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, September 12, 2013

And Now the Reason Foundation Is Completely Wrong About Expo


By Daminen Newton, September 12, 2013


 Good news for everyone that doesn't do transit writing for a certain oil industry funded think tank.

I wonder what it is about the Expo Line that makes conservative muckrakers lose their collective minds?

Earlier this week, Fox and Hounds published an op/ed by Los Angeles Business Journal Editor Charles Crumpley’s attack on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by telling an imaginary story about job loss because of a CEQA lawsuit against Phase II of the Expo Line. There was no job loss as a result of the lawsuit.

But that’s not the biggest whopper that’s been told about Expo. Last year, the Reason Foundation, an oil industry funded think tank that pretends to espouse Libertarian principles, declared the Expo Line a failure after sending two people to ride Phase I of the light rail line on its opening week and complaining that it wasn’t meeting its ridership projections for 2020. The line averaged 11,000 weekday boardings. Expo’s 2020 projections was 27,000.

After just about anyone that has ever examined a transit project laughed at Reason’s surreally lame attempt to examine ridership; the Foundation fired back a couple of weeks later with a whiny post that Expo still wasn’t meeting its 2020 ridership projections in its second month.

If major politicians and news outlets didn’t treat the Reason Foundation’s findings as though they were fact, we could all just laugh at them and walk away. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Fortunately, it’s really easy to show the Reason Foundation is completely and utterly inept when it comes to examining transit projects.

Yesterday, Metro announced that the Expo Line averaged 27,280 boardings every weekday, meeting its 2020 ridership projections a mere seven years ahead of schedule.

This is hardly news for anyone that’s ever read a Reason transit analysis. As Streetsblog.net’s Angie Schmitt noted last year, Reason Foundation reports on rail are predictable, they all say the same thing. “Ridership will be lower than expected; costs will be higher.”

Now it’s completely understandable that maybe Reason made a mistake and didn’t realize the 2020 ridership projections were in fact for 2020; but after they were informed that many many times after their first attempt they stuck to their guns. Now the line has made those estimates seven years early.

Reason owes either an apology or an explanation. Anyone want to take a bet on whether or not one is coming?

Like Bike Lanes and Transit? Hope You Like the Sacramento Kings Too.


By Autumn Bernstein, September 12, 2013

What do the hoop dreams of a software mogul have to do with CEQA reform?  As of last night, everything.  In the waning days of session, strange things happen in Sacramento.

If this person happens to like bike lanes, they probably love SB 734.

Late last night, Senate President pro Tem Steinberg announced that he cut a deal with Governor Brown to abandon SB 731, his main CEQA reform bill, in favor of a new gut-and-amend bill, SB 743, that would allow the Sacramento Kings to build a new arena in the ruins of the K Street shopping center without litigation delay. This is, of course, an attempt to stave off the courtship of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who wants to move the Kings to Seattle.

Roll your eyes, dear reader, but then read on.  Apparently some provisions of SB 731 have been grafted onto the stadium bill.  ClimatePlan and our CEQA + Infill Dialogue spent months working to influence SB 731. We hoped to align CEQA with our goals of building sustainable and equitable communities – and we had a lot of success. Of particular interest to us ClimatePlanners were two provisions in SB 731 that would:

* Reform CEQA’s transportation analysis to focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and car trips, rather that the outdated and car-centric metric known as Level of Service (LOS). This would be a game changer for transit-oriented development, bike lanes, bus rapid transit and other projects that are good for GHGs but bad for cars.  It would also eliminate insufficient parking as a standalone impact under CEQA.

* Direct the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to develop a first-of-its-kind study on economic displacement, the involuntary departure of residents from a community as a result of rising rents and home prices. OPR would then use that study as the basis for new guidance to local communities on how to evaluate and address displacement. This would be an important first step in getting the State of California and local agencies to begin acknowledging and addressing this growing social equity concern.

We don’t yet know exactly which provisions from SB 731 made it into the new FrankenCEQA bill.  At a hearing late last night, pro Tem Steinberg announced that the LOS reform will be included, but he didn’t mention displacement or parking. We’ll keep you posted as details emerge.

As others have opined before, the final weeks of legislative session are a case study in democracy at its worst.  What’s happening with CEQA is no exception.  This CEQA bill may yet have some redeeming qualities that will move the ball down the court, so to speak, for sustainable communities. I’m certainly not attached to the K Street shopping center with its mostly vacant storefronts and piped-in muzak – and there’s not even that Cinnabon smell, IMHO the only redeeming quality of aging malls.

But I do believe that large projects like stadiums are exactly the sort of projects that CEQA was designed to review.  This bill would continue a troubling precedent of granting special favors to large economic development projects that started with the LA stadium several years ago.If this stadium deal is gonna happen – and it was pretty clear, even before the late night deal, that it IS gonna happen – then let’s just hope we get as silver a lining as possible.

9 crazy Southern California police car chases


September 12, 2013
O.J. Simpson chase

 California Highway Patrol officers chase Al Cowlings, driving, and O.J. Simpson, hiding in the rear of a white Ford Bronco, on the 91 Freeway.

They’ve thrown money out a window, spun doughnuts in the grass, and shaken off spike strips and PIT maneuvers only to be undone by wet cement. And in the end, they all ended up in the same place: jail.

As they say, it’s not the destination that matters so much as the journey.
So whether it’s with a stolen car, a white Ford Bronco or yes, even a tank, there’s no more hair-raising and mind-numbingly entertaining way to watch someone end up in cuffs than a good, old-fashioned Southern California police chase.

What follows is just a fraction of the police pursuits that kept us glued to TVs through the years. Consider it a GIF from L.A. Now to you.

OJ Simpson

As in football, O.J. Simpson will always have a spot in the car chase Hall of Fame. Maybe even the top spot.

You can’t think of a police pursuit without thinking of a white Bronco being chased by 20 LAPD squad cars as onlookers cheered and waved alongside the 405 Freeway.
In 1994, television networks and cable news channels aired two hours of nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson spectacle.

The former football star led police on a two-hour chase across Southern California in his white Ford Bronco after he was charged with killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

As the slow-speed chase dragged on, people started amassing on overpasses to wave and witness Simpson drive into the history books.

It was, as one entertainment lawyer put it, “the day Los Angeles stopped.”

San Diego tank chase

Who could forget the tank in San Diego? In 1995, a man stole a 53-ton Army vehicle and plowed over power poles, fire hydrants and at least 40 cars before he crashed into a highway divider and was fatally shot by police. Authorities didn’t quite know how to approach the renegade M-60, The Times reported.

“Everyone here was standing around saying, ‘How many miles per gallon does a tank get?’ and ‘How do you stop a tank?’ ” one California Highway Patrol dispatcher said.

Bank robbery suspects

In a scene straight out of a movie, bank robbers threw money out a car window as they drove through the streets of South L.A. during an hourlong chase in September 2012. Crowds eager to scoop up the cash grew into a mob scene when the chase ended. It was not clear whether the suspected robbers were hurling the money out of their vehicle in an attempt to divert deputies or as a Robin Hood-like gesture.

"It's our neighborhood stimulus package!" said Diane Dorsey, who watched the bedlam unfold from her frontyard at Kansas and Vernon avenues.

"Kids were smiling like it was Christmas," added a neighbor, who gave only his first name, Desean.
The made-for-Hollywood chase began 40 miles to the north in Santa Clarita, when four armed men held up a Bank of America branch and fled in a black Volvo SUV that had been reported stolen hours earlier, police said. No serious injuries were reported during the chase.

Wet pavement

There’s a reason most people stay in cars during a pursuit: Once they’re on foot, they can slip up … literally. This man was suspected of stealing a van in South L.A. in April 2013 before leading officers on a 40-minute chase across the city, during which he hit a police car, scraped numerous other cars and drove against traffic.

Despite refusing to stop with two blown tires from spike strips and avoiding multiple PIT maneuvers, the man was undone when he slipped on the wet sidewalk and was tackled by police.


In July 2012, a Los Angeles teacher suspected of committing lewd acts on a child led police on a chase throughout the South Bay before launching off a hill and crashing into a tree.

The driver, a teacher employed by the Los Angeles Unified School District, led authorities on the 405 and 10 freeways and along Pacific Coast Highway through Torrance before his vehicle left the road and plunged down an embankment in Rancho Palos Verdes.

