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

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Los Alamitos, Seal Beach Reiterate Opposition to 405 Toll Lanes

Los Alamitos, Seal Beach and other Orange County cities say toll lanes would breach the trust of Orange County residents.


By John Schreiber, Decemberr 2, 2013

The cities of Los Alamitos and Seal Beach this month continued to state their official opposition to a proposal to add toll lanes to the 405 Freeway between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa.

In a letter addressed to Orange County Transportation Authority Chairman Gregory Winterbottom, the 405 Freeway Cities Coalition – which includes Los Alamitos and Seal Beach – said that they are not in any way interested in adding toll lanes to the 405 Freeway.

"There is only one project that the Corridor Cities are interested in and believe would justify the use of Measure M funds," the letter stated. "That project is the widening of the 405 freeway to include two new general purpose lanes in each direction."

The joint letter came in response to a request from OCTA asking local cities to send a list of unfunded project that could potentially move forward with the help of excess toll revenue from the proposed 405 toll lanes.

"Use of pricing to manage and optimize high-occupancy toll (HOD)/express lane throughput generates toil revenue which is to be used to cover debt and required financing costs, operations, maintenance, and capital rehabilitation and improvement costs for the HOT/express lanes," OCTA's letter to Los Alamitos and Seal Beach stated. "Revenues that are available after addressing such items are considered excess revenues and are authorized by statute to be used for public transportation in and near the project boundaries."

The 405 Freeway Cities Coalition said that adding toll lanes to the freeway would betray Orange County residents who voted for a sales tax increase that would help fund new general purpose freeway lanes.

"Constructing toll lanes is a breach of trust with Orange County residents who voluntarily voted for an additional half cent sales tax increase under Renewed Measure M with the promise that one additional general purpose lane would be added to the 1-405 freeway," the letter from the cities said.

Local cities also called for joint meetings with OCTA in which all cities are in attendance.

"To ensure that OCTA understands how united we are on this critical matter, we will only conduct these meetings if all Cities are in attendance at a joint meeting, rather than individual meetings."

Big business for Megabus in Reno

Express bus company came to Reno a year ago


 Paul Herget and Joselle Benitez of San Francisco check their bags with Megabus driver Janette Taylor Monday afternoon, 12/2/13, at the Silver Legacy. Benetiz is appreciative of the service. 'I love it. It's clean and pretty fast. It's a nice view riding on top, ' she said. Photo by Tim Dunn/RGJ

Paul Herget and Joselle Benitez of San Francisco check their bags with Megabus driver Janette Taylor Monday afternoon, 12/2/13, at the Silver Legacy. Benetiz is appreciative of the service. 'I love it. It's clean and pretty fast. It's a nice view riding on top, ' she said.

More than 40 people huddled outside the Silver Legacy on Saturday afternoon waiting for the Megabus. Suitcases lined the sidewalk as holiday travelers waited to head home after their Thanksgiving visits.

The holiday weekend was another busy time for the express bus company that came to Reno a year ago and shuttles passengers from Northern Nevada to the San Francisco Bay Area on fares as low as $1. Tourism officials have lauded the service as another needed connection to bring tourists to the Biggest Little City from California.

Now, the company says it’s expecting business in Reno to continue to grow through 2014.
“The business in Reno has been building. We expect an overall 20 percent increase in consumers from last year,” said Mike Alvich, Megabus.com spokesman and marketing vice president. “In Reno it will be even more because the hub there is new.”

Megabus.com is known for its legroom, free Wi-Fi and cheap prices, depending on seat availability, Alvich said. There’s no need for bus stations because of the online-only booking system. Prices increase as more tickets are bought and with the holidays around the corner, a last minute one-way ticket is $49.

But prices are still 70 percent cheaper than airfare, Alvich said, adding that 50 percent of Megabus customers used to drive, but are now leaving their cars in their garage.

The company, a subsidiary of Coach USA, was founded in Scotland, gained popularity in Europe and later launched hubs in the United States in April 2006.

The double-decker bus began its route to Reno last year, soon after the company’s expansion to the West Coast in December 2012.

Today, the route includes stops in Sparks, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, Oakland, Calif., Riverside, Calif., and Reno.

Christine Robinson came to Reno from San Francisco for Thanksgiving. Although she paid more than $100 for her ticket because of her last minute purchase, she still prefers Megabus for its look and its scheduling.

“I was invited to go dancing tonight when I get back to San Francisco and the schedule allows for dancing,” Robinson said with a smile.

