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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Europe's transport infrastructure: the road to privatisation

European countries are exploring new ways to fund public transport


By Bjorn Hasselgren, October 30, 2013

 Stockholm roads system
 The UK, Sweden and Germany each fund their transport infrastructure in different ways.

Innovation must be applied to transport infrastructure systems, such as roads and railroads, if we are to meet future challenges.

Since the mid 20th century roads and railroads have been managed by governments in most European countries. Funding has been dominated by fuel taxes and taxes on vehicles. Railroads have been heavily subsidised with general tax revenues while road traffic has more or less paid its costs through the taxes.
In some Eur
opean countries roads have been organised as private corporations with government concessions, but in general that has been the exception. But this seems to be changing fast.

Lately transport infrastructure investments and buzz-words like sustainability and livability have been on the lips of politicians and corporate leaders. In a time of financial austerity transport infrastructure is seen as both a way out of the crisis and as a problem – how to finance and how to adjust to the new technology that is coming online.

The introduction of IT-based solutions is making information on capacity more accessible than before. Vehicles and infrastructure will also become able to communicate in the future. Suddenly new methods to reduce congestion, to improve safety and limit environmental impact seem to be within reach.

The development and use of more fuel efficient vehicle technology must also be taken into account. Electric vehicles and alternative fuels to gas and diesel are gaining market shares. This in turn introduces a threat to traditional government funding: fuel tax suddenly erodes. And governments must look either for cost-savings or alternative sources of revenue.

A new report for the Swedish Ministry of Finance's expert group on public economics shows that the UK, Sweden, other Nordic countries and Germany have chosen different ways to handle the new situation. The UK seems to be among the most innovative having launched a road reform earlier this year, which aims to introduce an independent more business-like organisation for roads.

The Nordic countries, except Sweden, are experimenting with public-private partnerships
, fee funded projects and toll-financing. Norway is introducing an extensive toll programme for local and regional roads, and the government is open for additional partnerships. Denmark is experimenting with a number of fee-financed tunnel and bridge projects in separate government corporations and new financing from oil-industry taxes. Finland has set up an inquiry to look into the introduction of GPS-based road-charging. Germany has used public-private partnerships for its large motorways.

Sweden seems decoupled from many of these current trends. Even if congestion charging has been introduced in Stockholm and Gothenburg, in addition to some fee-funded motorway sections, government-managed and tax-financed transport infrastructure is still the dominant model.

The report concludes that there are many interesting signs of an increasing innovation rate in transport infrastructure. And there are different ways of handling the challenges. This industry might once again become a driver for increased productivity and change, as in earlier periods of growth and creative destruction.

From China to Los Angeles, Taking the Electric Bus


By Todd Woody, October 29, 2013


 BYD’s eBus, shown in Los Angeles, can run 155 miles on a charge and has led to contracts with transit agencies in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

LOS ANGELES — THERE’S a newcomer to this city’s auto row. Compared to the shiny showrooms displaying the latest Mercedeses and Toyotas, the Chinese carmaker BYD’s outpost in the shadow of downtown skyscrapers looks rather forlorn.

Just two of its models — a red electric sport utility vehicle and a brown gasoline-powered sedan — are on view in an otherwise empty storefront. 

But it’s the pair of 40-foot-long battery-powered buses parked across the street that is driving the company’s ambitions to become the first Chinese automaker to break into the United States market.
BYD this year became the first Chinese vehicle company to open manufacturing sites in the United States, building an electric bus assembly plant and a separate battery factory in Lancaster, a desert community 75 miles north of Los Angeles. 

The $30 billion company beat American competitors to win contracts to build electric buses for transit agencies in Los Angeles and nearby Long Beach. BYD is also pursuing deals to supply electric shuttle buses to rental car agencies, amusement parks and Silicon Valley technology companies. 

In New York, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began a two-month road-test of BYD’s battery-powered eBus in September. 

“Buses are on the street and highly visible, so it’s a good way to get our name out there and build our reputation,” said Brendan Riley, BYD’s vice president for fleet sales, at the Los Angeles showroom.
“Once transit agencies work with BYD and understand BYD is going to take care of them with their bus fleets, we’ll get them to try our electric cars,” he added. 

BYD first came to Americans’ attention in 2008 when the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett bought 10 percent of the company, convinced that it would dominate China’s electric car market.
Founded in 1995 as a mobile phone battery manufacturer, BYD has grown into a conglomerate that makes cars, buses, energy storage systems, solar panels, LED lighting and phones. Like other Chinese automakers, BYD has benefited from loans from state-owned banks and contracts to supply its electric vehicles to Chinese municipalities. 

The company has sold electric cars in China since 2008 but is moving cautiously into the American market. Mr. Riley said BYD was mindful of Chinese cars’ reputation for poor quality and of Hyundai’s disastrous United States debut in 1986, when the South Korean company began selling a poorly built compact car that ruined its reputation for years. 

“We do not want to have missteps,” said Mr. Riley. 

To that end, this year BYD began selling a small number of its e6 electric S.U.V.’s in the United States, but only to corporate fleets. The company has also placed the e6 with companies as demonstrator models. It has no plans to export its gasoline-powered models to the American market.
The $52,000 e6 is powered by an iron phosphate battery that BYD says gives the car a range of 186 miles on a charge, compared with around 75 miles for most other electric cars available in the United States. 

“You don’t really want to bring a car into a market that is not properly supported,” said Mr. Riley. “When you sell cars into fleets you can co-locate engineers and parts.” 

BYD has sold the e6 to taxi fleets in China, Britain and South America, and Mr. Riley expects it to pursue a similar strategy in the United States. 

For now, the company’s challenge is proving it can manufacture its $800,000 eBus in the United States and meet federal standards for durability and safety. It recently suffered a setback when a bus being tested at a federal facility in Pennsylvania suffered cracks in its frame. And in October California officials fined the company $99,245 for violating state labor laws; the company said it would appeal the ruling.  

The first buses, which have a range of 155 miles on a charge, are set to roll off the Lancaster assembly line later this year to fulfill contracts with transit agencies in Los Angeles and Long Beach.
California has adopted regulations that will require 15 percent of municipal bus fleets to be powered by low-carbon alternative fuels. That prompted the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority in June to award BYD a $20.7 million contract to supply up to 25 electric buses. 

Richard Hunt, the agency’s head of bus procurement, said the range and size of the eBus and the fact that BYD had deployed more than 700 of the vehicles worldwide persuaded Los Angeles to take a chance on a relatively unknown Chinese company. To hedge its bets, the agency placed an initial order for five vehicles and will evaluate them before buying additional eBuses. 

“These are expensive vehicles, and we don’t want to make costly mistakes,” Mr. Hunt said. “But we do think electric buses are the way to go for the environment.” 

