Purpose

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, December 2, 2013

Activists Decry Toxic Air Pollution From Fracking in Los Angeles

http://uprisingradio.org/home/2013/12/02/activists-decry-toxic-air-pollution-from-fracking-in-los-angeles/

By Kassie Siegel, December 2, 2013

 

 A number of environmental groups in California are calling on a government agency to better protect Los Angeles residents from the pollution generated by city-area fracking projects. Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking, is a practice of harvesting oil or natural gas from the ground by pumping large amounts of a mixture of water, sand, and toxic chemicals. Critics say fracking is a serious threat to the health of people and the environment. 

Early in November, their case was underscored by the experience of federal regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who examined a fracking well near the USC campus. The inspectors suffered headaches, sore throats, and a variety of other ailments after being exposed to toxic air-borne chemicals from the well.

Local groups want the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to better monitor the air pollution from fracking and protect surrounding communities. Children are particularly vulnerable to some of the chemicals used. The groups even want California Governor Jerry Brown to place a moratorium on fracking in LA.

Meanwhile, Governor Brown signed a bill requiring greater transparency of the fracking industry in California this fall. While some are calling the California Environmental Quality Act the “strictest in the nation,” others are concerned that it allows far too much leeway to the industry. The California Department of Conservation is currently accepting public comments on the rule.
A number of environmental groups in California are calling on a government agency to better protect Los Angeles residents from the pollution generated by city-area fracking projects. Hydraulic Fracturing or Fracking, is a practice of harvesting oil or natural gas from the ground by pumping large amounts of a mixture of water, sand, and toxic chemicals. Critics say fracking is a serious threat to the health of people and the environment.
Early in November, their case was underscored by the experience of federal regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who examined a fracking well near the USC campus. The inspectors suffered headaches, sore throats, and a variety of other ailments after being exposed to toxic air-borne chemicals from the well.
Local groups want the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to better monitor the air pollution from fracking and protect surrounding communities. Children are particularly vulnerable to some of the chemicals used. The groups even want California Governor Jerry Brown to place a moratorium on fracking in LA.
Meanwhile, Governor Brown signed a bill requiring greater transparency of the fracking industry in California this fall. While some are calling the California Environmental Quality Act the “strictest in the nation,” others are concerned that it allows far too much leeway to the industry. The California Department of Conservation is currently accepting public comments on the rule.
- See more at: http://uprisingradio.org/home/2013/12/02/activists-decry-toxic-air-pollution-from-fracking-in-los-angeles/#sthash.5D47EHft.dpuf

More states raise taxes to pay for transportation

http://www.kansascity.com/2013/11/27/4654675/more-states-raise-taxes-to-pay.html

By Curtis Tate, November 27, 2013

 

 

 

  — This year, several states have done something that’s become politically impossible in Congress: They raised taxes to pay for transportation improvements. 

 From liberal Maryland to conservative Wyoming, states are enacting a variety of tax and fee increases to pay for transportation.

Pennsylvania became the latest this month with a measure that will generate billions of dollars for roads, bridges and transit. It lifts the cap on taxes on the price of gasoline at the wholesale level, meaning drivers ultimately will pay more at the pump. They’ll also pay more for driver’s licenses and traffic violations.

“Unlike Washington, we proved that by working together we can deliver and bring the quality transportation system that Pennsylvanians expect and deserve,” said Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who signed the bill on Monday.

Earlier this year, Virginia enacted a landmark transportation law that will provide $3.4 billion over the next five years for transportation projects including highways, mass transit, passenger rail, airports and seaports.

“We know that other states are looking at what we’re doing,” said Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton.

Some conservative groups have grumbled about the tax increases and plan to challenge the lawmakers who supported them. But infrastructure spending is popular with the public, and it’s rarely a losing issue.

“Most voters understand the need to do this,” said G. Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

The current federal transportation law will lapse by the end of next year, and unless Congress makes drastic changes, more states will be left to fend for themselves. An 18.4-cent tax every motorist pays on a gallon of gasoline no longer generates enough revenue to sustain the Highway Trust Fund. Congress last raised the tax in 1993.

An alliance of the trucking industry, road builders, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and organized labor have pleaded with lawmakers to fix the federal fund, even if that means raising taxes.

“We want to pay more,” said Bill Graves, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. “We’re ready to pay more, in some type of user fee, whatever Congress can agree to.”

The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission of 2010 called for a 15-cent increase in the federal gasoline tax. But there’s a growing recognition that raising the gas tax isn’t a viable long-term solution. Americans are driving less, and the cars they drive burn less gasoline.
Fuel-efficient vehicles are better for the environment, but worse for building and maintaining roads as long as the funding is tied to fuel consumption.

“Everyone sees the same thing,” Connaughton said. “The gas tax is a very weak foundation to build a transportation program for the future.”

Virginia’s new law scrapped a 17.5-cent-a-gallon state gasoline tax and replaced it with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax, paid by gas stations, increased vehicle registration fees and even imposed a special registration fee for hybrid vehicles. Virginia also raised its state sales tax, to 5.3 cents from 5 cents.
Other states have opted to simply raise their gas taxes. Maryland’s went up by 3.5 cents a gallon, while Wyoming’s increased by 10 cents. Massachusetts raised its tax by 3 cents, overriding the governor’s veto. Vermont imposed a 2 percent sales tax on gasoline.

Not everyone is willing to go with tax increases. Texas tapped its rainy day fund to the tune of $1.2 billion a year. The fund is supported by taxes on the state’s oil and natural gas industry.

Voters, meanwhile, have proved themselves willing to vote for transportation funding at the ballot box. This fall, 86 percent of such measures were approved, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, an industry group that supports increased state and federal transportation investment.

Several cities in California, Missouri and Washington state increased their local sales taxes to pay for road and transit improvements. North Carolina’s Wake County, which includes Raleigh, approved a property tax increase for a $75 million transportation bond package. The measure passed with a 70 percent majority.

However, states have huge transportation challenges.

“States cannot expect to bear this burden alone,” said Pete Ruane, president of the road builders association.


Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/11/27/4654675/more-states-raise-taxes-to-pay.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/11/27/4654675/more-states-raise-taxes-to-pay.html#storylink=cpy

Trees are awesome: Study shows tree leaves can capture 50%+ of particulate matter pollution

http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/trees-are-awesome-study-shows-tree-leaves-can-capture-50-particulate-matter-pollution.html

By Michael Graham Richard, December 2, 2013




Tree leave close up microscope photo

Nature's high-tech air scrubbers

Breathing is no optional, so air pollution matters. Recent studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) have shown that air pollution kills more people than AIDS and malaria combined and causes cancer. Thankfully, a lot of progress has been made in many places, but some others are still quite bad (especially in the Middle-East and Asia, and Europe could improve a lot too -- see the map below).We always knew that trees are good air filters, but it's been hard to quantify just how much. One new study from Lancaster University, in the U.K., tried to do so. What they found is quite interesting, and one more reason to hug a tree today!


W.H.O./Public Domain

The scientists started by measuring how much air pollution go into a certain number of houses in Lancaster using dust monitoring devices and by swiping surfaces and then analyzing what was collected with magnetic remanence, a technique that provides information on concentrations of iron-bearing particles.
Then the team placed a screen of 30 young silver birch trees in wooden planters in front of four of the houses, including one of the control houses, for 13 days. Wipes from all eight houses showed that ones with the tree screens had 52 to 65% lower concentrations of metallic particles. A comparison of all of the dust monitoring data from the two original control houses confirmed that drop, showing a 50% reduction in PM1, PM2.5, and PM10 in the house with the trees in front.

By examining the silver birch leaves with a scanning electron microscope, the researchers confirmed that the hairy surfaces of the leaves trapped metallic particles. Like the particles measured inside the houses, these metallic particles are most likely the product of combustion and brake wear from vehicles passing by. Previous work has indicated a strong correlation between the amount of material identified by magnetic remanence and benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon found in particulates, Maher says. (source)



So when do we start planting trees everywhere? Not that we needed this study to tell us that it's a good idea, but it never hurts to add some evidence on top of the mountain that we already have.
If you're looking to do this on a smaller scale, here are the best air-filtering indoor plants according to NASA.

‘Train-ing’ Our Leaders--and Ourselves--to Plan, Fund and Build Mass Transit

http://citywatchla.com/lead-stories-hidden/6092-train-ing-our-leaders-and-ourselves-to-plan-fund-and-build-mass-transit

By Ken Alpern, November 28, 2013



ALPERN AT LARGE-To set things straight, and before I am attacked by the zombies on the left and right, I am a high-speed rail supporter.  I am also a proud supporter of the efforts to bring Metro Rail into LAX, and still support both the Expo Line and its often-ignored eastern extension, the Downtown Light Rail Connector.  Ditto for the Wilshire Subway, and for every reasonable freeway, road, bicycle lane and pedestrian walkway widening/or and upgrade.

But the key word I want to throw out is the word REASONABLE.  As in CREDIBLE.  As in COST-EFFECTIVE.

You can learn it from me, or you can learn about it on your own from Metro or the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), that transportation projects have to have three key elements to succeed:  Consensus, Planning and Funding.

More on that below, but I urge and plead with every reader to never forget those three key elements:  Consensus, Planning and Funding.

It is therefore with simultaneous sadness and hope that I learned that Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny found that the California High Speed Rail (CAHSR) Authority ruled that state officials cannot tap billions of dollars in voter-approved bond funding for construction, which could cause indefinite delays (or even kill) the $68 billion project.

Sadness in that the high-speed rail for which I fought is in peril, but sadness in that those who lobbied for it and sold it for Californians pulled a terrible, unforgiveable bait-and-switch on California voters and taxpayers.

Hope in that the hard decisions--even to scrap the project as is--will be confronted because we can't afford to lose tens of billions in construction and operational costs for a project that appears to be in the way of, and not sufficiently supportive of, transportation (especially rail) projects that this state's residents want and need more than this dead-end, doomed project.

And hope in that the promise of high-speed rail can be resurrected in more carefully-thought and transparent proposals to the Californian taxpaying public.

The problem with this CAHSR project--as is--was that it was sold to the taxpaying public as a perfect, all-problem-solving effort.  Fast as a plane from LA to San Francisco.  For only $33 billion, to boot.

That's how the CAHSR funding law was built and written, and so therefore the state bonds necessary to fund the project as is--slower and twice the cost (perhaps thrice, when it's all said and done)--cannot legally be raised.

And it's anyone's guess how the CAHSR plan as is can ever survive.  To quote the old expression, "what a train wreck!"

Yet high-speed rail already IS popular, and perhaps the legacy of Governor Jerry Brown--if he's got the courage and credibility to do it--can be to admit that the CAHSR was an idealistic but unrealistic first start for a state high-speed rail network that remains popular among most Californians...so long as it's done right, and it's done both reasonably, responsibly, and realistically.

Imagine if the state had a duo of measures to both scrap the CAHSR project as is and create a new project that reflects what already IS working well in California:  the Caltrain network that serves the Bay Area from San Jose to San Francisco to Sacramento, the Metrolink network that serves the Greater Southern California region, and the LOSSAN Corridor Rail from Los Angeles to San Diego.

Give back the promised billions to the feds, and perhaps under a new promise of keeping that money for projects that should work, in conjunction with a new $10 billion bond measure that would expand the aforementioned higher-speed rail networks to LAX, Ontario, San Diego and all airports in the region, to say nothing of expanding services and speeding up the trains we already have (but are currently too slow and unreliable) with Amtrak.

Defined projects, with a prioritization from the counties' transportation engineers and political leaders, and with a $10 billion cap.  This would NOT be a blazing train that went as fast as a plane...but it would be affordable, usable, and do-able within our lifetimes.

And for those who have a problem with all that, I'd remind you that you are probably in the minority right now, and I'd demand you go to the nearest chalkboard and write out "THE PERFECT IS THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD" a hundred times until you got that through your thick, top-down, authoritarian skulls.

