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

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gold Line an economic catalyst for San Gabriel Valley: Guest commentary


Does Cycling Culture Have a Drinking Problem?

A new study reveals that a high rate of accidents involve cyclists biking while intoxicated.


By Kriston Cappa, October 31, 2014


The numbers from the latest study on cycling and safety are alarming, no doubt. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, the number of cyclists killed in crashes with motor vehicles climbed 16 percent between 2010 and 2012. So alarming, in fact, that Streetsblog pulled out both Y axes to deflate the claim that cycling is dangerous.

Risk, according to fatality data put out by the U.S. Department of Transportation, is far lower today than at any point in the last three decades. Although the number of fatal accidents has increased, the number of cyclist commuters has absolutely surged. In part, that's a function of new investments in infrastructure and innovation, which has made cycling more appealing to more Americans in only a short time. And that means that even though the absolute number of deaths has risen, the relative risk of every ride is actually much lower.  
Case closed. Miller time, right? Not exactly. Another part of the report is slightly more worrisome, and not just a trick of the numbers. The same Governors Highway Safety Association study finds that 88 percent of the victims of fatal cycling accidents in 2012 were men. Worse still, 28 percent of all fatal-accident victims in 2012 had a BAC of more than 0.08 percent. The risk question aside, is bro culture claiming cyclists' lives?

Up front, let's be clear about something. The behavior of cycling victims in accidents with motor vehicles is almost never the cause of accidents. The number-one contributor to traffic fatalities in New York today is motorist speed. So when the League of American Cyclists condemns the Governors Highway Safety Association report as victim-blaming cyclists ("helmet-less drunks"), that's why: Even though cycling is more popular today, the dominant narrative still holds that it's cyclists getting themselves killed in accidents with automobiles.

(Transportation Alternatives)
The way to reduce traffic fatalities—of all kinds—is to slow down drivers, just as Mayor Bill de Blasio has done in New York by reducing the city's speed limit to 25 mph. Achieving a Vision Zero world of no traffic fatalities also means building out cycling infrastructure to go with public transit.

Yet there are things that cyclists could do to curb the deadliness of accidents. Cycling advocates sometimes suffer from cataracts when it comes to these things, especially regarding helmet laws, and I understand why. When the Governors Highway Safety Association says that "[l]ack of helmet use is a major contributing factor in fatalities," it's a call for regulations on cyclists and a shift of the burden of road safety onto them. While it may be partly true that helmets can affect the deadliness of an accident, they can't prevent them.

And when it comes in a report that comes with scary speeding cyclist graphics (there's one image that shows a beer bottle merging with a cyclist's head, for example), then it reads as if the full weight of the responsibility for fatal accidents is falling on the victims. That's not fair, and it's not useful. The way to make cycling safer is to build cycling infrastructure and rude the speed of drivers. A bill being considered in Washington, D.C., that will give more rights to cyclists and end the doctrine of contributory negligence is another tool that promotes safety (by dividing up liability costs of accidents more equitably, if not the consequences). Still, helmets still sometimes mean the difference between bad accidents and fatal ones.
More to the point, though: People aren't just cyclists or motorists. They're rarely one or the other exclusively. Especially in cities today, car-sharing options turn people who don't own cars into occasional drivers. It's in cities that the majority of fatal crashes involving cyclists occur (69 percent, according to the study). And it's in cities that people—not cyclists or drivers, but people—continue to regularly make bad decisions regarding alcohol and transportation.
Avoiding BUIs can't save cyclists from accidents. It seems clear that
only reducing vehicle speed can do that. But insisting that no one operates any sort of transportation after drinking confirms a culture in which people don't drink and cycle (which they probably shouldn't do) and also don't drink and drive (which they really shouldn't do).

More men are cyclists than women, but even factoring for that, they're overrepresented in cyclist traffic fatalities. And when 1 in 4 cyclists who were killed in 2012 were alcohol impaired—some of them severely so—then yes, there is a cultural problem there that needs to be addressed. Even if it comes at the cost of cyclists making concessions to people who too often blame them totally for accidents that only drivers can actually prevent. Some drunk cyclists are also drunk drivers. There's not a good argument for tolerating either.

