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

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Did CA Tip the Scales Against LOS? Is The End Near?


By Angie Schmitt, October 3, 2013

There are three little words that will make any livable streets advocate groan: Level of Service.

"Level of Service" is the metric that, perhaps more than any other, fuels the decimation of walkable streets. 

Level of Service, simply put, is a measure of vehicle congestion at intersections. Projects are graded from “A” to “F” based on how much delay drivers experience.

That’s all it measures: the free motion of motor vehicles. And that’s the problem. The safety of people on foot and on bikes doesn’t enter into the equation at all, and transit vehicles carrying dozens of people are subjugated to the movement of private cars. In fact, a high “level of service” generally makes for a much more stressful and dangerous street, since speeding traffic, and the wide lanes that facilitate it, is a leading cause of traffic injuries and deaths.

Last month, livable streets advocates in California finally made progress in a long battle to reform the state’s environmental laws, which perversely rewarded projects that cater to cars and maintain a certain Level of Service. When, for instance, San Francisco went to add a bike lane or a bus lane, the city first had to show — as part of environmental law — that drivers would not be inconvenienced. Then on September 27, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law saying that Level of Service requirements would no longer factor into the state’s environmental review process — at least in “transit priority areas,” which will incorporate sections of all the state’s urbanized areas.

 The Natural Resources Defense Council celebrated the bill’s passage, writing that it will “have the potential to shape California’s future in a big way.”

California isn’t the only place rethinking its reliance on Level of Service to grade transportation and development projects. Portland, Oregon, issued an RFP last summer asking for help developing new performance measures to replace Level of Service. The RFP read: “The existing LOS standards and measures, which focus only on motor vehicle levels of service, do not reflect the City of Portland’s current practice which emphasizes and promotes a multi-modal approach to transportation planning and providing transportation services.”

Meanwhile, other cities that want to build better streets for walking, biking, and transit are finding ways around Level of Service without changing laws.

Rachel Weinberger helped write Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s PlaNYC sustainability framework. Level of Service requirements presented a barrier to safer street designs there, too, but by testing out new engineering approaches as pilot projects, reforms could be advanced without hacking through too much red tape. Internally, the city used performance measures that prioritized goals it considered more important than vehicle Level of Service, such as spatial efficiency.

“A lot of places are trying to rethink it,” said Weinberger, who is now director of research and policy strategy at Nelson\Nygaard. “People are starting to say, ‘We’ve been using this performance measure and we’re not getting the whole picture, and we’re not getting the result we really want.’”

The state of Florida, for example, uses a multi-modal Level of Service analysis. The state of Virginia is considering something similar, said Weinberger.

Another innovator is Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte first adopted a soft approach to its use of Level of Service about 10 years ago, when the city passed its complete streets policy, says Dan Gallagher, the city’s transportation and planning manager.

“We realized if we were going to be a city that could move cars but also be accommodating for bikes, pedestrians and transit users, a strict level of service approach probably wasn’t going to be the best thing,” Gallagher said. “What we’ve moved to is more of a comprehensive look at our improvements.”

Charlotte still uses Level of Service in its planning, but in combination with metrics that measure “Level of Service” for cyclists and pedestrians as well. Multi-modal Level of Service measures have been pioneered by groups like the National Cooperative Highway Research program.

The use of "Level of Service" performance metrics can lead to road widenings that entrench dependence on driving and jeopardize pedestrians.

The city of Seattle is another conscientious objector. Michael James, a project manager at the Seattle Department of Transportation, said the city is considering whether to adopt a multi-modal Level of Service in its next comprehensive plan.

“We’re really trying to move away from using level of service because it really just focuses on driver access and it’s more of a measure of driver convenience than anything else,” James said. “We still do use LOS at intersections, but primarily to make sure our transit is still moving.”

Of course, for every state or local agency that eschews transportation decisions based primarily on Level of Service, there are many more that use it to quash projects that might be beneficial for pedestrians and cyclists. The sad thing, according to Gary Toth at Project for Public Spaces, is that there is absolutely no requirement for states and cities to do so. Adherence to Level of Service is simply a convention that survives from the bygone era of highway building. Even with the advances in multi-modal Level of Service, many communities will forgo this measure because the data needed to calculate is more difficult to obtain.

“We have a long way to go,” says Toth, “but the door is opening.”

Los Angeles Has the Worst Roads of Any Big City in the US


By Adrian Glick Kudler, October 3, 2013



  Boy, the Los Angeles region is really coming out on top lately--the highest poverty rate in California, the worst roads in the US: "The roads in Greater Los Angeles are the most deteriorated in the United States, costing drivers more than $800 a year, according to a national transportation analysis released Thursday," says the LA Times. About 64 percent of LA-Santa Ana-Long Beach roads are fuuuuucked (in poor condition), according to 2011 data; that's costing drivers about $832 a year each "including repairs, tires and faster depreciation." That's the worst out of all US cities of more than half a million people (Oakland/San Francisco comes in second, San Jose comes in third). LA has 8,700 miles of roads graded C-minus overall (see a neighborhood breakdown here), with a 60-year backlog on repairs, and the city has been trying to pass a bond to pay for quicker fixing--a first effort tanked earlier this year after neighborhood councils threw a fit (LA property owners don't like having to pay for things very much, even things they use frequently and that affect their property values, apparently. Meanwhile, they're generally in a much better position to be shelling out $832 a year on car repairs than non-homeowners--letting roads stay shitty is sort of de facto regressive taxation, but without anything to show for it.). A couple of councilmembers are hoping to get a new bond measure on the fall 2014 ballot, which will require a two-thirds majority to pass (siiiiiiigh), and meanwhile the costs keeps shooting up--they've doubled since 2005.


Road conditions in L.A. region judged worst in country 


 By Laura J. Nelson, October 3, 2013


Pedestrians walk near a pothole at McCadden Place and 4th Street in Hancock Park.

The roads in Greater Los Angeles are the most deteriorated in the United States, costing drivers more than $800 a year, according to a national transportation analysis released Thursday.

Los Angeles-Santa Ana-Long Beach ranks first among cities with more than 500,000 residents for the percentage of roads in poor condition and the annual cost to drivers, according to TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that studies transportation data and issues.

