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 20, 2013

South Pasadena, La Canada Flintridge join forces against 710 Freeway extension


By Zen Vuong, December 20, 2013

SOUTH PASADENA >> The City Council strengthened its and other cities’ ability to fight off the proposed SR-710 freeway extension.

In a 5-0 vote, members elected to join the “5-Cities Alliance,” comprising South Pasadena, La Canada Flintridge, Glendale, Pasadena and Sierra Madre. All five cities oppose extending the 710 Freeway, which has been debated for decades.

Newly appointed Mayor Marina Khubesrian called the compact historic.

“Financially, you know people are willing to put up money, and that really makes us really confident,” she said. “And I think it sends a strong message to Metro and the politicians on the board looking at this issue. We are serious and basically we are going to put our money where our words are.”

Together they have $250,000 to spend on studies that they hope will support their stance against connecting the SR-710 freeway.

The California Department of Transportation and Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority are working together to publish a draft environmental impact report by spring 2014. The five options are “no build,” traffic management solutions, light rail, bus rapid transit and freeway tunnel.

The Alliance would allow participating cities to save money and share information related to SR-710 North studies. It is meant to eliminate expensive, patchwork consultant work.

Every city that agrees to the Memoradum of Understanding(MOU) will contribute $50,000. South Pasadena will be responsible for the safekeeping and management of the quarter million dollars.

Each city will issue a request for qualification for study consultants: South Pasadena, transportation; Sierra Madre, air quality; Pasadena, legal and California Environmental Quality Act; La Canada Flintridge, soils geology and seismologist; Glendale, safety and security.

Once the proposals come back, the Alliance members will evaluate the contenders and decide to whom to award the contract.

Councilwoman Diana Mahmud called the agreement “a tremendous step forward for our city and for the effort to fight Metro on its proposed construction of the tunnel.”

Councilman Richard Schneider said the MOU has been incubating for a while.

“We’ve wanted to do something like this for years to spread the expense as well as the authority to undertake these studies,” he said. “And I think this will have a tremendous impact on any body that sees five cities acting together on an issue like this.”

Alhambra, a strong proponent of the extension, isn’t enthused with the Alliance. Mayor Stephen Sham said he has no right to tell the five cities they can’t join forces but said there is a process that should be followed. People should have more faith in a draft EIR drafted by Metro and Caltrans agencies, he said.

“If (the Alliance) says regardless of what the report says, I’m going to do whatever — then I can’t do anything,” Sham said. “If you’re sick, you don’t want to say I want to take this medicine versus the other. You want to say I want to talk to the professional. But you want a cure.”

South Pasadena reached out to Los Angeles, which has said it is against building a tunnel. It would be too difficult for each of Los Angeles’ 15 districts to send a representative, Gonzalez said.

Realistically, he said, the only way LA could join is if it sends one representative from the mayor’s office.

 Public agencies or cities that oppose or are concerned about the potential impact of the SR-710 extension could join the Alliance ex post facto. Member cities must unanimously agree to admit them, and the new constituents will have to deposit funds to the fiduciary agent, South Pasadena.

Cities who choose to leave must give 30 days written notice. Any uncommitted monies will be returned, Gonzalez said.

“We felt that this is the most fair and most efficient way to move forward to make sure the interest of all the cities are adhered to and also that we give a fair shake of the environmental impact report that is forthcoming,” he said.

Editorial: Tax policy shouldn't favor cars over transit

Why should tax policy favor drivers over transit riders?


 December 20, 2013

 Chicago has too many cars on the roads and a fine mass transit system. It would be bad public policy to let the mass transit tax break go down again.

Good news for people who drive to work: The tax break you can claim for parking costs will go up in January. Bad news for people who ride the buses and trains: Your tax break will go down. A lot.

Yes, that's bass-ackward. And yes, you've been through this drill before.

Right now, drivers and transit riders alike are allowed to set aside up to $245 a month in pretax income to pay for parking or fares on public transportation. That means they don't pay taxes on the earnings they spend commuting to work, assuming their employer participates in the program.

The parking benefit, including regular cost-of-living increases, is cooked into the federal tax code. But the benefit for transit riders is not. It goes up or down depending on the whims of Congress.
Because lawmakers haven't acted to extend the current benefit provisions, the maximum set-aside for transit is scheduled to drop to $130 a month Jan. 1. The maximum for drivers, meanwhile, will automatically rise to $250.

In 2008, when gas prices were through the roof, the cap for drivers was $230 per month while the transit cap was $120. Lawmakers brought them to parity as part of the 2009 stimulus package. The idea was to give transit riders a little more spending money with which to boost the economy, but it was also a matter of fairness. Why should drivers get a bigger break?

But the increase for transit riders is subject to renewal. That didn't happen in 2011, so the transit cap dropped to $125 a month in January 2012, just as the parking cap increased to $240. Congress brought them into line again as part of the deal struck in January to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff.

The change was retroactive, creating a headache for human resources departments everywhere. And here we go again.

