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 30, 2013

LA Transportation: Top 10 Hopes for 2014


By Ken Alpern, December 31, 2013


GETTING THERE FROM HERE-The year of 2013 was a year of transition for transportation (say THAT three times fast!), and city, state and county transportation officials alike had to regroup after losing Measure J by a tantalizing hairbreadth.  Yet in LA County we’ve seen an extraordinary explosion of progress on current and future rail and road projects that bode well for an exciting new year. 
Here are my Top Ten Hopes for Transportation in 2014: 

1) Keep the promise of Measure R alive, despite the near-passage of Measure J.   

Whether it's a reduction of the threshold from 67% to 55%, and/or a better definition and inclusion of all countywide transportation projects, a desire to improve transportation remains strong in our county, as it probably does throughout the nation.  Transportation promotes mobility, mobility implies economic strength and mobility, and mobility implies freedom...and what's more American than freedom? 

Yet as the first phase of the Expo Line enjoys ridership goals well in advance of prior predictions, and as the second phase of the Expo Line and the Foothill Gold Line move forward, the desire to have other regional rail projects--and, yes, of course, freeway and road projects--will only increase in years to come...and will need funding. 

2) Promoting the narrative of Measure J that it nearly passed, and not that it failed, is the correct narrative for our cities and county to promote.    

We need to pass a constitutional amendment to allow transportation measures the benefit of a more reasonable voter threshold needed to pass by a will of the majority—if a supermajority of the voters at either 55% or 60% was necessary, Measure J would still have passed. 

Yet more taxes won't get the job done with voters, who are still hurting with other taxes, personal bills and (now) required health care insurance.  As with the California High Speed Rail (CAHSR) Initiative, which is so frighteningly underfunded and afoul of the law, the credibility issue is one that MUST be confronted.  

(Ditto, by the way, for education advocates who have to confront the implications of the expensive, inappropriate $1 billion iPad purchase of the LAUSD from facility-assigned funds.  Credibility problems in education spending?  Sure!) 

3) We need a new Measure J with more clearly-defined goals than merely expediting those projects already approved by passage of Measure R. 

Despite the constant focus on rail projects, we need freeway and road expansions and repairs aplenty.  We are overdue for a widening of the I-5 between the 710 and 605 freeways, and a host of improvements to those freeways in the eastern, northern and southern periphery of our county, and ditto for a major renovation of the major roads throughout the City and County of LA. 

Measure R only provided seed money for a north-south Westside/San Fernando Valley transit project and the LAX Metro Airport Connector.  A rail project (ideally underground) for Westside/Valley commuters to cross the Sepulveda Pass in less than 10 minutes, a MetroRail project connected to the LAX central terminals, and a connection of the Green Line to Metrolink at or near Norwalk, are as long overdue as the Wilshire Subway. 

Yet the BIG ONE for promoting a new sales tax project, such as that now being considered by Metro, is the aforementioned LAX Metro Airport Connector.  

Regional differences and priorities separate the City of LA from outlying areas such as the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys and the South Bay, but virtually all parties will agree on the need to connect LAX with Metro's rail system.  Probably the other Metro project needing more expedited funding is the Downtown Light Rail Connector that is also a project that would affect virtually the entire county. 

4) Promotion of those “best practices” in communication and operations by the contractors building Phase 2 of the Expo Line and the Sepulveda Pass I-405 Widening project are necessary to show that the taxpayers’ money actually CAN be spent well.  

Anyone on the e-mail lists for the Expo Line or I-405 improvement projects know how first-rate the communications are for road closures and other impacts.  Furthermore, these projects are proceeding fairly well, despite the daunting utility, engineering and legal challenges that must be overcome. 

Whether it’s fixing the screw-ups of previous contractors for either the Expo Line or past freeway projects, Metro has demonstrated it can do a great job building important projects with quality contractors.  Voters have always wanted that good government, and Metro’s credibility, needs to be enhanced whenever possible. 

5) Washington, DC and Sacramento need to be better and more reliable partners with LA City and County for transportation than in the past. 
Maybe it’s a new promise and/or reconfiguration of the federal and state budgets to ensure proper funding of transportation and infrastructure, and maybe it’s our federal and state governments learning what cities and counties really need for transportation and other infrastructure, but it’s not fair for LA County to do it all on its own.  

LA County residents' taxes to Sacramento and Washington are NOT being spent well! 

There are certain key freeways (like the I-5), certain rail projects (like the Wilshire Subway, the Downtown Light Rail Connector and the LAX/MetroRail Connector) and certain freight rail betterments (like the Alameda Corridor East) that, if funded by the state or federal governments, would restore a great deal of local voter/taxpayer confidence as well as beef up both the local and national economies. 

And despite the problems with the CAHSR Project, the associated improvements to Union Station, as well as to Amtrak, Caltrain and Metrolink have proponents throughout the political spectrum.  If the CAHSR is altered, cut or dramatically redesigned, those improvements do NOT have to be lost altogether--the CAHSR experience has taught Californians a lot, and it is not a bad idea to build projects that DO have universal political support. 

6) Expedite the Downtown Light Rail Connector and other major rail projects with an array of new initiatives to unite Metro with the business community as major urban/economic renewal projects. 

