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, June 30, 2014

Long Beach Port bridge delayed at least a year


By Christine Mai-Duc, June 29, 2014

The massive $1.26 billion project to replace the ailing Gerald Desmond Bridge in Long Beach will be delayed at least a year, port officials announced.

Originally expected to open by the end of 2016, port officials say the bridge that will rise over its port won’t be completed until late 2017 or early 2018.

The delay has been attributed to design issues, including delays in obtaining approval for designs from Caltrans officials, who have the ultimate authority over plans.

“This is a complex design,” said Al Moro, the Port of Long Beach's acting executive director, at a recent meeting of the city’s Harbor Commission. “We need to be very thorough and we need to get it right. We have one chance at this.”

Few people dispute that the 46-year-old Gerald Desmond Bridge, named after a onetime Long Beach councilman and city attorney, needs to be replaced.

 Many of the ships that enter the port struggle to navigate under its low-hanging span, and traffic is often jammed on the roadway. At one point, officials installed a nylon mesh to catch chunks of concrete falling from the bridge’s underbelly.

The replacement bridge is being constructed under a design-build model, which means that while construction on the foundation began a couple months ago, only about 70% of it has been designed.

The operation has already been plagued with complications and cost overruns from a maze of poorly mapped underground utility lines and oil wells on Terminal Island.

 A landscape of highly variable soils, and the risk they could liquefy in an earthquake, means designs for various sections of the bridge’s foundation need to be tailored so they can withstand a major seismic event, said port spokesman John Pope.

Still, some harbor commissioners expressed disappointment about the revised timeline.
“My concerns are that we got to this point,” Harbor Commissioner Richard Dines said at the meeting. “I think that this is something that should have been under control before.”

It isn’t clear yet how much the year-long delay could cost the Port of Long Beach, which is managed by the city of Long Beach and is responsible for shouldering all cost overruns.

The project, more than 10 years in the making, is already more than $300 million over budget from its original $950 million estimated price tag, mostly due to the oil well work done to clear a path for the new bridge.

Port officials said more accurate cost estimates will be released in July.

Meanwhile, crews are continuing to build the bridge, working from both ends to pour the first dozen of what will be more than 300 concrete piles supporting the span.

Last month, Long Beach officials closed a major connector between the 710 Freeway and Terminal Island to make way for construction.
Pope said the detour will remain in eff
ect for longer, but doesn’t anticipate additional road closures as a result of the delays.

“It will have an impact on our customers because we’re asking them to be patient for a longer duration,” Pope said.

“We have a lot of confidence with this new timeline. The design is moving along,we’ve started construction … and there’s some very high-level coordination happening,” he added.

This Week in Livable Streets Events


By Joe Linton, June 30, 2014

It’s the Independence Day holiday week, so SBLA be publishing lightly (more photos, fewer typos) on Thursday, and off Friday July 4th. There is at least one huge event: the changing of the guard at the city of Los Angeles’ Transportation Department (LADOT.) Mayor Eric Garcetti’s nominee, Seleta Reynolds,  is scheduled for council confirmation tomorrow morning – see below.

Be patriotic! Offer your transit seat up to a standing rider this week. Walk. Bike. Enjoy watching World Cup soccer in public spaces!
  • Tuesday: Mayor Garcetti’s Nominee for his LADOT General Manager, Seleta Reynolds is up for her confirmation hearing before the full Los Angeles City Council. The meeting starts at 10am at City Hall, Reynolds is item number 5 on the agenda [PDF]. For more background on Reynolds, see SBLA coverage of her testimony before the council’s Transportation Committee last week, and SBLA’s first interview with her.
  • Tuesday: The Los Angeles City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee considers the River Improvement Overlay zoning ordinance. It’s sort of a green-building-certification-lite that, if approved, would apply to development and redevelopment along the L.A. River, and potentially other waterways. PLUM meets at city hall at 2:30pm, RIO is item 6 on the agenda [PDF]. If RIO passes in PLUM, it goes to full council the next day: Wednesday July 2nd 2014.
  • Friday: Opponents of the community-catastrophe called 710 Freeway extension want you! To march in South Pasadena’s “Festival of Balloons” parade. Meet up by 10am at Hope and Meridian in South Pasadena. Details on Facebook.
  • Saturday: Bicycle the mean streets of San Marino! The Riff-Raff Ride gathers at 8am from El Sereno’s parklet at 4910 Huntington Drive. Details on Facebook.

South Pasadena's 4th of July Parade

710 Day celebration


710 Coalition 710 Coalition

710 day will consist of fun activities, delicious food, live entertainment (and surprises!) to celebrate the community and for you to learn more about the 710 project. Various booths will be present to share information about the many benefits of completing the 710 Freeway.

Learn about the 710-Corridor project and get answers to your questions at this family-friendly event. Make sure to come hungry -- there will be food trucks! Bring your family, we'll have face-painting and a bounce house!

RSVP online and come be a part of the celebration! This is open to the entire community so please share!

Hope to see you there!

710 Coalition


Thursday, July 10th

4 - 7 pm at the intersection of Valley Blvd. and Fremont Ave. 
The City of Alhambra has been the most vocal proponent of the Tunnels, believing that the Tunnel Alternative is the answer to the congestion on Alhambra's surface streets.  Recently, Alhambra hired the respected PR firm of Englander, Knabe and Allen (EKA) to help them promote and gain support for the Tunnels (Yes, for those of you who are wondering, the "Knabe" component of EKA is the son of Metro Board member, Don Knabe).  The recent upgrade of the proponents' website (http://www.710coalition.com/) and the hanging of pro-tunnel street banners in Alhambra are two of the products of EKA's involvement.

From the 710 Coalition's website:
"The goal (of 710 Day) is to raise awareness about the proposed 710 freeway extension from Alhambra to Pasadena, while creating a fun and informative environment where the community can learn more about the project. Various booths will be present to share information about the many benefits of completing the 710 Freeway. Learn about the 710-Corridor project and get answers to your questions at this family-friendly event!"

The majority of those present last year were City employees wearing blue "Close the Gap" T-Shirts and who knew very little about the SR-710 North Study.  Members of the No 710 Action Committee attended, walking around and talking with those in attendance about the facts.  We discovered that most did not know that the tunnels would be tolled, and that City officials had been telling their citizens that trucks would not be allowed in the tunnels -- something that has not been determined and is unlikely to be true. 

We need more people to attend this year.  It is critical that we reinforce opposition to the Tunnels in favor of better solutions.  Please try to attend and help get the word out about the truth behind this project.  We have information cards prepared that address facts about the project, backed by references to Metro's own reports, that we use as starting points for conversations and to distribute to Alhambrans.   
Wear red or your No 710 T-shirt, and look for those of us also wearing red No 710 T-Shirts. 
You can order a NO 710 T-shirt for the event by  emailing  No710store@gmail.com or call 626-354-4340.  Let them know it's for the "710 Day" event.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Update and Call to Action

From Sylvia Plummer, June 28, 2014

As most of you know by now, the release of the Draft EIR/EIS for the SR-710 North Project, which was originally to have been released this Spring, has been delayed until February of 2015.  This delay works in our favor, giving the No 710 Action Committee, as well as the Five Cities Alliance, additional time to prepare for the release and subsequent public comment period of 90 days.   The Alliance has been working to hire professionals to review the DEIR/EIS, while the No 710 Action Committee is recruiting people with some experience, expertise or significant interest in various areas (health, pollution, traffic, safety, etc.) to participate (pro bono) in its review of the DEIR/EIS.  If you, or someone you know, is interested in helping with our review, please contact me as soon as possible.  We also want to have as many people from the public review the document, and will be sending out useful information addressing how to put together an effective comment on a DEIR/EIS, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, two opportunities for you to demonstrate opposition to the Tunnels in favor of better mobility solutions are coming up soon! 

