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

Friday, December 6, 2013

I-5 widening project will connect L.A. to Orange County in a bigger way


By Steve Scauzillo, December 6, 2013


 Motorists drive on the 5 Freeway as construction continues for the freeway expansion near the Carmenita bridge in Santa Fe Springs on Monday, November 25, 2013.
Pick a live traffic map, any app. Click the 5 Freeway in southeast Los Angeles County. You will be seeing red.

“I don’t care if you use SigAlert, Google maps or Caltrans’ QuickMap, that area is always red. Why? It’s here where the freeway is three lanes,” explained John Yang, the new I-5 construction manager for Caltrans, pointing to the seven-mile bottleneck stretching from the 605 Freeway to the Orange County line.

Caltrans began the widening project in 2012, but construction activity will intensify starting Monday. The project will add two lanes to the 5 Freeway in each direction: four mixed-flow lanes plus one HOV or car-pool lane.

Having five lanes each way is the proverbial gold at the end of the construction rainbow.

“The three lanes each way is not moving very quickly,” said Yvette Kirrin, executive director and engineer for the I-5 Consortium Cities Joint Powers Authority.

Almost any time of the day, 24/7, Yang said, traffic on this stretch of the 5 Freeway is below 20 mph (red) or slightly faster at 25 mph (orange). The goal of the $1.6-billion widening project is to raise that traffic speed significantly for the section’s 220,000 daily riders.

Besides the 5 Freeway, the project will increase the chances for major freeway expansions along the 605 and 710 freeways, experts said. Designs for I-5 widening from the 605 to the 710 freeways into Commerce, Montebello and East Los Angeles are underway, said Noe Negrete, director of public works for Santa Fe Springs. But mostly, this southern I-5 corridor project restores the 5 Freeway as the preeminent north-south corridor in the West, as well as a major route for goods traveling between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and points south and east.

“The 5 Freeway has served a vital role connecting all of California,” said Steve Finnegan, government affairs manager for the Automobile Club of Southern California. “It runs from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. It is probably the most important highway corridor in the western United States.”

The Consortium Cities, made up of Buena Park, Commerce, Downey, La Mirada, Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs, has been working on getting their neck of the freeway widened for 22 years. They’ve tried to reduce the number of houses and businesses that have been affected or purchased by Caltrans, while helping residents navigate detours and street closures for the next four years.

 Caltrans estimates the bulk of the construction will take place starting Monday and continue until late 2017 or early 2018, when the project is expected to be finished. Also on Monday, Caltrans will close Firestone Boulevard until April.

Many look at the 10-plus lanes on the Orange County portion between Buena Park and Santa Ana and say: Why can’t L.A. County do that? Some say L.A. County is embarrassed by the O.C., which finished its I-5 widening project in 2005 — a segment marked by green bars all the way beyond Disneyland until the Orange Crush.

“Clearly, Orange County made a decision to invest in their portion of I-5 and created a world-class freeway. Unfortunately, it has taken a long time for L.A. County to catch up,” Finnegan said.

Commuters and others traveling to and from Orange County beaches, Disneyland or Angel Stadium of Anaheim are struck by the stark difference in the freeway lanes and conditions once they enter La Mirada and start applying the brakes.

“You see a modern facility dead-ending at the county line, hitting a facility that was built in the 1950s,” Finnegan said.

Since Orange County widened its segment, the bottleneck starts at La Mirada in the south end. It has literally put the small bedroom community on the map.

“We’ll gladly give up the free advertisements on the news when they say traffic is stuck in La Mirada,” said the town’s mayor, Steve DeRuse. “This is something that should have been done 10 years ago right after what was done in Orange County.”

Funding was temporarily removed from the project twice during the past five years, adding to delays, Negrete said.

 Critics say mass transit is a more efficient and cost-effective option because it moves more people per mile than single-occupancy vehicles on a freeway. They say adding freeway lanes in car-happy Southern California doesn’t move the needle away from gridlock.

“There is no panacea in adding lanes. This just moves the congestion around. They’ll just have another choke point somewhere else,” said Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, a San Fernando Valley-based group that supports trains, buses and car-pool lanes instead of freeways.

“People always criticize the high-speed rail project because of the cost. But no one ever criticizes road projects,” he noted, saying Angelenos are brainwashed by the dominant car culture.

But other than mass transit advocates, you won’t find many people complaining about the money spent on the freeway widening. Most of the complaints will come from nearby residents who find surface streets and major arterials blocked. Ironically, traffic on the freeway itself may move a little quicker now that off-ramps for Pioneer Boulevard and Alondra Boulevard are already closed. Caltrans is building higher and wider bridges to fit the new, wider freeway.