About 64% of roads in Greater Los Angeles are in poor condition, and potholes and rough pavement cost Southern California drivers about $832 a year, TRIP estimates, including repairs, tires and faster depreciation.

The analysis was based on 2011 data from the Federal Highway Administration. The federal government catalogs, on a scale of 1 to 100, the condition of major state and locally maintained roads and highways in urban and rural areas. The index includes potholes, utility cuts and various types of cracks.

L.A.'s sprawling 8,700 miles of roads are graded a C-minus, and a quarter received an F, according to recent Los Angeles City Council information. City staff members are studying the possibilities of a $3-billion borrowing program to fix what officials say is a 60-year backlog of repairs. The cost has doubled since 2005, and is expected to double again in the next decade.

Council members Joe Buscaino and Mitchell Englander hope to include a proposal to issue city bonds for the work on the fall 2014 ballot. A two-thirds majority of voters would have to approve issuing the debt.

Nationally, more than a quarter of major urban highways and streets are in poor condition. The same roadways handle about 78% of the 2 trillion miles driven annually in urban America, TRIP said.

"Without a significant boost in transportation funding at the federal, state and local level, conditions will continue to deteriorate, drivers will continue to pay the price, and our economy will suffer," said Will Kempton, the executive director of Transportation California, in a prepared statement.

The second- and third-worst urban road networks are also in California. About 60% of roads in Oakland and San Francisco are in poor condition, as are 56% of roads in San Jose.


Urban Transportation: Stockholm's Marvelous Mix of Transit Modes


By Christopher Berggren, October 3, 2013


Stockholm, the capital and largest city of Sweden, is a beautiful and well planned city and known for its setting among island waterways.  It has a vibrant cafĂ© and nightlife scene and is full of parks as well as cycling and walking tracks.  It is an easy city to get around, possessing a 100-station metro system and complimentary network of trams, buses, light rail, and commuter trains.  What makes Stockholm’s transit system so good is its intermodal functionality, that is, the ease with which its riders can switch from a subway to a tram or commuter train, using the same fare card and with little walking or waiting.

Comprehensive Metro

Opened in 1950, Stockholm’s metro, or subway, has expanded to a 100-station network with three lines emanating out from its Centralen Station.  The first line opened using the infrastructure of the national railroad, and some of the subsequently added lines were conversions from tram routes.  One of the most interesting features of this subway network is its assortment of cave stations.  Much of Stockholm’s substrata is solid granite and when transit users walk the platforms of such stations, they are reminded of how challenging the work was to build the system. 


Stylish, Old and New Train Fleet

Yet another aspect of the subway system the author found particularly elegant were the substantial minority of mid-century trains, a delightful change-of-pace from the modern and sleek, next-generation trains in the majority. Painted the same, bright, Swedish Blue as the ‘next generation’ trains, the older trains are somehow brighter with their wide, white striping and smaller windows. The older trains, as visually appealing inside as out, are designed with a warmer feel than the newer train interiors, and feature soft, ochre-yellow walls and cozy, brown velour seats.

Reliability, Frequency, and Other Modes

The most important accomplishment of the public transportation system in Stockholm has been its high degree of reliability, frequency, and intermodal connectivity.  The commuter and city rail lines coalesce with the trams and buses in nearly seamless transfer points, making for short walks between modes.  Waiting is minimized by the high frequency and reliability of the rail and bus modes, and stations and bus shelters each contain standard, localized schedules and maps.  Bus lines are either one of four trunk routes (blue), which operate long,  circuit routes perpendicular to subway lines, or one of the shorter, feeder routes (red).  The city also operates trams and light-rail over routes with a higher passenger capacity than what buses can accommodate, and these are an integral element of newly built communities around the city.

Bicycles as a Transit Mode

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Stockholm’s total transportation system is the interconnected nature of the city by way of its well-placed bike and walking paths.  When the city classified the bicycle as a mode of transportation, rather than just a form of recreation, it demonstrated its commitment to clean air and integrated planning.  Bike lanes here are grade-separated and/or built between sidewalks and parked cars, with safety margins for opening passenger side doors.  By making bike riding very safe, rather than requiring riders to wear helmets and “share the road”, as in the USA, the city now has 25% more bikes owned than ten years ago.

Planning and Upgrading Routes
Hands-down, the biggest construction project in Stockholm today is the 4-mile rail tunnel being built under the city-center.  When complete in 2017, regional, commuter, and freight rail traffic will be free of congestion and the constraints to reliability and future expansion.  The project includes the expansion of the city’s crowded Centralen and Odenplan stations.  When walking around the city’s urban core, it is impossible to miss the components of this enormous project in progress that will greatly streamline Stockholm’s public transportation matrix.

Stockholm's Innovative Urban Planning

What makes Stockholm such a special place today and what brings visitors here during all seasons is the city’s commitment to high standards of urban planning.  Since its beginnings in Gamla Stan in the 1200’s, the city has grown almost without interruption.  The continuous demands of population pressure, limited buildable land due to the aquatic geography and granite geology, and short winter days have all encouraged innovative and effective planning.  The monocultural Swedish society, with many families today having roots in the country going back hundreds of years, translates to a higher level of responsibility in the public realm.  This is in contrast to the multicultural and sometimes fragmented nature of American society, where planning is subject to divergent and competing interests.

Mercedes' Driverless Research Car Looks Freaking Amazing


Posted by hipstomp, October 2, 2013


Humans suck at driving. The daily rush hour traffic snarl in my Manhattan neighborhood is less about the density of vehicles and more about human incompetence. At trouble spots like Broome & Lafayette, the box is routinely blocked by drivers unable to correctly judge timing and spacing (or happy to block the box in hopes they'll get home at 6:18 rather than 6:23). Meanwhile, further up the block, other drivers leave an absurd gap between them and the car in front of them, occupied as they are with their text messaging or phone conversations.

Even worse is when humans suck at being humans. Two anger-related NYC traffic incidents recently made local headlines: In the first, a cabbie arguing with a cyclist jumped the curb and hit a British tourist in midtown, requiring the young woman to have her leg amputated below the knee. In the second incident, a man was dragged from his SUV, beaten and knifed in front of his wife and child following an accident involving a motorcycle gang. (I found the GoPro-recorded helmet cam video, which went viral, too harrowing to embed.)

