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

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Eurostar confirms launch of London – Amsterdam services in December 2016


September 27, 2013

Siemens Velaro e320 high speed trainset for Eurostar.
EUROPE: Eurostar, the Dutch govern
ment and Dutch national passenger operator NS have signed an agreement for the launch of direct services between London and Amsterdam Centraal in December 2016.

This forms part of a programme to enhance services on HSL-Zuid which was announced by State Secretary for Infrastructure & the Environment Wilma Mansveld on September 27.

The agreement has been submitted to the Dutch parliament for ratification, a process which a Eurostar expects to be completed within the next few months.

Two services a day would be operated using Eurostar's new Siemens Velaro e320 trains, the first of which is now on test. The journey time will be around 4 h, with stops at Brussels, Antwerpen, Rotterdam and Schiphol airport.

A Eurostar spokesman told Railway Gazette International that details of the immigration and baggage screening procedures for UK-bound journeys were still to be worked out. The agreement sets a date for the launch of services, but it is 'very much the first step' and there is still 'a lot of work to do before 2016'.

Announcing the agreement, Eurostar said that since becoming a standalone corporate entity in September 2010 it has 'had clear ambitions to expand its business beyond its existing destinations and to encourage passengers to choose high speed rail over plane for short haul European travel', and a direct high-speed rail service between London and Amsterdam would offer 'an attractive, convenient alternative to the airlines'.

'We have long been ambitious for expansion to new destinations, so today's announcement marks a major advance in our growth plans', said Eurostar Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic. 'With over three million passengers travelling by air between London and Amsterdam, this is one of Europe's most popular routes. Our fast, comfortable, point-to-point service will greatly enhance the links between the UK and the near Continent, revolutionising travel between these important financial and tourist hubs.'

General Motors Is Tearing Cars Apart In A Secret Lab


By Michael Ballaban, September 28, 2013




 It's common knowledge that most, if not all, car manufacturers buy up competitors cars in order to compare them to their own. GM, apparently, has decided to go down the Frankenstein path, by tearing cars apart piece by piece in its lab.

It has been heartening to see the sheer amount of progress GM has made over the past few years with its products. Hell, the 2014 Chevrolet Impala even impressed us, jaded and disgruntled as we are. A lot of that progress, though, is down to the Teardown Area of GM's Competitive Benchmarking Team, according to a report in Ars Technica:

A Mercedes sport utility vehicle stripped of its body panels and chassis sat on a platform like a cadaver on an autopsy table, components of its exhaust system arranged neatly on a cart for examination.

 Every little individual part is then 3D-scanned into a computer, where they can than be virtually put together again and run through a series of simulations. GM isn't "copying" the designs of its competitors, per se, but using them as a reference to be compared to its own cars.

In one sense it's not surprising that GM is going the distance to improve its offerings, and competitive benchmarking has been around as long as cars themselves have. What's more fascinating, though, is to see the degree to which companies these days are employing technology to spy on each other just that little bit more.

There's a saying that "you don't want to see how your sausage gets made," but in the case of cars, it's awesome to see every little bit. Even if "seeing" is ripping apart the bodies of your enemies to see what makes them tick.

California Toll Road Risks Biggest Default Since Detroit


By James Nash, September 10, 2013

California’s largest toll-road agency, whose revenue has trailed projections for six years, is nearing the biggest default in the $3.7 trillion municipal market since Detroit’s record bankruptcy.

Bonds for three highways linking inland suburbs to coastal business parks are rated one step above junk and traded last month at their lowest price this year. The agency asked late in in 2012 to extend maturities and tolls by 13 years, a proposal the state Transportation Department has yet to accept. With benchmark municipal yields setting a two-year high this month, the window to complete the refinancing may be closing.

“The projections that were originally put into place when they issued debt didn’t come to fruition,” said Howard Cure, director of muni research for Evercore Wealth Management LLC in New York. “Built into this kind of project is the expectation that they can improve the amount of traffic and the collection of tolls. When you fall behind early on, it just makes the problem that much worse.”

Evercore’s $4.7 billion in assets don’t include Orange County toll-road bonds.

Consultant Warning

The consultant to Lockyer’s debt panel warned that Foothill-Eastern would risk defaulting unless it reduces repayments by extending maturities.

