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

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Caltrain premieres youth-oriented rail safety films


October 2, 2013

 Caltrain capped off Rail Safety Month with a film festival featuring student-produced films about rail safety.

In August, student filmmakers from Fresh Takes, a youth digital arts program, received rail safety awareness training and toured the property with Caltrain staff to learn about the challenges faced by commuter rail systems operating through a densely populated service area. Caltrain has worked for more than 20 years to educate the Peninsula community about how to stay safe while living, working and going to school near an active rail corridor.

“Working with these students to produce rail safety messages is a powerful way to help us connect with the next generation of Peninsula residents who share their communities with our tracks,” said Chuck Harvey, Caltrain’s deputy CEO, operations, construction and engineering. “These videos are a powerful tool for reminding our youth that nothing is worth more than their lives.”

The messages in the videos were consistent — when near an active railroad, be aware, be cautious, and be safe. The delivery of these core messages covers a wide range, from powerfully emphasizing the tragedy of inattention to a more light hearted approach to keeping kids away from the tracks. To view the videos, visit Caltrain’s blog Peninsula Moves.

The short video vignettes were produced and paid for through a rail safety grant obtained by Caltrain from Operation Lifesaver and the Federal Transit Administration.

Caltrain is committed to the three “E’s” of safety outreach: education, engineering and enforcement.

As a partner with Operation Lifesaver, Caltrain’s certified staff presenters spend time out in the community educating groups about rail safety and reminding residents of the importance of awareness when living and working near an active rail corridor. Caltrain’s engineering team enhances railroad safety through fencing projects, grade separations such as the one nearing completion in San Bruno and pedestrian crossing and station design improvements.
Transit Police also play a pivotal role in enforcing safe behaviors along the active corridor. In the past year, more than 600 people have been removed from dangerous locations along the corridor. More than 50 people who were reportedly “in crisis” were escorted to safety, some of whom had expressed thoughts of suicide.

The majority of deaths on Caltrain’s tracks are ruled to be suicides. To address this sensitive issue, Caltrain works with local mental health and suicide education and awareness organizations to raise awareness and money to combat mental health issues and prevent suicide. 

Batteries Burned In Tesla Model S Fire, Firefighters Say


By Patrick George, October 1, 2013


The Seattle-area fire department that extinguished the Tesla Model S blaze after the car crashed into some debris released more details tonight on the fire, saying a battery pack at the front of the car was burning and adding water made the flames worse. 

The following reports from the Kent, Washington Regional Fire Authority published by International Business Times and corroborated by the Associated Press confirm what a Tesla spokeswoman told Jalopnik about the crash, which occurred around 8 a.m. Tuesday on State Route 167. 

According to the report, firefighters arrived at the scene and found the car ablaze with an apparent "engine compartment fire," which they then extinguished. When they broke a window to gain access, the fire re-ignited.

"The application of water seemed to intensify the fire activity," the report said. 

Firefighters ended up putting out the blaze with dry chemical extinguisher. When they took apart the front end, they found a battery pack still burning. The firefighter "had to puncture multiple holes in the pack to apply water to the burning material in the battery," the report said. Firefighters also used a jack and cut into the frame of the car to spray water on the pack. 

This Is What Fiery Tesla Model S Death Looks Like (UPDATED)


By Patrick George, October 1, 2013

This Is What Fiery Tesla Model S Death Looks Like (UPDATED)

 This Is What Fiery Tesla Model S Death Looks Like (UPDATED)


 Yeee-ouch. We don't know what happened here exactly, but one of our readers captured some stunning photos of a Tesla Model S that apparently caught fire this week on Washington State Route 167 outside of Seattle. (Update: Tesla officials say the fire was caused by a crash. See more details below.) 

 At the moment we don't know whether the fire was caused by a mechanical issue or some kind of crash (although that front end looks pretty trashed), nor do we know if anyone was injured. I couldn't find anything in area news about it, so I'm hoping it wasn't too serious. If you have any insights, drop them in the comments.

It's no secret that the Model S is a very impressive performer. Maybe it was just trying to compete with Ferrari in the wrong ways.

Update: Here is a statement from officials at Tesla, who say the fire was caused by a crash that luckily injured no one and did not enter the car's cabin. 

“Yesterday, a Model S collided with a large metallic object in the middle of the road, causing significant damage to the vehicle. The car’s alert system signaled a problem and instructed the driver to pull over safely, which he did. No one was injured, and the sole occupant had sufficient time to exit the vehicle safely and call the authorities. Subsequently, a fire caused by the substantial damage sustained during the collision was contained to the front of the vehicle thanks to the design and construction of the vehicle and battery pack. All indications are that the fire never entered the interior cabin of the car. It was extinguished on-site by the fire department.” 
 Update: Either because of the video and photos of the Model S fire or because of a downgrade by Baird, or both, Tesla's stock plummeted this afternoon.


