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 16, 2013

CA: LA-Area Transit Officials Tout Electric Bus Company BYD 'Breakthrough Technology' as 'Clean, Silent, and Efficient'

Attorney spokesman Lanny Davis corrects “misinformation,” confirms above minimum wage compensation and new California jobs creation.


Source: BYD Motors, Inc., December 13, 2013

Los Angeles area transit officials, in a national telephonic press conference, today praised BYD for its electric bus technology, which they described as “clean, silent, and efficient.”

“We are very excited that our parent company in China has invested in the United States to create a U.S. company and new jobs, bringing exciting green, electric transportation technology to America,” said Stella Li, the CEO of BYD Motors Inc.

BYD, which has administrative offices in Los Angeles and a factory facility in Lancaster, California, today rebutted what its attorney and spokesman, Lanny Davis, called “misinformed and inaccurate” press reports about wages and job creation at the company. Davis stated that BYD paid these five engineers approximately 60 percent above California’s minimum wage and is creating dozens of new California jobs in its work force and among vendors in its first year, with projections for many more in the next several years.

BYD was awarded three contracts in the last year: a contract to supply 10 electric buses to Long Beach, Calif., with options for more; up to 25 electric buses to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; and 2 buses to Antelope Valley Transit Authority in Lancaster, Calif.

The company, in which Warren Buffett was an early investor, uses breakthrough technology batteries. The BYD electric bus system, because of on-board chargers, does not require expensive charging st
BYD’s bus’s electric clean air technology is silent, efficient, and can be used anywhere there is standard AC power. This technology is specially designed to be used by transit authorities without changing the way they operate. The superior longer life and safer Iron-Phosphate BYD battery will last for the entire bus life – making the total cost of ownership less than a conventional air-polluting bus. Once a bus-life is over, and the bus is retired, the BYD-type batteries will be available for re-use for another 20 years, in non-transportation uses such as at home and in electrical utilities.

Among those Los Angeles Area transit and elected officials who participated in Friday’s press conference were:
  • The Honorable Mike Antonovich, Los Angeles County Supervisor and LA Metro Board Member, Los Angeles Board of Supervisors member
  • The Honorable R. Rex Parris, Mayor of Lancaster, California
  • Richard Hunt, General Manager Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • Ruben Gonzalez, Vice President for Public Policy and Political Affairs, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Janice Marsh, I/O Controls (BYD vendor)
Antonovich stated, “These environmentally clean and economic electric buses will benefit the people of Los Angeles.”

Hunt said, “The technology of this BYD bus system is truly break-through, especially the battery, which is long-lasting and safe and is superior to any competitor alternative that I know of.”

Mayor Rex Parris of Lancaster praised BYD for creating “new California high-technology jobs, not only at BYD but among BYD’s many California vendors.” These vendors, Davis wrote in his letter, included American Moving Parts, ZeMarc Corporation, I/O Controls, and Ricon Corporation based in Los Angeles and Transit Information Products, located in Concord, Calif.

On the issue of compensation, Davis, in his letter to the CEO of Long Beach Transit delivered and released today, stated that the five engineers from China who came here temporarily for BYD over the last 5-6 months were paid hourly rates ranging from $12-$16/ hour – i.e., substantially above California’s $8.00/hour minimum wage, despite published reports to the contrary. Indeed, Davis said, all BYD current engineers earn more than California’s minimum wages. Two have left and three will leave at the end of December.

New U.S. Job Creation

Davis wrote that in the last two years, BYD has gone from zero to 35 full-time new jobs, working in the administrative offices in Los Angeles and in the manufacturing facility in Lancaster. Of these 35, 21 are U.S. citizens and seven are green-card holders applying for U.S. citizenship, with others with various legal visas. The company is projecting about 100 new American jobs by the end of 2014 and about 200 by the end of 2015.