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Time: 10:00 AM - noon

Come join us to march against the 710 Tunnel.  Show Caltrans and Metro that opposition to the SR-710 Tunnels is more widespread than South Pasadena!.

The route is less than one mile and very flat.  We need people from the different cities to carry their city sign (which will be provided)

Meet us at 10:00 am at Hope Street and Meridian Ave in South Pasadena.  
The easiest way to get to the meeting point is via the Gold Line.  Take the Gold Line to the South Pasadena Station which is on the corner of Meridian Avenue and Mission Street.  Then walk one block north on Meridian to Hope Street.
Parking is an issue.  There will be no parking next to the meeting point.  Watch out for No Parking signs.  Expect to walk a few blocks.
Wear our  No 710 T-shirts or other red apparel.  All props will be provided such as balloon hats, signs, etc.  Bring your family, kids, neighbors, & friends.

No 710 T-shirts will be available on the 4th (for $8) or email No710store@gmail.com or call 626-354-4340.

Facebook Page for the event:
After, join us for a cool Margarita. Kids get cold water. (Hope Street and Meridian Ave)
Picture from last year:
Thursday, July 10th

4 - 7 pm at the intersection of Valley Blvd. and Fremont Ave. 

The City of Alhambra has been the most vocal proponent of the Tunnels, believing that the Tunnel Alternative is the answer to the congestion on Alhambra's surface streets.  Recently, Alhambra hired the respected PR firm of Englander, Knabe and Allen (EKA) to help them promote and gain support for the Tunnels (Yes, for those of you who are wondering, the "Knabe" component of EKA is the son of Metro Board member, Don Knabe).  The recent upgrade of the proponents' website (http://www.710coalition.com/) and the hanging of pro-tunnel street banners in Alhambra are two of the products of EKA's involvement.

From the 710 Coalition's website:
"The goal (of 710 Day) is to raise awareness about the proposed 710 freeway extension from Alhambra to Pasadena, while creating a fun and informative environment where the community can learn more about the project. Various booths will be present to share information about the many benefits of completing the 710 Freeway. Learn about the 710-Corridor project and get answers to your questions at this family-friendly event!"

The majority of those present last year were City employees wearing blue "Close the Gap" T-Shirts and who knew very little about the SR-710 North Study.  Members of the No 710 Action Committee attended, walking around and talking with those in attendance about the facts.  We discovered that most did not know that the tunnels would be tolled, and that City officials had been telling their citizens that trucks would not be allowed in the tunnels -- something that has not been determined and is unlikely to be true. 

We need more people to attend this year.  It is critical that we reinforce opposition to the Tunnels in favor of better solutions.  Please try to attend and help get the word out about the truth behind this project.  We have information cards prepared that address facts about the project, backed by references to Metro's own reports, that we use as starting points for conversations and to distribute to Alhambrans.   
Wear red or your No 710 T-shirt, and look for those of us also wearing red No 710 T-Shirts. 
You can order a NO 710 T-shirt for the event by  emailing  No710store@gmail.com or call 626-354-4340.  Let them know it's for the "710 Day" event.

What is Alhambra up to now? ...

From Sylvia Plummer, June 28, 2014

As you know, Alhambra wants the 710 extension Tunnel built.  They now have an Alhambra school principal, (His school is located on the Fremont exit from the 10 freeway) and Alhambra City Council member Richard Sun promoting the 710 Tunnel on Youtube.

The problem for the principal is that the school is next to the 10 freeway and it will also have pollution issues.  And as for the Alhambra City Council,  they continue to approved  building high density housing projects, several currently on Main Street.  One high density Senior housing project is replacing a grocery store.  How many more cars will be traveling in their city because of these projects?  There is also talk about a Lowe's going in on Mission and Fremont, next to Kohl's.  Let's blame the traffic on the 710 extension.

Please use the Youtube links to view the videos and add your comments.  


Friday, June 27, 2014

Bob Hope Airport officially opens Regional Intermodal Transportation Center


By Anna Chen, June 27, 2014


Bob Hope Airport held a grand opening ceremony this morning for the $112 million Regional Intermodal Transportation Center (RITC). The RITC took two years to complete and is the largest capital project in the airport’s history. It also establishes the first direct rail-to-terminal connection at any Southern California airport.

The RITC is located immediately across the street from the Bob Hope Airport Station served by Metrolink and Amtrak. It will house a new bus transit station and rental car facilities and is connected to the passenger terminal via an elevated walkway.

Transit officials also announced the plans for a pedestrian bridge between the RITC and the existing Metrolink station along Empire Avenue. You can read the Metro staff report on the project here.

MTA Predicts Less Than 1 Percent of Airport Passengers Will Take Train to LAX


By Gene Maddau, June 27, 2014

  Artist's rendering of the Aviation/96th train station - MTA

Artist's rendering of the Aviation/96th train station 

The MTA board voted Thursday to build a new station at Aviation Boulevard and 96th Street, which will eventually link to Los Angeles International Airport. The proposal was not what Mayor Eric Garcetti originally hoped for. He wanted a separate spur off the Crenshaw Line that would connect to an intermodal facility.

The station approved Thursday is a much cheaper alternative, which probably won't have all the bells and whistles that Garcetti had envisioned. Nevertheless, it is a rail connection to LAX, and Garcetti heralded it as a key step in the direction of building a world-class airport.

Assuming that LAX and MTA can continue to cooperate on this, the rail link could open around 2022. That leaves one big unanswered question: Will anybody use it?

As the saying goes, predictions are hard, especially about the future. Nevertheless, MTA has made its best effort to guess how many people will take the train to the airport. The answer:


Not encouraging.

Now, nothing gets Angelenos more riled up than suggesting that they won't actually take the train to the airport. Given that, it's probably for the best that MTA buried its ridership estimates deep inside a staff report. But there it is, in all its bureaucratic modesty:

"[A]lthough the Metro Green and Crenshaw/LAX Lines have high ridership, they are not expected to attract high ridership to LAX as compared to other modes of airport access."

Just how low are the expectations? MTA's consultant estimates that 1,790 passengers will take the train to the airport each day in 2035. The good news, if you can call it that, is that ridership would actually have been lower with Garcetti's more costly alternative.

You have to do some math to figure out what that 1,790 figure represents as a share of total passenger volume. The Southern California Association of Governments projects that LAX will carry 78.9 million passengers in 2035. If you multiply 1,790 by 365, you get 653,000 train-to-LAX passengers per year. Divide that by 78.9 million, and you get .00828, or 0.8%.

It sounds low, and it is, but it's not that much lower than transit ridership at other U.S. airports. According to USA Today, the typical "modal share" for trains at U.S. airports is about 2-5%. But Los Angeles is much, much bigger than the average U.S. city. And, in case you hadn't noticed, it has a fairly rudimentary train system. So, maybe the projection is not that unreasonable.