There is still an ongoing controversy between Metro and the Downtown LA business community as to whether or not this Downtown rail subway project can entirely be performed with a deep boring machine.  The possibility that it can it be excavated manually, as was done with certain portions of the Pasadena Gold Line, needs to be explored as well.  The rewards are too great to ignore. 

Linking MetroRail stations with businesses creates both a “sense of place” and economic empowerment which most still don’t yet appreciate.  Universal Studios paid a huge price for not linking with the Red Line Subway, but North Hollywood has benefited from its association with the Red Line, and provides a model for the rest of LA County to emulate.  

Connections and parking (for cars, bicycles and buses) are needed to make transit work, and there's just not enough of it being created.  The Downtown Projects, the Westside Casden Sepulveda Project and the Century City JMB Project are all too heavy on legal headfakes and cheating, and all too light on actual mitigation with respect to transportation and other infrastructure obligations. 

7) Building all bus/rail stations with appropriate transit, carpool, bicycle and pedestrian amenities, and not "cheaping out" on the parking or sidewalk repairs, remains elusive. 

This is a repeat from last year's list:  Na├»ve or dogmatic City and County planners and politicians must stop shortchanging those taxpaying commuters who need a car or bike to commute to transit stations, and must start demanding government and developers cough up the dough to fund the parking structures, bike lanes, bus/rail connectors and sidewalks. 

Repeat after me, my theologically-obsessed anti-parking friends:  parking structures and lots get cars off the street, parking structures and lots get cars off the street, parking structures and lots get cars off the street…and you can kiss taxpayer support for a L.A. City road repair project GOODBYE unless you start demanding developers pay their fair share to repair our streets and sidewalks. 
(Note Bene:  Paying off LA City Councilmembers' political expenses is NOT the same as transportation mitigation funding!) 

And while we’re at it, let’s expedite the fixing of our City sidewalk and alleyway network, and create a DASH/vanpool network like many other cities in California.  This isn't rocket science, folks...just common sense. 

8) Can we finally achieve an appropriate and pragmatic definition of "affordable housing" and "transit-oriented development" to avoid promoting overdevelopment that isn’t helpful for either Endeavour? 

Will planned transit-ADJACENT projects be truly “transit-oriented” to benefit their neighborhoods, or will they transform these neighborhoods into car-laden, traffic-jammed hellholes?  Where are the freeway, road, transit and pedestrian mitigations…and if they’re not there, then why are transit-adjacent-but-not-truly-oriented projects moving through the City Planning process at all?   
Can we finally acknowledge that housing endeavors that appeal specifically to transit users are truly limited to: 

1) Senior affordable housing,

2) Student affordable housing, and

3) Commercial affordable housing (workers who are verified to work and live near a transit station?)   
9) For those of us not living next to a transit station, can we start rewarding telecommuting in the City and County of Los Angeles with tax and other incentives?   

Telecommuting has its problems, but it's something more and more individuals are doing, and it's something that is both environmentally-friendly and family-friendly, to say nothing of consistent with our burgeoning global economy.  This behavior really helps keep cars off the roads while strengthening our modern economy. 

10) We need a Mayor, City Council, City Controller and City Attorney who will actually do the job that they were elected to do.   

Since transportation-related and urban planning-related issues remain high priorities in the minds of voting Angelenos, the right leadership to fight for the planning, funding, budgeting and legal implementation of these priorities is the most important transportation-related hope of all in 2014. 

There is NO DOUBT IN MY MIND that Mayor Garcetti, Controller Galperin and City Attorney Mike Feuer (who wrote Measure R) are smarter and are the beneficiaries of "lessons learned" from their predecessors...who had a few victories deserving of praise but also promoted an atmosphere of corruption and incompetence at City Hall. 

While I have some very strong concerns about some of the City Council, I've no doubt that individuals such as Mike Bonin and Paul Krekorian will lead the City Council and Metro to do amazing and overdue makeovers and political successes to benefit the City.  

There will be NO L.A. City Sales Tax, Parcel Tax (or other tax) For Roads unless we have enhanced credibility and efficiency from City Hall...and it's uncertain as to what sort of tax, or if a tax is needed at all, at this immediate time. 

Angelenos are NOT anti-tax, but they ARE anti-waste, anti-fraud, and anti-incompetence.  We've got an infrastructure and economy to repair, folks, and that can't occur without wise, savvy, bold and empathetic leadership. 

I wish all of Los Angeles a happier commute, and a Healthy and Happy New Year in 2014!

City cycling 'could do damage to heart' due to polluting chemicals, new research claims

Cycling in heavy pollution could affect heart's ability to respond to different levels of exertion, say Dublin scientists


By Sarah Barth, December 29, 2013

 Cyclists at traffic lights

Cycling in cities could do more damage than good to a rider’s heart due to dangerous pollutants in the air, a new study based on cycling in Dublin has found. 

The Dublin study is not the first to suggest that air pollution in cities may pose a health risk to cyclists back in 2011 we reported on a study conducted by Proffessor John Grigg for Barts and The London School of Medicine which found that London cyclists inhaled 2.3 times more black carbon than pedestrians. That same year a study in Ottowa suggested that cyclists could experience short term heart irregularities in urban cyclists exposed to high levels of pollution.

The problem for cyclists is that when they exert themselves breathe more heavily than pedestrians, meaning their exposure to miniscule particles of polluting chemicals is increased.

