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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Subway Car With Fewer Doors, but More Ways Out


By Matt Flegenheimer, October 20, 2013

 Articulated subway trains have been part of the mass transit system in Toronto for two years.

For decades, the New York City subway car has been a predictable space. Some have seats; some have benches. Graspable pole options vary only slightly. Mariachi bands play, and self-appointed preachers preach.

 And if there is no seat, no room, no end to a performance, there is often no escape for a rider — at least until the next stop. 

That may yet change. Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials are envisioning a subway car of the future that offers New Yorkers an out, ending the era of the captive car population. 

This month, in a 142-page document outlining needs for the next 20 years, the authority noted the benefits of articulated trains — similar to accordion-style buses — that have no doors between cars, allowing unrestricted flow throughout the length of the subway. 

“This will both maximize carrying capacity,” the authority said, and allow passengers to “move to less-crowded areas of the train, balancing loading and unloading times at all doors.” 

The inclusion of articulated train cars in the report, a mild surprise to some transit advocates, does not guarantee that the cars will reach the rails anytime soon, or even at all; it was not clear how the cost of the articulated cars compares with that of nonarticulated cars. But for the first time in the subway system’s modern history, the authority appears poised to seriously consider a model adopted in cities like Berlin, Paris and Toronto. 

Adam Lisberg, the authority’s chief spokesman, said that increased capacity could improve “dwell time” — the period during which a train is stopped in a station, often because of overcrowding — and allow more trains to run. He cautioned, though, that with a 109-year-old system, any major change required extensive review. 

“If you make a bad call on changing equipment in a new subway car order,” he said, “the consequences can be pretty serious.” 

In fact, New York City has a history with articulated trains. In 1924, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation introduced plans for the “Triplex,” with a hinged, multisectioned body. It operated on the B, D, N, Q and R lines over a period of 40 years, representing “the height of transit modernity” at a moment when elevated lines often still featured wooden cars, according to the New York Transit Museum. 

Today, many of the city’s subway cars are well past their prime, most strikingly those on the C line, known by their model number, R32, and for the tin-can siding that will continue rolling beneath Eighth Avenue for at least a few more years. 

Though newer models now on the tracks are expected to last 30 to 40 more years, transit planners have urged the authority to consider articulated trains for any future fleet upgrades. 

“We’re one of the largest systems in the world that doesn’t do it,” said Richard Barone, the director of transportation programs at the Regional Plan Association. “Our trains don’t function right now to allow people to circulate.” 

Elsewhere, the trains have proved largely successful. Brad Ross, a spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission, which began using an “open gangway” model two years ago, said capacity had increased by 8 percent to 10 percent. 

In the model’s early months, Mr. Ross said, passengers would often let trains with traditional cars pass them by, preferring the features — or at least the novelty — of the new ones. 

But there have been pitfalls. Mr. Ross said that young children have been disappointed that the conductor cab occupies the entire width of a car, precluding the pastime of peering into the tunnel from a front window. “An amusement ride no more,” he said. 

Then there is the scourge of the sick passenger, most ominously on weekends or holidays like New Year’s Eve, Mr. Ross said, when evidence of overindulgence can occasionally find its way onto a car’s floor. 

“In the past, we’d be able to isolate that particular car and clean it,” he said. “Now that you’ve got an open gangway, you can’t necessarily.” 

Andrew Albert, a member of the transportation authority’s board, recalled that separated cars had served another purpose for the city in a different age.

“Remember the time when we were in the high-crime era and gangs were roaming through the trains?” he said. “Everybody loved the locked end doors.” 

But passengers now seem receptive to the idea of articulated trains. In areas where a rider’s choice of car is significant — like a southbound No. 1 train, which allows only those in the first five cars to exit at South Ferry — a new model would provide far more flexibility, pre-empting the typical platform sprint to the front of the train. 

Denise Reyes, 28, from the Bronx, said the doors had been used most memorably in movies, in which characters have been known to shove through them during climactic chase scenes. As a consequence, she said, any open subway door can be startling. 

“The city is stressful,” Ms. Reyes said, boarding a No. 1 train at 23rd Street. “You don’t need more stress.” 

Elizabeth Kubany, 44, who works in the Flatiron district, expressed a fondness for the current configuration, suggesting that the separated cars were more “intimate,” binding passenger to passenger in an increasingly antisocial age. Then she reconsidered. 

“You don’t really want to be intimate with people on the train,” she said.

More Americans die from car pollution than car accidents


By Christopher Mims, October 15, 2013


 You might be able to avoid a pile-up, but you can't escape the smog.

Some day our descendants will marvel that we ever lived in cities filled with emissions direct from the tailpipes of cars. A new study from MIT suggests that in the US, 53,000 people a year die prematurely because of automobile pollution, compared to 34,000 people a year who die in traffic accidents.

These results more than double the number of people who die in the US every year as a result of automobiles, to nearly 100,000.
One in five Americans is in danger from air pollution, and it appears that the hazard is primarily their proximity to roadways. The most threatening kind of air pollution is fine particles, and automobiles represent only 7% of this kind of air pollution in the US. Power plants produce much more. But because cities are so saturated with tailpipe emissions, cars have a disproportionate impact on people’s health.
Air pollution has been implicated in low birth weight (and subsequent health problems and premature death), 430,000 premature deaths per year in Europe, and 4,655 premature deaths in São Paulo in 2011. Emissions from cars are a major cause of Beijing’s infamous smog.

Heart Disease, Traffic Jams and ADHD Share One Simple Solution: Drive Less


By Elly Blue, October 18, 2013

This is an excerpt from “Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy,” by Elly Blue (Microcosm Publishing, December 1, 2013, bikenomics.com). See our interview with Elly from spring 2013. 

Car exhaust is no laughing matter. Nearly half of residents in major urban areas in North America live close enough to highways and other large roads to experience serious problems as a result. Exposure to car emissions worsens and may cause asthma and other lung conditions, including lung cancer. There is evidence to suggest that it leads to hardening of the arteries and thence to heart disease. One study has found an increased risk of heart attacks while in traffic, either while driving or using public transportation. Breathing car exhaust may increase the risk of developing diabetes; it is certain, however, that people who have diabetes suffer disproportionately from the effects of air pollution.