Around Chicago, the lower benefit limit would mostly affect Metra riders. (A monthly CTA/Pace pass is $100.) But the benefit also applies to Amtrak, vanpool rides and water taxi shuttles. There's also a move afoot in Congress to apply it to bike-share programs, such as Chicago's Divvy.

Some New York commuters would end up paying an extra $1,000 each year, depending on which transit options they use. Employers also would have to pay higher payroll taxes. In 2010, they saved about $300 million thanks to the transit benefit.

Hello, Congress! On what planet does it make sense for the government to offer incentives for people to drive more? Certainly not here on earth, where we have too much pollution and not enough fuel. In Chicago, we have too many cars on the roads and a perfectly good mass transit system, if you forget for a moment about the endless aggravations of the Ventra fare card rollout. Allowing the mass transit break to drop is bad public policy.

But renewing it was a low priority for Congress in its end-of-year rush. The lamest excuse: There's no point in extending this and other expiring tax breaks because lawmakers are going to reform the whole tax system next year. We'll believe it when we see it. (Wasn't 2013 supposed to be the year they finally reformed the immigration system?) At any rate, a tax overhaul likely would eliminate many such breaks.

Until that happens, lawmakers should restore transit parity. Either of two pending bills — one in the House, one in the Senate — would tie the transit benefit level to that of the parking benefit. No more on-again, off-again tax break.

Leave it to Congress to impose a penalty on those who take public transportation. Through their inaction, lawmakers are doing just that. Again.

L.A. County’s transit future must be regionally balanced: Adam Schiff


By Adam Schiff, December 20, 2013

When Measure R was approved by voters in 2008, it allowed our region to move forward on a program of highway and transit improvements that benefited all areas of Los Angeles County, dramatically improving the transportation options and landscape for all county residents.

Over the past five years, significant progress has been made on the projects promised to voters. The Orange Line busway and the first phase of the Expo light-rail line have opened for service. The Expo Line’s extension to Santa Monica and the first half of the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa are both under construction and on schedule to be completed in just a few short years. The Crenshaw light-rail line, which will provide the critical light-rail connection to LAX, has also started construction. Numerous other major capital projects are moving through the required planning processes, as they are readied for construction — and many more, smaller local projects have been funded throughout the county’s 88 cities.

All of these are Measure R success stories.

As Metro considers asking voters to support a new tax for additional transportation improvements, a continuing track record of success will be critical. Equally important, the benefits of any proposed future tax measure must again be felt throughout the county.

It would be a mistake to ask voters to approve a new tax, or extension of the existing tax, that only benefits one area of the county. The belief that the majority of the tax revenues would be spent in the city of Los Angeles, for instance, was the leading argument against Measure R in 2008 and the subsequent failed 30-year extension of the tax (Measure J) in 2012. It will take a regional grass-roots approach to get the two-thirds majority vote necessary to support a new tax. This will likely take the form of a list of stakeholder-supported projects that appeal to voters from throughout the county — from Malibu to Claremont and Santa Clarita to Long Beach.

 Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has made extraordinary outreach to all of the communities in the county and their local elected officials in an effort to better acquaint himself with local priorities and challenges facing the region. Metro Chairperson Diane Dubois, Supervisor Michael Antonovich and others are similarly reaching out to communities throughout the county seeking to build consensus around a potential list of projects.

Completion of the Measure R program will also be critical to any future tax initiative. Although Measure R will bring in tens of billions of dollars over the 30-year life of the tax, the tax provides only enough funding to complete a portion of the larger, capital projects. Tens of billions of additional dollars are needed to complete the list of important projects to their envisioned destinations, and the Los Angeles congressional delegation must work together to leverage this local revenue into a substantial federal funding commitment to go with it.

In the coming months, the local priority lists will have to be carefully weighed and considered before a final list is created. Cities throughout the region should provide ideas for new projects that could be funded through a future tax that will add to the overall Measure R program, by building important connections and efficiencies in the overall system. Mayor Garcetti understands this process must be deliberate and measured, and will incorporate the important local feedback he has been soliciting in order to develop a list of projects that can be successful if the Metro board decides to move forward with a future tax request.

In the meantime, Metro must build on the trust developing with county taxpayers by continuing to deliver the Measure R projects currently underway on time and on budget. Together with a regionally balanced list of projects, a reliable track record of project delivery will be critical to any future vote, and to the success of our region’s transportation system.

Congressman Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, represents California’s 28th Congressional District. Schiff authored legislation while in the state Senate and led federal efforts while in Congress to create what is now known as the Gold Line.

Win Your Holiday Arguments: Bicyclists Are a Menace


By Damien Newton, December 20, 2013

 So tempted to use a picture of Critical Mass, but I’ll stick with CicLAvia

I have a great family. When we gather at holidays, my family (be they immediate, aunts and cousins, or in-laws) avoid baiting me into an argument about bicycles in any way shape or form. That’s one reason I love them.