The Scientists who have studied cyclists in Dublin say that these chemicals reduce the ability of the heart to respond to different rates of exertion (a similar finding to the 2011 Ottowa study).
They noted that: “These [findings] indicate that exercise while commuting has an influence on inhaled particulate matter, associated with acute declines in heart rate variability, especially in pedestrians and cyclists.”

As well as exhaust fumes, studies have shown that vehicle brakes and tyres also generate potentially dangerous particles, which can penetrate the lungs due to their tiny size and work their way into the bloodstream.

 The Dublin study of 32 fit healthy cyclists was led by Marguerite Nyhan of Trinity College Dublin, who advised riders to choose relatively traffic-free routes for their health.

A spokesman for Sustrans, a charity that campaigns for cycling and walking, said: “Air pollution is a concern and Sustrans is calling on the government to ban unfiltered diesel vehicles from Britain’s cities. However, the benefits of cycling and walking far outweigh the health risks.”

Professor Ross Anderson of the government’s advisory committee on the medical effects of air pollutants told the Sunday Times (£): “While the health benefits of cycling are likely to be beneficial, the balancing of risks is problematic. Other epidemiological evidence suggests that traffic pollution has lasting health effects.”

While any exposure to pollution is unlikely to be a good thing it it worth noting that the studies from Dublin, London, and Ottowa were based on a small sample sizes - 32 in Dublin, 42 in Ottowa. it's also worth noting that accordint to a  Danish study car occupants are most at risk of inhaling harmful traffic pollution being exposed to up to four times the levels of pollutants that cyclists are.

Currently the best advice for urban cyclists who want to reduce their exposure to harmful pollutants is to opt for quieter routes on less busy roads. One other suggestion resulting fromt he Ottowa study is that cyclists should keep at least 15 feet back from a car or lorry's exhaust pipe. The closer you get to the exhuast the finer the particulates of the most harmful pollutants - but as they get further from the exhaust they tend to clump together in to heavier particles which fall to the ground and are thus less li
As we reported last year, Glasgow is the most polluted city in the UK, and the fifth worst in the whole of Europe, a study has shown.
The report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) measured the toxic gas nitrogen dioxide, caused by exhaust fumes and industrial pollution.
Only ten cities, of which Glasgow was one, breached the limits for the harmful gas. Levels in Glasgow were 46.3 microgrammes per cubic metre, above the legal European limit of 40mg/m3.
According to government information, nitrogen dioxide is pretty nasty stuff:

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is one of a group of gases called nitrogen oxides. Road transport is estimated to be responsible for about 50% of total emissions of nitrogen oxides, which means that nitrogen dioxide levels are highest close to busy roads and in large urban areas. Gas boilers in buildings are also a source of nitrogen oxides.

There is good evidence that nitrogen is harmful to health. The most common outcomes are respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and cough. Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lung and reduces immunity to lung infections such as bronchitis. Studies also suggest that the health effects are more pronounced in people with asthma compared to healthly individuals.

kely to be breathed in.

I n recent years the average level of nitrogen dioxide within London has not fallen as quickly as predicted. This largely appears to be the result of diesel cars creating more nitrogen dioxide than was anticipated.

Nitrogen dioxide also reacts with hydrocarbons in the presence of sunlight to create ozone, and contributes to the formation of particles*.

*tiny bits of solids or liquids suspended in the air, that can settle in the airway and deep in the lungs and cause health problems.

This is a vending machine for tiny shared Chinese electric cars


By John Goreham, December 30, 2013

China is turning to EVs to help offset problems it blames on cars. One company thinks small EVs dispensed from vending machines will help the country meet its environmental goals.
In order to solve a problem, one must first be created. In China, many see cars as the source of the air pollution that many Americans first became aware of during the last Olympics held in its capital. In order to combat the air pollution in cities the government is pledging to put 2 million EVs on the roads by 2020. In a very interesting and well done YouTube video mini-documentary, Aaron Rockett explains that China plans to support the push to put these EVs on the roads with 400 billion yuan (the value of 1 yuan is about 1/6 of a dollar according to Google’s currency translator).

That support equals about $32,000 per EV if our math is correct. It seems plausible since in the US the combined federal and state governments collaborate to support EVs with a minimum of $7,500, and in some states like California with its EV credit system and other tax incentives, as much as $20,000 per EV. Those are just the direct subsidies not including factory supports and things like helping to pay EV factory utility bills with tax dollars.

One company taking full advantage of the Chinese program is the NASDAQ listed Kandi. Kandi is involved with many EV programs, but the one highlighted in this video is a car-share and lease program. The cool hook of course is that in some of Kandi’s locations the cars are stored in what looks like a car-vending machine. These machines are very cool, but certainly not new or unique to China. I first saw them in widespread use in the 1990s in Japan, but they have long been part of all large cities like New York. Let’s not spoil the fun, the Kandi cars are little, round, and they look just like those two-piece plastic containers kids’ toys come in when you put quarters into the vending machine on the way out of a supermarket.

The cars featured in the video are not actually what we call “cars.” In the US they would be categorized differently. Here they would be called NEVs or neighborhood electric vehicles. Capable of decent range, about 90 miles according to Rockett, and speeds up to about 50 MPH, they are really a cross between a golf cart and a micro car. In the video they are referred to as similar to Smart Cars, but in fact Smart Cars’ EVs are much closer to real cars. For cities the NEV is a perfect application of EV technology. NEVs don’t need to meet the same safety standards as cars and can be made much more inexpensively and also much lighter. Don’t take that comment as meaning they are not safe. Safety is relative, as the video clearly illustrates at time stamp 2:58 in which a family boards a scooter and heads into city traffic with the dad driving, mom on back and the little girl standing on the scooter, all without helmets of course.