So how will people get to the airport in 2035? By car. According to the study, 57% will take personal vehicles, and another 33% will take taxis, limos or shared ride vans.

And the most popular public transit option in 2035? The good old Flyaway bus.

This is not to say that the train-to-LAX link should not be built. It is to suggest that expectations be kept in check until MTA can plan, fund and build a more comprehensive rail network.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Metro projects helping improve commuter rail service in San Fernando Valley


By Steve Hymon, June 26, 2014

There has been a nice variety of commuter rail projects in the San Fernando Valley on Metro Board agendas in recent months, including one that was approved today to add a new pedestrian bridge for the Metrolink station at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.

To help provide a bigger view of projects that Metro is helping plan, fund and coordinate, here is a quick list:

•A pedestrian bridge between Bob Hope Airport and the existing Metrolink station along Empire Avenue. The bridge will also connect to the airport’s new Regional Intermodal Transportation Center, that will include bus stops and a rental car facility. Metro staff report

•A new station to serve Bob Hope Airport along Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line. This will allow both Metrolink lines in the San Fernando Valley — the Antelope Valley Line and the Ventura County Line — to provide service to and from Bob Hope Airport. Earlier Source post

•A second track  for 6.5 miles approximately from Woodley to DeSoto streets along the Ventura County Line. This will help eliminate a long-standing bottleneck in the Valley and increase capacity of trains along the Ventura County Line. Staff report

•A new center platform between the two tracks at Van Nuys station and a pedestrian under-crossing to help passengers reach the new platform. This will provide service to both existing mainline tracks rather than the existing single track service. Staff report

There is another project in the works that will benefit all Metrolink riders: Metro is planning to eliminate a long-standing bottleneck at Union Station that requires all trains to enter and exit the station via tracks on the north side of the facility. It currently takes trains about 15 minutes of turn-around time because of the current track configuration.

Metro’s Southern California Regional Interconnector Project (known as SCRIP) would allow trains to enter and exit the station via its south side by running four tracks over the 101 freeway and connecting to the existing tracks along the Los Angeles River. In other words, trains would be able to enter and exit the station in either direction.

There are several benefits. The turnaround time of trains would be greatly reduced, increasing capacity by 40 percent to percent and allowing trains to get into and out of the station more efficiently. Also, the reduction of idling times for locomotives will decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

The SCRIP tracks would also improve train capacity at Union Station by 40 to 50 percent and, equally important, allow trains to get into and out of the station more quickly. That should benefit all Metrolink and Amtrak riders in the future.

Metro’s Regional Rail team is looking at other projects in the SFV that will better serve Metrolink customers increase safety and mobility. More projects are planned for the area such as additional double tracking and grade crossing enhancements.

Other actions taken by Metro Board of Directors today — station names, L.A. River in-channel bike path, promoting discounted fares


By Steve Hymon, June 26, 2014

Three other actions taken by the Metro Board of Directors at their meeting today that might be of interest:

•The Board approved the following official name changes to Metro Rail stations, although signage will often continue to reflect shorter names:

–The Blue Line’s Grand Station becomes the ‘Grand/Los Angeles Trade-Technical College Station.’

–The Expo Line’s 23rd Street Station becomes the “Los Angeles Trade-Technical College/Orthopaedic Institute for Children Station.”

–The Expo Line’s La Brea station becomes the “Expo/La Brea/Ethel Bradley Station.”

Metro staff were also instructed to implement the changes at minimal cost without using operating funds.

•The Board approved a motion by Board Members Mike Bonin and Gloria Molina instructing Metro to launch a multi-lingual ad campaign to promote fare subsidy programs prior to the fare increase scheduled to take effect Sept. 1 or after.

More information on reduced fares for seniors, disabled/Medicare passengers, K-12 students and college/vocational students and applications in nine languages can be found by clicking here.

•The Board approved a motion by Board Members Mike Bonin, Eric Garcetti and Gloria Molina to take steps needed to launch a study on building a bike path within the Los Angeles River channel between Taylor Yard (just north of downtown Los Angeles) and the city of Maywood, along with bike/pedestrian linkages to roads and sidewalks near the river. Motion

Delusion and Deception in Large Infrastructure Projects: Two Models for Explaining and Preventing Executive Disaster


Date posted: March 8, 2013; Last revised: June 12, 2013

Bent Flyvbjerg

University of Oxford - Said Business School

Massimo Garbuio

University of Sydney

Dan Lovallo

University of Sydney

February 2009

California Management Review, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 170-193

"Over budget, over time, over and over again" appears to be an appropriate slogan for large, complex infrastructure projects. This article explains why cost, benefits, and time forecasts for such projects are systematically over-optimistic in the planning phase. The underlying reasons for forecasting errors are grouped into three categories: delusions or honest mistakes; deceptions or strategic manipulation of information or processes; or bad luck. Delusion and deception have each been addressed in the management literature before, but here they are jointly considered for the first time. They are specifically applied to infrastructure problems in a manner that allows both academics and practitioners to understand and implement the suggested corrective procedures. The article provides a framework for analyzing the relative explanatory power of delusion and deception. It also suggests a simplified framework for analyzing the complex principal-agent relationships that are involved in the approval and construction of large infrastructure projects, which can be used to improve forecasts. Finally, the article illustrates reference class forecasting, an outside view de-biasing technique that has proven successful in overcoming both delusion and deception in private and public investment decisions.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 25

Keywords: Project management, forecasting, cost control, strategic planning
Accepted Paper Series 

 Download This Paper

Metro Board approves new station at Aviation/96th as best option to connect to LAX people mover


By Steve Hymon, June 26, 2014


The Metro Board of Directors on Thursday unanimously approved a new light rail station at Aviation Boulevard and 96th Street along the Crenshaw/LAX Line as the best option to serve as the “gateway” transfer point to an Automated People Mover that would take people to terminals at Los Angeles International Airport. The people mover is being planned by Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), which would build the project.

The next steps: Metro must environmentally clear the station, design it and identify the funding before anything gets built. The Crenshaw/LAX Line is currently under construction and the new station would be added to that project. That project is scheduled to be completed in 2019; the people mover could be completed as early as 2022 according to the Metro staff report and officials with Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office said Thursday that the city will attempt to possibly accelerate that date.
“This is a historic day for LAX and a historic day for our city because we’re finally on the way to bringing rail to LAX,” Garcetti told the Metro Board on Thursday. “I think we’ll be able to fix a historic mistake of our past.” 

The Metro Green Line infamously came up two miles short of LAX and requires a shuttle bus ride to reach airport terminals. The new Aviation/96th station would also serve some Green Line trains; please see the conceptual operating map below.

People movers are a type of train and are used to connect to regional transit systems by large airports in the U.S. and abroad. The chief advantage of the people mover over the existing shuttle bus: the people mover would run on an elevated guideway above traffic while the shuttle bus shares roads with traffic.

The new Aviation/96th station would be about .4 miles north of the station to be built at Aviation and Century boulevards as part of the Crenshaw/LAX Line. The idea, according to Metro, is that the Aviation/96th station would be the gateway for passengers headed to LAX while the Aviation/Century station would connect riders to the many businesses along the Century Boulevard corridor.

Metro Board Members made it clear that the Aviation/96th station needs to be extraordinarily designed to serve as the airport gateway.