Traffic flows and air quality improved with the odd-even license plate restriction in Beijing during the Olympics.

The worst effects of breathing polluted air are experienced where it is densest: in traffic. Spending time on and near highways, freeways, and other busy roads is terrible for your health. How near is a question that is still being studied, but researchers believe that the effects are worst within either a fifth or a third of a mile. People in cars or buses are exposed to considerably more air pollution, perhaps because of, rather than despite, being in a closed space. People walking and bicycling on or next to roads breathe more air, but inhale somewhat less pollution; and cyclists have been found to have even less risk if they are on paths that are separated from the road.

The burdens that come with air pollution are, as with so much else, not evenly distributed. Poverty and ethnicity are both major factors that determine the amount of car exhaust we breathe. Housing near a source of pollution, such as a freeway, busy road, or industrial site is generally where people with low incomes are able to live.
Children are particularly at risk, be
ginning before birth. Air pollution affects prenatal development, and a recent study suggests that exposure to air pollution such as diesel particulates, mercury, and lead may put a child at risk for autism. A separate study found double the rate of autism among children who live within 1,000 feet of a freeway in several major cities. Air pollution has also been linked, tentatively, to hyperactivity in kids and childhood cancers. And kids who have high daily exposure to car exhaust score lower on intelligence tests and have more depression, anxiety, and attention problems. This isn’t just a matter of where children live – one in three public schools in the U.S. are within a quarter mile of a highway, well within the danger zone.

Traffic jams and air pollution are often talked about at once, as though one inevitably causes the other, and that by fixing one you can also solve the other.

It doesn’t quite work that way.

When a road has heavy traffic, more pollution hovers around it. We tackle this problem in every way possible from the supply side, with regulations on tailpipe technology, subsidies for hybrid and electric cars. And we try to solve pollution in the same way we deal with congestion — by building bigger roads. The current federal transportation bill explicitly offers clean air funds to pay for road widening projects that can show reduced congestion — no matter how faulty the long-term assumptions.

But even the short-term congestion relief — a few minutes each day — doesn’t fix pollution. When people can drive faster, they drive farther. Induced demand means that if a road does its job as a development tool, the long term impact of pollution — both on that road and on surface streets that it feeds into – goes up astronomically. These short-term reprieves amount to expensive long-term investments in much greater air quality problems, as the freeway projects of the past have demonstrated.

Also, slow traffic doesn’t necessarily mean more pollution. Hyper-milers — people who compete to eke the best gas mileage possible out of their cars — know this well. You burn the least fuel, and thus pollute the least, when you drive at a slow speed, providing a steady flow of gas to the engine or, even better, coasting. The biggest cause of pollution is the traffic dance of constantly speeding up, slowing down, braking, and idling. In urban areas particularly, the faster the speed limit or the feel of the street, the more starting and stopping drivers do. When traffic speeds slow down overall, the flow becomes smoother, and the result is less pollution. Lower speed limits have also been found to reduce emissions at highway speeds.

The best scenario of all when it comes to air pollution has nothing to do with tailpipe filters or hybrid, electric, or zero emissions car technology. The way to reduce pollution is to reduce driving, plain and simple.

The best proof of this comes during the Olympics. Athletes, like the rest of us, can’t do their work well while breathing bad air, but unlike the rest of us their needs are seen as an urgent reason to reduce emissions. During the 1996 games in Atlanta, car travel restrictions resulted in 23 percent less morning traffic. During that time period, ozone concentrations decreased by 28 percent, and emergency care visits for asthma went down by 41 percent.  A study of Beijing residents before, during, and after their 2008 Olympics found that their heart health improved significantly during the traffic and industrial restrictions that were part of the $17 billion campaign to clean up the city’s air — but risk factors went right back up after the restrictions ended.

The solution to both traffic congestion frustrations and the urgent public health crisis of air pollution is painfully obvious: We have to stop driving. Far from being an impossibility or a dreadful hardship, dramatically reducing the amount we drive is one of the easiest and most cost-effective measures we can take.

San Diego (405) Freeway work delayed by faulty retaining walls


By Dakota Smith, October 19, 2013

Construction along the 405 freeway between the 101 freeway and the 10 freeway Thursday, October 17, 2013 .   (Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News)

Back in December 2011, commuters on the 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass drove by an unusual sight. A retaining wall built for the new car-pool lane was collapsing, the gray concrete panels visibly buckling and falling.

Alarmed by the discovery, construction crews tore down the wall. At least 14 other walls also came down and were rebuilt. State officials moved quickly, banning the construction of similar retaining walls throughout California.

Today, the 405 Freeway project is more than 15 months behind schedule, a timeline that has Angelenos bemoaning the traffic congestion caused by construction of the 10-mile car-pool lane.
A federal review quietly released in August of the massive $1 billion project identified the collapsed wall as the “single biggest factor in extending the completion date to September 2014.” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx also noted that a second major factor was an unexpected need for relocations of utility lines.

For critics, the Federal Highway Administration review has renewed concerns about delays surrounding the car-pool lane, and costs associated with the pushback. Already, the project is more than $100 million over budget. The issue of the collapsed wall has also launched a flurry of finger-pointing and lawsuits among groups overseeing the project.

“It has been frustrating,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, whose Westside district includes the project. “I wish they could have foreseen these issues.”

Pushed by unhappy homeowners, Waxman requested the federal review of the 405 project this spring.
The 405 Freeway car-pool lane project cuts through a densely populated area of universities, neighborhoods, and federal buildings. It also connects two interchanges that for years have been considered two of the nation’s most congested — the 405-101 and the 405-10.

Fed-up with the construction, residents say they schedule doctors appointments and school pickups at off-hours to avoid traffic. On a busy day, Encino resident Laurie Kelson said it can take her husband an hour to make his seven-mile commute home from Santa Monica.