Default “could have a negative effect on the outlook of investors on the creditworthiness of California in general,” the consultant, Westlake Village, California-based Montague DeRose & Associates LLC, said in the report.

Lisa Telles, a Transportation Corridor Agencies spokeswoman, dismissed the possibility of a default, noting that Foothill-Eastern has reserves to cover expenses and that the economic picture is brightening. Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Lockyer, said the agency “eventually” could become unable to meet its obligations without a refinancing.

Defaults Down

As of Sept. 4, 34 municipal issuers had filed notices of default this year, down from 54 in the same period last year, according to data from Municipal Market Advisors. The par value reached a record high, largely on defaults in Detroit and Jefferson County, Alabama, said Matt Fabian, managing director at the Concord, Massachusetts-based company.

Most municipal defaults have been among issuers that rely on restricted revenue sources such as tolls and taxes on rising property values, rather than general obligations, Fabian said.
Of issues rated by Moody’s Investors Service, 70 percent of defaults since 1970 have been in health care and housing projects, according to a May research note.

The cumulative rate of defaults within a 10-year period for rated municipal issuers was 0.12 percent from 1970 to 2012, according to Moody’s. The comparable rate for corporate debt was 11.8 percent, Moody’s said.

Tax-exempt Foothill-Eastern bonds maturing in January 2040 traded at an average of 95.03 cents on the dollar Aug. 22, the lowest this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The bonds traded yesterday at an average of 97.45 cents, to yield 5.94 percent, or about 1.34 percentage points above benchmark debt.

Missed Window

The agency missed the opportunity to refinance at near-record-low interest rates. Bets that a growing economy will lead the Federal Reserve to reduce its bond buying have pushed yields on benchmark 10-year local bonds to the highest since 2011, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In December, the interest rate was the lowest since at least January 2009.

In October, the agency’s financial adviser, Robert Rich of Philadelphia-based PFM Group’s Public Financial Management unit, urged the agency to act, stressing that closing the deal quickly was “critical,” according to a letter obtained through a public records request.

Rich declined to comment on the deal. Fabian said last year’s “excellent window” for municipal issuers has closed, meaning a refinancing would have less favorable terms.

“Refinancings have been taken off the table,” Fabian said by telephone. “This transaction, when refinanced, will have the legacy of the roads’ troubles.”

Negotiation Drive

By repaying over a longer period, the agency would limit increases in debt service to 3.5 percent per year, rather than 4.4 percent, according to Lockyer’s consultant report.

Instead, Transportation Corridor Agencies, which manages Foothill-Eastern and the San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor Agency’s 12-mile tollway, embarked on fruitless negotiations with Caltrans, as the state transportation department is known. Caltrans must approve changes to the 1988 agreement authorizing the agencies to collect tolls.

The state already has extended tolling to 2040 from 2033, documents show. Drivers pay as much as $3.50 one-way for a 25-mile drive on Highway 241, according to an agency rate card. A toll increase took effect July 1.

Higher tolls helped the agency’s revenue reach a record $111.8 million in the year ended June 30, even as the number of vehicles using the roads fell to a 12-year low, according to agency data. Annual revenue has been about 75 percent of projections for the past three years, the data show.

Coastal Link

The highways linking lower-cost suburban housing to jobs in coastal Orange County are sensitive to fluctuations in Southern California’s economy, said John Husing, principal of Economics & Politics Inc. The county is home to companies including Ingram Micro Inc. (IM), Broadcom Corp. (BRCM), which makes chips that connect mobile devices to the Internet, and Allergan Inc. (AGN), the maker of wrinkle-smoothing Botox.

“The share of inland workers commuting to coastal counties has been flat as a proportion of the workforce since 2000,” Husing said by telephone from Redlands, California. “Population growth has slowed down dramatically in the inland region.”

The collapse of Southern California’s housing market hurt the toll roads on both ends: Inland homes lost value, while jobs in Orange County were hard-hit, particularly in companies offering and servicing mortgages, said Telles, the Transportation Corridor Agencies spokeswoman.

‘Reasonable’ Offer

“If people are nervous about losing their jobs, they are more careful about their expenses and are willing to sit in traffic rather than pay a toll,” she said by telephone.