So the case for driverless cars is looking pretty compelling. Imagine a parade of automated vehicles moving cleanly through Manhattan, like blood pumping through veins, at regular intervals and with perfect spacing. Imagine it being technologically impossible for a vehicle to strike a pedestrian or cyclist. I'm hoping I get to see this in my lifetime, and I just might following breakthroughs like Mercedes-Benz's, below, where they successfully navigate a 60-mile route (both urban and rural!) in their S 500 Intelligent Drive research vehicle:

 They're predicting the system will be production-ready in as little as six years, which will ironically require the patience that modern-day urban motorists seem to lack. But it will be worth the wait. "Unlike us humans," Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche explained at a press conference, "electronic helpers never get tired, are never absent minded, and have zero reaction time."

Grove developer, LACMA study feasibility of Fairfax trolley


By Matt Stevens, October 2, 2013

 Grove trolley
 Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso has grand visions of his trolley at The Grove connecting museums and shopping complexes in the Mid-Wilshire area. He envisions the old-fashioned trolley going down Fairfax to the museums and along Third to the Beverly Center.

Months after floating the idea of a trolley that would connect the landmarks of the Fairfax neighborhood, billionaire developer Rick Caruso has teamed with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to study whether such a transit option could really work in the trendy part of town.

A spokeswoman for Caruso’s real estate development company said Wednesday that the study would examine “a few potential routes, including several options via Fairfax Boulevard.” In a news release, Caruso Affiliated specifically proposed a connection between the anticipated Metro Purple Line subway station near LACMA and The Grove.

The feasibility study will begin this week, the statement said, and will “evaluate the opportunities and challenges of extending The Grove’s existing trolley to Fairfax and Wilshire including traffic, environment, design, engineering, and cost analysis.” The study is expected to take six to eight weeks.

“This neighborhood has become the cultural center of Los Angeles, and the trolley is an innovative way to bring people together and provide a memorable, unique experience in our city,” Caruso said in the statement. “Other cities have great streetcar lines that function very effectively. We are optimistic about finding out a way to get this done in our backyard.”

In June, Caruso began talking up the idea of extending the old-fashioned trolley that now runs through his Grove shopping center to other locations in the neighborhood, including the Beverly Center and LACMA. He told The Times then that he would throw "a significant amount" of his money toward the idea.

He also envisioned that the trolley would make a loop around the numerous attractions nearby, including the planned Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Wilshire Boulevard, the Park La Brea apartment complex and the hip West 3rd Street shopping district.

The Caruso Affiliated spokeswoman said the company and the museum do not have a single “preferred” route in mind and will await the results of the study before laying out a more detailed plan.

Some residents in the area have expressed concern about how a trolley could run down the district's already clogged streets. They staunchly oppose laying new track, saying the trolley would jam traffic even more and present many safety issues.

Transportation experts have also questioned exactly what kind of public-private partnership Caruso is envisioning to pay for the system.

Two Los Angeles city councilmen, Tom LaBonge and Paul Koretz, supported the idea of the study, according to the news release.

No NTSB investigators for deadly bus crash because of government shutdown: official


By Matthew DeLuca and M. Alex Johnson, October 3, 2013

The National Transportation Safety Board is not sending anyone to investigate a horrific Tennessee bus crash that left eight people dead and 14 more injured because the government shutdown furloughed all its highway investigators, an NTSB official said.

“In this particular case I think it’s highly likely that we would have responded to it, but again, with our investigators furloughed, it’s impossible to do that,” Sharon Bryson, deputy director of communications for the NTSB, told NBC News.

“All of our highway investigators are furloughed,” Bryson said.

Eight people were killed after a bus carrying members of a church in North Carolina overturned around 2 p.m. ET Wednesday, officials said. The bus was carrying members of the Young at Heart program at Front Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C., who were headed back from an annual preaching and gospel music conference in Tennessee, the church said.

The 14 people injured in the accident were described as senior citizens.

The crash appears to have been caused by an issue with the bus’ front tire as the vehicle traveled along Interstate 40 east of Knoxville, said Sgt. Bill Miller, a spokesman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol, in a news conference Thursday morning.

The bus crossed the median and rammed into a tractor-trailer vehicle and an SUV carrying three people before turning over on its side and setting the tractor-trailer ablaze, according to Miller. Six people on the bus were killed and one person died in each of the two other vehicles.
The University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville treated 14 elderly patients, two of whom were still listed as being in critical condition late on Wednesday. Seven more were in serious condition, and the rest were considered stable.

Emergency workers respond to a crash involving a passenger bus, a tractor-trailer and an SUV near Dandridge, Tenn., on Wednesday.
“We saw bodies all over the ground and some people walking around," said Fred Lucas, who stopped to lend assistance on Wednesday.

Lucas and his wife, who are doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in Ohio, were driving to Asheville, Tenn., when they spotted the smoke from the crash, The Knoxville News reported.

Their doctors' instincts kicked in, and both Lucases began helping with a makeshift triage effort.
"Just get them away from the fire — figure out who was alive and who was dead and get the live ones first," Lucas told the newspaper. "I didn't even stop to figure out who was who. There wasn't any time for that."

NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman had confirmed to NBC News on Wednesday night that the board -- which is tasked with investigating significant accidents in the air, on highways, and on the water – would not deploy anyone to the site of the Tennessee crash. A spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said that officials in the state requested NTSB assistance overnight.
Miller described the damage to the bus as “tremendous” on Thursday.

“Some of the identifications of the individuals involved in this incident, involved in this crash, it’s not  very easy to discern who they are, the crash is so horrific,” Miller said, adding that some of the individuals may need to be identified by their dental records.

“It’s probably the worst that I’ve seen in my career,” said Miller, a 17-year veteran.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol is leading the investigation into the crash, and will look at factors including the speed the bus was traveling, service records for the bus, and the driver’s history, Miller said on Thursday.

“We’re in the very first stages of this investigation,” Miller said.

