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

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Transportation Department program fails to root out bad contractors

Banned firms eligible for federal tax dollars


By Phillip Swarts, September 30, 2013

** FILE ** Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx. (Wikipedia)

  Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

A Transportation Department program designed to help women, minority and disabled owners compete for federal contracts, in fact, may be disadvantaging the very people it is intended to help by failing to root out bad actors.

The Transportation Department’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program has continued to give money to contractors in the process of being debarred or suspended for defrauding taxpayers, depriving more deserving firms of millions of dollars, the agency’s internal watchdog reports.

“Weaknesses in DBE program management and implementation have allowed ineligible firms to win DBE contracts and have left the majority of DBE firms without work,” the department’s inspector general said.

The report shines a poignant light on Uncle Sam’s continuing inability to punish wayward contractors or protect taxpayers from instances of procurement fraud.

Federal agencies are supposed to suspend or debar federal contractors who have tried to defraud taxpayers, thus preventing them from getting new business.

But the Transportation Department’s disadvantaged contracting program is so poorly managed that contractors that have been debarred or in the process of being suspended have won more funding, the report said. Nearly a third of the Transportation Department’s inspector general fraud investigations involve the program, the report said.

A sampling of the program’s contractors on eligibility lists in 26 states found three firms that were listed as permitted to receive contracts, despite being suspended or debarred.

One company was on contracting lists 20 months after it was disqualified for fraud and lying to government officials. A second remained listed despite being debarred for violating federal wage laws, and a third got an $8.1 million contract just weeks before its suspension was supposed to take effect for attempted tax fraud.

Because the inspector general sampled only some lists, it warned that the problems could be far more widespread. “Instances like those we found point to the possibility that other ineligible firms may be listed on state DBE directories,” the report said.

The investigators blamed Transportation Department officials for failing to provide “guidance and training to safeguard against federally funded awards to firms that are suspended or debarred.”

Agency officials brushed off the criticism, issuing a statement highlighting the success of the program instead of its red flags. “Thanks to the DBE program, small and disadvantaged businesses were able to successfully compete for contracting valued at more than $4.4 billion,” the Transportation Department said.

“The department will continue to review existing guidance and program implementation to determine whether there are useful and cost effective means to make further improvements,” it said.
Investigators remain unhappy, fearing the program is placing more emphasis on getting businesses qualified for the program than screening them or finding them work.

“Recipients focus most of their efforts on helping firms complete the lengthy DBE certification process, leaving few resources in place to help certified firms obtain DBE work on federally funded projects,” the inspector general warned.

Private companies are supposed to submit annual paperwork showing they haven’t been banned, but the inspector general said it can be unreliable. One company lied on its paperwork to show it was still eligible despite having been suspended.

The internal watchdog urged the Transportation Department to use far more vigilance to stop bad actors from remaining eligible for contracts.

“Suspension and debarment actions are among the government’s strongest tools to deter unethical and unlawful use of Federal funds,” the inspector general said. “Since DOT distributes several billion dollars annually through its DBE program, it is important that the Department strengthen its controls to ensure that suspended and debarred firms — such as those identified in our ongoing review — do not participate in the DBE program.”

CEQA Bill is Law – Let’s Get to Work


October 1, 2013

On Friday the Governor signed SB 743, a CEQA bill that blends home court politics (go Kings!) with game-changing reforms for the rest of California.  While some observers – including me – were exasperated with the process, the final product is an important step forward for sustainable communities in California.

But there’s work to be done, if we want the best aspects of SB 743 to be successful – and that work must begin immediately.  SB 743 eliminates traffic congestion and its proxy, Level of Service (LOS), as the focus of CEQA’s transportation analysis. That’s great news for bike lanes, bus rapid transit, and infill projects that are essential strategies for healthier, greener communities.

But this provision won’t take effect immediately. First, we need a new methodology to replace traffic and LOS.  That new methodology will be developed by the Office of Planning and Research (OPR), and it must “promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses.” But here’s the kicker: OPR must develop a first draft by July 2014.

