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

Monday, October 21, 2013

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.

L.A. transportation employees have 'lost confidence' in top manager


By Laura J. Nelson, October 16, 2013

 L.A. transportation workers protest
 Los Angeles transportation department employees, including engineers and maintenance staff, packed City Hall to protest management policies.

More than 250 Los Angeles city transportation employees packed the City Council chambers Wednesday to complain about management practices they said have left the department's morale at "an all-time low."

Since general manager Jaime de la Vega was hired in 2011, high-ranking supervisors said, he has reshuffled senior staff, left key positions vacant and ignored the concerns of employees, adding to the department's workload and stress levels.

"The rank and file have lost confidence in our general manager," said Michael Hunt, a transportation engineer and a union steward. "He doesn't listen to us. He ridicules us at every chance he gets."
Wednesday's criticisms marked the first time since Mayor Eric Garetti's inauguration that the unions have publicly tried to influence whether a manager will be rehired.

When Garcetti took office, he asked the city's top managers to reapply for their jobs. At least seven department heads have been told they can stay. But the top executive at the Port of Los Angeles will retire at the end of the year and the Los Angeles Fire Department's chief will be replaced. De la Vega doesn't know if he will stay, he said.

Senior transportation engineer Brian Gallagher said the three district offices he supervises do not have enough employees to answer the phones every day. Since 2010, he said, the response time for local requests like speed bumps and stop signs has more than tripled, from 1.5 months to 4.8 months.
"I'm here today to let you know that the emperor has no clothes," Gallagher said. Audience members, some in construction vests, others in suits, applauded.

The biggest staff reductions happened before he started as general manager, De la Vega said in a telephone interview later. He said he has doubled the staff in district offices since 2011, but the number of workers still isn't back to previous levels.

Promotions and hirings are in the works, De la Vega said. He said he will also be making other appointments, including interim positions.

"Mayor Garcetti, I hope you're listening," Hunt said to the council. "We want to support you... Work with us. Come talk with us. We want to help you."

LaHood: Raise gas tax by 10 cents per gallon Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/transportation-report/infrastructure/329025-lahood-gas-tax-should-be-increased-by-10-cents-per-gallon#ixzz2iPae4iMp Follow us: @thehill on Twitter | TheHill on Facebook


By Keith Laing, October 17, 2013

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said this week that Congress should raise the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax by 10 cents per gallon and index it to inflation to pay for transportation projects.

The gas tax was last increased to its current rate in 1993, but LaHood said during a transportation forum that it is time to considering hiking it again.

“The highway trust fund has been a good source of funding. It can't be the only source of funding. I believe Congress ought to raise the gas tax 10 cents a gallon and index it. If the gas tax had been indexed in 1993, we wouldn't be having this debate," LaHood said, according to Washington, DC radio station WAMU 88.5 A.M.

"What happens when gasoline standards, CAFE standards, go to 54.5 miles per gallon,” LaHood continued. “We're going to have less gas receipts."

LaHood generally shied away from proposing specific fixes to the shortfall in road and transit funding during his tenure as transportation secretary, deferring to President Obama and Congress to identify specific money pools.

The gas tax traditionally brings in $35 billion per year, but the most recent transportation bill spent $54 billion annually, which transportation advocates say is just enough to scratch to maintain the current system.

LaHood said the gas tax shortfall hamstrung lawmakers as they crafted the 2012 transportation bill, which is known as the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act.

“You [have] to have a big pot of money,” he said. “We don't have it now. The reason Congress passed a two-year bill, MAP-21, was because they could only find $109 billion. We need a 5 or 600 billion dollar transportation program. That will just scratch the surface."

The current Transportation bill is scheduled to expire in September 2014. Lawmakers have begun holding hearings about possible funding sources for a new round of road and transit funding, but the discussions were interrupted by the recently completed government shutdown.

LaHood said the conversations would have to get revved up again quickly.

"America has always been No. 1 in transportation,” he said. “We are not No. 1 today. We are way down the list. China is going to build 85 airports this year. They are building roads, and bridges, and high-speed rail. Why? To attract businesses that create jobs.

