying speeds, depending on who’s doing the telling in the police report).

The next couple of moments are the weird ones. The Charger then careened through the intersection, sheared a fire hydrant off the ground, knocked over a tree and barreled into another one. A five-story tall geyser erupted from the corner as the hydrant flew up the sidewalk and struck a pedestrian. When police arrived, it was found lying 81 feet away.

As you might imagine, the front of the Dodge was badly damaged. The driver is now suing the driver of the Town Car, a vehicle with livery plates operated under the company SF Limo Car Service. The pedestrian, who broke her leg and injured her back, is suing both drivers. She is also suing – and this is what makes this crash particularly interesting – the transportation-tech company Uber.


From the State of California Traffic Collision Report

A reporter for the local blog SFist quickly turned up at the scene. “Although we cannot confirm at the moment whether the town car driver was working for Uber,” Andrew Dalton wrote, “a quick check of the Uber app revealed an available ride in the exact same spot. Its GPS icon slowly drove away as the car was towed.”

Several bystanders identified the Town Car on their Uber apps.

“That’s how we initially knew that Uber was involved,” says Sara Peters, an attorney representing Ziad Sleiman, the man who was driving the Charger (he broke his hand).

The whole chain of liability is a mess: A pedestrian was struck by a fire hydrant that was struck by a private vehicle that was struck by a Town Car whose driver had a contract with Uber – but no actual Uber passenger in the back seat. But the terribly fluky accident raises some more straight-forward questions, too: Just what does happen if you’re an Uber passenger in the middle of an accident, or the driver behind the wheel of someone else’s car on RelayRides, or the passenger who’s riding along during a collision on Lyft? Who will take care of you?
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This question of liability sits at the heart of how we define the new transportation alternatives that are often known as "ride-sharing" or "car-sharing." They are not quite cab companies, nor rental car services, two industries that have long since sorted out how to handle commercial auto insurance.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of car insurance: the personal policies we all (should) have for our private cars, and commercial policies that cover vehicles in the use of a business. Your personal policy probably has a line that says you can’t drive your car for commercial purposes. If you take your minivan out to ferry strangers around town for cash, and you get in an accident while doing that, your insurance company will likely refuse to pay out. For this reason, a pizza delivery guy who drives his personal vehicle is covered by the pizza company’s insurance policy while he’s working. And a cab driver, even if he owns his own vehicle, has to take out a commercial policy to cover it.

The genius of most of these newer ride-sharing companies is that they in fact own no vehicles at all. Some of them, like Uber, argue that they have created primarily technology platforms, modern-day phone books that connect people who already have cars (or car services) to people who want to ride in them. And you wouldn’t expect the phone book to shell out if you got in a taxi accident, would you? Why would a company that owns no cars buy car insurance?

 
Uber's smartphone app interface.

The phone-book analogy begins to fray in the fine print. Uber, for example, has contracts with all of the drivers who participate in the service under its name. The phone book does not. That Uber contract spells out that drivers are independent contractors, not employees of Uber. And it stresses that Uber “does not provide transportation services,” “is not a transportation carrier,” and that the independent businesses that are “transportation companies” are solely responsible for taking out insurance.

“But in reality,” Peters says, “for somebody who uses Uber – and I have in the past – when you log into that app, it doesn’t say ‘We’re going to help you find an independent transportation company.’ It’s saying ‘Here’s an Uber driver. Here’s the Uber driver ID. Here’s this person being tracked on your phone, and you’re going to pay them through us.'"

“Nothing about that relationship makes you think it’s a mere phone book.”

These “newfangled cab companies,” she argues, are creating risk – putting passengers into moving cars in busy urban traffic – in precisely the same way that taxi companies create risk. But they’re not taking any responsibility for it. Her client, the Charger driver Sleiman, has not yet sued Uber, but that option remains on the table.