Similarly, the Times editorial staff (with whom I usually disagree with, because they're so ridiculously to the left) has it correct when they recommend slowing down with respect to new taxes for rail and other projects.
 
I favored Measure R to create a countywide half-cent sales tax (which passed), and I favored Measure J (which almost passed but had nearly 2/3 of the popular vote) to extend that sales tax decades into the future to expedite the Measure R projects.

We need rail projects like the Wilshire Subway, Downtown Connector and Metro Rail/LAX Connector, and we need freeway and road projects that are too numerous to describe here.  Ditto with bicycle, vanpool, bus and pedestrian improvements. 

But we need to rethink and reprioritize our Metro project priority list (the Metro Long Range Transportation Plan) to reflect the needs of the entire county, and not just the needs of the City of Los Angeles--which is why Measure J failed.

So I'll gladly break with many of my fellow transportation advocates when I adhere (I've always believed this, and never stopped believing this) to the notion that the full, complete Wilshire Subway to the 405 freeway must be built only when key rail lines in the rest of the county are on their way to being simultaneously built.

In other words, getting the growing regional light rail system to LAX, Torrance and Claremont are as critical to passing a countywide bond measure to expedite the Measure R projects as is the promise of expending the Wilshire Subway.

So to my colleagues who give short shrift to the Green Line Extensions to LAX, the Westside, the South Bay and Norwalk, and who give short shrift to the Gold Line Extension to Claremont and Ontario Airport, I'll ask you to look at how Measure J didn't pass and ask yourselves, "How did THAT work out?
"
So I do NOT really care about any pointy-headed academician or planner who wants to proclaim how the Wilshire Subway is more important for San Gabriel Valley voters to fund than the Foothill Gold Line extension to Claremont, any more than I care about any pointy-headed academician or planner who will fight for the CAHSR project as is before we create the LAX to Downtown Union Station Metrolink line that already has a projected route.

So I'll conclude by reminding any and all readers that there has to be Consensus, Planning and Funding for a transportation project to work.  That may appear to be the chicken/egg conundrum, but if we don't have Consensus, and if we don't have Planning, then we'll never get any Funding.
That means we have to change the Metro Long Range Transportation Plan to show as much love to the South Bay, the Southeast L.A. County cities and the San Gabriel Valley as we do to the Westside and Downtown regions of the City of Los Angeles.

Consensus is critical to ensure that the voters will pay for something, Planning has to show it's affordable (not a gimmick, but a for-real analysis that will be bulletproof against lawsuits), and then and only then can the Funding can be asked for.  We did things too much in reverse for funding a CAHSR that was built on entirely-false premises, and now we're on the verge of a calamity for state infrastructure planning and construction.

Yes, we CAN discuss, plan, fund and build a higher-speed state rail/freeway network, and a first-rate rail/freeway/road countywide network, in our lifetimes.

But we've got to remember to keep things real, and to not treat the voters like idiots.  The voters will be flexible and reasonable as is consistent with human nature...but they're not stupid, and they deserve respect.

So here's to making the year of 2014 the Year of Keeping It Real, and the Year of Courageous Decisions, to get our transportation/infrastructure efforts back on track, and to get our state and county's economy back on track, as we plan and build the awesome, better-than-ever California for the 21st Century.

The Week in Livable Streets Events

http://la.streetsblog.org/2013/12/02/the-week-in-livable-streets-events-125/

By Damien Newton, December 2, 2013

A couple of major meetings, a couple “end of the year” parties, and a major anniversary. It’s the Week in Livable Streets Events.
  • Tuesday – The City of Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee will meet to, among other things, hear a report from LAPD on the city’s ongoing hit and run crisis. It’s been roughly a year since the L.A. Weekly reporting blew the lid off the crisis. What’s been done? Get the meeting details on Facebook.
  •  
  • Wednesday – The Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee will meet to meet the new interim LADOT General Manager, Jaime De La Vega’s term officially ended yesterday, and discuss a series of transportation issues at 2 pm in City Hall. Read the agenda, here.
  •  
  • Wednesday - At 6 pm at Angel City Brewery, you can learn how to get get involved with Los Angeles Walks at this social and get together. Plan and lead a walk, get more involved in policy and advocacy, and help LA Walks grow in 2014! Click here, for more information.
  •  
  • Thursday – It’s the Metro Board of Directors, with their last meeting of the year. This meeting is usually a short one, but there’s got to be something on the agenda that could trip them up. The living wage ordinance? “Improved Fare Collection” on the Orange Line?” Half the fun is finding out. Read the agenda for the 9:30 meeting, here.
  •  
  • Thursday - Learn about LACBC’s victories of past and future from our local chapters, Neighborhood Bike Ambassadors, campaigns, programs, and more! Mingle, enjoy refreshments courtesy of New Belgium and Pete’s Cafe, dance to the sweet sounds of DJ Skramble, have your photo taken in our photobooth! I haven’t really partied on a Thursday night since I was in college, but these kids have a lot of energy. Get the details, here.
  •  
  • Thursday - The City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering, the Department of Cultural Affairs, and Councilmember José Huizar, Council District 14 invite you to please join us on Thursday, December 5th, 2013 for a public briefing that will provide an update on the Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement Project. The briefing will present an overview of the project as well as Project & Public Art Advisory Committee (PAAC) Updates. Get more details, here or RSVP on Facebook.
  •  
  • Saturday – The Eco-Village celebrates its 20th anniversary with an evening party at, where else, the Eco-Village. The Eco-Village is honoring our former school board member and former city council member Jackie Goldberg and acknowledging the many people who have contributed to our community. Wine, food, music, fun, silent auction, raffle, schmoozing, networking, hanging out with old friends, making new friends. I’ll be there. You can reserve tickets by clicking here.

America's Neglect of its Railroads Is Turning Deadly

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/12/americas-neglect-its-railroads-turning-deadly/7740/

By Neena Satija, December 2, 2013



 America's Neglect of its Railroads Is Turning Deadly

Forget about the need for high-speed rail. An investigation is underway, but yesterday's Metro-North train derailment in New York City, which killed four people and injured more than 60, exposes the long-term lack of investment in mass transit infrastructure in the U.S. In July, a freight train hauling trash had derailed in the same area. And this weekend's incident came just a day after a freight train derailed in New Mexico and plunged into a ravine, killing three crew members. More than just long delays and billions of dollars in lost economic productivity, America’s neglect of railroads has deadly consequences. 