Caltrans told to sell homes along route of 710 gap

Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill calling for 'as is' sale of nearly 500 properties.


 By Daniel Siegal, October 2, 2013

 Caltrans 710 gap properties

The California Department of Transportation must quickly sell some of the nearly 500 properties it owns in Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Pasadena, according to a bill by Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge), which was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

The homes are located in the so-called 710 gap, where transportation officials are studying a 4.5-mile tunnel that would connect the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways.

Brown vetoed a similar bill last year.

The bill adds a change to existing law so that the homes may be sold “as is,” at prices set according to their condition, as opposed to having to be repaired and sold at market value.

Almost 400 homes are occupied by tenants, but many others remain vacant and in disrepair, according to a statement released by Liu's office.

“It is really a recognition from Caltrans that they really do not want to be in the rental business,” Liu said via phone on Wednesday. “Based on whatever the house is worth, somebody can buy it, as-is, and we'll get Caltrans out from under the obligation of having to maintain the house.”

The bill also states the current tenants of the homes will get the first chance to purchase them.

Lauren Wonder, public information officer for Caltrans, said specifics about the home sales will be announced in the future.

“We will know how many properties will become surplus and subject to sale once a project is determined,” she said. “We are seeking approval of regulations that would govern how the properties would then be sold.”

The properties were acquired by Caltrans over the past several decades in anticipation of the possible construction of a surface freeway to close the gap between the 710 and 210 freeways.

The new law also states that the surface freeway route will be taken off the table as an option in any state environmental documents on the project.

The draft environmental study currently being conducted by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the 710 gap project is, as this point, evaluating five options, including a freeway tunnel.

Liu said ruling out the surface freeway meant Caltrans would be able to sell many more homes than had been considered previously.

“[Caltrans] was identifying those homes that wouldn't be in a surface route's way,” she said. “Now they don't have an excuse, because the surface route isn't happening.”

Senate Bill No. 416 Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown

Posted by Joe Cano on Facebook, October 2, 2013

Caltrans has been put in their place The 10% rent increases are now illegal according to the bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Senate Bill No. 416

An act to amend Sections 54236 and 54237 of, and to add Sections 54237.3, 54237.7, and 54237.8 to, the Government Code, relating to surplus residential property, and making an appropriation therefor.

[ Approved by Governor  October 01, 2013. Filed with Secretary of State  October 01, 2013. ]


SB 416, Liu. Surplus residential property.
Existing law declares the intent of the Legislature to preserve, upgrade, and expand the supply of housing to persons and families of low or moderate income, through the sale of specified surplus residential property owned by public agencies. Existing law establishes priorities and procedures that any state agency disposing of that surplus residential property is required to follow, and defines relevant terms for these purposes, including “fair market value.”
This bill would revise the definition of “fair market value” for purposes of the sale of this surplus residential property, to reflect the existing “as is” condition of the property, taking into account any needed repairs.
Existing law requires specified single-family residences to be first offered to their present occupants, at an affordable price, as defined. Under existing law, the selling agency has the option of making repairs to the property required by lenders or government assistance programs, or providing the occupants with a replacement dwelling, pursuant to a specified provision of law.
This bill would revise the procedures applicable to the sale of these surplus residential properties not otherwise sold pursuant to existing procedures, to be offered to current and former tenants in good standing, respectively, and to purchasers who will be owner occupants. The bill additionally would require the selling agency to offer tenants in good standing of nonresidential properties to be given priority to purchase the property they occupy. The bill would authorize the Department of Transportation to offer a residence or property in an “as is” condition, at the request of a person with priority to purchase the residence or property in accordance with existing law.
This bill would require proceeds from sales of surplus residential property to be placed in the SR-710 Rehabilitation Account, created by the bill, and would continuously appropriate these funds for the purpose of providing specified repairs to the properties until the last of the properties is repaired, at which time the funds, less any reimbursements due to the federal government, would be transferred to the State Highway Account, for allocation by the California Transportation Commission, as specified.
This bill would provide that the preliminary project alternative referred to as Alternative F-6 in the December 2012 Alternative Analysis Report of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority shall no longer be deemed a feasible alternative for consideration in any state environmental review process for the Interstate 710 North Gap Closure project, as specified.
Vote: 2/3   Appropriation: YES   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