NTSB investigators responding to an incident like Wednesday’s bus crash would usually spend a week or two on the scene, Bryson said. Compiling a final report would take about 12 months on average, she said. As for what they would have found if the NTSB had made an investigation of the Tennessee crash, Bryson said that will likely remain unclear.

“I think it’s hard to say,” Bryson said. “Without being able to take a look at it, it’s really hard for us to know.”

The Interstate of the Future: Privatization or Innovation?


By Ellen Dannin, October 3, 2013


It could be said that Robert Poole, the Searle Freedom Trust Transportation fellow and director of transportation policy at the Libertarian Reason Foundation, has never seen a toll road - or, more precisely, a privatized toll road - he didn't like. Exhibit A: his newly released Interstate 2.0: Modernizing the Interstate Highway System via Toll Finance.

Poole calls his project "Interstate 2.0" to signal that Reason's agenda is something that cool, leaning-forward folks will want to support. But the bottom line is that Poole's proposal offers nothing innovative: just another proposition for the kind of relentless privatization that has stricken cities across the country, rolled into a highway-long package.

Ken Orski's highly influential Innovation Briefs for September 17, 2013, reviews the challenges Poole's proposal faces and then sums up the next steps Poole must take to see his proposal bear fruit:
So, we hope that Mr. Poole's study will be brought not just to the attention of the Beltway audience and the toll-advocacy community where it will predictably meet with plaudits, but, more importantly, to the attention of governors, state DOTs and state legislators. Their collective judgment will be decisive in whether Congress votes in favor of lifting the current legislative restriction against Interstate tolling or leaves it in place. A presentation at the upcoming AASHTO annual conference on October 17-22, followed by presentations at the next annual conferences of the National Governors Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) would be a good way to start the dialogue.
Orski sounds pessimistic, but Poole, a founder of the Reason Foundation, is not without powerful allies that include a Who’s Who of conservatives. They include the Koch family foundations and the Olin, Scaife and Bradley Foundations.

Poole's case for rebuilding the interstate and funding it through electronic tolling combined with privatization is essentially a TINA (There is No Alternative). He posits that our Interstate system is crumbling and overburdened and fuel taxes don't yield enough to pay for new highway construction (as they have in the past). Therefore, Poole says, construction of a new interstate should be financed through electronic tolling - and, to minimize the danger of risks, recruiting the cooperation of "private partners" is the way to go.

However, the Reason report and its cheerleaders ignore the heavy downsides to infrastructure privatization, which have been playing out in cities across the country - high costs for individuals, public anger, secrecy, entrenched corporate control. The report also ignores the fact that we live in a changing transportation world: one in which an increasing numbers of cars and trucks driving increasing numbers of miles do not make up the preordained future.

The Insidious Tradition of Public-Private Partnerships

Existing US highway privatization contracts run for 50 to 99 years, making predictions of highway use - and revenues - a challenge. In addition, traffic projections, which translate into tolls paid, have been notoriously unreliable, even in contracts' first years. Traffic predictions, which tend to be about 25 percent on the high side, mean that projects get built but then fail to bring in the revenue that was forecast.

In addition, infrastructure privatization contracts are full of "gotcha" provisions to ensure private contractors make money. The Chicago parking meter deal is an example. The cost to the public of building Reason's Interstate 2.0 would include far more than tolls. It will include lost public control and reimbursing private "partners" for lost anticipated earnings. Public anger over privatization contract terms has led contractors to refuse the public to see the contracts, essentially repealing Freedom of Information Act rights.

As problems with infrastructure privatization have come to light, the deals have been "rebranded" partnerships, such as public-private partnerships. "Rebranding 3.0" claims that these new deals are simply agreements as to which party bears what level of risk.

Nice try, but the reality of infrastructure privatization is unequal power and information. In public-private partnerships, the public is usually a first-time, "one-shot" player and must turn to industry insiders for advice. The insiders have strong incentives to stick with the standard industry contract, no matter which side of the table they are on in each deal.

On the other side of the table are private contractors who are repeat players and know these deals inside and out. (More on repeat players and one-shot players in general can be found here.) Not only that, but industry insiders who advise the public "partner" are paid a "success fee" only if a privatization deal is consummated. What is the likelihood that the public's "adviser" would explain just how these deals work?

To get a handle on the nature of these deals, one can "profitably" turn to the Ferengis of "Star Trek: Deep Space 9" and their Rules of Acquisition, such as FRA 62, "The Riskier the Road, the Greater the Profit," FRA 74, "Knowledge Equals Profit," and FRA 8, which warns that "Small Print Leads to Large Risk."

The False Premises of Interstate 2.0

Claiming that these deals are priced based on risk allocation is akin to calling new roads on old roadbeds "Interstate 2.0." Reason's proposal actually seems more like version 0.75 in its treatment of the interstates as a closed system, unconnected to non-interstate roads, planes, and trains, and in its lack of concern for problems whose solutions call for less traffic, such as environmental degradation, air pollution, climate change and injuries and deaths caused by interstate accidents.

Who benefits from Reason's proposal? Many sectors do. Highway construction companies want the work. Unions that represent their employees want their members to have the work. Financiers connected with highway privatization want the projects to be funded. And people want to get from point A to point B.

However, there are alternatives to privatization and to more truck and car traffic. Rather than turn public infrastructure over to private contractors, bonds can be sold to raise funding for repairs and improvements. This old-fashioned way to pay for infrastructure leaves the public in control of our roads and our futures.

More Exciting than Interstate 2.0: Multimodal Transportation and Community

We will, no doubt, be needing roads - urban, local and interstate - for the foreseeable future, despite their negative effects. The good news is that we are now heading toward a transportation ecosystem that is far more varied and useful. Rather than encouraging more cars, more trucks, more pollution, less interpersonal connection and more privatized space, people throughout the country are radically changing travel and interpersonal connection.

Although it will be years before trains and mass transit are sufficiently up to speed to meet transportation needs, transit also is enmeshed in other infrastructure decisions, in particular, housing and work locations. How can we integrate these factors to achieve our many needs?