Trains Are Not the Silver Bullet

A Successful Rail System in L.A. Has to Help People to Get to Work, Complement Existing Bus Routes, and Serve 1,000,000 Riders a Day.


October 31, 2014

Trains and rail are inseparable from California’s past. When Leland Stanford hammered “The Golden Spike” in an 1869 ceremony in Utah, he united the first transcontinental railway in the U.S.—and tied California to the rest of the country. That connection between the two coasts set the state on a path to becoming the economic and cultural force it is now.

In the 21st century, California, and Southern California in particular, is once again poised to be reshaped by trains and rail lines. Public investment—from the $68 billion marked to establish a bullet train from L.A. to San Francisco to the half-cent sales tax that will, among other things, expand light rail throughout L.A. County—means more trains will be pulling into more stations throughout the region in the coming decades. In the next two years, Angelenos will be able to take the train from downtown to the beach.

In advance of the Zócalo event “Are Trains the Future of L.A.?”, we asked transportation scholars, writers, and policymakers to tell us what a successful rail system would look like in Los Angeles. What kind of ridership would such a system have? And how would it affect traffic, quality of life, and commerce in Southern California?

Robert Puentes

Trains need to get people to work

A successful rail transit system in Los Angeles will be one that gives people access to economic opportunity (jobs, healthcare, education, recreation) with less emphasis on reducing traffic congestion or simply moving people from one place to another.
And Los Angeles has done a surprisingly good job getting transit to where the people are. A 2011 Brookings report found that no other metro area in the continental U.S. has better transit coverage than Los Angeles: 96 percent of workers live in neighborhoods with transit coverage. Unfortunately, only 26 percent of all jobs in the L.A. metro area are reachable by transit in under an hour and a half, a long commute even for Southern California standards.

The problem is that while public transit in regions like Los Angeles serves people well, jobs remain spread out. Less than 10 percent of jobs are located within 3 miles of the two central business districts in the region (downtown L.A. and downtown Long Beach). To be sure, many of those jobs are bunched together in neighborhoods. But those places are too scattered to serve efficiently with public transit. The end result is that people have no choice but to drive in order to get to work.

This is where the rail system comes in. Because of its ability to attract high-density development around stations and terminals, rail can concentrate jobs—and become a potentially attractive option for transportation. That kind of strategy won’t work for all jobs, of course. Southern California’s large warehousing, logistics, and truck driving industries may be better off in low-density areas.

But by thinking of the rail system as a means to an end—in this case, economic opportunity—this massive investment can make the region stronger and help all residents share in its growth.

Robert Puentes is a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program where he also directs the program's Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative.

Jerard Wright

Rail stations can be community centers

By voting for Measure R—a sales tax increase funding a wide range of transportation projects—L.A. County citizens committed to transforming how we commute, connect, and grow with our neighbors. The Pacific Electric Red Cars system did something similar at the turn of the last century, but by the 1950s, the freeway system broke down those connections. Measure R captured the public’s imagination with 12 transit projects, including the Purple Line extension down Wilshire Boulevard, the Crenshaw/LAX corridor finally linking the rail system to the airport, and the Regional Connector subway that ties Metro’s light rail lines together—from the inland valleys to the ocean—through a single corridor in downtown L.A.

Strategic land use decisions can transform the new stations associated with these projects into activity centers combining culture, commerce, and community. The new station activity centers will enhance pedestrian and cyclist use and open the bus network to new passengers. Combined with other major transit investments–such as an expanded line through the Sepulveda Pass—these stations will allow ridership on such a rail system can to easily reach over 1,000,000 boardings a day, making it the busiest rail system in North America outside of New York City.

A successful system would provide alternatives to traffic congestion and in turn the physical and emotional stress that traffic has on our health. And, a successful system would increase productivity: Each year—on average—we Angelenos lose 90 hours a year stuck in traffic. When you multiply that time by wages per hour, you realize that could add up to a lot of lost tax revenue that could have been invested into more transit and mobility alternatives.

Jerard Wright is a transportation policy analyst at Move LA and has an abiding passion for transportation. He is currently co-chair of Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Transportation Committee, a member of Metro’s Citizens Advisory Council, and past co-chair of the Green LA Transportation Working Group. He graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with a B.A. in Architecture. 