"All of these forms of transportation become job creators for the people that build them, job creators for the economic corridors that are created, and it enhances the community," LaHood said.

Port hits rough patch

Our view: After a string of successes, the Port of Baltimore suddenly finds itself in deep water


At the beginning of the year, the Port of Baltimore was on a roll. At Seagirt Marine Terminal, the ribbon was cut on a 50-foot-deep berth financed by a $1.3 billion public-private partnership between the port and Ports America Chesapeake. The investment positioned Baltimore to be a major East Coast port of call for the larger ships expected in 2014 when the Panama Canal's expansion is completed.

The port was doing record business: 9.55 million tons of cargo over the past fiscal year and a surge in the cruise business, too. The biggest concern was about how the port would find room to expand — and even that challenge looked like it would soon be met at Coke Point, the former iron ore pier at Sparrows Point, with plans to convert it into an automobile terminal and replace some of the 2,000 jobs lost when the steelmaking facility went out of business last year.

But lately, the shipping news hasn't been quite so rosy. This summer, Carnival Corp. announced its intention to pull its 2,124-passenger Pride out of Baltimore next year over EPA low-sulfur fuel rules. This past week, the International Longshoremen's Association Local 333 went on strike, shutting down most of the port's cargo operations for three days. And protests in Morrell Park over a planned CSX Transportation rail facility have reached such a pitch that the local councilman, Edward Reisinger, has pulled his support and put the project in doubt.
The Carnival ship may yet be replaced, but possible loss of the intermodal rail facility at Mount Clare could prove costly. Moreover, the issues that prompted the strike remain unsettled, and any further work stoppages could hurt the port's reputation. Fortunately, there is reason to hope that it won't come to that; the port's three other unions have agreed to local contract terms, and the ILA national agreed to a 6-year master contract earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the $90 million CSX intermodal terminal is badly needed to serve the very same "Panamax" ships that are expected at Seagirt. Because the Howard Street tunnel is incapable of accommodating double-stacked trains, CSX requires a yard where containers can be transferred to freight lines that bypass the tunnel. So critical is this facility that the state has already agreed to pick up $32.5 million of its costs.

But Councilman Reisinger and others say CSX has not been responsive to local concerns about how their community may be impacted by a 24-hour operation that may bring hundreds of trucks into the neighborhood. While Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake continues to support the project, she appears unhappy with CSX as well, saying this week through a spokesperson that CSX will have to make a "serious attempt at addressing the concerns of residents and businesses or it will be very difficult for this project to move forward."

CSX needs to be responsive. But our elected officials also need to remember what's involved here. The port has become a crucial source of jobs for the city and the region — 14,600 directly and 40,000 more indirectly as well as $3 billion a year in wages and salaries and $300 million in state and local taxes. Its continued success ought to be one of state and local government's highest priorities. Surely, there's more local leaders can do to support its future than publicly chastising CSX or pledging to "monitor" labor negotiations.

The labor dispute may be on the path to resolution -- both sides reported progress on Friday -- Carnival's Pride may be replaced and CSX may yet offer concessions that would make the Southwest Baltimore terminal more palatable to local residents. But these are worrisome developments for a port that's enjoyed such unmitigated success in recent years. The port supports too many high-paying, private sector jobs for this to be taken lightly by anyone who cares about Maryland's economic future.

Streetsblog LA's Damien Newton: Everyone on the road breaks the law.


By Carla Hall, October 17, 2013

 <b>Full coverage:</b> Sharing the road in L.A.

Damien Newton, bicyclist, bicycle advocate, founder and editor of Streetsblog LA — and owner of three bikes and one car — listens as I tick off complaints from drivers about bicyclists on the roads of Los Angeles: They blow through stop signs; they ride against traffic; they ride on sidewalks.
He’s not surprised. Or sympathetic.

“Pretty much anyone who uses the road breaks the law on a regular basis. But people excuse their own breaking of the law,” he says.