Though the eBus costs roughly twice as much as a conventional diesel bus, Mr. Riley of BYD said the eBus could pay for itself in three years because of savings in fuel and maintenance. 

A Long Beach Transit spokesman, Kevin Lee, said his agency was receiving $7.4 million in government grants to offset the $12.1 million cost of 10 eBuses it ordered. He said the lower operating cost of the electric bus and its ability to run all day on a single charge persuaded the city to take a chance on BYD. 

Mr. Lee noted that the bus’s 324 kilowatt-hour battery — for comparison, the e6 S.U.V. has a 61.4 kilowatt-hour battery — and its ability to return electricity to the grid mean it could be a rolling generator of power in blackouts. 

BYD’s Southern California factory also represents a foothold into another potentially lucrative market: energy storage. 

California, for instance, will require the state’s big utilities to operate 1,325 megawatts of energy storage to help balance the power grid as more sources of renewable but intermittent energy come online. 

In a partnership with the home builder KB Home, BYD has developed home battery systems to store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels, and it plans to package its bus batteries into huge units capable of storing large amounts of electricity. 

“We really see California adopting this technology sooner than anyone else,” said Mr. Riley.

State DOTs Brazenly Request a Blank Check to Build More Highways


By Tanya Snyder, October 30, 2013

 Want your state DOT to support safer, multi-modal local streets? You can dream, but don't dare tell them what to do.

“This is a money and power grab.”

“It’s very disappointing and very AASHTO.”

That’s how some transportation reformers are describing the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ new recommendations for the next surface transportation bill. The current bill, MAP-21, expires in less than a year.

AASHTO’s proposal is “so mired in protective technical-speak that it’ll fail to inspire anyone outside of state DOT technical staff — which I guess just sees ‘more money’ and that’s all they care about,” vented Deron Lovaas of the Natural Resources Defense Council upon seeing the document.

AASHTO’s recommendations boil down to one thing: less local control and more power at the state level. They want to wrest control over transit funds from transit agencies. They want more “flexibility” on every front. They want less distribution of funds to officials at the city or regional level — a move Lovaas calls “regressive” since “more and more people, businesses and jobs are becoming centralized in metro areas.”

MAP-21’s one real achievement, a provision allowing some degree of local control over funds for biking and walking, gets targeted in AASHTO’s wish list. AASHTO complains that states aren’t eligible for this relatively tiny pot of money, and demand to get their hands in the cookie jar that’s closed to them.

What’s more, Lovaas noted, AASHTO boldly resists any form of accountability. The association insists that no additional performance measures be implemented until the new ones from MAP-21 can be amply tested out. And yet they want to go full throttle with their agenda to accelerate “project delivery” — basically making an end run around environmental and community scrutiny.

Indeed, AASHTO is positively allergic to performance measures. They want to make sure states aren’t required to fix infrastructure that’s in the worst condition first, though they don’t explain why any other approach would make any sense. Over and over again, they affirm their “steadfast opposition” to “using performance measures as the basis for apportioning or allocating federal funds among the States” — in other words, having any mechanism whatsoever to ensure that they don’t spend billions of dollars on wasteful projects.

Above all, AASHTO says over and over that “the implementation of MAP 21 [and any subsequent bill] should avoid any unnecessary administrative burdens or unnecessary restrictions on State flexibility.” Translation: Hand over a blank check. Nowhere does AASHTO say how it intends to improve the transportation system, meet national goals like greater safety or environmental sustainability, or be more accountable to the public. They don’t even bother to explain the expected outcomes of their recommendations. The list is nothing but “give us the money and go away,” in the words of David Burwell, transportation analyst at the Carnegie Endowment.

The document came out just days before a special Congressional panel on freight issued its recommendations. In it those recommendations, the panel notes that U.S. DOT is currently designating a National Freight Network, which will consist of 27,000 centerline miles of existing roadways, “with the option of expanding this limitation by no more than 3,000 additional centerline miles.” But AASHTO wants to go beyond that 3,000-mile cap. They don’t want Congress or U.S. DOT to determine how much more to build, though — they, of course, want that to be up to the states, like everything else. “This would allow states to ask for more federal money in the name of ‘key commerce corridors’ and ‘critical rural freight corridors,’” Burwell said, “both more excuses for adding more lane miles to the system at a time VMT is declining.”

Unbelievably, AASHTO also makes a grab for what’s historically been federal authority to determine whether projects conform with the Clean Air Act. While one state — California — has been awarded authority to do its own environmental reviews, that’s only because that state’s environmental regulations are more stringent than federal ones. The blanket request for all states to have the authority to regulate themselves on environmental protection is alarming.

Perhaps not surprisingly, AASHTO’s section on safety doesn’t breathe a word about people walking and biking. Instead, the states again ask for more “flexibility” to focus on safety when and where they want. Oh, and AASHTO says it’s too restrictive to ask states to implement graduated drivers licenses, even though all 50 states have some version of a GDL system.

AASHTO does have some good ideas. They want permission to remove from the National Highway System a lot of arterial roads that were automatically designated NHS under MAP-21. NHS designation means the road is treated as a highway, and can make it harder to install bike and pedestrian designs or traffic calming.

Another good recommendation is their suggestion to allow states to fund any non-NHS bridge on the federal-aid highway system under the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) — an arcane-sounding request that would help free up Surface Transportation Program money, which is one of the pots of funds that’s most available to bike and pedestrian projects. The additional burden of non-NHS bridges in the STP program in MAP-21 threatened to squeeze out these other important projects.

They also want Congress to remove the cap on states using Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality money for transit operations — which has been limited to three or five years. But they also want to narrow the requirement that states spend CMAQ money on their intended purpose, saying that should only be required if states’ non-attainment of air quality goals is specifically the result of transportation activities.

But essentially, with this document the state DOTs are asking for money with no strings attached in the next go-round — and undoubtedly they’re hoping their message will be heard deep within the ranks of U.S. DOT, where they’re currently working out the details of MAP-21′s performance requirements. And why wouldn’t AASHTO have high hopes that their demands will be heard? Sen. Barbara Boxer has been clear that she looked to AASHTO for guidance every step of the way in crafting MAP-21, and indeed, one would think AASHTO had gotten everything it wanted out of that affair — if it didn’t now have a list of so many more demands.

Cleantech LA Global Showcase 2013

NOV. 4 JW MARRIOT LA LIVE! GRID Logistics Inc. will be showcasing and presenting its freight solutions to modernize our ports, eliminate freight trucks from freeway travel to and from the ports, all while improving air quality, and creating jobs for the Southern California Region! 
Cleantech LA Global Showcase 2013, Nov. 4-5, 2013 at LA Live


Cleantech LA Global Showcase 2013Speakers Include:Eric Garcetti, Mayor City of Los Angeles Ron Nichols, General Manager, Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power Farshid Arman, Ph.D. Director, Energy Technologies SIEMENS

Customer survey results for 2013


By kridlerm, October 30, 2013

Click above to see larger.