Compliance with Buy America Requirement; Testing Confirms Safety

In his letter, Davis also reminded the Long Beach Transit CEO that Long Beach Transit’s independent, pre-award audit confirmed BYD’s compliance the with the Buy America Act, with a commitment to use more than 70 percent U.S.-Manufactured content. As to ongoing testing in Altoona, Penn., Davis wrote that the Altoona tests have confirmed BYD’s bus’s safety, not revealing any safety issues, and that the unit tested in Altoona is essentially the same model BYD will deliver to Long Beach Transit.

“If you hear negative rumors or innuendo, certainly those reported in the newspapers anonymously,” Davis concluded, “please call BYD management or me personally and we will give you the facts.”

See also:  http://www.710studysanrafaelneighborhoodposts.com/2013/12/damage-control-byd-brings-crisis.html

Public Transit Is Underfunded Because the Wealthy Don’t Rely on It


By Keith Barry, December 16, 2013

 Photo: Jorge Lascar/Flickr

Another report has come out in support of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), an innovative way to provide public transit at a low cost with dedicated bus lanes, stops, and schedules.

The study (PDF), from pro-transit group Embarq, found that BRT drastically reduced commute times, improved air quality, and cut road fatalities in congested cities like Bogota, Istanbul, Johannesburg, and Mexico City. And we already know that BRT is one of the most cost-effective public transit investments a municipality can make.

The catch? In most cities examined in the report, those benefits only extend to low- and middle-class residents. (In Johannesburg, the poorest residents did not use BRT).

“Since the dominant benefit is travel time savings,” the study’s authors wrote, “the majority of benefits tend to accrue to the strata most represented by BRT users — typically lower- and middle-income.”

While it’s great to have a system that improves transportation access for the majority of a city’s population, BRT’s mass appeal could — ironically — be a political concern that prevents its adoption, at least in the U.S. As Alex Pareene wrote in Salon, public transit often suffers because politicians and donors rarely rely on it. The results show in the states, whose existing BRT systems lag behind those in cities around the world.

Even in densely populated and traditionally liberal cities like New York and Minneapolis, politicians neglect transit. And “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,” Pareene wrote.

Indeed, the Embarq report echoes the public transit wealth gap, and cites that most BRT systems are often paid for by tax revenue collected from those who may never ride it. Bogota’s famed TransMilenio was financed by increased gasoline taxes, and all the systems required both substantial investment and support from municipalities.

But the Embarq report also showed that BRTs benefited cities with environmental and productivity gains more than they strained financial resources. For example, the average commuter in Istanbul now gets to and from work about an hour faster thanks to the Metrobüs, and Mexico City’s BRT system reduced air pollution enough to save 6,000 sick days a year.

As cities continue to grow and congestion increases, the benefits of BRT may become impossible to ignore — even to the rich and powerful folks who are stuck in traffic.

How bus rapid transit is cleaning the air and saving commute time in Mexico City and Istanbul


By Kaid Benfield, December 11, 2013

 BRT station in Mexico City (by: EMBARQ Brasil, creative commons)

The international transportation policy group EMBARQ has just released a great new short video highlighting the benefits of bus rapid transit systems in Mexico City and Istanbul.  The video illustrates some of the findings in the organization’s detailed recent report, Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts of BRT Systems.

BRT can be particularly useful in developing countries because it can bring (or extend) many of the benefits of rail transit systems – speed, predictability, priority, comfort – while requiring considerably less capital investment.  The key to success is assigning dedicated travel lanes to the BRT vehicles so they avoid congestion, and committing to modern stations at appropriate intervals with streamlined fare collection and boarding (see photo at top).

Nine hundred thousand passengers per day ride the Mexico City BRT, which supplements the city’s Metro rail system.  EMBARQ says BRT has reduced accidents and air emissions, including reductions of 690 tons of nitrogen oxide, 2.8 tons of fine particulate matter, 144 tons of hydrocarbons and 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, compared to previous levels.  BRT has also improved mobility on bus routes by 50 percent, reduced accidents by 30 percent and shifted an estimated 6 percent of travelers from private vehicles to public transport, says the group’s report.
In Istanbul, EMBARQ says that the average passenger on Metrobüs saves 28 workdays per year in reduced travel times compared to alternative forms of transport; the line uses dedicated space in the median of the city’s D100 freeway and operates at near-highway speeds.  Bridging Asia and Europe, Istanbul’s system is the first BRT in the world to provide intercontinental service.  The system serves 600,000 passengers daily.

Here’s the video.  Enjoy:



Santa Monica Airport Provides Some of L.A.'s Worst Air Pollution


By Dennis Romero, December 16, 2013

 Santa Monica Airport in the background.

Some Santa Monica leaders and neighbors want to shut down the local airport or at least ban the private jets that have turned a small runway into a bustling, noisy destination for Hollywood millionaires and billionaires.

See also: Santa Monica Sues Feds Over Control of City Airport.

They might just have new ammunition for their fight in the form of a UCLA study that says the community just downwind of Santa Monica Airport, in the city of Los Angeles, has some of the worst pollution in town:

A research team headed by Suzanne Paulson of UCLA's Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Department compared pollution in Boyle Heights, downtown, West Los Angeles and Mar Vista.
The results of their work appear this month in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

The academics drove around in an electric vehicle, set up like a Google Maps car that captures pollution instead of photos, and measured bad air in those neighborhoods.

Researchers looked at "ultrafine particles" and typical tailpipe pollutants, including oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide.

North Westdale is east of the airport, as represented here by LAPD Pacific patrol area 14A25.
Surprisingly, the Mar Vista community known as North Westdale, which is usually downwind of the airport (during onshore winds from the ocean), won the contest. According to a UCLA summary:
Noxious particulate concentrations in the North Westdale neighborhood were highest, followed by Boyle Heights and then downtown Los Angeles; neighborhoods in West Los Angeles had the lowest pollutant levels.
While Boyle Heights scored high marks for pollutants because of its proximity to freeways, including the 5 and 10, North Westdale had jet and propeller-plane traffic to deal with. Paulson:
The North Westdale neighborhood is heavily impacted by aircraft activities at Santa Monica Airport. It has exceptionally high levels of ultrafine particles when aircraft are active, possibly among the highest concentrations of any neighborhood in the Los Angeles area.
See also: Santa Monica Airport Is Dangerous, Rep. Waxman Says.

During the researchers' drive-bys about 1 in 5 takeoffs at the airport involved a jet, according to the final research paper, provided to the Weekly. Two to seven total aircraft were in operation during those times, researchers said.

UCLA academics found that pollutant "concentrations were about a factor of 10 higher" next to the airport compared to even 100 meters away.

According to the study, the highest concentrations of pollutants ...
... were associated with mid-size jet takeoffs, followed by small jets and smaller reciprocal-engine aircraft.
Private jets started using the airport in the 1980s, and neighbors have been pretty unhappy since then. In October the city filed suit to wrest control of the airport from the federal government and ultimately shut it down.

Urban air pollution negatively impacts fetal growth


By Judith M. Orvos, December 19, 2013

An epidemiologic study by researchers at Brown University shows a strong association between air pollution and reduced fetal growth.  And the greater the exposure to pollution, the bigger the negative impact, according to a report in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

More than 250,000 births in New York, New York from 2008 to 2010 were included in the study, which looked at how exposure to particulate matter less than 2.5 μm in diameter and nitrogen dioxide might affect birthweight. The population was restricted to term births to nonsmokers. Validated models that accounted for spatial and temporal factors were used to assign exposure at residential locations and adjustments were made for individual and contextual sociodemographic characteristics and season.

The researchers found that for each 10-μg/m3 increase in exposure to particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 μm, birthweights declined by 18.4, 10.5, 29.7 and 48.4 g for exposures in the first, second, and third trimesters and for the total pregnancy, respectively. Each 10-ppb increase in exposure to nitrogen dioxide was linked with a decline of 14.2, 15.9, 18.0 and 18.0 g of birthweight in the first, second, and third trimesters and for the total pregnancy, respectively.

The results, the authors say, strongly support an association between urban air pollution exposure and reduced fetal growth and point to a need to continue to reduce air pollution from sources such as cars, trucks, and power plants.
An epidemiologic study by researchers at Brown University shows a strong association between air pollution and reduced fetal growth.  And the greater the exposure to pollution, the bigger the negative impact, according to a report in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
More than 250,000 births in New York, New York from 2008 to 2010 were included in the study, which looked at how exposure to particulate matter less than 2.5 μm in diameter and nitrogen dioxide might affect birthweight. The population was restricted to term births to nonsmokers. Validated models that accounted for spatial and temporal factors were used to assign exposure at residential locations and adjustments were made for individual and contextual sociodemographic characteristics and season.
The researchers found that for each 10-μg/m3 increase in exposure to particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 μm, birthweights declined by 18.4, 10.5, 29.7 and 48.4 g for exposures in the first, second, and third trimesters and for the total pregnancy, respectively. Each 10-ppb increase in exposure to nitrogen dioxide was linked with a decline of 14.2, 15.9, 18.0 and 18.0 g of birthweight in the first, second, and third trimesters and for the total pregnancy, respectively.
The results, the authors say, strongly support an association between urban air pollution exposure and reduced fetal growth and point to a need to continue to reduce air pollution from sources such as cars, trucks, and power plants.
- See more at: http://contemporaryobgyn.modernmedicine.com/contemporary-obgyn/news/urban-air-pollution-negatively-impacts-fetal-growth#sthash.dhlMuIHr.dpuf

An App for Making Friends on the Subway


By Eric Jaffe, December 16, 2013

When Stanley Milgram identified the "familiar strangers" that pervade city life in 1972, he defined them as people one sees often but never interacts with. Fellow commuters, for instance, or people who share a corner shop. This class of city dweller still exists — recent research suggests an entire community of close encounters out there.

But now, there's a similar class of "familiar strangers" in a new sphere -- online. The friend of a Facebook friend, for instance, or a Twitter follower who happens to live nearby.

It's this latter class that really drives Playdope, an app released last week by New York City-based developer Matt Newberg. Playdope aims to connect people whose paths through the city overlap in ways both digital and physical. Newberg hopes his program will serve as an ice-breaker that elevates the familiar stranger relationship into simply a familiar one.

"'Familiar strangers' encapsulates everything about what it is we're trying to solve," says Newberg. "They occur online as much as they occur offline — maybe even more online. That's one thing that obviously Milgram never really talked about."

Here's how it works. Playdope users must log in through Facebook (a minimum requirement) and enter three personal interests and a very basic bio (Facebook profiles are the default). Users have the option of uploading contacts and granting Twitter access, too. The idea is to build a network of people whose lives intersect but who themselves wouldn't normally interact in the flesh.

When Playdope is open, the app identifies a handful of people within that network who are near you at the moment. A notification alerts users when they're especially close to a familiar stranger, allowing them to open that user's Playdope profile and see the interests and people they have in common.

This is the point when the connection typically stops — the digital equivalent to Milgram seeing a fellow commuter on a train but not talking to that person. So Playdope nudges a connection by letting the users play a quick trivia game. With the proverbial ice broken, users can enter a chat space that lasts 24 hours. From there they can trade contact information to meet offline, or let the encounter fade.

"We want to create on-the-fly meet-ups that happen naturally," says Newberg. "The whole idea behind the short window for chat is the connection either gets made right here, in this locale, or it disappears until the next time we meet."

Playdope launched in New York as well as college campuses. Business Insider describes the app as Tinder meets QuizUp, and Newberg says he was inspired, in part, by an article about random Words With Friends opponents who got married. But he also insists that Playdope is not a dating app.
Rather, Newberg is operating under the assumption that a spirit of social exploration resides, to some extent, in everyone who chooses to live in a city. He's also recognizing that online interactions involve a certain level of intimacy that could become rather awkward in a real-world setting. In that sense, Playdope serves as a wedge between digital and actual personas that might be quite distinct.

"I think people try to create two realms: the presence they have online, and the life you lead in real life," says Newberg. "My generation has had to confront this issue of: what happens when I'm meeting you for the first time but it's not our first encounter?"

Stanley Milgram — meet Millennials.

Jakarta Cracks Down on Its Freelance Traffic Cops


By Newley Purnell, December 16, 2013

 Jakarta Cracks Down on Its Freelance Traffic Cops

Jakarta's traffic is simply brutal: Commuters spend hours every day stranded in cars and crammed into battered busses in the congested Indonesian capital, which has about 28 million residents but no rapid-transit system

Opportunistic vendors often weave between the stopped vehicles, selling snacks like fruit and nuts, and motorcycle taxis offer rides between lanes. But now the city is cracking down on one particular sort of gridlock-inspired entrepreneur: the pak ogah, or independent traffic guide. For a small fee, the whistle-bearing boys or men will help drivers merge into crowded lanes or make U-turns. They also often take charge of busy intersections and railroad crossings. A recent local news report, for example, showed an especially enthusiastic traffic guide. 


 The guides have faced scrutiny, however, following a deadly collision last week between a train and a fuel truck. Some bystanders said the local guides failed to prevent the truck from driving across the tracks. Jakarta’s governor, Joko Widodo, now wants to fine guides at railroad crossings 500,000 rupiah (about $41), and his deputy wants them banished city-wide. "We have to catch them all, and clean this up," said Vice-Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, according to the Straits Times

Dark thick smoke billows from the fire after a commuter train collided with a truck hauling fuel on the outskirts JakartaAP Photo/Tatan Syuflana

Comparative data about traffic congestion is scarce, but by any measure Jakarta has it rough. About 10 million vehicles hit the roads each workday, and commute times are further worsened by seasonal factors like monsoon rain and workers leaving their offices at set times during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. As in other Southeast Asian megacities like Bangkok and Manila, newly affluent middle-class car buyers are making matters progressively worse: In 2012, average car speeds in the city were just 16 kilometers per hour (about 10 miles per hour), compared to 20 kilometers per hour in 2008. 

Jakarta wasn't one of the cities surveyed for this 2011 IBM study of the world's worst cities for road traffic, but based on the metrics that included commuting time, time stuck in traffic, worsening conditions and standstill conditions, it would probably rank near the top of the list.
It’s hard to see how blaming the pak ogah or cracking down on their attempts to impose a bit of order on the chaos will help ease the severity of Jakarta’s traffic. 
"They have been here for the longest time and there is some sort of informal understanding that they are allowed to operate," one traffic guide told the Straits Times. "So as long as there is weak enforcement, they will be here."
In the meantime, commuters can cast a longing eye toward the day in 2018 when Jakarta’s first mass transit system, the MRT, is scheduled to begin operations. Until then, construction associated with the underground and overhead railway is expected to cause—you guessed it—even more traffic jams.

Residents living near Expo Line stations reduce car use, study shows

After the light-rail line opened, Angelenos who lived within half-mile of a station tripled their rail ridership, USC study finds.


 By Laura J. Nelson, December 16, 2013

Rail ridership up, car usage down
Metro Blue Line cars zip past a station near Washington Boulevard and Flower Street, where the Blue Line converges with the Expo Line. After the Expo Line opened, Angelenos who lived within a half-mile of a station tripled their rail ridership and reduced their daily driving by 40%, a USC study found.

The Metro Expo Line was already under construction when Ryan Vincent started house-hunting. His goal: to live within walking distance of a light-rail station.

"Every house I looked at, I was doing the mental calculus," Vincent, 39, said. "Would I be willing to walk from that address to the train?"

 For the full report and executive summary, visit http://priceschool.usc.edu/expo-line-study/

He settled with his girlfriend and his dog in a Spanish-style home in West Adams, two blocks from the Farmdale Station. Since then, his Honda Civic hybrid has mostly sat unused.

The small changes Vincent made in his daily life, including finding a doctor and a dentist with offices near a train stop, mirror the behavior of many households living near the Expo Line, according to a USC study released Monday.

After the light-rail line opened, Angelenos who lived within a half-mile of a station tripled their rail ridership and reduced their daily driving by 40%, the study found.

In fall 2011, researchers asked more than 200 households in the Exposition Corridor, the Crenshaw Corridor and Harvard Park to track their travel habits and odometer readings for seven days. The same households repeated the exercise in 2012, when the Expo Line had been open for about six months.

Households within a half-mile of an Expo Line station reduced their driving by 10 to 12 miles a day, compared with those who lived farther away, according to the data.

Researchers said they realize Los Angeles is too sprawling for everyone to live within a half-mile of a train stop, that the line is new and that residents' behaviors may yet change. But the study's findings, USC researcher Marlon Boarnet said, can help transportation officials make smart choices about rail lines and the network of roads and neighborhoods that surround them.

Los Angeles County may see as many as five new rail lines and extensions by the end of the decade. "This teaches us how to make our investments count," Boarnet said.

The Expo Line's second phase will open to the Westside in 2016. When that happens, attorney Aryan Shommetoub expects to take the train and the Big Blue Bus from his home in Baldwin Hills to a branch courthouse in Westwood.

"It's a treat to be able to take the line to work, when I can," Shommetoub said. He still often drives, but takes the section of the Expo Line that opened last year when he has meetings or court appearances near downtown.

After the Expo Line opened, households living within a half-mile of the stations saw a 30% reduction in their carbon emissions, the study said. Although some people had purchased more fuel-efficient cars, Boarnet said, researchers chalked up the difference to people driving less.

The study participants who were the least physically fit also saw a health benefit: about 8-10 more minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity a day.

Stations with more bus lanes and fewer lanes of traffic were most effective at reducing the number of miles driven and increasing the number of transit trips, according to the study. Streets with too many lanes of traffic discourage pedestrians from getting to stations, Boarnet said, and more people are likely to use a train if bus service complements it.

That could inform urban design as cities across the county install bike lanes and foster development around transit.

The study's findings will become most important, Boarnet said, when the Westside subway along Wilshire Boulevard breaks ground. Currently, an extension to La Cienega Boulevard is scheduled to open in 2023.

"This is very tough for people to wrap their minds around," Boarnet said. "But we're going to get to the point where the system is meaningfully large."

How to make high-speed rail work in California

The California High-Speed Rail Authority should abandon its politically motivated plan and go back to basics.


By Stuart Flashman, December 16, 2013

High-speed rail

 An artist's drawing shows a California high-speed train that's proposed to transport passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Two court decisions have blocked the California High-Speed Rail Authority from issuing more than $8 billion in bonds and from using bond funds on construction until it fixes its funding plan. Now what?

The authority says it will move forward using federal funds. But as one of the attorneys who successfully challenged the project, I can tell you that, on its present track, the future looks bleak. A series of shortsighted political decisions has left the state's high-speed rail system with an unworkable plan that's doomed to failure. There may still be time, however, to get it on the right track.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority was formed in 1996 after an extensive feasibility analysis by its predecessor, the California Intercity High-Speed Rail Commission. In 1999, the authority selected the Pacheco Pass and a Highway 99 alignment to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco.

That purely political decision overrode years of analysis by the earlier commission and its consultants, who had identified Interstate 5 and the Altamont Pass as the least expensive and highest-ridership route. How did the switch happen? Power brokers in the Legislature and Silicon Valley and mayors of Central Valley and Antelope Valley cities pushed their narrow self-interests, and the authority's board of directors succumbed to that political pressure.

The resulting route, however, is longer, slower and much more expensive than it should be, making it unprofitable. On top of that, the state bond measure funding it, Proposition 1A, prohibits the system from receiving operating subsidies. The combination has resulted in a project that private rail operators, such as those in Europe and Japan, have shunned.

With no private capital available, the authority nevertheless embarked on plans to build a $31-billion segment from Merced to the San Fernando Valley. It insists that private investment will follow once that first segment is built and is shown to be profitable. However, the current funding shortfall — the authority has only $6 billion available — violates the voter-approved bond measure's requirements.

Now the court has required the authority to rewrite its funding plan to show there's enough money to complete the segment. With no other funding sources in sight, the authority is stuck in a box, even if its members won't admit it.

The authority could escape its box and achieve success if it made decisions like private high-speed rail companies do: minimizing construction costs and choosing the most direct route possible. Indeed, the developer of the French national railway, SNCF, made an unsolicited offer to build the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles section, without a revenue guarantee. The authority turned it down flat.

As the French proposal shows, a profitable high-speed rail system in California is possible, with private investment, but it will require that the authority drop its past political deals and focus on building a workable system. Doing so would also restore public confidence in the future of high-speed rail.

A high-speed rail route using the I-5 corridor and the Altamont Pass makes sense. Much of the land is already owned by the state. Track along I-5 could be laid at ground level, avoiding the extra expense of viaducts, and the construction would have minimal impact on valuable Central Valley farmland.

An I-5 and Altamont route avoids cities and could therefore be run at maximum speeds . The shorter length means the door-to-door San Francisco-to-Los Angeles trip would be competitive with air travel times and prices.

Central Valley cities need not, however, be abandoned. They could be served by an upgraded Amtrak, connected to the high-speed rail at both ends of the valley. The overall cost would be lower and performance far better than the current plan.

At the route's northern end, using Altamont Pass to access the Bay Area would have extra benefits because it would serve Stockton, Tracy and Livermore and, in a second phase of development, easily provide a jumping-off place for a fast-rail alternative between Sacramento and the Bay Area.

California's high-speed rail system is at a crossroads. There is still time to redesign the project so it attracts private capital. On its current course, however, not only will nothing useful be built, but the Federal Railroad Administration, which will have to justify its grants at an upcoming congressional hearing, may withdraw its funding rather than have its money wasted. California could lose jobs and its new rail system.

‘Car mania’ spreads like wildfire in big Turkish cities lacking infrastructure

Heavy traffic is a fact in big cities, especially in Istanbul, where some 2 million cars are on the roads every day. The more car ownership rises in the country’s roads, the more roads are developed for them. The solution should, however, be sought somewhere else


By Mustafa Sonmez, December 16, 2013

 One quarter of 13.5 million trips are made by 
privately-owned cars in  Istanbul in a day. When 
other road vehicles are  added, this increases to 87 percent, making Istanbul a city which becomes 
more and more unbearable to live. DHA photo

Heavy traffic makes our lives unbearable in big cities, especially in Istanbul. Let’s have a look at what the 2014 Program of the government says: “Extreme fuel consumption, environmental degradation, car accidents and heavy traffic have been intensifying due to rapid and unplanned urbanization, rapid population growth and a dramatic rise in the ownership of cars.”

Cars kill

The transportation policies are mainly based on the development of roads and highways for cars in Turkey. This is one of the biggest reasons why we’re that suffering from heavy traffic actually. The more car ownership rises, the more roads are developed for them. The solution should be sought somewhere else.

The 4th article of the 1992 European Urban Charter said the following: “Cars kill a city gradually. We’ll choose either our city or our cars in the 2000s as these two cannot live together.”

One quarter of 13.5 million trips are, however, made by privately-owned cars in Istanbul in a day.

When other road vehicles are added, this percentage increases to 87 percent, making Istanbul a city which becomes more and more unbearable to live in day by day. Some 2 million cars are on the roads in Istanbul every day, to which some 100,000 other road vehicles should be added. While some 24 percent of all trips are made by 99 percent of vehicles, 76 percent of them are by 1 percent of vehicles in Istanbul.

The share of rail systems is not more than 10.5 percent and of sea vehicles is just 2.5 percent in the daily transportation of Istanbul.

 Car mania


Big cities’ streets are full of cars, which are produced by Oyak-Renault, Ford, Tofaş, Hyundai and Toyota in Turkey, or imported from abroad. And these streets do not have enough car parks and a majority of houses lack garages. The car stock increased by 6 percent on average annually between 2007 and 2012. This means some 600,000 cars enter into the traffic in a year, excluding commercial vehicles, minibuses and buses. While there were 6.5 million cars on roads in Turkey in 2007, this figure increased to over 9 million in 2013.

Some 500,000 new cars create extra burden on roads, bridges and car parks. Car and human queues are inevitable in this picture.

Imported cars

The number of cars for 1,000 people was 92 in 2007, but this figure increased to 114 in 2012, when some 556,000 cars were sold. Most surprisingly, only one quarter of these cars were home-grown, and others were imported.

Volkswagen was the most imported brand. Some 410,000 cars were imported in 2012. Turkey, which has been suffering from a huge current account deficit, pays millions of dollars to import cars. The Turkish state contributed to this by facilitating imports, providing cheap foreign currency. Banks also play their part by offering cheap car loans to Turkish consumers, totaling around 8 billion Turkish Liras in a year. The loans which are provided by automotive firms are excluded from this equation. Such a car love is enabled by borrowing money in the absence of the required infrastructure…

HDN Back to Istanbul

Most of the cars are in Istanbul to be sure. Over 23 percent of the total car stock is in this city, but the number of cars per 1,000 people is the highest in the capital city of Ankara, not Istanbul. There are some 209 cars per 1,000 people in Ankara, although there are 145 cars in Istanbul, which also hosts many poor people. Ankara hosts some 12 percent of the total automotive stock of the country.

It is insane to turn on green lights to imported cars unless comprehensive urban planning is carried out and public transportation systems are developed.

What about subways?

The best alternative to transportation by privately-owned cars is public transportation systems, especially subways. A subway system was opened in London in 1863 and in New York in 1904. Most of the European cities developed their first subways at the beginning of the 20th century, but Istanbul met this system in 2000. There are 35 subway stations in Istanbul, and the share of this system is not more than 11 percent of the whole city’s transportation. There are 22 stations in Ankara, and the share of the system is estimated to be not more than 5 percent.

There are rail transportation systems, including subways, light-railed trains and trams, in 11 big cities of Turkey, including Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Adana, Bursa, Eskişehir, Kayseri, Samsun, Antalya, Konya and Gaziantep. The municipalities of these cities try hard to be able to invest more in these systems, but they cannot afford it. This is mainly caused by the fact that only 10 percent of the state budget can be used by municipalities, although some 90 percent by the central government. What happens next? The government wants to keep being an authority in making such investments.

The Ministry of Transportation aims to open two subway projects in Ankara by the coming March elections, which are the Kızılay-Çayyolu subway and Batıkent-Sincan subway. Another subway project between Tandoğan and Keçiören in Ankara is also planned to be completed in the next year. The ministry has also taken over some subway projects in Istanbul, including Bakırköy-Beylikdüzü, Bakırköy-Kirazlı and 4.Levent-Darüşşafaka projects, once owned by the metropolitan municipality of Istanbul.

Cities or cars? Which one do you prefer? Each urban voter should ask this question to the candidates for mayors. The answer will be litmus paper.

Chinese Students Fight Smog With Kung Fu Aerobics


By Jenny Xie, December 3, 2013

Chinese Students Fight Smog With Kung Fu Aerobics 
A school in one of the most smog-ridden Chinese cities has a new strategy: kung fu aerobics.
The two-minute workout includes 23 moves designed by Huanqiang Wei, deputy dean of Guangming Road Primary School in Shijiazhuang. Wei believes two of the moves -- pressing an acupuncture point and breathing into the belly -- are especially effective in defending the body against poor air quality.

"Pressing the Hegu acupoint, located between the thumb and index finger at the back of the hand, helps promote lungs' detoxification. Breathing into the belly dispels more residue gas left in human organs, reducing the harm caused by smog," he told Xinhua News.

While the doctor interviewed says pressing acupoints can boost the immune system, there’s no evidence kung fu aerobics will prevent smog-related disease. Unsurprisingly, the idea has received much ridicule from Chinese Internet users.   

This news story has footage of students doing the exercises -- it’s in English!