The failure to pay attention to basic maintenance needs has led to much more significant losses of life across the world. When a 2011 train crash in Wenzhou, China, killed 40 people, not even 10 years after the country had begun building its high-speed rail system, even state-run television didn't hesitate to point fingers at the government. Soon after, hundreds were injured in a Shanghai subway accident. Concerns about building track on unstable, sinking soil, and in earthquake-prone areas of Western China, have also been raised, but the rapid expansion of the country’s rail is far from slowing.
 
In India, where billions have been committed in recent years to expanding and improving mass transit, the situation is far worse. A government panel accused the country’s railway system of "massacre" after finding that 15,000 people die each year simply while crossing the railway tracks. The panel said replacing unsafe crossings with bridges or overpasses would cost $10 billion. India is now eyeing foreign investment for its public transport sector—but it remains to be seen if that will result in upgrading a decrepit system, or new and flashy expansions. 

Investing in basic infrastructure needs like maintenance isn't a sexy political cause. But it's necessary. And passenger rail may not even be the biggest concern: freight rail accidents actually could be the most catastrophic. The American Society of Civil Engineers said in 2006 that more than $120 billion will need to be pumped into U.S. rail infrastructure to keep up with increasing demand for freight rail by 2035—and that was before a major oil and gas boom in the U.S. created a market for rail transport of crude.
 
The need for more mass transit has steadily been gaining traction, as traffic and car deaths worldwide become increasing political problems, and recent reports show American driving trends slowing. But if we can’t even invest of the safety of what we’ve got, the future of public transport could be under threat. As a survivor of yesterday's crash in Manhattan told the New York Times, "You think you’re safe on the train. I know I’m going to be taking a car for a while."

Following a Spate of Deaths, London Cyclists Get Militant

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/12/following-spate-deaths-london-cyclists-get-militant/7745/

By Feargus O'Sullivan, December 2, 2013




 Following a Spate of Deaths, London Cyclists Get Militant

Cyclists staged a "Die-in" in London on Friday to protest a recent spate of cycling deaths on the city's roads. Massing outside the offices of Transport for London, the body governing city transit, protestors lay down in the road way, lit candles and held a moment of silence for the cyclists who have died recently on London's streets—a group currently growing at an alarming rate. Five London cyclists died in collisions with motor vehicles over just nine days in November. The atmosphere has gotten so bad that an estimated 20 percent of London cyclists have stopped bike commuting due to safety fears.

While London Mayor Boris Johnson is famously a cycling fan, he's caused some controversy by blaming "very risky" behavior from cyclists for the deaths. In fact, many of the problems stem from London’s poor cycling infrastructure. Blue painted bike paths – grandly called "cycle superhighways" – threaded through the British capital certainly give bike users the illusion of protection. But they rarely have any real, protected separation from motor traffic, and several recent deaths have happened in spaces that cyclists are encouraged to consider safer. Transport for London have come under fire for the deaths, but say they are spending $1 billion on improving the city's roads.

For Friday's protesters, this disputed figure didn't go far enough. "We want a real budget, at the moment we're getting crumbs," said protest organizer Donnachadh McCarthy "We want an integrated cycling network in London within five years and we want a say at the top table."

The photos below, of Friday’s protest, were originally published in the UK’s Cycling Weekly.









Obama spends $600 million on rail projects that benefit private companies

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/12/02/210101/obama-spends-600-million-on-rail.html

By Curtis Tate, December 2, 2013

 US NEWS FREIGHT 2 MI

 The Port of Miami restored its rail connection, severed by a hurricane in 2005 with the first set of trains arriving back at the port October 1, 2013. A Department of Transportation grant paid for $22 million of the $49 million project. The Miami port is undertaking a massive expansion to accommodate bigger ships. It's scheduled to be ready when a widened Panama Canal opens in 2015.



Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/12/02/210101/obama-spends-600-million-on-rail.html#storylink=cpy


— The railroad industry brags in its national publicity campaign that it spends billions of dollars improving its infrastructure “so taxpayers don’t have to.”

But the ads don’t tell everything. The nation’s freight rail network has been the quiet recipient of more than $600 million in federal investment during the Obama administration.

According to Federal Railroad Administration numbers, at least half that amount has gone to projects that benefit the nation’s four largest railroads, the same companies at the heart of the industry’s ubiquitous “Freight Rail Works” campaign.

That doesn’t even include tens of millions more that states have contributed for additional investment in ports and high-speed passenger trains that’s boosted the nation’s freight railroads.

The public dollars have built new overpasses to separate trains from one another, as well as cars and trucks. They’ve replaced aging bridges, laid new track and upgraded signal systems. They’ve paid to enlarge tunnels and raise bridges so that shipping containers may be double-stacked. They’ve built new facilities where cargo containers can be transferred from trucks to trains, or vice versa.

Supporters say these public investments, combined with private capital, are model infrastructure partnerships that will help take trucks off crowded highways, reduce pollution and improve the flow of goods to and from the nation’s seaports.

“The majority of dollars that benefit freight rail are well spent,” said Chuck Clowdis, the managing director of North American markets at economic forecaster IHS Global Insight.

But others wonder whether an industry that boasts about how little it depends on taxpayers really needs the extra help.

“We don’t run (ad) campaigns like that, and we move 70 percent of all the tonnage in America at some point every day,” said Bill Graves, the president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations and a former Republican governor of Kansas.

The trucking industry isn’t bashful about pressing for more highway funding, Graves said, while railroads “probably overstate their independence from public investment.”

The Obama administration’s high-speed passenger rail initiatives have overshadowed its freight push.
While its passenger rail improvements have been mired in controversy and delays, many of the freight rail investments begun under the economic stimulus of 2009 are at or near completion. The White House is eager to show the results.