Neither Telles nor David Richardson, a California Transportation Department spokesman in Orange County, would discuss negotiations to extend the life of the bonds and the tolls.

Caltrans made a “reasonable” offer to allow the bonds to be refinanced that the toll-road agency didn’t accept, Richardson said Sept. 6. He wouldn’t disclose details. Telles said negotiations were “fluid,” without providing specifics.

After the sides reach agreement, the toll agency still might delay a sale until market conditions improve, she said.

Attributing the toll-road revenue challenge to the housing crash is ironic, said Marilyn Brewer, a former state assemblywoman from Orange County who asked Lockyer to review the finances of the Transportation Corridor Agencies.

‘Bad Decisions’

“The TCAs are like a homebuyer whose house is underwater and they want to extend the loan in order to save it,” Brewer, a Republican, said from Newport Beach. “It’s the result of bad decisions they’ve made in the past. This is like the third time they’ve gone to the well. In three to five years, they’re going to be asking for another extension.”

Localities nationwide plan to sell $6.5 billion in long-term debt this week as benchmark 10-year munis yield about 3.13 percent, close to the highest since April 2011. The interest rate compares with 2.96 percent for similar-maturity Treasuries.

The ratio of the yields, a gauge of relative value, is about 105 percent, compared with an average of 93 percent since 2001. The higher the figure, the cheaper munis are compared with federal securities.
Following is a pending sale:

West Virginia Hospital Finance Authority is selling about $211 million of revenue bonds to help institutions belonging to West Virginia United Health System Inc., a nonprofit group, refinance debt, expand and improve facilities. The securities mature over 31 years. A unit of Wells Fargo & Co. is leading the sale.

Railroads seek extension for installing anti-collision system

After a deadly L.A. train crash in 2008, Congress mandated that the technology be in place by the end of 2015. Metrolink is one of the only railroads on track.


By Richard Simon and Dan Weikel, September 28, 2013

 Train technology

 The deadly 2008 Metrolink crash in Chatsworth prompted Congress to pass legislation requiring the nation's railroads to install a collision-avoidance system by Dec. 31, 2015.

WASHINGTON — Spurred by a deadly train crash in Los Angeles, Congress in 2008 passed with great fanfare legislation requiring the nation's railroads to install a sophisticated collision-avoidance system by the end of 2015.

Five years later, an industry move to extend the deadline to 2020 is picking up steam on Capitol Hill.
Southern California's Metrolink is on schedule to complete the high-tech project by next spring along 512 miles of track.

But many railroad industry officials cite the complexity of the effort and the cost of at least $10 billion to implement "positive train control," known in industry circles as PTC, on about 60,000 miles of track nationwide.

California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are fighting to preserve the deadline, contending that if Metrolink can meet it, other railroads can too. Metrolink operated the commuter train that slammed head-on into a freight train in Chatsworth on Sept.12, 2008, killing 25 people and injuring 135.

The senators, who originally pushed for an even earlier deadline, are up against an industry that spent more than $45 million on lobbying in the capital last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and has employed high-powered lobbyists, including former lawmakers, to help make the case for more time to put the train control system in place.

The National Transportation Safety Board has long made implementation of positive train control a top safety recommendation. Although the NTSB has taken no position on legislation to extend the deadline, board member Robert L. Sumwalt said, "For every day that PTC is delayed, we have the continued risk of rail collisions."

Chatsworth crash victims also are pushing back.

"What are the railroads afraid of? They are just looking into their pocketbooks and don't care about human lives," said Barbara Kloster of Thousand Oaks, whose son Mike was almost killed in the crash.

"When these things occur, everyone says, 'What a tragedy,'" said Jim Paulson, 63, of Camarillo, a former train conductor who suffered head injuries and a broken shoulder in the collision. "Then nothing happens."

The requirement for positive train control was included in a rail safety bill signed by President George W. Bush about a month after the Chatsworth crash. Then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was among those who voted for the legislation.

The collision with a Union Pacific freight train — one of the deadliest rail crashes in California history — occurred when a text-messaging Metrolink engineer failed to stop at a red signal, federal investigators concluded.

Officials for Metrolink say they are on schedule to meet the deadline set in 2008. (The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority says it is also on schedule.)