“I am disgusted by the process, by the human hours that have been wasted,” Kelson said. “From trying to go home, to work, or anyplace.”

“There’s no relief,” she added.

Officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority point to many reasons for the delay. The discovery of utility lines snaking through the area led to time-consuming removal work. A redesign of the Mulholland Drive bridge, sought by locals, also caused a delay, as did a landowners’ lawsuit over property near the Getty Center.

Metro Executive Director Krishniah Murthy said the hurdles facing the project are immense. “We are literally carving right through mountains, and moving a 60-year-old street,” said Murthy, referring to Sepulveda Boulevard. “It is a huge effort.”

The 2011 collapse of the retaining walls near Mountaingate Drive, Murthy said, had a ripple effect on the entire project. That conclusion was also apparently reached by the Federal Highway Administration, which did the review in conjunction with Caltrans, Metro and other agencies.

The mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) walls support ramps and stabilize the hillside. The structures are part of the more than 18 miles of walls built for the car-pool lane.

In his letter sent in August to Waxman, Foxx wrote: “The December 1, 2011 failure of the mechanically stabilized earth walls, not sound walls, built for the project was the single biggest factor in extending the completion date to September 2014.”

Foxx also indicated the utility line relocation also greatly impacted the project. He sought to assure Waxman that funding for the project, which received $189 million in federal money, isn’t being mishandled.

“All delays are unfortunate,” Foxx wrote, “but I want to emphasize that the Federal dollars invested in this highly complex project are being properly expanded.”

Reached last week, officials at the FHWA said no additional report was generated beyond Foxx’s letter.

Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit is responsible for both the design and construction of the project. Kiewit declined a request for an interview, and referred questions to Metro.

Caltrans launched its own investigation on the December wall failure. The agency report cites the failure of metal straps in the interior of the wall, which ultimately caused the outside panels to buckle.
The Caltrans report states problems first surfaced a month earlier, when workers noticed that panels on the Mountaingate entrance wall began to “bulge outward.”

Caltrans immediately halted any use of a similar wall system in other new highway projects and notified other transportation agencies that might be using it. After the design was retooled by subcontractor SSL LLC, the Scotts Valley, Calif.-based company that supplied the walls, Caltrans allowed its design to be used again.

Kiewit, SSL, as well as the project’s designer, global firm HNTB, are in all court, suing one another. In court documents, Kiewit alleges the wall system was “deficient and defective.” SSL has stated the “drain design and installation were inadequate” at the site where the wall collapsed, according to the Caltrans report.

Officials at Metro, named in one of the lawsuits over the walls, said the transit agency doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation.

Metro’s Murthy said Metro and Caltrans had inspectors out regularly, but they were not able to spot the issue with the walls because the concrete panels covered the metal bars.

Like many any other area residents, Kelson remembers when the wall collapsed. “Everyone was like, hey, what’s that?” she said. “It was huge, a whole big chunk fell out.”

Today, the car-pool lane is roughly 10 percent over budget. That price tag could significantly rise, depending on claims made about the delays.

Kiewit is paying for the cost of replacing the walls, Murthy said. But there are also costs associated with delays caused by the collapsed structures, and it’s unclear whether those will be borne by the contractor or Metro.

A Metro report on the final costs of the project is expected in the next two months, Murthy said.
Amid the criticism, Metro officials point to the project’s achievements. Construction is 85 percent completed. Already, a 3-mile segment of the new lane has opened. A recent traffic report stated drivers are already seeing their commute times lowered due to the partial lane opening.

Still, officials said the final price tag on the epic project remains uncertain.

“Someone is responsible to pay for the delay costs ... which item of work has caused the delay in completing the project?” Murthy asked. “If we can identify this contractor caused his own delays because of the defective work, then our position is that you are not entitled to any delay costs.”

Kelson questions whether local taxpayers or the federal government will be liable for costs related to the delays. And the federal review pointing to the retaining walls and utility lines doesn’t calm her frustration.

“It feels like the window dressing,” Kelson said. “What difference does it make? We want the project completed and we want to know who is going to pay.”

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By Laila Kearney, October 18, 2013

Chris Perez, a station agent with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), carries a sign while striking outside West Oakland station during morning commute hours in Oakland, California October 18, 2013. REUTERS-Stephen Lam

(Reuters) - Commuter rail workers in the San Francisco Bay Area walked off their jobs on Friday after talks on a new contract broke down over workplace rules, throwing the morning commute into chaos in the traffic-clogged Northern California region.

The walkout by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) workers shut down a rail system that carries about 400,000 passengers a day, transporting commuters back and forth between Oakland, San Francisco and outlying suburbs.

"I am mad as hell. It's a big hassle thanks to BART," said Jurgen Ware, who lives in the Bay Area suburb of Dublin and had to carpool to his job in San Francisco. He also blamed rail workers, saying they "have a stranglehold on the city."

The walkout was the second this year. BART workers went on strike for four and a half days in July, forcing some people to miss work and others to endure commutes of three hours or more.

For months BART management and employee unions have been at loggerheads over pay and benefits for more than 2,000 train drivers and other union workers who are demanding large pay raises, in part to offset being asked to contribute to their pensions and pay more for healthcare.

Under the terms of the last contract offer made public, BART said it offered a 12 percent pay raise over four years to workers, who management says earn on average $79,000 a year plus benefits. The unions put the average worker's salary at $64,000.

Union leaders have justified their demands for higher pay in part by pointing out that San Francisco and nearby Oakland are among the 10 most expensive U.S. cities in which to live.

After negotiating late every day this week, the union said the sides had finally reached an overall understanding on pay and benefits, but were at odds over workplace rules that the unions said BART had proposed at the last minute.

The proposed rules included allowing same-day schedule changes, eliminating marginal pay increases for certain senior custodial staff and scrapping past practices that included guidelines for how an injured worker would be integrated back onto the job, Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Cecille Isidro told Reuters.