In January, Caltrans begins a major segment, the Florence Avenue project in Downey and Santa Fe Springs. In mid-2014, it will start the last leg, the Valley View Avenue interchange in La Mirada. In all six of the I-5 improvement segments, bridges and streets will be widened, new off- and on-ramps constructed as well as new frontage roads. The six segments from north to south are: Florence Avenue Interchange; Imperial Highway, Pioneer Boulevard and San Antonio Drive bridges; Rosecrans Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue bridges; Carmenita Road Interchange; Alondra Boulevard Bridge, and the Valley View Avenue Interchange.

 The cities of Santa Fe Springs, Downey, Commerce and La Mirada are bracing for the expected delays and detours, not to mention construction dust and noise.

Crews will be in Santa Fe Springs for the next two years, and Negrete knows he’ll hear the complaints. He told a group gathered at the Town Center last month that everyone in town will be affected.

But like other cities in the construction zone, they are willing to suffer through years of delays for a wider, faster-moving freeway.

“I’m looking for somebody to host a block party in 2016,” Negrete jokingly told the audience.
La Mirada won’t see relief until 2018, since its segment is the last to be done.

Already, one company told the mayor it had planned on relocating to La Mirada but decided not to because of the coming construction.

“Still, we feel the outcome will be positive,” DeRuse said.

The project means that for the first time, Orange and Los Angeles counties will be properly connected along the 5 Freeway, the Auto Club’s Finnegan said.

That connection has become more important during the last 30 years as commuting routes have switched. Now, Orange County draws more workers who commute.

“More recently, statistics show more people who live in Los Angeles County commute to jobs in Orange County than the reverse,” Finnegan said.

Whichever way the traffic flows along the 5, one thing is certain: It gets jammed when cars squeeze into three lanes.

 “It will be awesome for our communities,” said Norwalk City Councilman Mike Mendez, who has chaired the I-5 Consortium Cities Joint Powers Authority for 22 years and lobbied for the widening project in Washington, D.C., for a quarter-century. “It will be a win-win for everybody.”

Metro Blue Line gates go be latched December 11


By Paul Gonzales, December 6, 2013

The next step in latching gates on the Metro Rail system begins Wednesday, December 11, 2013 as five Blue Line stations will be updated and secured. Blue Line stations with existing turnstiles will be latched, including Slauson, Firestone, Compton, Artesia and Del Amo stations.

Fourteen stations on the Metro Green Line are scheduled to begin latching on December 18, with work expected to be completed by February, 2014. The latching of Metro Rail gates began June 19, 2013 at Union Station on the Red/Purple subway lines and was completed in August and 5 Gold Line stations were latched in October. When completed, 41 of 80 Metro Rail stations will be latched to provide fuller integration in the TAP universal fare system.

Gate latching requires passengers to use a TAP card loaded with appropriate fare to pass through turnstiles at rail stations. TAP helps to strengthen fare enforcement and is utilized as fare media on 12 transportation providers including Metro, Metrolink, Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Access, Antelope Valley, Culver City, Gardena, Foothill, Norwalk, Montebello, Santa Clarita and Torrance. By the end of 2014 a total of 26 carriers will be part of TAP creating, for the first time, a seamless, regional transit system.

Metro and its transit partners have been rolling out TAP for several years and in addition to tracking fares, TAP gathers data on passenger usage so service can be adjusted to demand.

Metro is monitoring TAP’s progress to determine its impact on fare evasion. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and civilian security personnel provide added security on board trains and buses as well as at transit facilities and stations. They randomly check patrons on trains and stations using electronic fare checkers to ensure proper payment is made. With the new fare gating system in place, Metro can better monitor passenger flow and usage of rail stations.

LADOT releases updated online bicycle map


By Jung Gatoona, December 6, 2013

 LADOT bike map

If you’re trying to figure out the safest and quickest way to get to a destination and/or connect to Metro Stations on your bicycle in Los Angeles, you’re in luck! The Los Angeles Department of Transportation recently released an update to their online city of Los Angeles bikeways map.

Not only can you find info on existing bikeways throughout the city, you can even browse through the various bikeways currently in development. Pretty cool to browse through and see the development of bikeways in downtown and extending development on Venice Boulevard.

Updates to the interactive bike map include:
  • New Legend and Map Colors
  • New Layers: Bikeways in Development & Long-Terms Bikeways
  • New Details about Bikeways
  • Full Screen Mode
You can find more details about the update here. Check out LADOT’s online map here, and be sure to let the LADOT Bike program team know what you think of their new map.