The million-dollar question OPR has to answer is: what comes next, after LOS?  Should the new methodology focus on vehicle miles traveled (VMT), as SB 375 does? Or should it focus on trip generation (the number of car trips a particular building is likely to produce)?  Should it only focus on an individual project, or look at the neighborhood and the region as a whole?  How will it impact traffic impact fees, a tool many communities rely upon to fund transportation improvements? These are the types of questions that OPR must answer in the next 9 months.  It’s an exciting and daunting task, and one that demands the attention of advocates and CEQA experts.  We have to get this right.

Another place we need to get it right is around displacement.  For a brief moment, the primary CEQA bill included our recommendations that OPR produce a study on the phenomenon of economic displacement, where low-income residents are displaced from their neighborhoods by escalating rents and property values. Our modest language provoked a firestorm of response.  Normally cooler heads such as Bill Fulton and Don Perata slammed the provision and attacked environmental justice advocates and the “meddling” foundations that fund them.

These misguided over-reactions demonstrate the work ahead.  No one can deny that rents are escalating in desirable transit-rich neighborhoods, and these changes are driving unprecedented demographic shifts.  But there is clearly disagreement about how to address it – or whether we even should address it. This issue is not going away. We desperately need to have a conversation about displacement and what to do about it.  We intend to keep this issue on the table, and we hope the next round will be more civil and constructive.

ClimatePlan, along with Greenbelt Alliance and the Planning and Conservation League Foundation, was proud to convene a dialogue of diverse interests who came together in support of ending LOS and addressing displacement.  Our July 19 letter, signed by ten diverse organizations, was the first to call on Senator Steinberg to make these needed reforms.  Now that SB 743 has become law, we’re committed to ensuring its successful implementation.

(Note: SB 743 is a wide-ranging bill with many provisions, most of which weren’t covered here.  Ascent Environmental has produced a good summary. )

What the Rise of Technology Has to Do With the Decline of Driving


By Emily Badger, October 1, 2013

What the Rise of Technology Has to Do With the Decline of Driving

In dozens of small ways, emerging technology has been subtly nudging our behavior – at work, at home, while socializing or traveling – in ways that directly impact how people use transportation.
Teleconferencing has made telework more common. E-commerce has reduced the need to drive to the mall. Real-time arrival apps have made public transit more predictable. Solar-powered stations have helped bike-share expand. WiFi and smart phones have made it possible to get work done on a moving bus, raising the mental cost of driving alone. And social media, for some people, has reduced the need to travel across town to see a friend you might more easily connect with on Facebook.

None of these personal technology trends has really revolutionized American mobility patterns, and for that reason it's easy to overlook their importance in influencing how people get around (people are driving less because of... apps?). But taken together? "They really seem to be more than the sum of their parts," says Phineas Baxandall with the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

He helped prepare a new report out today on the role of transportation apps and vehicle-sharing tools in giving more Americans "the freedom to drive less." The paper neatly dovetails with a broad survey of Millennial transportation habits also published today by the American Public Transportation Association. Millennials, after all, are frequently early adopters of new technology, whether in the form of route-planning applications or bike-share services. And as we've previously written, they've been squarely behind the trend toward less driving in America. It stands, then, to reason that the two trends are related.

As the APTA report frames this:
History shows that the combination of technological change, such as the advent of smartphone technology, television, or radio; combined with macro forces that shape behaviors, such as the Great Recession, the Great Depression, or World War II can lead to societal change that can last generations.
It's virtually impossible to quantify the cumulative impact of all this technological change on the decline in driver's licenses or car registrations or miles traveled (is "new technology" responsible for 15 percent of the drop? 30 percent?). Baxandall reasons, though, that "it’s definitely a significant piece of what’s behind the driving trends. But if you look to the future, it seems even more significant. All of these things are really just in their infancy."

Five years ago, you may not have had a smart phone. Your city definitely did not release real-time bus arrival information. Bike-sharing systems, at least in the U.S., were but a dream. Carry this story another five years into the future, and WiFi will be even more ubiquitous. Smart phone fare payment systems will make it even easier to use public transit and to transfer between modes. These kinds of technologies, APTA figures, will allow transit users to be more spontaneous, further eroding one of the main competitive advantages of the private car.

In APTA's survey of 1,000 Millennials in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Washington, 40 percent said they work while they travel (you can't – or shouldn't – do that in a car). Forty percent of the survey group also did not own a car at all. And another 69 percent said they use multiple modes of transportation to reach a single destination at least a few times a week.