 Section 54236 of the Government Code is amended to read:
 (a) As used in this article, the term “offer” means to solicit proposals prior to sale in a manner calculated to achieve a sale under the conditions specified, and to hold the offer open for a reasonable period of time, which shall be no more than one year, unless the time is extended by the selling agency at its discretion, for a period to be specified by the selling agency.
(b) As used in this article, the term “affordable price” means, in the case of a purchaser, other than a lower income household, the price for residential property for which the purchaser’s monthly payments will not exceed that portion of the purchasing household’s adjusted income as determined in accordance with the regulations of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, issued pursuant to Section 235 of the National Housing Act; and, in the case of a purchaser that is a lower income household, the price for residential property for which the purchaser’s monthly payments will not exceed that portion of the purchasing household’s adjusted income as determined in accordance with the regulations of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development issued pursuant to Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937.
(c) As used in this article, the term “single-family residence” means a real property improvement used, or intended to be used, as a dwelling unit for one family.
(d) As used in this article, the term “surplus residential property” means land and structures owned by any agency of the state that is determined to be no longer necessary for the agency’s use, and that is developed as single-family or multifamily housing, except property being held by the agency for the purpose of exchange.
Surplus residential properties shall only include land and structures that, at the time of purchase by the state, the state had intended to remove the residences thereon and to use the land for state purposes.
(e) As used in this article, the term “displacement” includes, but is not limited to, persons who will have to move from surplus residential property that they occupy when it is sold by a state agency because they are unable to afford to pay the price that the state agency is asking for the residential property.
(f) As used in this article, the term “fair market value” shall mean fair market value as of the date the offer of sale is made by the selling agency pursuant to the provisions of this article and shall reflect the existing “as is” condition of the property, taking into account any repairs required to make the property safe and habitable. This definition shall not apply to terms of sale that are described as mitigation measures in an environmental study prepared pursuant to the Public Resources Code if the study was initiated before this measure was enacted.
(g) As used in this article, the term “affordable rent” means, in the case of an occupant person or family, other than a person or family of low or moderate income, rent for residential property that is not more than 25 percent of the occupant household’s gross monthly income, and in the case of an occupant person or family of low or moderate income, rent for residential property that is not more than the percentage of the adjusted income of the occupant person or family as permitted under regulations of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development issued pursuant to Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937, but not in excess of the market rental value for comparable property.
(h) As used in this article, the term “area median income” means median household income, adjusted for family size as determined in accordance with the regulations of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development issued pursuant to Section 235 of the National Housing Act, as amended (Public Law 90-448), for the standard metropolitan statistical area (SMSA), in which surplus residential property to be disposed of pursuant to this article is located, or the county in which the property is located, if it is outside an SMSA.
(i) As used in this article, the term “persons and families of low or moderate income” means persons and families who meet both of the following conditions:
(1) Meet the definition of persons and families of low or moderate income set forth in Section 50093 of the Health and Safety Code.
(2) Have not had an ownership interest in real property in the last three years.
(j) As used in this article, the term “lower income households” means lower income households as defined in Section 50079.5 of the Health and Safety Code.

SEC. 2.

 Section 54237 of the Government Code is amended to read:
 (a) Notwithstanding Section 11011.1, any agency of the state disposing of surplus residential property shall do so in accordance with the following priorities and procedures:
(1) First, all single-family residences presently occupied by their former owners shall be offered to those former owners at the appraised fair market value.
(2) Second, all single-family residences shall be offered, pursuant to this article, to their present occupants who have occupied the property two years or more and who are persons and families of low or moderate income.
(3) Third, all single-family residences shall be offered, pursuant to this article, to their present occupants who have occupied the property five years or more and whose household income does not exceed 150 percent of the area median income.
(4) Fourth, a single-family residence shall not be offered, pursuant to this article, to present occupants who are not the former owners of the property if the present occupants have had an ownership interest in real property in the last three years.
(b) Single-family residences offered to their present occupants pursuant to paragraphs (2) and (3) of subdivision (a) shall be offered to those present occupants at an affordable price, which price shall not be less than the price paid by the agency for original acquisition, unless the acquisition price was greater than the current fair market value, and shall not be greater than fair market value. When single-family residences are offered to present occupants at a price that is less than fair market value, the selling agency shall impose terms, conditions, and restrictions to ensure that the housing will remain available to persons and families of low or moderate income and households with incomes no greater than the incomes of the present occupants in proportion to the area median income. The Department of Housing and Community Development shall provide to the selling agency recommendations of standards and criteria for these prices, terms, conditions, and restrictions. The selling agency shall provide repairs required by lenders and government housing assistance programs, or, at the option of the agency, provide the present occupants with a replacement dwelling pursuant to Section 54237.5.
(c) If single-family residences are offered to their present occupants pursuant to paragraphs (2) and (3) of subdivision (a), the occupants shall certify their income and assets to the selling agency. When single-family residences are offered to present occupants at a price that is less than fair market value, the selling agency may verify the certifications, in accordance with procedures utilized for verification of incomes of purchasers and occupants of housing financed by the California Housing Finance Agency and with regulations adopted for the verification of assets by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The income and asset limitations and term of residency requirements of paragraphs (2) and (3) of subdivision (a) shall not apply to sales that are described as mitigation measures in an environmental study prepared pursuant to the Public Resources Code, if the study was initiated before this measure was enacted.
(d) All other surplus residential properties and all properties described in paragraphs (1), (2), and (3) of subdivision (a) that are not purchased by the former owners or the present occupants shall be then offered to housing-related private and public entities at a reasonable price, which is best suited to economically feasible use of the property as decent, safe, and sanitary housing at affordable rents and affordable prices for persons and families of low or moderate income, on the condition that the purchasing entity shall cause the property to be rehabilitated and developed as limited equity cooperative housing with first right of occupancy to present occupants, except that where the development of cooperative or cooperatives is not feasible, the purchasing agency shall cause the property to be used for low and moderate income rental or owner-occupied housing, with first right of occupancy to the present tenants. The price of the property in no case shall be less than the price paid by the agency for original acquisition unless the acquisition price was greater than current fair market value and shall not be greater than fair market value. Subject to the foregoing, it shall be set at the level necessary to provide housing at affordable rents and affordable prices for present tenants and persons and families of low or moderate income. When residential property is offered at a price that is less than fair market value, the selling agency shall impose terms, conditions, and restrictions as will ensure that the housing will remain available to persons and families of low or moderate income. The Department of Housing and Community Development shall provide to the selling agency recommendations of standards and criteria for prices, terms, conditions, and restrictions.
(e) Any surplus residential properties not sold pursuant to subdivisions (a) to (d), inclusive, shall then be sold at fair market value, with priority given first to purchasers who are present tenants in good standing with all rent obligations current and paid in full, second to former tenants who were in good standing at the time they vacated the premises, with priority given to the most recent tenants first, and then to purchasers who will be owner occupants. The selling agency may commence the sales of properties that former tenants may possess a right to purchase as provided by this subdivision 30 days after the selling agency has done both of the following:
(1) Posted information regarding the sales under this subdivision on the selling agency’s Internet Web site.
(2) Made a good faith effort to provide written notice, by first-class mail, to the last known address of each former tenant.
(f) Tenants in good standing of nonresidential properties shall be given priority to purchase, at fair market value, the property they rent, lease, or otherwise legally occupy.