Our large country, with its variations of topography and climate, calls for a multimodal approach to transportation. Rather than a closed interstate system that exacerbates climate change, environmental degradation and the loss of community, many are finding smart ways to tackle these problems.
In fact, had the Democrats not lost their House majority in the 2010 elections and, in particular, had Congressman James Oberstar, then chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and an issues expert on transportation, not lost his seat, we might be farther down this path. On the eve of the election, Oberstar was shepherding the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009 through Congress. Among its innovations were intermodal and multimodal transportation systems (Section 1201, Page 180) and the creation of an Office of Public Benefit (Section 1204, Page 728) to provide expert advice to local and state governments on transportation issues.

Those ideas are still around, and people in many parts of the country are creating and dreaming of their own intermodal and multimodal systems.

For example, Philip Longman, senior research fellow at the New America Foundation, has written thoughtfully on transportation. In Back on Tracks - A Nineteenth-century Technology Could Be the Solution to Our Twenty-first-century Problems, Longman says,
Virginia transportation officials have settled on an innovative solution: use state money to get freight off the highway and onto rails. As it happens, running parallel to I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley and across the Piedmont are two mostly single-track rail lines belonging to the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Known as the Crescent Corridor, these lines have seen a resurgence of trains carrying containers, just like most of the trucks on I-81 do. ...

The railroad estimates that with an additional $2 billion in infrastructure investment, it could divert a million trucks off the road, which is currently carrying just under five million. State officials are thinking even bigger: a study sponsored by the Virginia DOT finds that a cumulative investment over ten to twelve years of less than $8 billion would divert 30 percent of the growing truck traffic on I-81 to rail. That would be far more bang for the state's buck than the $11 billion it would take to add more lanes to the highway, especially since it would bring many other public benefits, from reduced highway accidents and lower repair costs to enormous improvements in fuel efficiency and pollution reduction. Today, a single train can move as many containers as 280 trucks while using one-third as much energy - and that's before any improvements to rail infrastructure.
In addition, citizens' groups, such as the Northern Colorado Commuter Rail - NCCR project, are making the case for local multimodal transportation systems.

Local Multimodal Transportation Today

It is ironic that Reason's “2.0” proposal is such a poor fit with current realities. PIRG studies have shown that people are driving less, with those ages 16-34 driving 23 percent less. Millennials are leading the decline, a trend that can be found in almost all states and does not seem to be tied to the effects of the Great Recession.

At the same time, there has been an upsurge of interest in multimodal transportation and just-in-time access to cars, including through informal arrangements, such as peer-to-peer car sharing.
These changed attitudes to private automobile transportation can be part of the solution to mounting problems we face today, including air pollution, climate change, obesity and ills created by impermeable surfaces, which lead to polluted runoff and flooding.

Transportation and community transformations are happening across the country. Consider South Carolina's Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan - Charting a Course to 2040 and the Tennessee Division of Multimodal Transportation's resources, which include public transportation, rail and waterways, rail inspection and safety, and bicycle and pedestrian programs. The division's Bicycle and Pedestrian Program "works with other divisions to include appropriate treatments for bicycles and pedestrians."

Similar programs exist in Minnesota and New York City and in the Federal Highway Administration.

These Streets are Made for ... 

Much more could be said about the current ferment around streets and roads, but the ongoing New York City World Class Streets - Remaking New York City's Public Realm deserves mention. This project has taken a careful look at New York City streets - what they are and what they can be - to enhance people's well-being and lives. Among other things, the project has interrogated street after street, block after block, asking what else can be done with public spaces, including streets, to make them more attractive, more likely to promote public physical and psychic health and more enjoyable. A major underpinning of the project has been to think of the people within the city as having multidimensional needs. Achieving these results has required paying close attention to physical spaces and how they affect the people who inhabit them.

The facts show that, across the country, we are engaged in a public and community-by-community discussion that is inclusive and fact-based. It is a movement that will get us, as a people, where we need to go. You, reading, this paragraph, take a few moments now to think about how we can get where we need to go, along with a pleasant walk on New York's Highline.

Someday Soon You'll Pay for Every Mile You Drive


By Eric Jaffe, October 3, 2013

 Someday Soon You'll Pay for Every Mile You Drive

If you're the type who takes a while to warm up to new things, you might want to start getting used to the idea of paying for every mile you drive. Right now, whether you realize it or not, you pay for roads every time you stop at the pump, via the gasoline tax. But that tax is failing miserably, from a combination of fuel-efficient cars and rising construction costs, and many experts think it will be replaced with a mileage-based fee in due time.

At the moment, Oregon is the only state to have implemented a mileage fee — often called a vehicle-miles traveled fee — but others are considering the plan. A couple weeks ago Florida Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad told some state leaders the days of the gas tax may be coming to an end. He said a shift to a VMT fee could occur within the next 10 to 15 years.

Prasad may want to move up his timeline. Transportation researchers Haitham Al-Deek of the University of Central Florida and Massoud Moradi of the Atkins consulting firm recently calculated how much Florida stood to gain by adopting a VMT fee. Their results were startling: if the state swapped out the gas tax in 2015, then by 2035 a VMT fee would generate at least $37 billion more in road revenue.

Al-Deek and Moradi considered five different funding models in their analysis. The first was the basic gas tax. At its current rate, the tax would raise about $81 billion (in 2015 dollars) by 2035. With the state's funding needs well north of $100 billion by that time, the gas tax clearly won't cut it.

So Al-Deek and Moradi tried four other options, all based around the VMT fee. One was a basic VMT equivalent of the gas tax, in which drivers would pay about two-and-a-half cents for every mile they drove. Such a system would generate $112 billion by 2035.

Three more options were considered: a VMT fee with a rush-hour premium (25 percent), a VMT fee with an urban roads premium (25 percent), and a VMT fee with both premiums (50 percent). The idea with these models was not only to address funding but also congestion, which is worst at rush hour and on city highways. The expected revenues, respectively, were roughly $107 billion, $115 billion, and $118 billion. (The rush-hour premium generates less than the VMT fee alone because its administrative costs are greater, at about 20 percent versus 15 percent).

Here are the 2015-2035 revenue figures for all five systems side-by-side (chart created by Cities based on the numbers reported by Al-Deek and Moradi in an upcoming issue of the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation):

So there's a clear winner: the VMT system with a premium congestion charge for both rush-hour and urban roads. In more basic terms, drivers should expect one day to pay a few cents for each mile they drive, plus a small surcharge whenever they travel during rush hour or through the city.