But not every cyclist is so lucky. Thanks to the great strides that have been made in recent years, bicycling and bicyclists have become boogeymen to segments of the population. Spurred on by craze talk radio, grandstanding politicians, biased media or the Westwood South of Santa Monica Homeowner’s Association; many car culture warriors have made bicyclists and bicycling a priority.
Here’s what most bike haters don’t get. Bicyclists don’t want to force them from their car, mock them for their lifestyle choices, or anything else. What most want is to be left alone so they can ride safely. Even the biggest boogeyman of all, Critical Mass, has morphed more into an expression of solidarity and safety from its (successful) confrontational advocacy roots.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be an angry uncle or concerned grandmother that has been fed misinformation. Here’s what you need to win the inevitable holiday argument.

Argument 1: City streets are being taken over by bicycle lanes.

I asked LADOT to provide figures on how much asphalt is on the street and how many miles of bike lanes are on the road. To get a conservative figure, I phrased the question in such a way to get them to over-estimate the amount of bicycle lanes, I made it seem as though we were going to criticise them for a lack of bike infrastructure. I then made this handy graph to illustrate just how much bicycle infrastructure is taking over.

Screen Shot 2013-12-18 at 9.41.21 PM
Here’s the methodology behind the numbers from LADOT:
You could use an average street width of 50 feet, since most streets are local streets which are 30-40 feet wide. 50 X 6500(centerline miles of street) X 5280(number to translate miles to feet) = 1,716,000,000 square feet of pavement. 350 miles of bike lanes with an average bike lane width of 5 feet would result in 350 (miles of bike lanes, is actually a little high) X 5280 X 5 X 2 = 18,480,000 square feet reserved for bikes within the roadway. 1%
For better or worse, there is no war on cars. Nobody is trying to drag anyone kicking and screaming from their vehicles to force them into spandex. Everyone calm down.

Editor’s note – I totally stole this idea from Streetsblog NYC.

Argument 2: Bicycles don’t pay their fare share

Did you know that the bicycle infrastructure being created in Los Angeles is paid for by .2% of Measure R, and state grants? Did you know the funding for these programs is primarily sales taxes? Did you know bicyclists buy stuff? Ok then.

Argument 3: “Bicyclists Are a Menace”

This is the hardest argument to counter, because much like “pedestrians are getting in my way”, the argument is based mostly on anecdotal information and personal experience. As I discussed on the Los Angeles Times, the sad reality is that most road users violate the law on a regular basis. If you don’t believe me, just hang out at any street corner with a traffic light and hang out for a little while.
The key to getting an a righteuous holiday guest to abandon this argument relies on arguing the above point, but closing with this line.

“But that doesn’t mean everyone in a car is a threat, no more than you should believe everyone on a bicycle is a menace. I won’t prejudge you if you don’t prejudge me.”

Besides, judging someone based on the actions of others is sort of the opposite of the holiday spirit.

Chicago’s ‘Smart Card’ Debacle and Privatisation


By Rick Perlstein, December 10, 2013

CTA map

 A Chicago Transit Authority route map of the Loop neighborhoo.

This is part one of a series on the perils of privatization. Check back soon for the next installment.
Riding the buses in Chicago has been awfully fun this busy Christmas Season. Half the time, it’s been free.

This fall, you see, after a series of delays, the city brought online a new fare payment system called “Ventra” in which customers tap “smart cards” against electronic readers at bus entrances and train station turnstiles. Only it turns out these cards are not so smart. Half the time, tap after tap after tap, the damned things don’t work, and the bus driver just exasperatedly waves you through. Although it hasn’t been as much fun for the passengers who exited the bus through the front door and discovered that, if their purses or backpacks brushed too close to the reader, they were charged twice. Or for a guy named Al Stern who became a local celebrity after receiving an e-mail on Friday, September 6, informing him he’d be receiving a Ventra card in the mail soon to replace his “Chicago Card,” which was the previous prepayment system (which worked fine). Four minutes later he got the same e-mail, then four minutes after that, then four minutes again after that, and so on and so forth all the way until the next morning. Twenty-four days later he arrived home to a pile of 91 envelopes shoved through his mail slot, each holding a Ventra card; the next day, 176 more arrived, each one, he later discovered, canceling the last. “You have to call and activate it,” he told Crain’s Chicago Business, “but I’ve been afraid to do that.”

The goofs accelerated, like Lucille Ball working at the assembly line, or Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times. At the end of November federal workers discovered they could “pay” fares by scanning their employee IDs. (“Please be advised that intentional misuse of federal credentials is prohibited,” the local EPA office wrote employees.) Other customers reported being double-, triple- or even quadruple-billed. At the end of October the Chicago Tribune reported, “CTA employees are being ‘verbally attacked daily by angry riders’ who are blaming them for problems with the new transit-fare payment system”; their union called on the Chicago Transit Authority to scrap Ventra until the bugs were worked out. The city started charging the vendor for the proliferating lost revenue, while that vendor kept promising serial “software fixes” that never seemed to do anything but introduce novel problems. At the end of November came news that when people tapped their wallets, like they used to do without problem with their old Chicago Cards, random credit or debit cards were charged. Then, last week, the “CTA: Ventra Glitches Mostly Gone But Delays Remain.” Rush-hour outages began, and some buses stopping accepting fares altogether. That came two days after the headline, ""CTA: Ventra glitches mostly gone but delays remain."