Here at Torque News we can sometimes be cautiously pessimistic when it comes to EVs. Videos like this tend to be made to show how a problem (real or imagined) and its cause (real or imagined) can be solved so simply through innovation and the application of electricity to transportation. Here are some things that would have helped to balance the story. Beijing is near the Gobi desert and much of its seasonal pollution is not from combustion of any type. In fact, it is sand and dust according to The Weather Channel. Also, in Beijing much of the electricity that powers the grid is made from 4 coal fired plants. And those are just the plants that are actually in the city itself. They account for 40% of the coal used by the city. The plants are scheduled to be replaced by natural gas fired plants, which will reduce pollution. Note that 60% of the coal used is not used by power plants.

The part of the story I liked best was that there are already 120 million EV scooters and motorbikes in China. Continuing that trend seems to make a lot of sense. Gas powered scooters are shockingly polluting compared to a modern gas powered micro car. The country was previously a scooter and bike country, and only in the past decade has the automobile become a viable option for what is sort of a communist country. General Motors now builds and sells more cars in China than in the US. In China the joke goes “How do you say luxury car in Chinese? Byuw-ick.”

We hope you will watch the video. If you like it tell us what you think of such a program being adopted in the US in the comments section below.

China is turning to EVs to help offset problems it blames on cars. One company thinks small EVs dispensed from vending machines will help the country meet its environmental goals.
In order to solve a problem, one must first be created. In China, many see cars as the source of the air pollution that many Americans first became aware of during the last Olympics held in its capital. In order to combat the air pollution in cities the government is pledging to put 2 million EVs on the roads by 2020. In a very interesting and well done YouTube video mini-documentary, Aaron Rockett explains that China plans to support the push to put these EVs on the roads with 400 billion yuan (the value of 1 yuan is about 1/6 of a dollar according to Google’s currency translator).
That support equals about $32,000 per EV if our math is correct. It seems plausible since in the US the combined federal and state governments collaborate to support EVs with a minimum of $7,500, and in some states like California with its EV credit system and other tax incentives, as much as $20,000 per EV. Those are just the direct subsidies not including factory supports and things like helping to pay EV factory utility bills with tax dollars.
- See more at: http://www.torquenews.com/1083/will-chinas-ev-kandi-machine-reduce-pollution-cities#sthash.M2kokMU7.dpuf
China is turning to EVs to help offset problems it blames on cars. One company thinks small EVs dispensed from vending machines will help the country meet its environmental goals.
In order to solve a problem, one must first be created. In China, many see cars as the source of the air pollution that many Americans first became aware of during the last Olympics held in its capital. In order to combat the air pollution in cities the government is pledging to put 2 million EVs on the roads by 2020. In a very interesting and well done YouTube video mini-documentary, Aaron Rockett explains that China plans to support the push to put these EVs on the roads with 400 billion yuan (the value of 1 yuan is about 1/6 of a dollar according to Google’s currency translator).
That support equals about $32,000 per EV if our math is correct. It seems plausible since in the US the combined federal and state governments collaborate to support EVs with a minimum of $7,500, and in some states like California with its EV credit system and other tax incentives, as much as $20,000 per EV. Those are just the direct subsidies not including factory supports and things like helping to pay EV factory utility bills with tax dollars.
- See more at: http://www.torquenews.com/1083/will-chinas-ev-kandi-machine-reduce-pollution-cities#sthash.M2kokMU7.dpuf

Road Work Ahead: The year in California’s infrastructure news


By Justin Ewers and John Guenther, December 30, 2013

It's been a bit of a blockbuster year for news about California's road, rail, schools and water systems with the state's controversial high-speed rail project to the controversial Delta tunnel project taking up a lot of ink.

While the price tags for projects make the headlines, less attention is paid to finding the smartest ways to pay for these and other infrastructure projects and making sure they are carried out with the best results and return-on-investment in mind.

The state of infrastructure and its importance to the economy here prompted Californians active in the California Economic Summit to put up the issue as one of their tent pole initiatives for the past two years.

We talked to Fred Silva, California Forward's senior fiscal policy advisor and expert in state and local finance, about the past year in infrastructure news and a look ahead to 2014.

High-speed rail and the Delta tunnel projects are the most high-profile and controversial infrastructure topics in California. Why is that? 
When we think about infrastructure we think locally and regionally. We drive on it, ride in it and drink it. We also see the cost in our gas tax, sales tax and fees that we pay for it. Infrastructure that has statewide importance such as our state water system is simply more costly and always controversial because of its scale. When the state water project was conceived 60 plus years ago it was not without controversy. The current proposal carries the burden for meeting "co-equal" goals: preserving the Delta and securing the state's water supply for agriculture and urban users. Since most of the cost will be financed with borrowed money it is likely that the water rates that agriculture and urban users will have to pay to finance the project will produce significant sticker shock.