Unions announced the strike and a federal mediator, who had been involved in the negotiations, said he was ending efforts at conciliation because there was no more he could do.


BART commuter train service helps alleviate car traffic in San Francisco, which ranks as the third most congested metropolitan area in the United States after Los Angeles and Honolulu, according to the roadway traffic software company INRIX Inc.

Authorities promised free charter buses and expanded ferry services, but said those services were capable of transporting a limited number of people, making it likely many would have to drive into the city.

"We are doing the best we can to serve those commuters who have absolutely no other way to get into San Francisco," said BART spokeswoman Luna Salaver. "We regret that this work stoppage affects not only our customers but the rest of the region as well."

"This is a big inconvenience," said Warren Mamuntag, 48, an Oakland resident, as he lined up for a bus instead of the train he normally takes to work.

BART released a statement urging the union to put management's proposals to a vote or continue negotiating.

"It is unfortunate our union leaders have chosen to further disrupt the lives of Bay Area commuters while hurting the economy with a shortsighted strike when there are other options on the table," said BART spokesman Rick Rice.

Peter Castelli, executive director of SEIU Local 1021, said the strike would end if BART management agrees to arbitration on the work rules still in dispute.

"All of a sudden these issues that weren't discussed at the table were deal breakers," Castelli said. "We want to sign a contract, workers want to go to work, we want everyone to be able to get on with their lives."

BART train mechanic David Kwan, 59, marched alongside other workers outside of the Lake Merritt station in downtown Oakland, carrying a sign that read, "Unfair labor practice, on strike."

Kwan said he was prepared to picket every day for the duration of the strike, but many of his coworkers have families to support. "They have young children, so it will affect them more than me," he said.

Whatever happened to the Hydrogen Highway?


By Mark Glover, October 20, 2013

 An information dash shows fuel cell information in a hydrogen fuel cell car from carmaker Nissan in front of the California Fuel Cell Partnership building in West Sacramento, Calif, on Monday, October 14, 2013.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/10/20/5833131/whatever-happened-to-the-hydrogen.html#storylink=cpy

Remember the Hydrogen Highway?

It was front-page news less than a decade ago, and the California Fuel Cell Partnership in West Sacramento was ground zero for what was touted as a forward-looking effort to green the Golden State.

Approved in 2004 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who promoted it with action film hero gusto, the Hydrogen Highway envisioned construction of an extensive network of hydrogen filling stations to serve drivers of zero-emission fuel-cell vehicles – bettering California’s air quality, enhancing the Golden State’s reputation as a leader in national environmental policy and lessening U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Hydrogen has long been viewed by advocates and environmentalists as an attractive option, because it can easily be pumped into a vehicle tank, with the bonus of no emissions of either greenhouse gases or smog-forming pollutants. In a fuel-cell vehicle, hydrogen combines with oxygen, yielding a current that drives an electric motor. The tailpipe spews nothing but water vapor and heat.
Supporters add that hydrogen can be produced in abundance by American companies.

Environmentalists simply say that it’s not oil, with all its pollution and price-volatility baggage.
Critics noted then and now that much hydrogen is processed from natural gas and that alternative methods are costly. That did not deter Schwarzenegger, who was a welcome visitor at the fuel cell partnership headquarters. President George W. Bush also dropped by for a visit in 2006, talking up hydrogen technology.

Today, the high-flying promise of those days remains unfulfilled.

There are just nine hydrogen fueling stations open to the public statewide, and only about 225 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in operation.

Over the past 10 years, automakers have invested millions of dollars and tens of thousands of engineering hours developing hybrids, full electric vehicles and plug-ins. As battery-powered electric vehicles took center stage, construction of electric charging stations increased. Hydrogen stations fell off the public radar, as did the Hydrogen Highway.

But backers of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles say “not so fast.” They contend that development of the critical filling station infrastructure and fuel cell vehicles was always a long-term proposition and that the Hydrogen Highway will soon wend its way back into public consciousness.

Recent events show that California still sees a future for hydrogen.

Gov. Jerry Brown just signed Assembly Bill 8 into law. It extends, until Jan. 1, 2024, existing fees on motor vehicles, boat registrations and new tires. The fees fund programs to accelerate the turnover of older vehicles and development of advanced, environmentally friendly technologies.

Officials at the fuel cell partnership said the measure provides funding for at least 100 hydrogen stations with a commitment of up to $20 million a year from the California Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. Last year, the partnership released “A California Road Map” recommending 68 stations in strategic locations to launch the commercial market and at least 100 stations to sustain it.

“We’ve always operated with the understanding that the (fueling) infrastructure has to be in place first, and now we’re getting closer to that,” said Catherine Dunwoody, executive director of the fuel cell partnership, a public-private collaboration of auto manufacturers, experts, energy providers, fuel cell technology firms and government agencies working to promote commercialization of fuel cell vehicles. “So with AB 8 ... and automakers getting ready to bring their technology to market, it’s an exciting time.”

Dunwoody said she never begrudged electric vehicles’ time in the spotlight, considering it “a natural progression of the technology ... What’s significant to understand now is that (consumers) are going to have a choice of technologies in the future.”

University of California, Davis, professor Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCD and regarded as one of the nation’s most influential experts on transportation technology and policy, characterized AB 8’s passage as a landmark occurrence.
“One of the biggest obstacles to introducing fuel cell electric vehicles was the lack of fueling certainty. No more. The passage of AB 8 sends a clear signal to automakers, consumers and others that California will launch a market for FCEVs,” Sperling said.

AB 8 was not warmly received in all corners, including the Sierra Club, a longtime advocate of environmentally friendly fuels. The Sierra Club joined a host of critics who decried the measure for shifting the cost of building new stations from oil companies to consumers. Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, characterized his AB 8 as a compromise that at least allows hydrogen fueling infrastructure to get a foothold.

Of course, hydrogen stations won’t be of much use unless someone is building the fuel cell cars that need them. And there’s movement on that front, too.