Juan Matute

Rail is only part of the equation

A successful rail system would integrate well with current and future land uses. But trains would be just one layer of a comprehensive, multi-modal network that greatly enhances both neighborhood and regional accessibility for people all across the L.A. region.

A rail network gave the region its initial form, but going forward, our transit system must integrate with low-density neighborhoods built with the automobile in mind. A comprehensive approach to transportation—including rail, buses, bikes, and other transportation services—will accommodate L.A.’s transit-oriented future without ignoring its auto-oriented past. Existing and future rail stations will form the center of complete transit-oriented neighborhoods, with housing, services such as day cares, amenities such as grocery stores, and thoughtfully designed open space. People arriving at rail stations via buses, bicycles, taxis, and shared ride services like UberPool or Lyft Line will keep these neighborhood centers free of vehicle congestion, enabling a high quality of life.

A myopic focus on rail transit would shortchange much of the region. Even if we could quadruple the size of the rail transit system, this network would still fail to reach vast swaths of Southern California. A singular focus on rail would divide the region into two: neighborhoods with rail and neighborhoods without. Such a future would perpetuate income inequality as housing costs rise near stations and station areas would be choked with traffic congestion.

I write this from a bus that travels from Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles in 35 minutes, quicker even than the future Expo Line. This serves as a reminder that getting our existing buses out of traffic is the quickest, most cost-effective means to bring high-quality transit to the greatest number of Angelenos.

Juan Matute is the associate director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies. He worked with Caltrans to develop a Statewide Transit Strategic Plan and currently manages TransitWiki.org, a website for sharing best practices for the future of transit in California.

Madeline Brozen

Mobility is a bigger idea than trains and traffic

To answer the question, “What would a successful rail system look like in Los Angeles?”, I’m going to flip the terms. Because, for me, the more interesting and important question is, “What would Los Angeles look like with an expanded rail system?” If the city’s rail system covered a larger area and ran more frequent service at most hours, a transformed Los Angeles would be a place that thought differently about mobility, and not just in terms of the rail system alone.

The exact ridership on an expanded rail system is hard to estimate. But what places that have “successful” rail systems, like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have in common is that they aren’t just successful places for rail, but they are places that are successful for mobility. Point being, when you plan for more people on the rail system, you have to plan for more people walking to and from stations and for mobility for many modes. Jarrett Walker, of the blog Human Transit, describes rail stations as pedestrian fountains out of which people stream. This means we cannot simply think of rail transit in a vacuum.

In order to have a “successful” rail system, we need to have safe facilities for pedestrians when they arrive or leave the station. To borrow a line from public health, the transit choice must be the easy choice. Giving trains priority over private vehicles, and giving pedestrians at intersections priority over cars when accessing rail stations makes the transit choice easy and safe. This connection extends to bicycles as well. The rail network should connect to a bicycle network and provide secure bicycle parking so that the two networks can work together seamlessly.

In order to think about transit in Los Angeles, it’s important to get away from framing the issue around traffic and flip the question to be about mobility. Namely, how will an expanded transit network require rethinking existing transportation engineering and planning paradigms in Los Angeles?

Madeline Brozen is the assistant director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Institute of Transportation Studies. She is also the manager of the UCLA Complete Streets Initiative, focusing her research on issues of walking and bicycling. 

Damien Newton

Trains will be the backbone of mass transit in L.A.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District will spend $9 million to fight the subway route that runs under the Beverly Hills High School campus. In South L.A. and West L.A., a specter remains of trains running at-grade and endangering communities.

It’s enough to make one wonder: Is all this stress really worth it? After all, as L.A. Weekly seems to enjoy pointing out, even the expensive Westside subway will barely impact car traffic speeds on Wilshire Boulevard.

I have good news. It will absolutely be worth it.

L.A. is a city that outgrew its freeways a generation ago. Instead of accepting this reality, planners and politicians doubled down by spending billions of dollars to continue to grow our freeway culture. The result is a car-dependent population that yearns for faster commutes even as the streets grow more clogged with other people’s cars.

It’s time for something different. People need options, and encouraging them to walk or bike isn’t going to work.