High-Speed Rail has a similar problem. Transportation infrastructure is primarily an urban system. The state got out of the business of financing major urban transportation improvements long ago. Most of our investment in transportation at the local and regional level relies on voter-approved sales taxes. The High-Speed Rail project is the state's attempt to connect Northern, Central and Southern California economies and it is not cheap. The project confronts the same problems that big expensive projects always confront: They take time and with time comes added cost and they are very disruptive. 
What does the state need to do better that doesn't get talked about as much? Finding a way to make sure there California has enough clean water is important; a transportation system that will let us all move around without contributing to climate change is, too. Right now, though, a lot of towns say they don't have the money to fix streets with potholes.
The answer is short and not easy to implement: Build public confidence by focusing on improving results. In the case of clean drinking water the state has missed opportunities to improve water quality of underserved communities. It can do better. Investing in basic maintenance and safety of the existing highway system should be the first priority if the underlying objective is to improve public confidence. Driving on a smooth and safe road will help restore public confidence. The gas tax we all pay at the pump is insufficient to meet basic needs to keep the system operating.  It is time to consider additional revenue sources that can be dedicated to keeping the highway and transit systems operating and potholes filled.  

The Summit's infrastructure team has more than 70 experts from across the state on it. What brought all of these diverse people and groups together?

They were brought together from regions across the state with one goal in mind: find new ways to increase investment in state regional and local infrastructure.  

What will be the top infrastructure stories in 2014 in California?

From a statewide perspective High-Speed Rail and the Delta Tunnels will dominate the state news. Although most of the fighting will be done in courtrooms, the big news is likely to center on the true costs of the projects when financing is taken into account. If you look behind those stories you are likely to see regional and local infrastructure investment in actual projects increasing. As the state's major regional economies continue to grow (the central valley and Island Empire growing slower) more investment in differed local infrastructure will likely grow. 

There are likely to be two infrastructure measures on the November ballot--an initiative to borrow billions of dollars to pay for water projects and a measure to raise billions more for road repairs. Developing a replacement for redevelopment--a tool for driving local economic development--is also gaining momentum. How do these ideas fit into the Summit's strategy?

Both subjects, statewide measures for additional investment in water and transportation, and replacement tools for local economic development are high on the priority list for action in 2014. The proposal coming out of the Summit is that State, regional and local investment tools are needed to provide support for the state's regional economies.

It sounds like the Summit has a comprehensive plan for taking on these challenges. Some of these new ideas will be on the legislative calendar this summer--and on voters' TVs next fall--while some are likely to take a lot longer to become reality. How will we know when the Summit is making a difference?

The November 2013 Economic Summit was not an end in itself. It was a mobilization of civic leaders throughout the state focused on increased prosperity by advancing economic, social and environmental progress. Participants at the Summit made personal commitments to advance the proposals developed by the 2013 Action Teams. Their energy will translate into action at the legislative level and at the November ballot box. 

what does transit do about traffic congestion? (updated)


 By Jarrett Walker, no date

A revised and improved version of this post, in response to excellent comments.

Now and then, someone mentions that a particular transit project did not reduce traffic congestion, as though that was evidence of failure.  In fact, the relationship between transit and congestion is indirect.  (In this post "congestion" means that volume/capacity ratio for motor vehicles on a roadway is high enough to substantially reduce average speeds.)   In most cases, it's unwise to claim congestion reduction as a likely result of your proposed transit project.

Road widening, however, is also not a very good way to relieve congestion, except in the short term.  In his 1992 book Stuck in Traffic Anthony Downs described the effect of widening an expressway in terms of a "triple convergence":
In response, three types of convergence occur on the improved expressway: (1) many drivers who formerly used alternative routes during peak hours switch to the improved expressway (spatial convergence); (2) many drivers who formerly traveled just before or after the peak hours start traveling during those hours (time convergence); and (3) some commuters who used to take public transportation during peak hours now switch to driving, since it has become faster (modal convergence).
Downs is describing only the immediate effect of the road expansion.  Further increases in traffic will come from any new development that is attracted to the road's catchment as a direct consequence of its expansion.

Prof. David Levinson's work in the Minneapolis / St. Paul region suggests that while added capacity generates new vehicle trips, the effect is often not great enough to restore the previous level of congestion.   However, your results will obviously vary based on the amount of development that occurs as a result of the new or expanded road.  If this development adds enough new vehicle trips to fill the new capacity, traffic congestion can return to near previous levels. 

So the only way to make the congestion benefit of new road capacity permanent is to severely restrict development in the catchment area of the road -- an impossible bar in most cases.  In fact, parties who will profit from further development in a corridor may be part of the political consensus in support of a road expansion, even as the same expansion is marketed to existing residents as a congestion reducing project.

Otherwise, there appear to be two broadly applicable ways to relieve congestion in a substantial and permanent way. 