Toyota will unveil its upcoming fuel cell vehicle concept next month at the Tokyo Motor Show.
Toyota’s fuel cell vehicle reportedly is based on a Lexus sedan’s architecture with a range of more than 300 miles. Toyota hopes to commence sales of the model in the United States, Japan and Europe by 2015. That would dovetail with Dunwoody’s hope of seeing 60 hydrogen fueling stations developed over the next five years; she said Japan and Germany have even more ambitious goals for building hydrogen fueling stations.

Satoshi Ogiso, managing officer of Toyota Motor Corp., said the auto-producing giant wants to sell “tens of thousands” Toyota FCVs a year “by sometime in the 2020s.”

Critics are doubtful, saying the vehicle’s hydrogen fuel cell technology is complex and costly, which will likely make the cost of the Toyota FCV prohibitive.

James Sweeney, a Stanford University engineering professor with an extensive background in energy and economic policy issues, is not a fan of the Hydrogen Highway and believes it was a byproduct of state government “betting” that hydrogen would emerge as the “technological winner” among multiple options.

Sweeney said other electric vehicle technologies – plug-ins, for example – have proved reliable and affordable. He said hydrogen technology remains “a very expensive way of generating electricity ... Fuel cells are expensive.” Were it his money, Sweeney said, he “would not spend a nickel” on hydrogen development. He said he would be inclined to invest in more affordable “new technological ideas” or expand on proven electric vehicle technologies.

Others are not betting against Toyota, remembering that it introduced the then-exotic Prius gas-electric hybrid to the U.S. and other markets in 2000, with a sticker price of less than $20,000. The Prius set off a hybrid-production race among automakers worldwide, and global sales topped the 3 million threshold in June this year. California is the top market for U.S. Prius sales; it was the state’s top-selling new car in 2012 with 60,688 registrations, according to the Sacramento-based California New Car Dealers Association.

“The fact that it’s Toyota makes it a bit different,” said Jesse Toprak, senior analyst for Santa Monica-based TrueCar.com. “The Prius was not a profitable proposition at the beginning, but you had a lot of early adopters. I think there’s a lot of support for hydrogen, and I think you’ll have early adapters adopters (in California) for it.”

Also, Toyota is not a lone voice in the wilderness. Honda, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz are developing fuel cell vehicles for introduction in the short term.

Robert Bienenfeld, assistant vice president of environment and energy strategy for Honda Motor Co., cited continued advancements in fuel cell vehicle technology and said “California's planned investments in hydrogen refueling will be a key enabler to create this market.”

“Hydrogen-powered electric vehicles represent the next generation of electric vehicle technology,” said John Krafcik, president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America. “Their refueling speed and range will delight their owners, and we’ll all share the environmental benefits. We’re excited to be working with California to bring H2EV technology and infrastructure to market as quickly as possible.”

Krafcik’s remarks came amid this month’s announcement that the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development would work to streamline the permitting process for zero-emission vehicle fueling stations to expand California’s hydrogen and electric vehicle capacity. GO-Biz said it will work with local, state and federal government agencies; hydrogen station developers; electric vehicle regional planners; auto companies and others to facilitate and accelerate permitting/building of both the hydrogen fueling stations and EV charging facilities.

Kish Rajan, GO-Biz director, said “California is a world leader in zero emission technology, and our infrastructure needs to reflect that dynamism.”

The California Energy Commission approved $300,000 in funding for GO-Biz over the next two years, with an eye on meeting a goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/10/20/5833131/whatever-happened-to-the-hydrogen.html#storylink=cpy

Our Voice: Major steps being made toward rail

CVAG, county transportation commission pact a major step toward daily rail service


October 19, 2013

 Amtrak's Coast Starlight cruises along the California coast. Coachella Valley travelers can connect with the train at Union Station in Los Angeles.

Amtrak's Coast Starlight cruises along the California coast. Coachella Valley travelers can connect with the train at Union Station in Los Angeles.

 Local transportation leaders have been pushing for daily train service between the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles for two decades.

On Sept. 30, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments took a major step in that direction when it voted to dedicate a portion of transportation funds to the passenger rail project and approved an agreement with Riverside County Transportation Commission.

The commission unanimously approved the agreement last week, creating a fund to pay for an in-depth study required for the support of the Federal Rail Administration and the California Transportation Department. The fund will get $4.2 million from state transportation bonds and 10 percent of the funding that historically has gone to the SunLine Transit Agency. That share is now about $1.2 million. The plan is to reduce the bite out of the bus budget over the years.

The study will take at least a year, said Sheldon Peterson, the commission’s rail manager.

Caltrans on board

The Coachella Valley route is part of the draft of the California State Rail Plan for 2013. The Caltrans report says the corridor from Los Angeles to Indio is expected to increase by 5.8 million residents in the next 30 years. Riverside County will get the majority of that growth, 52.4 percent.
“In addition, the Coachella Valley has a significant number of popular destinations that attract a high number of visitors,” the report says.

In 2008, Amtrak organized the Coachella Express, which carried music fans from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley Festival of Music and Arts in Indio. It’s easy to imagine promotions like that for the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the BNP Paribas Open or just an escape-from-L.A. weekend in the desert.

Keeping up with growth

Indio City Councilman Glenn Miller, chairman of the SunLine board and a member of the transportation commission, observed that it’s unlikely that freeways can be expanded to accommodate the level of growth that’s anticipated.

“We can’t afford to continue to just add lanes,” he said. 

Business Summit: Linking jobs, homes and transit is key to LA's future


By Brian Watt, October 18, 2013

Metro Rail

 The Los Angeles Business Council has just released a new report proposing solutions to the region's transit, jobs and affordable housing challenges.

A home, a job, and an easy ride between the two.  Los Angeles County has struggled to provide those essentials - with housing costs rising so high in the areas where jobs are located that many workers have no choice but to live far away and suffer a long commute. 

The Los Angeles Business Council convened a summit at UCLA  and released a comprehensive report on Friday with the aim of addressing those challenges. The report suggests that the expanding transit corridors in the county may offer the best hope to develop new housing for workers. It even creates a "Livable Community Opportunity Index"  highlighting areas near transit stations with the best potential to develop housing  that middle-income earners could afford.