It’s been our own municipal version of the Obamacare rollout—which means everyone should pay attention. For the root problem is exactly the same. Congressman Henry Waxman argued about glitches in the ACA, “if anybody’s head should roll, it should be the contractors who didn’t live up to their contractual responsibility.” But that’s only half right. Consider the sign Harry Truman used to keep on his Oval Office desk: “The buck stops here.” The problem is not just the profusion of private contractors who do the public’s business so poorly; it’s the fact that the public’s business is being so relentlessly privatized by the government executives in charge. Slowly, the perceived imperative to privatize has become the political tail that wags the policy dog. The results are before us.

Why, indeed, was this massive change in how Chicagoans pay for their bus and train fares initiated in the first place? “What was wrong with the old system? It worked fine,” ran the first comment on the Chicago Tribune’s article on all the abuse the poor bus drivers are facing from frustrated customers. Ran the second, “I have never even heard a compelling argument as to WHY we needed a new system to begin with.”

Well, my friends, here’s your compelling argument: under the old system, rich investors didn’t get a piece of the action. Under this one, they most decidedly do.

The contract to replace Chicago’s fare payment system was awarded to the publicly traded corporation Cubic in 2011 by the previous mayor, Richard M. Daley, for $454 million, and implemented with alacrity by the current mayor Rahm Emanuel. I’ll have much more to say about this company and its many dubious works in the next part of this series. For now, consider this. In a separate part of the project, Chicagoans are offered the following opportunity, as advertised on the back of their Ventra cards: “Go beyond transit. Call or go online to activate your Money Network® MasterCard® Prepaid Debit Account and use your Ventra Card for purchases, direct deposit, bill pay, and at ATMs.” This is how the City of Chicago intended to turn its millions of captive citizens over to the commercial banking industry: hoovering spare change from the pockets of Chicago’s marginal communities into corporate America’s overstuffed coffers.

Chicagoans who choose to turn bus cards into bank cards will be socked with hidden fees: $1.50 every time they withdraw cash using your bus-card-cum-bank-card from an ATM,$2.95 every time they add money using a personal credit card. Two dollars for every phone call with a service representative (or, oops, each “Operator Assisted Telephone Inquiry”). Two bucks for a paper copy of their account. An “account research fee” of $10 an hour.

At which point, learning about all that, they might cry, Help! Let me out of this “deal”! Well, that’ll cost them $6—a “balance refund fee.”

Now, turning your bus card into a bank card is optional—a program supposedly intended to help Chicago’s underbanked poor. I liked this observation, however, from a Tribune article last March: “It may be a tough sell, some experts said. Many low-income individuals are cash-centric in their spending habits because they are wise to the way of credit-card charges.” But not to fear, if you’re a Master of the Universe investing in one of the participating multinational banking concerns—Mastercard, First Data, or MetaBank—backing the play. Even though Chicago’s impoverished might not make ready marks for the scam, Chicagoans who don’t choose the banking option will suffer hidden charges. There is, for instance, a $7 “dormancy” fee if you don’t use your transit card for eighteen months, with another $5 charge tacked on for every dormant month after that.

Note that I said hidden fees. How hidden? Well, the only reasons Chicagoans learned about them was that the Chicago Tribune pored through over 1,000 pages of legal boilerplate (for more on how impossibly complex user contracts rip off consumers generally see my reporting here) and discovered them.

The reporters at the local CBS affiliate, meanwhile, reported that First Data got an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau, with ninety-seven complaints filed against it over the past three years. MetaBank was recently ordered to pay $5.2 million by federal regulators for another public/private hustle, a now-discontinued program of issuing debit cards funded by tax refund loans at interest rates between 120 and 650 percent with a fee of $2.50 per $20 loaned.

The Trib noted, “Neither the CTA nor Cubic…nor MasterCard; nor MetaBank; nor First Data, which will issue the prepaid debit accounts, have disclosed the extra charges or how consumers can avoid them.” The city promised, though, that a “CTA public education campaign on all aspects of the Ventra card, including the fees, will start soon.” I must have missed it. Another fee which all transit users will have to bend over backward to dodge is the $5 it costs to get a transit card in the first place. That $5 is supposed to be refunded if you register your card online or by phone. I didn’t learn about that until I began researching this piece, though I was unable to make the site work on my decrepit old computer. Then they decided to waive the $5 fee, but only if you buy your card via phone or online, not at vending machines—which sort of compounds the insult against less-savvy customers or those with decrepit computers, doesn’t it?

Now, you might think poorer Chicagoans without even decrepit old computers should be able to hobble along paying for their fares like they always have, in cash. But single-ride tickets are going to be $3, instead of the normal $2.25—with what the CTA calls a seventy-five-cent “convenience fee” tacked on.