Orange County donuts

A woman drove circles around officers after an hourlong high-speed pursuit that started in Long Beach and ended in Lake Forest. She attempted to ram officers when they first approached her, and led them on a chase across four freeways that ended with patrol cars boxing the Scion in, with one officer jumping on top of the vehicle. The driver was pulled out of the window and arrested.

Door hit

After blowing a tire speeding down the 405 Freeway, a suspect dived out of a stolen Porsche during an April 2013 pursuit. The man was hit by the driver's side door and nearly ran himself over before, tucking, rolling and sprinting down the hillside into a tree-lined neighborhood.

Once there, he vaulted several walls before reaching an enclosed backyard, where a man was painting. The suspect, dressed in red pants, stood on the porch before he entered the West L.A. house. He tried to change his clothing to hide from police, but was quickly identified by people inside the house.
Perfect pit

Law enforcement officials call it the Precision Immobilization Technique, a.k.a. the PIT maneuver, a phrase any savvy SoCal car chase aficionados know well.

It’s that risky strategy in which a police cruiser pulls up next to the suspect, nudges into the back corner of the car and pushes it around -- with other cruisers waiting in the banks to box the disoriented driver in.

This GIF may make it look simple, but it’s actually a highly choreographed and practiced tactic. And it doesn't always work. But when it does, as it did here with this Honda CRV in January 2013, you can’t help but just say “whoa.”

You know you're in the midst of an entertaining pursuit when even the California Highway Patrol is cracking jokes on Twitter.

In April 2013, two people led police on a pursuit in a moving van, prompting the CHP Southern Division to tweet: "What is it about @uhaul trucks?!" The company responded: "Maybe it's because they are so easy to drive!"
A suspect stole a U-Haul truck from Riverside, and sped across slick, rainy roadways across the 91 Freeway and into Orange County before he was arrested after a PIT maneuver.

After it was over, @CHPSouthern couldn't resist one more tweet: "Please be careful when opening the roll-up door as items may have shifted during pursuit."

Living near an airport could be toxic

Environmentalists and parents worry that the lead in aviation gasoline could be harming children


By Michael Behar, September 8, 2013

 Living near an airport could be toxicEnlarge

It’s impossible to have an uninterrupted conversation with Kelly Kittleson in her home. Kittleson, who lives in Hillsboro, Oregon, is a single mom with four kids. But her children are not the distraction. The two youngest—a boy, age 2, and a girl, age 4—sat quietly with us at the kitchen table. They hardly made a peep while we chatted. Instead, about every five minutes, a low-flying plane screamed above the rooftop. “They are constantly going over all the time,” Kittleson complained. “It’s crazy. When I first moved here, it felt like they were going to crash into our house.”

Kittleson’s house is directly beneath the final approach for the primary runway at Hillsboro Airport. The perimeter fence is visible from her backyard, where her kids spend countless hours. But the noise, it turns out, is just a nuisance. What really scares Kittleson is the lead. Like most Americans, she had no idea it was still in use in airplanes—the last remaining mode of transportation in the United States to use leaded fuel. (It was banned from automobile gasoline in 1996 after a phase-out that commenced with the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970.) When the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality surveyed the airport in 2005, it found a lead cloud hovering above Hillsboro, a circular plume spanning 25 square miles. At its center—right about where the Kittlesons live—lead levels were twice as high as the National Ambient Air Quality Standard threshold set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In children, lead can damage the central nervous system, resulting in learning disabilities, stunted growth, and hearing loss, as well as cause anemia. Recent findings indicate that children who are repeatedly exposed exhibit violent behavior in later life. Adults may be at risk of kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, miscarriages, and premature births.

Even at infinitesimal levels in the blood, lead has been linked to ADHD. Kittleson’s 8-year-old son has been diagnosed with the disorder; she now suspects her 4-year-old daughter might be showing symptoms too. Valorie Snider, who lives nearby, also has a son with ADHD. “Airplanes circle over the top of our house,” she told me over coffee at a Starbucks across the road from the airport. “The windows rattle. Sometimes it feels like an earthquake.”

Both families have the same pediatrician, James Lubischer. “I never knew how much [lead] would impact us until Dr. Lubischer told me,” Snider said. She herself has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s disease (a thyroid disorder), and adrenal fatigue. She wonders if the lead has anything to do with these ailments.

Lubischer told me later that he lives right under the flight-training path, and that his daughter, too, has ADHD. He acknowledges that it’s challenging to prove a direct connection to lead in a specific instance—much like a case of lung cancer in an individual smoker. While an inordinate number of residents I met in Hillsboro have health problems, the evidence is anecdotal, and there have been no longitudinal studies tracking illness in populations close to these “general aviation” airports (a term that covers nearly all types of flight activity except scheduled commercial passenger service).

Even so, Lubischer believes the scientific evidence is clear. He cited the work of Joel Nigg, a professor of psychiatry, pediatrics, and behavioral neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University, who has published two influential papers showing a propensity to ADHD in children with only slightly elevated lead levels. Todd Jusko, now a professor in the University of Rochester’s department of public health sciences, conducted an earlier study, published in 2008 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Jusko found that children’s cognitive abilities declined with blood lead levels of 2.1 micrograms per deciliter—less than half the level currently deemed toxic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It was a sunny weekday morning in mid-April when I stopped on the way to the Kittlesons to take a look at the Hillsboro Airport. Single-engine prop planes soared overhead in near-constant succession, dispersing lead into surrounding neighborhoods.

Since 1990 the population of Hillsboro, a bedroom community 15 miles west of Portland, has nearly tripled, to more than 91,000, largely because semiconductor and biotech firms have moved into the area. The boom has transformed the town’s airport. Once home to weekend aviators, it has become a hub for corporate jets, a pilot training school, and a spillover facility for Portland International Airport. Training flights, in particular, are problematic. Student pilots perform touch-and-go’s—repeated landings that require gunning the engine at each go-around. They also do laps above the airfield. Takeoffs and landings at Hillsboro now total more than 200,000 annually, making it one of the busiest general aviation airports in the United States.

While jets and turboprops run on kerosene-based fuels, the majority of general aviation aircraft are piston-powered and consume aviation gasoline, or avgas, which is produced in several grades. The most common is 100-octane low lead, or 100LL, used by 167,000 aircraft, about 75 percent of the nation’s general aviation fleet. (People in the industry use the terms 100LL and avgas interchangeably.) No other country in the world has a fleet that still relies predominantly on leaded gasoline.

By the 1940s lead had become the go-to additive to avgas because it produced a fuel with low anti-knock properties, increasing horsepower while adding only a smidgen of extra weight. Lead’s toxicity had been well documented in innumerable studies. But most scientists (and pilots) assumed small doses were benign. By the 1960s advances in detecting trace amounts in the blood told a different story.
The lead added
 to avgas is a clear liquid known technically as tetraethyllead. Only one company in the world makes it: Innospec, a Colorado-based chemical corporation, which produces it at a plant near Liverpool, England. In addition to its anti-knock qualities, tetraethyllead performs several functions in piston-powered airplane engines. It boosts performance and reduces wear and tear. It also prevents something called “early detonation,” which can melt pistons and trigger an explosion. At the moment, there is no widely available substitute. Unleaded blends are in development but still experimental. The upshot: piston-engine planes consume about 248 million gallons of avgas a year, spewing out 551 tons of lead.

These planes operate primarily from general aviation airports, of which there are about 3,000 in the United States (though most are podunk airstrips that see little activity). In 2010 the EPA compiled data on avgas emissions at the busiest of these airports—those with emissions of more than 1,000 pounds of lead a year. Hillsboro, with 1,360 pounds annually, ranked 21st on the EPA’s list of 58. Many of these airports are situated in heavily populated neighborhoods. In Los Angeles, for instance, some 14,000 people live within a mile of Van Nuys Airport, which sees annual lead emission totals above 1,500 pounds.

At least 3,200 students who attend schools near the Hillsboro Airport are at risk. A Montessori preschool is located across the street from the airport’s entrance, and a day care center is situated just 800 yards from the end of the main runway. According to statistics gathered by the Natural Resources Defense Council, nationwide more than three million children attend schools in close proximity to airports where avgas is burned.