 For Maya Maher, a Megabus first-timer, the price was better than paying $300 to fly, she said. She paid $15 to Reno and $49 to get back to Sacramento.

“I came to stay and play at the Atlantis with friends. And they even treated me to a Thanksgiving dinner,” she said.


As with Maher, Cavan Tornga rode on the Megabus for its prices. Additionally, he chose Megabus because it stops 20 minutes away from his home in Sacramento.

“It was a competition between Amtrak, airlines, Greyhound and Megabus,” Tornga said. “I would recommend people to buy their tickets in advance because it’s cheaper.”

Though several travelers were satisfied with Megabus fares, Reginald Stearne found himself wondering why prices went up this holiday season. His wife, Angela, commutes to San Francisco for her work as a caregiver, he said. She rides Megabus every Sunday and returns Tuesdays.
Although the Stearnes rely on Megabus because of its price range, fares are comparable to Greyhound, they said.

Greyhound, which networks through more than 3,800 locations in the United States, is expecting more than 500,000 customers overall during the holidays, said spokeswoman Alexandra Pedrini.
Greyhound’s focus is to provide good prices, the best service and safe and reliable transportation, Pedrini said.

“Greyhound’s business over the holidays was just as busy as last year, so we’re continuing to see strong passenger numbers in Reno,” Pedrini said.

Prices for Greyhound range from $10 one-way to $20 round trip between Reno and San Francisco. The price varies depending on the date, destination and travel arrangements, Pedrini said. Travelers pay more if tickets are bought at the bus station, which start at $70.

“Greyhound tries to keep pricing affordable and paying $10 for a one-way trip is pretty good,” she said.

Metrolink awarded $61K for railroads safety campaign


December 2, 2013

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) awarded a $61,325 grant to Metrolink for a yearlong Public Safety Awareness on Railroads campaign.

Metrolink, in collaboration with California Operation Lifesaver (CAOL) and with the support of OTS, is dedicated to reducing the number of persons killed and injured in grade crossing collisions.

“It is absolutely tragic to witness and experience the largely avoidable incidents along the tracks caused primarily by distracted pedestrians and drivers,” said Metrolink CEO Michael P. DePallo. “With the support of the California Office of Traffic Safety, Metrolink and its partners will continue striving to make people more aware of the dangers of unsafe behaviors on or near the tracks.”

Metrolink will use the funding as part of an ongoing commitment to keep roadways and rail crossings safe through safety education, information and enforcement.

California has nearly 10,000 at-grade railroad crossings across more than 10,000 miles of railroad track, intersecting with nearly 324,000 miles of public highways and roads. Unfortunately, the state has the distinction of leading the nation in the number of deaths at these at-grade crossings and along railroad rights-of-way.

The grant will fund various activities, including:
  • Increasing the number of CAOL authorized volunteer presenters throughout the state.
  • Conducting a public safety conference in Southern California with stakeholders regarding safety at crossings.
  • Working with communities and community leaders concerning issues which address safety at railroad highway grade crossing and rights of way.
Funding for this program is from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Inching down L.A.’s freeways in the dark: Opinion


By Mariel Garza, December 3, 2013

Like many, perhaps too many, other Angelenos, I drive a lot for work. Not only is my office 22 miles from my home, but on any given day I may have to head to one of the Los Angeles New Groups’ other eight offices. It could be Woodland Hills (25 miles from home) or Long Beach (27 miles) or San Bernardino (68 miles) or even Redlands, which is so far from L.A. it seems like it must be in another state.

Because of this I rely heavily on what has in the past been a pretty helpful tool: the Sigalert iPhone app.

This app, which I probably have used more than any other single function on my smartphone, including the phone function, has saved me countless hours in traffic, identifying trouble spots before I ended up in the middle of them. I use the past tense here, because in recent months that Sigalert app has been increasingly less helpful, which is a nice way of saying it has an accuracy issue.
Not only has it not sigalerted me to terrible traffic snarls, but in some cases it leads me right into them with promises of traffic flowing like a Sierra stream in the springtime.

Here’s an example from Sunday: Everyone who escaped to the desert for the holiday weekend, it seemed, tried to get through the Interstate 10 Whitewater-Cabazon pass at the same time. This is not unusual, and not wholly unexpected. And it was an epic traffic jam visible to anyone in it.

