Purpose

To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Is Reynolds the Antidote to L.A.’s Defeatist Attitude on Transportation?

http://la.streetsblog.org/2014/07/22/is-reynolds-the-antidote-to-l-a-s-defeatist-attitude-on-transportation/

By Damien Newton, July 22, 2014



 Seleta Reynolds (left) goes for a walk in DTLA with out-of-towner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo:##http://www.gjel.com/blog/los-angeles-hires-seleta-reynolds-what-it-means-for-walking-and-biking-in-socal.html##GJEL Accident Attorneys##

Incoming LADOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds (right) goes for a walk in downtown L.A. with out-of-towner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Should Mayor Eric Garcetti have hired someone with more Los Angeles experience to run Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation? With San Francisco’s Seleta Reynolds chosen as the incoming department head, there’s been a small buzz that only someone with direct experience with our region can handle making L.A. a better place to live. It has to be someone with local experience, they say.

As someone who is not from the area originally, and was only an Angeleno for six months when I became the first editor of Streetsblog Los Angeles, allow me to say that idea is complete hogwash.
For some reason, people that live and drive in Los Angeles have sat through so many traffic jams that they have come to believe that idling in endless traffic is a natural phenomenon.  They also believe a harmful corollary: that things that have worked in other areas to make people’s commutes better will not work in Los Angeles. Because “this is Los Angeles.”

It’s the reverse of exceptionalism.

Because over the last six and a half years, we’ve heard that Los Angeles, and Angelenos are so enamored with our vehicles that we will never be able to walk, much less ride a bike or ride transit, even though wild dogs can learn to ride transit. Following the passage of Measure R, many are starting to accept that transit is a viable option in Los Angeles, although the anti-transit theory it still pops up in some cities on the Westside.

Nowadays, we hear some mix of theories from “smart growth won’t work in Southern California,” to “road diets won’t work in Southern California” to “people won’t bicycle in Southern California.” These sort of self-defeating prophecies sap the energy out of transportation reformers, jade community activists, and generally have a corrosive impact on those seeking to make our streets safe for everyone.

By reaching outside of LADOT and Metro staff to find a new department head, Eric Garcetti is signaling the end of the pessimism and reverse exceptionalism that have marked our transportation discussions over the past years, decades, and even generations.
It is a new day, and Seleta Reynolds is a new leader.


This is not to say that there are not plenty of good, capable leaders from Greater Los Angeles that would have done a great job as the General Manager of LADOT.

The affable Zaki Mustafa at LADOT comes to mind. Long Beach’s bike visionary and grant master Sumi Gant could do the job. So could consultant Ryan Snyder who seems to have written half of the bicycle and pedestrian plans for cities throughout Southern California.

But by tapping an expert on street safety and bicycle share from outside the area, Mayor Garcetti is sending a message. Not only is he creating a safe and equitable transportation network for all road users a priority, so is ending the era of Los Angeles’ reverse-exceptionalism when it comes to transportation.

Will Reynolds succeed? Will she be Los Angeles’ Janette Sadik-Khan? Only time will tell. But not starting with a vision limited by years of hearing about what won’t work in Los Angeles gives Reynolds an advantage. By seeing Los Angeles through fresh eyes will help her see it for what it is, and what it can be, instead of being paralyzed by false fears of what it can not be and what we can not do.

Time’s Up: 6 Things to Know About Today’s Transportation Showdown

http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/07/31/times-up-6-things-to-know-about-todays-transportation-showdown/

By Tanya Snyder, July 31, 2014

Today is the House of Representatives’ last day in session before departing for an August recess full of photo ops and electioneering in their districts. The Senate will stick around DC for one more day before going home. Before that happens, the two houses have to come together on a plan to keep the Highway Trust Fund going. If not, U.S. DOT will have to take drastic measures.

Republican Sen. Bob Corker disagrees with the House GOP on when the bill should expire and how to pay for a new one.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker disagrees with the House GOP on when the bill should expire and how to pay for a new one.

Both the House and the Senate have voted on not entirely dissimilar plans to keep the fund going. But the differences between them have set up a high-stakes showdown that has to be resolved by tomorrow.

Here are the key points:
    1. The timing: The House is expected to vote on the Senate bill today at about 3:00 p.m. and is expected to refuse to budge. Then they’ll leave town, meaning the Senate can either cave or be blamed as the Highway Trust Fund goes dry before August recess ends and transportation works grind to a halt. Meanwhile, Sec. Anthony Foxx has warned state DOTs that federal payments will slow down August 1 — that’s tomorrow — if Congress doesn’t take action to keep the Fund from going insolvent.
    2.  
    3. The numbers: The House is gloating that the Senate’s bill contains a $2 billion technical error — which is true; it comes up with just $5.18 billion of the $7.13 billion needed — but Senate Democrats say it can be easily fixed.
    4.  
    5. The urgency: Since summer is the high season for construction, the real pressure on the Highway Trust Fund is between now and the end of the year, when states will need to get reimbursed for the work that’s going on now. That’s why there’s not a huge monetary difference between the House proposal that lasts till May and the Senate proposal that ends in December. There’s just not a lot of cash going out the door at U.S. DOT between January and May.
    6.  
    7. The conflict: The House and Senate disagree on what budget gimmicks to use to “pay for” the transfer into the trust fund, but more fundamentally they disagree about how long the patch should be. As we’ve reported before, Boxer prefers a December deadline, saying it’s unfair for this Congress to fail to fix a problem that occurred on its watch and instead kick it to the next Congress. What she means is that she wants her six-year bill to pass and that won’t happen after the end of this year if the GOP wins a majority in the Senate and she loses the chairmanship of the EPW Committee. That’s precisely why the House is gunning for a May deadline.
    8.  
    9. The breakdown: The Senate Republicans aren’t as enthusiastic as the House about having to take this up when they’re in charge. Thirteen Rs joined the Ds in pushing for a December sunset, including Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who wants to raise the gas tax and be done already. “Wouldn’t it be great to finish 2014 actually solving one issue; taking one issue off the plate next year?” he said yesterday at a WSJ press breakfast. Only one Democrat, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, voted no on Boxer’s date-change amendment. Notably, David Vitter, the ranking member on the EPW Committee, who has shown great bipartisan unity with Boxer, broke with her on this and voted to essentially flush their six-year-bill down the toilet. His predecessor, James Inhofe, voted in favor of Boxer’s December 19 deadline.
    10.  
    11. The fallout: If the GOP does win the Senate in 2014, the conventional wisdom says they’ll lose it again in 2016. Will the Republicans really want to take on a tax increase of any kind during the only two years when they’ll get the lion’s share of the blame? Of course not. The prognosis is that if there’s no long-term bill this term, it’ll be another three years. Three more years of patchwork funding gimmicks is nothing to look forward to.