SEC. 3.

 Section 54237.3 is added to the Government Code, to read:
 Notwithstanding the requirement to provide repairs in subdivision (b) of Section 54237, the Department of Transportation may offer a residence or property in an “as is” condition at the request of a person given priority to purchase pursuant to paragraphs (2) and (3) of subdivision (a) of Section 54237.

SEC. 4.

 Section 54237.7 is added to the Government Code, to read:
 Notwithstanding Section 183.1 of the Streets and Highways Code, the Department of Transportation shall deposit proceeds from sales pursuant to this article into the SR-710 Rehabilitation Account, which is hereby created. Notwithstanding Section 13340, funds in the account are hereby continuously appropriated to the department without regard to fiscal years for the purpose of providing repairs required pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 54237. The total funds maintained in the account shall not exceed five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000). Funds exceeding that amount, less any reimbursements due to the federal government, shall be transferred to the State Highway Account in the State Transportation Fund to be used for allocation by the California Transportation Commission (commission) exclusively to fund projects located in Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra, La Cañada Flintridge, and the 90032 postal ZIP Code. Projects shall be selected and prioritized by the affected communities in consultation with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, pursuant to guidelines developed by the commission. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority shall submit a proposed program of projects and the commission shall have final authority to approve the projects. Eligible projects may include, but are not limited to: sound walls; transit and rail capital improvements; bikeways; pedestrian improvements; signal synchronization; left turn signals; and major street resurfacing, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. The funds shall not be used to advance or construct any proposed North State Route 710 tunnel. Any funds remaining in the SR-710 Rehabilitation Account on the date that final payment due for the last of the properties repaired has been made, less any reimbursements due to the federal government, shall be transferred to the State Highway Account in the State Transportation Fund, to be used exclusively for the purposes described in this section.

SEC. 5.

 Section 54237.8 is added to the Government Code, to read:
 Notwithstanding any other law, for purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act (Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) of the Public Resources Code), the preliminary project alternative referred to as Alternative F-6 in the December 2012 Alternative Analysis Report of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority shall no longer be deemed a feasible alternative for consideration in any state environmental review process for the Interstate 710 North Gap Closure project, State Clearinghouse number 1982092310.

CityDig: Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard in 1880


By Nathan Masters, October 1, 2013

What do two-by-fours and iPhones have in common? They’ve both been sold on the stretch of roadway seen here. Now home to upscale Old Town retailers like the Apple Store, Pasadena’s Colorado Boulevard had a decidedly more rustic feel when the above photograph, courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection at the USC Libraries, was taken around 1880.

Ever since merchant L. D. Hollingsworth opened a general store and post office at the road’s intersection with Fair Oaks Avenue in 1876, Colorado Street (as it was originally named) has been Pasadena’s main commercial corridor. The three-story Ward Block, visible on the photograph’s left side, was among its first landmarks.