In 2011 Marie Lynn Miranda, a professor of pediatrics and dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, published a groundbreaking study in Environmental Health Perspectives on the effects of aviation gasoline on children. Miranda sampled 66 airports in North Carolina where air-quality sensors had recorded at least 448 pounds of lead emissions per year and found that blood lead levels in children living nearby were alarmingly high. She explained to me that lead accumulates in human tissue—every exposure adds more of the toxin to your body.

“Children are more vulnerable because of their higher metabolic rate,” Miranda said. “So if you and your child were exposed to the same amount of lead, your child would uptake five times as much.”
Miranda’s study has galvanized efforts to ban avgas by local grassroots organizations such as Oregon Aviation Watch, an environmental advocacy group in Hillsboro founded by Miki Barnes, a social worker. In battles with city, state, and federal policy makers, citizens like Barnes are trying—so far largely without success—to stop airport expansions, reroute flight paths, and curb air traffic.

During my visit to Hillsboro, representatives from the Port of Portland and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) held a meeting at the town’s civic center to hear public comments on the port’s proposal to add a third runway to the airport. Port officials brought copies of their 246-page environmental assessment, which projects a nearly 40 percent increase in lead emissions by 2021, to 1,840 pounds annually, as a result of increased flight traffic (though not necessarily of the proposed runway.)

The hearing was standing room only. More than 60 residents turned out, and nearly two dozen of them took to the lectern to make impassioned pleas not to approve the project. “Do you know what lead does?” Barnes asked when she testified. “It reduces IQ. It’s linked with ADHD. It’s linked with miscarriages. It’s linked with birth defects. It’s absolutely toxic. [The runway project] is shameful.” Residents could each speak for five minutes, but it took Barnes only two before she got teary-eyed.

During a break in the proceedings, I spoke to Renee Dowlin, the Port of Portland’s manager for the project. Lead, she told me, “is not the Port of Portland’s issue. It is a federal issue, which the EPA and FAA will deal with. Nor do we have control over the number of planes that can come to the airport. We are preempted by the FAA because we accept federal money.”

Barnes is unconvinced. “There are legal precedents for airport operators to limit these flights,” she insists. “The Port of Portland simply chooses not to do so because it values the revenue generated from the sale of leaded avgas over the well-being of the community.”

So why has the federal government done nothing to halt the use of avgas? By law, the EPA is required to make an “endangerment finding” when it deems that a pollutant or toxin presents an imminent threat to public health—and the health risks of lead are well established. Under the Clean Air Act, the agency must promptly set rules to regulate or ban harmful emissions from any source once it makes such a finding. But it hasn’t done so with avgas, despite having published dozens of studies on lead’s toxicity, including a 2000 report warning that “there currently is no demonstrated safe concentration of lead in blood, and adverse health effects can occur at lower concentrations.”

In March 2012, Friends of the Earth filed a lawsuit against the EPA, accusing the agency of having “unreasonably delayed” its duty to make an endangerment finding. Between the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970 and 2007, piston-powered planes burned 14.6 billion gallons of avgas, expelling 34,000 tons of lead into the environment. Each year avgas accounts for nearly 60 percent of total lead emissions in the United States. (The remainder derives mostly from the metals industry.)

“We got rid of lead in cars,” says John Froines, a professor of environmental health sciences at UCLA, “and there is no argument that says we should allow it in aircraft.” Froines directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Office of Toxic Substances in the 1970s, where he wrote the first lead standards.

Meanwhile, the EPA has commenced yet another study, which it expects to complete in May 2014. Justin Cohen, communications director for the agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality,
 would not speak about the new study or allow me to interview anyone at the EPA about it (or anything else avgas-related) on the record. Instead, he pointed me to the agency’s website, where I learned how scientists will use computer models to calculate lead emissions at various airports. But if computers can already determine lead pollution at any airport, why does the EPA need another investigation to conclude that avgas is endangering public health? Cohen wouldn’t comment, and Kim Hoang, air toxics risk coordinator for the EPA’s air division, whose staff created the computer models in 2011, declined requests for an interview.

Marianne Engelman Lado, an attorney with Earthjustice who is leading the legal team for Friends of the Earth, told me, “[The EPA] has argued that they need to do more monitoring. And after they study the results, they can think about doing an endangerment finding. So we could be looking many, many years down the road before there’s even any set of deadlines for getting lead out of avgas. But when you think about the harm that lead causes, there’s grounds to be calling for major change at a very fast pace.”
“We know what the answer to the question about the problem of lead is,” Froines says. “It’s not something that needs further study. That’s ridiculous.”

Instead of dealing directly with lead in aviation fuel, the Clean Air Act left it to the EPA administrator to decide whether to tackle avgas emissions; if that happened, any new regulations could not “adversely affect safety.” Remember that part about lead preventing engines from exploding? That’s why industry groups, including the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the National Air Transportation Association, and the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, have been reluctant to support a ban on avgas until a “drop-in” replacement fuel is available. They insist that such a fuel must match the performance of avgas across all parameters, cost the same or less (now about $6 per gallon), and require no changes to aircraft or the fuel distribution infrastructure, such as pumping stations, tanker trucks, and pipelines.

Peter White, who manages the FAA’s new Fuel Programs Office—created specifically to focus on avgas—doubts that many petroleum companies would invest the cash and assets needed to develop a spec-for-spec substitute until the EPA is compelled to make a move. In February 2012 the FAA announced a set of formal recommendations, known as the Fuel Development Roadmap, to “support [the] transition to an unleaded aviation gasoline.” EPA officials have indicated they won’t ban avgas (unless forced to by a judge) until a suitable substitute is available. Doing so, they say, would wreak economic havoc, grounding most of the general aviation fleet. The Fuel Programs Office is bringing the EPA and FAA together in an unprecedented partnership to resolve the stalemate. “We’re trying to incentivize fuel producers to help develop new [unleaded] candidates,” White told me.

Nonetheless, he reckons a free-market solution is going to need some legislative prodding. So does Representative Henry Waxman of California. Last October Waxman, a Democrat, wrote to FAA administrator Michael Huerta, pleading with him to fast-track the availability of unleaded avgas. “There is a cloud of uncertainty hanging over the future of 100LL and it’s stymieing growth,” White said. “Without some sort of regulatory change, some sort of requirement, there’s really no other force that’s going to drive 100LL off the market and bring in a replacement.”
* * *
At the moment only two small firms are exploring replacements for 100LL. Swift Fuels, based in West Lafayette, Indiana, has developed an unleaded avgas by blending isopentane, a chemical found in mouthwash, with mesitylene, an industrial solvent. According to project co-founder Jon Ziulkowski, the fuel, called 100SF, can be manufactured from renewable biomass sources, such as switchgrass and sorghum, and burns cleaner than 100LL, with 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

In Ada, Oklahoma, engineers at General Aviation Modifications Inc. (GAMI) have developed a rival fuel to the Swift blend called G100UL. GAMI co-founder George Braly hopes to license the formula, for which a patent is pending, to a major refiner, such as Phillips 66, the nation’s largest producer of avgas. “But avgas is a specialty fuel,” Braly said. “It’s a pain for [Phillips and other companies] to make because the volume is so small. So they want status quo until there’s no other alternative.” Phillips declined to comment.

Could either fuel emerge as a drop-in replacement? Brian Watt, Innospec’s vice president of strategic planning and regulatory affairs, is doubtful. “People have been looking at 100LL replacements for 40 years, and there is still not a credible alternative,” he told me. “Legislation would help.”

Peter White sees things differently. “I don’t want to say yes or no until we really have the chance to evaluate all the data,” he said. It’s up to the FAA to certify specific engine models permitted to burn any new fuel, but that will take years. “It’s a huge effort,” White observed. “You need to collect data, there are material compatibility issues, there are operability issues, there’s performance, there’s weight—a whole bunch of things you need to address and a very large number of models.”

FAA officials have said they’re committed to certifying a drop-in avgas replacement by 2018. But as Waxman pointed out in his letter to Huerta, certification is only the initial step. After 2018, he wrote, “it may be 11 years or more before the new fuel will be phased in. This extended time frame is simply too long, given the certain and serious harms to human health from lead exposure.”