Metro’s Research and Development team has been gathering and analyzing data on Metro bus/rail users since 2003. The annual customer satisfaction survey was implemented to help inform transit planners and division managers of overall customer satisfaction, on-time performance, cleanliness, safety, as well as track demographic shifts in Metro ridership.

This year’s survey showed positive trends with regard to customer views on bus on-time performance, cleanliness of stations, median income of riders and an increase in bike usage as a means of getting to a stop/station.

One statistic of interest is the continued increase in cell phone, specifically smartphone, access (see the charts below). Services such as Metro.net, the Go Metro App, and Google Maps are able to provide more transit users up to the minute information regarding Metro services. If you are one of the 47 percent of Metro users without a smartphone and/or you speak another language, don’t worry — Metro will continue to provide information in the traditional way.

RELATED POSTS: Compare this year’s results to last year’s survey.


40% of ExpressLane Funds Will Go Towards Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements


By Damien Newton, October 30, 2013


 Projects such as Carson's bike plans may be funded by ExpressLanes.

When Metro first proposed converting HOV Lanes to congestion pricing lanes where drivers could choose to pay cash for a congestion free trip, some politicians and news paper columnists were outraged. Some where so outraged at the “Lexus Lanes” they worked tirelessly to get them moved somewhere else. Others were so outraged they wrote research-free opinion columns standing up for all of the poor people that wouldn’t be able to buy in to the toll lanes every day.

Those people were nowhere to be found last week when the Metro Board of Directors advised staff to allocate roughly 40% of toll funds for bicycle and pedestrian projects, injecting literally millions of dollars into the systems surrounding the ExpressLanes on the I-10 and I-110.

“Bike paths and walkways are important components of the ExpressLanes project, and the communities along the Harbor and Santa Monica Freeways—where the pilot project is in place–  will see the benefits of the projected $16 million to $19 million in revenue,” writes County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas. “The guidelines for reinvesting these funds take a holistic view of  transit.”

After the federal government granted enough funds to Metro to dramatically increase bus service along the freeway corridors impacted by ExpressLanes, the program now has direct benefits for the car-free and transit dependent. Some of whom have even less fiscal means than the car owners being defended by hysterical politicians and out-of-touch newspaper columnists.

And the representatives of the areas that are seeing the benefits of ExpressLanes are ecstatic.
“It’s wonderful to see Metro invest toll revenue in local communities,” writes Lauren Grabowski, the  HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) Project Manager for Connecting Carson, the City of Carson’s Active Transportation Plan.

“Carson City Council has already approved of a bike plan which identifies projects that can connect Carson residents and workers to two I-110 Express stations, Carson Station and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center. But finding funding is always a challenge. Developing these projects will encourage people to use the Metro Express Buses on the I-110 as well promote community healthy through increased physical activity and cleaner air. It’s a win-win.”

Carson City is located just on the I-110 Corridor. Similar enthusiasm can be found along the I-10 ExpressLanes corridor.

“Although the San Gabriel Valley is in the midst of developing a regional bicycle master plan, funding for projects is always an issue,” writes Javier Hernandez, with the advocacy group Bike SGV. “The Congestion Reduction Demonstration has exceeded expectations to generate a local funding source for such projects.  BikeSGV is extremely excited about this opportunity to fund projects that will improve current biking and walking conditions sooner than later.”

Grabowski and Hernandez were two of a team of advocates who testified at last week’s Metro Board Meeting that included Eric Bruins from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, Hilary Norton with Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic, Tafarai Bayne with Trust South L.A., and Andres Ramirez with Community Health Councils. One of the leaders of the effort was Jessica Meaney with the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership who is also well known as a steering committee member for Los Angeles Walks.

“We’re excited to see Metro’s sustainability planning policy applied to investment decisions,” Meaney explains.
“With only 1% of all Metro’s funding currently going to walking and bicycling investments in LA County which represent over 20% of the trips, this is promising finance policy step forward, and helps start conversations and policy links to Metro’s forthcoming Countywide Complete Street Policy which will come before the Board in early 2014.”

Snags reported on first day of operation for Bosphorus Strait train tunnel


By Gul Tuysuz and Ivan Watson, October 30, 2013

 Fireworks explode above the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, Turkey, on Wednesday, October 29, during the anniversary of the declaration of the Turkish Republic. Turkey formally opened the world's first sea tunnel connecting two continents. The 8.5-mile long tunnel linking Istanbul's European and Asian sides includes an immersed tube tunnel which officials say is the world's deepest, at nearly 200 feet below the sea level.
Fireworks explode above the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, Turkey, on Wednesday, October 29, during the anniversary of the declaration of the Turkish Republic. Turkey formally opened the world's first sea tunnel connecting two continents. The 8.5-mile long tunnel linking Istanbul's European and Asian sides includes an immersed tube tunnel which officials say is the world's deepest, at nearly 200 feet below the sea level.

Istanbul's new transcontinental train tunnel under the Bosphorus Strait had a bumpy first day of operation, a day after Turkey's Prime Minister called it a "project for whole humanity" at an inaugural ceremony.

On Wednesday, Turkey's state railway confirmed reports there had been a power outage in the tunnel system
"Emergency situation procedures" were also carried out multiple times, the agency said in a statement posted online, because passengers hit emergency buttons aboard the trains.

Turkish journalists complained of being barred from entry into the railway system after the breakdowns took place.

"Security personnel told journalists filming video, 'We received orders. It is not allowed to film anymore,' " Turkish news agency DHA reported Wednesday.

Amateur video posted on YouTube showed scores of passengers leaving a stopped train and walking down the long tube that has been constructed underneath the rushing waters of the Bosphorus Strait, effectively linking the European and Asian halves of Turkey's largest city.

Because of an unexpectedly large volume of curious first-time passengers, the railway agency also said it had decided to skip one of the stops on the train's transcontinental route.

The Marmaray Tunnel is part of a $4.5 billion, 76-kilometer (47-mile) megaproject launched by the Turkish government in 2004.

Speaking at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Japan's Prime Minister, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the project "connects history and future, past and future; as well as connecting continents, Marmaray connects people, nations and countries."

The rail system, built by a Turkish-Japanese consortium, is expected to have a capacity of 1.5 million people a day, connecting the two continents in about four minutes. The 13.6-kilometer (8.5-mile) tunnel -- the deepest of its kind -- passes under the Bosphorus Strait, one of the busiest shipping arteries in the world.

The financial capital of Istanbul, with a population of nearly 15 million people, is often snarled with traffic, with about 2 million residents making the crossing between continents on a daily basis.
Beyond the size of such an undertaking, digging for the Marmaray uncovered about 40,000 artifacts and helped archaeologists trace Istanbul's history back 8,500 years, 2,500 more than ever believed before.