He turns from the cafe table we’re sitting at in Mar Vista (his neighborhood) and points to a car that just cruised through the bustling intersection. “No one was upset that that car blew through the red light. But if a bike did that, they would get upset — because they’re ‘the other.’ For a lot of people driving cars, bicyclists are the others.”

FULL COVERAGE: Sharing the road in L.A.

He’s right, of course.

Despite the upbraiding that Streetsblog LA can deliver to city officials or commentators defending drivers’ right to road space (I’ve been on the receiving end of a tart rejoinder), its founding editor is less enfant terrible than amused observer of L.A. as it struggles to become a road-sharing city of drivers, bicyclists, mass transit users and, oh, pedestrians.

He doesn’t care if you’re on a bike; he cares that you stop thinking of bicyclists as an odd nuisance — and stop framing the debate as “drivers vs. bicyclists”:

“The subtext is ‘We need to get along with these weirdos, because they’re out there.’ ”

It helps his message that he’s not particularly weird himself. He’s 36, married to an engineer and a father of two small children. He cheers the new state law requiring drivers to stay three feet away from bicyclists, but he’s not going to be the purist with a yardstick attached to his bike to make sure motorists are observing the law.

“It would wreck my balance,” he says. I laugh. But I think he means it.

“I’m not a bike bike guy. I couldn’t take a broken bike and fix it.” He momentarily worries someone might get the wrong impression and leans into my tape recorder. “I can totally fix my own tire,” he says firmly.

“I’m a policy guy. A planner. A wonk.”

Newton had been the New Jersey coordinator for a New York transportation reform group — “unlike anything we have here in L.A.” — that advocated for more funding for bike lanes and mass transit. When he moved here in 2008, he quickly figured out the local politics. “A lot of bicycle advocates went to the city’s bicycle advisory committee and pushed them to do more. But — they’re volunteers! And it’s an advisory committee. I never thought that was the place to be yelling and screaming. At the same time, you’d go to City Council transportation committee meetings and they’d be empty.”

So he started going to those transportation committee meetings for Streetsblog. He would lobby Councilwoman Wendy Greuel as she walked to the meetings from her office. He would stalk Councilman Bill Rosendahl at the local Whole Foods. Rosendahl became a champion of bicyclists’ causes.

Newton has witnessed the change in L.A. from a city with little understanding of bicyclists to a city with a bicycle plan and more lanes, paths, sharrows and bicycle-friendly streets than ever before. But it’s taken a while to get people to understand that bicyclists need an infrastructure of bikeways, just like drivers need connecting roads.

“In 2011 the city [installed] 20 miles of shared bike lanes. They were like, ‘Here’s 20 miles of stuff! Aren’t you happy?’ We were like, ‘Not really.’ It wasn’t part of a system. It was 20 miles of stuff. Better than nothing, sure. But we would have preferred eight miles of bike lanes that are part of a network.”

He’s had his moments as the angry bicyclist. “I was once biking up Fairfax and a car hit my handlebars.” He wasn’t hurt. “But then at the light, I tried to get the person’s attention — like, ‘Hey, you hit me and drove away.’ And he looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I was so mad. I took my helmet off and hit the hood with it.” That was five years ago. He’s mortified now.

“I’m really embarrassed I lost my cool. It’s not safe to be on the road that angry. That person probably still doesn’t realize what actually happened. He’s going to read this and say, ‘Oh — random angry dude on a bike. Now I shouldn’t be so angry! I hit him with my car first!’ ”

Suggestions for Metro: TVM software updates


By Steve White, The Accidental Urbanist, October 18, 2013

Steven follows up on his post earlier this month about Metro’s ongoing efforts to make instructions easier to understand on ticket vending machines. This time around, Steven shows some ideas that he thinks would make instructions explicitly clear — and finally terminate the confusion over which (if any) buttons patrons are supposed to press.