The index classifies transit station areas as "hot, warm, or cool" markets for developing livable communities.  The Pico station on the Metro Blue Line and the Long Beach Transit Mall top the index, but the report also points to the Van Nuys Orange Line Station and land near the Florence/La Brea station on the future Crenshaw Line as prime opportunities for development.

LA County Station Areas with Livable Community Opportunity Index Rating

The utopian concept of "co-location" - placing jobs near housing  - has been elusive in Los Angeles, says the study's author,  Dr. Paul Habibi, Professor of Real Estate at the UCLA Anderson School of Management and Ziman Center for Real Estate.  Land is so costly throughout LA, says Habibi, that he sees more hope in linking "housing centers" and "job centers" through mass transit, rather than trying to keep them close together.

"My solution is really looking at the supply side of the equation and trying to maximize the developable land area where developers can now place new workforce and affordable housing units in proximity to transit centers that people can utilize to get to work," Habibi says.

The mile or so radius around the transit center needs to be a pedestrian, bicycle, and car-sharing zone - "a mobility hub" - where as Habibi puts it, "a person can get out of bed, take their bike to the light rail line, they can change clothes, grab a snack or a drink and they can be on their way."

City planners define 'workforce housing' as housing affordable to families earning between 50 and 120 percent of the Area Median Income.  In Los Angeles County, that range is currently $41,00 a year to $99,000 a year for a family of four.   Habibi says in Los Angeles County, developers struggle to build housing for these families  in convenient areas because the land is costly and there are very few incentive programs.   The report recommends taking 20 percent of the money that came out of the dissolved Community Redevelopment Agencies and establishing affordable housing trust funds that can be used for workforce housing.

"The issue here is economic competitiveness for our county," Habibi says. "Ultimately we're seeing a lot of corporations and businesses relocate out of our city, county, and state for places that are more employer friendly, places where they can afford to pay their workers less to live."

The summit included panels with business and civic leaders, including keynote addresses from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Inglewood Mayor James Butts.  On the closing panel on "Investing in jobs for the future," Bud Ovrom, the executive director of the Los Angeles Convention Center emphasized the need for transportation systems.

"You're not going to build enough buildings to create 20,000 jobs in South LA, but South LA is surrounded by great jobs," Ovrom says. "Yes, it's important to talk about building new factories, but if you want immediate relief on getting people jobs right away, I think transportation is key to us."

LABC - Livable Communities Report

World's first live 'wireless opera' baffles commuters at L.A.'s Union Station


By Evan Shamoon, October 18, 2013

In an era of digitally projected IMAX 3D movies, on-demand television and hyperrealistic, open world video games, the centuries-old art form of opera might appear to have become something of a technological relic. But in an effort to breathe new life into the medium, a trio of companies has come together to create something never before attempted: an opera whose soundscape exists entirely in the audience’s headphones, and a performance that bleeds directly into the physical space of its surroundings.

Thursday night I attended the invitation-only private dress rehearsal for Invisible Cities, a collaboration between three complementary organizations: Los Angeles production company The Industry, the nonprofit L.A. Dance Project, and German audio company Sennheiser.

Rather than sitting down and watching a performance, attendees were equipped with wireless headphones and wandered the enormous main station hall—as well an adjacent waiting area and outdoor courtyard—following the similarly untethered performers as they emerged from all directions. There was no stage, no music broadcast over speakers, and no clear separation between performer and audience. This was opera made interactive.

 Dancers from the L.A. Dance Project perform an aspect of a many-faceted performance of the Invisible Cities opera.

As in its source, the 1972 Italo Calvino novel, this reimagining of Invisible Cities still takes place in 13th century Mongolia, but is here transported into Los Angeles’ majestic transit hub, Union Station—while the station is actually operating. (For those who might be unfamiliar with it, Union Station is L.A.’s equivalent of Grand Central Terminal. Built in 1939, it’s an enormous, spectacular piece of Art Deco architecture that stands as the largest railroad passenger terminal in the Western United States.)

And indeed, the station was operating at normal capacity; passengers sat waiting for their train to arrive, while station restaurants and shops did business as usual. Some travelers slept, looking like they’d been here for days; others sat in business attire, paging through newspapers and Kindles, eagerly awaiting their trip home. All was normal, save for the fact that a live opera was about to take place about the terminal, close enough that commuters could literally reach out and touch the cast.

 The performers brushed past us as they moved throughout the station, their vocals beamed back to the mother brain, where they were mixed with the orchestra and layers of sound design before being beamed right back into our headphones.

As the director Yuval Sharon assured us, there is no “right” way to experience Invisible Cities; the opera has no must-see set pieces, and he encouraged everyone to follow their instincts through the cavernous station. “Each of you,” he said, “has the best seat in the house.”
The "wired" orchestra could be heard in the headphones of the singers, dancers, and audience members as they roamed throughout Union Station.
Before the action started, however, each of the several hundred audience members was provided with his or her own set of Sennheiser HDR120 wireless headphones. We were then ushered into one section of the sprawling station, where the orchestra awaited us.
This was where the prelude began; each of the instruments was outfitted with a microphone, the audio signals from which were run through the brains of the operation—a custom wireless audio rig built by Sennheiser, using state-of-the-art receivers and transmitters.

A feed of the audio mix (the orchestra, as well as the opera singers) was sent to our headphones over RF, while the performers received a separate mix (each of them was equipped with wireless microphones, as well as a wireless in-ear monitor). In fact, three custom antenna and mixing rigs were required to bring the production to life: one for the performers’ wireless microphones, one for their in-ear monitors, and one for the audience’s wireless headphones. It was a free-roaming audiovisual experience, enabled by some serious technical heavy lifting on the part of Sennheiser’s back-end electronics.
Members of the opera cast were outfitted with small wireless microphones and in-ear headphones, courtesy of Sennheiser.
From there the opera spilled out into the main hall, with performers emerging seemingly everywhere at once. We audience members could clearly hear the orchestra through our headphones, carefully mixed with the voices of the opera singers and the backing tracks. And this mixing was done perfectly.