The future is going to require us to provide more choices as a growing population makes car-driving-for-everyone impossible. A transit system—with trains as its backbone—will also encourage more busing, biking, and walking for anyone who needs to get from one place to the other.

Not everyone will choose to ride a train, even if the stop is right outside of their front door. The key is providing a lot of transportation modes so that people can make choices. Many will still choose to drive. That’s OK too. But I choose a future that doesn’t require me to get on the 10 to get downtown or the 405 to get to my brother’s house. I suspect that many people will join me.

 Damien Newton is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative, the nonprofit publisher of Streetsblog Los Angeles, Santa Monica Next and LongBeachIze. Newton has been honored for his work in journalism by The L.A. Press Club, the Society of Professional Journalists - Los Angeles, the American Planning Association, and L.A. Weekly.

Amid Frustrations, Metrolink Is Said to Face an 'Imminent' Change

1 image
By Nick Gerda, October 2014

 Passengers board a Metrolink midday commuter train in Fullerton.

Southern California’s main passenger railroad is in for a significant “imminent” change, Orange County’s transportation board chairman said Monday, noting frustrations by the county’s representatives on the railroad’s board.

While he was vague about the potential change, Orange County Transportation Authority Chairman Shawn Nelson suggested the possibility of a different agency being contracted to manage rail service.
“It’s imminent. They cannot run this system and we are wasting our time asking them to,” Nelson, who also sits on the railroad’s board, said at Monday’s OCTA board meeting.
“I’m not trying to make a news story,” he added.
OCTA board members went directly into closed session Monday morning after the public part of their meeting.
Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten didn't immediately return phone messages seeking comment.The potential changes come amid frustration by OCTA board members over what they describe as a poor customer experience at Metrolink and unreliable ridership figures.
“Metrolink is poorly run and wouldn’t have any idea what their ridership is,” said Nelson. “It’s sort of an endless source of frustration.”
“Management there – we’re just continuing to go back to a very poor model, with a lot of [human resources] issues,” he added. “We’re just tired of fighting about HR and personalities and not focusing on ridership and fares and things like that.”
Michael Hennessey, who is the vice chairman of Metrolink’s board, also chimed in with frustrations over ridership figures and financial issues.
Across the region, Metrolink has experienced a drop of nearly 600,000 annual passengers since 2008, according to the railroad. Ridership in Orange County was reported to have increased over the last year.
But Hennessey said the data isn't to be trusted.
“Ridership could be up, ridership could be down. We really don’t know,” said Hennessey.Referring to what he described as a “budgetary problem,” Hennessey said Metrolink is late in “closing out” its books.
“You can ask for these things all you want…but they just don’t act,” said Hennessey.
When they don’t seem capable of reacting or understanding, “what do you do?” he asked.
Nelson replied that “the short answer” is to find an agency with the “pieces in place” and contract them to run the partnership.
It was unclear which partnership Nelson was referring to – Metrolink’s board is comprised of representatives from across Southern California, and OCTA itself pays Metrolink to provide rail service.
OCTA board member Lori Donchak asked how OCTA should get Nelson’s message across.
“I’m being polite on purpose,” Nelson replied. “It’s imminent. The thing is not workable right now.”OCTA CEO Darrell Johnson has spoken with the transportation agency CEOs from other county members of Metrolink, Nelson added.
As for providing more specifics on the changes, Nelson said: “Those alternatives are very difficult if we out them in advance.”
During Monday’s discussion, Donchak pointed to difficult-to-use ticket machines as one of many customer experience problems with Metrolink.
“You have to be a rocket scientist to figure” out the machines, said Donchak. “It’s time for the customer experience to move to the top of the priority list.”
Unlike the other regional rail service, Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink tickets cannot be purchased online or via a mobile app – thus requiring passengers to purchase the tickets at the station.Additionally, after a ticket and receipt is printed out, the machines often wait about 20 seconds before allowing a new ticket buying process to start.
During busy ridership times, those delays exacerbate long lines of people waiting to buy tickets. Sometimes, people who arrive early still miss their train due to a long line at a station’s sole Metrolink ticket machine.
And even when passengers do purchase tickets, they’re often not checked on board the trains.OCTA’s board has had a fraught relationship with Metrolink recently.
Last year, the OCTA board voted to postpone subsidy payments to the railroad amid a $66 million accounting error.