“The question before us is can 96th Street do what it needs to do to be a world class experience?,” asked Board Member Mike Bonin who co-authored a motion (posted after the jump) directing Metro to make the station an enclosed facility with a number of amenities including concourse areas, restrooms, LAX airline check-in and public art, among others. The motion was co-authored by Garcetti and Supervisors Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

LAWA is scheduled to finalize details on the people mover alignment and the number of stations near airport terminals in Dec. 2014. In a presentation to the LAWA Board in May, LAWA staff showed options that included two or four stations for the people mover within the central terminal horseshoe. Should LAWA move the people mover alignment back to 98th Street — as was previously studied — Metro would seek to make the Aviation/Century station as the primary connection point to the people mover.

Metro — in coordination with LAWA — has in the past couple of years looked at a number of options for connecting the airport terminals to the Metro Rail system. Among those was bringing light rail directly to the terminals or building a spur to a new airport transportation hub that is being planned east of LAX.

Ultimately, Metro studies found that a Metro Rail-people mover connection took about the same time and resulted in about the same ridership as having a light rail line run directly into the airport terminals. The Metro Rail-people mover connection also cost billions of dollars less and resulted in speedier train rides for Crenshaw/LAX Line passengers not heading to the airport.

In the future, it’s expected that about 57 percent of airport bound passengers would arrive by private car, 33 percent by shuttles, taxis and limos, eight percent by the Flyaway bus and one to two percent via transit buses and trains, according to the Metro staff report. About 66.6 million passengers used LAX in 2013, meaning even small percentages can add up to a lot of riders.

Metro Board Member Don Knabe raised a salient point several times in recent months: what guarantees are in place that LAWA will actually build the people mover? LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey told the Metro Board on Thursday that traffic has gotten so bad in the airport’s horseshoe — up to 200,000 vehicles a day — that the airport must build the people mover, a consolidated rental car facility and a new ground transportation hub to steer more vehicles away from the terminals.

The Airport Metro Connector is one of the dozen transit projects to receive funding from the Measure R half-cent sales tax increase approved by 68 percent of Los Angeles County voters in 2008.
Please see the motion on the Aviation/96th Street station that is posted after the jump.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

S.F. Central Subway's big dig done


By Michael Cabanatuan, June 25, 2014

 Workers guide equipment into position as the two giant boring machines wait at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Powell Street to be extracted from the Central Subway tunnel they've finished digging. Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

 Workers guide equipment into position as the two giant boring machines wait at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Powell Street to be extracted from the Central Subway tunnel they've finished digging.

The digging is done on the Central Subway, though the first Muni Metro train won't carry passengers to the Chinatown Station until 2019.

After several months of gnawing twin tunnels beneath San Francisco's densest districts, tunnel-boring machines Big Alma and Mom Chung have arrived at the former home of the Pagoda Palace Theater in North Beach. They'll be dismembered at the bottom of a giant pit and then yanked, piece by piece, from the ground and hauled away.

It's an unceremonious end to a big dig - excavating and building 8,300 linear feet of concrete-lined tunnels running from South of Market beneath Union Square and Chinatown to North Beach. But the excavation passed unnoticed by people on the surface, who didn't even feel vibrations.

Big Alma and Mom Chung, each weighing 750 tons and stretching longer than a football field, even passed 7 feet beneath the BART tracks below Market Street without requiring the transit system to stop, or even slow, its trains.

"Isn't it amazing that we can build a tunnel underneath the most congested part of San Francisco without making the front page of The Chronicle?" said John Funghi, project manager for the subway.
(Actually, the story has been on the front page numerous times, but not because of a mishap.)
Excavation is the biggest part of the $1.6 billion subway project, and it was completed on schedule and within its $234 million budget, Funghi said.

The 1.7-mile Muni Metro line will begin at street level outside the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets, proceed above ground to a station at Fourth and Brannan streets, and then descend into the earth beneath the Interstate 80 skyway. It will stop at underground stations at Moscone Center, Union Square and Chinatown, with the tunnel extending to North Beach for the machines' extraction.

Underground journey

The tunneling machines, which followed a construction industry tradition of being named for women, began their journeys at a work site off Fourth Street beneath I-80, with Mom Chung starting the digging in July. Big Alma started months later, in November, but made better time. Mom Chung arrived in North Beach on June 2; Big Alma pulled into the extraction site nine days later.

Mom Chung is named for Dr. Margaret Chung (1889-1959), the nation's first female Chinese American physician, who practiced in Chinatown. Big Alma was the nickname of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels (1881-1968), a wealthy San Francisco socialite who was also the model for the woman atop the Dewey Monument in Union Square.

Last Friday, construction crews prepared to pull the cutter heads - the rotating front ends of the tunnel-boring machines that chew through rocks and dirt - into the extraction pit so they could be cut free with welding torches. The first cutter head was expected to be lifted from the pit Tuesday night, using two towering cranes. The rest of the machines will be cut into 20-foot sections and removed over the next three to four months. At that point, crews will put a concrete cap over the extraction shaft, which is 48 feet by 48 feet and 50 feet deep.

"We'll be out of here by the end of the year," said Mun Wei Leong, the subway's resident engineer.
The machines will be sold back to their manufacturer, the Robbins Co. It will refurbish them and sell them to another project, possibly in Los Angeles, which has big plans to expand its rail transit network, Leong said.

While the subway officially ends at Stockton and Washington streets in Chinatown, the tunnels were extended to North Beach because it was the closest spot with room to pull the machines from the ground.

Original plans called for that work to be done in Washington Square Park, but North Beach merchants and residents objected, and the extraction site was moved to Columbus Avenue. When complaints arose again as the boring machines chewed their way north, the city purchased rights to use the site of the long-abandoned and neglected Pagoda Palace Theater.

Some want more bore

The arrival of the tunnel-boring machines in North Beach has split the community into those who want the machines to remain buried and those who want the subway extended to Fisherman's Wharf. At a ceremony celebrating the machines' arrival, the only visible protesters on site were those urging construction of a North Beach station or an extension to the bay.

Officials willing

Either of those options would require finding more funding, winning environmental approvals and overcoming the inevitable public opposition that faces any major San Francisco project. But city officials have made it clear they'd be happy to extend the Central Subway to a populous area of the city that's not served by rail.

"We'd love to keep going," Funghi said.

Next up for the subway is the stations' construction, which is already under way, and the installation of the tracks, overhead wires and assorted electronic systems needed to turn a concrete tube into a working subway. That's scheduled to be done by 2018, leaving Muni several months to test the Central Subway before service starts in 2019.

Once the work is completed, construction crews will turn their attention to the streets. They'll patch up the potholes, repave the streets and make wider sidewalks.

Online extra

To see a video on the Central Subway, go to http://bit.ly/1v3mhtz.

Central Subway by the numbers

1.7 miles Length
$1.58 billion Cost
3 Underground stations
1 Above-ground station
2019 Scheduled opening
35,100 Projected daily ridership (2030)
$1.76 million Estimated annual operating costs (2019)
$6.89 million Estimated annual operating costs (2030)
Source: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

U.S. Conference of Mayors backs America Fast Forward


By Steve Hymon, June 24, 2014

The U.S. Conference of Mayors last week voted to back a resolution by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that “urges Congress to create a new category of qualified tax credit bonds to fund $45 billion over 10 years for transportation to stimulate infrastructure investment.”

Not exactly earth-shaking news. But it’s good news nonetheless.