That survey suggests that Millennials have not entirely fallen out of love with the car. Asked to rate, on a scale of 1 to 5, their preferred mode of transit, respondents said this on average (1 being most preferred):

APTA "Millennials and Mobility" report

But even as many Millennials will continue to drive, all of this technology means both that they'll be able to drive less and that the alternatives to driving will become more attractive. What we have yet to learn is what this picture will look like as Millennials age into parenthood. Some of the results from this same survey on that front were particularly interesting.

Here is the percentage of respondents who strongly agreed with the following statements:

APTA "Millennials and Mobility" report

Notably, only 27 percent of child-less Millennials said they picture themselves residing long-term in an urban setting, a decision that dictates many of the transportation modes available to them (there's no point in using a transit app if you live nowhere near transit). And so this is reason for caution in tracing these trends out into the future.

There's also one other big piece to this story of technology: Are cities doing their best it leverage it? Are they releasing transit data and pushing public WiFi and supporting the expansion of car- or bike-sharing networks?

"In thinking about technology as a cause for anything, I’m always a little wary," Baxandall says. "Once [tools] are created, they can make possible great changes. But they themselves don’t make the change happen. So far as technology is a tool, it depends on what people do with it and what kinds of systems are set up for it.

"The technology won't do the work on its own."

No 710 T-Shirt

APTA Report: 70% of millennials go multimodal


October 1, 2013

Nearly 70% of millennials, people 18 to 34, use multiple travel options several times or more per week, according to a new American Public Transportation Association (APTA) study “Millennials and Mobility.”  

The study shows that while car-sharing, bike-sharing, walking and car ownership will all play a part in the multimodal network, public transportation is ranked highest as the best mode to connect to all other modes, according to 54% of millennials polled.

APTA officials note that the recent trend of smartphone applications allows public transit users to be increasingly spontaneous and flexible with their travel decisions. This is a game-changing element because it closes the gap with the perceived benefit of auto use.

“Public transportation is the backbone of a multi-modal transportation system because it provides the opportunity to multi-task and socialize online while traveling,” said APTA Chair Peter Varga. “This study shows that millennials are leading a trend of Americans who are returning to walkable cities and suburbs with multiple transportation options that include vibrant public transportation. This data is proof positive that America’s future is riding on public transportation.”

According to the study, the top five reasons and motivations for choosing public transportation are pragmatic, as 46% state that a need to save money drives their choices, 46% note convenience, 44% want exercise and 35% say they live in a community where it just makes more sense to use public transportation.

“Now is the time to be proactive in creating this multi-modal transportation system to address the millennial generation’s demands and lifestyles,” said APTA President/CEO Michael Melaniphy. “This generation wants the pragmatic benefits of having multiple ways to get around. The solution is investment in a long-term transportation bill that includes strong investments in a variety of modes including public transportation.”

Millennials say the key advantages of public transportation are the ability to pay-per-use (58%), protecting the environment (50%), the ability to socialize online (44%) and creating community (44%).

Because of the future demands of this millennial generation, transportation systems and public transportation systems in particular, will be built around the smart phone. APTA anticipates adoption of features such as: smartphone charging stations on vehicles and facilities; fare collection via smartphone; Wi-Fi, 4G and 3G access; apps that connect public transit access to local amenities; seamless multimodal connections such as bike and car share options; and improved pedestrian access to public transit stations.

The Fight For LA’s Expo Line Is NOT Over!


By Ken Alpern, October 1, 2013


ALPERN AT LARGE-History came full circle at Hamilton High School last Thursday night, as a new generation of transportation-minded volunteers met to discuss the benefits and shortcomings of the Expo Line, and of the challenges facing LA City transportation policy.  Perhaps I was the only one present who was part of the grassroots group known as Friends4Expo that used to meet at the Hamilton High Library, but it was still history, nevertheless. 

Most were from the neighborhood councils of South Robertson, Venice, Palms and Mar Vista, and most had a more nuanced perspective towards bus, rail, bicycle, automobile and pedestrian transportation issues than that which existed at Friends4Expo. 

More on that "nuanced" thing below, but first a mention of the history of when Friends4Expo met quarterly at the Hamilton High Library to figure out strategy to do the outreach and persuasion necessary for an Expo Line to be approved by the Metro Board.  At that time, transit and bikeways and walkable streets were considered silly and/or irrelevant to daily existence by most Angelenos (or at least those who were politically empowered).