"We are absolutely on track regardless of what happens in Washington," said Jeff Lustgarten, a spokesman for Metrolink.

The commuter railroad averages about 42,000 boardings a day and serves six Southern California counties. It has made steady progress developing the sophisticated safety technology that relies on an array of electronic gear that monitors and, if necessary, takes control of trains to prevent accidents.
The agency plans to spend about $210 million on the project, and is working with Union Pacific and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress' investigative arm, recently reported that most railroads expect to miss the Dec. 31, 2015, deadline and recommended that lawmakers consider granting the Federal Railroad Administration authority to extend the deadline on a case-by-case basis.
GAO officials note that industry representatives have described the system as the "biggest change in the railroad industry since it transitioned from steam to diesel locomotives in the mid-20th century."

The head of the Assn. of American Railroads calls the system an "unprecedented" technical challenge, citing the task of installing about 20,000 antennas along tracks to transmit signals for trains to automatically slow down or stop if engineers miss signals, exceed speed limits or are on a collision course.

The Senate bill to extend the deadline to Dec. 31, 2020, and empower the secretary of Transportation to grant additional one-year delays was introduced by Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and has picked up two Democrats and five other Republicans as cosponsors.

A cyclist asks: What are the rules of the road?


By Nicholas Goldberg, September 29, 2013


 Cyclists at the intersection of Bundy Drive and Idaho Avenue in West Los Angeles.

When I ride each weekend from my house to Griffith Park, I tend to ride, like most bicyclists, on the right side of the street, next to the parked cars, allowing traffic to pass me on the left. But is that really what I’m supposed to do, or am I supposed to ride in the middle of the lane, with cars behind me and in front of me? And if I want to make a left turn, how am I supposed to get from the right lane to the left-turn lane -- at what speed and where am I supposed to cross the rest of the traffic? Sometimes I find that it’s safer and easier to ride on the sidewalk, where there are no dangerous moving cars and, to be honest, no pedestrians either. But is that legal?

I’m not a brand-new bicyclist in Los Angeles. I’ve been riding through the city for at least three years. But I do so by adhering to a code of my own, made up for the most part in my own head on the basis of common sense, experience and fear. There is no DMV for bicyclists, there is no official manual given out to every new rider that explains the rules, and there is no test to make sure you’ve learned those rules.

Yet the rules exist. It doesn’t take much work to find at least some of them online. I should have done it sooner. For instance, the California Vehicle Code makes it clear that if you’re riding a bike at the speed of traffic, you may ride in the middle of the lane, but if you’re riding more slowly, you should ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb (except under certain circumstances, such as when passing another bicycle or preparing to turn left). That’s pretty much what I do.

Under city law, it is legal to ride on the sidewalks of Los Angeles as long as one does not do it with “willful or wanton disregard” of life and property. I don’t ride willfully or wantonly, so I think I’m OK. If I run into a police officer, I hope he or she agrees.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation offers a “bicycle services” page at bicyclela.org, including a separate page on the law at bicyclela.org/Law. The California Bicycle Coalition offers similar information here.

And for those who are interested in what laws ought to be passed or changed, a bunch of suggestions -- some more controversial than others -- are posted at the blog BikingInLA.

It turns out that my common sense was pretty good, and by and large I got it right. But I wish the rules were easier to find and that everyone on a bike knew them. I see too many people going through stop signs, which I am quite sure is not legal. I see (and share) great confusion about the rights of bike riders in bike lanes, including how drivers are supposed to behave when they have to cross bike lanes. Clarity for all would go a long way toward reducing the number of accidents in Los Angeles.

Editorial: Sharing the Road: Can L.A. be a cyclist's town?

Is biking a major shift in the city's lifestyle, or are the commutes too long and the roads too dangerous?


 September 27, 2013

 Sharing the Road: Can L.A. be a cyclist's town?


 A cyclist rides past the Santa Monica Bike Center on Colorado Blvd. in Santa Monica.

Colorado Boulevard is going on a diet. The section of the six-lane street that runs through Eagle Rock has begun a serious reducing regimen, with city transportation workers removing one motor vehicle lane in either direction, adding a landscaped median, improving crosswalks and re-striping the street for bike lanes.