In its early years, Colorado lost itself in the orange groves east and west of the town’s center. Eventually it extended east to connect with Monrovia and west across the Arroyo Seco over a soaring, arched bridge that became notorious for suicides.

The street also gained notoriety for its traffic congestion, an inevitable result in a booming city where automobiles, trolleys, pedestrians, and bicyclists shared a main street only 72 feet wide. After decades of false starts, Pasadena finally widened the street to 100 feet between 1929 and 1930, a process that cost nearly $3 million and forced property owners to slice 14 feet off the fronts of their buildings. Many structures lost their original Victorian facades and instead acquired an Art Deco or Spanish Colonial Revival character.

The road first found nationwide fame as the Tournament of Roses Parade route and between 1926 and 1940 it was signed as U.S. Highway 66. In 1958, Pasadena redesignated it as a boulevard, signaling that Colorado—once home to lumber yards and carpenter shops—had come of age.

California’s Sustainable Transport Incentives Leave Other States in the Stone Age


By Damon Lavrinc, October 1, 2013


California has more electric vehicles per capita than any other state in the nation, in part because policymakers seem to love them. Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a whole sheaf of bills intended to hasten their adoption, and the city of Palo Alto — home to Tesla Motors — will require every new home to be wired for EV charging hardware.

The Palo Alto city council voted 9-0 in favor of a proposal that would require new single-family homes to come pre-wired for an EV charging station. It’s a nominal requirement, considering most homes already are wired for a 220-volt line — which is needed for a so-called Level 2 charging station that can charge most cars in about eight hours — because that’s the voltage needed to power a washer and dryer.
The decision came
own to money (and politics, natch), with an eye toward “future-proofing” new homes for EVs. It costs just $200 to wire a new home for an EV charger, but can cost upward of $1,000 to retrofit an existing home. That’s on top of the cost of the charging station, which can run anywhere from $600 to $2,000. Not that it really matters to Palo Alto residents — the average home cost is $1.5 million.

“The thing that caught me is how simple and easy and fairly inexpensive it is to rough-in the wiring,” Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd told the San Jose Mercury News.

Monday’s vote was followed by the governor’s signing six bills to commemorate National Plug In Day on Saturday, part of California’s ongoing campaign to get 1.5 million EVs on the road by 2025. California has long led the nation in promoting the development and adoption of electric vehicles through the Zero Emissions Vehicle Program, which aims to have new cars emit 34 percent fewer global warming gases, 75 percent fewer smog emissions, save consumers over $6,000 over the life of the car, and bring more efficient vehicles — from hybrids electrics to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles — to market.

To that end, the legislature approved, and Brown signed, a cadre of bills meant to further spur the use of EVs. Assembly Bill 1092 requires state agencies to set standards to instal charging outlets in apartment and commercial buildings. The bill aims to address one of the biggest hurdles for city dwellers who want to go electric, since it’s hard (and dangerous) to run a 100-foot cable out your window to charge your EV on the street.

Bills AB 266 and SB 286 extend the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane sticker program through 2019, giving drivers access to carpool lanes no matter how many people are in the car. AB 266 allows 40,000 vehicles that are ultra-low emission plug-in hybrids and even hydrogen-fueled vehicles with internal combustion engines to receive a green sticker, while AB 286 extends the eligibility of pure zero-emission vehicles — those powered by battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell, or natural gas — to receive a white sticker for HOV lane access.

AB 8 provides $2 billion to fund a range of environmental initiatives, including $20 million to build 100 hydrogen fueling stations and a “Cash for Clunkers”-style program that allows low-income vehicle owners to trade in their gas guzzler for a $2,500 incentive. SB 359 funds four programs that encourage green vehicle purchases, including $20 million for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, $10 million in incentives for hybrid and zero-emission trucks and buses, and $8 million for the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program.

The final bill, SB 454, could have the most impact on current EV drivers, requiring all charging station providers to allow any vehicle to plug in and pay with a credit card. Currently, several charging station companies require users to be registered, pay a monthly fee, or both to access their network of stations. SB 454 would eliminate that requirement, making charging stations more like gas stations by allowing anyone to top off using a standard method of payment.

This couple has been biking around the world for five years and 60,000 miles


By Jess Zimmerman, October 2, 2013


Laura Scott of the blog The Locals met this charming couple while biking from Paris to London. They’ve been biking around the world together for more than five years, covering over 60,000 miles and 84 countries. And they’re hoping to keep traveling for at least a few more years.

Scott spoke to the male half of the couple, Ryohei Oguchi. He said he was living his longstanding dream of throwing in the towel as a financial planner to travel the world by bike. “I kept holding it in my heart and it happened,” he said. No word on what his companion thinks, but she looks pretty happy.