Will Missouri Voters Go Along With the Highway Lobby’s Money Grab?

http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/07/30/will-missouri-voters-go-along-with-the-highway-lobbys-money-grab/#more-98512

By Angie Schmitt, July 30, 2014

 (See website for a video.)

Next week, Missouri voters will decide on Amendment 7 — a three-quarter-cent sales tax hike to pay for transportation projects that would be the largest tax increase in the state’s history. Construction industry groups have poured millions into convincing Missourians to pay $5.4 billion over the next 10 years. Will they bite?

A coalition of pro-transit forces is urging them not to. Thomas Shrout, a long-time St. Louis transit advocate, is heading the opposition, a group called Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions. Shrout says the tax fails on a number of levels.

For one, 85 percent of the money would be spent on roads. Only 7 percent would go to transit and a small portion would go toward local governments.

“It’s just out of proportion,” said Shrout.

Highway capacity in slow-growing Missouri is already abundant. Compared to other American cities, Kansas City and St. Louis rank near the top in highway miles per capita. Driving has been declining nationwide and Missouri’s population grew less than 1 percent over the last 13 years.
So why the push to raise taxes to build new roads? Follow the money. “Just about every major [engineering and construction] firm in the country has given to the Yes campaign,” Shrout told Streetsblog.



Driving has been declining in Missouri, so why does the state need billions more for roads? Graph: NextSTL

Even if Missouri’s project list wasn’t larded with highways, raising the gas tax would be a far fairer revenue source. But state legislators have instead settled on the regressive sales tax model.
That means, if Amendment 7 passes, the state’s poorest residents — whether they drive or not — will pay a larger share of their income than the state’s affluent residents. A study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that the poorest 20 percent of Missouri residents spend 5.9 percent of their income on sales and excise taxes. Meanwhile the richest 1 percent pay just 0.9 percent.

Gasoline and diesel purchases don’t carry a sales tax. Neither do truck sales, meaning even though trucks cause the most damage to roads, businesses that use trucks would be exempt from paying for those roads in Missouri.

A provision of the amendment would also forbid the state from raising the gas tax or issuing new tolls while the tax is in place.

Missouri’s sales tax rate is already the 14th highest in the country. A significant increase could potentially undermine consumer spending and hurt the state’s economy. It could also hurt transit projects, which are usually funded by local sales taxes. If Amendment 7 passes, it would raise the sales tax to 9.5 percent in St. Louis. That could jeopardize any future attempt to expand light rail, for example, by raising the sales tax.

The editorial board of the St. Louis Post Dispatch has called the tax proposal “an abomination” and “the wrong tax at the wrong time and in some ways, for the wrong purposes.” The paper noted that the proposed sales tax hike follows an income tax decrease that will slash services and disproportionately benefit the state’s wealthiest.

“If Amendment 7 passes, Missourians can drive better roads to crummier schools,” they wrote.
Even so, some active transportation groups — but not all — have lined up behind the proposal, because of some promises the state has made to fund specific projects. The Missouri Bike Federation came out in favor because it would represent the state’s first dedicated funding for biking and walking, and the state promised funding for a number of trail projects. Meanwhile, TrailNet in St. Louis, a fairly large trails advocacy group, is opposed.

It remains to be seen how opposition efforts will play out against the $2.5 million the construction industry has already poured into convincing voters the new tax will create jobs and improve safety. (They have an additional $1.7 million remaining in their coffers for the “final push,” the Associated Press reports.) Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions has raised only $26,000 — enough for a single mailer. Even so, a number of politicians, including a large portion of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, have allied themselves with the opposition.

In the Kansas City Star this week, State Senator John Lamping called the proposal a “grab” by “special interest groups.”

“The tax is cynical,” he said. “The proponents assume you’re not paying attention.”

It will be interesting to see if they’re right.

Discussing Seattle TBM repair strategy

http://www.tunneltalk.com/Seattle-Alaskan-Way-29July2014-TBM-Bertha-repairs-Podcast.php

By Peter Kenyon, July 30, 2014

(See website for a podcast.)

With the world’s largest TBM idle in the ground following the well-publicized failure of the bearing seals that protect its main bearing, a high-level delegation from the project’s contractor team of Dragados and Tutor Perini (Seattle Tunnel Partners), journeyed to Japan for urgent talks with senior representatives of the machine’s manufacturer, Hitachi Zosen.

Project Manager Chris Dixon (STP)
Project Manager Chris Dixon (STP)
Among those present at the talks were STP Project Manager Chris Dixon, who spoke in detail to TunnelTalk about the nature of the repairs being carried out, the “aggressive” repair schedule, enhancements that are to be made to the machine, and the sealing of a deal that will see Hitachi Zosen bearing the cost of TBM repairs for the time being. STP, for its part, will assume responsibility for costs associated with excavation of the recovery shaft through which access will be gained to the 17.48m diameter machine’s cutterhead, main bearing, bearing block and ruptured sealing system.
Dixon also answers questions relating to STP’s claim request against the client, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), for US$125 million of extra contractual charges associated with the repair of the machine under the provisions of a “change order” clause in the design-build contract. WSDOT has strongly rejected this claim, though STP is likely to contest this further down the line.


References



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Effort to repair Seattle tunnel machine delayed

http://tdn.com/news/state-and-regional/washington/effort-to-repair-seattle-tunnel-machine-delayed/article_6f2a9b81-be85-5382-b6e7-10e59655034b.html

July 28, 2014

An effort to repair the giant tunneling machine stuck under downtown Seattle is going more slowly than expected.

The state Transportation Department said Monday it had been informed by the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, that it's taking longer than expected to construct an underground shaft that will allow crews to reach the machine's damaged cutter head.

The DOT says it's "no easy task" to build a concrete ring that's 80 feet wide and 120 feet deep. Work on the shaft was expected to be done this month, but could take until the end of August. After the pit is finished, crews will use a massive crane to lift the head of the machine to the surface to repair seals and bearings.

The contractor still expects to resume digging next March and hopes to have the tunnel open in November 2016.

Dori Monson: We need a leader to save us from Seattle tunnel big dig nightmare

http://mynorthwest.com/76/2575419/Dori-Monson-We-need-a-leader-to-save-us-from-Seattle-tunnel-big-dig-nightmare

By Dori Monson, July 29, 2014


tunnel WSDOT
 There is yet another delay for the Seattle tunnel project in the repair timeline. KIRO Radio's Dori Monson doesn't think the tunnel will ever be built.