Ordinary unleaded gasoline—mogas—might, in fact, offer the simplest and quickest interim solution. While its octane is lower than that of 100LL, “it has been conclusively shown that over 80 percent of all current piston-engine aircraft can operate on mogas,” notes Kent Misegades, director of the Aviation Fuel Club, a nonprofit group formed to champion unleaded alternatives to 100LL. The hurdle with mogas is finding it without ethanol. Because of the EPA’s 2005 Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requirement, automotive fuel in the United States must be blended with ethanol. This works fine for cars but can be catastrophic in airplanes.

The reason is that ethanol is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water—for example, water that forms from condensation in a fuel tank. In cars, ethanol can damage engines but (usually) isn’t life-threatening. In airplanes, however, ethanol not only is corrosive but can retain moisture that may freeze in the frigid air at higher altitudes. “It’s like throwing ice cubes through your fuel system,” Ziulkowski explains. “It will cause the engine to stop in midair.”

For his part, Misegades is making headway. He says, “Despite all the odds against us—and with no help from the FAA, EPA, avgas suppliers, or our own aviation lobbies—we have been able to slowly increase the number of airports now offering mogas.” In the United States, all gasoline is produced initially without ethanol. Petroleum refiners add just enough to fulfill their RFS quota. Once that has been met, the untainted surplus is sold to consumers who prefer it for engines more susceptible to ethanol damage, including those in boats, snowmobiles, farm equipment, power tools, lawnmowers, and vintage automobiles. Misegades’s group taps into this supply. Of the 3,600 airports that carry avgas, at least 118 have an adjacent pump supplying ethanol-free mogas. As for 100LL, Misegades, who is an aerospace engineer and recreational pilot, admits, “Our continued use of a substance that was banned decades ago in cars makes us look like cavemen.”

In March U.S. District Court judge Amy Berman Jackson dismissed the Friends of the Earth lawsuit against the EPA. She didn’t address the obvious hazards of avgas or dispute that mitigating lead emissions was one of the principal objectives of the Clean Air Act. Instead, her written opinion hinged on the language of the act, which she found ambiguous. She ruled that the EPA’s responsibility to make an endangerment finding was discretionary, not mandatory.

So what comes next? “We’re weighing our options,” says Lado of Earthjustice. “I think legal action is still needed to put the pressure on.” One possibility is to petition the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But there is also a wild card: the entity with the greatest power to eliminate lead in avgas may be Innospec, its sole producer. In 2012 tetraethyllead generated one-tenth of Innospec’s $776 million in revenue, down from 90 percent in 2000. Today, sales of tetraethyllead to avgas producers account for just 3 percent of Innospec’s business. The remainder comes from their customers in Algeria, Iraq, and Yemen, which still blend the additive into gasoline for older cars. But with phase-outs under way in those countries, demand is waning fast. “As soon as they get their refineries and motor fleet sorted out, [tetraethyllead] there will be gone,” Innospec’s Watt predicts.

For the time being, Watt says that the company is committed to keeping its Liverpool plant running until there is a suitable 100LL replacement. And yet, he admits, “If we weren’t making money on it, we’d obviously do something different.” Annually, Innospec sells about 450,000 gallons of tetraethyllead to avgas producers. “But we’ve already been stepping down [production] every year,” Watt says. Outside the United States, there are about 60,000 aircraft that require avgas, but most can operate on the mogas that’s readily available in the rest of the world, which doesn’t blend ethanol with fuel. “Our position with the aviation market is that we don’t want to be in this business long term,” he says. “There is no future for tetraethyllead.”
All the more reason, urges Lado, “to get the phase-out process under way now. [The EPA] is wasting time. The handwriting is on the wall that lead is bad, that lead is being spewed from these airplanes, and that lead has to go.”

Utility Relocation Costs Not a Death Sentence for Downtown LA Circulator


By Juan Matute, September 12, 2013

A funny thing happened on the way to a downtown Los Angeles streetcar. According to the Los Angeles Times, the initial cost estimate of $125M excluded the costs of utility relocation, which could total $166M in additional costs, and $295M in operating costs over 30 years. That’s quite a bit compared to the $62.5M voters authorized when approving a community facilities district last November.

Few transit experts have met a streetcar they’ve liked. This doesn’t mean the projects aren’t justified – they can be superb economic development catalysts when complemented with smart land use strategies and targeted incentives. However, streetcars are rarely the most effective option for mobility, and any accessibility benefits are generally brought about by smart land use strategies rather than the streetcar itself. Downtown’s streetcar proposal was a significant cornerstone of the Bringing Back Broadway Initiative, a larger strategy to overhaul the downtown boulevard.

Most mobility benefits can be accomplished more cost-effectively with a bus than a streetcar.  Having researched how users, planners, and policymakers perceive transit, I’m quite aware that many people prefer rail to buses, even when buses provide an identical service.  I’m also aware that bus service avoids the environmental impacts of rail construction, which can be a significant portion of the project’s total impact, and that electric-propulsion (even using LADWP power) is far cleaner than natural gas or diesel.  As such, I’ve gained an admiration for the trolleybus as a transit mode.

A modern trolleybus in France.

The trolleybus is a rubber-tire, street-running electric bus that, like a streetcar, draws power from an overhead catenary wire.  Unlike a streetcar, the trolleybus doesn’t require rails, which considerably reduces capital costs and the need for utility relocations.  Modern trolleybuses are sleek and utilize the latest in modern technology, such as supercapacitors.  As opposed to flux capacitors which are fabled to turn back time (an apparent goal of many streetcar projects), supercapacitors allow trolleybuses to go off the wire for short distances, enabling greater flexibility for route deviations and vehicle storage.

Trolleybuses offer several advantages over streetcars. First is avoiding the installation of rails, and associated costs of utility relocation. Rubber-tire buses can also climb steeper grades than can steel-wheel streetcars. In fact, this is one of the reasons that Seattle and San Francisco use trolleybuses on some of their steeper hills.  Whereas planners modified the proposed streetcar route to avoid steep grades, the trolleybus can revert to the original, optimal route.

Furthermore, a trolleybus can avoid accidents, police incidents, and disabled vehicles by going around them, whereas a streetcar must wait for obstructions to clear. Any savings in infrastructure costs versus a streetcar can be applied to the acquisition and operation of additional trolleybuses – meaning improved service frequencies within a given budget.

However, trolleybuses are also perceived to have one key disadvantage: they’re not rail. If the absence of rails in the ground is a deal-breaker, then Broadway may be “back” before the streetcar opens. Luckily, it appears that nothing in the ordinance that established the Mello-Roos Community Facilities District or the ballot language precludes the City from pursuing a trolleybus option in hope of a 2015 opening within the expected budget.

After all, $622.8M over 30 years (the high estimate of capital and operations cost) could buy a lot of paint for bike lanes that extend far beyond downtown.

What Happens When You Read Poetry on the L.A. Metro?


By Joseph Lapin, September 10, 2013


At Union Station on the Gold Line platform this past Saturday, the commuters and sojourners of the Los Angeles weekend are greeted by the unfamiliar sound of...poets. A group of men and women -- all ages and ethnicities -- are reading lines in Spanish and English, blaring out their tropes into the air with the courage of warriors before battle. They all take turns reading. Some of the passengers try to ignore the voices, others are listening casually, and some are entranced, standing around and clapping, ignoring the MTA official's voice coming through the speakers.

This group of poets is called the Poesia Para La Gente (meaning "poetry for the people") -- an organization that attempts to bring poetry to places and people who would normally not be exposed to the art form usually seen at coffee shops, poetry readings at books stores or the occasional slam-poetry night at a rock club.

"There is no better way than motion," says Jessica Ceballos, a poet and curator at Beyond Baroque and Avenue 50 studios and architect of Poesia Para La Gente, on how to bring poetry to the masses. "Moving to one part of the city, to the other, with each stop, and the motion of the train, you have a new demographic within all the boroughs of L.A....It's a communication across all cultures, and poetry can break down some walls that we have in communication."

On Saturday, Ceballos and 16 other poets rode and read on the Gold Line from Union Station to South Pasadena station. They later stopped and read at the Memorial Park station and walked to Colorado and Raymond, finally ending their night back at Union Station, where they walked to the Last Bookstore to take part in a reading at the Lit Lab Fest presented by Writ Large Press.


