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

Friday, November 15, 2013

Flaming big rig brings 210 Freeway traffic to a halt in Irwindale


By Brian Day, November 15, 2013

For the second time in two days, a flaming big rig brought the afternoon commute through the San Gabriel Valley to a crawl Friday, this time in Irwindale, authorities said.

No injuries were reported in connection with the fire, which ignited about 5:15 p.m. in the westbound lanes of the 210 Freeway at the 605 Freeway, California Highway Patrol Officer Tony Polizzi said.
Callers first reported seeing a big rig disabled and on fire in the No. 3 lane of traffic, the officer said. Subsequent callers reported the fire grew until the truck was fully engulfed.

Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about 20 minutes, according to CHP logs. The cause was unclear.

Officials initially shut down all but the carpool lane as they extinguished the fire and removed the scorched truck from the roadway. A little over an hour later, the carpool and two left-hand lanes had been reopened.

Plans for party train between Las Vegas-L.A. derailed


By Tim O'Reiley, November 13, 2013
 An artist's rendering shows an entertainment car on what would have been part of Las Vegas Railway Express' planned X Train.

The party has ended before it began on train travel between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

For four years, penny stock company Las Vegas Railway Express has promoted its idea to restart rail service between the two areas using conventional equipment outfitted for a good-time ride, what it calls the X Train.

But in its second-quarter report filed Tuesday, the company disclosed that it had scrapped its previously announced strategy of raising $100 million to launch the service, including paying the Union Pacific Railroad $67 million to improve and expand its tracks between Las Vegas and Daggett, Calif.

As a result, the company forfeited a $600,000 deposit paid to Union Pacific last year.

When the Union Pacific deal was announced one year ago, Las Vegas Railway Express CEO Michael Barron said in a statement, “This moment will be long remembered as an important milestone in providing a great experience for X Train customers.”

This managed to attract widespread attention.

“No longer was the X Train followed by a few news organizations in Southern Nevada,” publicist Mick Bailey wrote on the company’s website. “(An) Associated Press article was picked up by news agencies around the country.”

Barron promised an inaugural run on the upcoming New Year’s Eve, one of several start dates that have gone by the boards. The initial concept called for a $99 fare each way, including food and drink, for about a five-hour ride.

The quarterly report said the company will pursue an “off balance sheet” deal being put together by unidentified investors to restart Amtrak service for the first time since 1997, with X Train party cars attached.

Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said in a statement, “They have approached us but we have no agreement.”

Barron planned to have Amtrak crews run the original version of the party trains, but no contract was ever signed. Likewise, the Las Vegas Railway Express never reached a deal with BNSF, which owns about half the track between Las Vegas and the proposed terminus at Fullerton, Calif., near Disneyland.

Replacing the Union Pacific transaction with an off balance sheet would prevent shareholder dilution, Barron said in a statement.

However, the number of shares the past year alone has quadrupled to 164.7 million, according to company financial statements, as the company has sold stock and secured loans that could be repaid with stock to raise the money to stay in business.

The number of shares it could potentially owe would take it above the currently authorized limit of 200 million.

Barron’s latest pitch calls for attaching the casino-style passenger cars to regular Amtrak routes, with the first one on Dec. 2 to connect to an unspecified city pair anywhere in the country. In June, a company statement said it would start accepting bookings the next month for what it called Casino Fun Trains on 10 different routes, such as Houston to New Orleans.

The announced xtrainvacations.com website does not work, however.

Graham said Amtrak has no agreements to allow Las Vegas Railway Express to attach any cars to regular trains. Moreover, she said, the company has not said where or if any cars are ready for service.

Nevertheless, the company seeks to lease 20 acres owned by North Las Vegas for a station. Previously, Barron talked about locating next to the Plaza downtown, but that plan was dropped.

Letter: We are what we breathe; air pollution a carcinogen


November 15, 2013

Last month, scientists from around the world issued a report about air pollution, classifying it as a carcinogen. After looking at scores of studies relating air particles to disease outcomes, WHO researchers found that the evidence for a cancer link was overwhelming. Their conclusions were underscored by a case report of an 8-year-old in China — the most heavily polluted country in the world — who developed lung cancer.

A second report from Lancet — a leading British medical journal — linked air pollution to increased rates of low birth weight infants. Their data indicated that more than 20 percent of cases of fetal growth retardation could be prevented by improving air quality in European cities.

Over the last decades, most Americans have come to realize that we control our health, to a great degree, by the choices we make regarding diet, exercise and habits. We don’t have a lot of control over our genetic predispositions for diseases, though knowledge about how our genes interact with the environment is expanding rapidly.

As individuals, we also have little control over what we breathe. Clean air is a public policy issue — with health concerns balanced against cost. Strengthening the federal Clean Air Act is our best protection against dangerous air pollution; states can’t do it alone. Citizens need to know that the health risks of air pollution are real, and support measures that reduce its impact. “You are what you eat” is an old adage — new data add that you also “are what you breathe.”

Sydney R. Sewall, MDMaine Physicians for Social Responsibility Hallowell

Devil's Gate Reservoir Sediment Removal and Management Project

Posted by Pasadena Councilman Steve Madison on Facebook, November 15, 2013

As a reminder, tomorrow is the third Community Meeting that will present the Devil's Gate Reservoir Sediment Removal and Management Project and its DEIR. Community participation is an integral part of the CEQA process. The meeting will take place from 2:00PM-4:00PM at the Community Center of La Canada Flintridge located at 4469 Chevy Chase Drive.