  1. Economic collapse.  Traffic congestion drops during economic slowdowns, because fewer people have jobs to commute to, or money to spend on discretionary travel.  A complete economic collapse, which causes people to move away from a city in droves, is always a lasting fix for congestion problems!
  3. Correct pricing of road space.  Fundamentally, congestion is the result of underpricing.  If you give away 500 free concert tickets to the first 500 people in line, you'll get 500 people standing in line, some of them overnight.  These people are paying time to save money.  Current prevailing road pricing policy requires all motorists to act like these frugal concertgoers.  Motorists are required to pay for road use in time, rather than in money, even though some would rather do the opposite and our cities would be safer and more efficient if they could.  Current road pricing policy requires motorists to save money, a renewable resource, by expending time, the least renewable resource of all.  
So if transit isn't a cause of reduced congestion, what is its role?  Do transit advocates offer nothing in response to congestion problems that have many voters upset?  In fact, transit's role is essential, but its effect is indirect. 
  • Transit raises the level of economic activity and prosperity at a fixed level of congestion.  Congestion appears to reach equilibrium at a level that is maddeningly high but that can't be called "total gridlock."  At that level, people just stop trying to travel.  If your city is car-dependent, that limit becomes the cap on the economic activity -- and thus the prosperity -- of your city.  To the extent that your city is dependent on transit, supported by walking and cycling, economic activity and prosperity can continue to grow while congestion remains constant.  For example, commenter Brent writes"Toronto achieved significant downtown employment growth without increasing road capacity after the 1960s, thanks first to increased subway ridership and later due to increased commuter rail ridership. Congestion is still bad on the roads and expressways into downtown, even with transit expansion, but (as you say) the expansion of transit has permitted the downtown to grow beyond what the road network would have supported."  A similar pattern can be observed in many similar cities.

  • Transit enables people who can't drive to participate in economic life.  Groups who don't have the option to drive include many seniors and disabled persons, some youth, and a segment of the poor.  Providing mobility to these groups is not merely a social service; it also expands participation in the economy.  For example, during the US welfare reform debate in 1994-96, government began raising pressure on welfare recipients to seek and accept any employment opportunity.  For the very poor living in car-dependent cities, the lack of commuting options became a profound barrier to these job placements.  This is really an element of the previous point, since all employment, even of the poor, contributes to prosperity.  But this has independent force for government because unemployed people consume more government services than employed people do.  This benefit of transit should routinely be described in terms of economic efficiency, as I've done here, rather than appealing to pity or to alleged "economic rights," as social-service language often implicitly does.  The appeal of the social service argument is just too narrow, especially in the US.
  • Transit-dependent cities are generally more sustainable than car-dependent cities.  They cover less land and tend to have fewer emissions both per capita and per distance travelled.  The walking that they require is also better for public health, which produces further indirect economic benefits in reduced healthcare costs.
  • Intense transit service is essential for congestion pricing.  Congestion pricing appears to be the only effective and durable tool for ensuring free-flowing roads while maintaining or growing prosperity.  Congestion pricing always causes mode shift toward public transit, so quality public transit, with surplus capacity, must be there for a pricing plan to be credible.  
  • Surface exclusive transit lanes (for buses, rail, and arguably two-wheelers and taxis) improve the performance of emergency services.  This argument should be much more prominent, because even the most ardent car-lover will understand it.  Few things are more distressing than to see an emergency vehicle stuck in traffic, sirens blaring.  When confronted with this, all motorists do their best to help.  But if the entire width of a street or highway is reserved for cars (moving or parked), and is therefore capable of being congested, it can be impossible to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle even if every motorist present has the best of intentions.  Emergency response should be one of the strongest and most obvious cases for surface transit lanes.  Motorists understand the need to drop to a low speed in school zones, to protect the life of every single child.  Why do we not accept come degree of delay to save a child who may be dying somewhere else, because the ambulance is stuck in traffic?
In the end, of course, "congestion" is not a good measure of the outcomes of transit.  In fact, the very notion of congestion presumes a motorist's view of the world.  I agree with commenter Rodrigo Quijada when he writes:
What we'd like to do in a city is to reduce TRAVEL TIMES. Reducing congestion is a way to do that, but in no way the only one. Over the decades, in places where car transportation has become dominant, people have got used to see travel times and congestion as the same thing, thus orienting their thinking and their solutions to reduce congestion. But this is essentially a confusion.
What Rodrigo is describing is simply improved mobility, as defined here.  Still, in real-world transit politics, selling transit projects to current motorists is a necessity, and the current motorist is likely to see her problem as one of congestion.  So it's important to be clear on what transit can readily do for her. 
  1. It can provide an alternative to driving which may be faster, more cost effective, and less stressful.  This argument can be put quite selfishly:  Good transit won't eliminate congestion in your city, but it can eliminate it from your daily life. 

  2. Transit helps reduce government spending on social services by enabling transit disadvantaged groups to participate in the economy.   This obviously has a range of health and wellness benefit apart from its economic role.

  3. It can increase the level of prosperity at a fixed level of congestion.
  5. Its exclusive lanes protect emergency vehicles from congestion-related delays, potentially saving lives.

Congress Is About to Give Car Commuters a Big Perk Over Transit Riders ... Again


By Emily Badger, December 30, 2013

 Congress Is About to Give Car Commuters a Big Perk Over Transit Riders ... Again

The federal commuter tax benefit is an obscure subsidy most Americans have likely never even heard of. But it's a simple illustration of the many subtle ways that official policy in the U.S. incentivizes private car travel over mass transit.

The benefit allows employees to devote a pre-tax chunk of their income to commuting costs, like parking garage fees or mass transit passes. Traditionally, though, the benefit has been nearly twice as generous for drivers as transit riders. In 2008, for example, transit riders were allowed to set aside $115 a month; car drivers (and their employers) could forgo paying taxes on up to $220 in income each month.