But not everyone riding the metro is happy to hear poetry. Back in August, when the Poesia Para La Gente were reading on the Red Line, they were met with mixed reactions. One girl who was slumped against the window watching the emptiness of the tunnel said she was too hung over to deal with them and wanted them to stop.

"It's definitely offensive," says Yago S. Cura, a poet who reads about "soccer" players and is the editor for Hinchas de Poesia Press. "Offensive in terms of a contact sport. We're making poetry a contact sport."

"I think it's some silly shit," said a passenger who identified themselves as D. Niro, waiting at the Red Line platform at Union Station back in August. "They just trying to over talk the train. You can't talk over the train. This is some silly shit. Everyone has somewhere to be. Everyone has somewhere to go. Something on their mind. And this bitch is reading poetry. No one cares."

But this was one type of reaction Ceballos expected. She is not only launching a mobile poetry reading -- she is leading an experiment in social space.

In August, Sean Hill, a poet with a delivery similar to Chris Rock, was swaying back and forth in the train, holding onto a metal bar and blowing bubbles at the passengers. "I saw a drive by of shooting stars," recited Sean Hill. He was telling people on the train that he loved them.

Together the poets are like something from Tom Wolfe's The Electric Cool-Aid Acid Test: strange, random, in your face, with the hope of awakening something human and lost in the lives of Angelenos. They even made an appearance at Hollywood and Highland, trying to match the madness of costumes and movies.

"We really want to be able to reach people who wouldn't get to poetry on their own," says Ryan Nance who has an MFA in poetry from Columbia University and reads in Mandarin, Spanish and English. "There is a lot of talk about poetry being irrelevant or you have to be hushed and quiet while people are reading...But being able to see the people's faces, even though they're not intending to listen...they're listening. You can see that recognition of thought or meaning breaking across their face when they're just sitting and going where they're going."

It was easy to see the people on the train who the Poesia Para La Gente were not connecting with on Saturday and back in August, but as the their voices battled against the humming and shaking of the cabins, of the tunnel lights flickering like illusions in a dream, they were certainly reaching some.
"People need to be made to feel awkward, especially in public," said Lee Shepard, a young man listened to the poetry while heading to a rave, back in August. "That way they realize they're human and what humanity is. It's not just a little cookie cutter, sitcom, Ikea bubble life. There are people out there who want to be expressive. If you're annoyed it's more of your personal hang up than [them] annoying you."

Houston, We Have (More) Electric Bus Problems


By Brian Addison, September 12, 2013

Long Beach Transit (LBT)’s latest board meeting held with it a severe amount of questions regarding the transit company’s procurement of electric, zero-emission buses (ZEB) from Chinese company BYD. Eyebrows were raised over the proposed buses’ weight significantly damaging roadways; the failure of the current China-made BYD bus passing federally mandated Altoona Testing, prompting a longer return time on the contract fulfillment as well as structural questions; and the mysterious addition to the contract that 20 more BYD buses would be purchased without the Board’s formal approval of adding such an incentive.

Build Your Dream (BYD) buses may be coming to the streets of Long Beach. Will Metro enter contract with them for all of L.A. County? 

Firstly, LBT’s choice of BYD over its other main competitor, South Carolina-based Proterra, has not come without its criticism, from both local publications—including the Long Beach Business Journal and the Long Beach Post—as well as right here at Streetsblog. And thus far, the criticisms don’t seem off-kilter.

In regard to the buses being overweight, city traffic engineer Dave Roseman expressed concerned that the weight of the BYD buses would cause significant wear and tear on the streets at the cost of taxpayers. When asked whether this was either previously known or whether the bus’s weight had magically altered during Altoona testing, LBT spokesperson Dana Pynn that the weight was “not a new subject” and had been known “throughout the entire process.”

Information from the original RFQ shows that second runner up Proterra’s contract cost more than BYD’s, however, Proterra’s bus showed both a lower curb weight—25,000lbs versus BYD’s 30,423lbs—and gross vehicle weight—37,000lb versus 39,700lbs. Furthermore, Proterra’s buses had already passed Altoona testing at the time of the bid.

Speaking of Altoona testing, all is not well on the BYD front. Rolando Cruz, Executive Director and Vice President of Maintenance and Facilities at LBT, stated the following at the meeting:

“The most critical item in this project is the status of the Altoona testing of the BYD manufactured bus,” Cruz said. “The bus was returned to Lancaster as our staff was noticing some rear cracks at the bus—the most vulnerable part of the bus.”

The part of any transit bus that takes the most stress with the largest load is the rear of the bus, hence Cruz’s emphasis on the cracks being critical. After inspection, it was determined, according to Cruz, to be a result of “low-quality welding” that could be fixed. The coach was fixed and has been returned to Altoona for further testing, which is now expected to be completed by March of next year.
According to Micheal Austin, Vice President of BYD America, this was not a failure.

“BYD buses have not failed at Altoona,” Austin said. “In fact, the robustness segments of testing are ongoing with the same bus that started at Altoona late this spring, [the same bus that] was manufactured in our qualified and audited Changsha facility in China.”

So… The bus being tested now is not a bus from the proposed Lancaster plant where the 10 procured buses are to come from?

Precisely, as noted by Board members who were deeply discouraged by this fact—so discouraged in fact, that they voted to not only have the China-based bus finish testing but to also send the first completed Lancaster bus through testing as well. This then means that the first of the ten buses to arrive will be the only bus to hit the street; the other nine will not do so until the Lancaster bus itself completes Altoona testing.

After the China bus is finished, it will take 45 to 50 days to complete the Lancaster bus to send to Altoona.

This has prompted the Federal Transportation Authority—who provided LBT the TIGGER grant to procure the ZEBs—to require that LBT perform an audit on the Buy America feasibility of BYD, a concern that had been questioned throughout the bidding process by both Board members and BYD’s competitors. Cruz seems confident that there will be no issues.

“We believe to have no issues with [the Buy America clause],” Cruz said, noting that BYD held this specific risk while bidding and praised the FTA for requesting the audit. “We actually did a pre-award Buy America audit with BYD [before we granted them the contract] and those results are showing us over 80% of the material procured is U.S. content.”

However, Board Member Lori Ann Farrell—one of two who voted against granting BYD the contract—was not so convinced.

“It’s nice to know that staff isn’t as concerned with the Buy America clause as is the Board,” she dryly noted. “What confused me—and perhaps this is just something I need an education about… Built versus assembled? You [Rolanda Cruz] confirmed with me last month that it’s all being built in China but assembled in Lancaster, that it’s not a manufacturing facility but an assembling plant—I think that is a critical difference.”

Cruz insisted that Lancaster was indeed a manufacturing plant, comparing the way in which BYD is going about making the buses as “tinker toys.”

“For example, New Flyer [with 60% of the American market],” Cruz said, “they—at times—manufacture their frames in Canada and bring them down [into the U.S.]… They are being manufactured in the United States. So when [parts] come from China, it’s like tinker toys. Everything has to be put together and built here… Per FTA, the requirement states that ‘final assembly must be completed in the United States’ and that’s how we meet the requirement.”

Well, gotta love semantics.

Lastly, to add to the confusion that has been the BYD contract, an option for purchasing an additional 20 Zero Emission Buses from BYD was added to the contract—without a single person on the board knowing so.

“I would like to know the legal ramifications of a board approving 10 buses for a contract and it suddenly jumps to 30,” said Farrell. “Why would there be an option that wasn’t Board-approved?”
“I have heard a request [for 20 additional buses] but I have not seen a request,” said new LBT President and CEO Kenneth McDonald. “For us to approve any option, the Board would have to approve that.”

According to the Long Beach Business Journal, the move was not illegal under the eyes of Gary J. Anderson, deputy city attorney.

“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 to the Journal. “If they are really concerned, they can amend the contract to delete the language.”

However, Board Members are still baffled at how significantly altered language ended up on a contract unilaterally through staff without a single notice to the board.

“In large contracts it is common for companies to seek options for future purchases,” said Kevin Lee, spokesperson for LBT.” Some of the benefits in options are that they help lock in desirable pricing and sometimes  timing of materials and services. If LBT staff decides to recommend exercising an option—meaning staff was going to recommend we purchase more of these vehicles using the option—then it will definitely be brought to the board for approval. This is not being considered at this time.”