After all, a mere decade ago there was little to no consideration of rail, bus or bicycle transit, or of walkable streets--Supervisors Yaroslavsky and Burke, and Mayor Riordan, kept telling us that we were out of touch, and that we should just settle for an insufficient Busway and not hold out for an Expo Light Rail Line.  After all, there was no money for an Expo Line (even if the Federal Transit Administration in Washington did like the idea).

Amazing what a decade of demographic, political and traffic changes can do.

With older Angelenos either departing the City or departing this existence, and with an influx of younger Angelenos and/or older Angelenos "converted" to the idea of transit, the issues to be confronted now aren't IF there will be an Expo Line but what TYPE of Expo Line will we have to enjoy. 

Traffic is worse but also less tolerated, and mobility is now equated with quality of life.  Bicycling is having its own renaissance, and the notion that "no one walks in L.A." is rapidly becoming reflected of an outdated song instead of an eternal truism.

Unfortunately, we now face an era where the Expo Line is only halfway completed (Phase 1 to Culver City), and has to compete for funding with cost overruns from its first phase and from the 405 freeway widening project.  Betterments to both Phase 1 and Phase 2, particularly around key stations, are in order.  In particular, Expo Line Phase 2 to Santa Monica shouldn't be sacrificed for the 405 widening project.

The fact remains that if Phase 2 of the Expo Line is on schedule and under budget, which is consistent with all reports to date, then that money should stay with the line.  The need for legal defense against a neverending barrage of lawsuits, which began much earlier than anyone expected during Phase 1 efforts, should be put to rest.  The time is NOW to spend on Expo Line betterments, and to improve the Expo Line experience.

And "betterments" is no longer a term synonymous with "grade separation".  While many will and should continue to bemoan the lack of foresight of the Westside and the Expo Construction Authority to arrive at a consensus of elevating the line over Overland Avenue, that train has left the station (pun intended).  There will be no tunnels that the experts and engineers do not approve, and there will certainly be an Expo Line.

With the California Supreme Court having dismissed the legal opposition to the Expo Line, it is "safe" for the Westside political representation of the Expo Construction Authority (in particular, Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz) to pursue the betterments that are glaringly in order for the Expo Line to achieve maximal capacity and access in the least amount of time.

For too long, those represented at last Thursday night's meeting--South Robertson, Palms, Mar Vista and Venice--who fought vigorously for the Expo Line have not received enough consideration for betterments to allow them enhanced access to the line.  It's been "all about Dorsey High" and "all about Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park" because of legal battles in the past--legal battles that are now OVER.

Yet will there now be any fiscal, planning and engineering benefits for those communities who spent over a decade advocating for the Expo Line?  In particular, with the Expo Line parking lot in Culver City being full by early to mid-morning, isn't it only fair for South Robertson and the Westside to have an adjacent parking lot at or near Robertson Blvd.?

Much of the focus for the Culver City parking lot and station (the current western terminus of the Expo Line) has been Venice Blvd., but what of the north-south feeder routes (in particularly, Robertson Blvd.)?  It has been noted that Robertson Blvd. is used by many to access commercial centers outside of Los Angeles, but what of commercial development within Los Angeles?

Regardless of which city an expanded or new parking lot would be in at Culver City or in Los Angeles, it's FULL NOW and the line has only just begun its operations.  Some will go to the parking lot at the Expo Line station at La Cienega, but it should be noted that many commuters arrive either too early, or leave too late, to reliably, safely and easily access connecting bus routes.

The Venice/Robertson station at Culver City is the key access point to the Expo Line for those living in "the lower Westside", which includes Del Rey, Westchester, the Marina, and even portions of Venice.  These regions will always have relatively poor and indirect access to the Expo Line--and neither the Venice Rapid Bus Line nor parking on the current and planned Expo Line is at all sufficient to take advantage of this light rail line.

The Palms Neighborhood Council has also come out squarely in favor of its own parking lot by its rail station for Phase 2, and yet has no such lot planned.  And it is doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the parking lot at the future Exposition/Sepulveda station will prove woefully-insufficient (and it bears repeating that the supposedly "transit-oriented" Casden Sepulveda development had NO further parking dedicated to the Expo Line).

I mentioned before that this crowd was more "nuanced" towards transportation than the last generation of visionaries and citizen planners who met at Hamilton High School ten years ago.  They are more "nuanced" in that they were pro-rail, pro-bus, pro-bicycle and yet were also pro-car and pro-parking.

Their neighborhoods fought for in the past, and want better access and connectivity now, to/from the Expo Line.  That means parking, bicycle lots and rental/sharing programs and a highlighted, promoted Venice Blvd. Rapid Bus Line (particularly championed in the past by the Palms NC as "Expo to the Beach") with its own series of first-rate bus shelters and other amenities, and better bus service and shelters on Robertson Blvd.

They also were very unhappy at how the bicycle/automobile balance was too shifted in favor of bicyclists at the expense of motorists, and concerns about mobility and safety of all parties were repeatedly expressed.  The need for bicycle paths and routes to be on residential streets adjacent to (and safer than) major thoroughfares appeared to enjoy considerable favor to a group that was favorable to bicyclists but didn't want to "sock it" to motorists and hurt both groups of commuters.

Sidewalk repairs and ficus tree replacements, and a final resolution to the long-sought and oft-discussed Metro Rail to LAX connection, were also high on the agenda.  Ditto for FINALLY asking developers to pay for their fair share of transportation mitigations for their projects...including parking and bus shelters.

The past generation of Expo Line supporters finally won the day because they were FOR something, and it's hoped that Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz and the rest of the Expo Line Authority can now safely and confidently also be FOR something.

This new generation of transportation advocates, who entirely favor the Expo Line, are also FOR something, and they deserve political representation and support just as did the last generation. 

Work on the Expo Line is NOT done, it's NOT time to move on and wrap it up Expo Line planning, funding and construction, and with the legal expenses and hurdles over for the Authority it's time for it and Metro to create the first-rate Expo Line that we always wanted, and still do want, it to be.

Let’s Get Ready to License, Council Members Want to Re-Examine City’s Bike License Program


By Damien Newton, September 30, 2013


Back in 2009, a discussion of the city’s bicycle licensing program was at the core of any Livable Streets discussion. Two members of the Los Angeles City Council have introduced a motion to bring that discussion, if not the licenses themselves, back.

At the time, the LAPD had two police stations in the entire city that offered licensing, which is really more of a registration for the bicycle than any sort of license that requires skill or knowledge of traffic laws, but was still citing bicycle riders for not having license stickers on their bicycles. The fines were outrageous, sometimes higher than the cost of the bicycle being cited, and were in violation of a state law that allows cities to run bicycle licensing programs.

After a series of public hearings held by the City Council Transportation Committee, initially chaired by Wendy Greuel but later by Bill Rosendahl, the LAPD recommended the suspension of the program. The City Council complied, although there were still the occasional ticket issued by clueless officers.

The motion, presented by Council Member Tom LaBonge and co-sponsored by Mitch O’Farrell, talks about licensing as a needed way for the city to support cycling. Licensing will allow the city to better track the number of bicycles owned by residents, provide a way for the LAPD to track stolen bicycles, and identify the rider after the most serious of crashes.

California caps both the fine that cities can collect for unlicensed bicycles in a mandatory program and the amount that a city can charge for a license. The latter charge is $4, which means that it would be nigh impossible for a city to make money on such a program.

Despite the supportive language in the proposal, and that it only calls for a discussion on how to best bring a licensing program back, most bicycling advocates are not supporters. The proposal is similar to one made by Ed Reyes in 2009 which was tabled indefinitely. The state also only allows cities to license and enforce the licensing of bicycles of residents. This means that even if I wanted to, I couldn’t get my bicycle licensed in Santa Monica, nor could LAPD ticket a Santa Monica resident riding an unlicensed bicycle.

“We’re honestly just puzzled by this proposal, which was resurrected with zero input from bicyclists,” writes Eric Bruins from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. “All of the supposed aims of the program can be accomplished more efficiently and effectively by other means.  The internet has enabled national registries to fight bike theft and personal identification is more reliable than a tag on a bicycle that may or may not belong to the rider.”

The most puzzling part of the proposal is that a licensing program would allow the city to track how many bicycles are owned by city residents. Given the dismal state of the program in the years preceding 2009, and the four years since where the program was completely dead, it’s hard to imagine how such a program would register the literally millions of unlicensed bicycles in the city. Bruins has a different idea for how the city could spend its resources.

“It would be a far more effective use of resources for the City to invest in bike and pedestrian counts rather than relying on the volunteer labor of nonprofit groups,” he continues, referencing the LACBC’s bicycle and pedestrian counts that were completed last month.

The biggest problem with the licensing program was that it was mandatory, meaning that it became a weapon for officers to harass cyclists with whom they had another issue. In Los Angeles, the target was often participants in groups rides, especially C.R.A.N.K. Mob or Critical Mass. In other cities, the license program was used as an excuse to profile minority cyclists.

Last May, Angie Schmitt wrote about the history of bicycle licensing leading to a de-facto profiling of minority and youth cyclists, even in a voluntary system.

“Requiring bicycle licenses could potentially lead to even more racial profiling and police harassment of immigrants and low-income folks. It unfairly penalizes those with the least resources, who might be buying their bikes used,” said Allison Mannos, MCM Board President. “It also fails to address larger, more important safety concerns that cyclists face in Los Angeles, such as uneducated and fast speeding motorists or a need for infrastructure.”

Another puzzling part of the resolution notes the importance of a licensing program in how cities show their support for bicycling. This is puzzling because the most bicycle friendly cities in America (Minneapolis, Portland, Chicago, New York, Long Beach) don’t have licensing programs. Locally, bike-friendly Santa Monica does have a program, but it’s voluntary for people who want their information stored in a state registry.

Most tellingly, when I reached out to a bicycle advocate in Portland about whether or not their city had a licensing program, she responded that no city has ever had a successful mandatory program and recommended mocking instead of analyzation.

If the city does study licensing but discovers that it isn’t cost-effective, then it could try to pass the buck to bicycle shop owners by requiring licensing at the point of sale. This proposal would not sit well with bike shop owners, according to Josef Bray-Ali, owner of the Flying Pigeon Bicycle Shop.

“If this were a totally voluntary program that allowed people to retrieve stolen property or file insurance claims and be reimbursed for their loss then this would be a great idea,” writes Bray-Ali.
 “A similar system functions in Denmark and the Netherlands to make the epidemic of bike theft in those countries less bothersome. If this is mandatory, expect me and others in the industry to raise hell.”

While advocates are split on the value of a licensing program, there is universal agreement that it should be an optional way for the city to help cyclists in a case of emergency. Requiring millions of bicycles to be registered will create a new bureaucracy, and another barrier to bicycling in a city that is still struggling to shake its reputation as the Car-Culture Capital of America.

Federal shutdown may affect transit funding, but not highways


September 30, 2013

Transit agency funding could be affected, but not highway funding, if a congressional deadlock forces a partial shutdown of the federal government.

Both the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration draw from the highway trust fund, which expires a year from now. “So we have continued budget authority for another year,” said Travis Brouwer, federal affairs adviser for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

The trust fund is not dependent on annual appropriations from Congress. Since a six-year authorization expired in 2009, however, Congress has renewed the fund only for short periods; the latest two-year extension will expire one year from today.

However, Brouwer said, staffing for the Federal Transit Administration is dependent on annual appropriations, so that agency cannot process grants and the staff will be on unpaid furlough if there is a shutdown.

Also, payments by the staff to local transit agencies could be delayed. Some of those payments are funneled through ODOT’s Public Transit Division to smaller agencies, although larger agencies such as the Salem-Keizer Transit District receive their federal payments directly.

“All transit providers could feel the effects of a shutdown if it’s long,” Brouwer said. “Smaller providers do not have the cash flow of larger providers, so they may feel the pain first.”

As for the Federal Highway Administration, whose Oregon headquarters are in Salem, and federal money to the Oregon Department of Transportation, a shutdown will have no immediate effect. The federal trust fund consists of gasoline taxes and other receipts.

Gridlock Everywhere: Congressional Impasse Shuts Down DC’s Trails


By Tanya Snyder, October 1, 2013


Some cyclists are ignoring the barriers erected by the National Park Service and using the Capital Crescent Trail despite the shutdown. 

Washington, DC’s bicycle commuters woke up this morning to find that one popular rail-trail was closed due to the government shutdown, which took effect at midnight.

The Capital Crescent Trail is the most heavily-used rail-trail in the United States, with more than a million users a year. Not just a weekend pleasure-ride spot, the CCT is thick with bicycles during morning rush hour as people use it as a safer and more pleasant bike-commuting alternative to DC’s congested streets. Now, the government would give them no choice — though the Washington Area Bicyclist Association reports that there’s little enforcement and intrepid bike commuters are using the trail despite the barriers.

Since this important bike route is managed by the National Park Service, it is part of the vast collateral damage of the embarrassing scenario unfolding on Capitol Hill. WABA warned yesterday that “all or part of the heavily-commuted Rock Creek Trail, Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, and George Washington Memorial Trail are on NPS property” and could also be shut down, but early reports seem to indicate that they’re still open.

The 185-mile C&O Canal trail, which runs from DC’s Georgetown neighborhood to Cumberland, Maryland, is also closed.

The 185-mile C&O Canal Trail, which begins in Washington, DC, is closed.

All roads are open during the government shutdown, except some leading into national parks, which are closed. In DC, this would include Rock Creek Parkway and other roads through the largest urban national park in the country — but, curiously, that key car-commuter route is still open. However, Rock Creek Park’s Beach Drive is closed to car traffic during the shutdown, so people who enjoy riding their bikes there on weekends, when drivers are normally kept out, will enjoy riding it today. That’s one nice trade-off for losing the CCT.

WABA was alerted to the possible Capital Crescent Trail shutdown yesterday, and bollards were put in place at the entrances to prepare to block trail traffic. The sections of the CCT within Montgomery County remain open, since they are owned by the county, not NPS.

DC has a disproportionate number of city parks under NPS, but certainly the shutdown will prevent people from using other popular off-road trails around the country, like this one in the Philly area. Where else are cyclists and pedestrian commuters being impacted?

The U.S. Transportation System Has $100 Billion Worth of Inefficiencies


By Eric Jaffe, October 1, 2013

The U.S. Transportation System Has $100 Billion Worth of Inefficiencies

You don't have to be an economist to know the American transportation system is in bad shape. The country's roads and bridges are crumbling despite what seems like endless construction. Public transportation operates under the continual threat of service cuts or fare hikes, or both. Airplanes sit on runways and metro area commuters sit in rush-hour traffic. Lots and lots of traffic:

Chart via Winston, C. (2013). On the Performance of the US Transportation System: Caution Ahead. Journal of Economic Literature, 51(3), 773-824.

But it does help to be an economist if you want to convert this sad state of affairs into a monetary figure. Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution has done just that. In an incredibly thorough overview of the American transportation system (introduction here, full text here), Winston calculates that its many inefficiencies are worth more than $100 billion:
[O]ur hugely important transportation system has been compromised by policies that have resulted in inefficient pricing, suboptimal investments, and inflated production costs that are manifested in congestion, delays, budget deficits, and excessive money and time costs to users and excessive government expenditures on transportation.
Winston's report is far too detailed to convert into a quick summary. But he makes some points that concern us all — particularly metro area residents — so we've plucked out the inefficiencies he describes and itemized them here. Keep in mind these are extremely conservative estimates; the actual inefficiencies no doubt cost America much more:
  • Car traffic: $45 billion. The estimated costs of congestion vary widely, but Winston focuses on travel delays that occur as a result of highways being free to drivers rather than priced to reduce traffic.
  • Road damage: $87.3 billion. This figure includes truck wear-and-tear ($10.8 billion), repairs of insufficient highway pavement ($12.5 billion), and car and truck maintenance that's needed as a result of bad roads ($64 billion).
  • Inefficient highway funding: $13.8 billion. Federal gas taxes are sent to Washington then reallocated back to the states; Winston (and others) believe this system is flawed because it fails to redistribute more money to the most-congested cities.
  • Air traffic: $16 billion. These are takeoff and landing delays caused primarily by a lack of runway capacity.
  • Transit subsidies: $10.6 billion. Winston argues that transit fares are too low and that systems don't manage their routes efficiently — running more buses and trains than are needed.
  • Economic regulations: $7.4 billion. In particular, Winston cites reduced airline competition at airports and regulations that hinder certain foreign carriers.
A quick tally puts the total far in excess of $100 billion — in the area of $180 billion. The list isn't perfect; cities often run empty buses for perfectly good reasons, for example, though Winston counts this practice as an inefficient transit subsidy. But the broader point about there being massive room for improvement remains all too true.

What to do about the problem? Winston offers two types of suggestions. The first is to improve public-sector management — both by reforming the transportation finance system (i.e. the busted gas tax) and by spending more money on infrastructure. The second is to expand the role of the private sector via deregulation. Both options are broad solutions that carry cautions of their own.

The best response might be to target these inefficiencies bit by bit, as Winston suggests, through local experiments. A thorough congestion pricing scheme in and around a major American city, which might include not only interstate toll lanes but downtown charging zones, has reduced commuter delays dramatically in other parts of the world. Such a plan wouldn't eliminate the entire annual social cost of American traffic, but with a problem this big you have to start somewhere.

Government shutdown: What's closed, what's open?


October 1, 2013

With the federal government now shut down, many government services and agencies are closed, suspended or otherwise impacted. Below is a list of offices and agencies that are affected until congressional leaders and the president reach an agreement on a continuing resolution to reopen the government, along with the potential number of employees affected. You can also sort each column or search for specific information, such as "FCC" or "defense."

Go to the website to review the list.

Attention, travelers: Your plans have changed


By Katia Hetter, October 1, 2013

 <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/22/travel/arches-summer-park/index.html'>Arches National Park</a> is one of 401 National Park Service sites to close to visitors during the government shutdown.
 Arches National Park  is one of 401 National Park Service sites to close to visitors during the government shutdown.

(CNN) -- Planning to travel in or to the United States and wondering if the U.S. government shutdown will hit your plans?

Well, you may need to tweak some sight-seeing portions of your itinerary. Never mind that visit to the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Forget visiting Independence Hall in Philadelphia. And that hiking adventure at Yellowstone National Park? It won't happen.

Congress, wrangling over spending and Obamacare, failed to renew government funds in time for the start of the new fiscal year on Tuesday, and many travelers -- both domestic and international visitors -- will quickly start feeling the impact of the shutdown.

While rail networks, essential air security and traffic control operations won't be impeded, travelers visiting the country's national parks and other government-run tourist attractions will find the gates shuttered and the doors locked.

All 401 National Park Service sites, which collectively average about 715,000 visitors per day in October, will be closed, according to a park service spokeswoman. (Guests staying in campgrounds and on-site hotels will be given 48 hours to leave.) The Smithsonian's 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoo will also turn visitors away.

Is it safe to fly?

Airport security personnel are considered essential, so travelers please continue to follow Transportation Security Administration rules about liquids, shoes and other restrictions at the airport.
Air traffic controllers, some safety inspectors and other essential employees will "continue working in order to maintain the safety of the national airspace system," said the Federal Aviation Administration, in an e-mailed statement. "Safety is our top priority."

Most immigration, border and customs employees are also considered essential personnel, which means passport controls at U.S. borders and points of entry like airports and cruise ports -- should be unaffected by the shutdown.

Other FAA projects, including facility security inspections, routine personnel security background investigations and development of the next generation of air traffic control technology, will be placed on hold.

What if you're waiting on a passport? 

If you're waiting on a U.S. passport, how long that wait will last depends on where the passport agency is located. Passport services, because they are funded by other revenue, are generally "unaffected by a government shutdown," according to a State Department spokesperson.

There's just one possible catch: If the passport office is located within a government building that has been shut down, passport approvals may be affected.
If you need a visa

Because consular services at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world are largely funded by application fees, not annual appropriations, visa applications filed by foreigners wanting to enter the United States will continue to be processed, according to the State Department.

Overseas impact

Even those visitors trying to pay their respects at American military cemeteries located outside of the United States will feel the impact. The Normandy American Cemetery and 23 other overseas cemeteries operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission will be closed to the public for the duration of the shutdown, according to the commission's contingency plans.

"The Normandy American Cemetery presents a special case, as visitors have access to the cemetery via the unfenced approaches from the beach, according to the plan. "Visitors will be asked to leave, but confrontation will be avoided."