Doug Atkinson, the lawyer representing the pedestrian in the San Francisco accident who is suing Uber, sees a larger inequality here: “In another case, someone could be killed.” Or someone’s brother could be killed. “And who’s going to say to that person that there’s no liability when this is a business making a huge profit?”

Since these lawsuits were filed this summer, Uber announced that it had closed a $258 million round of fundraising with the backing of Google Ventures, which also does not make it sound very much like the phone book (Uber also recently announced a partnership to ferry NFL players, passengers who surely care about injury liability, too). This sounds like a lot of money the company could spend being excessively careful about insurance. But from Uber’s point of view, all of its rides are already covered.

“In all cases, Uber is basically partnering with folks who are already running businesses, who already have commercial licenses,” says Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. “And in order to get a commercial license, you have to have commercial insurance.”

Uber’s role, the company argues, is to make sure that drivers who use their technology platform have appropriate insurance for their businesses, satisfying local regulation. In the San Francisco case, Djamol Gafurov, the Town Car driver, did. End of story.

Even Gafurov appears to agree with this. His lawyer doesn't see any reason why Uber should be part of any of these lawsuits. So the pedestrian hit by a fire hydrant hit by a car hit by an Uber car believes Uber bears some responsibility here. But the Uber driver does not.
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This whole insurance question is further complicated by the fact that every state and municipality has different regulations for taxi industries and minimum insurance levels. And every transportation start-up looks a little different. Uber started off by connecting passengers to town cars driven by existing high-end taxi and limo services. RelayRides, on the other hand, allows car owners to rent their personal vehicles to other people when they’re not using them. Lyft and Sidecar enable drivers to give rides in their own cars to strangers.

“These are 21st century businesses that are operating with 20th century laws,” says Shelby Clark, the founder of RelayRides (where he remains on the board). “That’s what the issue is.”

From the beginning, RelayRides offered a $1 million policy to protect vehicle owners while other people are driving their cars. It took Clark a year and a half just to find the insurance to cover that weird idea. But obviously, the question had to be resolved: Who would rent out their own car without insurance coverage? The drivers renting the car have several insurance levels to choose from for their own liability, just as you do at Avis or Enterprise. One policy covers the car’s owner, the other the driver renting the car.


Sidecar's smartphone app interface.

RelayRides now also benefits from laws in California, Oregon, and Washington that explicitly state that people legally can rent their private cars (no one had ever said anything about the matter before). Those laws require companies like RelayRides to take out commercial insurance for the personal vehicles of their customers when they’re in commercial use. They also say that auto insurers can’t drop you from your personal policy just because you start renting out your car. (Even these laws, though, cut both ways: RelayRides is thrilled to have them, but Clark also adds that if your state does not have such a law, that doesn’t mean that renting your car is illegal.)

The the taxi-like services may be the messiest, whether in a licensed livery vehicle or a personal one. As James Surowiecki in The New Yorker recently pointed out, some sharing economy businesses have managed to “piggyback” off the trust consumers feel in markets that are typically heavily regulated. Cabs are regulated, so perhaps you assume Uber is, too. Personal auto insurance is heavily regulated, so perhaps you assume the guy driving your Lyft car is totally covered, too.

The California Public Utilities Commission was supposed to vote last week on a proposal that would formalize ride-sharing in the state under a new label called "transportation network companies." Each company like Lyft and SideCar would have to be licensed by the state, conduct criminal background checks on its drivers, and hold insurance policies that would be more stringent than what’s currently required of limo companies. But the vote – and the potential that it could influence how other states proceed as well – has been delayed.

Uber, in the meantime, has begun to expand from its luxury sedan service into something that looks more like ride-sharing under the label UberX. Some of the drivers of the cheaper mid-range cars are also licensed cabbies, with their own commercial insurance. But some of them are just regular people with their own cars. In those cases, Uber is providing a commercial policy to cover the rides. But that decision further muddies the core question of how we should define these companies: If Uber is just an app with no insurance liability when you ride in a Town Car, what does that make it when you order a ride in a Prius that the company has insured?