He also has a few other ideas on how to make information clear to everyone:
Also, on the printed banner for the top of the machine, Metro could clarify the text and fare explanations. The design they’re currently working on says “Stored Value: Metro 1-Ride, $1.50″ which is a strange way of saying “the fare is $1.50 every time you board.” It would be much clearer to write
Standard: $1.50 per boarding (no transfers included).
Reduced Fare (Seniors, Disabled & Medicare): Peak Hours $0.55 per boarding, Off-Peak Hours $0.25 per boarding
Valid passes also accepted.
Available in amounts $1.50 and higher
1-Day Pass: $5
7-Day Pass: $20
30-Day Pass: $75

With these clarifications of both text and design, I think the new TVM updates will make a huge positive difference. Buying a pass is often the most confusing step for Metro riders, and this will help ease that process greatly. Of course, feel free to leave additional comments or suggestions below.
Kudos for Steven to take the time to mull over this stuff. It may not be the most fascinating thing in the world, but ticket machines are the first point of contact for thousands of people new to the Metro system. And that first contact should be as good as possible; not a War of the Worlds type scenario.

Metro locks in more revenue


By Steve Hymon, October 18, 2013

Good article on the impact of gate latching on the Red/Purple Lines. The upshot: revenues from fares on the subway increased in September by 40 percent over last May before the gates were latched. If that pattern holds — key word ‘if’ — Metro could see a gain of $6 million in revenues annually from the subway. Of course, revenues are not the same as profit.
Fare evaders are now unable to freely enter the system and, for the most part, have moved on to other modes of travel, Sutton said, giving paying customers a better ride by improving their security and safety—and by opening up a little more elbow room.

Even with the gates latched, some committed scofflaws will always find ways to game the system, Sutton said. About 19,000 people entered the subway without paying in September, using a variety of tricks or blatantly jumping the gates. Metro is in the process of tweaking the new system to make fare evasion more difficult, and the Sheriff’s Department is issuing citations to catch those who squeeze through.

Nonetheless,  in most places the system is working well. During one morning rush hour this week, transit patrons streamed through the gates at the North Hollywood station, tapping in succession as they rushed to catch the next train. At ticket vending machines, fare purchases were made swiftly, with no long lines forming.
Overall, I think this is a positive for the agency. Metro is hardly alone among agencies battling fare evasion; it’s good to see progress here is being made.

Metro will soon begin conversation on fare restructuring


By Steve Hymon, October 17, 2013

As those who have been following the issue know, Metro CEO Art Leahy has been saying since last spring that the agency will likely pursue a restructuring of bus and train fares in 2014. The idea is to keep pace with rising costs, increase revenues and create fares that better serve a growing system.
And, yes, that could possibly mean some fare increases.

As Leahy told the Metro Board’s Executive Management Committee on Thursday, the challenge is this: the agency has been trying to create a system that makes it easier to transfer between transit lines but the current fares tend to discourage transfers by charging riders for each individual ride on a bus or train.

As part of the restructuring effort, Leahy also said there will soon be workshops for the Metro Board to discuss different scenarios.

I want to stress that nothing has been decided, nor is there anything on the table. In fact, there is barely a table at this time. One other note: while revenues from gate latching at rail stations may create some new funding, Leahy said that it will only amount to a tiny fraction of the costs of running the entire bus and rail system.

We’ll follow all fare conversations closely on the blog and do our best to inform you what gets proposed and why. Metro’s current fares have been in place since 2008 and changing fares is always a long process.

Caltrans delays selling 710 Corridor properties until an alternative to surface connector road is approved


By Justin Chapman, October 16, 2013

Caltrans will hold two public workshops on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 24, to provide information and take public input for drafting regulations related to the sale of recently approved surplus properties in the so-called 710 Corridor, the proposed route of a surface road meant to connect the Long Beach (710) and Foothill (210) freeways.

However, a Caltrans official told the Pasadena Weekly that the agency won't begin selling the properties until an alternative to the surface connector road is chosen sometime in spring 2015. Currently, five alternatives to the surface connector are being considered: a 4.5-mile-long tunnel, light rail, increased bus service, traffic improvements and a no-build option.

With plans to build a surface road connecting the two freeways now shelved, more than 580 homes seized through eminent domain and hardship sales by Caltrans in the 1960s are considered surplus. Due to years of neglect by the state agency, more than 180 of those structures are unoccupied or too dilapidated for habitation.