However, the discoveries delayed the project for four years, which frustrated the Prime Minister who, analysts and businessmen say, wants to put a permanent imprint on Turkey's financial capital.

The project also had to account for Turkey's long history of violent earthquakes and the tunnel's position parallel to a major fault line. Transport minister Binali Yildirim has outlined the precautions, saying the tunnel allows movement and is designed to handle a quake of 9.0 magnitude.

The Turkish government has also begun construction of a third suspension bridge across the Bosphorus Strait. It also plans to build a third airport for Istanbul and dredge a canal to run parallel to the Bosphorus.

The massive government-backed development projects have become a politically polarizing issue in Turkey.

Anti-government protests erupted last summer after the government announced plans to bulldoze a park in central Istanbul and replace it with a shopping mall.

As government officials and crowds of supporters applauded the Marmaray tunnel's inauguration Tuesday, in other parts of Istanbul, riot police clashed with demonstrators protesting the Turkish government.
 People travel from the Uskudar to the Yenikapi station on the day of the inauguration of the tunnel.
 People travel from the Uskudar to the Yenikapi station on the day of the inauguration of the tunnel.

STUDY: Self-driving cars could prevent 90 percent of road traffic accidents


October 29, 2013

 Car companies such as Volvo are moving closer to fully autonomous vehicles.

Research by independent U.S. thinktank the Eno Center for Transportation claims that even with adoption rates of just 10 percent, autonomous vehicles could help save $25 billion annually, while 50 percent of crashes and related injuries could be avoided.

In the U.S. alone, more than 30,000 people die in road traffic accidents every year and in 90 percent of cases, driver error is a factor. The result — 2.2 million injury or death-inducing car crashes annually at an economic cost of $300 billion.

As the report stresses: “Over 40 percent of these fatal crashes involve alcohol, distraction, drug involvement and/or fatigue. Self-driven vehicles would not fall prey to human failings, suggesting the potential for at least a 40 percent fatal crash-rate reduction, assuming automated malfunctions are minimal and everything else remains constant.”

According to its figures, even if only 10 percent of cars on the road were autonomous vehicles, it could lead to 211,000 fewer serious crashes and 1,100 fewer deaths per year but that to eradicate all accidents in which human error is proven to be a factor, a full 90 percent of vehicles would need to be autonomous.

And while the logic of the thinktank’s central statistics and central arguments are very simplistic — “AVs can be programmed to not break traffic laws. They do not drink and drive. Their reaction times are quicker and they can be optimized to smooth traffic flows, improve fuel economy, and reduce emissions” — that doesn’t mean that they aren’t accurate.

An in-depth study by MIT and Audi (published in June) designed to understand the impacts of stress and strain on drivers under different conditions found that getting behind the wheel of a car can be more stressful than skydiving for the first time. “We found that certain driving situations can be one of the most stressful activities in our lives,” said Kael Greco, project leader, MIT SENSEable City Laboratory of the results.

Likewise the annual distracted driver survey, published by State Farm Insurance to coincide with Thanksgiving Day weekend, consistently shows that driver distraction levels are climbing, thanks to smartphones and the mobile web. Almost half (48 percent) of 18-29-year-old drivers in the survey said that they surfed the net via their handset while driving (up from 29 percent in 2009), while more than one in three said they checked social media sites and 30 percent admitted to updating their status while behind the wheel. But the most popular activity was checking email, which 46 percent of respondents admitted to doing.

Therefore, the sooner that human distraction can be removed from the driving equation, the better. However, despite massive technological advances, there are still a number of issues that will need to be addressed before autonomous vehicles become a common sight. Chief among these is price. Currently the sensors, lasers, cameras and GPS modules needed to make a car autonomous cost a combined $100,000 and that’s without adding in the cost of the car itself.

“This is unaffordable for most Americans, with 2012 sticker prices for the top 27 selling vehicles in America ranging from $16,000 to $27,000,” says the report. The hope is that as technologies come down in price and that as adoption rates increase, the ticket price of a self-driving car will fall to between $50,000 and $25,000 over the first decade of production.

But as well as cost, systems will need to be sufficiently robust that they can be trusted to perform in all conditions and laws will need to be changed as in the US and in Europe; a car cannot be allowed on the road unless an adult is in full control.

Despite the challenges, a number of experts believe that the age of the autonomous vehicle is almost here. In August, an ABI Research report on the subject stated that by 2020, the first autonomous cars would be hitting the roads and that by 2032, in the US at least, 10 million such new cars would be rolling out of the showrooms and onto the public highways every year.

A number of car companies, including Nissan and Volvo have stated that they will be offering self-driving cars by 2020.

OC Residents, Public Officials To Debate Toll Lanes On 405 Freeway


October 29, 2013

See the website for a video.

WESTMINSTER (CBSLA.com) — Orange County residents got a chance to voice their opinion Tuesday night on a proposal to introduce toll lanes along the I-405 Freeway.

Many residents argued that they already pay taxes on Orange County highways, and that freeways should remain free.

“So you’re going to pay for that whole freeway, and then you’re going to pay if you want to ride on it. That’s not right,” Seal Beach Mayor Pro Tem Ellery Deaton said. “I will never vote for anything else that they ever ask me to vote for from OCTA, because they lied to me, and I’m mad.”

Following a meeting in September, the Orange County Transportation Authority’s (OCTA) Board Of Directors is scheduled to vote on Nov. 8 on the Caltrans-backed proposal, which would add toll lanes on the 405 between SR-55 at Costa Mesa and the 605 Freeway at the Los Angeles County border.

If approved, construction would begin in 2015 and is estimated to last up to five years.

The 405 Freeway Cities Coalition, who organized the town hall-style forum, hosted a panel comprised of City Council members from six cities: Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, and Westminster. Several elected public officials also attended.

Second District Supervisor John Moorlach said the state appears to be tying freeway funding to an agreement to introduce toll lanes, which in turn has led to push-back by residents.

“We need to step up and say, ‘Wait a second, we’re the second-highest generator of income tax for the state of all 58 counties, and you’re treating us as if we haven’t been planning and doing the right things over all this time period,” Moorlach said. “That just doesn’t sit well.”

The 405 freeway in Orange County is counted among the busiest stretches of road in all of the U.S., with over 370,000 cars a day traveling up and down the interstate.

Express toll lanes that were installed and opened on the Harbor (110) Freeway earlier this year have been blamed for slower traffic speeds, with officials attributing the slowdown to solo drivers no longer being allowed to use the carpool lane illegally.

The OCTA did not speak at the meeting, and former Westminster mayor Margie Rice believes she knows the reason why.

“Because when they come, we give them hell,” former Westminster mayor Margie Rice said. “We tell them what we think.”

Residents stress the 'free' in freeway

Dozens gather in Westminster to voice their opposition to any plan that would add toll lanes to the 405.