Repairing L.A. County’s roads will cost more than $19 billion, experts say


By John Schreiber, October 28, 2014

 Photo by John Schreiber.

Bringing roads up to par in Los Angeles County over the next decade will cost more than $19 billion, the highest total of any county in the state, according to a report released Tuesday.

Road and bridge repair work in Orange County will cost more than $4.8 billion over the next 10 years, according to the “California Local Streets & Roads Needs Assessment 2014 Update.”

The biennial report — a collaboration between the California State Association of Counties, the League of California Cities and the state’s regional transportation planning agencies — found that pavement conditions statewide are declining, and current funding levels are insufficient to properly fix or maintain streets, roads, bridges, sidewalks, storm drains and traffic signs.

“The state gas tax is only worth half of its value compared to when it was last increased in 1994,” said Matt Cate, the executive director of the counties association. “While revenues are decreasing, cities and counties are doing more with less, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building sustainable communities, both of which rely on a functioning local transportation network. It is no wonder that funding is woefully inadequate.”

He said it’s “time to get serious about a more stable funding source for local streets, roads and bridges so we can begin to catch up on a backlog of work that should have been completed long ago.”
The report predicts that further deferrals in completing the work could double the cost of repairs in the future.

The condition of roadway pavement in Los Angeles County was rated in the study as a 66, which falls in the “at risk” category and matches the state’s overall rating. Orange County fared better, with a 77 rating.

The pavement conditions of 10 counties were described in the report as poor. All 10 are in Northern California.

Nearly $7.3 billion in annual statewide spending is needed to fix California’s roads and bridges, according to the report.

57 Freeway/60 Freeway bottleneck relief on the way: Guest commentary


By Hasan Ikhrata, October 29, 2014

Southern Californians spend 3 million hours a year stuck in traffic, through it probably feels like more for anyone forced to navigate the confluence of the 57 and 60 freeways in the San Gabriel Valley on a regular basis.

Ranked as the nation’s seventh worst highway bottleneck in the nation by the American Transportation Research Institute, the 57/60 epitomizes the daunting challenges Southern California faces in moving people and goods throughout our growing region.

The tangled, two-mile stretch near Diamond Bar and the city of Industry merges two freeways into one, compressing 17 lanes into 14 and racking up more than 600 accidents a year from among the 340,000 vehicles a day that pass through it.

Fixing it is a major priority for our region, and to that end, the U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded a $10 million grant, unlocking another $27.2 million in matching funds from state and local sources, to begin work on a multi-phase realignment of the interchange.

The overall project will cost $256 million — money well spent when you consider both the quality-of-life and economic costs of doing nothing.

With 18 million people, more than all but four entire states, Southern California will see its population grow by another 4 million over the next 21 years — compounding congestion and air-quality challenges that already rank among the most difficult in the United States.

Pivotal to all of this are the importance of goods movement to Southern California and the role of the 57/60 as a trade gateway, not just for the region but the country as a whole.

Though we don’t always think of ourselves as a manufacturing center, the six counties that comprise the Southern California Association of Governments’ region in fact represent the nation’s third largest, behind only the states of California and Texas. Combine that with our having the largest container port complex in the U.S. and neighboring Mexico’s emergence as a global trade partner, and it’s no wonder that goods movement and related industries now comprise one-third of all jobs and economic activity in our region.

Today, approximately 1.5 billion tons of goods are moved through Southern California each year, with 24,000 to 30,000 trucks a day traveling the 60 Freeway alone. According to published reports, traffic congestion regularly delays one of every five commercial trucks in the region, increasing the cost of shipping by 50 percent to 250 percent.

Investing in projects such as the 57/60 confluence is, therefore, good business. SCAG’s most recent Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy identified $524 billion in vital mobility improvements over the next 25 years, and found a return on investment of $2.90 for every dollar spent.

In the case of this project specifically, estimates are that 5,100 jobs will be created over its life. Construction could begin as early as next year on the first phase — a dedicated westbound on-ramp to the 60 Freeway from Grand Avenue. Subsequent phases include widening Grand Avenue and Golden Springs Drive, a westbound off-ramp and auxiliary lane from the 60 to Grand Avenue, and more than $200 million in freeway improvements and by-pass connectors.