We're hearing this week there is yet another delay for the Seattle tunnel. This is something that affects everybody who is listening because everybody in the state is going to be on the hook for this thing.
On Monday, we got an update on the delay, and according to Chris Dixon, the project manager for Seattle Tunnel Partners, it's going to be another month before they can even start this repair.
"Originally, we were going to finish the secant piles by the end of July. Now, they're going to finish next month and that puts us about one month later."

When they first released the extensive drawings and schematics for the repair plans, I said the complexity of the plans made me even more confident that my billion-dollar overrun estimate is conservative.

Now, I am just a dumb guy from Ballard with zero engineering and zero geology background, so how is it that here on this show we were able to say there is no way they're going to be able to make these repairs on the timetable they've proposed? It was just such an obviously massive job. How is it that the gut from a dumb guy from Ballard at a glance was more accurate than the people running this program?

I really don't understand how with all the experts, all the engineers, all the technology, all the computer modeling, how they are so consistently wrong on everything they do with this project.
Let me also refer you to something we exclusively broke on this show a few months ago. We went undercover and had reporters follow four guys, four higher-ups in the Seattle tunnel project, who were several times a week taking an hour-and-a-half out of their days to go to the driving range at Interbay Golf Course.
 
After we busted them on the air, amazingly they went back to Interbay in the same vehicles, but they had removed the Seattle Tunnel Partners logo so they could continue golfing on a regular basis.
There were a lot of people who said Monson, you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel now, who cares if they go golfing on their lunch break. What I said was if they're telling us that getting this tunnel built on time and on budget has been a top priority, you don't have an extra couple of hours a day to go golfing.
I don't take hour and half lunch breaks. I don't have time to do that. And if you're managing a multi-billion dollar project that has been a disaster, you don't have time to go golfing three, four days a week. Golfing was apparently more important to them than serving the public.

Todd Trepanier, with the Washington State Department of Transportation, says apparently this one month delay doesn't mean they're off schedule to begin digging again in March.

"That has increased our concern in their ability to be able to resume mining at the end of March, but we look to STP to give us updated schedules. They're communicating to us just as you've heard them communicate to you of the March date still being good from their standpoint from what they know."
Explain to me how if the repairs right now are a month behind schedule, you still meet a deadline that is seven months away on time? We are being sold a bill of goods here gang.

We need a leader, we need Jay Inslee, Ed Murray, Lynn Peterson, somebody to say, look we blew a couple billion dollars, this thing is not going to be built, it's an impossibility, we're going to cut our losses, we're going to save the taxpayers money.
We need a leader to save us from what is coming.
And what is coming is a big dig multi-billion dollar overrun, that'll be multiple years behind schedule, and in the end, I don't think the tunnel is ever going to get built.

This is going to end up costing every single one of us who lives in this state thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars. They are stealing this money from us and nobody besides this show is willing to sound that alarm. We need a leader who is going to prioritize you and me above the big developers, the labor unions, and those who might profit off this, but they refuse to do that.

Big Dig Revisited

http://www.boston.com/news/specials/big_dig_problems/

No date.




 Road to Tragedy -- A history of Big Dig troubles




Big Dig leaking tunnels

Artery tunnel springs leak

Water gushed into the Central Artery's northbound tunnel for hours from a small breach in the eastern wall, backing up afternoon rush-hour traffic for miles. (Boston Globe, 9/16/04)
Big Dig found riddled with leaks
Engineers investigating the cause of the massive Big Dig tunnel leak discovered the project is riddled with hundreds of fissures pouring millions of gallons of water into the tunnel system. (Boston Globe, 11/10/04)
 List of tunnel troubles grows (Boston Globe, 11/17/04)
Use of slurry walls may have spawned leaks
Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff's decision to use a pair of massive slurry walls as a lone barrier in the Big Dig project may have led to the hundreds of cracks in the tunnel walls. (Boston Globe, 12/19/04)
On Sept. 15, 2004, water spewed through fissures in the Central Artery tunnel.
On Sept. 15, 2004, water spewed through fissures in the Central Artery tunnel. (Evan Richman / Globe Staff Photo)
Leakage in Big Dig tunnel rises
Almost three years after state managers vowed to close thousands of leaks in the Big Dig tunnels, nearly 2 million gallons of water flow each month through the O'Neill Tunnel, an 18 percent increase over last year, a Globe analysis shows. (Boston Globe, 7/1/07)
Leaks still plague tunnel
Water is still leaking steadily into the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel with no signs of abating and continued uncertainty about where it is all coming from, according to a new state analysis, which flatly contradicts Massachusetts Turnpike Authority officials' claim that they have the problem under control. ()
Big Dig ceiling collapse

Mass. crisis of confidence

With a Big Dig flaw now responsible for a death, state officials rushed to contain an unprecedented crisis of public confidence in the project. (Boston Globe, 7/12/06)
Workmanship and design are called into question
Investigators should focus on some basic, troubling questions about the way the tunnel ceiling was built, civil engineers and highway construction specialists said. (Boston Globe, 7/12/06)
Concrete falls, and a couple's joy is destroyed
Angel Del Valle was driving through the Interstate 90 connector at about 10:45 Monday night, his wife, Milena, at his side, to pick up his brother at Logan International Airport. Suddenly, in front of him, the ceiling began to give way. (Boston Globe, 7/12/06)
Photo Gallery Photos Pop-up SLIDESHOW: Boston reacts
Pop-up GLOBE INTERACTIVE GRAPHIC: The faulty bolt system Pop-up AP INTERACTIVE: Big Dig Dirt
Officials and crews worked at the scene of the accident at the Mass. Pike connector tunnel on Tuesday, July 11.
Officials and crews worked at the scene of the accident at the Mass. Pike connector tunnel on Tuesday, July 11. (Globe Staff Photo / Pat Greenhouse)
Big Dig cost overruns

Artery errors cost more than $1b

A yearlong Globe investigation determined that at least $1.1 billion in Big Dig construction cost overruns, or two-thirds of the cost growth to date, are tied to Bechtel mistakes. (4/28/03)
Cost-recovery efforts have been nearly a lost cause
State officials routinely overlooked or excused Bechtel's errors in the construction of the Big Dig, a Globe investigation found. (2/11/03)
Lobbying translates into clout
Bechtel has cemented bonds with policymakers to protect profits and deflect criticism. (5/29/03)
The Central Artery.
The Central Artery. (David L. Ryan / Globe Staff Photo)
Big Dig midpoint issues

Rising scrutiny, soaring costs
cloud fortunes of the Big Dig

Roughly halfway through the 20-year endeavor known as The Big Dig, there are still miles -- expensive miles -- to go. (Boston Globe, 9/11/94)
Project poses a test for privatization
Officials and industry sources say Bechtel has instilled a chilling effect over a project in which some believe it has a conflict of interest (Boston Globe, 9/12/94)
Commitments to foes raise Artery price tag
Hundreds of expensive promises were made to buy support from opponents. (Boston Globe, 9/13/94)
 
RECENT Big Dig woes
2003
January: Matthew Amorello, chairman and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, hires retired probate court judge Edward M. Ginsburg to lead the agency's cost-recovery efforts.