What’s next for this intrepid pair? Ireland, the south of France, Spain, Morocco, and hopefully one day West Africa and North and South America. Good luck, you two, and we hope you have really comfy saddles.

In Silicon Valley hub, new homes must be wired for electric cars


By John Upton, October 2, 2013

 Tesla roadsters charging at the company's Palo Alto headquarters.
 Tesla roadsters charging at the company’s Palo Alto headquarters.

If you build a new home in Tesla Motors’ hometown, your electrician is going to need to wire it up for an electric vehicle charger.

The Palo Alto, Calif., City Council recently endorsed a building-code change that would require builders to include wiring in new homes that can easily be connected to a charger. The council also directed city staff to figure out how to make it easier and cheaper to obtain permits for new EV chargers.

To wire a new house for an electric vehicle charger, it costs under $200 — a quarter of the price tag for installing a charger at an existing home, Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff told the San Jose Mercury News.

Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd said she received a phone call from a resident who had installed a curbside charger for public use. The electric-bike fanatic said the charger was a big hit in his neighborhood — but that obtaining the permit cost him hundreds of dollars. The council also heard that a Unitarian Universalist Church paid $459 for a permit needed to install its electric vehicle charger. Ouch. That “seems like a lot,” Council Member Liz Kniss deadpanned.

“Let’s figure out as a council what we can do to remove the obstacles to owning electric vehicles in Palo Alto,” Scharff said. “I think what we really need to do is make it convenient, easy, and economical.”

The council then voted 9 to 0 to endorse the changes, and sent a memo directing city staff to rewrite the building code and permitting rules accordingly.

Gold Line to Montclair Moving Ahead Even With No Money


By Neal Broverman, October 1, 2013




As construction workers build the next leg of the Gold Line, from Pasadena to Azusa, San Gabriel Valley officials are keeping up the pressure to build the once-certain extension to Montclair--the $950-million light rail project has been in jeopardy since Metro pulled funds last spring. The Gold Line Construction Authority's recent newsletter notes that this month they'll host a meeting with city staff members along the route to discuss moving the project to the engineering phase--the last step before construction. "The [Advanced Conceptual Engineering] work, which is expected to begin next year, will advance the design and engineering for the 12.3-mile, six-station project to a point where it will be ready for a future design-build procurement." As far as money goes, the Construction Authority continues "to work with Metro to identify potential funding opportunities." If money become available in 2015 or '16, the project could open in 2021 or '22, according to the Authority

Cities Embracing Car Free Zones


October 1, 2013

What Happened?

Many cities such as New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Copenhagen are reintroducing car-free zones to provide common areas for pedestrians and cyclists to maneuver safely, without exposure to fast-moving vehicles. Car-free zones have been known to enhance tourism, boost engagement between residents and local businesses, and reduce auto-related accidents.

The Goal

The quality of life for residents is arguably improved when car-free zones are incorporated into city designs. Pollution is reduced in areas of high foot traffic, while outdoor activities and exercise opportunities are greatly increased when automobiles are prohibited in certain areas.


Copenhagen’s Stroget area is a world-renowned car-free zone that was created in the 1950s during the Christmas holidays to protect pedestrians during their shopping and festivities. The four-block area was officially labeled a car-free zone in 1962, and quickly evolved into a popular destination spot for tourists and local shoppers alike. After the vehicles were eliminated in the space, nearby businesses reported a 40 percent jump in sales.

U.S. Follows Suit

In the United States, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are all exploring car-free zone designs to accommodate pedestrian activity and outdoor recreation.

In San Francisco, the eastern half of JFK Drive is void of cars on Sundays, allowing for cyclists, runners, walkers, roller bladders and other active residents to explore the local parks.

In New York City, the city closed down seven miles of streets from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park to vehicle use. The public was able to set up live music shows, group exercise classes, light installations and other recreational activities.

Los Angeles has experimented with a pop-up car-free zone effort in the Sunset Triangle when streets are temporarily closed for farmers markets, neighborhood concerts and other cultural events. When the streets are closed down, residents and visitors feel safe to wander through the happenings and learn more about local cuisine, businesses and culture.

Make It Work

According to Metropolis Magazine, there are a few considerations that must be made for a car-free zone project to be successful, such as:
  1. Existing pedestrian presence
    A city considering a car-free zone should focus on areas where there is already a high volume of foot traffic. This will indicate a demand for increased safety and accessibility, as walkers and shoppers are already drawn to the area’s amenities.
  2. The street is not an essential part of the city’s street grid
    Shutting down a few blocks during weekends or permanently must be a doable change to accommodate pedestrians. The adjustment should not, however, force a drastic disruption to major throughways that enable easy transit through the community.
  3. The community is informed of the plan
    To ensure the car-free zone is a favorable change, decision makers must gather public feedback and criticism. Residents must be aware of what the changes entail and on board with the plan to make good use of the common area.
  4. The location is unique and offers a tourism appeal
    The area that is turned into a car-free zone should not only be convenient to city planners but also be a desirable spot for tourists and pedestrians to frequent. As they are the main target for the revamped area, the locale must include walker-friendly amenities and attractions.
  5. The appropriate amount of space is selected to optimize the area
    When selecting a spot to go car-free, consider how the common pedestrian will feel in the area. If the space is too large, it may feel uncomfortable. Likewise, too small of a locale will limit opportunities for the public to optimize the space.
No Cars Allowed

EfficientGov has tracked other pedestrian-friendly initiatives such as bike-friendly highways and walkable housing.