By themselves, these improvements are expected to reduce the accident rate by at least 160 annually, and 3,200 to 3,300 over the next 20 years.

We applaud the Department of Transportation’s awarding of $10 million through its Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, and thank all of the stakeholder groups that have already committed funding to this essential project. These include the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the city of Industry and the Federal Regional Surface Transportation Program.

Their commitment not only will begin to fix one of the worst highway bottlenecks in the country, but have a lasting positive impact on the economy and quality of life throughout our region.

Hasan Ikhrata is executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments.

China Closes Beijing's Mass Transit to Halloween Ghosts and Goblins


By Dexter, Roberts, October 31, 2014

 China Closes Beijing's Mass Transit to Halloween Ghosts and Goblins

Those dressing up for Halloween in Beijing must stay off mass transit or face the consequences, a state-owned paper reported today. Worst-case scenario? Costumed ghouls, ghosts, and witches who board China’s 465-kilometer-long subway system and cause “panic” could find themselves arrested, the Beijing News warned.

Why the harsh admonition to garbed revelers? The crackdown on Halloween is part of a much broader, citywide security and beautification effort ahead of the APEC meeting in Beijing on Nov. 7. Other measures include carrying out anti-terrorist drills, ordering schools closed, and tightly restricting vehicles on the roads, in an effort to clean up the capital’s notorious pollution.

The last thing authorities want is a major disturbance in the runup to APEC, which will bring 20 heads of state to the city, the sort of high-profile international event not seen in China’s capital since the 2008 Olympics. Groups of costumed partygoers could cause crowds to gather who create “trouble,” the paper reported. “The wearing of gruesome costumes or scary makeup,” could also frighten other passengers, the paper noted.

The Beijing News also warned that police have been authorized to arrest anyone who causes trouble. “If chaos ensues and it causes a public safety or other serious incident, the police will deal with it severely, according to the law,” the paper said.

For the last several years on Halloween night, groups of celebrants, many of them expatriate residents, have flooded Beijing’s mass transit system. The subway has been “invaded by ghosts and ghouls for an underground flashmob,” with hundreds of people “embarking on a ghastly loop around the city,” CRIENGLISH.com reported two years earlier, on Halloween day.

As with other Western holidays including Christmas and Valentine’s Day, Halloween has grown in popularity in recent years among young Chinese, reported the China Daily today.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

6 Transportation Ballot Initiatives to Watch Next Tuesday


By Tanya Snyder, October 29, 2014

 Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system. Photo: STAND UP via ##http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/07/as-clayton-commission-gets-a-marta-vote-do-over-spotlight-shines-on-gail-hambrick/##Saporta Report##

 Activists in Clayton County, Georgia, support a ballot measure that would connect the county with the regional transit system.

Next week, voters in Maryland and Wisconsin may tell state officials to keep their greedy paws off transportation funds. Louisianans will consider whether to create an infrastructure bank to help finance projects. Texans will weigh the wisdom of raiding the state’s Rainy Day Fund for — what else? — highways. And Massachusetts activists who have been fighting to repeal the state’s automatic gas tax hikes will finally get their day of reckoning.

Those are just a few of the decisions facing voters as they go to the polls Tuesday. They’re the ones getting the most press and that could have the biggest impact. For instance, if Massachusetts loses its ability to raise the gas tax to keep up with inflation, it could inspire anti-tax activists in other states that would like to gut their own revenue collection mechanisms, too.

There are lots of local initiatives on next Tuesday’s ballot that aren’t generating so much buzz but could still have major implications for the state of transportation in key parts of the country. Here are some contests you should pay attention to.

This is what Pinellas County's rail system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday's ballot referendum. Image: ##http://greenlightpinellas.com/about/view-the-maps##Greenlight Pinellas##
This is what Pinellas County’s transit system could look like in 10 years, if it passes Tuesday’s ballot referendum. Map: Greenlight Pinellas

Pinellas County, Florida: For years, transit advocates have been trying to correct what they see as a major deficiency in Tampa’s regional transportation network: It is the largest metropolitan area in the country without rail transit. Voters in the three counties that make up the Tampa Bay region — Polk, Pinellas, and Hillsborough — all have to approve a new one-cent sales tax to pay for a potential light rail system and other transit improvements. Voters in Hillsborough rebuffed an attempt to get approval in 2010. Pinellas and Polk are trying this year.