Road Projects Gobble Up Growing Share of Chicago’s “Air Quality” Funds


By Steven Vance, November 15, 2013

 Elmhurst and Touhy

The Elmhurst and Touhy intersection in Elk Grove Village will get an $11 million treatment to add a bypass lane. 

In its upcoming update of the GO TO 2040 comprehensive regional plan, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning needs to take a closer look at the transportation projects it funds with federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grants. In the latest round of these grants, announced Tuesday, CMAP committees have approved funding for nine projects that only add more space for cars.

The Regional Transportation Operations Coalition, a consortium of transportation agencies and consultants that makes recommendations to CMAP, selected several projects that add turn lanes at intersections.

These funds are supposed to be used to reduce vehicle pollution, because Chicagoland air quality does not meet the standards set out in the Clean Air Act. The best way to do that using transportation infrastructure is to make walking, biking, and transit more appealing to people relative to driving.

While each road expansion project is presumed to reduce traffic congestion at that specific location, the broader effect is to induce more driving and discourage transit use. And increasing transit ridership is supposedly a major goal of CMAP’s GO TO 2040 regional plan.

This year, road projects comprise 35.2 percent of Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funding, an increase from the 25.7 percent share in 2012.  According to CMAP’s own analysis, all of these road projects will have “no benefit” when it comes to reducing solo driving trips or traffic in general [one, two]. Meanwhile, all bike/ped/transit projects are projected to have a positive impact on reducing traffic and SOV trips.

Union Station intermodal rendering

The good news: CMAQ funds will pay for construction of the Union Station transportation center at Jackson/Canal, with underground walkway to the Great Hall.

Granted, these road projects may yield some improvement to the speed and flow of bus operations. But the overall effect could still work against transit: By creating more space for driving, people will drive more in these places, which can slow down buses. And just as important, all the money spent on these road projects cannot be invested in ways that will definitely improve transit, biking, and walking.

No sidewalk at bus stop
A bus stop without a sidewalk or waiting area along suburban Randall Road. Photo: Google Maps.
On to the more worthy projects that will receive this funding. Active transportation projects that Chicagoland residents can expect in the near future include:
  • Sidewalks and concrete waiting areas for suburban bus stops. Yes, Randall Road in Kane County is notorious for being hostile to pedestrians and Pace bus riders, as bus stops consist of a pole in the grass next to a ditch. This project will address the fact that “bus stop locations along [Randall Road] lack adequate connectivity due to prevalent large-setback strip-malls.”
  • “Arterial Rapid Transit” bus service on Milwaukee Avenue from Jefferson Park CTA Blue Line in Chicago to Golf Mill mall in Niles. The project will have transit signal priority (like Ashland BRT), branded buses (like the J14 Jeffery Jump), stations, and real-time info at stops.
  • Reconstruction of two Chicago Transit Authority stations, Monroe Red Line and State/Lake elevated.
  • A faster 66-Chicago bus. Signalized intersections on Chicago Avenue from Austin Avenue to Orleans Street will be upgraded to give CTA buses priority.
  • Union Station transportation center at Jackson/Canal, with underground walkway to the Great Hall for smoother, weather-protected connections to several bus routes, including the upcoming Central Loop BRT.
  • An extension of the Chicago River riverwalk with an underbridge connection at Addison Street.
  • 75 more Divvy stations.
That’s the good news, but it’s difficult for transit to gain ridership or biking and walking to increase when we continue to heavily fund driving.

Charge Ahead California Launches Million Electric Vehicle Campaign Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1588338#ixzz2kk6zbFOg


November 14, 2013

Today a diverse coalition of community-based, public health, science and conservation groups across the state launched a campaign to help clean up California’s transportation system and improve air quality in communities across the state – particularly those historically exposed to a disproportionate share of pollution – by putting one million electric cars, trucks and buses on the road within ten years. Shifting to electric vehicles will also keep more transportation dollars in-state, boosting the economy and creating new jobs.

The campaign will focus on directing current polluter fees on oil companies to fund existing, highly successful purchase incentive programs and to increase access to zero-emission transportation in disadvantaged communities.

“Low income Californians want and need the cleaner air and fuel savings that electric vehicles can bring our communities,” said Vien Truong, director of environmental equity at The Greenlining Institute. “Driving on electricity significantly reduces emissions and is equivalent to paying only one dollar-per-gallon in a gasoline vehicle. Bolstering our electric vehicle industry also means good-paying jobs in manufacturing and related fields that communities of color so urgently need.”

Cars, trucks, and buses are the single largest source of air pollution in California and are responsible for 34 percent of the state’s soot and smog-forming pollution. A recent MIT study found that traffic pollution causes almost 6,000 premature mortalities annually in California, almost twice the number killed in traffic accidents. Four in ten Californians, more than in any other state, live close enough to a freeway or busy road that they may be at increased risk of asthma, cancer and other health hazards. Lower income households in communities of color tend to live closest to heavily trafficked areas and suffer disproportionately.

“Over-reliance on fossil fuel is threatening the health of our families and communities,” said Bill Gallegos, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment. “By expanding the market for zero emission technologies and green infrastructure for transportation, charging and manufacturing, we can make significant improvements to our air quality as well as provide sustainable job opportunities for Californians – particularly those in underserved communities.”