Senate Bill 416, authored by state Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, and signed into law two weeks ago by Gov. Jerry Brown, provides for the sale of those homes by state transit officials.

 However, there is no timeline in the bill that requires Caltrans to sell the properties by a certain date.
"Caltrans will know how many properties will be for sale once the project is determined," said Caltrans spokesperson Maria Raptis. A draft environmental impact report for the project is set to be released sometime this spring, with the final decision expected to be made the following year.

"We can't sell excess land until we know if there's a project or not, and if there is where the alignment will be," Raptis said. "Even if it's an underground tunnel, there are things like ventilation, access, maybe a maintenance area, that will have to be above ground and that may be on a property that we need. Otherwise, we'll have to buy property back."

In a letter mailed to tenants living in the 710 Corridor, Caltrans announced that the regulations drafted at the upcoming meetings "will implement existing law (the Roberti Act) and establish the procedure for the sale of SR-710 properties which were developed as single-family or multifamily family housing and which are no longer deemed necessary for use by Caltrans (surplus residential properties)."

Under the Roberti Act and SB416, the properties must first be offered to low- to moderate-income tenants in good standing at an affordable rate. Properties must also be sold to current and former tenants at "fair market value." However, under Liu's legislation, the properties can be sold "as is," meaning Caltrans is no longer required to make any needed repairs before selling the properties, as it was under Roberti's law.

As for next steps, Don Justin Jones of the group United Caltrans Tenants (UCT) said they will have to see what "directives, policies and strategies come out of these workshops, and see how those are translated into deeds and actions. We're going to approach this in good faith and remain objective."
UCT will be holding a meeting Sunday to discuss the sale of the homes.

Others are more skeptical than Jones.

"If we want something done, we have to do it ourselves," said Pasadena property rights attorney Christopher Sutton. "The first step is [Caltrans Director] Malcolm Dougherty must issue an affirmative written decision to the director of District 7 listing each individual property by address and Caltrans ID number that he finds to be ‘surplus.' We believe these hearings are just a distraction. So we're going to come up with a comprehensive list ourselves and petition Dougherty directly to declare them surplus, and then go to the three city councils [Pasadena, South Pasadena and Los Angeles] requesting that they also push for that. We're going to take on the job that staff should be doing themselves."

Sutton acknowledged that SB416 is a major step forward, but he maintains serious doubts that Caltrans staff at District 7 in Los Angeles will get the job done. Sutton said the Los Angeles Caltrans office is a completely insubordinate "pirate ship" that doesn't follow orders from Sacramento.
After Dougherty declares the properties surplus, the next step would be assigning two full-time staff members to see out the process, Sutton said.

"Unless you get the right person assigned to do this job, nothing will happen," said Sutton. "[District 7 Deputy Director] Andy Nierenberg said their unofficial plan is to start selling the homes in January 2015. They're just going to drag their feet forever. Even if they started in January 2014 and averaged 10 sales per month it would take at least to the end of 2017 to sell all the properties."

In an email to tenants, Sutton said they should restrain their excitement for SB416 and the possibility of soon owning their homes, adding that it's going to be "a long and tedious process."

Roberto Flores of UCT is also worried that the upcoming meetings with Caltrans aren't being held in good faith.

"If the hearings on rental rates [held earlier this year] are any indication, we're in trouble," said Flores. "Are these hearings just a show? Are they going to be a democratic, participatory process, or are they just going through the motions because it's mandated? We're concerned about that."

At a recent UCT meeting, Jones recommended that tenants start preparing for the implementation of SB416 by getting their finances in order, as well as all paperwork, contracts, correspondence and agreements they've had with Caltrans.

"The starting point, as far as tenants are concerned, is whether or not they have a present or former contractual relationship with Caltrans," said Jones. "You have to have that to even qualify for this bill. It can be broken down into four parts: the people, the properties, the process and the results. We're just at the threshold of the process. The goal of our group is to make sure everyone has a roof, that there's no loss of housing."