Specifically, Pinellas County voters will decide on Greenlight Pinellas, a plan to increase bus service by 65 percent and build a 24-mile light rail line from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Clearwater. It would form part of a regional transit system that the three counties are still trying to figure out. It’s by no means a done deal: The Pinellas contest has been one of the most bitterly and loudly contentious of this cycle. But a vote in favor of building the system would be a game-changer.

“The hope is that a positive vote, particularly in Pinellas, would really be a shot in arm for Hillsborough to come back to the voters or to proceed with some other funding mechanism to support the system,” said Jason Jordan, who tracks transit-related ballot initiatives around the country for the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Polk, the least urban of the three counties, will vote on a one-cent sales tax measure that would fund both transit and roads.

Gainesville's failed ballot initiative could succeed, this time, as a more multi-modal measure. Image: ##http://www.gccfla.org/##Gainesville Cycling Club##
A failed roads-only ballot initiative in Gainesville has been revived as a more multi-modal measure. 

Alachua County and the city of Gainesville, Florida: More than 100 miles north of Tampa Bay, Gainesville voters will consider a one-cent sales tax. It would pay for eight years of transportation funding for the county and the city of Gainesville. The county plans to spend it mostly on roads, but the city has a more equitable split: 55 percent roads, 40 percent bus, and 5 percent bike/ped.

The interesting thing about this one, Jordan said, is that it previously failed as a roads-only measure, and now the city is coming back with money for transit and active transportation to make it more appealing to voters. University students, especially, might relate more to a funding package that includes transit, biking, and walking than one just for roads. If voters who rejected a single-mode funding package go for a multi-modal one, that will be an encouraging sign.

There hasn’t been a lot of organized opposition to the measure, aside from the usual suspects who will protest anything that has to do with taxes.

Clayton County, Georgia, is on the verge of redemption — if its one-cent sales tax to join the MARTA regional transit system is successful. In 2010, the county board eliminated its only bus service, leaving people without transportation options. Then, earlier this year, the board approved a half-cent sales tax to join MARTA, but the transit agency rejected it, saying neighboring counties paid a full cent and it wouldn’t be fair to let Clayton join for less. The measure looks likely to pass, and that will knit together various redevelopment activities in the region, especially near the airport, which straddles Clayton and Fulton Counties.

“Assuming it passes, it’s going to be a great reboot to the conversation in that region about transit,” Jordan said. “When the Atlanta measure that was so prominent went down to defeat, the story was, ‘Atlanta can’t get its act together.’ This tells a more nuanced story about trying to identify places in that region that want transit, where transit — from a land use perspective — is vital, where it’s likely to be well used.”

It’s especially positive, he said, that instead of agreeing to do transit on the cheap, MARTA insisted on Clayton being a full member, with the ability to bring more robust transit service to the area.

Alameda County is highlighting the bike/ped portions of its funding plan to garner support for Measure BB. Photo: ##http://www.dailycal.org/2014/10/15/measure-bb/##Daily Californian##
Alameda County is highlighting the bike/ped portions of its funding plan to garner support for Measure BB.

Alameda County, California, is proposing raising the current transportation sales tax from a half penny to a full penny to pay for a multi-modal package for the next 30 years. It’s the second time voters have been asked to decide on this proposal — the last time, it suffered a very, very narrow defeat in its quest for the needed two-thirds supermajority. Though it’s a very similar — if not identical — package as last time, supporters are now emphasizing the bicycle and pedestrian element in an attempt to put it over the top.

“It’s part of a trend we’re seeing,” Jordan said, “where communities are specifically including bike and pedestrian amenities as part of the overall package, or at least calling more attention to them, and that’s certainly true in Alameda. I think this has been one of the biggest years we’ve seen for bike measures.” Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Seminole County, Florida, also passed funding packages earlier this year that included active transportation and other livable streets elements.

