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

Monday, November 18, 2013

China’s pollution woes fuelled by corruption


By Gwyn Morgan, November 18, 2013

 Hundreds of millions of Chinese are breathing air with dangerously high carcinogenic levels, due mainly to the burning of coal. (KIM KYUNG-HOON/REUTERS)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s choice of China in response to the question, “Besides Canada, which nation’s administration do you most admire?” was astounding on many levels. One is China’s record of persecuting its critics, including environmental activists. That makes Mr. Trudeau’s reason for choosing China – “because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy on a dime and and say, ‘we need to go greenest, fastest” – even more bizarre.

 His utterances came in the same week as news reports that an eight-year-old girl in Jiangsu province had become the youngest person in the country to be diagnosed with lung cancer linked to air pollution. Like hundreds of millions of other Chinese, that little girl is breathing air with dangerously high carcinogenic levels, due mainly to the burning of coal. China’s coal consumption has quadrupled since 1990 and is now almost equal to the combined total of all other countries. And its coal is dirty, producing a toxic brew of particulates and gases.

Last January, parts of Beijing experienced particulate levels that were 40 times higher than the World Health Organization’s safety limit. Recently, in the northern city of Harbin, visibility was reduced to a few metres due to particulates. A study by the American National Academy of Sciences concluded that air pollution in northern China reduces life expectancy by more than five years. Yet, every week, a new coal fired power plant starts up.

Cleaning up China’s air is a huge and urgent challenge. But water may be its most intractable environmental problem. Eighty per cent of its water is in the south where the mighty Yangzi River flows. But half of China’s population and two-thirds of its farmland is in the dry north, mainly in the Yellow River basin. The Yellow River Conservancy Commission has found that, along one-third of its length, the country’s “mother river” is too polluted for even agricultural use. Water for agricultural irrigation is under severe pressure, leading to unsustainable draws from regional aquifers and dropping the water table by an alarming 300 metres in the past two decades.

Rapid industrial growth in developing countries is inevitably hard on the environment. But China’s “basic dictatorship” administration that Mr. Trudeau admires has made the problem much worse than it should have been. Corruption within the top ranks of the Communist Party is legendary, but most decisions about industrial development are made at the regional level. As a senior Chinese banker told me during a business trip to the country, “China is mostly run by the mayors.”

The “mayors” include provincial and county party secretaries, who often become wealthy by ignoring environmental edicts issued in Beijing. While the central government has tightened stack-gas cleanup requirements for new coal-fired power plants, many of those startups are no cleaner than the old ones because local officials pocketed bribes to look the other way. Worse are the factories that contaminate farmland and pollute water supplies as corrupt local officials collude with unscrupulous businessmen to avoid Beijing’s rules.

The first Chinese protests against polluting power plants and factories were crushed with an iron hand. But the growing numbers of people who are farming contaminated land, drinking polluted water and breathing toxic air is spawning widespread unrest that could threaten the rule of the Communist Party.

Beijing seems serious about attacking both the pollution problem and the culture of official corruption and dysfunction that fuels it. But unless the central government cracks down on a system that sees regional officials enrich themselves by ignoring environmental laws, little progress will be made.

Real change in any organization must start at the core. Elimination of regional corruption is high unlikely unless Premier Li Keqiang lives up to his pledge to clean up corruption in Beijing. In the end, it is people who will ultimately force the political elite to repent. It had better happen soon. China’s environmental crisis is nearing the point of no return.

The Case Against Cars in 1 Utterly Entrancing GIF

Dense travel in a dense world makes sense.

By Derek Thompson,  November 18, 2013

Here is a brilliant piece of data viz to show how public transit reduces congestion. I sort of can't stop staring at it.

If you do succeed in dragging your eyes away, read more about America's evolving car habits at The Atlantic Cities and check out Jordan Weissmann on the decline of driving in the U.S. over the last few years.

We continue to lead advanced economies in per-capita carbon emissions, 28 percent of which come from transportation. But even if the crunchy granola argument isn't good enough to make you see the benefits of public transit, consider that trains, trams, buses, and the like reduces traffic congestion, which is good for the life satisfaction of everybody behind the wheel, since science shows long commutes make us unhappy.

Commuting by public transit isn't amenable to all lifestyles, particularly for families who live in the suburbs outside the tentacles of the public transit system. But for both the country and the biosphere, the benefits are obvious.

Japan Pitches Its High-Speed Train With an Offer to Finance


By Eric Pfanner, November 18, 2013

 Next year, Japan plans to begin construction of its first intercity train line that uses magnetic levitation. It will link Tokyo with Nagoya and, eventually, Osaka.

TSURU, Japan — As the world’s fastest train raced through central Japan, former Gov. George E. Pataki of New York hoisted his 6-foot-5 frame into the aisle and marveled at the smoothness of the ride.

Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman of the Central Japan Railway Company, left, with the former governor of New York, George E. Pataki, who was part of a visiting American delegation that went on a test ride of the maglev train. 

“In the subway I’d need a strap, at least,” Mr. Pataki said as the speedometer hit 315 miles an hour. He hunched over to catch a fleeting glimpse of Mount Fuji through the portholelike windows. “This is amazing. The future.”

The future for Japan, perhaps. For the United States, the future is less clear. Mr. Pataki and other former American politicians were in Japan Saturday for a special test ride of the train, which uses a technology called magnetic levitation, or maglev. They are trying to bring a maglev train to the crowded Northeast Corridor that will cruise between New York and Washington at more than twice the 150-mile-an-hour top speed of Amtrak’s Acela, the fastest train in the United States. 

Maglev trains could make the journey in an hour, compared with just under three hours, on a good day, for Acela. That would be considerably faster than flying, especially when getting to and from the airport is factored in. Yet this is only the latest in a series of high-speed train proposals for the Northeast Corridor, none of which has been undertaken since Acela, which began service in 2000.
To interest lawmakers and investors in the United States in the Japanese technology, Japan has offered to cover several billion dollars in costs. The commitment of Japanese taxpayer money is a sign of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s determination to do whatever it takes to prime the Japanese economy and to restore Japan’s fading reputation for technological prowess. 

Japan’s maglev could easily become Mr. Abe’s boondoggle unless Japan can export it. Even in Japan, the maglev faces considerable skepticism. One reason is the cost, which is as breathtaking as the speed: the estimated budget for the Tokyo-Osaka line has risen to nearly $100 billion. 

So Mr. Abe is looking for a prominent overseas showcase. That is why the former politicians were here. 

Mr. Pataki, along with the other dignitaries on the train, including Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader; former Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania; and former Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, are helping him make the sale. Along with former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, who could not make the trip, they are on the advisory board of The Northeast Maglev, a company in Washington that wants to build the Washington-New York line. 

Japan has long been a pioneer in high-speed rail. It introduced bullet trains, or Shinkansen, to the world in 1964, on the eve of the Tokyo Olympics. But other countries have caught up. France and Germany developed high-speed trains that matched the Japanese speeds. China has built a high-speed network that surpasses Japan’s in its reach if not quite its speed. 

To stake its claim to leadership in a new generation of faster technology, Japan plans to begin construction of its first intercity maglev line next year, linking Tokyo with Nagoya and, eventually, Osaka. In tests, the Japanese maglev has reached speeds up to 580 kilometers an hour, or 360 m.p.h., the world record for a train. 

“It is truly a dream technology,” Mr. Abe said in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange in September. 

When it comes to maglev, though, there is still a question of credibility. “Americans think levitation only occurs in horror movies,” Mr. Rendell said. 

With the Japanese maglev, levitation occurs at about 90 m.p.h. That is when the wheels, shod with rubber tires, lift off the concrete guideway. Then the maglev train floats four inches above the U-shaped guideway, held aloft and propelled forward by superconducting magnets. 

To get the American line off the ground, Japan has come up with a method of financing that is similarly novel. In a meeting with President Obama last winter, Mr. Abe offered to provide the maglev guideway and propulsion system free for the first portion of the line, linking Washington and Baltimore via Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a distance of about 40 miles. 

Analysts say Japan has had trouble exporting the technology. It figures if the United States takes it, others will follow. 

The Northeast Maglev, the company behind the effort, wants to raise the rest of the money from private investors and public sources. The company was founded in 2010 but only recently began ramping up its lobbying in Washington, with Mr. Daschle, now a policy adviser to the law firm DLA Piper, serving as a central figure in those efforts. 

The Northeast Maglev’s chief executive is Wayne L. Rogers, an investor in renewable energy and other projects. Japanese financing would be provided by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, which arranges support for Japanese exports. 

It’s not just the cost that makes Japanese skeptical of the maglev plans. The maglev line, to be built by the Central Japan Railway Company, would pass straight through some of the most mountainous terrain in the country, including the Japanese Alps. About 86 percent of the route is to run through tunnels, creating monumental engineering challenges and raising concerns about the effects of earthquakes. 

The Tokyo-Nagoya portion is not expected to be completed until 2027, with the Nagoya-Osaka stretch to follow only in 2045. The National Institute of Population and Social Security Research expects that by that time, the population of Japan will have declined to about 105 million from the current 127 million, raising questions of whether there will be enough people to ride a speedy new train. 

“If you seriously take a look at its high cost and low demand, you’ll find it makes no business sense,” said Reijiro Hashiyama, a visiting professor at Chiba University of Commerce who has argued against the project for years. 

Central Japan Railway insists that the new line will stoke demand — taking away business from airlines — by decreasing journey times and serving new destinations. The company, which was set up when Japan privatized its national rail system in 1987, says it will finance construction through operating cash flow, including the profit generated by its Shinkansen line. 

“In the past, the United States led the way in transport technology,” said Yoshiyuki Kasai, the company’s chairman, at the control center of the maglev test track here. “Now the U.S. transportation infrastructure is in bad shape. This time, why don’t the U.S.A. and Japan lead the world together?”

Bill would eliminate federal transportation funding


By Keith Laing, November 15, 2013

For video: http://media.thehill.com/services/player/bcpid2764968418001?bctid=2841866027001&bckey=AQ~~,AAAAAEA-5AE~,7pYsU79IKz2CB7rS1-yZzf130eU-6On5

A bill filed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.) would gradually eliminate federal funding of transportation projects.

The measure, which has been dubbed the Transportation Empowerment Act (TEA), would lower the gas tax that currently pays for most federal transportation projects from 18.4 cents-per-gallon to 3.7 cents in five years.

During the same time period, the bill would transfer authority over federal highways and transit programs to states and replace current congressional appropriations with block grants.

 The concept, commonly referred to by transportation observers as "devolution," is very popular with staunch conservatives who argue that development of road and transit infrastructure should be left up to states.

Opponents of the devolution proposal typically argue that the federal government is best suited to handle transportation infrastructure that runs between states, like highways.

Sen. Lee offered a different take in a statement announcing the filing of the TEA bill.

"Under the Transportation Empowerment Act, Americans would no longer have to send significant gas-tax revenue to Washington, where sticky-fingered politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists take their cut before sending it back with strings attached,” Lee said.

"Instead, states and cities could plan, finance, and build better-designed and more affordable projects," he continued. "Local communities should finally have the flexibility to develop the kind of transportation system they want, for less money, without politicians and special interests from other parts of the country telling them how, when, what, and where they should build."

Lee said that contrary to critics' claims, the devolution bill would boost the U.S. transportation network.

"For the country as a whole, our plan would mean a better infrastructure system, new jobs and opportunities, diverse localism, and innovative environmental protection," he said. "And for working families, it could mean more access to quality, affordable homes, less time on the road – and making it home in time for dinner with the kids.”  

Rep. Graves, who is re-introducing the TEA bill in the House after a previous failed effort, agreed.

“People want to spend less time in traffic and more time enjoying life,” he said. “Our bill will streamline the highway program, allowing more projects to be completed at a lower cost. This means commuters can move more easily between home and work, freeing up important family time and cutting out hours of frustration behind the wheel.”

Graves said the House version of the transportation devolution has garnered 19 co-sponsors.

The conservative Heritage Action group, which has supported devolution proposals in the past, came out in favor of the Lee-Graves bill this week.

The group said it would score lawmakers votes on the bill if it came to the floor of the respective chambers.

"The legislation would solve myriad problems, not the least of which is the flawed dynamic between the federal government and the states with regard to how federal gas tax dollars are spent," Heritage Action said in a  "key alert" to its members.

"The states and private sector have proven more efficient users of taxpayer money, while the federal government through the Highway Trust Fund has wasted an unjustifiable amount of money through inefficiency, burdensome regulations, and distracting politicization—not to mention paying for the pet projects of lawmakers and special interests," the Heritage Action alert continue.

The introduction of the devolution measure comes as lawmakers are grappling with a shortfall in transportation spending that is predicted to reach $20 billion.

The current transportation funding legislation, which is set to expire next year, includes about $54 billion in annual spending on road and transit projects.

The 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gas tax only brings in about $35 billion per year. Lawmakers filled the gap in the 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill by tapping a series of fee increases and trust fund sweeps.

Transportation advocates have for longer solution when lawmakers consider a renewal of the surface transportation bill next year. They point out the federal gas tax has not been increased, or even indexed to inflation, since 1993.

Chinese city of Lanzhou bans 50% of all vehicles off the streets to battle air pollution


By Joey Wang, November 18, 2013

Chinese city of Lanzhou bans 50% of all vehicles off the streets to battle air pollution

The crusade against cars in Chinese cities continues in an ever faster pace. The newest battle is in the city of Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province, where local authorities have implemented a strict odd-even license plate restriction system. The measure was launched on Sunday after the city pollution levels exceeded 101 on the official air quality index for three consecutive days last week. Levels above 101 are considered unhealthy.

The restrictions will remain in place until Jan 10, authorities in the Gansu provincial capital said. Under the measure, vehicles whose license plates end in odd or even numbers will be allowed on the road on alternating days — half of the cars will be barred on any particular day.

The model is similar to one used by Beijing to clean the air ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games, and it has been an idea considered in several major cities. Beijing and Guangzhou, which are also troubled by air pollution, have recently announced plans to implement the odd-and-even restrictions on heavily polluted days.

Lanzhou, located in a valley and surrounded by mountains, and with its developed heavy industry, is among the most polluted cities in China. Its environmental protection bureau said that weather conditions for the next five to seven days would not help disperse pollutants, a factor behind the decision to restrict cars.

To cope with the lingering dust, Lanzhou has already suspended work at all construction sites and increased the frequency of road cleaning and washing, the bureau said.

Chai Fahe, vice-president of the Chinese Research Academy of Environmental Sciences, said cities are increasingly imposing car restrictions to curb pollution, yet most were only restricted to a fixed time period. “Lanzhou has made remarkable progress in curbing air pollution, and the decision was made to consolidate the progress it had made.”

In 2011, Lanzhou ranked as the worst Chinese city in the World Health Organization’s survey tracking air pollution by the levels of airborne particles smaller than 10 micrometers in 1,086 cities across the world.

Lanzhou later dropped off the list of the top 10 most polluted cities in China through stiff anti-pollution measures, Chai said.

Car restrictions in Lanzhou were the strictest among cities that have carried out similar plans.The Lanzhou Public Transport Group, which runs the city’s public transportation system, said it will increase bus services.

Under a contingency plan for air pollution in Beijing, authorities could implement the odd-even car restrictions and suspend 30 percent of public vehicles if meteorological authorities forecast three consecutive days of severe pollution.

What a Bore! New Caldecott Tunnel Opens to Traffic


By Dan Brekke, November 18, 2013

 The Broadway Tunnel in the Oakland Hills, a forerunner of today's Caldecott Tunnels. (Metropolitan Transportation Commission)
 The Broadway Tunnel in the Oakland Hills, a forerunner of today’s Caldecott Tunnels.

Drivers are saying farewell to a half-century-old ritual in their trips to and from The 925 from Oakland and San Francisco.

With the new, $420 million fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel open — Caltrans opened it before dawn Saturday — four lanes of traffic are flowing in both directions for the first time. That ends the familiar “4/2″ traffic pattern that started when the Caldecott’s third bore opened in 1964. Here’s how Caltrans describes its routine of reversing traffic through what used to be the tunnel’s middle bore:
During the week, the middle bore of the Caldecott is reversed sometime between 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. to favor westbound traffic, and then switched again sometime between 11:30 a.m. and noon to favor eastbound traffic. Ballgames, concerts and other events make balancing weekend traffic through the tunnel very difficult. It is not uncommon to reverse the middle bore six times on a Saturday or Sunday.
The new fourth bore is taller and wider than the earlier bores, complete with a shoulder lane, is more brightly lit and features improved ventilation. Caltrans says that like the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, the new bore is designed to be a “regional lifeline structure.” The Hayward Fault crosses Highway 24 just west of the tunnel’s Oakland portal, and the bore “is designed to reopen to emergency traffic within 72 hours of a major earthquake.”

A brief timeline of the Caldecott Tunnel and its Oakland Hills predecessors, by way of Caltrans. The original impetus behind the tunnel project was to make it easier to get from East Bay shore communities to Contra Costa County. The old way, still open if you care to drive it, was to go up the relatively precipitous slopes of Claremont Canyon from Oakland, cross a saddle of the Oakland Hills, then descend toward Orinda via Fish Ranch Road.
  • Late 1870s: Work begins on the tunnel through hills from the Kennedy Toll Road but is abandoned after just 300 feet are excavated between Oakland Hills and Orinda. The toll road followed the route of the current Tunnel Road up to a portal which today marks the beginning of Skyline Drive.
  • 1903: Broadway Tunnel, also known as Kennedy Tunnel and the Inter-County Tunnel. Says Caltrans: “The Broadway Tunnel was located about 220 feet above the current Caldecott Tunnel and 320 feet below the summit. It was 1,040 feet long and 17 feet wide and built with timber supports. Long, dark and narrow, the tunnel could only accommodate one-way traffic. Drivers on either side would ignite rolled-up newspapers to signal travelers on the other side to wait for them to pass through.”
  • 1915: Broadway Tunnel widened to accommodate cars and trucks (and two-way traffic). Structure was subject to frequent leakage and landslides at either end, especially during rainy season.
  • 1934: Work on the twin-bore “Broadway Low-Level Tunnel” begins.
  • 1937: Broadway Low-Level Tunnel opens (13 months after opening of Bay Bridge and a little more than six months after opening of Golden Gate Bridge).
  • 1960: Tunnel renamed after Thomas Caldecott, former mayor of Berkeley and public transportation official. Work begins on third bore.
  • 1964: Third bore completed.
  • 2010: Construction on fourth bore begin.
  • Nov. 16, 2013: Fourth bore opens.