By Bradley Zint, October 29, 2013

WESTMINSTER — They came en masse under the mantra of keeping the freeways free.

More than 150 people crowded Westminster's Civic Center on Tuesday night to formally voice their opposition to any toll roads within a 14-mile portion of the 405 Freeway, from the 73 Freeway in Costa Mesa to the 605 Freeway outside Rossmoor.

Representatives from communities nearby and along the busy thoroughfare — Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Irvine, Westminster, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor and Fountain Valley — were in universal opposition to the toll option, officially called Alternative 3 by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA).

The estimated $1.47-billion project would add one general-purpose and one toll lane in each direction, plus convert the existing carpool lane on both sides of the freeway to a toll lane within most of the 14-mile stretch.

Area politicians and residents said they have long favored either the $1.25-billion Alternative 1, which would add one general-purpose lane in each direction, or the $1.35-billion Alternative 2, which would add two general-purpose lanes in each direction.

Last year, Costa Mesa officials said they favored Alternative 2.

All three alternatives would involve reconstructing the bridges over the 405 along the affected route. The proposals have also been changed and pared down slightly; Alternative 3 was pegged at $1.7 billion last year.

Organizers said representatives from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and OCTA were invited to the town hall meeting but did not attend.

"I think it's pretty clear to the community what's at stake here," said Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer. "What's at stake is the future of Orange County with regards to how we move in this county."

Righeimer called the toll roads "Lexus lanes" — as in feasible only for the super-rich — and said if they're added to the 405, they would pave the way for toll roads elsewhere in Orange County, such as on the 5 Freeway.

"We may be the first ones to do it," Righeimer said, "but we're not gonna be the last."

The 405 toll road debate has recently resurfaced. In October 2012, OCTA's board recommended Alternative 1, though recently enacted federal legislation affecting the minimum traveling speeds within carpool lanes has brought the issue to light again.

Costa Mesa officials, who are once again exploring their legal options to fight toll roads, have surmised that Caltrans could override the OCTA's decision and put in toll lanes, which would theoretically keep traffic flowing to help meet federal standards.

That scenario was not lost on former state Assemblyman Jose Solorio (D-Anaheim), who called the resurrected idea reminiscent of something on the "The Walking Dead" TV show.

Huntington Beach Mayor Connie Boardman said Orange County residents are already paying taxes for their roads via gasoline purchases and Measure M, a voter-approved, half-cent sales tax for transportation projects.

"This would be a tax on a tax on a tax," she said.

County Supervisor John Moorlach, a Costa Mesa resident, called the saga "a whole new definition to the term highway robbery.
Past improvements to other county freeways didn't require tolls, Moorlach noted.

"This is being done to us," he said. "It's not being done with us."

Seal Beach Mayor Gary A. Miller said residents in Garden Grove, Huntington Beach and Westminster aren't likely to pay a $4 toll just to cross into nearby Los Angeles County. They would take surface streets instead, he said.

"Our local streets are going to be very congested if this option is passed," Miller said.

Fountain Valley Councilman John Collins called the tolls "an insult to the voters" who renewed Measure M in 2006, which never proposed adding toll roads.

Collins also questioned where the toll funds would go to.

"I have never seen a good answer to that question," he said. "Is it guaranteed to come to us, or is it open to be taken later on?"

Adolfo Ozaeta, a traffic engineer for Westminster, said 405 toll roads were studied as early as 2003. The contentious Alternative 3 surfaced in 2009, he said.

Tolls could peak at $9.91 for northbound trips and $6.11 for southbound trips, according to OCTA projections.

The OCTA is scheduled to discuss the 405 plans on Nov. 8 at its headquarters in Orange.

The Good and Bad of the West Coast Climate Pact


By Chris Clarke, October 29, 2013

 A fracking protest outside the signing ceremony

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a non-binding climate pact Monday with governors John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Jay Inslee of Washington, and Premier Christy Clark of British Columbia. Reaction to the pact is mixed, with the most negative reaction coming from activists opposed to the expansion of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas in California.

And Brown didn't do much to reassure fracking opponents in his reaction to a protest outside the San Francisco headquarters of Cisco Systems, where the formal signing ceremony occurred.

"I think we ought to give science a chance before deciding on a ban on fracking," Brown told reporters after the ceremony, adding that fracking had allowed a more economical shift away from coal-fired power.

"So this is a very complicated equation," Brown said. "You can be sure that California is doing everything it can to reduce greenhouse gases and support a sustainable economy."

Reaction was generally positive to other aspects of the climate pact, signed as part of the ongoing development of the five-year-old "Pacific Coast Collaborative" initiative.

California's corporate leaders applauded the possibility of expanding the state's carbon credit market to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Shelly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the anti-cap-and-trade AB 32 Implementation Group, cautiously applauded the pact. "We have always believed that we need a broad market that includes not only other states but other countries, in order for it to function efficiently," Sullivan told the Los Angeles Times.

Reaction to the pact was less cautions from at least one mainstream green group. In a blog post on the Environmental Defense Fund's web site, Derek Walker -- EDF's Associate Vice President for the group's U.S. Climate and Energy Program -- fairly gushed about the pact, referring to the heads of state as the "Fab Four."

"Today's event is a beacon of hope for national and global action to fight climate change," wrote Walker. "While the four parties in this agreement are in different stages in putting a price on carbon, their combined commitment is a positive sign and further impetus for regional and international collaboration."

By signing the pact, the West Coast states and province do actually pledge to taking important steps to regulate carbon. Here's the language:
Oregon will build on existing programs to set a price on carbon emissions. Washington will set binding limits on carbon emissions and deploy market mechanisms to meet those limits. British Columbia and California will maintain their existing carbon-pricing programs. Where possible, California, British Columbia, Oregon and Washington will link programs for consistency and predictability and to expand opportunities to grow the region's low-carbon economy.
Washington's governor Inslee has expressed support for a cap and trade program in his state, and BC has had a $30 (Canadian) per ton tax on carbon emissions in place for the last five years.

The governments also commit to non-specific support of a number of initiatives from regional high speed rail to zero-net-energy buildings, coordination of the West Coast's electrical power grids, and supporting research on ocean acidification. The governments also agreed to push for a global climate summit in 2015.

And the last clause may be the most important one:
This Action Plan shall have no legal effect; impose no legally binding obligation enforceable in any court of law or other tribunal of any sort, nor create any funding expectation; nor shall our jurisdictions be responsible for the actions of third parties or associates.
Notable by its absence from Monday's signing was the fifth member of the Pacific Coast Collaborative: the state of Alaska. Alaska has the most to lose from climate change, which is already radically affecting the state's Arctic environment. Nonetheless, Alaska governor Sean Parnell has been resolutely silent on the climate issue, going so far as to quietly shut down the state's involvement in climate working groups launched by (of all people) his predecessor Sarah Palin.