Cruz described the inclusion of the 20 bus option as a “staff oversight.” Lee, meanwhile, said that LBT was looking into the issue.”

“The oversight of including the option in this case is being reviewed by our new President and CEO, Mr. Kenneth McDonald and LBT Board Chair, Barbara Sullivan George along with the entire board,” Lee said. “They are working closely together to discuss procedures and resolve any issues that may arise regarding LBT’s all-electric bus procurement.”

OP-ED: Turnstiles For The Blue Line Are a Half-Solution


By Matt Dupree, September 11, 2013


Long Beach has pushed for turnstiles at the entrances of all of the Metro Blue Line stations in the city, and at first glance it seems like a great idea. As a Blue Line commuter myself, I love any idea that increases security and usability for the Metro in Long Beach. But ultimately, I think this is the wrong choice long-term.

Okay, let's talk about it.

The turnstiles are in use in most of the downtown L.A. stops for the Metro lines. My personal exit stop is Civic Center, which has a pair of turnstiles covering each entrance. For a long time however, none of these turnstiles were locked. Only through a trudging roll-out over the summer did the turnstiles finally become actual turnstiles, and that roll-out took months and required a large security and volunteer presence to show people how to obey the new regulations. In fact, any time anything changes on the Metro it has to be a slow and painful and involved process. The switch to TAP Cards from paper tickets continues to vex infrequent Metro-users, and not a month goes by that I'm not at some point tasked to help a stranger figure it all out.

From what I can tell, the turnstiles work Downtown. There are certainly still fare-jumpers, of course. But now they actually have to make a committed physical action, to actually 'jump' their fare. Civic Center's jumper-modus is to approach the turnstile closest the emergency exit gate and then quickly unlatch the gate from the other side and walk through. The emergency exit gate isn't alarmed, though its signage says otherwise. But what's encouraging about even these sneaky riders is the psychology that goes on during the fare-jump. The jumper always carries some expression of either frustration or just out-and-out guilt. This kind of active fare-jump precludes the usual, sheepish excuses that guilty parties offer when confronted. There's no "sorry officer, I had no idea" any more.

Of course, there are other problems to implementing turnstiles here in Long Beach, and one of which is space. Most of Long Beach's Blue Line stations are small platforms designed to meet the absolute minimum amount of space required for wheelchair ramps, fare-purchasing kiosks, and of course, the train. Most of the stations simply wouldn't be able to accomodate turnstiles (especially wheelchair-accessible turnstiles) in their current configurations, and would likely require substantial renovations before they could be implemented.

And since all of Long Beach's platforms are only about four feet off the ground, even locked turnstiles only close off a small percentage of the accessible perimeter for a station. Real security for these platforms would require either a below-ground set-up (which isn't possible in Long Beach) or a raised platform (which would require even more incredibly unlikely renovation work).
But although Long Beach's stops are very different from Downtown LA's and would certainly require more resources than the city has shown any willingness to offer, I still think that this sort of physical barrier to entry is a useful way to promote safety and security at Long Beach's Blue Line stations. As any business that uses dummy cameras or flashlight-wielding "safety officers" can tell you, the appearance of security can be an effective security measure. And for that reason alone, I wish I could support the implementation of turnstiles here. But I can't. And it has everything to do with the way in which the turnstiles were requested. 

The city of Long Beach and the Metro have never really gotten their ducks in a row. As the recent and horrendous actions of the transit deputy illegally impounding vehicles have shown, the gray area between the city and Metro has only grown, and it makes the city less safe and the Blue Line less effective. There are still a slew of difficult and important problems that need to be fixed with the Blue Line, and turnstiles will not solve any of them. Raising the turnstiles as a serious concern suggests to me that the city is only interested in this as a way of decreasing the pressure on them to tackle the real issues and deal with Long Beach's part in the failure to make the Blue Line safe and successful in the city.

So while I don't think the turnstiles themselves are a bad idea, I believe they are a costly and ultimately fruitless distraction to keep citizens from asking harder questions of the city: Why have we still not implemented signal preemption? Why is fare enforcement so rare south of Del Amo station? Why do we continue to accept transit security as the solution for the areas surrounding the Blue Line when they've stated over and over that Long Beach is not a priority for them?

With all of these questions still unanswered, I don't even want to think about turnstiles.

Interstate 2.0: Bringing Home the Urgency of Tolling


By Pat Jones, September 12, 2013

 old house

As the U.S. Congress prepares for the Transportation Reauthorization in September 2014, the Reason Foundation has released a smart, pragmatic roadmap for funding a complete overhaul of the Interstate highway system.

Interstate 2.0: Modernizing the Interstate Highway System via Toll Finance is the first serious effort to test the feasibility of using moderate, inflation-adjusted tolling revenue to fund the reconstruction and expansion that the Interstate system so desperately needs. The plan recognizes two basic truths at the heart of transportation funding and finance:
  • Users should pay for the roads they drive.
  • Once a road is built, it needs a steady flow of funding for upkeep, maintenance, and reconstruction.
Most people understand the user-pay principle for highways. I like to compare it to another piece of critical infrastructure that was built in 1956, the same year President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act.

Construction is Only the Beginning

In 1994, my wife and I bought a home in Alexandria, Virginia, a 38 year old, 1,600 square-foot, brick split-level house on one-sixth of an acre of land. Over the next 10 years, we made a number of improvements to our little house. We replaced the roof. We remodelled the kitchen. We redesigned and rebuilt two bathrooms, replaced all of the major appliances, and upgraded the electrical service to meet the needs of a growing family in the first years of the 21st century. We also added a 500-square foot family room that became the center of our lives at home, with sofas for lounging and a large, flat-screen TV to watch our favorite programs.

Over the years, those improvements cost us more than we originally paid to buy the house in 1994. And they were worth every penny.

When we moved in, we had two children ages one and four, with another one on the way. Our lives were relatively simple, with play groups and preschool just beginning to shape our lives. We didn’t do much socializing at home because of the demands of raising young children.

Today, those children are 23, 19, and 18, and our house has become a beehive of activity for our children and their friends. We’ve entertained hundreds, perhaps thousands of neighbors, friends, schoolmates, community groups, and more.

From our annual New Year’s Eve party and talent show, to the kids’ birthdays, graduation parties, and cast parties following high school plays, our home and our family room are at the core of a rich social life that has shaped our children and their lives.

Alexandria Split Level 2.0
Somebody built my house in 1
956. Somebody paid for it. And many dozens of people built the surrounding community of which it is a part. A generation later, I’m grateful that my family and I can reap the benefits of their vision and hard work. But we don’t live in the same house that was built in 1956. Our home today is bigger and more comfortable, filled with features that nobody could have imagined in 1956. Our house today is a much improved version of the one that was built in 1956.
You might say that we live in Alexandria Split Level 2.0.

An Interstate System for Tomorrow

The Interstate system has followed a similar trajectory.
  • The United States has a population of 315 million today, compared to 170 million in 1956.
  • In 2002, Americans logged 280 billion vehicle miles travelled (VMT) on Interstate highways, compared to 135 billion in 1980.
  • The relatively small national family that began to use the Interstate system in the 1960s has evolved into the vibrant, diverse family that uses it today.
But the roads themselves are aging and need major improvements.
Just as we found with our home, those improvements will cost more than we paid to build it in the first place. They’ll be worth every penny. But, we simply can’t afford to rebuild it using our current funding methods.

That’s why the reasonable, rational approach in Interstate 2.0 is such a breath of fresh air. It’s the kind of thinking we need if we hope to keep our highways safe and efficient and the Highway Trust Fund solvent.

Federal law currently prohibits tolling existing lanes of Interstate highways, so we have a lot of hard work ahead of us to make the Reason Foundation’s vision a reality. But I’m looking forward to that effort, because I know our children and grandchildren will some day thank us for the investments we make on their behalf.

Road tolls in U.S. will need to rise -Moody's


September 10, 2013

Road tolls in the United States will need to increase in coming years to cover a rise in debt, but the slow economic recovery is hampering their ability to do so soon, Moody's Investors Service said in a special report on Tuesday.

Toll roads' combined leverage grew last fiscal year, Moody's found, with debt per roadway mile rising to $18.9 million from $14.3 million the year before.