The 2009 federal stimulus package finally equalized the two benefits at the higher rate. But transit advocates have continued to fight over the benefit precisely because the higher transit subsidy keeps expiring – as it is set to do again on January 1. Come Wednesday, if you ride the subway or bus to work every day, your benefit will drop from $245 to $130 a month. If you drive to work, your benefit will actually inch up from $245 to $250.

The difference has practical implications beyond the principle involved here: Local agencies like the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority have suggested that ridership (and revenue) drops when this subsidy does. And commuters will be particularly affected in cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, and Miami, where a large share of workers get to work every day by transit.

So what's Congress' problem this time around? It never got around to extending the transit benefit in 2013. Congress may still do so in the coming year, but that could take months. And, in the meantime, the federal government will go back to disproportionately subsidizing people who drive to work.

There's a valid argument to be made that the government – and taxpayers at large – shouldn't subsidize any commutes, whether people get to work by car, by bus, by train, or by boat. But while the government continues to specifically subsidize parking (even as it battles traffic congestion on other fronts), it's illogical not to offer an equal benefit to commuters who take cars off the road. If anything, we should be talking about how to bring bike commuters into this equation, not how to keep mass transit riders there.


Email from Pasadena Councilmember Steve Madison, December 30, 2013

Please be reminded that there are two football games at the Rose Bowl in January.  Both will have high impact for your neighborhood and Pasadena. Details are in the attachment.

I hope you are enjoying the holidays with friends and family. 

Happy New Year to all!

Councilmember Steve Madison

We Urgently Need to Fix the Gas Tax


By Eric Jaffe, December 30, 2013

 We Urgently Need to Fix the Gas Tax

The Highway Trust Fund, America's primary source of transportation funding, is expected to go bankrupt by 2015. That makes 2014 a critical year for lawmakers to overhaul the busted gas tax system that populates the trust fund. Considering the pace of Congressional action, it's not too early to get that conversation going, and last week two leading newspapers did just that.

The Washington Post editorial staff embraced two solutions recently proposed by Congressman Earl Blumenauer. The first is simply to raise the gas tax 15 cents a gallon over the next three years then tie it to inflation so it doesn't lose purchasing power. The second is an alternative system that charges a tiny fee for every mile driven (Blumenauer's home state of Oregon has been testing such a mileage-fee system for years).

The Post believes both ideas hold promise:
A spokesman for the House Transportation Committee told us that lawmakers "will look at all options for addressing our surface transportation infrastructure" in the coming months. Mr. Blumenauer has provided two that should top their list.
Meanwhile, energy scholar Michael Webber argued in a New York Times op-ed that neither of Blumenauer's options holds the answer. Webber calls a gas tax hike "politically untenable" — and considering it hasn't gone up since 1993, it's hard to argue that point. He also conjures up the standard opposition to a mileage fee system, which is that the GPS devices used to monitor travel raises concerns about privacy and civil liberties.

Instead, Webber pushes for a "ton mile" fee that charges drivers based on both mileage traveled and vehicle weight. He argues that such a system addresses the funding shortfall (with car owners paying about $50 a year) as well as privacy concerns (the fee can be assessed by an odometer reading during sticker renewal). It's also a more equitable system, as trucks inflict much more damage on roads than standard cars do.

The advantages to a ton-mile fee don't stop there, writes Webber:
Switching to a ton mile fee solves several problems at once: It raises the revenues we need for our transportation projects while ensuring that electric and natural gas vehicles don’t get a free pass. It would also encourage people to drive smaller cars fewer miles, which would achieve additional benefits like reduced petroleum consumption, emissions, traffic congestion and wear and tear on the roads and highways.
The best way forward probably involves some combination of all three proposals. In the short term, there's no way around a gas tax increase. It's far too late in the game to implement an entirely new system, and while no politician enjoys raising taxes, the individual burden to make up the present shortfall is minimal. By one recent estimate, the gas tax could become solvent again if drivers paid just $4.66 more a month.

In the long-term — assuming federal transportation funding even has a long-term future — the gas tax likely needs to be replaced. A vehicle-mileage system will require a considerable initial investment to get going, and will probably cost more to operate than the extremely convenient gas tax system even once it's running. Still, it's the best alternative out there.

The chief beauty of the mileage fee system is that it's adjustable. Heavier cars can pay more for mile (incorporating Webber's concern); congestion charges can be applied if we want to discourage rush-hour driving (or driving in general); electric cars can pay less if we want to encourage greener travel; and so on. The privacy issues won't go away, but they're not insurmountable; Oregon's pilot program has several mileage tracking options for drivers, including a non-intrusive odometer reading.

A mileage fee system helps drivers recognize that roads, to some extent, are a utility that we consume — just like television or electricity. Failure to make that connection is one reason people are opposed to higher gas taxes. American drivers pay much less for roads than they should; as things stand, many people pay about as much to use roads each year as they pay for a common utility bill each month.

The government has always had a responsibility to provide key trunk roads as an essential public service. That mandate will continue in perpetuity. How large we want the rest of the road network to be, and how we're all going to chip in to maintain it, is a conversation that's been delayed far too long.

An L.A. County Superior Court Judge Calls SCAG's Population Increase Estimates “Entirely Discredited”


December 30, 2013


A Superior Court judge thinks this man is a fool

 One of the big challenges cities in the so-called "SCAG Region" face is the demand being made by this Regional Planning Organization that each and every one of them make plans to introduce a lot of new housing within their borders. And what this onerous demand is predominantly based upon are SCAG's projections that claim we are on the verge of being inundated with massive new population growth. And after all, or so the story goes, if we do not build all of this new housing, where are all these new people going to live?