“More Californians live near a freeway or busy road than anywhere else in the country and it is no surprise that communities living near these pollution hot spots experience higher rates of asthma,” said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior director of policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association in California. “One of the most effective ways to reduce health emergencies from asthma and other respiratory illnesses is to cut vehicle pollution and support the transition to clean, emission-free cars and trucks. That’s what this campaign is all about.”

California is one of eight states that have agreed to work together to put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025. The leaders of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia just signed the historic Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, which also calls for scaling up the use of electric vehicles. Because it is the nation’s largest single market for electric cars, California holds the key to meeting the eight state and Pacific Coast Action Plan goals.

“Deployment of zero-emission delivery trucks eliminates air pollution and supports good jobs in the heart of California,” said Ricky Hanna, CEO of Electric Vehicles International (EVI), a Stockton-based electric vehicle manufacturer. “Clean vehicles help address localized health impacts for communities throughout California, particularly those near commercial hubs and transit corridors.”

Companies such as EVI, Boulder EV (Chatsworth), Complete Coach Works (Riverside), El Dorado National (Riverside), Altec (Dixon), Vision Industries (Long Beach), Transpower (Poway), Quantum (Lake Forest) and Tesla (Fremont) are already expanding and creating new manufacturing jobs in response to increasing electric vehicle demand.

Californians spend $70 billion on gasoline and diesel annually, $40 billion of which leaves the state in payments to oil companies and foreign oil producing countries. The use of electricity as a transportation fuel can help keep those dollars in the state, stimulating the economy, and insulating family budgets from gas price spikes. Filling California’s cars, trucks and buses with electricity instead of oil would help grow the state’s economy, creating up to 100,000 additional jobs by 2030.

Automakers are beginning to bring a diversity of advanced electric drive vehicles to the market, which don’t rely on gasoline and appeal to families across the income spectrum. Most automakers today are either selling or making zero-polluting cars for sale within the next few years.

The campaign’s supporters include American Lung Association in California, CALPIRG, Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for a Better Environment, Environment California Research & Policy Center, The Greenlining Institute, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club California and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

For more information, visit ChargeAhead.org.

Statements from other organizations supporting the campaign:

“The technology exists today to make all vehicles – from delivery trucks to minivans and sedans– more fuel efficient, less polluting and affordable,” said Michelle Kinman clean energy advocate with Environment California Research & Policy Center. “This is our opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and head off the worst impacts of global warming while cutting the air pollution that is slowly poisoning our communities, improving the quality of life for all Californians.”

“California has the opportunity to continue its long history of pioneering clean technologies, such as catalytic converters, hybrids and solar energy,” said Roland Hwang transportation program director with NRDC. “With the electric vehicle market at a critical tipping point, California’s leadership can ensure that drivers and communities across the nation can realize the clean air and fuel savings benefits of electrification.”

“Investing in clean cars, trucks and buses – particularly in our most polluted and impoverished communities – means cleaner air, healthier neighborhoods and less money spent on respiratory illness,” said Bill Magavern, policy director of the Coalition for Clean Air.

“California’s leadership has paved the way for a promising market for electric vehicles to help us meet our climate, air quality and oil saving goals,” said Don Anair, deputy director of the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “However, sustained investment is necessary to enable this technology to reach its potential of providing clean, efficient transportation for the state and the nation.”

Contact: Michelle Kinman, Environmental California, 310-621-8935, michelle(at)environmentcalifornia(dot)org
Jessica Lass, Natural Resources Defense Council, 415-875-6143, jlass(at)nrdc(dot)org
Bruce Mirken, The Greenlining Institute, 510-926-4022, brucem(at)greenlining(dot)org


YOUR VIEW: Protecting against childhood asthma By limiting carbon emissions


By Sean Palfrey, M.D., November 15, 2013

Every time 8-year-old Mia leaves the house to play outside with friends, her mother, Rachael, worries that her daughter might suffer a serious asthma attack. Although she knows it would be unfair and unhealthy to keep Mia trapped inside every day after school or prevent her from participating in sleepovers and school field trips, it is sometimes hard for Rachael to let go of the memory of Mia’s early years.

Mia, like an ever-increasing number of Massachusetts children, has had to endure more than her fair share of severe asthma attacks. During one attack, she coughed so hard that she burst blood vessels in her eyes. Although these attacks are somewhat less frequent now, countless visits to the emergency room hardened her family to the harsh realities of raising a child with asthma, which can be deadly at worst and terrifying at best.

Because air pollution can be a recipe for disaster for Mia, Rachael continues to be vigilant about checking air quality forecasts and has often changed her family’s plans if an unhealthy air quality day is on the horizon. On days when the air quality is going to enter the code orange or red zones, Rachael knows it’s safer to keep Mia indoors than to risk her having an acute asthma attack.

One in 10 people in the Bay State suffers with asthma, which is higher than the national average. We are seeing and treating an increasing number of children, like Mia, whose lives could be so much safer, happier and more successful if only we could only write a prescription for healthy air.

While those of us in the medical community do not have the power to write such a prescription, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does. Much to its credit, the EPA has finally taken necessary steps to clean up the most prolific stationary source of air pollution in this country – coal-fired power plants. No other industry produces more carbon pollution and, as temperature trends continue to rise, the dangers of carbon pollution increase exponentially because of this simple equation: Heat plus carbon pollution equals smog.

Nearly a third of our state’s residents live in failing or near-failing air quality zones, according to the American Lung Association’s 2013 State of the Air report. Massachusetts is not only threatened by pollution from its own coal-fired power plants but from other downwind sources that grant us the loathsome distinction of being know as America’s “tailpipe.”

It’s no wonder Rachael has struggled at times to keep Mia’s asthma attacks at bay. No matter how aggressive Massachusetts healthy air laws are, our children and adults will continue to suffer until a national solution is established.

The EPA’s current proposal applies to all new coal-fired power plants, but should also stimulate technological advances that could one day dramatically reduce pollution from our nation’s expansive fleet of power plants. As a country that prides itself on ambitious innovation, we certainly have the ability to make clean energy and healthy air a reality for our children’s and for all future generations, if and when we have the will.

The truth is, we can’t afford not to.

Pollution from coal-fired power plants alone costs hard-working people, including Mia’s family, tens of millions of dollars every year in health care expenses from hospital bills to costly co-pays. Taxpayers also shoulder the burden of these increased health care costs.

The bottom line is that air pollution kills and makes healthy living difficult for many. Dirty air not only triggers childhood asthma attacks, but is also known to cause the cancers, strokes and heart attacks that take from us those closest to us and most vulnerable – older adults and people with chronic lung and heart disease.

Shouldn’t we be asking the EPA when our country will finally begin to clear the air?

Dr. Sean Palfrey is a clinical professor of pediatrics and public health at the Boston University School of Medicine and a volunteer for the American Lung Association in the Massachusetts Healthy Air Campaign.


Why Transit Should Pay Attention to Uber


By Brian Antolin, November 15, 2013

One of the biggest local transport innovations in recent years has been Uber, the technology company that created a platform for independent private sedans to connect with riders who want to travel. You can “hail” a car, track it in real time and pay for your ride using an app on your smart phone. Their rapid expansion from their inception in 2009, both domestically and internationally, has garnered loyal fans, competition from other transport companies and controversy over their operating practices.
So why should transit operators care?

Although Uber doesn’t consider itself a transportation provider, they inadvertently implemented a 21st century solution to transit’s biggest problem today: adapting to new travel patterns and behaviors. The idea here is not to replicate Uber’s business model, but to apply its operating principles in meeting the public’s travel needs. In other words, transit organizations can utilize app-based logistics systems to create on-demand bus services.

The goal is to create more opportunities to achieve profitable revenue service hours for transit vehicles. In major cities, transit organizations have to operate an unbalanced service plan to meet peak demand. They have high supply during the morning and evening, but have to scale back during off-peak hours.
To meet demand, organizations have to include non-revenue operating hours, off-duty employee hours and idle equipment hours. In less densely populated areas, transit organizations are only able to operate limited schedules because of their resources, thus reducing the likelihood of public patronage. These underutilized resources contribute to a higher cost per operating hour, thus driving up the level of subsidy needed to fund the service. By creating and implementing a better way to scale and meet demand at all hours, organizations will be able to induce more riders to travel, increase bottom line revenue and decrease reliance on subsidies.

Technology alone is not the answer, as the equipment used is equally important. Not all services or areas require a fixed route or high capacity buses. In many cases, an on-demand service using smaller buses or vans can drive more people to transit because they can access a wider array of city, suburban, and rural streets. With this model, service managers can reallocate drivers and vehicles to where people are in real time, thereby creating more passenger trips. Furthermore, they can reduce potential dead-mile costs in positioning by optimally routing vehicles to transport passengers in moving in the direction of the “hot spot.”

The on-demand service model is not new or far-fetched. Many paratransit operations manage reservation-based door-to-door services, including Access-A-Ride in New York City, CCT Connect in Philadelphia and SF Paratransit in San Francisco. These services generally use a mix of mini buses, vans and cars to transport these riders, a model which could also fit an on-demand general public operation.
Other organizations, such as the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD), already operate flex-route services. Denver’s Call-n-Ride service uses mini buses or vans operating on a fixed route that will divert to areas within a certain radius away from the route by advanced reservation.

Should transit organizations give up on high-capacity buses and fixed-route service? Of course not, as each has its own use and need. The best solution is a mix of both fixed-route and on-demand service, similar to what RTD Denver currently has. On-demand transit services managed through a mix of app, text, phone and/or Web-based interfaces makes transit more accessible. Even more important, this service model allows transit operators to better react to real-time changes in passenger demand.
By synergizing available resources to where and when they are needed, transit organizations have an opportunity to increase revenue and decrease costs. Meeting ridership demand today means being creative in how service is offered and delivered. This is a good first step toward that.

Field test shows Volvo Buses’ plug-in hybrid reduces fuel consumption by 81% and energy consumption by 61%; 21 mpg


November 14, 2013

 Volvo Plug-in hybrid_EN_2013

 Volvo Bus’ plug-in hybrid. The pantograph for rapid charging can be seen on the roof. Click to enlarge.

Field tests being conducted in Gothenburg show that Volvo Buses’ plug-in hybrid reduces fuel consumption by 81% and total energy consumption (diesel plus electricity) by 61% compared to a comparable Euro 5 diesel bus. (Earlier post.)

The field test in Gothenburg began in June 2013 and includes three plug-in hybrid buses, the batteries of which are rapidly recharged at the terminals. This makes it possible for the buses to run on electric power for most of the route.

The plug-in hybrids are based on the Volvo 7900 Hybrid, Volvo Buses’ second series-produced hybrid bus model. The plug-in hybrids have been further developed, and enable rapid recharging from electricity grids via the Opbrid Bůsbaar pantograph on the roof.

The 4-cylinder, 5-liter Volvo D5F diesel engine produces 215 bhp and is installed vertically. The conventional hybrid offers up to 37% fuel savings compared to a diesel version and 40-50% lower exhaust emissions. The plug-in versions have a larger battery pack, making it possible to drive up to 7 km using electricity only—about 70% of the route distance. The batteries are charged at the bus terminus via the Bůsbaar for between six and ten minutes.
Our performance results are even slightly better than we had anticipated. The plug-in hybrid consumes less than 11 litres of fuel for every 100 kilometres [21 mpgUS]. That’s 81% less fuel than the equivalent diesel bus consumes.
—Johan Hellsing, Project Manager for the field test at Volvo Buses
In addition to the significant energy savings and reduced impact on the environment, this technology gives passengers a more comfortable and pleasant journey and improves the working environment of the drivers.
Although there are many long, steep gradients on the routes, the plug-in hybrid buses can run on electric power for about 85% percent of the time. The diesel engine only kicks in when the bus needs some extra power. The test drivers from GS Buss really appreciate the quiet, vibration-free ride that you get with an electric powered bus.
—Johan Hellsing
The field test of the plug-in hybrid buses in Gothenburg involves 10,000 operating hours and will continue for most of next year. A demo project that will bring eight more plug-in hybrid buses into service will commence next year in Stockholm.

A number of European cities are showing an interest in the plug-in hybrids. Hamburg and Luxembourg have already signed contracts for supplies of the buses in 2014 and 2015. Volvo Buses is working together with the city councils, public transport authorities and providers to develop long-term sustainable solutions for public transport. Volvo Buses plans to commence commercial manufacture of plug-in hybrids towards the end of 2015.

Those engaged in the plug-in hybrid project in Gothenburg are Volvo Buses, Göteborg Energi, Business Region Göteborg, Trafikkontoret and Västtrafik. The project is co-financed by Life+, the EU’s financing program for environmental projects.


An Airborne Heart Threat


By Deborah Blum, November 15, 2013

 Downtown Los Angeles covered in smog.

 Downtown Los Angeles covered in smog.

Bit by bit over the past few decades, scientists have been building a new understanding of the ways that air pollution threatens human health. Much of their attention has been focused on lung diseases, including cancers. With good reason, it turns out: just last month, the World Health Organization declared air pollution to be one of the planet’s most dangerous environmental carcinogens.

But cardiovascular disease is much more common than cancer. Sadly, there is now a pile of evidence, sometimes startling, that air pollution also plays a role in heart attacks and strokes. The new studies suggest that air pollution not only worsens cardiovascular disease — but can also cause it.

“We’ve known for about 20 years that we see increased risk of heart attack and stroke in association with increased levels of air pollution,” said Sara Adar, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. The most recent data show that “air pollution does more than just make you worse.”
Scientists like Dr. Adar have been studying fine particulates adrift in the cloud of unfriendly gases shrouding many of our communities. Measuring 2.5 micrometers (or microns) or less, these bits of material are so tiny that it would take about 30 of them to equal the diameter of a human hair. A series of studies has found that they penetrate deep into the lungs, embedding in tissue and setting off a cascade of inflammatory effects. Researchers believe the inflammation also spreads into the circulatory system, altering the way blood vessels function.

Although air pollution is a long-recognized and regulated health hazard, only gradually have researchers come to appreciate the threat of particulates. In 1989, C. Arden Pope III, a professor of economics at Brigham Young University, published a paper based on the temporary shutdown of a nearby steel mill, showing a linear relationship between emissions and hospitalizations. He traced the illnesses to particulates in the air.

Dr. Pope originally had focused on air pollution’s effects on the lungs, but over the years he kept turning up increases in cardiovascular disease. “By 2002, I’d given up on the idea that this was just some anomaly in the study design,” he recalled in an interview. Eventually he identified the culprit: fine particles, far smaller than those tracked in his original steel mill study. “The deeper you dive into the data, the more clearly you see the effect on cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Pope said.

Dr. Adar and her colleagues have been tracking the damage at the microscopic level in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution (MESA Air), which has followed more than 5,000 people in six states for more than a decade. It is funded primarily by the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Researchers working with the project have contributed to an increasingly precise understanding of risks associated with fine particles that float in polluted air. Dr. Adar and her colleagues have shown, for instance, that increased exposure to pollutants, after other factors are factored out, can be directly linked to narrowing of blood vessels and to a steady thickening of artery walls.

Their most recent study, published this year in PLoS Medicine, described a near-linear relationship: as air pollution levels dropped, the thickening slowed. When exposure to air pollutants increased, signs of damage increased.

The MESA Air study also has reinforced a sense that vehicle exhaust may be unusually harmful. Researchers in the United States and many other countries have linked traffic pollution to heart rate variability in a range of people – from vehicle drivers to bicyclists traveling congested roadways. A study published this year in Environmental Health found evidence of “acute changes” in heartbeats in people, aged 22 to 56, driving in Mexico City traffic. Another recent study, of bicyclists in Ottawa, found that their heart rhythms appeared to be altered for hours after they had returned home in ways unrelated to exertion.

“There’s increasing evidence that there’s something about traffic-related pollution in particular,” said Dr. Joel D. Kaufman, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Vehicle emissions are thought to include an unusually high proportion of very small, or ultrafine, particles, allowing them to penetrate deeper into the body. Researchers say there is also some evidence that the shape of these particles gives them an unusually high surface area, which permits other contaminants to stick onto them. As a result, they may actually concentrate toxic compounds in polluted air.

“The evidence is pretty overwhelming that fine particles do harm,” said Dr. Russell V. Luepker, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, a co-author of two scientific reports on air pollution for the American Heart Association.

But, he added, health choices — such as poor diet, smoking and lack of exercise — and conditions such as hypertension still pose greater risks. “If we got rid of air pollution, heart disease would not disappear,” Dr. Luepker said.
Researchers studying the healt
h effects of air pollution are starting to look at ways that their findings can be used for greater protection. Dr. Adar and her colleagues are looking for ways to better identify and control the most dangerous vehicle emissions, while other scientists are pondering everything from improved air purifiers to particle-absorbing barriers. But one of the most effective responses is environmental regulation.

Several decades of clean air regulations in the United States have had lifesaving effects. A study published this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that there has been a 35 percent drop in deaths and disabilities related to air pollution, including cardiovascular diseases, in the United States since 1990.

“Our public policy efforts to reduce air pollution are one of the most effective medical interventions in the last 20 to 30 years,” Dr. Pope said.

This Train Is Hiding A Full Starbucks Store Inside

What if you could sit inside a cozy Starbucks during your morning commute? Now, commuters in Switzerland can do just that.



Starbucks locations already seem to be everywhere you look. But starting November 21, the company will take on a new frontier: trains. Starbucks, with the help of Swiss train company SBB, has converted a double-decker car running from Geneva Airport to St. Gallen in Switzerland into a fully functional Starbucks store, complete with wood tables, leather chairs, and, in another first for the company, waitstaff.

Starbucks is no stranger to new concept stores. Strategically, its train is probably most like its mass-fabricated popup store. It's an idea the coffee giant is putting into the wild to see if it might scale because, while big storefronts represent the core of its business, smaller, niche Starbucks offer an opportunity to expand through unused, underserved cracks.
“It was not an easy project,” says Liz Muller, director of concept design for Starbucks. “Our stores are made not just to have a wonderful drink, but to connect and have a wonderful experience. We wanted to make sure it feels like a club and that you could see a person across the room, so the train feels more spacious.”

So the challenge was not just to fit a coffee counter into the corner, but to pull in all of the elements we associate with Starbucks into a stock mass-commuting platform. That meant accounting for weight, electrical, and fire-safety requirements, of course, but it also meant attaching all those windowed bar seats, shared tables, and the cozy armchairs to the same skeleton of fasteners that seating inside a typical train car would use. In other words, Starbucks architects had to design a whole new social floor plan using the exact same anchors of an old commuter-centric one.

“Just because it’s functional doesn’t mean it can’t be engaging,” Muller says, “so we asked, ‘Why can’t we?’ Just because we’re on a train, why can’t it be more comfortable?”
The team’s standpoint was one of naivety, since they'd never designed for a train before, which led them both to learn things (like the reason you don’t see wood tables on trains is because they’re considered too flammable) and to create solutions (like bucking convention by deploying them anyway). In this case, the solution was opting to treat the wood to be flame retardant, plus use of thinner pieces wherever possible (because less wood essentially equates to less kindling). That approach still sounds simpler than it was, of course: Every table and chair was designed and built from scratch and tested by regulators.

“You design a new chair, maybe one version is light cream and one in dark cream,” Muller explains. “You build eight of each, they set them afire, and if you have a high score, you pass.”

In the end, designers were able to seat 50 commuters at once--just six fewer than a stock train car--while also having the same three core seating arrangements you find in a Starbucks store for different customers: Commuters just one stop from their destination may snag a stool at the bar, while those on a longer journey could head upstairs to sit in a plush armchair or at a shared “community table.”
“We wanted to offer you the ability to choose,” Muller explains. “If your journey is short, you might choose to sit at the bar window. But having a small community table creates the opportunity to use a laptop or have lunch.”

Furniture aside, it’s all of the small touches that make the project so compelling. The bottom floor was carpeted to absorb noise in the space. Surfaces have clocklike maple inlays to acknowledge Switzerland’s love affair with timepieces. A waiter takes and delivers an order upstairs so that people wouldn’t need to claim their seat, run downstairs to the line, and run back up--which Starbucks designers witnessed happening in their own field research. (A waiter can also serve the ground floor for good measure.) And in a very cool touch, tables are treated to have a textured surface, plus they wobble the slightest bit as a train comes into the station, to prevent spilling your coffee.

In a world of travel increasingly chasing new ways to charge for a few inches of legroom, Starbucks’s latest concept has certain promise: that travel can still be as much about the journey as the destination--assuming other companies make the effort.

“I wonder sometimes that our customers won’t understand truly what this took,” Muller concludes. And, of course, they won’t, which is a hallmark of any good design, isn’t it?

SURVEY: Freeways Without Futures

From Sylvia Plummer, November 15, 2013

Here's a short survey that's right up our alley.  Can you take a few moments to fill it out?  

You can suggest that the SR710 stubs be removed in Pasadena and Alhambra/Los Angeles as a freeway without a future.  Then in the comments section, tell them they should start up a list of freeways that should never be built, and then mention the SR710 extension project as one of those projects.

Here's the survey link:

Survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/2014_freeways

Small sinkhole found above Highway 99 tunnel machine

A 7-foot-deep sinkhole opened above the Highway 99 tunnel machine early Thursday as Bertha resumed operations. It was quickly filled.


By Mike Lindblom, November 14, 2013

This shows the sinkhole created Thursday morning by tunnel work west of the Alaskan Way Viaduct at South King Street in Seattle.

 This shows the sinkhole created Thursday morning by tunnel work west of the Alaskan Way Viaduct at South King Street in Seattle.

A 7-foot-deep sinkhole opened above the Highway 99 tunnel machine early Thursday and was quickly filled.

The job site is between the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Seattle waterfront, near South King Street.
There was no damage to buildings and roads, and no utility outages.

But a city electrical vault began to flood with concrete slurry, as workers were filling the hole nearby.
Tunnel machine Bertha had just resumed drilling at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, after a two-week pause for adjustments and to receive a new set of cutting teeth. The drill was passing through a temporary concrete wall that provided a “safe haven” for maintenance work.

As it pushed through the wall — into very weak fill soils — the forward pressure exerted by the machine was too low for the sudden change in conditions, and the ground slumped downward, said Dave Sowers, Highway 99 engineering manager for the state Department of Transportation (DOT).
Not quite one-half of 1 percent more soil than expected poured into Bertha through the cutter face, he said.

It’s difficult to achieve perfect balance, Sowers said. Too little pressure and the ground sinks. Too much, and dirt or fluids will burst upward.

“It certainly isn’t something we want to happen, but it’s not unexpected,” Sowers said.

Previously, a concrete slab protected and compressed the tunneling route from above. Now, Bertha is beyond the slab, with only 35 feet of soft soil above it.

If there has to be soil failure, this may well be the best place.

The viaduct is protected from tunnel vibrations and soil slides by a row of deep concrete pillars along its west flank — inserted specifically to protect against these sorts of problems during the first phase of tunneling.

But once the machine passes under the viaduct, in early 2014, even a slight soil settlement could jeopardize downtown buildings. Hundreds of monitoring devices have been installed to try to catch problems early.

The Thursday incident happened at 5:45 a.m. and crews filled the hole in about 45 minutes, Sowers said.

The affected area is 15 feet by 20 feet, DOT spokeswoman KaDeena Yerkan said.

Bertha continued to have one of its better days, advancing 33 feet as of 5 p.m. Thursday, officials said. The drill has traveled more than 460 feet since July 30, on its voyage to South Lake Union.

Rotten timbers, dumped a century ago near the waterfront, may have contributed to the unstable soil.
Sowers blames underground pressure and says contractors will learn.

“This hasn’t changed our opinion of STP (Seattle Tunnel Partners). We think they’re doing a good job.”

“The hole exposed an abandoned electrical conduit, and apparently fluid flowed through the conduit afterward. We have a vault being filled with slurry,” said Scott Thomsen, City Light spokesman.

Here's BMW's Plan For A Self-Driving Mini Cooper Submarine Fleet On The LA River


By Adrian Glick Kudler, November 14, 2013


The LA River, stretching through the Valley, Downtown, and down the length of the basin all the way to Long Beach, would be such an awesome option for commuting, if only it had water and self-driving personal submarines in it. BMW is on it. (Well, they're on thinking about it, and drawing it.) For the Los Angeles Auto Show's Design Challenge this year, their DesignworksUSA team presented an idea for Mini Cooper-branded pods that would travel along a flooded LA River channel (flooding, they say, would also help replenish LA's groundwater supplies and prevent stormwater runoff). The pods would be powered by hydrogen fuel from "a chemical reaction created when salt and fresh water mix in the presence of of certain bacteria," according to Gizmodo, which talked to the designers behind the project; the water flowing in and out as part of that process would also propel the little guys, and little robots would take care of algae. And while we're dreaming, the team imagines the fleet expanding into a restored Venice canal system and unburied creeks. Definitely something for the Army Corps of Engineers to look out once they're done with that massive LA River restoration plan.

It’s Official: 33,561 People Killed in Traffic on American Streets Last Year


By Tanya Snyder, November 14, 2013

The official 2012 death toll is out for our nation’s poorly-designed, auto-centric transportation system. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic injuries on the nation’s roadways claimed the lives of 33,561 people. The headline of the agency’s press release, “NHTSA Data Confirms Traffic Fatalities Increased In 2012,” is quickly walked back by the subhed, which attempts a silver lining: “Highway deaths over the past 5 years remain at historic lows.”

Pedestrians and cyclists are making up a greater proportion of deaths on U.S. roadways. Image: NHTSA
Pedestrians and cyclists are making up a greater proportion of deaths on U.S. roadways. Image: NHTSA

The final 2012 number is lower than NHTSA’s previous estimate of 34,080 but still higher than the 2011 death toll of 32,479. That’s a 3.3 percent increase — a difference of more than a thousand lives. It’s the first time since 2005 that the number of fatalities has gone up.

The number of people who died in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes increased by 4.6 percent last year, NHTSA reports, accounting for 31 percent of all deaths.

Pedestrian and bicyclist deaths rose faster than the overall rate — 6.4 and 6.5 percent, respectively. Last year, 4,743 people were killed while walking and 726 while biking. This is a long-term trend: Walking and biking are becoming more dangerous relative to driving. Occupants of passenger vehicles make up 65 percent of fatalities now, down from 75 percent in 2003, while “non-occupants” (i.e. pedestrians and cyclists) make up 17 percent, up from 13 percent. Motorcyclists now account for 15 percent of casualties, up from 9 percent.

A state-by-state breakdown is available on the last page of the NHTSA report [PDF]. The biggest increases in traffic deaths were in Hawaii (26 percent), Maine (21 percent), New Hampshire (20 percent), South Dakota (20 percent) and Vermont (40 percent). The biggest improvements were in DC (44 percent reduction) and Alaska (18 percent reduction).

Overall traffic injuries rose 6.5 percent — but 10 percent for people walking. Cyclist injuries went up by 2.1 percent.

Preliminary data indicates that 2013 may not be quite so deadly. In the first half of this year, 15,470 people were killed, compared with 16,150 in the first half of last year.

This Alarm Calls Your Phone if Somebody Touches Your Bike


By John Metcalfe, November 15, 2013

 This Alarm Calls Your Phone if Somebody Touches Your Bike

Here's a nifty crime-prevention device with a hidden benefit: The instant somebody moves your bike it starts blowing up your phone, making you look intriguingly mysterious as you scramble out the door like Batman.

The Cricket is a Bluetooth-enabled discus roughly an inch across that fixes to the underside of your seat with a zip tie. An internal motion sensor detects when the bike is being jostled – presumably by somebody with bad intentions, although a rider locking their bike next to yours or a strong gust of wind could also set it off. It then pings your Apple device (no Android compatibility yet) with a chirp, so you can go kick the thief's butt, or get your own butt kicked, depending on how it plays out. You could also call the police, of course, and hope they get there quick.

That's Stage 1 of the device's anti-theft programming. Stage 2 engages once a criminal actually makes off with your bike. The Cricket then turns into a remote beacon, sending alerts to other people with the app when the thief cruises past them. If enough people embrace this technology, you could conceivably track your ride through town (although as pointed out earlier, what to do next could be a problem). You could also hope that one of the Cricket owners who sees the stolen bike has military training and a vigilante streak, and smash the thief on his blind side with a flying tackle.

The Cricket was designed by Israeli tinkerer Yariv Bash, who on another side project is trying to launch an unmanned mission to the moon. The device will retail for $39, assuming it meets its funding goals on Indiegogo. Some benefits that stand out: The battery lasts for years, and if you're worried about somebody ganking your anti-gank system there's the option of having it embedded in a U-lock. (Urban Velo suggests future models could be "disguised as a stem cap or a handlebar plug.) One big negative: Its range is a mere 150 feet, so forget it if you're doing something like locking up at school and walking across campus.

The alarm's makers have anticipated that shortcoming, though. "The Cricket works best at close, over the shoulder distances," they say. "People will touch your bike by mistake from time to time, so it is best to use the Cricket when taking a look at your bikes is as easy as looking over your shoulder." Fair enough. Have a look-see:


Raising Fares Is Not the Only Way to Fund Public Transportation


By Eric Jaffe, November 15, 2013

 Raising Fares Is Not the Only Way to Fund Public Transportation

The always thorough Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute released a report last week analyzing 18 local options for funding public transportation [PDF]. Fare increases are there, of course, along with the gas tax, the vehicle-miles traveled fee, high-occupancy toll lanes, land value capture, and basic advertising. Litman also includes non-intuitive ideas like priced parking programs, which a city might implement on its own merit, but which could also generate revenue diverted to the transit system.

There are also several ideas in the bunch that are relatively unknown. An "employee levy," for instance, charges a small fee to large employers in a heavy transit area, with the idea that the company's workers contribute a good deal to commuter congestion. A "parking levy," meanwhile, puts a special tax on non-residential spaces in a corridor, on the belief that these drivers benefit from strong transit with better auto access.

Litman evaluates each of his 18 funding options on eight criteria: revenue potential, stability, equity (both horizontal equity, meaning across all users, and vertical equity, meaning across all social classes), travel impact, development impact, public opinion, and implementation. He scores each option on each criteria on a scale from -3 to 3 points.

Cities went a step further and aggregated Litman's scores into a single chart (based on Table 7 from the report):

The highest-scoring transit funding option was discounted bulk passes. These are passes sold in bulk to certain groups of people — often students or local workers. The revenue potential is modest, because the riders get a deal, but the passes create rider loyalty over the long term, which increases funding stability. The programs are also equitable, encourage transit use and transit-oriented development, and have a high rate of public approval.

The lowest-scoring option was raising fares. The revenue potential of a fare hike is fairly strong, with a 10 percent jump creating 5 to 8 percent more revenue in the short term. But fare hikes are regressive, hurting low-income riders more than wealthy ones, and may discourage use. And, as every city official knows, the public hates them.

Litman's scoring system is admittedly subjective. It can also be a bit misleading at times. Advertising scores very high, for instance, and has some natural advantages in terms of equity (we all hate ads), travel impact (none) and implementation (easy). It also has disadvantages as a funding mechanism that don't seem to get equal weight in this particular scoring system. Chief among them is the fact that revenue potential is incredibly low.

Litman concludes that no single method on his list has the ability to resolve a transit agency's funding problems. What works for some places won't work for others: selling station air rights, for example, will work much better in a high-density environment like New York than in a mid-size city without rail transit. Litman concludes that cities must use a "variety of funding options" to meet the unique needs of their own system.
This research discovered no new funding options that are particularly cost effective and easy to implement. Each funding option has disadvantages and constraints.
So much for simple solutions.