Tolls also increased to an average of $1.96 per transaction from $1.82 in 2011, according to the rating agency. They will need to continue rising to support the debt burden, Moody's said, adding that drivers may resist paying more during the weak economic recovery.

Looking at 31 states that have a state or regional tolling authority, the National Conference of State Legislatures recently found New Hampshire's Turnpike charges the lowest toll rate of $0.03 per mile and California's South Bay Expressway the highest at $0.35 per mile. Most states charge less than $0.10 per mile.

With the emergence of a national highway system after World War Two, the United States moved away from charging for access to roads. In the last couple of decades, though, state and local governments have embraced toll roads and Moody's expects the sector to keep growing.

"The user-pay model for funding transportation projects is gaining acceptance as traditional tax-supported funding options for infrastructure fall short of needs," Maria Matesanz, the Moody's senior vice president who authored the report, said in a statement.

Moody's median bond rating for U.S. toll roads is A1, with ratings ranging from a high of Aa3 to a low of B1. It has a negative outlook on the sector due to the weak pace of the economic recovery.

Will New MARTA Code Lure You to Public Transit?

“Moving forward, MARTA will no longer tolerate bad behavior on our system,” said Frederick L. Daniels Jr., MARTA board chairman.


By Adruabbe Murchison, September 11, 2013

Will a new code of conduct approved by MARTA Monday make you more likely to ride public transportation?

 The MARTA Board of Directors approved “Ride With Respect,” a new policy to help improve the overall customer experience by addressing nuisance behaviors with penalties including possible suspension from the transit system.

 The policy goes into effect Nov. 9.

“Ride With Respect” was prompted by concerns from existing and potential MARTA customers.

Under the new code of conduct, prohibited activities include solicitation, selling goods or services, loud music, spitting, littering, eating on transit vehicles, drinking on transit vehicles without re-sealable drink containers, fighting and disruptive behavior – many of which are also violations of state law and could result in arrest.

“Moving forward, MARTA will no longer tolerate bad behavior on our system,” said Frederick L. Daniels Jr., MARTA board chairman.

The policy – along with a more robust police presence, new vehicle security cameras and a mobile phone app to report problems – will make MARTA more attractive and help customers feel more comfortable, said Keith T. Parker, MARTA’s general manager and CEO.

(Note: MARTA is the metro agency serving Atlanta, Georgia.)

Does Bus Rapid Transit have economic development effects?


By David Levinson, September 11, 2013

In a recent post on Streets.MN, I asked if Streetcars had economic development effects, and concluded we have no evidence to date.

In contrast, for Bus Rapid Transit systems, there is lots of peer-reviewed evidence, though not as much as we might like.
A 2008 review: Bus rapid transit systems: a comparative assessment by David Hensher and Tom Golob found wide variations in the types of BRT across many dimensions (speed, construction costs, ridership, subsidies, etc.) with some systems offering a peak headway of well better than 1 bus per minute, while others were at 10 minutes between buses.

BRT thus has many distinguishing characteristics, ITDP recently developed a ranking system, the BRT standard. The categories for which points are awarded in BRT Basics are:
  • Busway alignment: 7 points
  • Dedicated right-of-way: 7 points
  • Off-board fare collection: 7 points
  • Intersection treatments: 6 points
  • Platform-level boarding: 6 points
The standard scorecard is more complicated, and includes many other factors as well. The best systems are rated Gold, and so on. I don’t agree with all of the points or categories, but this is a good place to start. The US and Canadian systems (Los Angeles, Eugene, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Ottawa) tend to fall into the Bronze Category, though Cleveland’s Health Line makes Silver (appropriate given the color of the buses and its former name “The Silver Line).

[I have not scored the University of Minnesota Transitway (which may or may not be considered BRT (I would, wikipedia is mixed on the matter)), or the Red Line, which were not ranked (but would make a good term paper for a transportation class).]

As many people worry, something can be pitched as a high-quality service, and then whittled down by the time of deployment, or afterwards to save costs. Frankly, this can happen with any technology, just look at what has happened to service frequencies on the Phoenix LRT, which are since 2010 12 minutes, but were 10 minutes at opening in 2008). Clearly as BRT is developed and deployed, this needs to be monitored. But this is true for any service with net ongoing operating costs that can be reduced over time.

Some findings from the peer-reviewed literature are below (sadly some of the papers are behind paywalls, let me know if you wants). Most, but not all of the evidence is favorable to measurable economic development impacts, clearly every system is unique:
  • Bus rapid transit impacts on land uses and land values in Seoul, Korea by Robert Cervero and Chang Deok Kang. “Multilevel models reveal BRT improvements prompted property owners to convert single-family residences to higher density apartments and condominiums. Land price premiums of up to 10% were estimated for residences within 300 m of BRT stops and more than 25% for retail and other non-residential uses over a smaller impact zone of 150 m.”
  • Redistributive effects of bus rapid transit (BRT) on development patterns and property values in Seoul, Korea by Myung-Jin Jin. This study uses simulation, rather than empirical evidence, so keep that in mind. “First, Seoul’s BRT contributes to increased development density in urban centers, acting as a centripetal force to attract firms from the suburbs into urban cores and supporting arguments for Smart Growth proponents. Second, unlike its redistributive effects on nonresidential activities, the BRT has a limited effect on the redistribution of residential activities, implying that residential locations are less sensitive to accessibility improvements made by the BRT than are nonresidential locations. Third, reflecting the transferred space demands from the suburbs to the urban cores, the CBD reaps the highest property value gains, while all of the outer ring zones suffer from reduced property values.”
  • The impact of Bus Rapid Transit on location choice of creative industries and employment density in Seoul, Korea by Chang Deok Kang. “[T]he BRT system is the favorable component for the location of creative industries and service sectors within 500 meters of BRT-bus stops. In addition, the BRT operation increases the employment density within the same distance to the bus stops by 54%.”
  • The Impact of Bus Rapid Transit on Land Development: A Case Study of Beijing, China by
    Taotao Deng and John D. Nelson. “The statistical analysis suggests that accessibility advantage conferred by BRT is capitalized into higher property price. The average price of apartments adjacent to a BRT station has gained a relatively faster increase than those not served by the BRT system. The capitalization effect mostly occurs after the full operation of BRT, and is more evident over time and particularly observed in areas which previously lack alternative mobility opportunity.”
  • Value of accessibility to Bogota’s bus rapid transit system by Daniel Rodriguez and Felipe Targa. “Results suggest that for every 5 min of additional walking time to a BRT station, the rental price of a property decreases by between 6.8 and 9.3%, after controlling for structural characteristics, neighbourhood attributes and proximity to the BRT corridor. “
  • Capitalization of BRT network expansions effects into prices of non-expansion areas by Daniel Rodriguez and Carlos Mojica. “Properties [in Bogota] offered during the year the extension was inaugurated and in subsequent years have asking prices that are between 13% and 14% higher than prices for properties in the control area, after adjusting for structural, neigh- borhood and regional accessibility characteristics of each property. “
  • Walking accessibility to bus rapid transit: Does it affect property values? The case of Bogota ́, Colombia by Ramon Munoz-Raskin . “The main results showed that, with respect to the value of properties in relation to proximity, the housing market places value premiums on the properties in the immediate walking proximity of feeder lines. The analysis by socio-economic strata showed that middle-income properties were valued more if they fell closer to the system, while there were opposite results for low-income housing. Finally, analysis across time reflects slight average annual increases in property values correlated with the implementation of the system in two specific areas analyzed.”
  • Recent developments in bus rapid transit: a review of the literature by Taotao Deng and John D. Nelson. ” In common with other forms of mass transit, a full‐featured BRT has the potential to offer significant effects on land development; the literature review also indicates that more work is needed to investigate this.” (The general cry of the academic – more research is necessary).
  • Land Use Impacts of Bus Rapid Transit: Effects of BRT Station Proximity on Property Values along the Pittsburgh Martin Luther King, Jr. East Busway by Victoria Perk of the University of South Florida National Bus Rapid Transit Institute, ”A property 1,000 feet away from a station is valued approximately $9,745 less than a property 100 feet away, all else constant ” (presented at TRB)
  • Impacts of Boston’s Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Sale Prices of Condominiums Along Washington Street by Perk and Catala ”A key result is that for condo sales that occurred in 2007 or 2009, the BRT premium was approximately 7.6 percent. For condo sales in 2000 and 2001, prior to the opening of the Silver Line, no sales premium existed for proximity to the corridor.” (presented at TRB)
All of this is consistent with general observations and what theory would predict about accessibility improvements. A transportation system that adds to accessibility in a significant way warrants a premium in the prices people are willing to pay to take advantage of it.