2004
January: Icy road conditions inside the northbound tunnel of Interstate 93 force the closing of one lane, and traffic backs up into Milton.
March: On evidence obtained from Ginsburg's team, the state sues Bechtel Corp. and Parsons Brinckerhoff for $146 million, alleging the firms made inaccurate cost estimates in public, to continue lucrative contracts.
September: Water gushes into the Central Artery's northbound tunnel for hours, backing up afternoon rush-hour traffic for miles.
Nov. 11: A report says engineers discovered that the project is riddled with hundreds of leaks and that Bechtel managers were aware that the wall was deficient from the moment it was built in the late 1990s, yet did not order it replaced and did not inform state officials of the situation.
Nov. 12: Governor Mitt Romney calls on Amorello to resign.

2005
Jan. 13: Amorello announces an agreement with Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly to turn over cost-recovery responsibilities.
Jan. 25: Romney again asks Amorello to step down, when a new report on Big Dig managers accuses them of impeding the investigation into tunnel leaks.
March: Chunks of melting snow and ice fall from the cables of the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge and force the temporary closing of four traffic lanes on I-93.
April 4: A Federal Highway Administration report says that tunnels are safe, but that the state must develop an aggressive tunnel-inspection program.
April 5: A day after the FHA declares the tunnels safe, rocks and other debris rain down from an overhead vent in the I-93 southbound tunnel and damage five vehicles.
May 26: Big Dig officials say two leaks have been spewing 20 to 30 gallons of water a minute into the Fort Point Channel section of the Interstate 90 tunnel since last winter.
July: An inspection finds a 1,500-foot stretch of the tunnel near the North End to be the most problem-plagued area of the project, with weaknesses in the tunnel walls that exceed those in the section of tunnel that had a gushing leak in 2004.
December: The Globe discloses that Amorello interviewed in the fall for a top position to manage all construction at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, but was passed over for another candidate.

2006
February: The attorney general's office demands $108 million in refunds from Big Dig contractors. The demand was made in a Feb. 7 letter to the lawyer representing Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the private sector manager of the project, and the two- dozen smaller design firms supervised by the consortium.
May: Six managers from Aggregate Industries NE Inc. are indicted on charges of running a conspiracy that delivered 5,000 truckloads of tainted concrete, 1.2 percent of the concrete used on the Big Dig over nine years.
July 10: A 2 1/2- to 3-ton concrete ceiling panel in the I-90 connector tunnel falls, killing a woman.
July 12: Inspectors find at least 60 faulty bolt fixtures in the ceiling of the tunnel. The attorney general says tests conducted in 1999 showed that the ceiling bolts had a tendency to come loose.
July 13: Romney announces he is filing emergency legislation to give him control of inspections in the highway tunnel network, as well as the final decision on reopening the tunnel.

SOURCE: Boston Globe archives
Kathleen Hennrikus/Globe Staff

(Globe Staff File Photo / Lane Turner)




If an Electric Bike Is Ever Going to Hit It Big in the U.S., It's This One

Is the Copenhagen Wheel poised to become the next big thing in alternative urban transportation?

 http://www.citylab.com/commute/2014/07/if-an-electric-bike-is-ever-going-to-hit-it-big-in-the-us-its-this-one/375167/

By Nate Berg, July 29, 2014

 Image


CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—On a sunny but brisk spring morning near the Charles River in Cambridge, I took a test ride on the bicycle of the future. No rockets or lasers (alas), the bicycle of the future looks pretty much like the bicycle of the present. But with the first pumps of my feet on the pedals, I felt the difference. The bike wasn't just moving, it was pushing, adding extra propulsion to my own pedaling, giving me a boost with every revolution of the pedals. Faster than expected, I reached the end of a quiet block leaning into a corner. I took a straightaway for a few blocks and pushed 20 miles an hour without hardly trying. My feet were putting out a solid paper-route effort, but the bike had me racing in the Tour de France.

The bike I tested was equipped with the Copenhagen Wheel, an electric pedal-assist motor fully contained in the oversized red hub of an otherwise normal back bicycle wheel. Inside that red hub is a delicately crammed array of computing equipment, sensors, and a three-phase brushless direct current electric motor that can feel the torque of my pedaling and add appropriately scaled assistance.

Replace the back wheel of any bike with the Copenhagen Wheel and it's instantly an electric bike—one that not only assists the rider but senses the surrounding topography and can even collect and share data about environmental, traffic, and road conditions. First developed in 2009, through a partnership between MIT's Senseable City Lab and the City of Copenhagen, the wheel is now in its first stages of commercial production. By the end of 2014, thousands will be shipped out to fulfill pre-orders around the world.

With its focus on design and simple application of complex technology, the Copenhagen Wheel is perhaps the sleekest version of the electric bike. But it's hardly the only one. Millions of electric bicycles are being used in cities all over the world, offering cheap and accessible forms of transportation in developing countries and dense urban environments. And though bicycling has long been considered recreation in the United States, the electric bicycle is about to become the next big thing in urban transportation.

•       •       •       •       •

The electric bicycle is a relatively new idea. In its basic form, it's a battery-powered motorized bike operated either by a manual throttle on the handle bars or by an automatic system that adds power when pedaling. About 20 years ago manufacturers began to offer these lighter and cheaper alternatives to mopeds and motor scooters.

Frank Jamerson has been watching the market evolve since the beginning. An engineer who helped build the first nuclear submarines at Westinghouse and who later helped run the EV-1 electric vehicle program for General Motors, Jamerson started publishing the Electric Bikes World Report, a bi-annual profile of the global market for electric bikes, in 1995. Then, as now, China led the way, according to report co-author and chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association, Ed Benjamin.


 
China was an early adopter of electric bikes and still leads the world in sales, with 32 million in 2013.

Benjamin and Jamerson estimate that 32 million electric bikes were sold in China in 2013, though they note that the Chinese bikes are often low-quality, costing a few hundred dollars on average and only lasting for a year or two before breaking down. In Europe, the next biggest market, where most of the electric bikes are higher quality and sell for upwards of $3,000, Jamerson and Benjamin estimate about 1.4 million sales in 2014. Japan and India are other major markets, with sales in the hundreds of thousands.