Let me explain. Metro has been pursuing the America Fast Forward (AFF) initiative for four-plus years. AFF includes two parts: an expanded federal loan program and a new bond program.
The loan program — called TIFIA — was expanded by Congress in 2012. TIFIA loans help provide local transit agencies such as Metro with low-interest loans that can be used to help pay for big, expensive projects — and, in fact, TIFIA loans are being used to help finance the building of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the first phase of the Purple Line Extension and the Regional Connector.

The bond program has been garnering support, but Congress still hasn’t made it part of a multi-year transportation funding bill. In a nutshell: those who invest in transportation bonds receive federal tax credits instead of interest, a good way for investors to lower their tax burden and a good way for transportation agencies to save on interest costs.


Will Congress go for it? Hard to say as partisan politics have prevented Congress from approving of a truly long-term transportation funding bill since a four-year bill was signed into law by President Bush in 2005. That bill expired in 2009, was extended several times and then replaced by a two-year bill in 2012 that expires this year.

Earlier this year, President Obama released a bill proposal that embraced the AFF bond program as well as the TIFIA program. Congress hasn’t exactly embraced the President’s bill but there have been indications of support for the AFF bond program. In the meantime, mayors continue to push Congress to do something, as many cities are trying to expand transit systems and need help financing pricey projects.

As Mayor Garcetti wrote about the Conference, “As gridlock continues to paralyze our federal government, it’s America’s mayors who are increasingly leading the charge to improve quality of life across this country.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Atlanta getting variable speed limits this fall


By Richard Read, June 26, 2014


Computers have brought us many great things. Online shopping. Streaming movies. Minecraft. And, lest we forget, variable speed limits.

If you're not familiar with variable speed limits, they're exactly what you'd think: traffic systems designed to change speed limits in a given area, based on weather, traffic, and other factors. Variable speed limits have been used in parts of the U.S. for over 50 years, with Michigan rolling out one of the country's first programs in 1962 (PDF).

 But of course, other systems now deploy an array of sensors to assess weather, traffic, and other factors when changing speed limits. That's the kind of system that's headed to Atlanta, Georgia -- arguably, one of the most congested cities in the country.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation website, I-285 is a trouble spot -- specifically a 36-mile stretch of it, located to the north of the I-20 interchanges. This section, called the "Top End", is where variable speed limits will be introduced this September. The DOT says that it hopes the system will make I-285 safer and less congested.

The DOT says that it'll accomplish that task by keeping traffic moving at the same speed. While speeding itself can cause accidents, a major cause of collisions is "speed variance", or travelers moving at vastly different velocities. The new system in Atlanta aims to mitigate the possibility for differences by ratcheting down (or up) the speed limit from a maximum of 65 mph down to 35 mph, using a network of 176 digital signs. Though traveling down an interstate at 35 mph is no one's idea of fun, the DOT says that it's safer and more efficient for drivers to slow and move at the same pace than to keep a higher speed limit, which encourages stop-and-go traffic. 

And for those who think that police are always looking for ways to write more traffic tickets (not a stretch, since many cities depend on revenue from citations), Georgia's DOT states very clearly, "Our ability to remotely change the speed limit on the corridor is not intended to create speed traps. Rather, the changing speed limits are designed to create safer travel by preventing accidents and stop-and-go conditions."

Georgia officials say that the new system is inexpensive and easy to roll out, with a strong return on investment. They hope to see results similar to those of a variable speed limit system deployed in Washington state, which curbed collisions by 13 percent and injuries from collisions by 10 percent.
For additional details about Atlanta's new variable speed limit system, check out the DOT video, embedded above.

OC toll road drivers given grace period to pay


June 24, 2014

Cash toll booths on Orange County's toll roads have been closed since May 14, 2014.
Drivers on Orange County toll roads are getting a 30-day grace period if they forget to pay, officials announced Monday.

Those who use the 73, 133, 241 and 261 toll roads without paying first will have their penalties waived through the Labor Day holiday as long as tolls are paid within 30 days. Only first-time violators may take advantage of the moratorium.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies, the organization that operates the 51-mile toll road network, stopped collecting cash at its toll booths on May 14. The grace period is meant to inform drivers of the electronic payment options.

Drivers can create a prepaid FasTrak account to receive a transponder that can be used on every toll road in California; establish an ExpressAccount that charges each toll to a credit card, prepaid account or sends a monthly invoice; or pay within 48 hours online or through a mobile app.

"Hopefully, this additional time will help riders understand the toll changes so they can choose the personal payment method that works best for them," said Todd Spitzer, a county supervisor and Transportation Corridor Agencies board member.

About 250,000 people use Orange County's toll roads every day to avoid traffic. About 87 percent pay with a FasTrak or Express Account.

The new cashless system will save TCA more than $13 million over five years, according to officials.

Community Meeting for Desiderio Park

The community meeting for Desiderio Park will take place Wednesday, June 25 from 6:30PM-8:00PM. This meeting will provide the opportunity for constituents to give their input to the Public Works staff and review conceptual plans.


How LA Can Finally Solve Its Freeway Gridlock … and Become a World Leader


Bob Gelfand, June 24, 2014


GELFAND’S WORLD-For our biggest traffic frustration, the daily freeway commute, there is now a potential solution. It's new, and it won't require increased taxes or twenty years of construction. It's a bit like something out of Disneyland and a bit of The Jetsons. The technology is being tested right now in California, England, Poland, Korea, and Israel. 
So what's this solution to our commuting woes? 

It's a whole new generation of a technology that has been in existence in various forms for half a century. It has the unwieldy name Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), but it's a whole lot more. It carries you in privacy and comfort along an elevated guideway, without intermediate stops and starts. 

Let's start by listing a few things we would want a new transportation technology to have, and show how the new technology satisfies them. 
  • First, it has to be built without a tax increase, or any tax dollars for that matter. 
  • Second, it has to be accomplished soon -- let's say 3 or 4 years. 
  • Third, it has to give you a quick, private, inexpensive ride all the way across town to downtown LA, or to Westwood, or to LAX, or to the valley. 
  • Fourth, it has to carry you in one continuous ride, without lots of jarring, uncomfortable stops, the kind of interruptions you have on a bus or a subway. 
  • Fifth, it has to be built in a style that doesn't take up much ground space, or interfere with cars or with pedestrians. 
  • Sixth, it has to be quiet, nonpolluting, and highly energy efficient. 
When you are driving the freeway and you see red tail lights start to fill the road in front of you, what do you feel? Remind yourself of that feeling, and now consider the fact that we can actually do something about it. 

What is this techno-fix that can make your lives easier, if only we can develop the political will to get it done? 

We know that the solution is not to build another set of freeways. It would take too long, and cost too much, even if we were able to double-deck what we have now. Likewise, we can't build new freeways alongside the old ones in the LA basin, because there isn't the open ground to construct them. 

So there is nowhere to build except above the ground or down below it. The down-below version is to build tunnels in which we run trains. These are righteous projects which we should be supporting, but they have a limited utility in terms of the overall problem, at least over the next twenty or twenty-five years. 

Light rail is also very expensive. By the time you do the planning and the construction, you are looking at spending at least one-hundred million dollars for every mile you complete. The other problem is that the process, from start to finish, is measured in decades rather than months or years. Because tunneling is such a lengthy, expensive process (in excess of $450 million a mile), much of our new light rail will be above ground, which complicates life for those who live along the route. 
So what is this new idea we are talking about? 