Chicagoans, these are the business partners your city has chosen. And this is the man in charge of protecting you from them: Forest Claypool, president of the Chicago Transit Authority. Some protector. Claypool wrote that “the ‘convenience fee’ covers the cost of producing the disposable tickets and is ‘entirely avoidable to any and every customer’ so long as they purchase and register Ventra cards.’” But as I noted above, poor people tend to use cash because they don’t trust cards—reasonably enough. But the black-hearted bureaucrat “bristled at the characterization by many critics that cash-payers are being penalized…’There is no $3 cash fare,’ he said. ‘The $3 is if a person chooses a disposable, one-ride ticket. It has nothing to do with cash.’ ”

The editors of Crain’s Chicago Business, no Bolsheviks they, disagree with his blithe assessment. They say “the embedded fees could prey upon the least financially savvy among us, those for whom a $5 charge here and a $7 fee there add up to real money… They rely on people’s ignorance to take in money. And that’s not the kind of business our public servants ought to be in.”

So, so naïve, Crain’s Chicago Business. That’s precisely the business our public servants want to be in—“public” servants like Mayor Emanuel. As Chicago anti-privatization activist Tom Tresser explained to me last summer, “We have a massive global movement of capital which, because they’ve burned their own fucking houses down through their own greed, don’t have the gilt returns that they’re used to receiving…. So the new guaranteed annual returns that big business and big capital are looking for is our assets.”

Next time, I’ll focus on the particular big business behind the fare collection system in Chicago—and in Sydney, Vancouver and London, too. I guarantee it will be eye-opening.

4.4 miles of new carpool lanes officially opened on 10 freeway between 605 and Puente Ave.


By Steve Hymon, December 19, 2013

Caltrans and Metro on Thursday morning officially dedicated 2.2 miles of HOV lanes in both directions on the 10 freeway between the 605 freeway and Puente Avenue in Baldwin Park.
The lanes cost $180 million.

“As the transportation funding authority for Los Angeles County, Metro programmed $192 million for completion of this first of three segments of the I-10 carpool lanes,” said Diane DuBois, the chair of Metro’s Board of Directors. “We are pleased Caltrans delivered this project under the programmed budget. Metro also has programmed the funds for the remaining two HOV lane segments for a total of $560 million.

The project is the first of three segments that will provide one continuous carpool lane on the 10 freeway between downtown Los Angeles and the boundary with San Bernardino County.
Here is the most recent version of Caltrans’ map showing HOV lanes in Los Angeles County:
LA County HOV System Status 09_2012

Moscow's 'Sexy' New Subway Stations


By Mark Byrnes, December 20, 2013

The world may imagine Moscow's subway system as Stalin's luxurious gift to the proletariat. But the architect for the under-construction Kozhuhovskaya line says many of the expansions since Stalin's death amount to a "mishmash" that "is just awful." So he designed a series of incredibly stylish stations that intensely fashionable Muscovites will love.

Alexander Vigdorov recently explained the idea behind his new station designs to Russian magazine Afish (Google Translate works pretty well for this site). The designs combine a love for technology, opulence, and art deco interiors. And models.

"Kosino" station

Moscow's transit system carries more than six million riders a day and a higher-than-usual amount of stray dog. But Vigdorov's snazzy renderings make the new station platforms look more like catwalks with carefully placed models (they only pose like that when they're working, right?).

Each station will have a slightly different design because, as Vigdoro tells Afish, he wants commuters to instinctively know where they are as soon as the doors open.

By the end of 2015, Moscow Metro should have a completed Kozhuhovskaya line, giving commuters more chances to avoid the city's horrendous traffic jams and erratic drivers.

"Saltykovskaya Ulitsa" station
"Nekrasovka" station
"Ferganskaya" station
"Okskaya Ulitsa" station
"Stakhanovskaya" station
"Nizhegorodskaya Ulitsa" station
"Aviamotornaya" station

California High-Speed Rail: Revolution, Evolution or Devolution?


By Ken Alpern, December 20, 2013


ALPERN AT LARGE-Whether it's a Sacramento County Superior Court judge, a growing number of former high-speed rail supporters, a wizened old lib journalist, a growing legion of those anticipating the Expo Line, or a family struggling to get to their jobs and school via our Metro bus system, the need for "Hope and Change" for California High-Speed Rail has never been greater. 

Hope in that a statewide system can someday be implemented, and change in that it can be done legally and sustainably. 

Hope in that we can focus and expand on what works, and change in that it can be done in the right order, and in a manner that adheres to the paradigm of "The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good". 
Certainly, Governor Jerry Brown, who is truly a visionary, can implement his approach in a top-down, change-the-rules-when-it-serves-his-cause-and-don't-let-the-law-get-in-your-way, easier-to-ask-for-forgiveness-than-for-permission, bait-and-switch approach that President Obama has done with the Affordable Care Act.  

Or that former President George W. Bush did with justifying going into, and then taking over and operating the government, of Iraq for the better part of a decade. 