As for those innocent bystanders not wearing headphones, they could hear only the voices of the singers who happened to be near them, and perhaps the sound of the orchestra in a distant part of the station.

The line between performer, audience member, and onlooker blurred; the experience was somewhere between a traditional opera, an alternate reality game (ARG), and a piece of high-tech performance art. Audience members wandered around and amidst the action, temporarily perching against a tiled wall, or taking a seat next to a bewildered traveler.
Audio technicians spent months setting up an elaborate network of antenna farms to enable the two-way audio of the Invisible Cities production.
Regular eye contact was made between audience members as they felt their way around the new format, but never with performers. Despite the close quarters, the fourth wall was never broken.
And the headphone factor should not be undersold; the result of hearing the performers in such an intimate way was beguilingly unfamiliar. Set inside the vast, historic space with hundreds of other people, we heard the live audio in a way that felt at once personal and communal, passive and active, immediate and displaced. The performers brushed past us as they moved throughout the station, their vocals beamed back to the mother brain, where they were mixed with the orchestra and layers of sound design before being beamed right back into our headphones.
Bystanders look on with a mix of amusement, fascination, and confusion.
The opera was written by Christopher Cerrone. Its narrative centers on explorer Marco Polo, who must report to an elderly Emperor Kublai Khan about his travels to cities far and wide. Polo’s fanciful descriptions are imagined and fantastical, appropriately expressed through dance in a way that feels modern and relevant. The themes converge in a satisfying way, offering the audience a chance to contemplate the essence of travel as they wander through Union Station, playing with our subjective experience of environment and time as we move through public space in a uniquely private way.

Invisible Cities makes its public premiere at Union Station on Saturday, Oct. 19 for a limited run through Nov. 8. For more information, visit www.InvisibleCitiesOpera.com/tickets.

Metro’s Great Expo Line Adventure: How Did We Get Here? (Part 3)


By Fred Gurzeler, September 20, 2013


AN ARMCHAIR HISTORY-LAST OF THREE PARTS-Once the right-of-way for the future Expo Line had been purchased, everyone from politicians to homeowners to community activists debated over what to do with the route – if anything at all – and the issue polarized just about everybody who cared.

Should it be a subway?  A busway?  A bike path?  A weed garden?  None of the above?

Perhaps the most vocal political critic of Expo Line was Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.  Here are some things he has said about the line over the years:

1989 – “The residents of the Pico-Westwood area, Rancho Park, Cheviot Hills have a lot to worry about” if the line is built through there (The Outlook, 6/1/1989).

1989 – “The travel patterns have changed since the right-of-way was laid out in the 1930s and 1940s.  The technology and the route are wrong for the 21st century” (The Outlook, 6/19/1989).

1989 – Exposition is “no place to build a line,”  “a foolish idea” and “a bald-faced attempt by the city of Santa Monica to ram something down the throats of the city of Los Angeles” (LA Times 7/16/1989).

1989 – “You have unleashed in this area a political monster” (To the head of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission at a forum sponsored by the Cheviot Hills Homeowners Association) (LA Times 9/17/89).

1990 – Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky said he would not oppose acquisition of the Exposition right-of-way “so long as the acquisition does not carry a commitment to build a light rail system” (The Outlook 3/8/90).

1991 – Mr. Yaroslavsky said it was a "preposterous notion" to envision commuters flocking through already-congested single-family residential areas to leave their cars in giant park-and-ride lots near the proposed rail line (LA Times 9/5/1991).

1991 – Zev Yaroslavsky said last September that he favored rerouting the line via Venice and Sepulveda boulevards to avoid the Rancho Park-Cheviot Hills area (LA Times 5/21/1992). [For the record, I would have been fine with the Venice/Sepulveda diversion; the route, although much more expensive to build, had some merit.]

2000 -- "Why punish ourselves on a route that has so many problems" (MTA board member and county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky after the “MTA board voted 11 to 1 to back a plan that would keep a future transit system from running on the right of way through affluent residential areas from Cheviot Hills west to the San Diego Freeway” (LA Times 3/24/2000).

2005 – “This is a project whose time has come” (LA Times 4/29/2005).

I suspect Mr. Yaroslavsky supported Expo Line, at least conceptually, from the beginning, but the winds were not blowing in favor of Expo Line and a politician doesn’t get re-elected unless more than half of his constituents are happy. 

But by 2005 the Metro Blue Line, Red Line, Green Line, and Gold Line (even the Orange Line bus way was doing very well) had proven themselves and even the most astute politician cannot oppose success.  Los Angeles also had a more pro-transit mayor in Antonio Villaraigosa than Tom Bradley or Richard Riordan ever was.  No abatement for traffic gridlock was in sight and the aforementioned rail lines showed that light rail was a viable alternative – not a substitute – to cars, busses and freeways. 

When the 1994 Northridge quake took out a couple sections of the Santa Monica Freeway, interest in the Expo Line was briefly renewed – the line closely parallels and even abuts the freeway in some areas – but once the freeway was fixed interest waned again.  Los Angeles is a city with a short memory.
It is ironic to note that USC, so well-served when the Santa Monica Air Line existed, had an administration that opposed the Expo Line. Fortunately, the Coliseum Commission and the USC Student Senate supported the line and station between USC and Exposition Park.

There is one obscure aspect regarding Expo Line that I have not been able to verify, and so I can only submit it as hearsay:  Expo Line exists because it can’t be anything else.  Why did the old Air Line tracks – some dating back as far as 1916 – remain in place for decades until construction on Expo Line literally began?  There were no plans to use the existing rails for freight or passenger service. 

Why did Southern Pacific offer to sell the right-of-way to the Metro Authority?  Why not sell it off to private developers and various city agencies?  Some segments, for example, could have been used to widen streets.  The segments in Rancho Park could have been used to build more homes or be spot zoned for apartments/condos.  Other segments could have been used for commercial development.  The ravine along Northvale in Cheviot Hills could have been filled in to enlarge Overland Park.