Other parts of Los Angeles, from Porter Ranch to Venice to South L.A., have already been put on similar "road diets," and other slimming programs in every part of the city are slated for the near future. The same thing is happening up and down California — in fact, across the nation — as cities reallocate their asphalt to accommodate and encourage cyclists.

In many cases, the changes make cars move more slowly, and not by accident. It is the culmination of decades' worth of re-envisioning public space and re-imagining the use of public money.

FULL COVERAGE: Sharing the road in L.A.

Still, the new street thinking — road diets, bike lanes, bike trains (companion bike commuters), bike libraries (check out a bike, ride to your destination and check your bike in), CicLAvia — strikes many Angelenos as shockingly new and subversive in a city that just four years ago was still arguing over how best to turn parking lanes into commuter traffic lanes and which streets — Pico? Olympic? — should be remade as virtual freeways by adding as many lanes as could fit to get as many motorists from the Westside to downtown and back again as quickly and seamlessly as possible.

Even as the Orange Line whisked riders across the Valley, there remained talk of packing in more cars on other boulevards. Sherman Way, for example. Victory Boulevard. And even as most big cities have stopped building freeways, car-dependent — car-crazy? — Los Angeles is still grappling with the possible extension of the 710 through Alhambra, South Pasadena and perhaps Northeast L.A. on its way to Pasadena and the 210. More cars on more streets feeding to more freeways.

After all, isn't that what streets are for? Aren't they paved for cars, signed and signaled for drivers, paid for by motoring taxpayers? Aren't we built around drive-ins, drive-throughs, drop-offs? That's what Los Angeles has grown up to believe. The distances are so great, the hills are so steep, the commutes are so long. Road diets notwithstanding, there are so many cars, driving so fast and hogging space, leaving little margin for error for cyclists.

Can L.A. ever be a biker's town?

It's a question not just for the growing number of cyclists who commute to work and back on L.A. streets, or for the drivers who pass them (and are passed by them, at least during rush hour). It's a question that touches on the expenditure of tax money, the crafting of transportation and planning policy, the best and broadest use of city streets, Los Angeles' very identity — its inner psyche — and the shape of its future.

If we moved so quickly from a speed-the-traffic orientation to a just-slow-down approach, how sure can we be that we won't just switch back in another year or two? Is cycling a major shift in L.A.'s urban lifestyle, analogous to the resurgence of downtowns and the reversal of the commuter flow between the dense urban core and the single-family suburbs? Or is it a passing fancy, with barely more staying power than the Segway, or the formerly green bike lane that marked several blocks of downtown's Spring Street before the paint was stripped off this month? How could we, as one City Council candidate asked in the recent campaign, devote so much time, money, attention and road space to a cycling population that accounts for less than 4% of the city's street users? Or, as other candidates asked, how could we not — given the city's younger population, its demand for faster commutes, its insistence that not every traffic dollar go to making the streets more car-oriented?

How well does city government have its eyes on the road? As we create more bike lanes, for example, is there a commitment to step up citations of drivers who veer into them? Or of cyclists who ignore stop signs? What in the world is a "sharrow," and why does the symbol look so similar to the one that marks bike lanes? Have cyclist fatalities increased along with the number of bikes, and what should we be doing about that? Can we make riders, walkers and drivers all safer? And all get along? Can we make the road diet into more of a road buffet?

These questions are raised in conversations that bike groups, city officials and state lawmakers, motorist organizations and others have been having among themselves for years, but it is past time to mainstream that discussion, to share the ideas, critiques and complaints with the broader community.
The discussion necessarily is an intimate part of, and not separate from, the debate over whether to sell bonds to repair and repave streets, or whether drivers should be ticketed for parking at broken meters, or who should pay to fix the city's broken and dangerous sidewalks.

The Times' editorial page is pro-bike. We have noted repeatedly and with approval that cycling reduces traffic, cuts fossil fuel use and pollution and improves the health of those who do it; in fact, it's beneficial in so many ways that cities, especially those such as Los Angeles that are beset by automotive-related problems, should go to great lengths to encourage it. But we intend to consider in greater depth the particular policy issues that arise from greater bike use. We seek a dialogue with cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, taxpayers and others about where we're going collectively. And on how many wheels. Follow the conversation, and join in, at latimes.com/roadshare and #roadshareLA.