Farther south, it's unlikely that Jerry Brown will hear the last of the fracking issue anytime soon. "Brown is out of step with the California electorate," said rose Braz and Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity in an Op-Ed prior to Monday's signing. "Polls show 58 percent of the state wants a moratorium on the practice. If Brown values his legacy as a climate leader, he needs to halt fracking in California. The governor needs to face facts: Climate leaders don't frack."

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


By Eric Jaffe, October 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti meets with President Obama, other federal officials, and lobbies for federal funding


By Rick Orlov, October 28, 2013


L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti poses with EPA Adminsitrator Gina McCarthy in Washington. He also met with President Barack Obama. 

In his first official trip to Washington, D.C., Mayor Eric Garcetti on Monday met with President Barack Obama as part of a lobbying trip for federal assistance on transportation projects and improvements to the Los Angeles River.

“He said he wanted to welcome me to Washington,” Garcetti said in a telephone interview.

He later sent out a tweet: “Great to visit with @BarackObama at the White House today.”

In a day filled with meetings, Garcetti met with senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett to discuss the L.A. River restoration project. He was joined on the trip by City Councilmen Bob Blumenfield, Gil Cedillo, Mike Bonin and Mitch O’Farrell.

Garcetti also sat down with officials from the Office of Management and Budget, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

“They were very familiar with what we are doing, and we wanted to let them know how important these projects are to us in Los Angeles,” he said.

One of the mayor’s main goals was to seek federal help at Los Angeles International Airport. “We are very interested in the LAX-Connect program, where passengers could come to an intermodal facility to check in and then get on a people mover to take them to the different terminals,” Garcetti said.

He noted the city was not asking the federal government to pick up the entire tab, as Measure R — which allocates a projected $40 billion to traffic relief and transportation upgrades throughout L.A. County over the next 30 years — would be paying at least half the cost of the system.

The same is true for the L.A. River, on which more than $200 million has been earmarked for improvements as Garcetti and city officials seek to have a $1 billion program adopted by the Army Corps of Engineers to make improvements along the entire 51-mile waterway.

With the EPA’s McCarthy, he discussed the need for the city to increase water storage, particularly in the San Fernando Valley.

“They are very impressed that we are using cutting-edge technology,” Garcetti said.

Before heading back to the Southland tonight, the mayor and his cadre will be attending L.A. River Day, sponsored by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, which examines the four Army Corps of Engineers revitalization options for the river.

The council earlier this year officially backed Alternative 20, the most expensive and comprehensive of the plans.

O’Farrell, in a telephone interview, said the group also met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and members of the Council on Environmental Quality. “It is important for them to understand that we as a city and a region ... are asking the federal government to meet us halfway over a 20-year period,” he said.

“We have demonstrated we know how to make things happen at the local level and now need federal support. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make an investment in a resource like the L.A. River. This opportunity will not be here in five years.”

Garcetti had planned a significant Washington trip shortly after he was sworn in as mayor but had to cut that trip short because of local fallout from the Trayvon Martin case.

Also on the trip is City Engineer Gary Moore, who is serving as interim port director, and Public Works Commissioner Barbara Romero.

Bonin, whose council district includes LAX, said the visit with the secretary of transportation was particularly beneficial. Bonin and Garcetti want to fast-track the ground transportation center, which they hope will allow Metro Green and Crenshaw Line trains to connect directly with the airport. Any plan will require support from the Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Transit Administration, both of which are supervised by Foxx.

Considerable planning work remains, but Bonin said he is optimistic LAX can begin building its ground transportation hub before Obama leaves offices in January 2017.

The Green Line already stops near LAX, but Bonin said it’s vital for Metro trains to actually enter airport property.

“We don’t want to have a reputation as the city that almost does the right thing in transportation,” Bonin said. “It’s not good enough to almost get to the airport. We have to connect.”

Reverse Commutes Now Often A Daily Slog, Too


By David Schaper, October 29, 2013

 Kathy LeVeque reads her tablet on her reverse commute from her city home to her job in north suburban Deerfield.

 Kathy LeVeque reads her tablet on her reverse commute from her city home to her job in north suburban Deerfield.

It is still as dark as night as Jim Rix steps out of his red brick Chicago bungalow and gets into his car, parked on the street. It's 6 a.m., and the 53-year-old engineer is getting an early start on his 35-mile commute out to Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago's southwest suburbs.

"Depending upon weather and time of day, it can take 45 minutes to two hours to get to and from work," Rix says.

Rix is one of many on the roads driving a reverse commute from the city to the suburbs. Over the past couple of decades, suburban job growth has exploded, but in recent years, there's also been a renaissance in urban living, especially among young professionals. The result: In some cities, traffic on the reverse commute is as congested as or worse than traffic going into the city.

As Rix accelerates onto the expressway, traffic is already heavy, though moving — a good sign — but it's only because he leaves home so early that he's able to beat the worst of morning traffic.

"Yesterday, for instance, I didn't leave until 7 o'clock; it took over 90 minutes to get to work and there wasn't anything particular going on."

Crashes or bad weather can make the trip take much longer.

"It's just exhausting. There's nothing to be done with it, and the stress and so forth is pretty hard to take," he says.

'I'm A City Person'

So to avoid the worst of the traffic, Rix is one of a growing number of commuters working a flexible schedule: He gets to work early — around 7 a.m. Some days he heads home by 3 p.m.; other days, he stays at work until after 7 p.m., to miss the peak rush hours.

Why not just move closer to his job? Jim's wife, Susan, has a long commute to a northern suburb in the opposite direction of Jim's.

Reverse commuters, include Kathy LeVeque (in the foreground), wait for an approaching outbound Metra commuter train at the Mayfair neighborhood stop on Chicago's northwest side.
Reverse commuters, include Kathy LeVeque (in the foreground), wait for an approaching outbound Metra commuter train at the Mayfair neighborhood stop on Chicago's northwest side.

And Rix, who grew up in a small town in Iowa, just loves the culture and vibrancy of city living.
That's what keeps Kathy LeVeque, 31, in Chicago, too. "I'm a city person," she says.

LeVeque is waiting at a commuter rail station to catch a train to her job in north suburban Deerfield.
As in other cities, Chicago's transit system was designed primarily to bring workers from outside the city downtown. But now, 70 percent of the region's jobs are outside that urban core. LeVeque herself used to drive nearly an hour or more each way every day.

"It's frustrating to sit in traffic. It's time that's not your own," she says. "But when you're on the train, you can just relax, you can close your eyes, you can read a book."

LeVeque is one of a growing number of Chicagoans making the reverse commute by train. In fact, train ridership on the reverse commute is up 64 percent over the past decade. To both ease her commute and still enjoy city life, LeVeque made a critical choice: "I actually decided to move to this neighborhood because I wanted to be off the Metra train to get to work, and then I wanted to be off the Blue Line so that I could get downtown easily."