A lot must be resolved between now and the arrival of that day. There are great political hurdles: matters of privacy chief among them, as well as the general fact that people hate change. But there are also great potential benefits: more revenue for one, but also less traffic, less incentive to drive, and perhaps less urban sprawl. Start getting familiar with that debate, because it's coming to your city and state someday soon.

One-fifth of U.S. lives near roads with higher air pollution, study says


By Tony Barboza, October 2, 2013

 Motorists on the 10 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles

 A University of New Mexico study found that nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population lives near a high-volume road, where air pollution is typically higher.

Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. population lives near a high-volume road where pollution levels are typically elevated from vehicle exhaust, a new study says.

The analysis found 60 million people living within about one-third of a mile from a busy road. In California, 40% of the population lives that close to traffic, the highest of any state.

“It’s a surprisingly large proportion of the population,” said Gregory Rowangould, a professor of engineering at the University of New Mexico who used U.S. Census and Department of Transportation traffic data to conduct the nationwide tally.

The study found similar results across all regions of the country, suggesting traffic pollution is not only an urban issue but “potentially a much larger and more widespread public health concern.”
Researchers have known for years that air pollution levels are higher along major roads, putting people who live nearby at greater risk of respiratory illness, including asthma and lung cancer.

The study also found that non-white and low-income residents are more likely to live near busy roadways and that most counties do not have monitors to measure air pollution levels close to traffic.

“If there's no monitor, a potential violation is not going to be detected, and there's not going to be the additional regulations that can help clean up air pollution in that area,” Rowangould said.
That is set to change in some places starting Jan. 1, when air quality officials in more than 100 metropolitan areas across the country must begin to install air pollution monitors near busy roadways under new rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The study, published in the journal Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, counted people near roads where more than 25,000 vehicles travel each day, a traffic density that Rowangould said represents “the lower limit of roadways with health impacts.”

The study tallied the population within 500 meters of traffic. That's about 1,640 feet, a wider swath than the 300 to 500 feet environmental regulators have used to measure the population near roadways.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District estimates nearly 1 million people in its four-county basin live within about 300 feet of a major roadway; The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts that number at 35 million people nationally.

While past research has shown air pollution levels drop off significantly a few hundred feet from traffic, recent studies have found pollutants from cars and trucks can drift more than a mile downwind.

Car Exhaust Is Confusing Honeybees to Death


By John Metcalfe, October 3, 2013

Car Exhaust Is Confusing Honeybees to Death Science has linked breathing car exhaust to all manner of afflictions, from brain damage to heart attacks to chronic asthma in children. But the damaging effects of auto fumes stretch beyond the human realm and into the wild, with honeybees in particular getting so addled by the stuff they no longer can find life-sustaining flowers.

That's according to researchers at the U.K.'s University of Southampton who are investigating how diesel exhaust interacts with floral aromas. Bees rely on these zesty odors to locate blossoms, which they mine for nectar and pollen to use as a food source back at the hive. In an ideal environment of green fields and pristine air, bees have little problem tracing the scents to their blooming wellsprings. But in a smoggy urban zone or along highways, car exhaust violently zaps the aromas, changing their chemical composition or even eliminating them completely.

Southampton ecologist Tracey Newman and neuroscientist Guy Poppy (really) arrived at this conclusion after running tests with a yellow-flowered member of the cabbage family, rapeseed. They mixed chemicals found in the scent of the flower with those in diesel exhaust and witnessed a startling transformation: The majority of the floral components either shrunk in volume or disappeared in the span of a minute. They then blew this dirty air into the vicinity of some honeybees, and watched as the insects showed no sign of recognition that it had originally contained flower aromas.

The researchers speculate that the exhaust's nitrogen compounds, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, are primarily responsible for the annihilation of the flower smells. While they don't go far into exploring possible connections between burning fossil fuels and the plague of colony collapses wiping out honeybee populations in North America and Europe, they do note that having confused, starving bees does not bode well for humanity.
Here's Newman explaining why that is:
NOx gases represent some of the most reactive gases produced from diesel combustion and other fossil fuels, but the emissions limits for nitrogen dioxide are regularly exceeded, especially in urban areas.... This could have serious detrimental effects on the number of honeybee colonies and pollination activity.
Poppy adds more:
Honeybee pollination can significantly increase the yield of crops and they are vital to the world's economy – £430 million a year to the U.K. alone. However to forage effectively they need to be able to learn and recognize the plants. The results indicate that NOx gases – particularly nitrogen dioxide – may be capable of disrupting the odour recognition process that honeybees rely on for locating floral food resources. Honeybees use the whole range of chemicals found in a floral blend to discriminate between different blends, and the results suggest that some chemicals in a blend may be more important than others.
Bees are thought to aid in agricultural pollination to the tune of billions of dollars each year – $217 billion worldwide, according to an estimate for 2005. If they're all whacked-out on diesel vapors, it obviously won't be good for farmers or, farther down the road, even "global-food security," warn the researchers.

SCAG's 2011 "Compass Blueprint Visionary Planning Award for Prosperity" Went to Now Bankrupt San Bernardino


October 3, 2013

 The POA was not impressed

If you are a regular reader of The Tattler then you are certainly familiar with the Southern California Associations of Governments, or SCAG. These are the same guys who have often dragooned us into accepting Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers that require us to plan for the building of all varieties of stacked infill development in town, even though nobody living here actually wants it. They then turn down our appeals of their nonsense, along with the appeals of a lot of other cities. SCAG does not enjoy hearing from any community that does not intend to bow to their development commands. It is not what they're here to do.

SCAG's authority on mandates such as those unwanted RHNA numbers is backed up by a central planning regime in Sacramento, which in turn takes its orders from a state legislature totally in thrall to the development and Realty lobbies that never fail to fill their campaign coffers. It is corruption at its most profound, and yet one more indication of how our state government is not exactly helping economic and community life in California.