Ram it through, make a few true believers happy, and infuriate the majority who rightfully feel betrayed...but their children and grandchildren will thank them, right?  

Just like Social Security and the Interstate Highway System, right?

Well...no...not really.  The perception of a bait-and-switch never hit Social Security and the Interstate Highway System like we're seeing with the California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) Initiative, a project for which many (like me) did and still do promote in theory, and for which they voted, but now have strong concerns and a desire to alter the project in a manner more sensitive to our true transportation needs and taxpayers' rights. 

George Skelton of the LA Times, hardly a conservative anti-rail fanatic, was entirely correct in promoting that Californians deserve to know how the bullet train will be financed.  He quoted the CAHSR Authority chairman, Dan Richard, as acknowledging the voters would never ask for more money at this time ... 

... and Skelton also acknowledged, as Governor Brown must know, that polls show the voters would derail this project if they could.  We're less than a fourth of the way to having this project funded, and it's really only the first portion of the statewide system truly needed to work well. 

My CityWatch contributing colleague, Paul Hatfield, also emphasized and summarized these points in a recent article that underlines what so many of us are thinking--one can be pro-transportation, and pro-high-speed rail, and wonder if THIS project is viable...or is being built in the right order, or with the right expectations. 

The need to escape the giddy atmosphere of the past, and to "smell the coffee" and focus on the realistic future, has never been greater.  The adherence to issues long-dead, particularly how to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco via a train as fast as a plane, needs to end.  It's tunnel vision...train-tunnel vision. 

Kind of like how some folks still opine (and whine) about how the right route of the CAHSR project should have been routed via the Altamont Pass instead of the Pacheco Pass, when it's a dead issue and entirely irrelevant to the immediate problem.

I doubt I'm the only one sick of hearing about Altamont vs. Pacheco, and the "Aaaaaltamont, Aaaaaaaltamont, Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaltamont!" screams ignore the other, more urgent needs of the transit-riding (and wannabe transit-riding) communities. 

First, Expo Line ridership is higher than ever, with beneficial real estate, commercial and environmental impacts already present and likely to grow more than the doubters ever could imagine ...but not more than those of advocates who predicted such a phenomenon--after all, it parallels the busy I-10 freeway, right? 

Second, LA Metro bus riders already have a need for improved service, and they need to know that $60-100 billion or more won't be spent on the CAHSR project before they have their own miserable, long, inefficient commutes addressed.  Steve Lopez' column on a family utilizing the Metro bus system indirectly points out a question: 

Would this family benefit more from rail projects like the Expo Line, or a rail connection to LAX, or the CAHSR Project? 

So shall the CAHSR Project--which has a few smart ideas like rail improvements that would make a big difference to the Amtrak, Caltrain and Metrolink systems--emulate the light rail revolutions of the Expo and Gold Lines, or will it evolve into something more workable, or will it devolve into a debacle and/or destroy the desire to build more rail projects where they are needed, viable and useful? 

Certainly, it's OK to admire the Governor for his initiative...but his lack of flexibility and courage makes that admiration harder to sustain.  While the hybrid CAHSR project we now have is much, much closer to a project that is more realistic than that presented to the voters, it is still a project that is illegal with respect to the rules and laws in which it was passed, and which will leave it unfundable (and, ergo, unbuildable). 

There's nothing wrong with sitting down with voters--and sooner, not later, while there's still a glimmer of hope that high-speed rail will lose sympathy altogether--and asking what can be done with rail connections and expansions throughout the state.  

There's also nothing wrong with the Governor proclaiming, "Here is my vision, and here is my map.  Perhaps we're doing this in the wrong order, and with higher speeds and expectations than can be realistically done, but it's time for a change that will alter but not scrap this excellent rail infrastructure blueprint for the 21st Century." 

Asking the voters to come up with a list of popular rail projects (the Amtrak, Caltrain and Metrolink betterments of the CAHSR project, money to connect our airports with our rail system, and upgrading popular Amtrak routes to prepare for a higher-speed rail network than what we now have) that will cost $10-15 billion but which will halt an increasingly unpopular CAHSR project, is true courage and true vision. 

Such a measure, that would presage a higher-speed rail to emphasize local networks in Northern, Central and Southern California, but not a direct competition with air travel between L.A. and S.F. (a stupid, illogical and absolutely untrue paradigm to sell the CAHSR project if ever there was one), would work well, and which would improve our current obsolete system in a manner that would work well with the voters .
... but without all the lawsuits and betrayed voters. 

Such a measure would promote good, but not bad revolutions.  It would encourage the evolution that makes financial and environmental sense.  And it would not create a devolution where growing swaths of the voters learned to distrust anything that rail and other transportation advocates had to say. 

It's a painful, but mature choice that needs to be made by a courageous, experience and mature man. 

Let's just hope that that man is Governor Jerry Brown.

Study boosts L.A. light rail, but not all will get aboard: Opinion


By Kevin Modesti, December 19, 2013

A much-publicized study about the commuting habits of people who live near a new L.A. light-rail line has confirmed the assumptions of mass-transit proponents.