Be sure to also download Metro’s countywide bike map and check out the Bike Metro website for more info. An updated Metro bike map will be released in Spring 2014. We also recommend using NextBus on your smartphone for real-time bus and train arrival information — it helps when planning trips.

Metro hopes to stop public urination near Orange Line bus station http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-metro-public-urination-orange-line-20131205,0,6816839.story#ixzz2mivKqNE4


By Laura J. Nelson, December 6, 2013

Orange Line
 In this file photo, commuters board the Orange Line at Winnetka's Pierce College station, where neighbors have been complaining of public urination.

A year and a half ago, residents in a Winnetka neighborhood began to complain that bus riders were ducking off the Metro Orange Line and into a nearby alley to relieve themselves.

The most cavalier perpetrators urinated on front lawns. The stench wafted into homes. One homeowner found dirty diapers scattered across the ground.

Faced with such complaints, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted Thursday to study ways to stop passengers at the Pierce College Station from "creating their own bathrooms." The nearby alleyways and sidewalks aren't Metro property, but the agency has a responsibility to keep stations "clean and safe," directors said.

Metro staff will also study whether more subway, light-rail and bus rapid transit lines need bathrooms. Under a long-standing policy, Metro maintains public restrooms only at major transit hubs: Union Station, the Harbor Gateway Transit Center and the El Monte Bus Station.

Two stations along the Orange Line, in North Hollywood and Van Nuys, have self-cleaning bathrooms installed and paid for by the city of Los Angeles, according to Metro spokesman Rick Jager.

The Orange Line, a 14-mile busway that connects North Hollywood to the Warner Center, averages about 30,000 riders a day. Metro may have to bend its policy and install a portable toilet for passengers, Metro directors Zev Yaroslavsky, Michael Antonovich and Paul Krekorian wrote in their motion, if the problem can't be solved another way.

"No one could go out of their way to make up this kind of story," said Eric Lewis, the president of the Winnetka Neighborhood Council. "There’s an actual problem, and it's a big one."

Most offenders appear not to be transients, but students at Pierce College, Lewis said. A homeowner recently saw two men urinating in the alley, each with books under his arms.

The Orange Line opened in 2005; urinating in public has been illegal in Los Angeles since 2003. But a patchwork of jurisdictions has made enforcing the law near the Orange Line more difficult, Lewis said. Metro owns the busway, which is patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

But the surrounding area, including the alleys, is the purview of the Los Angeles Police Department.
“If you gotta go, you gotta go,” Lewis said. “But it sure would be nice if you could plan ahead a little better and go a few hundred yards to the south.”

Even if a portable toilet is installed, Lewis said, education will be another issue. If riders don't know where to look for a bathroom, the solution will be ineffective.

Metro directors also voted Thursday to study adding another passenger service on the county's rail system: more parking at the North Hollywood and Studio City Red Line stations. Parking spaces at both stations disappear quickly during morning rush hour.

Options could include building an additional parking lot or a parking garage, or providing parking as a joint-development agreement, the motion said. Metro staff will report back on the proposed parking expansion in March, as well as possible pedestrian and bicycle improvements.

"Can I Have a Road Usage Fee with that 15-cent Gas Tax Increase, Please?"


By Irwin Dawid, December 5, 2013

Don't ever accuse Rep. Earl Blumenauer of not thinking big. Accompanying his gas tax increase bill, he has proposed a bill to study ways to charge drivers by the miles they drive. One takes care of the funding problem now, the other in the future.
"Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) on Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would require the government to study the most practical ways of taxing drivers based on how far they drive, in order to help fund federal highway programs," writes Pete Kasperowicz.

This legislation is in addition to the gas tax increase bill we posted on Tuesday.
HR 3638, the 'Road User Fee Pilot Project Act', "is similar to an idea he proposed in a bill last year [also posted here] which called on the Treasury Department to study the viability of a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax [or VMT fee]," writes Kasperowicz.
"As we extend the gas tax, we must also think about how to replace it with something more sustainable," Blumenauer said Tuesday. "The best candidate would be the vehicle mile traveled fee being explored by pilot projects in Oregon and implemented there on a voluntary basis next year."
Oregon completed two pilot projects [see final report (PDF)] before passing legislation last July that will implement the nation's first VMT fee program, presumably in the summer of 2015, though, as Congressman Blumenauer stated, it is voluntary and limited to 5,000 vehicles.