But it simply didn’t exist to my app, no matter how many times I refreshed it. In fact, it indicated that heavy traffic on the westbound 10 loosened up — going from red to green — at the Highway 62 junction, where I was getting on. But that’s where the worst jam actually started, as the cars, trucks and RVs from Joshua Tree and other high-desert vacation spots emptied into the heavy flow of the 10. Stop and go — mostly stop — all the way west to Banning. Not that I could have avoided this particular snarl without getting off the freeway and trying to find out how to get across to the frontage road. But I was still surprised my Sigalert app couldn’t pick it up. Also, it would have been helpful to know where it ended. I had dinner plans in L.A.

Now, I’m not blaming the Sigalert folks for the gaps in information. The Sigalert app is a iPhone version of sigalert.com, the fine website that bases its freeway speeds on data collected from Caltrans scans. And therein lies the problem, at least in part.

An Associated Press story last week reported that, of the 27,000 Caltrans traffic sensors embedded in California’s freeways, a full third don’t work. Caltrans officials told the AP that they have gone dark for a number of reasons including getting old and conking out, getting damaged by road crews and, most disturbing, being removed by thieves, an idea that brings to mind terrifying images of people dodging vehicles doing 75 at night.

L.A. is missing a lot of sensors, but the AP story indicates the outage is even worse in San Bernardino and Riverside counties (the latter in which the Sunday jam occurred).

Caltrans should figure out how to fix these dark sensors. Thousands of people rely on accurate data to make smart choices about driving — or not driving. Consider how 2012’s Carmageddon played out. It could have been a mess of historic proportions. But with good information from transportation officials (and not a little pleading), it was one of the best driving days around the greater Los Angeles area.

Traffic data is not just a luxury for heavy commuters like me, it’s vital to keeping the economy humming and motorists sane.

Caltrans officials responded that they are working on replacing the sensors, but clearly not fast enough as the number of dark sensors grows. Perhaps they agency should ask for local help, such as from Los Angeles County’s half-cent sales tax Measure R. Having up-to-date and reliable, real-time traffic data seems to be an acceptable expenditure of Measure R’s billion. Or even help from the private sector. I know I’d shell out some cash for a traffic app that had its eyes wide open.

Speed kills, alcohol devours, on Pa. roads


By Howard Frank, December 1, 2013

On the roads, speed kills. But alcohol is more lethal.

That's one of the many lessons drawn from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's report, "2012 Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics."

While fatal vehicle crashes have trended downward statewide over the past five years, speed and alcohol remain the deadliest ingredients.

Nearly four people were killed every day in traffic crashes statewide last year.

That's one death every six hours and 41 minutes.

One person was injured every six minutes.

Excessive speed killed more than twice as many people as any other contributing factor. Drunken driving was the next largest.

No other factors were even close.

Sobering thoughts

If speed kills, alcohol leaves fewer survivors.

While alcohol-related crashes and deaths have fallen since 2007, such crashes still account for about one in 10 crashes in the state.

But those crashes are more likely to be fatal.

In fact, alcohol-related crashes were 4.2 times more likely to result in death than crashes unrelated to alcohol, according to the report.

The figures paint a grim picture — alcohol is involved in one out of every three deaths from crashes.
Traveling in a car driven by someone drunk was particularly hazardous. You were six times more likely to die than if the driver was sober.

Falling behind

One of every 44 Pennsylvanians was involved in a crash last year.

Motorists traveled about 100.2 billion vehicle-miles on Pennsylvania's roads.

The 2012 fatality rate of 1.31 deaths per hundred million vehicle-miles of travel was the fourth lowest ever recorded in Pennsylvania since the department started keeping records of this in 1935.

But the rest of the country has made gains too, and the state is falling behind.

Pennsylvania's fatality rate, going back to 1945, was slightly under the national average. That changed in 2001, when the state began to exceed the national rate.
In 2011, 1.27 people in Pennsylvania died per 100 million miles driven. The U.S. rate in 2011 was 1.1.
The state continued to trend poorly last year, its fatality rate rising to 1.31 in 2012.

The good, bad and ugly

The vast majority of the state's 124,092 crashes were not fatal.

Most of those involved in crashes weren't injured, and those who were injured suffered minor injuries, according to the report.

Fatal crashes climbed slightly last year but fell significantly over the past five years.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said of pedestrian deaths. Those have trended up sharply over the past five years, rising 18 percent over the five-year period beginning with 2008 and accounting for 168 deaths in 2012.

Motorcycle deaths and injuries were down, although just slightly over the five years between 2008 and 2012. But bicycle deaths statewide doubled from eight in 2008 to 16 in 2012.

The decline in fatal crashes can be partially attributable to fewer vehicles on the road. But there have also been fewer fatalities per mile driven in the five years studied.