Flores urged tenants to adhere to an all for one and one for all mentality. He said that everyone can get the best deal if they all stick together.

"We have to unite and think in terms of all of us, as opposed to individual tenants just worrying about their own house," he said. "We are going to fight as hard as possible for a humanitarian policy that includes everyone, so no tenant is thrown out."

Another tenants group, Caltrans Tenants Association (CTA), sent out an email to tenants urging them to attend the upcoming Caltrans workshops and make their concerns known.

"Every tenant is encouraged to make their comments known at the upcoming Caltrans meetings," states the CTA email. "Our input must be included in the discussions regarding the sales process. The association will attempt to speed up the procedure and ensure that it is fair to all tenants involved. The association's goal is to provide as complete and accurate information as possible so that we can all make wise decisions."

Sutton said it will take about a month to come up with the comprehensive list of properties that he will submit to Dougherty for consideration to be declared surplus so that the process can formally begin.

"But I remain skeptical that District 7 will ever undertake such a task, because it requires thought, commitment and the regular use of math," said Sutton. "No law is the law truly until it is implemented."

Caltrans will hold two public workshops, one from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the El Sereno Senior Citizens Center, 4818 Klamath Place, Los Angeles, and the other from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 24, at the Pasadena Convention Center, Ballroom C, 300 E. Green St., Pasadena. United Caltrans Tenants will hold a meeting at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Eastside Café, 5469 N. Huntington Drive, El Sereno.

Man Dies Along the Blue Line; Safety Improvements Are Planned for Next Year


By Sahra Sulaiman, October 9, 2013

 The Blue Line passes within inches of the gates at Vernon at a fairly high speed.

On Friday, September 27th, shortly after 6 p.m., 37 year-old Zenon Vazquez opened the gate and stepped in front of the Blue Line train at Vernon.

It’s hard to understand how that can happen, given how loud the signal bells are, and the fact that you either have to duck under the pedestrian barrier bar (above left) or open one of the gates. The train passes so close, in fact, that even if you were both deaf and blind, you’d probably still be able to feel it coming.

So, it’s not surprising that there are some conflicting accounts of what happened that evening.
Some witnesses say the man was possibly distracted and looking the wrong way. Metro informs me some of their witnesses saw Vazquez and another man walk out of a liquor store toward the station. The companion stopped at the gate, while Vazquez proceeded on through. Whether anyone said anything to try to keep him from doing so is unknown. However, both accounts seem to discourage the notion that the death was a suicide, and one implies intoxication may have been a factor. The coroner says a full report is still pending.

A trip to the Vernon station, however, did offer some clues.

As I stood taking photos of the pedestrian gates, several people walked right through, even as the signals were going off.

It happens all the time, said the older couple that have a vendor stand on the east side of the tracks.
They were still set up on the corner when the incident occurred that Friday, but they hadn’t witnessed it.

Although they felt it was very unfortunate, they were only surprised it didn’t happen more often.
It had happened shortly after the Metro Safety Ambassador had left for the day, they explained. When no one is around to monitor the area, people are much less likely to obey the signals.

The craziest thing, they said, was that people were jumping between the cars of the stopped train (once the man had been struck), determined to get around it to wherever they had to go. Nevermind that they could have tripped and stumbled into the path of a northbound train.

Both of them shook their heads in dismay.

They have no regard for signals, the older gentleman told me in Spanish, proving his point by pointing at a family with young kids crossing the intersection against the light.

It doesn’t make sense, he said. There are more than enough safety devices; people just need to start paying attention to them.

Speaking of safety devices, in my last look at safety along the Blue Line, I discussed Metro’s agreement with Union Pacific that would allow Metro to install additional gates and signage along the UP side of the crossings. UP had balked at the idea until recently, afraid that being asked to upgrade safety measures in one city would mean they would be asked to do the same along the thousands of miles of track they own across the country.

The intersection at Vernon is generally uncomfortable for pedestrians and cyclists, given the narrowness of Vernon, the fact that you must not only cross four tracks, but also Long Beach Ave. (which straddles the tracks) before you can get to the safety of a sidewalk or regular travel lane. 