It would be even more valuable if it swayed mass-transit skeptics. But the new data may not change the impression that Los Angeles’ growing light-rail and subway system is useful to few residents. Namely, those who have to travel from and to places that happen to be along the lines.

The University of Southern California study monitored the travel of 103 households within one-half mile of six stations along the Expo Line, which runs 8.7 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. Researchers showed that after the line opened in 2012, those residents reduced their driving by an average of 10 to 12 miles a day, or about 40 percent. The residents also walked more, presumably to and from the train.

That suggests Metro Rail’s four light-rail lines — and plans for more — are good for vehicle traffic, for the environment and for people’s fitness. It suggests Angelenos will use mass transit if it’s available. And it might suggest the city should spend more public money on more public transportation.

Not so fast, said Adrian Moore, vice president of policy and an expert on transportation issues for the libertarian Reason Foundation. When we phoned him this morning to get a less-often-heard point of view, Moore said the USC research is credible but doesn’t eliminate some important issues.

The problem remains, Moore said: “We’ve spent incredible amounts of money to change the behavior of very few people.” Thirty percent to 40 percent of the L.A. region’s spending on transportation goes to public transit that serves less than 1 percent of the population.

 Moore’s other big question: Were the residents whose transit habits changed after the Expo Line opened just average Angelenos — or “the sorts of people who are going to take light rail”? (Note the lead anecdote in a Los Angeles Times article about the study.)

Moore said the issue isn’t whether people will use nearby light rail. It’s whether L.A. can install enough light rail to serve enough people.

“We don’t oppose transit spending,” Moore said. “We just oppose dumb transit spending.”

Light-rail proponents will need more than this study to win over those who say that in a city built around cars, trains are not the way to go.

Congestion Charging on the Horizon for China’s Cities


By Charles Komanoff, December 18, 2013


 Photo of Shanghai traffic

Which Chinese city will be the first to try congestion pricing? Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai — megacities whose populations are on the scale of New York’s? Or second-tier but still mighty cities (think Chicago) like Hangzhou, Nanjing, or Xi’an?

Road tolling à la American turnpikes and thruways is already extensive in China, as a means to finance highways rather than manage traffic. Increasingly, however, with traffic and vehicle exhaust demonstrably harming business as well as human health in dozens of cities, and with strategies like quotas on new vehicles unable to offset the growth in driving, officials are looking to “economic measures.” Tolling vehicle entries to congested city centers has established a strong enough track record elsewhere in improving traffic flow and air quality that it is attracting interest not just from municipal officials but also from China’s national transport and environment ministries.

Cordon or congestion pricing, as such tolling is called, was Topic “A” last week in Hangzhou, a city of nearly 4 million (6 million counting suburbs) south of Shanghai. Some 200 officials and academics from 11 provinces, 30 cities, and at least a dozen universities packed a two-day “International Forum on Economic Policies for Traffic Congestion and Tailpipe Emissions” organized by the Energy Foundation China. Representatives from the four largest world cities with cordon tolling — Singapore, London, Stockholm and Milan — related their successes and fielded questions on everything from the digital nuts and bolts of tolling technologies to the political path that led to implementation. I was invited to report on NYC’s mixed record and share analytical insights from my traffic modeling work.

I’m still sifting impressions, but here are some takeaways thus far:
  • The biggest driver of China’s interest in congestion pricing is air pollution, with gridlock, which is spreading to more hours and more areas in every city, a close second. “Congestion and ‘smogs’ have become major concerns of the public and major bottlenecks for urban development,” summed up one high-ranking official.
  • Revenue generation for public transport — a huge motivator for tolling vehicle trips into the Manhattan Central Business District — is downplayed as a rationale for congestion pricing, perhaps because Chinese drivers already pay road tolls. Revenue may become politically salient, however, as dwindling revenues from sales of land force municipalities to come up with other ways to finance transit lines.
  • The economist’s paradigm of “congestion causation” (the aggregate delay to other road users caused by each additional car trip to the CBD) has barely surfaced in transportation planning and the design of road pricing instruments in China, yet it seems an important metric for screening candidate cities for congestion pricing.

  • Ditto for each additional trip’s “emissions causation.” At the forum, at least one environmental official had a “Eureka!” moment when it was explained that vehicles touted as “low-emission” might not be, if their use slows down enough other vehicles to raise their per-mile emissions across a large area.
  • Bicycles, having literally been pushed aside in the rush to motorization, are now at least receiving lip service. A number of Chinese speakers extolled urban cycling’s spatial economy, physical activity, and “last mile” problem-solving, and much was made of the massive scale of Hangzhou’s bike-share system: 2,700 stations with nearly 70,000 bikes — an order of magnitude larger than New York City’s.
The discussion was grounded in the experiences of Europe and Singapore. What especially resonated with the Chinese delegates was London’s provision of many new bus lines before the toll scheme was rolled out; Stockholm’s referendum win after congestion pricing had been proven on a trial basis; Milan’s transition from a pollution-based to a congestion-based charge, as vehicle turnover moved the mix from old, polluting tailpipes to cleaner ones, and traffic efficiency began to have equal priority with air quality; and Singapore’s “dynamic” pricing adjusting the toll level to the gridlock level. If there was one strong single lesson, it was that both the political sell and the toll design must be geared to each city’s circumstances.

What’s next?

For China, there are stirrings that congestion pricing may get a serious hearing at the National People’s Congress in March, 2014, possibly leading to designation of one or more cities for pilot projects. For New York City, there’s the Move NY/Sam Schwartz plan to overhaul the city’s tolling system and charge vehicle entries to the Manhattan CBD while reducing rates on the seven MTA bridges that don’t funnel traffic into the urban core.

Given NYC’s iconic status in the world, it would be potentially game-changing on a global scale to be able to showcase New York in China as a leader in “economic policies for traffic congestion and tailpipe emissions.”

Seattle’s Uber Crackdown Would Protect Taxi Industry, Hurt Riders


By Angie Schmitt, December 19, 2013

The Seattle City Council is poised to pass some legislation that would crack down on popular ridesharing services like Lyft and UberX.

Ridersharing service Uber has cut into Taxis business in part by providing better service. Will Seattle turn back the clock? Image: ##http://blog.friendseat.com/uber-ice-cream-delivery/## Friendseat##
Will Seattle turn back the clock on ridesharing services like Uber? 

In an apparent attempt to protect the city’s taxi industry, the new rules would limit ridesharing companies to 100 drivers and limit driver hours to 16 per week. Lyft officials have said it could force them out of business.

Erica C. Barnett at PubliCola says the City Council, if they bow to the will of the taxi industry, won’t be doing riders any favors:
Outdated business models are the reason disruptive technologies come into being, and the taxi industry is no exception. Simply put, taxi companies offer an inferior service at a similar price to companies like Lyft and UberX, and have been unwilling to adopt basic, 21st century innovations like online reservations and real-time arrival info. Instead, taxi customers must call a dispatcher, wait on hold, and then wait some more (“10 to 15 minutes” is a typical estimate, but its accuracy depends on whether there’s actually a cab nearby and whether the dispatched cab shows up or decides to pick up another fare) before the cab arrives.

According to a recent city survey, nearly half of respondents ranked taxi response times as “very poor,” “poor,” or “neutral.” In contrast, nearly 95 percent of ridesharing clients ranked drivers’ response times as “very good” or “good.” Overall, the study concluded, “For an industry catering to the general public, these responses signify an inability of the service provider to attract and maintain their institutional market.”

People like ridesharing because it’s convenient, because it’s usually cheaper than taking a cab, and because they’re fed up with lousy taxi service. (Not one person who has testified at the many council meetings on this issue so far has claimed about the quality or safety of ridesharing services. The same cannot be said of cab companies.) So why is the city trying to put them out of business?
Elsewhere on the Network today: The Wash Cycle writes that some DC churches are opposing a bike lane on 6th Street to preserve free parking. The Chicago Bicycle Advocate says that safety efforts encouraging the use of bike helmets become harmful when they suggest people without helmets are irresponsible. And the Architect’s Newspaper describes San Diego’s plans to overcome the barriers to Balboa Park created by a highway.

Will This Tiny Tool Stop Teens From Texting While Driving?


By Mike Riggs, December 20, 2013

 Will This Tiny Tool Stop Teens From Texting While Driving?

American teenagers aren't as obsessed with driving as they used to be, but the ones who do get behind the wheel are still far more dangerous than older drivers. Youngsters between 16 and 19 drive too fast and brake too late. They are especially bad at driving drunk. They also play with their phones too much, which is what prompted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to approve a plan to reduce texting while driving.

On Wednesday, Cuomo signed off on Esurance's plan to offer a device called DriveSafe free to all Esurance customers. While there's no shortage of apps that can disable a driver's smart phone (the military and even churches have been jamming cell phone signals for a while now), DriveSafe is a next-level cell phone blocking device, and then some.

The DriveSafe device can be inserted into the onboard diagnostics port of any non-hybrid/electric car made after 1996. The device communicates via Bluetooth with the Esurance smart phone app.

Parents can then fine-tune what their kids' phones can do. "Customize block lists so they can't tweet but can still access navigation apps and receive calls from you," Esurance suggests. Or simply disable texting. Parents can literally do anything they want. Regardless of what parents do, the phones will still be able to call 911.

The device not only limits cell phone use, it also tracks every aspect of a teen's drive: how fast they went, how quickly they accelerated, how hard they braked, and where they went. It's basically the one telematics device to rule them all.

After a teen has gone for a drive, parents receive a message like this one:

And what if "Bradford" tries to remove this device from the car? Mother and father get a little note alerting them that Bradford has been bad. Parental spying just got a whole lot easier. Not an Esurance customer? Electronics company Schoche makes a device called Cell Control that can do a lot of the same things.

Teens, get used to it. This is America; someone is going to be spying on you for the rest of your life.