In the United States, the numbers are smaller but growing. From July 2011 to June 2012, American consumers bought about 100,000 electric bikes, according to Jamerson's estimates. The next year, sales reached 185,000. By 2016, as more manufacturers and retailers get into the electric bike market, Jamerson expects annual sales above 400,000. Within 20 years, he thinks the number could be as high as 2 million, and that the United States will be one of the top markets for electric bicycles in the world.

"We've got an ever-expanding population in the world that's moving more and more to denser and denser cities. Those cities require transportation solutions much more like a bicycle or an electric bicycle," says Benjamin. "The fact that the United States is transitioning a little bit slower than the rest of the world, I don’t see that as important. It's going to happen. It is happening. It will continue to happen."

There's certainly no shortage of manufacturers. There are nearly a hundred brands of electric bikes currently on the market. From Chinese manufacturers building millions of electric bikes a year to small garage-based startups, the supply side of electric bikes has developed rapidly over the past 20 years. And though Chinese manufacturers like Geoby are leading the global market, much of the U.S. market is led by three American companies: Pedego, Prodecotech, and Currie Technologies.

Currie, based in Simi Valley, California, has been building electric bikes since 1997. The company now offers more than two dozen different types of electric bikes, ranging from beach cruisers to mountain bikes, as well as a variety of conversion kits. Currie president Larry Pizzi concedes that the U.S. market has been slower to develop, but he's also seen strong recent growth in sales. Without offering specific figures, he says sales were up 25 percent from 2011 to 2012, and another 25 percent from 2012 to 2013. And the trend is continuing upwards, with Pizzi saying business with dealers "more than doubled" through the first quarter of 2014.

But retailers have been slow to adopt electrics as a viable product—especially in the United States. Pizzi says retailers have been hesitant because electric bikes are "counter-intuitive" to what they think their customers want. "It's a passionate industry in North America, and it focuses on the enthusiast core," he says. Think weekend century rides and skin-tight outfits. "That's all well and good. But they're not thinking about bikes for transportation."

The shift is happening, although slowly. Jamerson says that of the roughly 4,000 bicycle-specific retailers in the United States, about 900 sell electric bikes today. And some of the world's biggest vehicle manufacturers and technology companies have plans to enter the U.S. market, too. Smart recently began selling pedal-assist electric bicycles in its U.S. car dealerships, as did Ford. The German engineering and electronics company Bosch has made major investments in electric bike drive units, which are now used by more than 60 different brands. Industry insiders say General Motors will likely be entering this market soon as well.
•       •       •       •       •
The bike of the future I rode in Cambridge, equipped with the Copenhagen Wheel, also had an iPhone mounted on the handle bars. I swiped my finger across it to switch from Turbo mode to Regular, bringing my top speed down to about 15 miles per hour, according to the phone's display. I pedaled normally, but didn't exert myself. When I stopped pedaling the motor stopped, too, and I coasted, which also recharged the battery. Once I started pedaling again the motor almost instantly kicked back in, boosting me forward with a subtle but noticeable push of extra power.


Cyclists using the Copenhagen Wheel can change speeds by swiping a smartphone fixed to the handlebars.
After riding around for a while, I took this prototype bike back to the offices of Superpedestrian, the company that's been developing the commercial version of the Copenhagen Wheel. In a small conference room, whiteboards and white walls were covered in drawings of gizmo components and schematic printouts. Next to a hand-drawn sketch of the wheel's internal parts somebody's scribbled the words "puzzle building."

Assaf Biderman, founder of Superpedestrian and associate director of the Senseable City Lab, from which he spun off the company, explained how the original idea for the Copenhagen Wheel emerged. It sprouted in a class of about 10 students working on ideas related to a partnership with Copenhagen meant to develop urban solutions. Even with Denmark's already high rate of cycling, the city was looking for ways to get more people on bikes by understanding what was holding some of them back. The major factor was distance.

"We decided instead of thinking about the whole bike, let's think about where the crux of the matter here is, which is motorizing it and giving people access," says Biderman.

They finished a prototype of the electric-assist wheel in time to unveil it at COP 15, the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Copenhagen in 2009. Mayors and government officials from around the world took it for a test ride. "The goal was to send world leaders home with a message that almost any city in the world could become as cycling-friendly as Copenhagen," says Biderman. Back at MIT, the Senseable City Lab continued to develop the wheel, and Biderman licensed the idea from the university in late 2012. He quietly opened the Superpedestrian office in Cambridge and stocked it with engineers and roboticists who'd previously built vehicles like UAVs and the Segway. In December 2013, they began accepting pre-orders, with the wheel priced at $699. (It's now selling for $799.)

One of the main principles guiding the design of the Copenhagen Wheel was that it should be incredibly simple. "The bike should stay a bike," says Biderman. Ease of use is certainly part of the appeal. Once installed, the wheel is operated by a smartphone app via Bluetooth. The wheel unlocks itself when the user's phone is close by, and the app includes several speed-assist settings from Turbo to Flatten My City, which uses sensors in the hub to detect hills. The wheel imitates the rider, integrating its own propulsion seamlessly as the rider pedals: pedal more, get more power; pedal less, get less. Braking and coasting recharges the lithium ion battery, which holds about 30 miles of range. To facilitate global use, the Copenhagen Wheel's specifications can be altered to comply with local cycling regulations for wherever it's sent.

From the user perspective, the wheel is simple. But inside it's literally a robot computer. Many sensors and control algorithms are working constantly to understand the motion of the bike, its position in space, the torque of the rider, and the additional torque it must use to achieve the desired speed. Superpedestrian has also created an open API, enabling developers to make their own modifications to the app and its interactions with the wheel. Of the pre-order group, about 20 percent of buyers self-identified as programmers and have volunteered to provide feedback on how their hacks work with the first iteration of the wheel.


The Copenhagen Wheel (above, in red) can turn any bike into an electric bike. 
 
Initially the design included a number of other environmental sensors and sharing capabilities that would turn the wheel itself into a sort of roving urban sensing unit. Ideas included CO2 and noise sensors, and an option to collect road condition and traffic data that could be sent to a database for the city's use in addressing dangerous streets or adding bicycle infrastructure where ridership is high. For now, that's been set aside to get the first version finished at an affordable price; more sensors cost more money, after all.

Biderman says some of that may come later, but it all depends on how people want to use the wheel. Ultimately, he expects to see some ways of collecting and sharing data widely (and anonymously), from neighborhood cycling communities to City Hall.
"I think there's a very exciting future for planners and local governments when it comes to being able to address demand in a quantitative way and a rigorous way based on real usage," he says.
•       •       •       •       •

Americans have a mental block about bicycling that's mentioned again and again by industry insiders: While people in places like Europe think of the bicycle as transportation, people in the United States largely still think of it as recreation. There's a long history of urban development patterns and transportation policies that have led to this perception, and those tendencies are hard to break. Though there does seem to be a general uptick in cycling in pockets of the country, the reality is that most U.S. transportation happens in a car. If the electric bike is to be successful here, it will have to overcome the national perception of bicycles as playtoys.

Transitioning the bicycle from recreation to transportation could hinge on something as simple as a sweaty armpit. "For 30 years, I've seen surveys about why people don't ride," says Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. "They don’t ride because it's too far or because they get hot and sweaty. And these are things that electric-assist bikes can help overcome."

A recent survey of U.S. electric bike owners suggests some progress on the problem of the stinky commute. John MacArthur of Portland State University found that 74 percent of 553 respondents said they don't need to shower after the end of the average trip on their electric bike. But sweat, or lack thereof, isn't the only thing pushing people onto electric bikes. According to MacArthur's survey, almost 70 percent of respondents said they purchased their electric bikes to replace some of their car trips.

MacArthur notes that while his survey wasn't the most scientific, it did reveal some interesting demographics about who is using electric bicycles. About 45 percent of respondents were 55 or older, and about 30 percent indicated that they have a physical condition that makes riding a standard bike difficult. He argues that these should be indications to retailers that the market for electric bicycles isn't just hip Millennials; older people are interested, too.
"I think the survey alludes to the potential that electric bikes really can get more people biking and to bike more often," says MacArthur.

The international nature of the electric bicycle market has posed some problems, too. Different countries have different standards for how fast and powerful electric bicycles can be. For example, electric bike motors in the European Union can be only 250 watts, while they can be up to 750 watts in the United States. China allows a top speed of about 12 miles per hour; the EU, about 15 miles per hour; the United States and Canada, 20 miles per hour.


 
Assaf Biderman, founder of Superpedestrian, says the goal of electric wheel-assist design was to make almost any city "as cycling-friendly as Copenhagen." 
 
Much of the confusion has to do with what, exactly, counts as an electric bike. Some places consider electric bikes and mopeds with internal combustion engines to be essentially the same thing, while others draw strong lines between them. Some places require helmets or registrations, while others don't.

The United States, for its part, has at least come up with a standard definition (put forth in H.R. 727, an amendment to the Consumer Product Safety Act that became law in 2002). Even with federal guidance, confusion remains. State and local regulations of electric bicycles vary widely across the country, especially with regard to whether they belong in roads or bike lanes (or both). "Some municipalities and states are more equating electric bikes with the bicycle, and others are more equating them with a moped or motorized cycle," says MacArthur. The inconsistency has led to some places restricting electric bikes from using bike lanes.

Clearing up the regulations will take time, and it may take more electric bikes on city streets. Though numbers are rising, the main challenge for electric bike makers and evangelists is to make them mainstream. Convincing the U.S. market to consider electric bikes as transportation will be key, according to Benjamin and Jamerson, the industry trackers. A big way to open the market will be to make them more affordable. Even more important will be to make them cool.

•       •       •       •       •

Superpedestrian has done the first run of production in the workshop of their Cambridge office, and are working on industrializing the process for factory production by the thousands later this year. The project is venture-backed, and Superpedestrian has inked deals with a few undisclosed major international companies to get even more of the bikes on the road. The design and idea behind the Copenhagen Wheel has even inspired some competition. A very similar back wheel pedal-assist add-on called FlyKly raised $701,239 on Kickstarter in November 2013, and the company expects to ship its first wheels in the fall.

Benjamin, who works as an adviser to many electric bike manufacturers, says he's happy to see these new players get into the electric bike market. They're worlds away from the low-quality lead acid battery bikes he saw in China in the mid-'90s, and he thinks that these newer, sleeker, simpler electric bikes could finally help transition the U.S. bike market to start thinking seriously about going electric. The Copenhagen Wheel is leading the way, he says.



"The Superpedestrian wheel is so far in the lead in terms of the engineering and coming to market that they are probably going to define the market entirely," says Benjamin. "I'd say that on my list of customers that are going to hit a home run, that one's at the top."

But changing perceptions takes time. Jamerson, who's been watching the electric bike market since it first emerged, says electric bike makers will have to do all they can to take advantage of America's cycling momentum. He even suggests one of the oldest tricks in the marketing playbook: the celebrity endorsement. "We have not had enough pictures of celebrities riding electric bikes," he says.


He's got some ideas. He says that a few years ago, during a reception with then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Chinese delegation gave electric bicycles to Chu and Barack Obama as gifts. If someone could get Obama to ride his electric bike, says Jamerson, that could really get them into the hearts and minds of the American public. "If you know anybody in the White House," he says, "tell them there's an electric bike somewhere in storage that they ought to pull out."

What Congress Should Be Talking About When It Talks About a National Transportation Plan

There's a worthy federal infrastructure program staring America right in the face: broadband.

http://www.citylab.com/politics/2014/07/what-congress-should-be-talking-about-when-it-talks-about-a-national-transportation-plan/375288/

By Eric Jaffe, July 30, 2014



 Image


Late Tuesday, with federal transportation funding set to run dry by the end of the week, the U.S. Senate approved a funding patch that would stem the tide through mid-December. That stands in contrast to a House-approved patch that would fund transportation through May. The Senate hopes the earlier deadline will motivate Congress to craft a long-term plan this term—a rather optimistic goal, considering it can't even agree on a short-term fix with a construction shutdown staring it in the face.

There are a bundle of cynical reasons why Congress has struggled to craft a reasonable long-term transportation plan in recent years, but there's also a pretty valid one that doesn't get enough attention: The United States lacks a national infrastructure agenda.

For decades, the federal government had a clear role in U.S. transportation—namely, to fund the interstate highway system. The national interest was obvious in this case, with all Americans benefitting from improved interstate commerce and mobility, so it made sense for Congress to take the funding lead. But that system is built out (and, in some metro areas, overbuilt), and its likeliest successor, a national high-speed rail system, is a complete non-starter to one political party.

That leaves federal lawmakers in unfamiliar territory. For most of them, the desire to oversee a national transportation program is still there; on Tuesday, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected a plan that would gradually devolve responsibility for transportation funding to the states, 69-28. But there's no car to drive, or ship to captain, or plane to pilot, or train to conduct—whatever your preferred metaphorical transport vehicle, Congress sees no place at its helm
.
That said, there's a legitimate infrastructure program staring us (quite literally, unless you've printed this out) right in the face: digital networks.

A National Internet System, or whatever it might be called, would seem to be the most logical modern equivalent to the National Highway System. True, most Americans can already get online, but as we pointed out last year, a startling number of rural residents lack minimal broadband access, and service in major U.S. metros lags behind world-class cities. The F.C.C. recently estimated that 100 million Americans don't subscribe to broadband—a third of the population. In other words, there's potential for interest here from federal officials all along the political spectrum.



The question then becomes whether you consider broadband to be transportation, per se, and thus eligible to receive federal transportation dollars. In a strict literal sense, your answer might be no, but it's not really that much of a stretch to think of going online as the digital version of a road trip. You might not be physically leaving your seat, but you are, in a way, sending a microscopic envoy on an errand for information. You are engaging with something or someone that resides somewhere else.
Semantics aside, there's a clear case for treating communication as transportation in American history. In colonial times, they were one and the same. The very first roads in this country were postal routes; Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution provides for the establishment of "post offices and post roads" because the concepts of message and movement were intertwined then, even if they seem quite distinct today.

And consider that Congress didn't always consider road-building its job, either. Even by the closing years of the 19th century, many individual states bristled at the concept of a federal transportation program, preferring to maintain roads themselves. ("Texas can boast the best roads, with the least work, of any State in or out of the Union," state officials said in response to a federal road push in 1868.) The first federal road funding doesn't appear until 1893, and even then it would be years before a true federal road program emerged.

Nor is the idea of a federal infrastructure program based on broadband mere food for thought among transport historians. Earlier this month, during a keynote talk at the Open Knowledge Festival in Berlin, Eric Hysen of Google made an explicit reference to yesterday's transportation with respect to tomorrow's technology. Hysen compared the digital capabilities of the modern era with colonial stagecoaches: limited by the second-rate routes they traverse:
We have produced incredible, innovative technologies, but they are being prevented from achieving maximum impact because we lack necessary public infrastructure. We don't have good roads to drive our stagecoaches on.
Hysen went on to say that it's time for countries to build the digital equivalent of "long-distance highways." He suggests private companies take the lead— modern-day British Turnpike Trusts—but there's no reason the federal government couldn't jump in first (or, as well). Building off that line of thought, Brown historian Jo Guldi challenged private and public entities alike to build the "material pipes through which information flows":
In the eighteenth century, those pipes were the roads, which carried state-coaches, which carried mail, parcels, and newspapers, thus generating an information revolution. In the twenty-first century, those pipes are broadband cable. Thus far, Google has been content to stand by while Cox and Comcast monopolize broadband across America (practically everywhere except Knoxville, TN and Lafayette, LA) and become pushy in international conversations, thus jeapardizing the relationship of the entire Global South to an open internet. In practice, the Cox/Comcast monopoly means profits hand-over-fist for those who own the pipes, with almost no incentive to lay new pipes to poor people.
It's precisely that incentive—material pipes for all Americans—that should propel a national public works program. Guldi ends by saying it's "time to think big" about digital infrastructure. She's right. But there are lots of calls for Congress to think big when it comes to transportation, and few suggestions as to how. Let a coast-to-coast broadband system start the discussion. When Congress talks about a national infrastructure initiative, this is the type of thing it should be talking about.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Metro Fare Increase Postponed, Will Take Effect September 15th

http://la.streetsblog.org/2014/07/29/metro-fare-increase-postponed-will-take-effect-september-15th/

By Joe Linton, July 29, 2014


New Metro fares effective September 15 2014. Image from Metro Briefing Document

In a change that’s more procedural than policy-driven, Metro has slightly postponed its fare increase that had been approved for September 1. The new fares will take effect on Monday September 15th.
The fare increase was approved at Metro’s May board meeting. Base bus/train fare will increase 17 percent, going from $1.50 to $1.75. Senior fares and all daily/montly/weekly passes also increase 25-40 percent. With the new fares, Metro is instituting a new 2-hour free transfer window, though it only applies to customers paying via TAP card.

The new September 15th implementation date has not been publicized yet – though Metro will be getting the word widely by mid-August. Streetsblog learned of it via this Metro briefing document which was publicized by Twitter user @Calwatch.
Metro spokesperson Rick Jager confirmed the new date, and explained the change as follows:
In approving the new fares, it was always noted on public hearing notices and press releases that the new fare changes could be implemented on Sept. 1, 2014 or later. Staff chose the Sept. 15th date as to not impact sales of the EZ Monthly Pass which is sold to customers beginning on the 25th of the month through the 10th of the following month. (Meaning that some customers would pay one price when purchased at the end of the month vs. another price in the beginning of the month).
Also in May, the Metro board deferred raising student fares, freezing them at $1.00 pending further study. In what seems like an adherence to the letter of the law more than the spirit of the law, the Metro briefing document makes it clear that the new 2-hour free transfer will not apply to students paying the reduced fare.

Congestion Pricing Questions

http://letsgola.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/congestion-pricing-questions/

July 28, 2014

Congestion pricing for freeway capacity is a hot topic. The basic implementation of price-managed lanes known as high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes has been rolled out in many cities, including the new lanes on the Capitol Beltway in Virginia and the retrofit of existing HOV lanes on the 110 and the 10. These lanes operate on a simple principle: when traffic increases in the lane, prices (tolls) are increased to decrease the number of people using the lane and prevent congestion.

Beyond that, though, a wide range of people have called for congestion pricing on all lanes of freeways. This ranges from libertarians who favor user fees, like Randal O’Toole, to urbanists that want to decrease the amount of driving by increasing costs, to cities and states that see potential revenues.

Theoretically, it is easy to extend the concept of HOT lanes to the entire freeway. However, it seems to me that to do so, you have to make a major simplifying assumption about your freeway network – that there are no capacity mismatches. What does that mean? It’s probably easiest to show by way of a few examples. Note that traffic jams on freeways do not necessarily indicate there’s a problem on the road at that location; rather, they are often acting as a queue of cars, pointing towards a downstream bottleneck. There are also questions for long distance trips.

The Off-Ramp Strangler: The 10 at Cloverfield

On weekday mornings, the 10 westbound into Santa Monica backs up starting at the Cloverfield/26th off-ramp. There’s a lot of employment in the area around the future Olympic/26th Expo Line station, and the local streets can’t handle the traffic volumes at peak times. The off-ramp acts as storage for cars waiting to distribute themselves on the local street network, and when the off-ramp gets full, cars start queuing up on the mainline of the freeway.

the10Cloverfield
the10Cloverfield-detail

If you’re managing an HOT lane, it’s pretty easy to keep that lane flowing at a reasonable speed. You’d just charge a higher toll for the lane up to Cloverfield, and then a lower toll beyond that. The general purpose lanes act as a spillway, soaking up whatever traffic comes out of the HOT lane.

What would happen in practice if the whole freeway was tolled? Some people will try to change their travel patterns by leaving earlier or later, which is the real intent of congestion pricing. However, some people will just hop out onto the free local street network. If you charge an arm and a leg to get from Bundy to Cloverfield, maybe I decide to get off at National, Overland, or Bundy. That moves the queue of cars trying to get to office parks in Santa Monica off of the freeway and onto the arterial grid.

Disastrous Lane Drop: The 5 at Norwalk Narrows

Everyone in LA has probably experienced this at some point: you’re cruising north on the 5 in Orange County, enjoying some of the world’s finest freeway engineering, and then boom! You pass the 91 and you slam (figuratively, we hope) into gridlock on the three-lane section of the 5 through Santa Fe Springs and Norwalk. This is one of the last unreconstructed 1950s-era freeways in LA. It’s being widened as we speak, but it’s a great example of a capacity mismatch between adjacent sections of a freeway mainline.

the5NorwalkNarrows
the5OC-detail

If you’ve got a managed HOT lane here (and the Orange County section is clearly designed for that possibility), you can keep it flowing by charging a punitive toll through the Norwalk Narrows. If the entire freeway is tolled, you’d have to charge very high tolls to keep things moving on the three-lane section – so high, that you might not be able to charge anything on the five-lane section to the south. That results in a very cheap section leading into a very expensive section.
Again, the incentive is going to be for people to use the cheap section of the freeway, and then bail out onto the free local arterial grid.

Alternatives with Issues: The 405 vs North-South Arterials

This one isn’t quite so much about a freeway capacity mismatch as it is about the amount of existing congestion on local arterials.

Northbound congestion on the 405 has several causes. For one, the prolonged steep grade approaching Sepulveda Pass degrades vehicle performance, resulting in some vehicles slowing down. At the top of the pass, you have an intense weaving section leading up to the busiest interchange in the country, the 405 and the 101. Further upstream, you simply have a lot of traffic from Westside employment centers entering the freeway between the 10 and Wilshire to head home to the Valley.

the405NSarterials

Contrary to popular conceptions of LA, the north-south arterials on the Westside are significantly underpowered. Sepulveda is the only true through arterial between Lincoln and Robertson; the rest – Bundy-Centinella, Sawtelle, Barrington-McLaughlin, Westwood-Overland, Beverly-Beverwil-Castle Heights – are Frankenroads, incomplete, cobbled together from various parts, and not even two lanes in each direction. This contributes to a major lack of north-south mobility on the Westside.

If the 405 were tolled to maintain higher speeds, some traffic would shift to this free ragtag network of north-south arterials. Again, this might be an undesired side effect of tolling all freeway capacity.

Long-Distance Trips

Existing HOT lanes, like the express lanes on the 110 and the 10, are managed dynamically: prices are adjusted to respond to real-time traffic conditions. If the lane starts to get congested, prices are increased to reduce the number of drivers that decide to enter. Pricing information is conveyed to drivers using variable message signs. If you’re already in the lane, the price you saw when you entered is honored for your destination.

This works well for a managed HOT lane in isolation; no one knows what the toll will be when they enter the freeway, so the general purpose lanes just soak up whatever traffic doesn’t want to use the HOT lane. With a network of HOT lanes, this will still work pretty well. The number of destinations you can reasonably indicate on a VMS sign is limited, but you’d always have the option to leave when you reach the next tolling section. Let’s say you’re in the HOT lane on the 10 east and you hop on the 5 south to go visit the mouse, and you don’t like the prices. No problem, you just take the free lanes.

If the entire freeway is dynamically tolled, this starts to fall apart. What do I do if I get on a freeway and I’m not willing to pay the going price? For short trips, you could check before you leave, but for long trips, it would be an issue. If you get on the 101 in Woodland Hills and you’re going to Anaheim, what happens if you get on the 5 and the toll is more than you’re willing to pay? Do you take arterials? Do you just get off and park somewhere, waiting for prices to go down?

Private Parts

Now, you may have been chomping at the bit as you read this post, thinking that there are technological solutions to these problems: use congestion pricing on the arterials as well as the freeways, and quote people a price for their entire trip before they start it.
Those ideas are certainly theoretically possible. However, they may prove politically impossible, for some very good reasons.

Tolling arterial capacity, using existing electronic tolling methods, would prove unreasonably costly. It would more or less require turning every traffic light into a tolling location. It would require trying to communicate toll rates on a block by block basis. Both of these would be impractical. You could do it without any roadside equipment by requiring every vehicle to be equipped with GPS, and having the vehicle’s on-board equipment report the GPS data to a central facility for calculation of tolls.

Getting a price quote for a trip before you take it is something we’re all familiar with for things like flying, ferries, tours, and so on. In the case of flying, the details of your travel are reported to the government in advance. However, flying is something most people do rarely. Requiring advance requests for auto travel fees would bring that level of oversight into people’s everyday lives.

To be blunt, I don’t think many people would be comfortable with having to tell the government where they’re going before they leave, and I don’t think many people want their movements being tracked by GPS. If you don’t like the NSA recording your phone calls and reading your emails, you should be worried about the prospect of having the government follow your whereabouts. While this would obviously still leave walking, biking, and transit as options for anonymous travel, it would be an imposition on people’s right to freedom of movement.

Conclusion

This isn’t to say we should give up on the idea of tolling highway capacity. I would be curious to see research on detailed modeling of a real road network (freeways and arterials) under these scenarios. For example, what would happen on the Westside if the 405 and the 10 were dynamically tolled but the arterials were still free? Regarding privacy, would people be more comfortable if the advance price was obtained through a third-party intermediary (such a car-sharing service) that could make the reservation with the system in the corporation’s name?

In the meantime, a more realistic option than real-time dynamic pricing might be managing freeway capacity the way that street parking is managed in downtown LA. In that model, utilization of street parking is monitored, and then prices at different times of day are adjusted up or down to try to optimize utilization. For freeways, a schedule of prices could be published and updated every month, so that users would be able to determine prices before they leave.  For example, say that in August 2014 it costs $0.25 to go from La Cienega to Robertson on the 10 on weekdays at 12:30pm, and the level of congestion is still too high. The rate for September would be increased to $0.30 or $0.35.

In the case of capacity mismatches, it might be desirable to deliberately underprice freeway capacity so that the amount of traffic diverted to arterials isn’t too large. Many people would rather have a queue of cars on the freeway, leaving arterials a little less congested and available for things like local trips and emergency vehicles.

Congestion pricing has great potential to improve mobility in urban regions. But the devil’s in the details, and we don’t have them worked out just yet.