The congressman held his press conference on Wednesday for "H.R. 3636: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to increase the excise tax on gasoline, diesel, and kerosene...". He did not present H.R. 3638, the VMT Fee study bill, with it. One user fee was enough. As we have posted here on many occasions, there is formidable political opposition to increasing user fees of any kind.

Full Story: Dem proposes taxing drivers by the mile

Dem proposes taxing drivers by the mile


By Pete Kasperowicz, December 4, 2013

 See website for a video.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) on Tuesday reintroduced legislation that would require the government to study the most practical ways of taxing drivers based on how far they drive, in order to help fund federal highway programs.

Blumenauer's bill, H.R. 3638, would set up a Road Usage Fee Pilot Program, which he said would study mileage-based fee systems. He cast his bill as a long-term solution for funding highway programs, and proposed it along with a shorter-term plan to nearly double the gas tax, from 18.4 cents to 33.4 cents per gallon.

"As we extend the gas tax, we must also think about how to replace it with something more sustainable," Blumenauer said Tuesday. "The best candidate would be the vehicle mile traveled fee being explored by pilot projects in Oregon and implemented there on a voluntary basis next year."

He said the bill would help answer questions about "how best to implement a vehicle miles traveled [VMT] system," and said it "looks to the future and helps provide a more stable funding base for the next one hundred years."

A text of Blumenauer's new bill was not available as of Wednesday morning. But the concept is similar to an idea he proposed in a bill last year, which called on the Treasury Department to study the viability of a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax.

Democrats have pondered VMT systems for the last several years as a way of finding new highway revenue. Blumenauer pointed out Tuesday that over the last decade, Congress has had to move more than $50 billion from the general treasury to the Highway Trust Fund, as the gas tax has not kept up with highway spending.

In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a study that explored how a VMT system might work. That report suggested devices could be fitted onto cars that log how far they have traveled, and these devices could be electronically read at gas stations to general tax bills for drivers.

The CBO called the VMT system a "practical option" for boosting revenue.

Also in 2011, the Department of Transportation wrote a legislative proposal for a VMT system. That bill called for the creation of a public affairs office to help sell the idea to American drivers — it said the office would "increase public awareness regarding the need for an alternative funding source for surface transportation programs and provide information on possible approaches."

These proposals, however, have been strongly opposed by conservatives, as well as privacy advocates who fear the government would have too much information at its fingertips about the driving habits of Americans.



What Will Our Future Be Like If We Don’t Change How We Get Around?


By Angie Schmitt, December 5, 2013

What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds. Image: ##http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR246.html## RAND##

 What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds.

How will Americans get around in the year 2030? A recent report from the RAND Corporation lays out two “plausible futures” developed though a “scenario analysis” and vetted by outside experts. While RAND takes a decidedly agnostic stance toward the implications of each scenario, the choice that emerges is still pretty stark.

In the first scenario, oil prices continue to climb until 2030 and greenhouse gas emissions are tightly regulated, as a result of the recognition of the harm caused by global warming. Zoning laws have been reformed to promote walkable urban and suburban communities. Transit use has increased substantially. Road pricing is widely used to limit congestion and generate revenue for transportation projects. Vehicle efficiency standards have been tightened, and most drivers use electric vehicles. This is the scenario researchers at RAND call, rather dourly, “No Free Lunch.”

In the second scenario, “Fueled and Freewheeling,” oil prices are relatively low in 2030 due to increasingly advanced extraction methods. Americans’ relationship to energy is much like it was in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ll own more vehicles overall and drive more miles. Suburbanization will continue. Roads are in bad shape because no revenues are raised to repair them. Congestion is worse. This scenario represents the future if little action is taken to counter the effects of global warming.

The difference between the two scenarios boils down to three factors: oil prices, level of regulation, and highway revenues and expenditures. While we might not have a great deal of control over oil prices, the other two, RAND points out, fall within the range of public policy. So in that sense either future is plausible.

In both cases the economy is healthy, though RAND thinks that in the “No Free Lunch” scenario, the U.S. economy grows about 2 percent annually, compared to 2.5 percent in the scenario with terrible congestion on crumbling roads and, presumably, catastrophic climate change on the horizon. RAND forecasts that in neither scenario will intercity rail travel represent an appreciable portion of total travel, nor will self-driving cars be a major share of vehicles.