It must be recalled that SCAG does have a track record for making disastrous, and at time hilarious, projection errors. You may remember that back around 2006 one of the more repeated arguments in favor of high density overdevelopment in our downtown area (the now widely disrespected "Downtown Specific Plan") was SCAG's "visioning" prediction that millions of new residents were on their way to California, and that unless we built to accommodate the needs of all of these new arrivals there would be massive housing shortages. Current demographic data shows just how wrong SCAG was. The great California exodus of this decade has led to a population stagnation here, leaving a significant amount of the high-density development built on SCAG's recommendation in the previous decade unsold, and a glut on the market even today.

So it is hardly surprising that SCAG should have awarded an economic basket case such as San Bernardino a "planning award for prosperity." Here is how this astonishing news was announced on blackvoicesnews.com May 11 of 2011 (click here).

City Wins SCAG's Visionary Planning Award For Prosperity: The City of San Bernardino won the 2011 Compass Blueprint Visionary Planning Award for Prosperity, Mayor Patrick Morris announced on Tuesday.

The award was presented by the Southern California Association of Governments at its annual general assembly awards dinner May 6 at La Quinta Resort & Club in La Quinta. The Compass Blueprint Award is considered to be one of the highest achievements in government in Southern California, going to the region's most outstanding projects in planning, development and quality of life.

"This award acknowledges the hard work being done in our community to create better opportunities for our future," said Mayor Morris. "This is not about just what the City of San Bernardino is doing, it's about what we are accomplishing together."

Indeed. In little more than one year later San Bernardino declared bankruptcy, and the press SCAG's award winning city for prosperity started receiving was not complimentary. Here is some lambasting from a 247wallstreet.com article (click here) posted on Yahoo entitled "Sickest housing markets in America." Guess which market is ranked number 1?

1) Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario Calif.
Average annual list price decline: -1.8%
Rental vacancy: 9.4%
Homeowner vacancy: 4.4%

Riverside is the third California metropolitan area suffering from a sick housing market. In this region, homeowners paying a mortgage have $41.5 billion in negative equity, the fifth-highest amount in the nation. Many of these homes are under water because median home prices plunged by 55.6% from their peak in 2006. The metro had an annual unemployment rate of 14.3% in 2010, the highest among the largest cities in the country (it was 11.8% in may 2012), and 12.3% of homeowners with a mortgage are 90 or more days delinquent on their payments - the ninth-highest rate. According to Southern California's City News Service, the assessed value of all taxable property in the county is estimated to be $204.8 billion for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, a $300 million decline from the $205.1 billion assessment in the previous fiscal year. While the decrease is lower than previous years, it means things have yet to improve.

Obviously SCAG's "2011 Compass Blueprint Visionary Planning Award Winner For Prosperity" is in quite an economic mess. But maybe this happened all of a sudden and SCAG was blindsided by a rush of events that brought San Bernardino to such a sorry pass? According to a July of 2012 investigation by the Pasadena Star News (click here), they should have known better.

San Bernardino struggled for decades before bankruptcy decision: San Bernardino's fall was not fast. The city has struggled for more than 30 years with a declining job base, dwindling business community and a steadily eroding housing stock.

"It's a three-decade long experience," said Mayor Pat Morris, noting, however, that the real blow to the city has come in just the past few years. "Our current dilemma is not so much what happened way back then," he said. "It's what happened since 2007 and 2008."

On Tuesday, the City Council, fearing the city would not be able to make payroll in August, authorized City Attorney James F. Penman to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. City leaders cited immediate cash flow problems stemming from steep declines in tax revenue, skyrocketing pension costs and the state take-away of redevelopment funds.

Penman, addressing the Council on Tuesday, said city budgets in 13 of the last 16 years appear to have been falsified, and in a news conference on Wednesday, he said evidence of suspected wrongdoing has been turned over to the appropriate authorities.

And just in case you are wondering where SCAG's award winning city for prosperity ended up, it was Federal Bankruptcy Court. In August of this year the New York Times published the following (click here):

San Bernardino Wins Eligibility for Bankruptcy - A federal bankruptcy court judge granted the city of San Bernardino eligibility for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, raising the possibility that the city will propose a plan to dig itself out of debt by cutting money promised to the public pension system.

San Bernardino, a working-class city of 240,000 about 60 miles east of Los Angeles, declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy last summer, saying it had effectively run out of money to pay for day-to-day operations, in large part because of pension obligations.

Lawyers for Calpers had argued that the city should not treat pension funds like other creditors. For the past year, Calpers has also argued that the city has not provided enough documentation for the court to rule in the bankruptcy case and that the city had ignored warnings about a financial crisis for years and filed for bankruptcy as a matter of convenience.

But in her ruling on Wednesday, Judge Jury said that it had been clear for months that San Bernardino was insolvent and that only its most recent financial predicaments were relevant.

“Because they didn’t do something then, doesn’t mean they can’t now,” Judge Jury said in the Riverside, Calif., courtroom. “The city desires and needs to formulate a plan; it is their only hope.”

All of the 10,000 creditors are better served by allowing the bankruptcy to go forward, Judge Jury added.

Judge Jury indeed.

So anyway, there you go. Pray that SCAG never hands Sierra Madre a Compass Blueprint Visionary Award for Prosperity, or anything else for that matter. Financial disaster and ruin is likely to follow.

Big Cities Are High-Speed Rail’s Biggest Winners, Smaller Cities Maybe Not So Much


By Stephen J. Smith, October 2, 2013

 Can high-speed rail revive a moribund downtown Fresno?

Public opinion may have turned against California’s high-speed rail plans — a recent survey found that a bare majority of Californians now oppose the project, which has been buffeted by delays and cost increases — but a number of cities throughout the state still support it. For places like Fresno, San Jose and Palmdale, high-speed rail is still seen as an economic lifeline.

Construction of the line would bring immediate job gains to, for example, Fresno, where the first segment is planned to break ground soon, assuming a judge’s recent ruling doesn’t throw it off. But will it bring lasting economic growth?

Last month a group of California researchers released a meta-study in the journal Transport Reviews, reviewing the literature on the effects of high-speed rail. The answer is… definitely maybe. Two things, though, are clear: The benefits will likely not be as large as predicted, and big, tier-one cities will benefit the most.