SSTI to Transport Officials: Start Planning for a Future With Less Driving


By Angie Schmitt, October 2, 2013

For a long time in the United States, driving activity moved in step with the economy. Since economic growth was fairly steady, consistent growth in driving was built into all the traffic modeling the engineers used to plan and build streets and transportation infrastructure.

Annual, per-capita vehicle miles traveled by Americans have been declining for eight years. Image: State Smart Transportation Campaign

But now per capita driving has declined eight straight years in America. Total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) hasn’t really budged in five years, and remains below its peak. A number of things have fundamentally changed since the time when you could chart driving behavior into the future using an upward line, according to a new paper by the State Smart Transportation Initiative, a think-tank based out of the University of Wisconsin which counts 19 state DOTs among its partners.

SSTI rejects the idea that driving declines reflect the recent recession, noting that the current slump began in 2004, well before the recession started. Driving activity actually began to decouple from economic growth in 2000, SSTI says, and today they do not appear to be strongly related.
The reasons for the current decline, SSTI reports, are broad cultural and economic trends that are likely to be “permanent,” or “remain in effect for a generation or more.”

In the decades prior, driving increases were triggered by factors like rising household income and auto ownership rates, increasing participation in the workforce by women, and the swelling ranks of Baby Boomers in their most active driving years. Today, however, those trends have abated or are moving in the opposite direction.

Baby Boomers are beginning to retire, and entering a stage in their lives when they will drive less and less. The American market for car owners is mostly saturated. Meanwhile, the growth in women’s workforce participation leveled off more than 10 years ago.

Another big factor is the financial calculus of driving. The cost of owning a car has been increasing, and not just because gas isn’t dirt cheap anymore. Maintaining, storing, and insuring a car has become more expensive too. High levels of congestion in many cities have also increased the delays and aggravation associated with driving.

Attitudinal shifts among younger Americans are playing a role. Mounting evidence suggests an increasing preference for transit, biking, and walking among the Millennial generation.

Finally, SSTI notes that for years driving was stimulated by policies that discouraged walkable, mixed-use development: single-use zoning and parking minimums, for example. But in some places, those policies are now being reformed.

The upshot is that driving may never increase the way it once did, SSTI reports. It’s important that public institutions adjust accordingly.

As the authors say, “these trends suggest a serious need for a new approach to travel demand forecasting and transportation system design in the 21st century.”

Watch Amtrak's Trains Move Along Their Routes in Real Time


By Eric Jaffe, October 2, 2013

This week Amtrak released "Track a Train" — an interactive, Google-powered, real-time-ish status map of its 300-plus daily trips. America's passenger rail provider says it created the feature because checking train status is the second most-popular action on its website, after buying tickets. Now travelers and train enthusiasts alike can see how slow fast a particular Amtrak train is moving at any given time.

Requisite snark aside, the service looks both polished and useful. (You can find it in the lower-left corner of Amtrak's main site.) The base map gives a national overview of Amtrak's service at the moment. Active trains are indicated by a blue arrow pointing in the direction they're traveling. Stations are shown as smaller white dots. A purple circle enclosing a number shows how many trains are in high-traffic areas and lets users zoom in with one click.

A status window for each individual train gives the train number, direction, origin, final destination, and speed. There's also a status flag: green indicates on-time trains; amber, late trains. One check this morning found a gray flag to indicate a route with a service disruption. The most handy feature is a scrollable history that gives the local times every arrival a train has made (or will make) on that route.

Yes, that is an Acela moving at 134 miles per hour — just a glimpse of what Amtrak trains are capable of doing when proper track configuration allows.

There are plenty of basic Google Maps features, too, including a traditional zoom feature, a search window that auto-fills for stations or route names, and a satellite viewing option. (You can't zoom in close enough to see the actual track, however, perhaps for security reasons.) There's even a nifty national "reset" button that takes you take back to the base screen that the original Google Maps would be wise to steal.

So there it is: not groundbreaking, of course, but functional, clean, and customer friendly. Amtrak's management is always being criticized for its shortcomings. That's the way it should be for a taxpayer-subsidized service, and indeed sometimes the flaws are glaring (as in the case of its inefficient food service). But Amtrak's innovations deserve some credit, too.