The total of vehicle miles driven, measured in billions, dropped from 108.4 billion to 100.2 in 2012.
And while 8 percent fewer miles were driven between 2008 and 2012, the fatality rate per billion miles driven dropped more slowly, at just 3 percent.

"There are too many variables involved in crashes to determine the reasons," PennDOT spokesman Ron Young said. "With that said, some of the factors that may have played a role are: increased seat belt usage; highway safety education initiatives; safer vehicles; and law enforcement initiatives."

Pennsylvanians drove more miles in 2008 than any year since 1945. That number continued to drop through 2012.

PennDOT estimated crashes cost the state almost $15 billion last year, or $1,164 for every man, woman and child in the state.

Trees don't move

The most common type of crash — almost one out of three — involved a single vehicle hitting a fixed object, like a tree or guard rail. And those made up four out of every 10 deaths.

Crashes into trees claimed about one of five crash fatalities. Crashes into guiderails, embankments and utility poles accounted for one out of 10 deaths each.

More than half of all crashes and fatalities involved a passenger car. SUVs, vans and light trucks were involved in one of three crashes and one of four deaths.
Motorcycles accounted for the third most deaths.

Age and sex matters

Men were involved in more crashes than female drivers. Three out of four of the drinking drivers in crashes were male. And the older the driver, the fewer the crashes, the report showed.
More than one of every 10 drivers between 16 and 21 were involved in crashes last year. That's by far the most of any other age group.
Multi-vehicle crashes were more frequent than single-vehicle crashes for this age group. The authors speculated that distracted driving played an important role.

It's when you drive

The seriousness of crashes varied widely by month.

June turned out to be the deadliest month for Pennsylvania motorists, making up one out of every 10 deaths.

And while December accounted for the most crashes — also one out of every 10 — it only accounted for 7 percent of the deaths, the third least deadly month of the year.

Weekends were the most lethal time of the week. Saturdays and Sunday crashes accounted for the most vehicle deaths, respectively, while Fridays experienced the most crashes but just the third most deaths.

The pre-rush hour period of 3 to 5 p.m. were by far the busiest times for crashes. The 3 to 4 p.m. hour was the deadliest.

If you want to stay safe, plan to drive between 4 and 5 a.m. That hour saw the fewest crashes and fewest deaths.

High-speed rail gets yellow light


By Dan Walters, November 29, 2013

 An undated handout rendering of California's high-speed rail project. The state's leaders have rallied around a plan to build a rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, in the face of seemingly insurmountable political and fiscal obstacles. Photo: California High-speed Rail Autho, NYT
 An undated handout rendering of California's high-speed rail project. The state's leaders have rallied around a plan to build a rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, in the face of seemingly insurmountable political and fiscal obstacles.

Judge Michael Kenny didn't completely derail California's bullet train this week.

However, in ruling on two lawsuits challenging Gov. Jerry Brown's pet project, Kenny told the California High-Speed Rail Authority to slow down and stop sidestepping requirements in a 2008 ballot measure.

By rejecting the state's specious legal arguments, refusing to validate the issuance of state bonds and insisting on a complete financial plan as the law requires, Kenny signaled a strict attitude that could bode ill for the project in another big legal challenge next year.

While the project's Kings County opponents didn't get everything they sought in the rulings, one of their lawyers, Stuart Flashman, accurately said they "are a major setback for the High-Speed Rail Authority. They need to step back and rethink their whole approach."

That approach has been to push initial construction as rapidly as possible, apparently in hopes that if even a short stretch of track is laid in the San Joaquin Valley, it would incur a psychological commitment to finish the entire project, no matter what the cost.

Speed may be critical, because the 2008 bond issue barely passed. Since then, as costs have skyrocketed and its lack of financing has become apparent, public sentiment has turned against the project.

Without the ballot measure's restrictions, it probably would have failed, but it's also evident that as now envisioned, the project cannot meet all of the law's requirements.

One of Kenny's rulings says, in effect, that the state can't build that short stretch in the San Joaquin Valley without a plan that lays out how a much longer stretch from Merced to Southern California can be financed.

Since the state has barely enough money for the first stretch, the barrier to meeting the larger financial standard is very high.

The judge's strict constructionist attitude toward the law governing the project could bite again when he weighs another suit that alleges other ballot measure standards are being ignored - such as requiring a 160-minute ride from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles.

As originally envisioned, the bullet train might have met the requirement, but to quiet stiff opposition on the San Francisco Peninsula, project managers devised a "blended system" that merges high-speed service with local commuter rail.