When Southern Pacific won permission from the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the Expo right-of-way, local governments had first rights for a period of time to buy the land (LA Times 8/4/1988).  The timing is interesting because Southern Pacific wouldn’t publically announce the land was for sale for another ten months.  Perhaps Southern Pacific was legally obligated to offer its property to government agencies first.  On the other hand, as an example, Lowe Enterprises, a Brentwood development company, purchased more than 100 acres of industrial and commercial property in downtown Los Angeles owned by Southern Pacific Transportation Company.  

“The sale of the properties coincides with the pending sale of Southern Pacific … to Rio Grande Industries for $1.8 billion [which was expected to close October 13, 1988]. A spokesman for Southern Pacific said the sale to Lowe is part of a plan to sell properties not vital to its railroad operations.  The sale is also expected to help Rio Grande Industries pay off the huge debt it will incur in buying Southern Pacific” (LA Times 10/13/1988).

The answer – if the hearsay is true -- may be because Southern Pacific had no choice; they only owned an easement that restricted the use of the right-of-way to railroad purposes only.  It was a valuable right-of-way in its time, but by 1987, not so much. The actual land upon which the easement sat would be owned by the heirs of the property owners Senator Jones acquired the right-of-way from back in 1875. 

To repurpose the land for parks, bike paths, etc. would require returning the properties to the heirs of the original grantors.  If this speculation sounds outlandish, I offer the most valuable real estate on the Westside as proof the hearsay may at least partly be correct: The Veteran’s Administration.  If the Federal Government actually owned the land, it would have been carved up and sold to salivating developers ages ago. 

Attempts to do exactly that are made from time to time, but have so far been unsuccessful.  Senator Jones donated the land for the then called Pacific Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers and Sailors back in 1888 for the perpetual use and benefit of veterans, and last time I looked, “perpetual” doesn’t have an expiration date.

Despite many factions using it as a political football, Expo Line is really a neutral party.  One of the slogans the Cheviot Hills organization Neighbors for Smart Rail (who exhorted Metro to “Build it right or DON’T BUILD IT!”) used to protest Expo Line was “Don’t Let Expo Block the Road.”  With rare exception, streets were built across the tracks, not the other way around.  It’s funny how people try to force rails into subways, but no one has ever suggested that freeways be built underground! 

Developers had no issues with building communities around the Air Line (Palms, Rancho Park, West Los Angeles) and school districts had no issues with building schools (Overland, Dorsey) next to the line.  Another anti-Expo NFSR slogan is “Kids and Trains Don’t Mix.”  Pacific Electric once provided special five car trains to take students to and from Venice High School.  From what I have read and heard, the motormen might have agreed with the slogan; the students could be very unruly passengers!  It is a rare child who doesn’t love trains and the schools close to the line can only benefit if they use the trains for field trips.  In short, the kids will be alright.  Adults on bicycles I’m not too sure about.

Even the Santa Monica and 405 freeways were built to accommodate the Air Line.  It is ironic that communities like Cheviot Hills and Rancho Park strongly protested the building of the Santa Monica Freeway through their neighborhoods and yet posted NFSR signs protesting Expo Line with the slogan “Don’t Let Expo Block Access to the Freeway.”  Freeways divide neighborhoods and force people out of their homes because they are a transit afterthought, whereas rail and communities generally grow up together.

The NFSR sign to the left deserves special mention because it plays so wonderfully loose with geography and scale.  Motor Avenue runs from Pico Blvd. through the center of Cheviot Hills far away from Overland Avenue and exits under a Santa Monica Freeway and Expo Line overpass into the heart of Palms (no pun intended).  In short, the Expo Line doesn’t interfere with Motor Avenue in any way.  And while Expo Line will cross Overland at grade, it will not sever it as the sign implies.
Fortunately, other groups rose up to help quell the hysteria over the Expo Line.  Along with Friends4ExpoLight Rail for Cheviot was created within the Cheviot Hills community as a counterpoint to NFSR and did its outreach without fancy signs and access to an HOA piggy bank.

Now that Expo Line’s final flaming hoops have, with hope, been jumped through, perhaps attention can now be focused on other rail projects.  The Wilshire “Subway to the Sea” has been on Metro’s radar since at least 1960 (and conceptually much, much longer) and a rail connector to LAX has been languishing on the drawing boards for about as long.  Maybe the time is right to resurrect the 1962 Downtown to LAX monorail proposal and – why not? -- maybe even the Beverly Hills Freeway J  I’ll wager there are few who remember that proposal.

If the past can be used to predict the future, I prognosticate the following:

While Expo Line Phase 2 is being built, people will complain. People will complain after it is finished. People who opposed the line will try it and conclude it’s not perfect, but not bad. Many people will wonder how we ever got along without it. After five years no one will remember how things were before Expo Line.

But I will leave the final prediction to the unsung Hero (among many heroes) who helped make Expo Line a reality – Darrell Clarke. He wrote a letter (probably not suspecting where that letter would ultimately lead him) to the Los Angeles Times that was published 11/5/1989 in response to a letter published 10/15 by Susan Brown, President of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners Association, and her opposition to Expo Line.  Titled “In Support of the Light Rail Proposal” he ended his letter with a prediction:

“When people in Los Angeles finally become familiar with riding light rail after the Long Beach line opens next year, I expect a groundswell of support for [Expo] and other lines. “
It took a while, but we finally got there.

Main sources:

Los Angeles Times (Priceless) 
Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles by Kevin Roderick (Excellent) 
This Was Pacific Electric (DVD) by Sky City Productions (Highly recommended!) 
Lines of Pacific Electric Southern & Western District by Ira Swett (Indispensable, but out of print)/

Wikipedia (Invaluable, but used sparingly)

This is a series in 3 parts. Read parts 1 and 2 here:

● Part 1

● Part 2