It's basically similar to the simple monorail or elevated gondola idea, but updated using today’s more robust technology. Think of a narrow elevated rail, or guideway, from which your passenger pod hangs, and along which the pod moves at high speed. Another variant of this idea involves building a narrow elevated track or roadway atop which a passenger vehicle moves under the control of a centralized computer. 

Now think about a small station near where you live, where a private passenger pod comes to meet you. You click an icon on your cell phone, telling the system your destination, and you are whisked away in comfort and silence. The pod takes you directly to the stop where you want to go. No stopping and starting at every intermediate station, because you go right past them. 

Physically, the system involves putting up poles about the size of ordinary light poles. A rail is hung from pole to pole, and carries the passenger pods. 

Why haven't we seen this type of system sooner? Largely, the answer is that it has taken a confluence of several technologies to make the potential into reality. Modern computer systems and sensing devices mean that pod movements are run by electronic controls that leave the driving to the control system. This means that you don't have to hit the accelerator and the brake. You can play on your computer, or listen to music, or read a book, or just sightsee. 

Current prognostications are that construction costs will be about ten million dollars a mile, enormously cheaper than the hundreds of millions of dollars that it costs to dig tunnels for full-scale subways and ten times cheaper than putting rail above ground. That means that a PRT system can be built using private investment capital rather than tax funds. The cost of taking a ride on the PRT is going to be around the same price you would pay to take the bus, and probably will be considerably cheaper than what it currently costs you in gasoline. 

This kind of system is also much quicker to build. A truck pulls up to the site of a planned support pole, drills a hole in the ground, and another truck comes along and pours some concrete into a mold. A few days later, a third truck arrives and inserts the support pole. Do this every couple of hundred feet along a road (more or less like you would do for lighting poles), attach the guide rail, and you're done. Arrange to have stations for getting on and off at convenient intervals. Stations can even be situated in buildings. All you need is an entrance and exit at the second or third story level, and there you have it. 

Now think about getting on a passenger pod at LA International Airport and riding without stopping, all the way to downtown LA, or to the valley, or to Westwood. 

Imagine creating a PRT system that will connect up Santa Monica with West LA and downtown. Think about the city of Los Angeles being able to move thirty or forty thousand people an hour using PRT lines. It's the equivalent of adding two or three brand new freeways. 

Imagine being able to carry ten thousand people an hour into and out of LAX. It's the quicker, more intelligent version of park and ride. 

Los Angeles has taken on a brave experiment in light rail construction. We can't help but be pleased that this is finally taking place. But there are limits to light rail. There are only so many routes we can afford to build using this technology. In addition, the process is going to take time. Figure another few billion dollars and another ten or twenty years to get the whole system put up. 

Besides its immediate goal of providing some respite to freeway gridlock, PRT can also provide the remaining links in a comprehensive system that will include rail, freeways, and public streets. It will start by taking a huge load off of the freeways that serve the commuter and which become such a nightmare during our rush hours. Our recent experience is that the major freeways serving commuters -- the 405, the 10, the 101, and the 110 -- are becoming clogged at almost every waking hour. Even weekends are finding these freeways jammed at inopportune times. 

Imagine that we build a PRT to serve the 405 corridor. The engineering is straightforward, the cost is minimal, and the need is painfully obvious. 

This is why City Councilman Paul Koretz has been supportive of the PRT concept. His constituents, like so many of the rest of us, have been crying out for a solution to our transportation misery. 
There is lots more to talk about, including the several companies that are developing competing systems, any one of which might work in Los Angeles. 

The Skytran corporation, located in California, has just signed a deal to build a demonstration PRT that will be located in Tel Aviv, using an innovative system of magnetic levitation and electric propulsion that promises to move people in near silence, and at much reduced energy cost. Skytran will compete with other American companies such as Jpods. Vectus is applying Swedish technology to a PRT project in Suncheon Bay, South Korea. Any or all of these companies may be competitive in the Los Angeles market. 

As mentioned in the desired specifications listed above, a PRT system, correctly designed and engineered, can probably be installed using private investment funding, rather than tax dollars. There is no need to add to the sales tax in order to install PRT in Los Angeles. 

The political landscape 

A group of volunteers has been working on educating the public and the transportation community. (Disclosure: I am part of that group, and although I don't have any economic interest in PRT at this time, it is a field I would love to become involved in. We are currently talking about creating a nonprofit educational arm of our group in order to do public education.) That volunteer group includes an engineer who formerly worked on the design of the Space Station and interplanetary probes. It also includes people who originally met each other through the neighborhood council system. We hope to explain the idea of PRT to additional community groups and neighborhood councils over the next few months. 

Here is the link to the PRT Task Force website.  If you look carefully, you will find that different companies are taking different approaches. One is to run the PRT cars above an elevated roadway. You can see that in the Vectus approach, for example. The other way is to hang the pods from a narrow guide rail, as Skytran is doing. This approach has an advantage in terms of taking up very little space at street level, and can be installed pretty much anywhere, including crowded city avenues. 

The major lesson is that we can supplement commuter travel without building new freeways, and without breaking the bank. 

There is lots more to be said. The most important, for you the reader, is to visit the PRT website and, if you are somewhat convinced that we should start to think about this approach, then we invite you to sign the petition.  

The Economic Impact of building a whole new export industry 

One last word. Los Angeles was, at one time, the transportation leader for the world. The Douglas DC3 was invented and built here. The DC6 became the workhorse of civil aviation. The Space Shuttle was built here, as were multiple generations of top line fighter aircraft. 

We've lost a lot of that lead, but this is a chance to take it back. Los Angeles, should it decide to invite the construction of a PRT system here, will get manufacturing businesses and construction jobs. Along the way, we will improve our air quality through the installation of an all-electric system of commuter transport. There is a certain urgency in getting started, because other countries would like to compete for the business of building and exporting PRT.

How Denver Is Becoming the Most Advanced Transit City in the West

But the key question remains: Will metro residents give up their cars?


By Taras Grescoe, June 24, 2014


 Union Station is the centerpiece of Denver's FasTracks expansion program.

DENVER—It's a vision straight out of a transportation planner's fondest dream.

In the center of the metropolis, the Beaux-Arts façade of a grand old railway terminus, finished in robin egg-hued terracotta stone, is cradled by the daring swoop of a canopy of brilliant white Teflon. On one of eight tracks, a double-decked passenger train has stopped to refuel. A few hundred yards away, German-built light rail vehicles arrive from distant parts of the city, pulling into a downtown of soaring condo towers and multifamily apartment complexes. Beneath the feet of rushing commuters, express buses pull out of the bays of an underground concourse, and articulated buses shuttle straphangers through the central business district free of charge. A businessman, after swinging his briefcase into a basket, detaches the last remaining bicycle from a bike-share stand next to the light rail stop, completing the final leg of his journey-to-work on two wheels.

An out-of-towner could be forgiven for thinking she'd arrived in Strasbourg, Copenhagen, or another global poster child for up-to-the-minute urbanism. The patch of sky framed in the white oval of the Union Station platform canopy, however, is purest prairie blue. This is Denver, a city that, until recently, most people would have pegged as an all-too-typical casualty of frontier-town, car-centric thinking.