The bullet train folks have theorized that a blended system could meet the 160-minute standard, but it's based on assumptions that defy common sense.

It's time for a backspace-delete. Brown should acknowledge that the project as now planned is doomed and either kill it or go back to the voters with a revision that includes realistic routes and costs and lays out how it will be financed.

If it's worth doing - a debatable point - it's worth doing right and not with legal sleight-of-hand and pie-in-the-sky financing.

Are traffic ticket law firms steering you wrong?

In most cases, you can avoid adding a point to your driving record without having to pay firms that specialize in dealing with traffic tickets.


By David Lazarus, December 2, 2013
 Are traffic ticket law firms steering you wrong?
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Elton Simmons checks a motorist's speed in La Mirada.

If you live in Southern California, you've gotten — or will get — a parking or speeding ticket. It's an immutable law of nature.

And in tandem with this natural phenomenon, a cottage industry of legal professionals has taken root to assist people in navigating and, possibly, beating the system.

Take, for example, a company called the Ticket Clinic, which has offices throughout the region and boasts that it "may be your best bet for getting your traffic ticket dismissed."

Among other services, the Ticket Clinic says, it can "keep additional points off of your driving record" and "prevent skyrocketing insurance rates resulting from a traffic ticket."

The price for such valuable assistance can run well over a hundred bucks, not including fines and court costs. There's just one thing, though.

You usually can do this yourself.

Lavake Cowart runs the CARSS Traffic School in South Los Angeles. He told me he's noticed that a significant percentage of his students show up with a form letter from the Ticket Clinic attesting to the company's legal mojo in securing for its client the ability to attend traffic school.

"Although you were found guilty," the letter states, "we were able to convince the court not to assess a point against your license if you complete traffic school."

The implication is that if the Ticket Clinic's lawyers hadn't finessed the judge with their charm and legal savvy, the awesome punitive power of the Los Angeles County Superior Court Traffic Division would have come crashing down like the hammer of Thor.

"It's completely misleading," Cowart said. "You don't have to convince the court of anything. If you haven't had another citation in the last 18 months, it's your right to go to traffic school."

That's mostly correct. There are a handful of exceptions, such as if you were busted going more than 25 miles per hour over the speed limit or if drugs or alcohol were involved.

But generally, Section 42005 of the California Vehicle Code allows people to attend traffic school if they're convicted of or plead guilty to a traffic offense.

You'll still have to pay a fine and an administrative fee, but you'll avoid having a point placed on your driving record, which in turn will keep your insurance costs from rising.

"For most citations, you're allowed to go to traffic school once every 18 months," said Matt Kaminsky, president of Best Traffic School.com in Hollywood. "You don't need a lawyer for that."
Like Cowart, Kaminsky said he is contacted every week by people who have received letters from the Ticket Clinic or similar firms.

"These companies act like they're providing an important service," he said. "They're just preying on people who are afraid their insurance costs will go up."

To be fair, there are instances where an experienced traffic lawyer can be helpful. He or she might be able to find a legal technicality that can get you off the hook or raise doubts about the veracity of a citation.

At the very least, a lawyer can save clients the time and hassle of having to appear in court personally.

But it would be highly unusual for a lawyer to obtain the option of traffic school for someone who fails to meet the law's conditions.

For example, if you didn't pass the Breathalyzer test and were found to have a high blood-alcohol content when you were pulled over, even Perry Mason would have a rough time securing traffic school as a way to keep a couple of points from being added to your record.

The Ticket Clinic says it has handled more than 1 million traffic tickets and offenses. "Many times," it says on its website, "our clients are found not guilty, their case is dismissed entirely or charges are reduced, which means no points or convictions on their record."

I contacted the Ticket Clinic to ask what percentage of clients end up beating the rap. I also wanted to know whether the language in its form letter might mislead some clients into thinking that an extraordinary service had been provided when clients could have requested traffic school themselves.
Ivania Reyes, who identified herself as a supervisor at the firm, said she couldn't answer these questions but would pass them along to one of the 18 lawyers listed on the Ticket Clinic's correspondence.

None of them called me back.

My advice normally would be to avoid getting into trouble in the first place. But, like I said, if you're a SoCal resident, there's a parking or a traffic ticket with your name on it.

It's the only way I can explain the infractions I've racked up. That, and all the traffic lights that mysteriously change from yellow to red much faster than God intended.

I've gone to traffic school. It's a great option if you're trying to keep your record clean.

And more often than not, you won't need a legal eagle to get it for you.