At times it's even been ahead of the technological curve. Amtrak has taken the lead implementing positive train control safety upgrades, and it was using mobile ticketing well before transit agencies started doing the same in major U.S. cities (if anything, it made the shift too quickly, confusing some older customers). Its WiFi service is a mess, of course, but private-sector in-flight Internet providers haven't exactly perfected that system, either.

Anyone interested in learning more about the "Track a Train" system might turn to a Q&A that Amtrak conducted (if you will) with Google Maps product manager Dylan Lorimer. It's mostly vanilla stuff, but one of Lorimer's answers is entertaining:
As you know, our trains go to a lot of places. If you could go to any of our 500 destinations, where would you go?
Remember that train robbery scene from Breaking Bad (season 5, episode 5), where they steal the supply of methylamine? Maybe there? Just kidding. For sure, I’d take the Empire Builder through Glacier National Park! I can’t wait to do that one day.
Two things. One, he's so obviously not just kidding. Two, let's just hope he doesn't hop that Empire Builder during a government shutdown. If he does, though, at least he'll be able to see whether or not he'll arrive at that closed park on-time.

Would You Like a Bike With That Coffee?


By Feargus O'Sullivan, October 2, 2013

Would You Like a Bike With That Coffee?

Buy a coffee, and we’ll lend you a free bike. This is the idea behind a novel kind of bike-share scheme in the Czech Republic, where group of cafes in Brno, the country’s second-largest city, have come together to offer customers free biking. Dropping in for a drink, all users need to do is put down a deposit of 300 Crown ($16) and they get a lock, a folding bike and a request to turn it in at the end of the day at any of the participating centers. Amazingly given some bike-share schemes' growing pains, organizers have had no problems with abuse or theft since the project started last year.

Brno’s project is small – so far only five bike points are involved – but the city’s alternative and apparently unique model still has some very useful lessons for other cities looking to get more citizens biking.

Firstly, Brno shows that you don’t always have to go big, either in bike numbers or in sponsors. Major bike-share schemes typically involve major enterprises like Citibank and Barclays, but Brno’s participants are all small, local businesses – its hub is a café, bar and arts venue in Brno’s old city called Kavarna Trojka. While participants like Trojka need to take a long view, they clearly believe they can recoup their investment in a few bikes by encouraging more customers to buy drinks, by developing user loyalty and creating a city-wide publicity platform for themselves and the events they host.

Secondly, micro-schemes mean you don’t necessarily need to invest in new infrastructure. Brno has no docking stations, specially designed vehicles or bike redistribution system. All it relies on is participating venues having enough space to store some fold-up bikes.

Brno's city center. 

Thirdly, Brno proves that you can have private bike-share start-ups even in cities lacking the cash or political momentum to create larger public schemes. With 385,000 citizens, the city isn’t huge and, while much of it is very attractive, it’s not really a major tourism magnet either. But while no municipal bike-share scheme has been set up there yet, Brno is still highly suitable for cyclists. Its largely 19th century center is already semi-pedestrianized and its street plan is often too narrow and twisting to accommodate cars easily. The scheme is no solution for commuters, but picking up a bike after breakfast or coffee to run around town on is both easy and cheap.

Brno’s plan has clear and self-imposed limitations of course. Run by volunteers, its plan is to expand only gradually, while its users are more likely to be the sort of people who frequent artsy cafés than a broad cross-section of the city’s population.

This could, however, have the effect of creating a more conscious biking community that feels it has a stake in the scheme. Scheme organizer Pavel Baďura told Czech site iDnes.cz:
I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the fact that those who borrow the bikes are so responsible. I expected that all of the cafés involved would have to keep a closer eye on things and put more effort into getting people to return the bikes and to treat them well. But so far it’s been quite the opposite.
In assessing Brno’s possible relevance to the future of bike-sharing, the spread of public Wi-Fi is perhaps a good model. While ubiquitous Internet access may well be on the way, cafes the world over have long been making up for coverage gaps by attracting customers with free broadband. With bike-share taking off globally, we may likewise be working towards a world where many more cities have some form of cheap or free cycling scheme. But in the meantime, initiatives like Brno’s can help plug gaps. By feeding an enthusiasm for urban cycling, they demonstrate that even in places with little political might backing bike-share, the public appetite is still out there.

Video by Joe Cano: Checkmate! Long Beach City Council & 710 Resolution defeated

Long Beach City Council 10/1/2013

Posted by Joe Cano on Facebook, October 2, 2013

The Long Beach City Council decided not to support the SR710 tunnel resolution. File & receive to be discussed another time was the result. Barbara Messina was called 'out of order' under the 'Brown Act' for jumping up in a desperate attempt to salvage the resolution after public comment section was closed.

Barbara Messina

 NO710 Joanne & Dr. Bill.
Tom Williams after the resolution is tabled for another time.