"Denver is a car town," says Phil Washington, who has been general manager of the Regional Transportation District, metro Denver's rail provider, since 2009. Originally from Chicago, Washington joined the transit authority after a 24-year career in the military. "You've got to remember, not so long ago, this was the Wild West. Historically, everybody had their own frickin' horse. They'd strap them up on a pole outside the saloon. Folks feel the same way about their cars." (Washington notes that even the RTD headquarters — conjoined brick buildings in what is now rapidly gentrifying LoDo, Lower Downtown — was once a notorious brothel, located a convenient stroll from Union Station.)

But in a state that recently voted to legalize the retail sale of marijuana, change is clearly in the wind. Ten years ago, Denver's new mayor (and current Colorado governor) John Hickenlooper began to ramp up a campaign to convince voters to approve an ambitious expansion of the region's embryonic light rail network. A similar plan — fuzzy on such key details as routes and cost — had been defeated in a 1997 referendum. In 2004, the region's voters approved $4.7 billion of new debt for the FasTracks program. The plan, to add 121 miles of new commuter and light-rail tracks to the region, 18 miles of bus rapid transit lanes, 57 new rapid transit stations, and 21,000 park-and-ride spots, was approved 58-to-42, precisely reversing the results of the '97 referendum. (The pricetag has since risen to $7.8 billion.)

Washington attributes the approval of FasTracks, in part, to growing frustration with traffic congestion. An earlier program called T-REX (for Transportation Expansion) built not only a light rail line to the city's southeast, but also widened Interstate 25, the region's main north-south axis. Following the apparently immutable laws of induced demand, increased road supply led to increased traffic. Within a year, I-25 was just as congested as it had ever been. Voters, Washington believes, came to the conclusion that transit offered a better path.

Another key factor in the referendum's success, Washington insists, was a concerted public relations campaign. RTD, supported by the Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Denver Regional Congress of Governments (DRCOG), launched a communications blitz which had them doing presentations in schools and city halls across most of the region's 60 municipalities.

"From the start, we made it clear we weren't competing with the car," says Washington. "And we explained, to the average Joe, that for only four cents on most ten dollar purchases, he'd be getting a whole lot of new transportation."
•       •       •       •       •
Washington traces the progress of FasTracks on a poster-sized map clipped to a whiteboard. Light rail trains, on a track that branches south of downtown, already offer service to Littleton and Lincoln; extensions will see new miles of tracks penetrating even deeper into the southern exurbs. Last year saw the opening of the first FasTracks project, the West Rail line, running through some of Denver's lowest income neighborhoods to its terminus at the headquarters of Jefferson County. By 2016, the Gold Line to Arvada will offer further service to the west, and the East Rail line will carry passengers to the airport; both lines will run heavy-duty commuter trains powered by overhead catenary wires. A rail line along Interstate 225 will create a loop east of downtown, which Washington hopes will one day become a true circle line.

Only the Northwest Rail Line, says Washington, remains a question mark. Intended to bring commuters from downtown to Boulder and Longmont, along 41 miles of track, it follows a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad freight corridor.
A rendering of the Westminster Station on the Northwest Rail Line.
By 2016, a bus-rapid transit system will offer service to Boulder, home to a university and cluster of tech companies that make it a major employment hub. The BRT along U.S. 36 will be more than just a stopgap; plans call for it to continue to run in tandem with commuter rail. Washington concedes that the line will be something less than full BRT. The buses currently on order have only one door, significantly slowing boarding and unloading, and will run in regular highway lanes, rather than dedicated busways.

By 2018, when all but one of the ten FasTracks lines should be completed, a metropolitan area with a projected population of 3 million, spread out over 2,340 square miles, will be served by nine rail lines, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and 95 stations. Many argue it will turn Denver into the west's most advanced transit city, vaulting it beyond better-known peers Portland, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

"We're witnessing the transformation of a North American city through transportation infrastructure investment," says Washington. He foresees a not-too-distant future when Denverites will be able to access not only light and commuter rail but also RTD buses, B-Cycle bicycles, and car-share vehicles using a single stored-value fare card.

"You'll wheel your suitcase out of Denver International Airport, ride the train to Union Station, and hop a Car2Go — or even a B-Cycle if you're traveling light — to your house or hotel. All using one card."

It's a beautiful vision, if one undermined by an uncomfortable truth. Denver's mode share for transit — the proportion of people who use buses or light rail to commute — is only about 6 percent. Contrast this with the Canadian city of Calgary, where a similarly sized bus and light-rail fleet operating in a similarly dispersed landscape draws in a mode share of nearly 17 percent. Even epically sprawled Atlanta and automobile-mad Los Angeles manage to achieve almost twice Denver's per capita transit ridership.
In spite of all the inducements, Denverites, like eight in ten Americans, continue to get to school or work the same old way: driving alone.

Will FasTracks make an appreciable number of people in Denver give up their horses — or their contemporary equivalent, private automobiles? The RTD is betting heavily that the answer will be yes. To achieve the transition, they're planning on changing not only the commuting habits of Denverites, but also the DNA of Denver itself, making it into a far denser city.

It's a multi-billion-dollar gamble not only on the future of transportation, but also on the future of the American metropolis — one whose outcome other cities will be watching very closely.
•       •       •       •       •
A trip to Denver, "The Queen City of the Plains," once meant arriving in one of the continent's great railroad towns. In its heyday, 80 trains a day passed through Union Station — trains like the Pioneer Zephyr, a kinetic sculpture of wraparound windows and streamlined stainless steel, whose record-breaking, 13-hour run to Chicago, in which it topped out at 112 miles an hour, earned it the nickname the "Silver Streak."

Union Station, with its eight-foot-tall chandeliers and plaster arches lined with carved Columbine flowers, announced Denver as an oasis of urbanity in the American West. Emerging from the Wynkoop Street entrance, travellers were met by the six-story high Welcome Arch, illuminated with 2,194 incandescent light bulbs. Incongruously, the arch was emblazoned with the Hebrew word "MIZPAH," meaning "God watch over you while we are apart." (Denverites liked to kid newcomers that it was the Native American word for "Howdy, Partner.")
The grand opening of Union Station took place May 9, 2014.
The fate of Union Station mirrors the fate of rail in much of North America. The Welcome Arch, which came to be seen as a traffic hazard, was torn down in 1931. Private interurban lines that linked downtown to Boulder in the north and Golden to the west disappeared with the coming of freeways. In 1958, a bright red sign entreating Denverites to "Travel by Train" was erected on the façade of the station. Air travel had begun to outpace rail, and Stapleton Airport had become the new gateway to the city. The streets around Union Station became Denver's skid row, the stomping ground for Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, whose epic cross-country road trips were usually made by car, not train. By the 1970s, many of downtown's most elegant buildings, which went up at the height of the City Beautiful movement, had been replaced by oceans of surface parking.

Change came with the new century. In 2001, RTD partnered with DRCOG to purchase the station and the surrounding acreage for $49 million. Union Station, currently a construction site, will once again become the centrepiece of a renewed Lower Downtown, now rebranded "LoDo." The station will continue to welcome Amtrak trains bound for Chicago and San Francisco, but will also be home to the Crawford Hotel, a 112-room luxury property, set to open in July 2014, with "Pullman" style rooms and suites starting at $252. Cranes currently pivot over residential condo towers, the tallest of them 21 stories. On the north side of the station, adjacent to the light-rail stop, a whole new residential neighborhood, Confluence Park, has sprouted up on what used to be weed-ridden, trash-strewn rail yards. An elementary school has opened its doors in a high-rise tower, and the local supermarket chain, King Soopers, has staked a LoDo branch (there are rumors a Whole Foods will follow). All told, the station redevelopment has spurred $1.8 billion in private investment.