“This is the inland version of the widening of the Panama Canal,” Vice President Joe Biden said last month, not at a seaport but at a CSX freight terminal in the middle of a cornfield in North Baltimore, Ohio.

North Baltimore anchors the National Gateway, a project partially funded with a $98 million grant from the Department of Transportation. CSX paid for the Ohio facility, while the federal money helped raise overhead clearances on its route to East Coast ports, to allow double-stacked container trains.

Last week in Missouri, Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo cut the ribbon on a new bridge that added a second track over the Osage River, eliminating a bottleneck between St. Louis and Kansas City. Though the Obama administration paid for $22 million of the $28 million project through its High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program, the bridge will benefit the nation’s largest freight railroad, Union Pacific, which operates as many as 60 trains a day on the line.

In November, the Port of Miami restored its rail connection, which Hurricane Wilma had severed in 2005. A DOT grant paid for $22 million of the $49 million project. Port Director Bill Johnson said the grant was essential and that the project wouldn’t have happened without it. The Miami port is undertaking a massive expansion to accommodate bigger ships. It’s scheduled to be ready when a widened Panama Canal opens in 2015.

“We need a rail system to serve Florida and also the heartland of America,” Johnson said. “It’s all about connecting.”

In Charlotte, N.C., $129 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money will separate the Norfolk Southern and CSX mainlines where they cross in the city. The grant is part of $520 million in stimulus funds awarded to North Carolina to improve passenger and freight service in the corridor from Raleigh to Charlotte.

For all the public money that freight railroads have received, they haven’t talked much about it. The industry spent years trying to free itself from government regulation, and it doesn’t want federal money with too many strings attached.

“I think the industry is concerned about maintaining its independence,” said David Clarke, the director of the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
The worst recession since the Great Depression offered an opportunity few railroads could refuse. The Obama stimulus gave birth to a discretionary program called TIGER, for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.

The competitive program has proved popular with governors and mayors because it’s helped them start, and in some cases finish, infrastructure projects they’d long desired. Many of them involved freight railroads.

TIGER helped pay for two projects that involve the heavily congested intersections of two of the nation’s largest railroads, Union Pacific and BNSF Railway.

Until August, Colton Crossing in Southern California was a chokepoint for cargo moving out of the ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach. A $34 million TIGER grant helped build an overpass. The California Department of Transportation contributed another $41 million, while the railroads paid for the balance of the $91 million project.

A similar number of trains compete for a green signal at Tower 55 near downtown Fort Worth, Texas. A $34 million TIGER grant will cover about a third of the cost of fixing the junction, with the railroads sharing most of the rest. The work should be finished next year.

Freight rail investment might relieve congested roads, as well.

When it comes to moving smaller quantities of consumer goods faster over shorter distances, trucks have the advantage. But railroads excel at moving large quantities of freight over long distances at a lower cost.

“Our growth is driven by taking trucks off the highways,” said Jeff Heller, the vice president for intermodal at Norfolk Southern.

Norfolk Southern would like to skim some new business from one of the country’s busiest trucking lanes with what it calls its Crescent Corridor, stretching from the Northeast to the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast.

In a $2.5 billion partnership that involves the railroad, DOT and several states, Norfolk Southern has upgraded track and signals and has opened several new intermodal facilities, where trailers and containers can be loaded on trains. The latest such facility will open in Charlotte early this month.
The railroad hopes to divert 1.3 million trucks a year, while the federal and state transportation departments hope to improve traffic congestion and safety on interstate highways.

Chicago hopes that a state, federal and local partnership will relieve congestion at the nation’s busiest rail hub.

A $2 billion, decade-long project is building lots of new overpasses to ease the delays caused when more than 1,300 passenger and freight trains converge on Chicago every day, creating headaches for shippers and commuters. Some trains arrive from the East Coast in a day only to get stuck in the city for two days.

But the success of both projects might be limited by decisions made in the 19th century that would take billions of dollars more to fix.

Chicago’s congestion stems from the fact that major railroads built into the city without making efficient connections. They still don’t connect seamlessly, and there are few options to bypass Chicago.

Portions of the Crescent Corridor were laid out before the Civil War, with an abundance of hills and curves that slow the trains. That makes it hard for the railroad to be an effective competitor with trucks on parallel interstate highways.

“The railroads are still hamstrung to a certain extent by how their routes run,” said Clowdis of IHS Global Insight.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/12/02/210101/obama-spends-600-million-on-rail.html#storylink=cpy

Sometimes, Half a Line is as Good as No Line

http://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/sometimes-half-a-line-is-as-good-as-no-line/

November 30, 2013

The perfect is not the enemy of the good when it comes to rail projects. The half-done job is. In a trivial sense it’s obvious that half a tunnel across a mountain is useless. But even partial lines that have some uses are sometimes so much less useful than the full line, that the economic benefits of completing the half line to the full system are actually greater than those of building the first half. In many cases, even partial lines that are very good on their own have relatively easy extensions with very good economics.

This is primarily true for intercity rail, since costs are roughly proportional to route-km whereas benefits (e.g. high-speed rail operating profits) are proportional to passenger-km: once a first-phase rail line is in place, any future phase such that passengers will use the first phase for much of their travel will generate a large amount of passenger traffic relative to infrastructure construction. Probably the simplest example of this is extending California HSR to Sacramento: once a Los Angeles-San Francisco system is in place, especially if the route goes over Altamont Pass, extending to Sacramento requires only about 100 km of additional construction (180 if the LA-SF route is via the currently planned Pacheco Pass route), in flat land, but people would be taking the train from Sacramento to Los Angeles, a distance of about 600 km. Thus, despite generating much lower ridership than San Francisco, Sacramento is a highly beneficial extension of California HSR, once the LA-SF first phase is in place.