“Predictive studies are largely optimistic of the rail’s positive effects,” the authors write. “On the other hand, observational studies” — those done after high-speed lines have opened — “tend to identify both benefits and shortfalls.” The largest benefits, various studies found, accrue to big cities. In California, this means San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“The centralizing effect of HSR is now a well established impact,” wrote one set of researchers reviewing studies of lines built in Europe.

The main study’s authors concluded:
While there is some evidence to the contrary, and while non-central cities with HSR appear to have fared better economically than those without it, the scholarship that exists to date suggests that most growth and economic benefits from HSR accrue to the first-tier cities of the network, where firms are better positioned to expand their reach in secondary markets and smaller cities. For this reason, scholars have argued that HSR facilitates the territorial polarization between first- and second-tier cities.
Others looking at the effects of Japan’s Shinkansen found that the country’s two most important cities, Tokyo and Osaka, gained in economic primacy, at the expense of other cities with stations along the high-speed corridor. Japanese cities without high-speed rail connections were the biggest losers, another set of researchers found.

A third set of researchers, though, found that the Shinkansen’s effects were muted, finding “only a negligible impact on development in Japanese cities that had been well served by rail prior to Shinkansen.” (This isn’t quite relevant to California, where there are no strong existing rail links. It may mean that any potential high-speed rail project on the Northeast Corridor, where rail already serves cities like New York and Washington, may have minimal impacts.)

The success of high-speed rail in inducing development and job growth in second-tier cities is mixed, but the studies point to a number of things that cities can do to maximize growth potential. One survey of high-speed rail experts found that, “the most important preconditions for station-area development include central station location, good integration of the station with its surroundings, station connectivity, good level of service, and strong political will and vision.”

Fresno fulfills some of these criteria. The station will be downtown — much to the chagrin of some project critics, who argue that serving the downtowns of small cities adds costs out of proportion with their benefits — and there appears to be strong political will and vision in promoting development around the station.

Fresno does not, however, have good “station connectivity,“ or even much mass transit at all. It’s not clear how many trains a day will stop at the station, as opposed to speeding past on more profitable express runs. (This also raises another question, which past experience cannot answer: To what extent with the booming sound of passing trains, zipping through town at unprecedented speeds for a developed urban area, discourage people from locating near the station?)

One study “emphasize[d] the importance of coordinating land use around stations through densification.” This could bode well for a city like San Jose, which despite its largely suburban population does have an established downtown core to densify, but may pose problems for cities like Fresno in the Central Valley, which has no post-war history of densification, and may be irredeemably auto-oriented.

The full meta-study is available for free, ungated, at the publisher’s website.

How L.A.'s New Valet Parking Law Punishes Low-Skill Workers


By Mike Riggs, October 3, 2013

 How L.A.'s New Valet Parking Law Punishes Low-Skill Workers

This week L.A. Weekly's Dennis Romero declared that the Los Angeles City Council had "criminalized valet parking" when it passed a new law Tuesday night requiring valet parkers to apply for a $70 permit in order to work. The law makes parking cars without the permit a misdemeanor. Romero also bemoaned a provision requiring private lot owners to verify that they are allowing valet companies to use their parking spaces, and a few other strips of red tape created by the law.

For instance, here's the list of what L.A. valet companies have to furnish when they apply for a permit:
  • the seating capacity or other occupancy capacity of the businesses to be served
  • a signed statement from the owners or managers of the businesses to be served requesting the services of the applicant.
  • the routes to be used between the passenger loading/unloading zone or other vehicle pickup point and the parking or storage location;
  • a copy of a valid Automobile Parking Lot permit issued under Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 103.202 to any parking facility designated as the parking or storage location, if applicable;
  • the location of any proposed Valet Parking signs and any proposed attendant stands;
There's also a usage fee for valet companies that plan on using the public right-of-way to take possession of cars and return them to customers. You can read the whole law here
Pedantic, yes. But is it unusual? Not really. A valet company seeking a permit from the city of Miami must submit the following
  • Site plan (at an appropriate scale) showing the proposed Tandem parking arrangement, if any, the lay-out and dimensions of the existing public right-of-way and adjacent private property, proposed location, size of proposed mobile stands, tables, chairs, umbrellas, keybox, location of doorways, location of trees, parking meters, bus shelters, sidewalk benches, trash receptacles, driveways, and any other sidewalk obstruction either existing or proposed within the pedestrian areas. 
  • Photographs, drawings, or manufacturers' brochures fully describing the appearance of all proposed mobile stands, tables, chairs, umbrellas, keybox or other objects related to the valet parking service;
  • Copy of the agreement/contract for the provision of the off-street parking spaces that includes identification of the location of vehicle storage spaces 
Miami's valet parking law also requires that all "mobile stands, tables, chairs, umbrellas, keyboxes etc....be of quality design, materials, and workmanship," that the "design, materials, and colors" of said items "be sympathetic and harmonious with an urban environment," and that said items be "maintained with a clean and attractive appearance." There's even an anti-competition element to the Miami's rule: No two valet businesses can operate on the same side of a city block. 
While there are varying degrees of pedantry in the two cities' ordinances, valet companies in both L.A. and Miami are required to have similar insurance coverage, to not block traffic, to maintain hotlines for people who don't pick up their cars during operating hours, standard uniforms for valets, and signed agreements with their clients (restaurants, etc.) and parking businesses. These provisions are required in many other cities as well. 
What sets L.A.'s law apart is, as Romero noted, the unique $70 fee required of people who are going to be parking the cars (what's next, permits for coat-check staff?), and also the ban on felons: 
The Permittee shall not allow any employee who has been convicted within the previous seven (7) years of a felony or any offense involving violence, dishonesty, automobile theft, automobile vandalism, reckless driving or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol to drive a patron's vehicle or handle a patron's vehicle keys.
The word "or" implies that any felony is enough to bar someone from parking cars, which is not exactly a high-skilled job. And that's troubling. Keeping certain types of convicted felons from certain markets is sensible: you don't want someone who violated banking law handling your finances, and you want a bad doctor handling your body. But barring anyone with a felony conviction less than seven years old from driving a car two blocks and then bringing it back? That's ridiculous. And it also creates a troubling precedent. If recently convicted felons can't work in low-wage, low-skilled jobs, where can they work?