Southwest Light Rail's fate has hinged on Kenilworth freight route for almost two decades


By Laura Yuen, September 11, 2013

 ST. PAUL, Minn. — The quandary over what to do with freight trains that currently use a portion of the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit route goes nearly two decades.

Today, the freight-rail impasse has sent the transit project's price tag - now estimated at about $1.6 billion or more - galloping way ahead of initial estimates.

It also pits neighbors near the Chain of Lakes of Minneapolis, told by local officials that the freight would eventually leave the wooded Kenilworth corridor, against St. Louis Park residents who oppose any attempts to divert the trains through their community.

Interactive timeline of the Southwest LRT freight rail debate
The freight fracas has forced officials to delay key decisions in the planning on the proposed line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

With the fate of what would be the state's most expensive public-works project now teetering on uncertainty, much of the debate centers on one question: Did the city of St. Louis Park ever agree to accept the freight?

Government documents going back nearly two decades stop short of spelling out any legal promises, but city and Hennepin County officials held serious discussions on the matter.

The chain reaction culminating with the project's current woes started in the 1990s. That's when transportation officials severed the 29th Street freight corridor in Minneapolis - what is now the Midtown Greenway - to reconstruct Hiawatha Avenue, long before the state's first light-rail service began on Hiawatha.

Freight service was rerouted along the Kenilworth corridor, between two of the most cherished lakes in Minneapolis - Cedar and Lake of the Isles - and now home to one of the most scenic bikeways in the region.

But the new freight service through Kenilworth came with a catch, recalled Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman.

"Everybody back then - in St. Louis Park, in Minneapolis, the railroads, MnDot - everybody understood at that point that the intent was that the trains would be in the Kenilworth corridor on a temporary basis," said Dorfman, who was mayor of St. Louis Park at the time. "Was it legally binding? I don't know. I'm not an attorney."

As Dorfman and other county officials remember it, all of the parties agreed the trains would weave through Kenilworth until a piece of land in St. Louis Park that previously housed a lead smelter could be cleaned up.

Once the land was reclaimed, a new rail interconnect would be built on the former National Lead site. That would allow the freight trains to be diverted through St. Louis Park, Dorfman said.

In 1997, the Legislature passed a law that allowed St. Louis Park to accept money from a new Hennepin County cleanup fund if the city agreed to acquire the contaminated site and provide a rail right-of-way to replace the 29th Street corridor. The city eventually received $4.75 million from the special fund, and set aside an easement for a future freight rail connection, as the state statute mandated.

By cleaning up the site and reserving the easement, St. Louis Park has held up its end of the deal, said Sue Sanger, a city council member who was involved in early discussions about the possible freight relocation.
Sanger points to a 1998 preliminary agreement between the city and the county that offers the clearest picture of where the discussions were headed. It notes that city wanted the land for redevelopment, while the county wanted it for the freight route.

"The city agreed to look at the question of whether freight could be rerouted through St. Louis Park," she said. "We honored that agreement. We did study it. We concluded it should not be."
- Sue Sanger, St. Louis Park City Council
But the preliminary agreement was just the starting point for exploring the freight relocation, Sanger said.

"The city agreed to look at the question of whether freight could be rerouted through St. Louis Park...We honored that agreement. We did study it. We concluded it should not be."

The agreement never obligated the city to take the freight as a condition of accepting the cleanup money, Sanger said.

"While it may have been the understanding that some people at the county wanted to have, that certainly was not the understanding in St. Louis Park," she said.

The contract also stipulated several conditions that needed to happen before the parties could negotiate a final agreement. Those conditions included securing approval from the affected railroads and consulting nearby neighborhoods.

"None of that was ever pursued," said Jake Spano, a St. Louis Park city council member who has been involved with recent Southwest LRT planning. "There was never a final agreement."

Nonetheless, some Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials believe St. Louis Park needs to honor what they consider to be a previous commitment.

Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew, who chaired the county board in the late '90s, said there's no question about the expected trade-off with St. Louis Park.

" 'You guys clean up the waste site, and we'll figure out a way to get freight rail out there,' is the way I understood it," Andrew said. "But of course, we don't have any contract with them."

He said much of the conversation about what he viewed as a trade happened at the staff level, and there was never a written commitment.

But Andrew said he's confident of one thing: The county lobbied for the environmental cleanup money at the Capitol on behalf of St. Louis Park thinking the suburb would ultimately accept the freight.

"Of course," he said. "That's why we did it."

Officials in Minneapolis share that recollection. Peter Wagenius, policy director for Mayor R.T. Rybak, went so far at a recent Southwest planning meeting to suggest St. Louis Park pay for its opposition to freight.

Wagenius said the $4.75 million the city accepted for the National Lead cleanup should be repaid to the light-rail project in today's dollars if the Metropolitan Council decides against rerouting the freight trains through the suburb.

"If we pursue that option, then that money - money not spent in ancient times, but in our lifetimes - was not going to the purpose it was meant for," Wagenius said.

St. Louis Park leaders maintain they've been consistent all along on their opposition to freight.
They point to city resolutions going back to 2001 documenting that St. Louis Park would only accept the trains if there were no viable options that accommodated both freight and transit within the Kenilworth Corridor.
St. Louis Park officials
contend there are plenty of other options - at least six that were identified by Met Council planners - that would not involve diverting additional freight through the suburb. Light-rail planners ruled out four due to opposition from Minneapolis, including relocating Kenilworth's picturesque bike trail.

"There are many more viable, and frankly cheaper, routes for handling freight rail that still permits light-rail transit to be built," said Sue Sanger, the St. Louis Park city council member.

Now light-rail planners are focused on just one: Burying the passenger trains in a $160 million shallow tunnel that would run beside the freight rail and beneath the bike and walking trails.
That option is not without controversy, either. Some Minneapolis residents believe cramming both freight and LRT trains into Kenilworth would alter the park-like setting of the corridor ( Southwest Light Rail tunnel proposals would remove hundreds of trees).

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board also opposes the shallow tunnel, out of which the trains would emerge to cross the bucolic Kenilworth Channel between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles ( Light-rail tunnel foes see water table, environmental issues).

"From a historic perspective, it could change the experience one has in the Kenilworth Channel significantly," said park board member Anita Tabb. "People ski under that bridge. People canoe that area. You can see all sorts of wildlife. It's quiet. You do not feel like you're in the city at all."

Tabb is also concerned about the tunnel's effect on the nearby lakes and groundwater. A preliminary hydrological report released this week by the engineering consultant for the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District found "no serious concerns" with the tunnel's initial designs.

But the only alternative on the table is a contentious, $200 million rerouting of freight through St. Louis Park that places the trains on two-story-high berms near an elementary school. The berms are intended to provide a gradual slope and safe passage for the trains, but many residents believe they'll divide the community and present even greater risks to safety.

The current reroute plan, which came after the Twin Cities and Western Railroad Co. objected to a previous version because of its steep climbs and sharp turns, also calls for acquiring homes and businesses to make room for the freight trains.

St. Louis Park officials say the new route is starkly different than the freight path they originally envisioned when they entered into the preliminary agreement with the county in 1998.
"We're only now in 2013 seeing solutions that the railroads would find acceptable, and that's very different from the ideas that people were talking about in the 1990s," said Kevin Locke, the city's community development director.

Even Gail Dorfman, the county commissioner, agrees with St. Louis Park residents that the current design won't work.

And all of the sparring over whether St. Louis Park ever agreed to take freight doesn't even matter if planners can't agree on how to route the trains through the city, she said.

The Met Council could decide how to handle the freight debacle as early as Oct. 9. State law requires municipal consent from all five cities touching the line, and Met Council officials want to secure approvals by the end of the year.

"We haven't quite come up with a viable scenario where all of the communities feel like they're fairly sharing the burden," Dorfman said. "That's where we need to focus over the next few weeks. Otherwise, we won't have a project after all of these years."