Metro had hoped to have those plans for upgrades ready for bid this past July. As of now, it appears that plans for improvements, including pedestrian gates and swing gates at 27 intersections, won’t be out to bid until next spring. Meaning, construction won’t start until next summer at the earliest and should be completed by February 2016.

And while that is heartening (if slow-paced), none of the improvements would have done much to help in Vazquez’ case.

While there is no question that Vernon intersection itself is a highly uncomfortable crossing for pedestrians or cyclists, Vazquez stepped into the train’s path at the one corner where there are gates, barriers, and very loud signals.

His is the fifth death along the Blue Line this year, three of which have been determined to be suicides.

Long Beach: Uh-Oh, (More) Flaws Discovered in BYD Electric Buses


By Brian Addison, October 11, 2013

Looks like the electric buses coming from China-based company Build Your Dreams (BYD)—the ones procured by both Long Beach Transit (LBT) and Los Angeles Metro—are becoming an even larger nightmare.

Dignataries from Shenzhen, China, Los Angeles and BYD at the grand opening of their North American Headquarters in L.A. Live.

First, we had the beyond-sketchy RFP process earlier this year where LBT went with BYD over Altoona-tested-and-ready-to-go South Carolina electric bus manufacturer Proterra. This was despite multiple questions regarding BYD’s capability to fulfill the buy America clause set forth by the TIGGER grant given to LBT to procure the vehicles. This was also despite a failure to have any form of Altoona testing done and their ultimately failure in establishing promised North American headquarters in Los Angeles and Windsor, Canada. And this was also despite the fact that they lied about who they had already built accounts with as well fibbing the results of a trial run of one their buses.

Secondly, after BYD scored the bid and finally began the process of Altoona testing, it turns out they were not fairing so well: cracks in the rear of the bus caused the bus to be returned with the problem ultimately being rooted back to “low-quality welding” in China.

Well, we now have more welding issues, all of which come from China. It was reported that LBT inspectors have found that the frames—the very ones that Executive Director and Vice President of Maintenance and Facilities at LBT Rolando Cruz said were the “tinker toy” parts being sent to the United States for assembly—are flawed.

According to the Long Beach Business Journal, the frames had “unacceptable” issues, including “improper bracket installation on the bus sidewalls and roof assemblies and inconsistencies with steel subassemblies on the chassis.”

Cruz has insisted that these flawed frames are for a BYD “engineering bus” separate from the actual LBT pilot bus. Well, that assurance… certainly alleviates worries. In the words of LBT Boardmember Maricela De Rivera—one of only two board members, joining Lori Ann Farrell, who voted against providing BYD the contract—”Why not wait to see if there are more problems before building an engineering bus?”

LBT’s response avoided any direct comment:

“One of LBT’s top priorities is safety. We pride ourselves on sending safe, reliable and clean buses down our streets for our customers and community. Finding issues with the frames and making sure they are corrected before buses are built is part of that safety commitment. We’re excited about adding zero-emission buses to our increasingly alternatively fueled fleet. Long Beach will be the first in the country to have a battery bus fleet of this size and with groundbreaking inductive charging. We will be leading the charge—pun intended—in what seems to be the future of public transportation.”
BYD America’s Vice President, Micheal Austin, gave the following response:

“Samantha [Mehlinger of the Long Beach Business Journal] gave us the chance to respond and we commented already. When are you going to sell your shares in Proterra?”

Well, glad to know BYD not only creates soundly engineered buses but also harbors a deep pride in professionalism.

When are we getting those buses again?