There are several more places in North America that are like this. When I tried applying a very primitive ridership model to American city pairs, what I found is that next to the Northeast Corridor, the highest-performing lines are extensions of the Northeast Corridor to the south. This is for the same reason as with Sacramento: once Boston-New York-Washington is in place, an extension to Richmond would generate 540 passenger-km of New York-Richmond travel on just 180 route-km of Washington-Richmond HSR, and thence extensions to Raleigh and Norfolk would be similarly high-performing, and so on. Some of those extensions would add about 40 million passenger-km per route-km of new construction, compared with about 28 million on the Northeast Corridor alone; in other words, assuming constant per-km cost, the rate of return on some of the extensions is higher than on the Northeast Corridor trunk. Similarly, although international HSR links are overrated, once New York-Buffalo is in place, an extension into Toronto becomes high-performing (with about 30 million passenger-km per new route-km after a fudge factor accounting for the underperformance of international city pairs), which is especially useful given that New York-Buffalo’s projected traffic based on said primitive model is marginal.

In those cases, the picture is bright, in that the first phase is strong on its own, and then future phases become natural extensions, which can be funded on the heels of the first phase’s success.Unfortunately, in many cases the situation is different, and the first phase is really a half-built line that isn’t much better than nothing, at least on the proposed merits. For example, High Speed 2′s rising costs are causing the cost-benefit analysis to head well into marginal territory: as per PDF-page 15 of a Parliamentary primer, the benefit-cost ratio of the first phase, London-Birmingham, is now down to 1.4, while this of the full system as proposed by the Cameron administration, going to Manchester and Leeds, is 1.8. Although 1.4 > 1, common practice in Europe is to build only projects with benefit-cost ratios higher than 1.2 or 1.3, because of the risk of further cost escalations (although the stated cost includes a generous contingency factor). The environmental benefits are likewise lopsided in favor of full construction, according to pro-HSR group Greengauge 21: three quarters of the benefits come from the second phase. This is because few people fly from London to Birmingham or Manchester already, since the existing medium-speed trains are fast enough at these distances to outcompete low-cost flights; however, there’s a large volume of people flying from London to Glasgow, and it is expected to take the full opening of HS2 to get enough of those fliers to switch to make a significant difference.

In this case, HS2′s first phase is better than nothing, and the problem stems from extremely high costs: without contingency, London-Birmingham, a distance of about 180 km, is projected to be about $23 billion after PPP conversion, which at nearly $130 million per km is worse than California HSR, which has to tunnel under tall mountain ranges. With contingency, it is $175 million per km, not much less than the projected cost of the majority-underground Chuo Shinkansen maglev. If the costs were brought down to reasonable levels, the first phase alone would be highly beneficial, as can only be expected given the size of London and the secondary cities of the West Coast Main Line.

In some other proposed cases, even the benefits are marginal. Worse, sometimes attempts to cut costs lead to steeper cuts in benefits. The example that motivated this post is a recent story of a proposal for HSR in Colorado, which is not planned to serve the built-up area of Denver at all, but instead stop at the airport. An airport stop without a downtown stop is unacceptable anywhere, especially given Denver’s airport’s large distance from downtown (30 km, vs. 15 km in Shanghai, where most HSR trains stop at the domestic airport and only a few stop downtown at Shanghai Station). It is especially unacceptable given that Denver is to be connected to cities that are within easy driving or medium-speed rail distance: Fort Collins is 100 km north of Denver, Colorado Springs is 110 km south, and Pueblo, which is only proposed as part of a larger second phase together with a Rocky Mountain crossing, is 180 km south. At the distances of Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, the egress time would eat all time advantage of HSR over driving; at the distance of Pueblo, it would eat most of the time advantage. Saving money is nice, but not when it makes the entire project useless except to the occasional Fort Collins- or Colorado Springs-based flier.

One can go further and ask why even build HSR at such short distances. On the Northeast Corridor, full-service HSR is a great investment, because of the combination of extremely thick city pairs at the 360 km mark (New York-Washington and New York-Boston) and one reasonably thick pair at the 720 km mark (Boston-Washington), which is too far for medium-speed rail to compete with air. Philadelphia’s presence boosts the case for HSR – it conveniently provides a source of reverse-peak traffic away from New York and Washington, adds long-distance travelers to Boston, and adds short-distance high-speed travelers to New York – but by itself it’s not worth it to build HSR at the distance of New York-Philadelphia. If Boston and Washington weren’t there, then incremental upgrades with a top speed of 200 km/h or maybe 250 km/h would be best, and higher speeds would just waste money on more expensive trains and create noise pollution and higher energy consumption.

The same analysis is true of faster-than-HSR travel modes. The other motivation for this post, in addition to Colorado’s proposal, is Japan’s attempt to export maglev to the US, proposing the Northeast Corridor as the route to run maglev on, with Baltimore-Washington as the first segment, which Japan proposed to build for free, as a loss leader. Nobody needs maglev from Baltimore to Washington: the egress time is going to ensure the benefits of maglev speeds over HSR speeds are small, and even the benefits of HSR speeds over fast commuter rail speeds are limited. The Chuo Shinkansen is only planned to be about 440 km long, but it’s a capacity boost on a line that already has HSR with extremely high ridership, and not just a speed upgrade. Elsewhere, Japan builds conventional HSR rather than maglev, even for inter-island travel, where people fly today since the Shinkansen takes 5+ hours and flying takes an hour.

Part of my distaste for Hyperloop essentially comes from the same problem: it tries to compete with HSR at a distance where HSR is appropriate and faster trains are not. All of the technical problems of Hyperloop – thermal expansion, claustrophobic vehicles, extreme levels of lateral acceleration – are solvable, at the cost of more money. The technology is feasible; it’s Musk’s order-of-magnitude-too-low cost estimate that I object to. The problem is that at LA-SF distance, access and egress time and security will eat the entire time advantage over conventional HSR, in similar vein to the problem with siting Denver’s HSR station at the airport. Conventional HSR still involves regular trains that can run on electrified legacy lines, so it’s cheap to go the first and last miles within the Bay Area and the LA Basin; maglev doesn’t have this ability and neither do vactrains. Thus there will always be the problem with the first and last mile, which can be solved only by spending even more money – even in the case of the Chuo Shinkansen, JR Central decided that Shinagawa, just outside Central Tokyo, is good enough, and there’s no need to spend further money to get trains into Tokyo Station. But the access, egress, and security time penalties are constant, whereas the time advantage over slower modes of transportation grows with distance.

So by all means, let’s think about maglev from New York to Chicago and Miami and from Los Angeles to Seattle, where HSR is too slow to compete with air travel; let’s think about a vactrain at transcontinental scales, were open-air maglev is too slow. There’s a reason this year’s April Fool’s post emphasized that the vactrain system should be intercontinental and globally connected. I don’t think maglev in the US or a vactrain anywhere pans out in the next few decades, but at least at this greater scale they wouldn’t be crowding out a technology that can succeed, i.e. conventional HSR at the scale of the Northeast Corridor or California.

Sometimes, starting small means failing. A strong first phase with stronger second phases, such as LA-SF or Boston-NY-DC, is likely to become a success and motivate the political system to spend additional money, partly from first-phase profits, on extensions. A weak first phase that needs additional phases to pan out won’t lead to the same extensions. When a white elephant project opens, nobody listens to critics who say it should’ve been built bigger, even in the uncommon cases when those critics are right. Colorado HSR as proposed is going to get faltering ridership, not enough to justify the cost, and cause widespread disaffection even with potentially strong rail projects in Colorado. The same is true of any faster-than-HSR project that tries to replace HSR instead of capitalize on its strength in serving much longer-distance city pairs. If Musk succeeds in causing the median Californian to turn away from HSR and build Hyperloop instead, then first Hyperloop will turn out to cost ten or more times as much as Musk predicted (for which people won’t blame Musk but the government – Musk’s sycophants will tsk-tsk from the sideline and say that if only he had been in charge), and second the ridership won’t cover the costs, leading people to decide that any linear transportation corridor is bad and the government should stick to highways and airports.

Why mass transit is doomed in America: Politicians don’t know people who use it

If big, liberal cities can't adequately fund their transit systems, what hope does anywhere else have?

 http://www.salon.com/2013/12/02/why_mass_transit_is_doomed_in_america_politicians_dont_know_people_who_use_it/

By Alex Pareene, December 2, 2013


 Why mass transit is doomed in America: Politicians don't know people who use it

 New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gets out of his Corvette after he took a lap of The Glen race course before practice for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race.

If you want to know why mass transit is doomed in the United States, look at the place where it is undoubtedly more successful — and more widely used — than anywhere else in the country: New York.

In 2008, Michael Bloomberg proposed congestion pricing for Manhattan’s inner core, proposing an $8 charge for most passenger cars, to be charged only once a day. The money would’ve gone to the MTA, to fix up subway stations, improve bus and subway service, and help pay for extensions to the system. Naturally, it died in Albany without even coming up for a vote. Now, famous transportation expert “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz is trying to sell a new congestion pricing proposal, one that simply adds tolls to bridges entering Manhattan, and that also lowers already existing tolls on other area bridges. The proposal is designed to alleviate the (misleading) class-based argument against Bloomberg’s plan, which was said to benefit rich Manhattanites at the expense of the blue-collar outer boroughs.

The proposal briefly seemed like it might actually have a shot at passing, until New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo effectively killed it by declaring that it wouldn’t pass. (It would, needless to say, have a better chance of passing if the state’s powerful governor exerted any effort at all toward passing it.) Richard Brodsky, a former assemblyman and a regularly quoted opponent of congestion pricing, summed up the argument against charging drivers a bit more to help maintain the transit system:
Richard L. Brodsky, a former Democratic assemblyman and a senior fellow at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University, said Mr. Schwartz’s plan was “a fundamentally regressive tax,” even if equity problems among the boroughs were “addressed to an extent,” at least compared with the 2008 plan.
“It will modify the behavior of the guy driving the ’97 Chevy,” Mr. Brodsky said, “but will do nothing to modify the behavior of the guy driving the 2013 Mercedes.”

As StreetsBlog explains, this is a very silly argument. Drivers are, on average, richer than non-drivers. Owning cars is expensive, even without East River bridge tolls. There are more car-less New Yorkers than drivers. But the drivers earn more, and we all remember how American politicians only respond to the desires and preferences of the wealthy, right?

The congestion pricing argument has always taken place, rhetorically, in a bizarre alternate universe where everyone drives, and where every citizen deserves to be able to drive without bearing anything close to the cost of that driving on the city’s infrastructure and atmosphere. In 2008, politician after politician cried that it was unfair to ask anyone to pay money to go from one of the city’s boroughs into another, and no one reminded them that every single subway rider has always been forced to pay to do that very thing.

The sad thing is that Cuomo’s refusal to support the proposal wasn’t remotely surprising. Cuomo has never evinced any concern at all about his state’s mass transit system. Indeed, he has sometimes seemed actively hostile to the idea of adequately funding, let alone expanding it. He has blocked efforts to even study transit options on the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River. He vetoed a bill that would’ve discouraged the state Legislature from diverting transit money to other things — which Cuomo did in his 2013 budget.

Cuomo isn’t at all unusual. In New York state, as in the country as a whole, more resources continue to be spent on drivers and roads than buses and trains. One transit blogger has calculated that, according to how Albany allocates transportation money, “every driver is worth as much as 4.5 transit riders.” And while Mayor Bloomberg’s administration has a generally very good record on transit, there’s always been a strange tension between Bloomberg’s pedestrian and bicycle-friendly Department of Transportation and his NYPD, which has a bizarrely antagonistic relationship with bicyclists and which rarely — as in almost never — prosecutes reckless driving, speeding, or accidents leading to the death of pedestrians.

This should be the most transit-friendly government in the country. A majority of New York citizens rely on public transit for their livelihoods. The city and state are run by Democrats, many of them among the most liberal in the nation. Our incoming mayor, Bill de Blasio, ran as a left-wing populist. But incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio is a driver. Andrew Cuomo has been a driver, or had drivers, his entire life. There are certain richer Manhattanites, accustomed to walking, for whom anti-car policies improve their quality of life, but for most of the political class, everyone they know and interact with owns a car. Finding a steady and sufficient revenue source for the local transit system, one that can’t be raided for other purposes and that doesn’t rely too heavily on burdening its users with hefty fare increases, should be an urgent priority for local politicians, but most of them simply don’t care.

We already have a political system in this country that, nationally, heavily favors the interests of the rural and the suburban over the urban. Many state legislatures have similar biases. But when, even in New York, politicians ignore transit, because they don’t know or interact with or receive checks from people who rely on it every day, there’s almost no hope for cheap, efficient mass transit options anywhere.

Take Minneapolis, a decently dense city that could, and ought to, support a much more extensive mass transit system. The existing system, mainly buses and a light rail line, with more lines planned, is operated by a division of the Metropolitan Council, and, predictably, the council designs transit in a way that reflects the ostensible needs of the entire metro area, including suburbs that sprawl out miles beyond the city center. The result is a series of ambitious plans to build rail lines traveling from outside the city to downtown, while the urban bus system is unreliable, neglected and nearly impossible to navigate without extensive prior knowledge. Meanwhile, the light rail lines the council and the state are pressing forward with have been designed in a bizarre fashion, along low-traffic, low-density routes and ignoring the most dense and highly trafficked corridors in the city. The city government is now fighting with the council over its plan to put a streetcar line on one major urban avenue. The streetcar is probably not as good a solution as either improving bus service, on the cheap side, or creating a real subway or light rail line, on the more expensive, but it’s the only proposed transit expansion right now in the area designed to serve people who actually live in the city. Here, again, politicians don’t ride the bus, and likely know hardly anyone who does regularly.

If this very liberal town, in a liberal state, run entirely by Democrats, has so much trouble creating and maintaining a decent mass transit system, what hope is there for the rest of America’s cities? Especially the ones in states, and metro areas, that aren’t so liberal.

Take poor Atlanta, where the baseball team is in the process of becoming the only MLB team to move farther away from the city core in decades. The Braves will be going to suburban Cobb County, a rich, white, conservative county that has always rejected the expansion of the local rail line into its community, citing fears of unnamed “people” from Atlanta. The current stadium is a 25-minute walk from mass transit. The new one will be essentially unreachable — by design, because sometimes transit expansion is blocked not just because of neglect, but also to enforce racial segregation.

Just about the only place where there seems to be hope for mass transit in America is, bizarrely enough, Los Angeles, where the system is currently in the process of growing and improving. Why there, of all places? Maybe because while Los Angeles politicians are as unlikely to ride buses and trains as politicians anywhere else, they do have a personal stake in seeing other drivers get the hell off the road.

More signatures are needed: NO 710 Petition

From Sylvia Plummer, December 1, 2013

It's been two weeks and we have close to 800 signatures, we are on our way to our goal of 5,000 signatures.

Today's challenge is for everyone who reads this to get at least one other person to sign the petition.  It doesn't matter if they live in the immediate area.  Be sure to have your spouse and all children old enough to understand the impacts sign the petition.  Tell your neighbors, co-workers and relatives.  

Remember that $780 million dollars of Measure R sales tax money is being used to study and kick start this project.  The money spent on this project could instead be used for more worthy transportation options that would better serve the needs of the entire region.

Instructions:

1.  Go to www.no710.com.
2.  Click on the words "Sign the Petition" that appear in the yellow oval.  This will take you to a page that shows all the   officials who will be contacted each time the petition is signed.
3.  Click on the words "Sign the Petition" in the yellow box on this page and you will taken to the petition at Change.org.
4.  Fill in the information at the right to sign the petition.
5.  Finally, click on the red box that says "Sign".

Mucked up no more: Seattle Tunnel project gears up to haul away all its dirt

http://mynorthwest.com/11/2403541/Mucked-up-no-more-Seattle-Tunnel-project-gears-up-to-haul-away-all-its-dirt

By Chris Sullivan, November 27, 2013


 SR99tunnel_berthadigstwitter_640.jpg
 When it's all said and done, the tunnel will remove enough dirt to cover 175 football fields in three feet of dirt.

The giant boring machine digging the Seattle Tunnel, known as "Bertha," will be able to dig 900 feet in the next four weeks. It's only accomplished two-thirds of that distance in four months.

The reason for the increased production: the labor dispute involving a small number of longshoreman has been resolved.

But how can a few jobs make such a big difference in digging speed?

When you're digging a tunnel this big, you end up with a lot of dirt to get rid of.

A giant conveyor belt was constructed to take the dirt right out of the hole and dump it on a waiting barge alongside Terminal 46, but those barge operations weren't allowed to begin because of the labor dispute. The longshoreman's union handles all maritime-related work at the Port.

They weren't happy, so no barges. The project was simply dumping the dirt in a pit on the pier.
Workers have been trying to keep up with all the dirt by removing it by truck, but it takes 30 dump trucks to remove the dirt created every time the drill moves just 6 1/2 feet. That's enough dirt to cover a football field with three inches of dirt.

And every day, the drill moves between 26-and-32 1/2 feet.

It's been less than efficient using trucks project director Chris Dixon said.

"When we try to do any more tunnel production in a day, we become what we call muck-bound," he said. "The muck pit fills up so we can't deposit any more muck in there, which means the machine can't go forward so we have to stop tunneling until we truck that material away."

But now that the longshoreman's union has been given a few jobs on this project, it has agreed to let the barge operations start up. The union workers will be in charge of tying the barges to the dock.
And with barges able to handle bigger loads, digging can speed up significantly. "One barge can haul what 150 trucks can haul," Dixon said.

Adding barges will nearly triple the amount of dirt they can remove in a day so Big Bertha can keep moving without having to shut down.

"We can haul four to five rings away with trucks every day, but with barges we can haul eight to ten away," Dixon said. "By adding barges to the mix, we automatically triple the amount of muck that we can haul away in a day." That's because the project is still going to be using trucks.

Eventually, three barges will be used in the operation so there will always be one at Terminal 46 to handle the dirt.

When it's all said and done, the tunnel will remove enough dirt to cover 175 football fields in three feet of dirt.

So where's the dirt going?

Some of it is going to a dump. The majority of it will end up in an abandoned quarry in Port Ludlow. That dirt will be used to fill it up in a reclamation project.