A few aspects of the report are odd. In the scenario where America does something about climate change, ”greater densities” are for some reason attributed to “new zoning restrictions,” not the loosening of pervasive zoning rules that compel sprawling, single-use development with tons of parking. And RAND didn’t analyze health and safety effects in its scenarios. Even though it must be a safe bet to predict that in a future where Americans are driving less and walking and taking transit more, thousands fewer lives would be lost in traffic each year, and people would be living longer thanks to the additional physical activity in their daily routines.

4 Apps That Can Cut Your Commute Time


By Giovanna Fabiano, November 26, 2013

Few things are more frustrating than getting stuck in traffic on your way to work. Congestion is often a necessary evil, especially if you work near a city, but gridlock takes away valuable time that you could use to catch up on that project or eat breakfast with the kids.

That extra hour in traffic here or there starts to add up: The average American commuter spends almost the equivalent of a week at work, 38 hours, stuck in traffic every year, according to Texas A&M’s annual mobility study.

“Congestion caused urban Americans to travel 5.5 billion hours more and to purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel,” wrote the study’s co-author, Bill Eisele.

Commuters who work in big cities have an even longer slog to the office. Washington, D.C. ranked No. 1, with the average commuter spending 67 hours stuck in traffic, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and New York, according to the study.

While the best solution might be to ditch your car for public transportation or bike to work instead, not everyone has that option. If you’re stuck behind the wheel, your smartphone can help you see what’s up ahead by utilizing crowdsourcing technology.

Here are 4 apps to help you spend less time in traffic, and more quality time at work or at home.

This navigation app provides clear turn-by-turn directions and monitors traffic conditions at the same time. Unlike other crowdsourcing apps, there’s no need to input anything into your phone (something you’d want to avoid altogether while driving).  Waze collects traffic data— speed, detours, and more — and shares it with you and other drivers. You may also be proactive and share information on road accidents, construction and police traps. Waze is free on iPhone and Android.

Google Maps

Free for Android and iPhone, Google Maps now has voice-activated turn-by-turn navigation, whether you’re walking, driving or taking public transit. You can also utilize 3D maps, street view and a large searchable database of restaurants and businesses. The app provides traffic info, though not as detailed as Waze, using speed information from other drivers to determine which roadways are congested. Portions of traffic-plagued roads appear red on the map.


Once a fixture on dashboards, auto-navigation devices have been in steady decline the last few years, trumped by the ubiquitous smartphone. The reason is obvious: pay anywhere from $120 to $400 for a bulky GPS device that can only be used in your car or just download a navigation app on your cell phone. The TomTom app, for a one-time download of $39.99, offers some things that other apps don’t: Advanced lane guidance to help you navigate difficult junctions, offline maps that you can store without a data connection, and the ability to multitask by giving you turn-by-turn directions while you’re on the phone. The downside? It eats up a lot of data: You need at least 2.3 GB of free storage space.

Inrix Traffic

The latest version of this app, free on Apple and Android, is one of the most advanced in terms of driving and traffic intelligence. A personalized feature allows you to input your starting point and destination, and get estimated arrival times. You can even find out about any accidents, construction and sporting events that could clog the highway.

While avoiding traffic entirely is a pipe dream, it doesn’t hurt to arm yourself with tools that can cut down on your commute and get you to where you’d rather be.

Smog at extremely hazardous levels in Shanghai


By Eugene Hoshiko and Didi Tang, December 6, 2013

Smog at extremely hazardous levels in Shanghai

 A building under construction is covered with haze in Shanghai, China, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Shanghai authorities ordered schoolchildren indoors and halted all construction Friday as China's financial hub suffered one its worst bouts of air pollution, bringing visibility down to a few dozen meters and obscuring the city's spectacular skyline.

Shanghai authorities ordered schoolchildren indoors and halted all construction Friday as China's financial hub suffered one of its worst bouts of air pollution, bringing visibility down to a few dozen meters, delaying flights and obscuring the city's spectacular skyline.

The financial district was shrouded in a yellow haze, and noticeably fewer people walked the city's streets. Vehicle traffic also was thinner, as authorities pulled 30 percent of government vehicles from the roads. They also banned fireworks and public sporting events.

"I feel like I'm living in clouds of smog," said Zheng Qiaoyun, a local resident who kept her 6-month-old son at home. "I have a headache, I'm coughing, and it's hard to breathe on my way to my office."

Shanghai's concentration of tiny, harmful PM 2.5 particles reached 602.5 micrograms per cubic meter Friday afternoon, an extremely hazardous level that was the highest since the city began recording such data last December. That compares with the World Health Organization's safety guideline of 25 micrograms.

The dirty air that has gripped Shanghai and its neighboring provinces for days is attributed to coal burning, car exhaust, factory pollution and weather patterns, and is a stark reminder that pollution is a serious challenge in China. Beijing, the capital, has seen extremely heavy smog several times over the past year. In the far northeastern city of Harbin, some monitoring sites reported PM 2.5 rates up to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in October, when the winter heating season kicked off.

As a coastal city, Shanghai usually has mild to modest air pollution, but recent weather patterns have left the city's air stagnant. On China's social media, netizens swapped jokes over the rivalry between Shanghai and Beijing, saying the financial hub was catching up with the capital in air pollution.
Alan Yu, a chef in Shanghai, satirized the air on his microblog as though he were sampling a new vintage of wine.

"Today, Shanghai air really has a layered taste. At first, it tastes slightly astringent with some smokiness. Upon full contact with your palate, the aftertaste has some earthy bitterness, and upon careful distinguishing you can even feel some dust-like particulate matter," Yu wrote.

The environmental group Greenpeace said slow-moving and low-hanging air masses had carried factory emissions from Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong provinces to Shanghai. But it said the root problem lies with the excessive industrial emissions in the region, including Zhejiang province to the south.

"Both Jiangsu and Zhejiang should act as soon as possible to set goals to reduce their coal consumption so that the Yantze River Delta will again be green with fresh air," Huang Wei, a Greenpeace project manager, said in a statement.

One Easy Way to Make Public Bus Service Cheaper and Greener


By Brandon Fuller, December 6, 2013

 One Easy Way to Make Public Bus Service Cheaper and Greener

America's public bus service would be cheaper, greener, and better if federal rules didn't prevent cities from sourcing buses internationally. That's the finding from a recent working paper by economists Shanjun Li, Matthew Kahn, and Jerry Nickelsburg.

In the United States, public bus procurement relies extensively on federal subsidies—federal funds account for up to 80 percent of transit agencies' capital expenditure. The subsidy's intent is to improve access to public transportation in urban areas, but the federal funding is not unconditional. To qualify, cities must buy American-made buses.

The Buy-American mandate means that the bus must undergo final assembly in the U.S. and consist of 50 percent American-made components. Given the large role of federal funding in bus procurement, the Buy-American proviso effectively shuts out foreign competition. The main problem with this is that American-made buses are more expensive and pollution-intensive than their international counterparts.

The Li, Kahn, and Nickelsburg research suggests that buses in Tokyo and Seoul are about half the price of U.S. buses. Chinese buses, the vehicle of choice in the wealthy city-state of Singapore, are even cheaper. They also find that the fuel efficiency of bus fleets in Tokyo and Seoul is significantly higher than that of the U.S. bus fleet. Though the bus fleets of both Tokyo and the U.S. are diesel-dominated, the fuel economy of buses in the U.S. is 3.54 miles per gallon compared to 4.74 in Tokyo.

The Buy-American rule appears to be propping up a small and relatively uncompetitive domestically oriented bus industry. Very few public buses in the U.S. are produced abroad. Whereas major international bus makers like Daimler and Volvo have production facilities throughout Europe, Asia, and South America, none of the five firms that dominate the American market for public buses have operations outside of Canada or the United States. The annual sales of domestic producers are also far lower than the major international firms.

By insulating U.S.-based bus makers from foreign competition, the Buy-American requirement puts American tax-payers in a perverse position. Americans pay more to subsidize public bus fleets that impose comparatively high costs on the environment and public health. The higher prices also mean that cities are unable to afford additional buses for high-demand routes or periods of peak ridership. The inconvenience of the correspondingly lower-quality service may lead even more commuters to take private vehicles, further increasing emissions.

The cost of Buy-American protectionism for buses is therefore the difference in the price of domestically versus foreign-produced buses, along with the negative externalities associated with a more pollution-intensive bus fleet and poorer bus service. As the Li, Kahn, and Nickelsburg research suggests, free trade would make the fleet of public buses greener and cheaper. At lower prices, cities could buy more buses and improve service, leading to higher ridership and lower levels of traffic congestion and pollution.

New York City's Subway Matchmaking Service Is Hiring 'Cupids'


By Jenny Xie, December 5, 2013

New York City's Subway Matchmaking Service Is Hiring 'Cupids'

Five million people ride the New York City subway everyday. Doubtless some of those passengers are looking for a partner. "Love Conductor" Erika Christensen wants to help them out.

Last year, she created Train Spottings. It's an old-school matchmaking service, with a twist -- she finds her clients and matchup candidates (the city's “most fabulous, attractive and creative singles") on the subway. Now, she’s looking for help. 

Christensen is seeking "subway cupids." Their task? Hand out Train Spottings cards to high-potential singles on the train. Pay is not bad. You get $1 for every card given out -- plus a commission of up to $200 for successful matches, as well as 15 percent of fees paid by a new client.

Based on a recent Craigslist ad for the position, Christensen wants people who are magnetic, brave, disciplined, and "kind of a love nerd."

But also kind of a ninja.

Christensen elaborated on the job description for Brokelyn:
We’ve found great success with 'stick pocketing' meaning getting our card to the people however we can -- in books they’re reading, back pockets, Trader Joe’s bags, etc.

People Get Ready: Winter Is Upon Us And Bus Stops Will Not Shelter You


By Sahra Sulaiman, December 6, 2013

 The bus stop at Gage and Vermont seems like an afterthought. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The bus stop at Gage and Vermont leaves riders marooned on a dirt (or mud, depending on the weather) island. 

I’ll admit I don’t take the bus very much.

I have debilitating motion sickness. I can’t even snap my head from side to side quickly without getting nauseous. The constant stopping, starting, and general rocking back and forth of a bus can make a basket case out of me, even when I am drugged up on dramamine.

But, I do pass a lot of bus stops on my bicycle jaunts around the city and I often think that if anyone wanted to know how the city really felt about its lower-income residents, the bus stops in areas like South L.A. are awfully telling.

As I noted here, they certainly don’t provide much in the way of shelter from the sun in the heat of the summer.

And, they generally have some combination of foibles, meaning they often aren’t comfortable, clean, safe, or easily accessible places.

As winter comes and the days are both shorter and sometimes wet, these problems come into sharper relief.

If you’re female, for example, and you spend too much time waiting at (or even walking to) stops along S. Figueroa (in the 10 – 15 blocks north of Century) or certain stretches of Western (just north of Slauson or around 39th), you might be mistaken for a prostitute and followed, harassed, and/or propositioned.

Or, as once happened to me on Western (near the Bronco Motel), you could be stalked by a pimp.
While not a pleasant experience in broad daylight, these sorts of things can make trying to get where you need to go after dark a much unhappier and more perilous endeavor. Poor lighting around some stops do not help the situation.

A bus stop near the Notel Motel on Main St. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
A bus stop near the Notel Motel on Main St. 

Stops can also be dangerous if you are a young male of color — you’re a sitting duck for anyone who feels like messing with you, should you happen to live or need to move through gang turf. A number of youth I’ve worked with have reported being harassed or jumped by gang members at stops while waiting for a bus to go to school.

As you can imagine, things don’t get better for them after dark, either. Some say their parents don’t want them waiting for the bus or walking back and forth to a stop at night — even to go to programs at rec centers — meaning that their mobility is seriously curtailed in the winter.

Liquor stores near bus stops can also create a more hazardous environment. A mother of a teen living in the Gonzaque/Haciendas housing development told me she doesn’t allow her son to wait for the bus at 105th and Compton after a walk-up shooting in front of the liquor there this summer. This, despite the fact that the stop is just two blocks from their home and adjacent to a middle school.

Where Metro has managed to alleviate some of the issues like these from rail stops with the placement of cameras, safety ambassadors, better lighting, or law enforcement officers, the bus stops are largely on their own, interwoven with and at the mercy of the fabric of the surrounding sidewalk. Devoid of public art, civic pride, security, or even, it often appears, regular maintenance or trash pick-ups, stops can turn into magnets for unhealthy and unsanitary activities.

You can play the ever-popular "Name the origin of that fluid!" game at stops like this one at Gage and Western. (Google map Screenshot)
You can play the ever-popular “Name the origin of that fluid trail!” game at stops like this one at Gage and Western. 

That’s if riders even get an actual formal stop.

Along Gage (see photos at top of story and below), riders must wait on dirt islands.

This stop at Gage and Hoover also sits on a dirt-packed island and has no disable access. (Google Screenshot)
Nothing says, “I love you, bus rider!” like this dirt island stop at Gage and Hoover that is not even ADA compliant. 

Odder still, while the adjacent sidewalk is ADA compliant, if you want to get yourself, your stroller, or whatever wheeled thing you are trying to move up onto the island — even just to safely cross the street — you are quite out of luck.

The adjacent sidewalk is ADA compliant. (Google map Screenshot)
The adjacent sidewalk is ADA compliant. 

And, while I’m not necessarily in favor of paving over every last square inch of L.A., it would seem that the least the city could do was ensure that riders didn’t have to stand ankle-deep in mud during the rainy season. Right?