"RTD is one of the largest property owners in Colorado," says Bill Sirois, the authority's manager of transit-oriented development. He describes dozens of developments going up around FasTracks stations. On the East Rail Line, the Urban Land Conservancy, a non-profit that purchases land to serve community interests, has bought nine acres of land around the 40th and Colorado station, where it's building 156 units of affordable housing. An eight-story housing complex for seniors is going up next to the 10th and Osage station. On the Central Rail Line, 275 new apartments are going up to on a transit plaza adjacent to Alameda Station. All of these new developments will be within a half-mile of a FasTracks line, well within walking distance of a station.

The biggest success story remains downtown, whose residential population has reached 17,500, a 142 percent increase since 2000. All told, FasTracks investment has brought seven million square feet of new office space, 5.5 million square feet of new retail, and 27,000 new residential units. Driving demand for TOD, says Sirois, is Denver's changing demographics.

"We have a huge population of empty nesters," he says. "More and more, they're ditching their suburban homes and moving downtown."

Since the Great Recession, Denver has also become a hotspot for Millennials, knocking out such car-centric rivals as Phoenix and Atlanta. Members of Generation Y are less likely to own cars (or want to own them), and more likely to opt for transit or active transportation. They are also multi-modal by instinct: a recent survey found that 70 percent of those in the 25-to-34 age range reported using multiple forms of transportation to complete trips, several times a week.

All this bodes well for the future of FasTracks. RTD is counting not only on increased residential density around stations, but also the network effect — the synergy that happens when new transit comes on line, making more parts of a region accessible to more users — to drive ridership forward.

"The system is developing and merging," says University of Denver transportation scholar Andrew Goetz. "The opening of Union Station is a major threshold. It's the intermodal heart of the network, bringing together rail and the regional bus system. The connectivity we're going to see as a result is going to be quite impressive."

"I remember, seven years ago, I'd be driving down I-25, and it would be completely gridlocked," says Max Morrow, the owner of Max Lunch, a lunch counter next to Union Station. "A nightmare. In every car there's one person. And I'd look over at the light rail line that had just opened, and there'd be literally two people on every train. Now the trains are starting to get full. People in Denver love their cars, but they're beginning to figure out the train system, and they're using it." Morrow, who is in his forties, says he needs a car to carry supplies for work, but believes he'll be leaning heavily on FasTracks. "I'll be taking it downtown for ball games. You can sober up on the way home. As soon as the airport line's open, that's the only thing I'll use. I'll never drive out there again."

Morrow's employee, Zed Ireland, who is in his late twenties, already relies on light rail. "There's a bus stop behind my house. I take the bus to light rail. It takes about half an hour to get to work. Two forms of transit, it's not bad at all.

"When our baby is born"—Ireland and his wife are expecting their first—"we'll probably get a car. But it'll be mostly for my wife. I'll still take public transit. And if we move, it's going to be close to a light rail line."
•       •       •       •       •
There's a surprising amount of buy-in on FasTracks, even from traditional opponents of rail on either side of the political spectrum. Libertarians, who in many cities oppose rail projects as big-government "boondoggles," have been remarkably silent in Denver. (This may be because the president of the local free-market think tank, the Independence Institute, is a former chair of the RTD board.) In Los Angeles and other cities, opposition to rail has also come from groups on the left, who label it Cadillac transit for the middle class, and argue lower-income workers could be better served by improved bus service.

Construction at the 38th and Blake Station, which is targeted for transit development in the future.
"I think FasTracks is a great system," says Melinda Pollack, a founding member of Mile High Connects, a group that brings together non-profits and foundations to advocate for affordable development close to transit. "When all the lines open, it's really going to change connectivity for people. We're trying to make sure that low-income people don't get pushed away from the stations." The group's goal is to have two thousand units of affordable housing opened near stations in the next decade.

Such bipartisan support gets to a deeper truth about Denver: The region's deeply collaborative political culture has made it one of the most high-functioning metropolitan areas in the nation. In the wake of suburban tax revolts in the 1960s, central city and neighboring communities chose to cast aside rivalries, cooperating to build stadiums and a new airport that would benefit the entire region.

The RTD has also reaped the rewards of regionalism. Rather than being forced to work with a variety of smaller agencies, RTD (like Vancouver's TransLink and Portland's TriMet) has authority over a large service area, allowing it to streamline the riding experience for users.

Denver's reboot as a train town isn't based on wishful thinking, or blind nostalgia for Gilded Age choo-choo trains. The engineers of FasTracks are well aware that Denver International Airport will continue to be the true gateway to the region. But as Kevin Flynn, an RTD public communications manager who drives me out the airport terminal worksite points out, once off the plane, travellers will be able to ride escalators down to a platform to trains that will offer access to an entire region.
"I think our riders will be pleasantly surprised by our commuter rail," says Flynn "They'll be able to roll right on to our commuter rail from the terminal, with bicycles, ski bags, golf bags, wheelchairs, strollers, or whatever they're carrying."

Construction on the I-225 Rail Line, with expected completion in 2016, from May 2014.
Manufactured by Hyundai Rotem, the new low-floor trains (the next generation of the Silverliners already operating in Philadelphia) will reach maximum speeds of 79 miles per hour. Swiftness, arguably, will be a less salient feature than frequency. Unlike traditional commuter rail, which too often offers only once hourly (or worse) service outside peak periods, FasTracks trains will run with headways of as little as 10 minutes. They will also offer superior connectivity. As Flynn points out, military personnel and veterans from a seven-state area will be able to fly into Denver and ride trains to the Veterans Affairs Hospital at the Anschutz medical campus, a hub that already employs 40,000 people.

Back at the agency's headquarters, in LoDo, Phil Washington explains that RTD is building transit for a metropolis that, though born around rail, largely grew up around the needs of the automobile.

"There are at least five major employment centers in the Denver region." Apart from downtown, the Anschutz medical center, and the airport, Boulder and the Denver Tech Center, on the Southeast Rail Line, are significant magnets for commuters. "The reverse commute we're seeing to these centers is incredible. Tons of folks."

It's a reality echoed in many decentralized cities, especially in the west and south: Only one in five jobs in Denver is located within three miles of downtown. For the time being, light and commuter rail may deliver people to what looks like a low-density landscape of office parks and park-and-rides. (Which doesn't preclude future technologies, like autonomous buses and cars, delivering people from rail stations to low-density workplaces and suburban and exurban homes.)

By building a multi-poled system, RTD is tailoring transit to the contemporary metropolis. Crucially, by building it in conjunction with high-density transit-oriented development, the agency is also scheming to change the very nature of the American metropolis.

That's why, when it comes to the future of transportation on this continent, Denver may be the city to watch.

Surveying the airport construction site, where a hard-hatted Mayor Michael Hancock was presiding over the topping out ceremony for the Westin Hotel, I played the devil's advocate and asked Kevin Flynn if spending billions on transit in what has long been a car town was really worth it.

"Before it was a car town, Denver was a train town," he told me, with a smile. "For the time being, our infrastructure hasn't caught up with our ambition. Come back in a few years, and it'll be a completely different story."