Spike Jonze's Dystopic Vision of Los Angeles in 'Her'


November 18, 2013

Los Angeles has a fascinating history of being depicted on the silver screen. (Thom Andersen made a movie about this!) It's only appropriate given that since the nascent days of Hollywood, Southern California has served as the empty stage from which filmmakers could create an infinite number of settings for the camera. Spike Jonze's latest film, Her (which screened twice this past week at AFI Fest), continues in this tradition and can even be seen as a spiritual successor to another famous depiction of Los Angeles: Los Angeles in 1982's Blade Runner.

The L.A. of Ridley Scott's film was a dreary, dark, dystopic nightmare set in 2019. Equally indebted to the traditions of film noir and science fiction, Blade Runner was a cornerstone of cyberpunk. It also brilliantly tapped into the zeitgeist of the beginning of Reagan's America. Japan's rise as an economic superpower rankled a country run by men that had fought in a war against them decades earlier. The perpetual acid rain that fell upon the populace still living on earth (the 99%, no doubt) was what the environmental movement had warned us about a decade earlier. Blade Runner's Los Angeles was our fears realized.

At first the setting of Her hardly seems sinister. The weather is consistently nice (so much that an LA Times weather forecast email is deleted without being read in the beginning of the film) and the Los Angeles of an unspecified near-future year is very clean and built up. Shiny new skyscrapers that don't exist yet in 2013 populate the skyline. The Los Angeles of Her is a technological and developmental utopia. The streets of Los Angeles are squeaky clean and the wide walkways and pedestrian bridges make it a perfectly fine city to walk in. Joaquin Phoenix's Theodore Twombly is never seen driving anywhere, but instead taking the highly-developed subway system to take him where he needs to go. The scourge of poverty appears to be wiped away from the sectors of the city we ever see. The aesthetic can be best described as if an Apple Store vomited all over Southern California. Theodore works for a company in DTLA that creates "handwritten" love letters and lives a short subway ride away in the "Beverly Wilshire City Tower," overlooking DTLA (One Wilshire is seen outside his bedroom window). It's the perfect look for a movie about one man's literal love affair with technology.

As an aside, it's a fun thought experiment to pretend that Her is a sequel set many years in the future to (500) Days of Summer, given the setting and similar occupations the protagonists hold.

Underneath the iSheen is a disconcerting reflection of our current zeitgeist. As Bryce J. Renninger suggested, the whiteness of the movie suggests a gentrified dystopia. If the wealthy haven't left for the Off-World Colonies of Blade Runner, they've pushed minorities and the poor out of downtown and Echo Park and further into the unseen margins.

Keen viewers will recognize some of the skylines and exteriors in the film as Shanghai. This may not seem like an unusual choice, as it has become de rigueur for Hollywood films to be partially shot in China, and Shanghai may have the densest collection of modern skyscrapers in the world. What better real-world location to use to depict a near-future city?

But Shanghai is not a setting in Her, and aside from a brief vacation in the mountains, Theodore Twombly never ventures outside of Los Angeles. Shanghai stands in for Los Angeles, and the obvious real-life Chinese setting is never hidden from the viewer. Chinese signage that could easily be digitally scrubbed or simply moved off frame is always apparent. In Spike Jonze's near future, the Chinese have exerted their influence on the world. In the thirty years since the release of Blade Runner, China has taken the place of Japan in American culture as the new Yellow Scare. At least in Her, this alternate reality is less visually oppressive than the video billboards of Blade Runner and not as on-the-nose as the standard currency of last year's Looper.

Along with the Chinese signage, the surveillance cameras of Shanghai remain in the frame and eerily suggest the ultimate reality of the Edward Snowden revelations. This aspect of Chinese culture was explored earlier this year in Johnnie To's excellent film Drug War. In Her, the fact that your operating system can read all of your emails without your permission and that Big Brother watches you as you walk down the street appears to be the price we pay for our squeaky clean urban utopia.
Fear not, though, as Her is pure speculative fiction. After all, the subway in Los Angeles makes it all the way out to the ocean.

Her will have a limited release on December 18th with a wide release on January 10th.

Long Beach: There’s Nothing More Toxic than Nihilism


By Brian Addison, November 18, 2013

 Photo courtesy of Brian Ulaszewski.

A handful of folk—some environmental experts, some local health advocates, some urban designers, some regular ol’ citizens—stood in the Century Villages at Cabrillo, a small neighborhood lining the Terminal Island Freeway. They were directly across from where BNSF Rail wants to build their massive Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) rail yard and just south of Hudson Elementary. As people chatted, a small, heavy contraption was passed around, a number on its facade that was continually bouncing between 23,000 and 35,000.

The P-TRAK was measuring ultrafine particulate matter (PM), the minuscule particles that is given off from the exhaust pipes of cars and trucks or carried by the winds from the pollution given off by port complexes, auto body shops, power plants, or factories or, or, or… The common range we want to aim for in order to prevent respiratory problems? Somewhere in the range of 3,000 particles per square centimeter.

The Terminal Island Freeway, across from Century Villages and Hudson Elementary Schoo. Photo courtesy of Brian Ulaszewski.
The Terminal Island Freeway, across from Century Villages and Hudson Elementary School.

When handed to me, I stared down at the number as a diesel truck roared by some 40 feet away: 33,800. Perhaps it was an unconscious reaction, but I coughed—and continued to do so. Walking over to a patch of foliage, the number then dropped again: 12,400.

It is one thing to know, through general environmental science knowledge, the effects of pollution, of the way in which the goods movement industry contributes creates incompatible land sources—that is, polluting to such an extent that the radius surrounding is unable to escape the pollution. This is one thing. Even with backing, the knowledge itself remains abstract and very “up here.” But when you stare at a quantifiable measure of just what is precisely happening every second in real time—and the fact that you’re breathing in tens of thousands of PM with every inhalation—I find it hard-pressed to not become overwhelmed.

While I am tempted to make a joke about my fellow gay guys jumping on a bus while playing Britney Spears and traipsing around the Long Beach, the Toxic Tour last week of Long Beach was anything but glittery. After all, California is home more than half of the nation’s dirtiest cities—and Long Beach and Los Angeles are two of the worst, largely thanks to the fact that the two cities’ port entries are responsible for taking in more than half of the nation’s goods.

And though it is hard to downplay the depressing nature of the tour—site after site was a showcase of the ways in which marginalized communities are the ping-pong board of the the back-and-forth between industrial advancement and its corresponding effects on the environment—it also offered hope because of the simple fact that there are people who are attempting to show directly the effects of what we are doing to our environment.

Take, for example, being handed the thin, red cocktail straws one commonly stirs their drink with. While passing through near the trash-intake facility where Route 47 and the southern tip of the 710 meet—40% of the trash it intakes coming from Long Beach alone—we are handed such a straw. Then being asked to plug our noses and use only the straw to breathe through, we experienced the physical stress and disability that is asthma. I became panicked while breathing (the fact that I am claustrophobic exacerbated it) and all the scenes from TV and film where an asthmatic loses his or her inhaler and anxiety strikes became an all-too-real reality.

If the straw exercise wasn’t enough (I encourage readers to do it), I was reminded of my many conversations with Dr. Andrea Hricko, a preventative medicine professor at USC whose studies have altered the perspective on living near freeways and port complexes in Southern California: not only were children who lived near corridors struck with perpetual traffic stunted in their growth by 20%, children who lived within a quarter of a mile from a freeway had a staggering 89% higher risk of asthma. And the school, Hudson, sitting directly next to the proposed SCIG project? 250 of their 1,100 students already have asthma and if the SCIG project is built, will bring 1.5M more truck trips passing by Hudson every year.

The oddest sensation—the fact that, though I see these things every day, I truly don’t see them—happened along Anaheim, one of Long Beach’s key arterials. It dissects one of my favorite Long Beach neighborhoods, Cambodia Town, which also houses the world’s largest concentration of Cambodians and Cambodian-Americans outside of Cambodia itself. For me, this neighborhood is nothing short of a cultural gem, my hangout for the best Cambodian food around, odd jewelry shops and thrift stores… And never once had I noticed the plethora of auto body shops.

I am not being superlative when I say plethora: as we scuttled along Anaheim, auto shop after auto shop—with some plastics industry warehouses thrown in—plagued every single corner for blocks. Oftentimes, houses and parks sat side-by-side, despite health agencies suggesting a 1,000 foot radius surrounding such businesses.

These points might be seemingly redundant for the active advocate for healthy communities—but I considered myself that and realized how often I have an auto-cognitive blinder. I knew of these toxic sites, of course; but that continually altering number on that P-TRAK never really left me. And though bits of historical humor would cause me to chuckle—East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice co-founder Angelo Logan pointed out the THUMS oil islands in Long Beach were designed by none other than the same designers who created Disneyland’s iconic, whited-out Tomorrowland aesthetic—they were chuckles out of discomfort and the inability to express much else when faced with the gravity of it all.

Exasperated and towards the tail end of the tour, a friend texted and asked what I was doing. I informed him to receive the following response:

“I’m right there at heart with the environmentalists but I’m just too cynical about it. I feel like there’s no motivation there to make people care about making huge changes in our waste, so I’ll do what I can but I know it doesn’t matter much… So basically, I just sit at home waiting for lung cancer[.]“

It was this that shifted my exasperation into a deep-seated anger: it may all seem overwhelming—passing by the ports, seeing the P-TRAK’s number drop dramatically as we go to the more affluent East Side of Long Beach, hearing tales of teenagers who can’t even be active because they suffocate—but there is one thing we should never be and that is nihilistic about it all.

There is motivation and there are people who are changing things and your actions do matter. If that gives me the moniker of Utopian Optimist, the only thing I can do is shrug my shoulders. After all, I’ve been called way worse.

For those interested in a Southern California Toxic Tour, contact Gisele Fong, Ph.D., Executive Director of EndOil / Communities for Clean Ports at gfong@endoil.org or call 562-424-8200.

How to protect your bike from theft while using the Metro system


By Steve Hymon, November 18, 2013

For video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCrxt6WyXqI

Click here to read the kind of blog post no one at Metro wants to read: it’s a first-person account by one of our passengers who last Wednesday literally watched someone steal his $1,300 road bike from the front of a Metro bus in Hollywood.

Although bike theft from the Metro system is rare, it happens. And let’s face it: Bike theft in general is a problem that has long vexed cyclists and law enforcement.

That’s the reason that Metro made the above video. You may have also encountered the cards below on a Metro bus in recent weeks. The bike section of metro.net also has plenty of tips about taking bikes on buses and trains.

The key is to reduce the chance of a bike being stolen — even the writer of the blog post admits he could have done a few things differently. We definitely hope that Johnny gets his bike back and a few simple tips will thwart future thieves.


Port of Los Angeles truck drivers from 3 companies strike


November 18, 2013

CARSON - Port of Los Angeles truck drivers from three companies walked off the job in Carson and Long Beach today, launching a 36-hour strike to protest what they called “unfair labor practices’’ arising from their desire to join the Teamsters.

The work stoppage involving drivers from Green Fleet Systems, American Logistics International and Pacific 9 Transportation began at 5 a.m.

Drivers from Green Fleet Systems and American Logistics International said they were retaliated against for trying to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Green Fleet Systems drivers carried out a similar 24-hour protest in August.

Drivers walked picket lines outside all three companies, some with signs that read, ``Stop this unlawful war on workers.’’.

The group Justice for Port Drivers said the job action was meant to protest “unfair labor practices, including harassment, intimidation, and other violations of Federal labor laws.”

Alex Cherin, a spokesman for Green Fleet and Pac 9, characterized the strikes as ``the desperate acts of a group trying to force their agenda on an industry that time and time again has simply rejected them.”

In published remarks, he said the majority of employees and drivers at Green Fleet do not want a union. He said the company offers its employees competitive wages and benefits.

``Because of this, and because of our demonstrated safety record, the overwhelming majority of our drivers vehemently and passionately have voiced their opposition to the current strike and organization effort,” he said.

Gate dilemma will keep Metro rail riders on honor system

Some Metro stations are not large enough to accommodate gates. Others that can still allow riders to enter for free.


By Jon Schleuss, November 17, 2013

Checking TAP cards for Metro riders
 Los Angeles County Sheriff's Security Assistant April Ramirez checks commuters' TAP cards to ensure their subway fare was paid at the Civic Center/Grand Park station in downtown L.A.

Julio Maciel was headed home on the Expo light-rail line in downtown L.A. on a recent weekday. He entered at the Pico station, sat down and waited for a train headed south.

But when he walked inside, he didn't pay.

Maciel thought he had paid, he said, because he had bought an unlimited day pass. He didn't know he needed to tap it against a shiny, metal validator by the entrance.

"I didn't see any signs," Maciel said.

The Pico station is long and slender and has two entrances at either end where the validators stand. There are no turnstiles or gates. Riders may enter without paying.

Maciel's experience points to a problem as the light-rail system rapidly expands. With many stations too small to gate, the county's rail riders will largely remain on the honor system for years. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority could be out hundreds of thousands of dollars a month in lost revenue from people who don't pay to ride.

Metro officials acknowledge they don't know how many people use the system for free. This summer, gates and turnstiles at 16 subway stations were locked, forcing riders to tap their fare cards before the turnstile unlocks and lets them into the station. Audits completed before those stations were locked showed a fare-evasion rate between 5% and 6%, officials said.

"It's kind of hard to measure something that isn't there," said Metro's Deputy Chief Executive Paul Taylor.

Turnstiles could help Metro gain more revenue, officials said, but it's too early to point at a trend. Some stations have had turnstiles for months, but they were unlocked and allowed people to enter without proof of fare. By mid-January Metro plans to lock 14 stations on the Green Line and five stations on the Blue Line. The agency locked five Gold Line stations in September.

Metrolink was another factor in the delayed locking of turnstiles. The six-county commuter rail system gives riders free transfers to Metro's network. Metrolink started selling paper tickets with TAP-enabled chips this summer, at the same time the turnstiles began locking.

Metro contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for security and fare inspection. About 400 deputies and 100 inspectors roam the system's stations, trains and buses looking for crime and checking tickets.

The agency sees an average fare of 70 cents per rider, said Metro spokesman Marc Littman. Even though the base fare is $1.50, many people take advantage of the discounts offered to student, senior, disabled and low-income riders.

Forty-one of the 80 rail stations, including the 16 subway stations locked this summer, will be locked eventually, said Metro spokesman Paul Gonzales. The agency is looking to retrofit three stations on the first phase of the recently opened Expo Line, he said, noting that Metro estimates adding gates will cost $3.1 million. They expect to make up that cost in seven years.

Metro leases the gates from San Diego-based Cubic Corp. for $300,000 a month for the entire system, Gonzales said.

Still, the majority of light-rail stations won't ever be locked because some platforms are too small to accommodate turnstiles and others sit too close to the tracks, Metro said. If turnstiles were at some of the smaller stations, people would be lining up on the tracks trying to get through the gates.

The agency is reviewing its plans for future stations not yet under construction to see which ones can be locked, Gonzales said.

"Planning for latched gates before construction begins has the advantage of being less costly," he said. "Changing in the middle of construction can be very expensive. Doing it after the fact can be even more expensive."

When the Blue Line opened in 1990, it wasn't common to gate light-rail stations, said Juan Matute, the associate director of the Institute of Transit Studies at UCLA.

"There was a trend for proof-of-payment systems at the time," he said, adding that gates might deter people from riding the system.

Many of the system's current stations were designed and built under a policy that did not require gates, said Taylor, Metro's deputy chief executive.

"It's not really clear what's the right way to do it," he said, referring to gates or stand-alone validators. "Each has its pros and cons and so we're experimenting with different ways to do it."

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, November 18, 2013


 No holiday this week, so things are starting to get back to normal even with the holidays looming.

  • Tuesday, Saturday, Monday - Councilmember José Huizar is hosting three public meetings with the Pershing Square Task Force to get input on how the park should be improved. The first is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 7:30 a.m. at Perch restaurant, at 448 S. Hill St.; the second is slated for Nov. 23 at 10:30 a.m. at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel at 506 S. Grand Ave.; the final meeting will take place Nov. 25 at 6 p.m. at the Pacific Room on 526 W. Sixth St. Get more details on our calendar page.
  • Wednesday – Young Professionals in Transportation (YPT-LA) is excited to kick off a new series of events combining two favorite activities! Transit-Oriented Drinks will gather at a great bar within spitting distance of a Metro station. This week, you can try spitting from Hollywood and Vine Red Line Station. Get the details on Facebook.
  • Wednesday, Thursday –  Committee meetings for the Metro Board of Directors will take place this week for a Board meeting on December 5. Read all the agendas, here.
  • Thursday – L.A. Walks and the LACBC team up for a speaker’s series focused on the health benefits of walking and bicycling. I bet there’s a bunch of them. Get the event details here.
  • Thursday – So we don’t usually add charity bicycle rides or road races, but call me a sucker for current events.  The Philippines was hit by a massive typhoon on November 8th. “Just Ride L.A.” decided to throw a benefit race on November 21st to help raise as much money as possible for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. Donation will be $10 to race. All proceeds will go directly to relief efforts. Get the details here, on their Facebook Page.
  • Friday-Sunday – The L.A. Grand Prix is going on at the VELO Sports Center this weekend. You can get more information from USA Cycling. There’s also a special Bike Train going to Saturday’s races that will feature our friends with Wolfpack Hustle.

The Evolution of Driving in America


By Kaid Benfield, November 18, 2013

 The Evolution of Driving in America

Countrary to the enviro stereotype, I like cars and I like driving. Those who know me well know I'm telling the truth and, if you're looking for a purist manifesto, you’ve found the wrong guy. In fact, maybe it's my 1960s North Carolina upbringing, but I like nice cars and have always managed to have one, thank you very much.

What I would not like, though, is being dependent on a car for every single thing I need or want to do. I also like public transit when it's working well – I've literally met some of my best friends while on public transportation – and I frequently use it for commuting. I love walking places, especially city places, and generally manage my daily chores other than commuting on foot. And I'm passionate about bicycling, too, though I ride for fitness, not everyday transportation. I guess you could say that I'm a multi-modal kind of guy, and I feel lucky that my living conditions allow me to practice a life of transportation-by-choice.

I know most Americans aren't so fortunate. Ours is an overwhelmingly auto-oriented landscape, except in a few big city downtowns and older neighborhoods, many populated mostly by residents without kids. Most people have to drive to get to work or school, to go out to eat, to take their laundry and dry cleaning for service, to shop for groceries. If they have children, chances are they are also spending a lot of time shuttling the kids around from one event to another. It's normal, I think, by today's standards. But it's not much fun.

I'm old enough to remember when driving was fun. If you can tell a lot about a society’s culture from its popular music lyrics, the 1960s were surely the golden age of the American automobile. On July 4, 1964, a new single became the first number one song by that most American of bands, the Beach Boys. Performed with a driving beat and Brian Wilson’s soaring harmonies, "I Get Around" celebrated the unequivocal freedom and exuberance that cars provided, particularly on the group’s home turf of southern California:
We always take my car 'cause it's never been beat
And we’ve never missed yet with the girls we meet ...
I get around
Get around, round, round, I get around
From town to town ...

A vintage Pontiac GTO. 

Readers of a certain age may also recall that other hit songs of the 1960s included such paeans to the automobile as "GTO" (Ronny and the Daytonas), "Mustang Sally" (Wilson Pickett), and several more by the Beach Boys, including "Little Deuce Coupe" and "Fun, Fun, Fun." Prince kept up a smidgen of momentum with "Little Red Corvette" as late as 1983.

By the turn of the 21st century, though, exuberant car songs were confined to oldies radio stations. If cars show up in lyrics today, chances are that the song is something darker and considerably less innocent than those popular fifty years ago. One can speculate on the reasons, but surely one of the most compelling is that it has been quite a while since driving was "fun, fun, fun" for most Americans.

Instead, for most driving has become simply a matter of getting from point A to point B, and far too often doing so hampered by traffic congestion and stress, to say nothing of the havoc wreaked on our natural environment. Instead of the open convertibles that symbolized the most desirable cars of the 1960s, sport utility vehicles – essentially complete family rooms (if not fortresses) on wheels that isolate their passengers as much as possible from the external world – became the preferred vehicles of the 1990s and early 2000s.

What happened between the golden age of the automobile and today? Just as cars made it possible to expand our communities far beyond traditional downtowns and rail corridors, the act of spreading out – suburban sprawl – placed increasing distances between the various places where Americans live, work, shop, go to school, and worship. The increased distances inevitably led to a tremendous increase in driving: the number of miles driven annually by passenger cars in the U.S. has tripled since the 1960s, reaching a peak of just over three trillion in 2007. While the dramatic growth in driving has begun to reverse in recent years (in part because of the financial crisis and recession that hit the country beginning in 2008, though also in part because of changing generational preferences), we still have a long way to go before approaching anything near sustainability.

With two-thirds of oil use in the U.S. going to transportation, the average American now uses over twice as much oil as the average person in other industrialized nations, and over five times as much as the average person in the world as a whole. As a result, carbon dioxide emissions from driving in the U.S. remain some 35 percent higher today than they were even as recently as 1990. The U.S. continues to lead the western world in per capita carbon emissions, emitting about twice as much of the potent greenhouse gas per person as Germany, the United Kingdom, or Japan, and about three times as much as France.

Given these sobering facts, the challenge in creating sustainable people habitat is to maximize convenience and livability for the community's residents, workers and visitors while minimizing the burdens on the environment created by the basic need simply to, as the Beach Boys put it, get around. The task is an especially important one, given the relative importance of transportation to energy consumption and corresponding greenhouse gas emissions. A 2007 study reported in Environmental Building News demonstrated that the amount of energy used (and greenhouse gases emitted) by a typical office building’s operation is dwarfed by the amount that employees and visitors typically consume getting there and back.

Distribution of driving rates in metropolitan Atlanta. 

To me, the most interesting aspect of Americans' overwhelming dependence on driving is that people's driving habits are not distributed evenly. With the wonderful world of GIS mapping, you can see a geographic representation of miles driven per household: those of us in outer suburbs drive a lot more than those of us in more urban locations, whether the latter are in city centers or in the hearts of older towns and suburbs.

In 2010, transportation uber-researchers Reid Ewing (University of Utah) and Robert Cervero (UC-Berkeley) published a painstaking 'meta-analysis' of nearly 50 published studies on the subject of land use and travel behavior. Writing in the Journal of the American Planning Association, the two returned to a subject to which they have dedicated most of their careers, in this case updating their previous meta-analysis from 2001.

What they found: When it comes to land use, driving and the environment, location matters most. The study's key conclusion is that how close a household is to common trip destinations is by far the most important land use factor in determining a household or person’s amount of driving. Such "destination accessibility" almost always favors central locations within a region; the closer a house, neighborhood or office is to downtown, the shorter the average distance one has to travel to other places and the lower one's rate of driving. The authors found that central locations can be almost as significant in reducing driving rates as other significant factors (e.g., neighborhood density, mixed land use, street design) combined.

The clear implication is that, to enable lifestyles with reduced driving, oil consumption and associated emissions, environmentalists should continue to stress opportunities for revitalization and redevelopment in centrally located neighborhoods. As Ewing and Cervero put it: "Almost any development in a central location is likely to generate less automobile travel than the best-designed, compact, mixed-use development in a remote location." This also means that the current near-exclusive emphasis in the U.S. environmental community on mode shifts (from driving to transit, or to walking or bicycling) misses the biggest opportunity of all to reduce vehicle miles traveled: shortening driving distances through better land use.

So, what about people such as myself, who enjoy driving sometimes when it’s a matter of choice? Can we as a society get back to the optimistic, exuberant feelings of driving in the early 1960s? Maybe not: we have done some damage to the planet since then, and these are more sobering times for other reasons, too. If we can reclaim exuberance, it is unlikely to be because of cars and driving. But we can start down the road, so to speak, and being more thoughtful about our built environment can help.

Our goal should be to create more driving-optional neighborhoods. Achieving it will be harder to accomplish in suburbs and smaller towns than in cities, but even in less accessible locations we can still plan and design our communities more thoughtfully to encourage walking and shorter driving distances, and make a difference. Given the massive increases in population expected for the US and elsewhere over the next half-century, we had better get to it ...

Can Hailing a Ride Really Be About Making Friends Again?


By Christine Grimaldi, November 18, 2013


Can Hailing a Ride Really Be About Making Friends Again? "This is a bit of a cluster," Lena Moreno says as we close in on the intersection of M and 29th Streets NW in Washington, D.C. The upscale Georgetown neighborhood is known for its congestion almost as much as for the Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren and other high-end stores lining its uneven sidewalks. The traffic is even worse on Halloween night as superheroes and villains spill out of the bars, ignoring cars and crosswalks alike. Moreno, a 26-year-old driver for the ridesharing service Lyft, peers through the windshield of her 2008 Nissan Versa. Her thick, rimless glasses look just like Martha Plimpton’s from The Goonies, but they’re not part of a costume.

I'm more than a little nervous—less so about the stranger driving the car than those we'll pick up on a night generally known for mischief and mayhem. Moreno doesn't share my fears. "For me, this is less sketchy than a cab any day," she says. Passengers have to create an account and input their credit card information before they can hail a Lyft via the company's app. "If something were to happen, that person could only get away for so long."

Moreno seems more disheartened about saying goodbye to her passengers than the odds of encountering a bad apple. “I've met so many people where I'm like, 'Ah, I wish I was your friend,'" she says, turning her head to check for traffic. It surely helps that after two months of stop-and-go communications with Lyft's San Francisco-based headquarters, I have been offered a ride along with perhaps the friendliest D.C.-based driver in this fleet of privately owned vehicles.

Some companies pride themselves on customer service. Lyft takes that concept a step further with the motto, "Your friend with a car," promising both drivers and passengers more than a pleasant business transaction. Each ride is a chance to strike up a meaningful conversation, to expand your social circle through an honest-to-goodness face-to-face interaction. Lyft and its drivers are out to give you the ride of your life, but personally, I'm just hoping it won't be my last. There's a reason I didn’t tell my parents about the ride along before I set out to discover whether Lyft represents sensible shared transportation or a Lifetime movie in the making.

If Lyft is already operating in your city, you will have noticed the giant fuzzy pink fender mustaches that the company provides its drivers (along with $1 million liability insurance). Moreno has further redesigned her vehicle as a mobile conversation piece. Instead of an air freshener, a black sparkly skull sporting a miniature pink mustache dangles from the rearview mirror. A young Bill Murray in Stripes gazes up at me from a pin on the dashboard. Moreno's job is to get you to the party, but if she can’t join you, maybe she’ll become an anecdote over kegs and cocktails.

If all else fails, no one can resist her snacks. A group of costumed American University students descend on the Trader Joe’s Milk Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pretzels en route to a bar at the outer edges of Georgetown.

"Thanks, honey," one of the girls says through a full mouth.

"You’re a winner,” says the same girl, or maybe another. Without turning my head, it's difficult to tell whether the youthful voices belong to "Meryl Streep," or "the 90s," or "Ponyboy" from The Outsiders. Moreno tells the girls the book was "way better" than the movie, which leads to a debate about its author.

"I knew it wasn’t J.D. Salinger." Whoever is speaking conveys both wisdom beyond her years and the effects of ritualistic pre-gaming.

Lena Moreno.
We swing a U-turn and pull directly in front of the bar. "Stay golden," the voices urge as the car door slams shut. Their largely quiet male companion, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, seems to follow their lead.

Moreno closes out the transaction on an iPhone mounted to the car's inner windshield. She says she’ll get an 80 percent cut of each fare, or Lyft’s $15 hourly rate ($25 for early morning or late night "power hours"), whichever amount ends up being higher. Since Lyft fares and tips operate on an honor system of "suggested donations," Moreno never knows exactly how much she'll make until she gets a summary the next day. She's not worried; she uses the Lyft app to rate passengers just as they rate her. If a passenger or driver gives the other three stars or less, Lyft never pairs them again. Moreno's passengers usually see stars—all five of them. She's earned enough money since she joined Lyft in August to move out of her parents' house
 just over the Maryland border and into the District proper. The flexible hours complement her freelance work composing music for visual media, which she hopes to turn into a full-time career.

Another Lyft order pops up on the iPhone, and Moreno hurries to respond in the allotted 15-second window before she loses out on the fare. The countdown isn't as intimidating as the traffic she faces on the way to Petworth, a D.C. neighborhood well north and east of Georgetown. I settle into the heated massage pad that Moreno bought for the front passenger seat as she ever-so-slowly maneuvers the car past a bad stretch of traffic.

"It's bold of you to work tonight," says Sadie, the latest passenger, when she gets into the car. She's off to her third engagement of the night, and she’s as bouncy as her hair, a jumble of curls deliberately masquerading as Baby's perm from Dirty Dancing

"Lena! Where’s your costume?" she admonishes.

Moreno has left her “Baberaham Lincoln" getup in the trunk while she’s on duty. "I was thinking about putting on the beard and the hat and being a hipster," she says. She would fit right in with the crowd at Sadie’s final destination, but instead, she drives off in search of a 7-Eleven. Moreno hasn't yet used any of the nine minutes of break time she accumulates every hour. It's almost midnight when she gets her coffee. We idle in front of the National Zoo until a call comes in. Then we're off to the next destination. And the next.

She originally planned to work until 3 a.m., but Moreno scaled back her shift, concerned that a late-night passenger full of pumpkin beer and candy corn might vomit in her car. So far, we’ve transported seven twentysomethings without incident. There’s still time for that, I think, as what can only be described as a trio of "bros" cross 14th Street and pile into the Nissan. They're drunk, they're loud, and I hope they're not handsy.

"So, driver, give us your spiel," one of the bros demands amid talk of the concert they attended and the amount of alcohol they consumed. To my surprise, they seem genuinely interested in Moreno’s work in film and television production, and they share the same enthusiasm for Game of Thrones. They're jealous, and almost reverential, that Moreno has only just started the third and “best” novel in the series.

"It's like when I think of kids reading Harry Potter," one of them says, and with that, the bros dissolve into fanboys.

In the end, the greatest risk doesn’t turn out to be any of the strangers that have occupied Moreno's backseat. That distinction goes to the increasingly carsick reporter riding shotgun. Moreno seems more concerned about me than her car. Before she takes any other calls, she points the pink mustache toward the highway to drive me home. I appreciate the gesture. It's what a friend would do.