Commuters board shuttle buses at the Lake-Cook Metra rail stop in Chicago's northern suburbs. This Shuttle Bug program is a collaboration between area employers and the suburban transit agency, PACE, to provide better transit options for workers, especially those who live in the city but work in the Lake-Cook job corridor.
Commuters board shuttle buses at the Lake-Cook Metra rail stop in Chicago's northern suburbs. This Shuttle Bug program is a collaboration between area employers and the suburban transit agency, PACE, to provide better transit options for workers, especially those who live in the city but work in the Lake-Cook job corridor.
By doing that, LeVeque is part of another trend.

Living Along The Lines

Census figures show surging population growth along rail lines in Chicago, especially those leading to the suburbs.

"It's an opportunity, but it also presents a big challenge for the transit market," says Leanne Redden, who oversees planning for the Regional Transportation Authority of Chicago. Redden says the challenge is getting reverse commuters the last couple of miles from suburban stations to the sprawling corporate campuses and office parks along the highways.

One solution: the Shuttle Bug program. Big employers in one suburban corridor, including Walgreens and Allstate, help underwrite shuttle buses that take employees between their offices and the train stations. Redden is hoping to replicate the program in other areas.

Other ideas to improve "last mile" connections could include express bus routes, more van pools and even car and bike sharing in the suburbs.

"What we need to do is sort of piece those puzzle pieces together or provide those connections with flexible services," she says.

But Redden acknowledges public transit can't be the solution for everyone's trip to the suburbs, and driving will continue to be the only option for commuters such as Rix, who takes a Zen-like approach.

"It takes some time to just accept the fact that this is it, this is my commute," Rix says.

There's no pushing traffic, Rix says, so he listens to some music, tries to relax and becomes numb to the long reverse commute.

Air pollution can ruin your computer


By Sarah Laskow, October 29, 2013

 This computer's just dusty, but same idea.

 This computer’s just dusty, but same idea.

The cloud of pollution that’s hovering over Asia isn’t just messing with the insides of the humans living there. Computers in Asia are getting the electronic equivalent of smokers’ lung, the Oregonian reports:
“We got the board and it was pretty obvious. You open the chassis up and you see blackish material on every type of surface,” said Anil Kurella, the Hillsboro material scientist who’s leading Intel’s research effort.
The problem is that the residue from pollution sidles into the computer and concentrates there. Sulfur, in particular, is pouring out of coal factories and, eventually, corroding the wires of fancy electronics.
Intel’s solution isn’t to fight back against pollution, but to make more of it; the company is manufacturing pollution in the lab so it can try to protect its products from the negative effects. Too bad that’s not possible for human lungs.

More transportation fixes in the works for Southern California


By Dakota Smith, October 29, 2013

Less than a year after voters shot down a plan to pay for more transit projects, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Tuesday transit officials are considering putting another transportation initiative on the ballot.

In prerecorded remarks broadcast at the Mobility 21 conference in downtown Los Angeles, Garcetti said the consensus among Los Angeles County leaders is that “we desperately need more transportation investments.” The mayor recently met with dozens of county officials to discuss transit options, he told attendees gathered at the J.W. Marriott Hotel.

“Currently, all the cities across L.A. County are submitting their ideas for investments as part of another possible transportation-investment ballot initiative,” Garcetti said. “These efforts will ultimately expand our transit system while at the same time increasing planning efforts to deliver vibrant neighborhoods along our transportation corridors.”

Garcetti’s remarks were part of the official kickoff of the annual one-day gathering of Southern California transportation, planning and business groups focused on transportation funding and legislation at the state and federal levels.

The conference regularly draws hundreds of local and regional groups. During his tenure, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa used the event to unveil transit initiatives and push for federal funds.
Garcetti, who sits on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, couldn’t attend Tuesday’s event in person, as he was in Washington, D.C., seeking money for L.A. River improvements and a transportation connection to the Los Angeles International Airport.

Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb said the mayor’s remarks at the Mobility conference were not an indication of support for an extension of Measure R, the voter-approved half-cent sales tax that’s currently paying for an array of rail, bus and highway projects.

Measure J, a proposed 30-year extension of Measure R, failed to pass by a slim majority last year.

Robb said Garcetti was simply referencing recent actions taken by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who also sits on the MTA board. Antonovich has been talking to local communities about what projects they want to see built under another ballot initiative. Antonovich, along with County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky also authored a motion approved by the MTA board on Tuesday to allocate $500,000 to help the San Fernando Valley Council of Governments develop a “Mobility Matrix” that would identify some of the Valley’s transportation needs.

“Cutting traffic is a priority for Mayor Garcetti and he is currently exploring all options to ease congestion for Angelenos,” Robb said.

MTA Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy, who also attended the conference, struck a skeptical tone when addressing a possible extension. “We will evaluate whether we do a Measure J again,” Leahy told the Daily News. “I don’t know if we will. It’s possible that would happen in either 2014 or 2016.”

Timing of the ballot measure is key: Strong turnout in the 2016 presidential election could help passage of a tax measure, while a 2014 measure could compete with city officials’ plans to put a road-repair bond to voters.

Transportation key to improving health care


By Flora M. Castillo, October 29, 2013

The Affordable Care Act’s new health insurance exchanges have just opened for business. Some 16 million people are projected to gain insurance coverage next year through these new marketplaces — as well as through Medicaid, the publicly financed health program for low-income Americans.

But that coverage won’t do them any good if they can’t get to the doctor. For millions of Americans — including many who already have health insurance — that’s a real concern.

Lawmakers may differ about the best way forward for health reform. But they should all be able to agree that problems with transportation should not keep their fellow citizens from securing the care they need.

According to the Federal Transit Administration, about 3.6 million Americans skip or delay non-emergency medical care every year because of issues with transportation. Their doctor’s office may not be conveniently reachable by public transit — or they may have trouble transporting their entire family when child care is unavailable.

Prevention is the key to a successful health care system. These missed appointments can lead to the deterioration of a person’s medical condition — and even greater health costs.

More than half of these 3.6 million folks have limited financial resources, with household incomes of less than $20,000 a year. A number of them may be eligible for Medicaid but have trouble putting their coverage to use because they struggle to get to the doctor.

Their limited mobility doesn’t just jeopardize their health — it also exacerbates America’s health cost crisis.

The FTA found that, compared to the general population, these 3.6 million Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes. Chronic diseases are responsible for 75 percent of U.S. health expenditures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And if the folks missing those appointments are on Medicaid, taxpayers shoulder the additional costs that come about when patients forego treatment — and allow health problems to grow serious.
Improving our healthcare system will therefore require improving Americans’ access to transportation. Investing more in public transit and coordinating existing transportation service providers are both critical.

But money alone isn’t the answer.

Policymakers should also take advantage of the services that local public transit agencies already offer. Examples for how to do so abound — and should serve as models for the rest of the country.
Consider Cleveland’s HealthLine service, which delivers patients and riders to the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, among other destinations, every five minutes during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Such a system provides patients with convenient, direct access to their healthcare providers — and increases the likelihood that they’ll make their appointments.

North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services has adopted an integrated approach — by calling on state policymakers to coordinate non-emergency medical transportation with local public transportation agencies already providing public transit in their communities.

Since July 2009, New Jersey has contracted with a broker to provide NEMT to Medicaid beneficiaries. The broker receives an annual fee for each eligible patient. By working with county community transit systems and purchasing NJ Transit bus and rail tickets when appropriate, the broker has reduced costs per passenger trip. Over 15 percent of the 5.2 million Medicaid NEMT trips in 2012 were provided by public or county community transit.

Collaborative efforts like these can go a long way toward helping Americans make their doctor’s appointments — and thus stay healthy.

Over the next few years, millions of Americans are set to secure health insurance. But many will not be able to put that coverage to use — and receive care — without improved access to transportation.

Policymakers must eliminate that roadblock.

The Head of SCAG Hasan Ikhrata Wants to Put a Black Box In Your Car and Track Your Every Move


October 30, 2013

 I'm watching.

 You may have noticed yesterday that a rather old Tattler article had crept back into our "Top 10 Most Read Posts" list. Originally posted here in October of 2009 (link), it asks this loaded question: "The Head of SCAG is a Former Soviet Planner?" The article was based on a cite from the Orange County Register, and yes. Hasan Ikhrata, a man noted for his striking lack of a forehead, once was an actual Soviet planning official. From The Register (link):

No joke! SCAG's new leader was a Soviet planner This is too good to be true. I have a habit of comparing myriad local and state planners to Soviet planners, given that their ideas seem so similar at times. Recently, I wrote a column about the planners at SCAG, the appropriately named Southern California Association of Governments. I say appropriately, because a dictionary definition of scag is heroin, and these folks are addicted to central planning and tax dollars.

Well, the new head of SCAG, replacing Mark Pisano, is Hasan Ikhrata. Check out this from his bio: "Hasan also worked abroad for the Government of USSR, Moscow Metro Corporation, where he conducted subway ridership forecasting, engineering design and analysis of TDM programs for the Moscow Subway system. Hasan holds a bachelor's degree from Moscow University in the former Soviet Union and master's degree in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and is a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Planning from the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles."

At least now it will be easier to refer to the "Soviet Planner" in charge of Southern California's premiere planning agency!

An interesting blast from the past for sure. And certainly SCAG does have its Soviet aspects. The most obvious to anyone living in Sierra Madre being the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers we are forced to endure from them every few years.

The "RHNA Process," as it is known, being how SCAG's faceless planners help jam hideously inappropriate locally unwanted land uses (LULUs) into quaint little villages such as our own. Unelected and widely reviled bureaucrats, SCAG planning apparatchiks operate at the sole pleasure of an increasingly hostile central state government, and function completely free from any interference by we the voters.

City planning has now apparently become a post-democratic activity.

Obviously this former Soviet planner has found his happy home in today's California. A one party state well into the process of confiscating all local planning authority and consolidating it within our venal central government in Sacramento, where it is then peddled piecemeal to the highest bidders.

Slow growthers and other people who believe that cities such as ours should be allowed to independently plot their own planning destinies apparently being the Kulaks of this troubled era.

So why is an old Tattler article about Hasan Ikhrata attracting so much attention on the Internet now? Apparently our favorite once upon a time Soviet planner is up to no good again. This from the Los Angeles Times (link):

A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue As America's road planners struggle to find the cash to mend a crumbling highway system, many are beginning to see a solution in a little black box that fits neatly by the dashboard of your car.

The devices, which track every mile a motorist drives and transmit that information to bureaucrats, are at the center of a controversial attempt in Washington and state planning offices to overhaul the outdated system for funding America's major roads.

The tea party is aghast. The American Civil Liberties Union is deeply concerned, too, raising a variety of privacy issues.

And while Congress can't agree on whether to proceed, several states are not waiting. They are exploring how, over the next decade, they can move to a system in which drivers pay per mile of road they roll over. Thousands of motorists have already taken the black boxes, some of which have GPS monitoring, for a test drive.

"This really is a must for our nation. It is not a matter of something we might choose to do," said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which is planning for the state to start tracking miles driven by every California motorist by 2025. "There is going to be a change in how we pay these taxes. The technology is there to do it."

This really is a must for whose nation, Mr. Ikhrata?

That story has now gone viral on the Internet. A website called Zero Hedge (link), also citing Ikhrata's troubling assertions, had this to say:

Big Brother Is Coming To Your Car This is a topic that has been on my radar screen for a while, but one that very few Americans seem to be paying attention to despite the egregious revelations concerning NSA spying that have emerged recently. I first flagged this issue in late 2012 in an article titled: Coming to Your Car: Mandatory Black Boxes That Record Everything.

The latest push for tracking devices in cars is being sold as necessary in order to raise funds to pay for the nation’s decayed highway infrastructure ... This is simply idiotic. There is already a tax per gallon on gasoline, so people are already being taxed based on how much they drive. Only a control-freak, moronic government bureaucrat would come to the conclusion that the solution to this problem is to install Orwellian tracking devices in people’s cars.

And then there is this observation from a Libertarian news blog called American Thinker (link):

Big Brother Never Sleeps - The statists never stop their quest to figure out how to control our lives. I haven't adjusted to the new reality in America that we will face penalties for not having health insurance (and hope I never do adjust to it), when along comes another absolutely crazy leftie plan, "Track and Tax."

Can you guess what this might be about? Think outside the box and don't be afraid to be completely outrageous as you brainstorm ideas. Headline Hint: "A black box in your car? Some see a source of tax revenue: The devices would track every mile you drive -- possibly including your location -- and the government would use the data to draw up a tax bill."

American Thinker also cites Hasan Ikhrata's quote, and then shares these thoughts:

Next, anyone affiliated with something called the Southern California Association of Governments would be a person I would steer clear of when seeking guidance on, well, just about anything. Who knew that in addition to The Government, there would be an Association of Governments?

Then, I have to say, that while I appreciate the ACLU being concerned about privacy, I have no interest in anyone figuring out a way to make this plan to track and tax be one that are eventually feel "more comfortable" with. I don't want the government (or anyone!) keeping track of where I go, what day I go, what time I go, how many miles I drove, or anything of the sort.

It appears that we are cursed to be living in interesting times. Times where everything you do is carefully watched, tracked, analyzed, and then taxed.

Look at it this way, perhaps Hasan Ikhrata never really did leave the Soviet Union.

Rather he just brought it here with him.