Expecting the level of investment seen at rail stations at each of the nearly 9,000 bus stops around the city is not realistic, of course. But something has to change to make the system feel more safe, attractive, and like it is something the city hasn’t forgotten about.

As discussed here and here, perceptions about the safety, value, and efficacy of the system may be just as important as actual safety, value, and efficacy metrics in wooing discretionary riders or preventing current riders from choosing private vehicles when they have the chance. Meaning that all the effectiveness in the world may not be enough when you have unlit dirt-mound bus stops like those along Gage telling riders, “We don’t actually care if you get to your destination.”

The current strategy for managing stops – turning over placement and maintenance of street furniture at stops to outdoor advertiser CBS/Decaux – has clearly not done enough to mitigate the problem.
As I noted here, the excessively bureaucratic permitting process gave CBS/Decaux an excuse to stop requesting permits for furniture installations, meaning that, 12 years into the contract, a large percentage of shelter furniture still hasn’t been installed, most notably in lower-income areas. (For the full audit of the program, click here). And, that furniture which has been placed is not particularly well-taken care of.

Although the 20-year contract with CBS/Decaux doesn’t end until 2021, it shouldn’t mean that we can’t do better by the bus system in the meanwhile.

Planners currently working on updating the Mobility Element are doing their part to create a Transit-Enhanced Network to increase service and create all-day or peak-period bus-only lanes along prioritized routes.

But getting people to believe that “buses do it better” will likely require tangible investments in the infrastructure around the system — bright and clean shelters devoid of advertising, public art, plants, sheltering trees, waste receptacles, lighting, and/or regular maintenance of the stops? Any one of those things would be a baby step in the right direction. Hell, when I saw these (below) shelters begin popping up along Slauson several months ago, I actually wanted to sit at a shelter and ride the bus.


Rather impressive-looking (if not particularly functional) shelters began popping up along Slauson several months ago. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Of course, that thought occurred to me on a brilliant sunny day. Not during a downpour.

There is no doubt that the bus system has its share of problems, the environment and condition of the stops being only two of many.

But investing in fixing some of those aspects will be helpful in making bus-riding feel less like a punishment for those that have no alternative options and more attractive to those that do.

Metro CEO Art Leahy to speak about P3s & Measure R++

From Sylvia Plummer, December 6, 2013

Thursday, Dec. 12th at 6:00PM

 Metro headquarters

If you can make this meeting, it will be a rare opportunity to speak directly with Art Leahy about Metro's plans to pursue PPPs, and the status of efforts to lower the voter threshold to 51% so that the "R++" (follow-on to Measure R & J) can pass - which will further fund the I-710 project! 


Event to be held at the following time, date, and location:
Thursday, December 12, 2013 from 6:01 PM to 8:55 PM (PST)
Metro Gateway Headquarters, Union Station Conference Room
1 Gateway Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90012

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Sponsored by Ferrovial.
Reserve Now, seating limited. Make plans to attend our Holiday Gathering with Art Leahy on Thursday, December 12 at 6 p.m. Meeting co-sponsored by: Ferrovial Agroman US Corp. Grab This Unique Chance to hear Arthur T. Leahy, Metro Chief Executive Officer as he reveals further details about the Public Private Partnerships in the development pipeline at LACMTA. One Multi-Billion Dollar project coming up is the I-405 Rail Tunnel and Vehicle Toll Road tender. Some are curious about the I-710 gap closure project and the community implications. There is further intrigue about the possibility of a Sales Tax Election in 2014 or 2016 to fund many of the unbuilt Urban Rail and Highway projects. Register ASAP, as this event will sell out.

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We hope you can make it!

The Transit Coalition


Pasadena Councilmember Steve Madison requests his district to consider signing the NO710 Petition.

From Pasadena Councilperson Steve Madison via email, December 5, 2013

As you know, I am strongly opposed to the proposal to build a tunnel through West Pasadena to extend the Long Beach Freeway.  I’ve asked the Mayor and the City Manager to agendize for the City Council meeting my proposed resolution to oppose the 710 tunnel.  I have proposed this resolution but it has failed to carry (with my colleagues Torneck, McAustin and Robinson regrettably voting to support the tunnel by voting “no” on my resolution).

We will keep you posted regarding the Council’s position on this important issue.

Meanwhile, I am sending you a link to a No 710 Petition for your consideration.

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, and if you
wish, leave your comments on why this is important to you.
5. Finally,
click on the red box that says "Sign". *