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, October 21, 2013

Is it just me, or are we starting to see every weekend full of Livable Streets Events. It’s exciting. The week itself has some big ones with the Metro Board of Directors and other important events throughout the week.
  • Tuesday, Thursday - The Plan for a Healthy Los Angeles is a new health and wellness chapter that will be included in the Framework Element of the General Plan. The Framework Element outlines guiding policy principles for the General Plan, which is known as the City’s planning constitution. Meetings will be held throughout the city to solicit feedback. Central City’s meeting is Tuesday at 4:30 at City Hall and Thursday’s is in the South Valley, at the Marvin Braude Constituent Service Center, at 4:30 p.m. Get the details, here.
  • Wednesday – It’s not the most exciting agenda in the world, but that means that there’s no planned discussion of the My Figueroa! project in South Park. So, I guess that’s a good thing. The meeting starts at 2. The agenda is here.
  • Thursday – Live from Metro’s Taj Mahal, it’s the Metro Board of Directors! The meeting starts at 9:30, the agenda can be found here.
  • FridayOpening Friday, October 24, 2013 The international art movement begun in 2003 celebrates ten years of art, advocacy and community with the first ever gallery show. Family members, Ghost Bike and transportation advocates, artists and friends will be in attendance. Ghost Bikes are memorials honoring cyclists who are fatally – or sometimes critically – injured due to unnecessary collisions on streets not designed for shared traffic. Get more details here. We’ll have a larger preview, with pictures, later this week. Get the details, here.
  • Saturday – The recent changes along Colorado Boulevard in Eagle have been documented. A buffered bike lane, zebra-striped crosswalks, 60 bike racks, modifying median striping, speed-feedback signs, and lighted crosswalks are some of the improvements that will make the street more community-oriented and safer for all road users. Join Council Member Jose Huizar, Take Back the Boulevard, LADOT, the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, Safe Moves, and LACBC in celebrating the new road improvements on Colorado Boulevard. Get the ride details, here.
  • Saturday – Walk Bike WeHo hosts a community workshop for its pedestrian and bicycle mobility plan update. We have their poster, it is here.
  • Saturday Walktober hits Santa Monica. Three miles, checking out Expo Line construction and the brand-new Tongva Park led by Gary Kavanagh (you can take the Big Blue Bus #7 back to the start, or vice versa). Hey, I know that Gary Kavanagh from somewhere…get the details, here at Santa Monica Next.
  • Sunday - The Vernon Bike Ride is an opportunity for the Leimert Park and Vernon area to be recognized as an area that needs improvement and attention. The goal is to build a safe community and a healthier environment and getting them into the bike revolution happening here in Los Angeles. This week, the Vernon Bike Ride goes multi-modal with a trip to the Leimert Art Walk. Ride starts at 10, get the details here.
  • Sunday – A year after its first ride, Ride Lankershim is ready for another round of riding with a splash of advocacy. Join LACBC, our Neighborhood Bike Ambassadors, and Metropolis Bikes on October 27th to tour Noho on a short/easy ride and take the opportunity to convince Councilman Krekorian and Mayor Garcetti that Lankershim should be prioritized as a “Great Street” that includes bike lanes to calm traffic and make Lankershim more people-oriented.
  • SundayA new organization, California Climate Change Exchange (CA-CCX), will host a Kick-Off Forum featuring presentations by notable environmental activists, educators and policymakers. The forum, which will take place at the Church in Ocean Park on Sunday, October 27, 2013 from 12:45 – 3:30 pm and features Jonathan Parfrey, State Senator Fran Pavley and Bill Selby. Get the rest of the details at Santa Monica Next
Don’t forget, Saturday November 9th is ARTCRANK. We need volunteers and beer/art/bike aficionados. Get more details, here.

South Pasadena holds press conference on signing of SB 416 (Liu) -- Sale of Caltrans properties

From Sylvia Pluumer, October 21, 2013

The City of South Pasadena will hold a press conference to recognize the successful passage of Senate Bill (SB) 416 on Tuesday, October
22nd, 2013. SB 416 was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on October 1st after vetoing a similar bill in 2012, expediting the sale of state-owned houses.

The press conference will take place on Tuesday, October 22nd at 3:00 PM at 1110 Glendon Way, South Pasadena, CA 91030, one of the residential properties currently owned by Caltrans.

South Pasadena will be joined by representatives from the City of Los Angeles and Pasadena in thanking Senator Liu for her efforts.

The press release: