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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

What will the impact of automated vehicle technology be on public transportation?


By Joel Volinski, December 18, 2013

Google driverless car operating on a testing path. Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons

 Google driverless car operating on a testing path.

Although the implementation of automated vehicles on a large scale is probably 20 years or more in the future, it is a subject that will get increased attention in the next few years. Denis Eirikis, director of the Automated Vehicle Institute at the Center for Urban Transportation Research, says we will see more significant change in the field of mobility in the next 20 years than we have in the past 75 years due to enabling technologies.

The automated Google car has already logged hundreds of thousands of accident-free miles and three states (California, Nevada, and Florida) have passed laws allowing their use on public roads. Michigan will soon follow and establish a pilot program in Ann Arbor. Many new cars are already outfitted with cameras and sensors that allow for automated parallel parking and braking. It won’t be long before broader commercialization of these features will accelerate the interest in making vehicle operations more automated.

In the U.S., there are more than 33,000 deaths a year on highways. This is the equivalent of having a fully occupied 737 jet crash and kill all passengers every weekday. If that was actually happening in aviation, we can be sure there would be a full force effort to correct the problem. While considerable progress has been made in reducing highway deaths since the 1960s, we still have a long way to go. Most surface vehicle crashes and fatalities are due to driver error. Automated vehicles provide hope that this great loss of life and even more injuries can be greatly minimized.

So what does this have to do with public transportation? No one has a crystal ball on this subject, but it is worth considering the possible changes occur that could impact the use and provision of public transit. The full use of automated cars and trucks can make travel safer, and thereby, more attractive for some people who get very stressed when driving personal vehicles. Insurance for operating private vehicles would probably be reduced. Travel times may be lessened due to sensors that will allow cars to travel at greater speeds and closer proximity to other vehicles, increasing the capacity of highways (and/or reducing congestion). Private cars could become more like mobile offices in which people can text, talk by cell phone, send emails, or sleep without worrying about the dangers of distracted driving. It would seem that all of these potential developments would work against increasing ridership on public transit. Many transit passengers today use transit because they can engage in electronic communications without worry of causing an accident. Much of this advantage public transit now enjoys in attracting choice riders would be gone with automated cars.

It is possible parents will no longer need to be chauffeurs of their children, and kids might have options other than taking transit or bicycling if their family cars could be programmed to deliver them to their destinations and back after school.

On the plus side for transit, with private vehicles equipped with crash avoidance and automated braking technology, there should be fewer cars causing rear-end accidents with buses picking up or dropping off passengers at bus stops. There might also be less demand for paratransit services if those who need such services could have a car that can be programmed to transport them safely to wherever they want to go. For those uncomfortable with programming their car themselves, there might be other people who could be licensed to program other peoples’ cars and act as remote “drivers.”

RELATED: (video) "Intro to the Ultra Driverless Pod Car."

Perhaps the biggest, and no doubt the most controversial, question would be how would it affect the position of bus driver? If they didn’t have to drive the vehicle, would their role become more of a customer service person, providing passenger assistance, information and security? Is it possible the position of bus driver will not be necessary?

There are other public transit vehicles, such as people movers and even non-fixed guideway buses at places like Dulles Airport, that transport people without operators present. Needless to say, there are vast differences between operating a vehicle on a fixed guideway or an airport tarmac versus operating in mixed traffic where it isn’t known in advance at which stops passengers will be waiting. There are also passengers with disabilities that might need help and people who simply wouldn’t enter a vehicle without someone visibly in charge. Fare collection could also be an issue that requires someone in charge on the bus at most stops. A bus without an operator could not serve as the eyes and ears that can report unusual activities, nor could it serve as a “Safe Place” for kids in need of help. However, one might ask how much more transit service could be provided in a community if there were no direct expenses associated with bus operators — 20%, 30% or more?

That day of operating a bus in mixed traffic without a driver on board might never come, but it might. If it was possible, what would you do?

It's Gonna Be A While Before Metro Rail Really Starts Booming


By Bianca Barragan, December 18, 2013


Older transit networks tend to take on way more new commuters than newer networks do over the same period, finds planning website NextCity, but LA, with its newish Gold Line and Silver Line bucks the trend: It made it into the top four cities for transit use, beating out Chicago and Boston. NextCity compared transit data for major cities from the 2000 Census to recent numbers from the 2012 American Community Survey and found that Washington DC, which hasn't added any new subway stations since 1999, saw ridership jump from 33.2 percent in 2000 to 37.8 percent in 2012--the largest gain of any city. In second place was New York, where a staggering 55.6 percent of commuters take transit (up from 2000's 52.9 percent), even though there hasn't been a new subway station added there since 1989. San Francisco barely beat out LA, where 11.1 percent of all commuters now take transit--a small but notable increase over 2000's 10.2 percent. While our gains are good, the overall percentage of commuters who use transit is pretty far below other cities. The moral of the story, NextCity says, is that it takes time for ridership to increase substantially. It points out that "Washington, DC saw transit use rise decades after building out its rail networks." Only after these transit networks have been around for a while do they really become a big part of getting workers where they need to go.

· Since 2000, Old Networks Yield More Transit Growth Than New Ones [NextCity]

Portland Streetcar Company Hired To Oversee DTLA Streetcar


By Neal Broverman, December 18, 2013



The beleaguered Downtown streetcar project, which doesn't yet have a confirmed pricetag or opening date, is getting back on track with a new project manager and a possible infusion of federal cash. The streetcar's main proponent, Councilmember Jose Huizar, reports via press release that San Francisco-based company URS has been hired to oversee construction, figure out a project timeline, resolve conflicts over utility relocation, and figure out how much the darn thing costs; URS helped build the streetcar systems in Portland and Seattle. DTLA's proposed line would connect South Park to Bunker Hill, and be operated by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the city agency behind the DASH and commuter express buses. And, just last week, the LADOT submitted a grant request with the Federal Transit Administration--the project could get up to $75 million. Even with the grant, the streetcar will probably need more money: An early estimate put the project at $150 to $160 million, and that doesn't include utility relocation costs. There's $11 million in the bank from Metro and the former Community Redevelopment Agency, as well as up to $62.5 million in committed funds thanks to a tax passed by DTLA voters last year. The difference could be made up with the FTA money, more state and federal grants, or a possible public/private partnership, all of which URS will investigate. 

· Downtown Streetcar Archives [Curbed LA]

An idea to get U.S. train safety system on track: Editorial


December 17, 2013

An Amtrak train, top, traveling on an unaffected track, passes a derailed Metro-North commuter train on Dec. 1 in the Bronx. Officials stand on a curve in the tracks where the train derailed.

Sometime in the next few weeks, Metrolink plans to demonstrate Positive Train Control on one of its Southern California lines, a step toward being the first rail operator to meet a federal mandate to install the safety technology.

That's good news. Positive Train Control, which can automatically stop a train headed for a collision or derailment, might have at least lessened the impact in the head-on crash between a Metrolink commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train that killed 25 people in Chatsworth in 2008. And the GPS-based system could have prevented the accident in which a Metro-North commuter train jumped the tracks while going too fast on a tight turn, killing four passengers in the Bronx on Dec. 1.

There's bad news, though. Few rail operators are as committed to PTC as Metrolink is. Most are lobbying Congress to delay the end-of-2015 deadline, citing the cost and complexity of installing the fail-safe on 70,000 miles of track.

The rail industry's complaints have some validity, especially the part about Congress ordering train operators to foot the project's $13 billion bill almost entirely themselves.

In the interest of getting PTC installed in the nation's trains as soon as possible, American train passengers (and those who love them) should be willing to pay more of the price. If this means putting more federal taxpayer money into the project, so be it.

Californians can probably think of a chunk of money that would work nicely: the $3.3 billion in federal cash earmarked for the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco-area high-speed rail project, a sum whose fate is uncertain after the bullet train's latest legal setback.

What's more valuable, perhaps the most significant rail safety feature that will be adopted in our lifetimes, or the California bullet-train plan that sounds more and more like a futurist's fantasy?

Even an enthusiastic PTC advocate like Metrolink has faced delays (full installation is expected by late 2014, a year and a half later than forecast) and a cost overrun (to $210-215 million from the predicted $201.9?million, a difference to be made up with federal transportation grants).

If other rail operators need a financial push to get this important safety work done by the 2015 deadline, it would be worth it for Congress and the American people to help pay the price.

LA Story


By Nathan Deuel, December 18, 2013


I have just moved to Los Angeles from the Middle East, and everyone keeps asking me if the city is too quiet—Am I bored? Is it safe?—and the answer is, No, I am not bored; yes, it seems safe, and yes, that’s fine by me. Mostly I am in a state of awe, blown away by a grocery store, the knock of the mailman at the door, the speed of the Internet; the easy friends you can make on the sidewalk or on the bus or while watching your kids play soccer or walking down Venice Boulevard, waiting for a light to change, en route to the University of Southern California, where I found myself the other day, seeking out the next thing I might do with my life, right before things went wrong again.

I was facing new and mostly pleasant options. Such as: Should I wish to travel across the east-west spine of Lost Angeles, in the fall of 2013, from Venice to the urban campus of USC, did I want to walk four or five hours, doing ten miles on foot; drive thirty minutes; ride a bike for an hour and a half; or, as I ultimately resolved to do, take a city bus to the Culver City train line.

Showering, lacing up a pair of suede boots, donning a clean shirt, loading up a satchel with books and water, I crossed Lincoln Boulevard, behind a smog-check shop, whose sign made it clear they’s only do checks, not repairs, and then I followed an alley parallel to six lanes of heavy afternoon traffic.
In front of a crumbling apartment complex, on a set of concrete stairs, I admired a selection of jars, bowls, fire-rimmed tin cans, and handmade signs. Next to one pagan cup leaned a pair of tongs, perhaps for a hookah, and then I was accosted by a man who stood beside the open door of a midnineties Ford Explorer.

“Yo, this is a brand new home theater,” he said, gesturing at a large brown box resting on a leather seat. “You want this shit?” He tapped the box.

Since leaving Beirut, my wife and I had been in Los Angeles for about a month. It was true I didn’t have a home theater yet, but then I didn’t have much. The whirr of a car wash behind us made it hard to hear the rest of his sales pitch. Did he think I lived nearby? Could I carry the box to USC and back? In the roar of the car wash, it sounded like someone was screaming.

“No thanks,” I said.

“What?” he said.

“I’m good,” I said, backing away. “I’m good.”

Next up was a bike shop and a massage parlor and a nail place and a vacuum repair shop and a shoe repair shop and in their presence I considered my shoes and my nails and my muscles and the condition of a vacuum we left behind in Lebanon, and then I found myself standing in front of a tidy burger place, where all employees wore paper hats and some had white aprons secured with oversize metal pins, like for a diaper, yet the potatoes were peeled while I watched and it was all more than I might have imagined a burger place might be in America, in 2013.

Intent on not greasing up my clothes, I watched a regal woman as she peered through sunglasses at a ketchup dispenser. Done, she walked away, a sack in one hand, in the other a small paper cup of ketchup. But in so doing, she left behind a milkshake, which sat on the counter, melting.

Watching, too, was a man who looked like Kevin Costner, who wasn’t sure what to do. First, he reached to grab the shake. The cup would have been cold to the touch. He paused, frozen. Hovering, he seemed to debate whether to make contact, or not. Then the woman came striding back in. The guy who looked like Costner tried to look away. In the bathroom, I washed my hands and hoped the soap would get rid of the smell of meat.

On the train, there was a crazy lady and a madman. I was amazed at how sleek and silent the cars felt, and then I noticed all were made in Japan. The crazy lady started raving pretty much immediately, once we passed into South Central LA. There was Crenshaw Boulevard, and this woman was railing on about whether we were selling our mothers for crack. She’d also really like some health care, she said, but she probably would’t get any health care, she said.

The madman was a tall white guy with a greasy pony tail down to his waist. You could tell when a guy like this was dangerous. He had filthy shoes and long fingernails, a spoiled gallon of coiled rage in the pit of his belly. He balled his hands into fists, rocking over and over, muttering. In his sight line, a nurse in scrubs laughed with/at the crazy lady, who continued to rave.
“Fuck you laughing at, bitch?” the madman said.

At the next stop, the nurse in scrubs got off, and I considered going, too. In stepped a father in his forties and his teenaged son, both of whom wore sensible shoes and black T-shirts. The madman turned on them, his mouth parting in a sneer.

“Sup boss,” said the father. “How you doing today?”

“I am A-1 okay, brother,” the madman said, disarmed.

The three joked and laughed and the madman loosened up enough to unball his fists. When the father and son got off at the Natural History Museum, the madman said, “God bless.”

On the USC campus, an orange balloon arced into a blue sky, and everyone was young and no one seemed angry. I canvassed a main quad, looking for the right place to sit. More bikes than I’d ever seen were parked on the sidewalk. A woman wearing headphones nearly ran me over. Others rode by on beach cruisers, a parade of identical jean shorts, while young men preferred baggy cut-offs and skateboards of various size and trajectory. Through the thicket of wheels and oiled chains and sandpaper gripping, a sleek undergrad with perfect skin swished down the sidewalk, wearing an elegant blue suit. His tan brogues made a smart clapping sound as he passed. Nonstudents were easy to spot, with their posture, scuffed shoes, pale skin, and satchels. I entered a campus coffee shop, where the line was thirty-five deep. I adjusted my satchel. Two young students in front seemed to know as much as anyone else.

“Listen, it’s all about King Fahad,” the tall one said.

“I just totally can’t remember how Jordan fits into all this,” the other said.

Together, they worked to draw an extensive flow chart, blue ballpoint pens working. At the register, I couldn’t understand what the guy was saying. I did not want whip cream, no. There was another line to wait for my drink, so I leaned against a pleasant wooden table, beside a redhead in a green sweatshirt.

“This is a great spot,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, it is.”

“Totally,” she said. “We are smart.”

Our coffees came. Her name was Emily and then she was gone.

That weekend, in Los Angeles, someone stole my wallet. In twenty-four hours, they racked up various charges: $70.11 at a grocery store, $30.52 at a convenience store, $31.75 at a music shop, $88.88 at a clothing store. At Day & Night Food Mart, it was $21.03.

I tried to picture that money in a pile. At a Day & Night Food Mart in Venice, you could spend $21.03. I allowed myself to get angry. Nobody would ever pay for this. We’d all pay for this. Then I called the credit card company. A careful man in Arizona told me I was good. His name was Xavier. If anyone was ever found, Xavier told me, I could press charges.

2013: The Year Deadly, Suffocating Smog Consumed China


By Herman Wong, December 19, 2013

 2013: The Year Deadly, Suffocating Smog Consumed China

This wasn't the first year that smog blackened Chinese cities with appalling frequency, closed airports and roads, and sent children to hospitals with pollution-filled lungs. Though labored breathing and chronic hacking have long been a fact of life for most Chinese people, something in the awareness of the problem shifted this year—2013 will be remembered as the year that China’s struggle with air pollution went mainstream. 

On the first day of the year, the Chinese government began publishing the air quality index (AQI), which measures fine particulate matter (PM2.5) per cubic meter, in real-time in 74 cities throughout the country. That made the worsening pollution quantifiable—and undeniable.

Shortly thereafter, Beijing and surrounding regions were hit by pollution of "unimaginable levels," as journalist James Fallows put it. At one point in mid-January, AQI in Beijing soared as high as 993, far beyond levels health officials deem extremely dangerous. (Here’s the health impact based on AQI, for reference.) For comparison, on the same day in New York, the AQI was 19. 

Beijing’s "airpocalypse" attracted global media attention and sparked outrage among the Chinese public. And it was just the start. Here are other ways that 2013 changed how China confronted its air pollution crisis:

Organizing life around PM2.5 went mainstream

Throughout the year, PM2.5 was so consistently high that the measurement "entered into mainstream Chinese life," as Angela Hsu, a doctoral candidate at Yale University, told the Guardian. Hsu's research of Chinese social media site Sina Weibo found that the term "PM 2.5" went from 200 mentions in January 2011 to 3 million in January 2013. It became fashionable for Sina Weibo users to share photos of themselves protecting their lungs: 

 The face mask became a part of many wardrobes as the pollution worsened.

But foiling PM2.5 was more than just a meme; it was also part of the calculus that people living in China face each day. The New York Times’ Didi Kirsten Tatlow, who lives in Beijing, shared rules for the activities she allows her children to participate in based on air quality. "[A]bove 100, and the air purifiers—all four of them—go on. Above 200, we wear face masks outdoors. Above 300 and no one exercises or plays outside, even with a face mask on. Above 500 and we try not to go out at all," she explained. And it wasn’t just Tatlow; the share prices of Chinese makers of air purifiers surged in January along with pollution levels.

Air pollution caused medical emergencies

At one point in January, Beijing Children’s Hospital was treating more than 7,000 patients a day, a five-year high for children with respiratory ailments. Chinese researchers later reported that the Winter 2013 smog crisis affected 800 million people over a span of 1.4 million square kilometers (540,000 square miles). When a severe spate of toxic air hit Harbin, a northern city, in October, hospital admissions surged by 30 percent. During the same month, an 8-year-old girl in Jiangsu became China’s youngest lung cancer patient, a condition blamed on pollution.

A baby receives inhalation therapy in Beijing on January 28, 2013.

New studies quantified the damage air pollution wrought on Chinese lives. Smog in China shaved a total of 2.5 billion years off the lives of 500 million people in the 1990s, and pollution may have caused 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010. Perhaps the most appalling facts, though, concerned how air pollution was affecting children. Greenpeace found that in 2011 coal plants killed 9,900 people in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei, including 40 babies in the capital.

Children with respiratory diseases receive treatment at a hospital in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province on December 9, 2013.

Buildings disappeared—and photo evidence traveled around the world

Countless photos captured the haunting cityscapes. Even a 1,000-foot skyscraper had trouble sticking out in the Beijing smog, as you can see in this picture snapped by Sinocism’s Bill Bishop

On the left, a photo of the China World Trade Center Tower III on February 26, 2013. On the right, the same swath of skyline, photographed the next day. 

The financial district of Pudong is seen on a hazy day in Shanghai on January 21, 2013.

A residential compound is seen during a smoggy day in Wujiaqu, Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region on November 19, 2013.

Chinese people tried everything to fight the pollution

Some enterprising Chinese people responded to the noxious air conditions with their own inventions.

Artist Matt Hope, wearing a helmet, pushes his air filtration bike out from his studio on a hazy day in Beijing on March 26, 2013. 

An entrepreneur gave out cans of air in an anti-pollution stunt.

And anti-haze martial arts were supposed to strengthen the lungs of schoolchildren.

Chinese students use physical fitness to protect themselves.

It wasn’t just the locals, though. The International School of Beijing built a $5.7 million dome for their athletic field to ensure healthy breathing.

Apple, JPMorgan and Honda all gave their Beijing employees face masks. And when the LPGA came to Beijing, the world’s top female golfers did as the Beijingers do.

​Golfers practicing for a tournament in Beijing wore masks to guard against the air pollution.

Air pollution’s economic toll became more obvious

In the past, the World Bank has projected that China loses 4.3% of GDP to health costs associated with air and water pollution. But that’s always been abstract. This year, China’s economy took a hit on numerous fronts due to air pollution. Tourism, for instance, has begun to suffer, as Beijing saw a 15% decline in overseas visitors in the first half of the year.

Tourists climb the Great Wall on a hazy day.

In October, a blinding layer of pollution—so bad “you can’t see your fingers in front of you”—forced the city of Harbin to close schools, roads, and the airport, and its 11 million residents were told to stay home.

A cop braves Harbin’s October smog.

Pollution caused hundreds of flight cancellations around the country. The aviation regulator instituted new rules requiring senior pilots on flights into and out of Beijing to be able to land in low visibility.

An aircraft parks in heavy haze at Beijing airport on January 28, 2013.
The government finally decided to do something about the smog

During Chinese New Years, Beijing encouraged residents to lay off the holiday tradition of launching fireworks, causing a 37 percent drop in fireworks sales from the previous year. The government also made the questionable move of cracking down on Beijing’s outdoor barbecues

But the government finally made a move to address the real culprit. The government announced in September a 1.7 trillion yuan ($277 billion) plan to reduce the smog by cutting the use of coal and decreasing emissions from cars, with Beijing aiming to lower PM2.5 levels by 25 percent by 2017.

A statue of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong is seen in front of buildings during a hazy day in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on May 7, 2013.