In an April 4, 2012 press release proudly titled "Nation's Largest Planning Agency Approves Plan in Preparation of 4 Million New Residents by 2035"(link), SCAG laid out the wonder of it all.

The Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) convened the 47th Annual Regional Conference and General Assembly and, without objection, adopted the 2012-2035 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS) and certified the Program Environmental Impact Report.

The 25 year plan is an investment plan for our region's economic viability that provides people with transportation and housing options that meet their professional and life style choices while supporting the business community's need to compete nationally and internationally. "Today's approval of the 2012-2035 RTP/SCS was a historic decision made by Southern California elected officials on SCAG's Regional Council. This action establishes a roadmap to welcome four million new residents and 1.7 million new jobs into our region by 2035," commented Paul O'Connor, SCAG President.

So how do you accommodate this supposed vast sea of projected new humanity yearning to experience their professional and lifestyle choices here in Southern California? In the de-evolutionary Golden State you have a government-run Regional Planning Organization such as SCAG cook up population and housing growth numbers and coerce each and every city within their jurisdictional borders into accommodating them in their General Plans. All backed up with the muscle of Washington and Sacramento, of course. Armed with draconian central planning mandates such as SB 375.

According to SCAG's "Final Regional Housing Need Allocation Plan" (link), that number of new wickiups comes to just under 700,000 "units" for the region. Which, at the time this little item was cobbled together, called for 139 new housing units here in little Sierra Madre. In a town that is virtually built out like ours, this would require that currently standing buildings be razed and replaced with high density condo complexes, thus radically changing the character of our community.

Oh, and just so you know. In SCAG-think, condos are more "sustainable" than single family homes. Especially when they are near a bus stop.

"This year's theme is 'Towards a Sustainable Future in Southern California.' Sustainable has many meanings; providing for a future where the population will grow but we can expect a reduction in per capita emissions, supporting the construction of new homes and businesses but with a plan to connect the dwellings with multiple transportation options, preserving the natural beauty of the California landscape for today's recreation and our future generations enjoyment, and ensuring that businesses remain in the Golden State and prosper," said Hasan Ikhrata, SCAG Executive Director.

I suppose this all sounds hunky dory if you are the guy who will get to build much of this largely unneeded nonsense. And I guess the news that "emissions" will become less of a factor when electric cars become more prevalent in a few years has yet to cross Mr. Ikhrata's mind. Perhaps he has fallen behind in his reading.

But what if SCAG's population increase estimates are all wrong? Predicting the future can be a dicey proposition, you know. And, to be quite honest, I am not sure that SCAG's Executive Director, Hasan Ikhrata, a man who first learned his central planning chops plying this trade in the now collapsed Soviet Union (link) could necessarily win any soothsaying contests with, say, a street corner palm reader.

And it seems that I am not alone in my skepticism. Apparently the L.A. Superior Court agrees with me. This from the always estimable Joel Kotkin in the December 27 edition of the Orange County Register (link):

Joel Kotkin: Build it, even though they won't come The recent decision by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Allan J. Goodman to reject as “fatally flawed” the densification plans for downtown Hollywood could shake the foundations of California's “smart growth” planning clerisy. By dismissing Los Angeles' Hollywood plan, the judge also assaulted the logic behind plans throughout the region to construct substantial high-rise development in “transit-oriented developments” adjacent to rail stations.

In particular, the judge excoriated the buoyant population-growth projections used to justify the plan, a rationalization for major densification elsewhere in the state. The mythology is that people are still flocking to Los Angeles, and particularly, to dense urban areas, creating a demand for high-end, high-rise housing.

The Hollywood plan rested on city estimates provided by the Southern California Association of Governments, which estimated that Hollywood's population was 200,000 in 2000 and 224,000 in 2005, and would thus rise to 250,000 by 2030. All this despite the fact that, according to the census, Hollywood's population over the past decade has actually declined, from 213,000 in 1990 to 198,000 today. 

Not one to mince words, Judge Goodman described SCAG's estimates as “entirely discredited.” This discrepancy is not just a problem in the case of Hollywood; SCAG has been producing fanciful figures for years. In 1993, SCAG projected that the city of Los Angeles would reach a population of 4.3 million by 2010. SCAG's predicted increase of more than 800,000 residents materialized as a little more than 300,000. For the entire region, the 2008 estimates were off by an astounding 1.4 million people.

Here in timorous Sierra Madre we would never even think of daring to question SCAG's population increase projections, and year after year we have meekly accepted this now discredited regional planning organization's demands that we accommodate ever higher amounts of high density stack and pack development through their so-called "RHNA Process." Sort of like the "bungalows" that currently sit unsold at the corner of Sierra Place and Sierra Madre Boulevard
Fortunately the good citizens of Hollywood did have what it takes to dare call out SCAG on their voodoo population increase projections, and there is now a legal decision that for all intents and purposes laughed the ridiculous Hasan Ikhrata and his gang of SCAG bunco artists straight out of court.
Hopefully once the voters of Sierra Madre laugh Nancy Walsh and Josh Moran out of office next April we will finally get a City Council that has the guts to tell SCAG to get lost as well. 
After all, there is now a legal precedent for it.