Alameda County’s $8 billion plan includes $2.8 billion for transit, $2.4 billion for street improvements, $1 billion for paratransit, $650 million for bike/ped and safety measures, and $300 million for transit-oriented development.

Austin, Texas, has a bond measure that’s being drowned out by a much more visible statewide fight over using Texas’ rainy day fund — in boom times, mind you — to pay for highways. Yep, just highways. Polling shows that awful idea has overwhelming support.

But what’s going on in Austin is way more interesting — and way more contentious. A bond measure would fund a 9.5-mile urban rail route to run past several university campuses. Much of the opposition to the project comes from urbanists who think there are much better ways to spend scarce transit resources, while some of it comes from libertarians who criticize any transit investment.

Ballot initiative gadfly Clay Chastain. Photo from his incredible website, ##http://www.chastaincentral.com/content/clay.html##Chastain Central##
Ballot initiative gadfly Clay Chastain. Photo from his incredible website, Chastain Central

Two ballot measures in Kansas City, Missouri , on the other hand, are a hot mess. Initiative sponsor Clay Chastain is a bit of a loose cannon — a “transit” activist with a penchant for getting transit measures on the ballot that have no bearing on what the transit agency is actually planning or building. Previous initiatives he’s sponsored have promised transit improvements but would have raised only a fraction of the money to pay for them, and then been thrown out after winning at the polls. The Kansas City Star calls these ballot measures just another episode of Chastain’s unique brand of “political theater.”

This time around, Chastain himself has turned against the measures on the ballot next week, which ask voters to support a quarter-cent sales tax increase for “capital improvements” and another eighth-cent sales tax increase for public transportation, both for 25 years. “It’s not my light-rail plan anymore,” Chastain laments. “I can’t advocate for it.”

Why the about-face? Chastain’s original petition sought a three-eights cent sales tax increase to help pay for a 22-mile light-rail system, a 19-mile commuter rail line, 150 electric shuttle buses, 150 miles of bikeways and an 8.5-mile streetcar line. The money raised from what’s actually on the ballot would be utterly insufficient to pay for all that.

The result is that there is no champion for the ballot measures. Jordan notes that if these initiatives lose, it shouldn’t be seen as an evaluation of whether or not Kansas City cares about transit.

The good news is that, nationwide, most of the time voters are asked to pay a little for better transit service, they say yes. Since 2000, 72 percent of ballot initiatives raising taxes for transit have succeeded — a sharp contrast from elected officials’ lack of will to find new revenues to pay for much-needed transportation upgrades.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Zocalo Public Square event Monday: are trains the future of L.A.?


By Steve Hymon, October 29, 2014

Our friends at Zocalo Public Square have been all over transportation issues this year. That trend continues Monday night at Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles (317 S. Broadway). Here’s the description from Zocalo:
For a century, the hearts of Angelenos have belonged to cars and to flying machines, not trains–even though we never would have become a city without the railroad, and couldn’t survive as a global trade center without the rail links to our seaports. But today, in a potentially historic shift, Southern California governments are betting billions that trains can win us over. Five rail lines are under construction right now in L.A., part of a 30-year wave of projects that could give Southern California the most highly developed rail system in the country, save New York. But will we go along for the ride? Only a small percentage of us use the Metro rail regularly, and California’s high-speed rail project is unpopular in L.A. Will we change our ways and depend on trains daily–and embrace development around rail networks? What is it about rail that captures people’s hearts–and why has L.A. remained immune to this almost universally beloved mode of transport? Journalist and Chapman University English scholar Tom Zoellner, author of Train, and UCLA and UC Berkeley legal, business, and environmental scholar Ethan Elkind, author of Railtown, visit Zócalo to discuss the past and future of trains here, and whether Los Angeles will finally fall for rail.
Sounds intriguing. BTW, I’ll be recording a podcast with Ethan Elkind that we’ll have on the Source soon talking about transit past, present and future in our region.

More info on registering to attend the event at the Zocalo website. Grand Central Market is a short walk from the Red/Purple Line’s Pershing Square Station and numerous Metro Bus lines, as shown on the map below. All Metro maps and timetables are here.

Click above to see larger.

You’re supporting China’s dirty habit


By James West, October 29, 2014


If you’ve recently purchased a new iPhone, or a fancy T-shirt, or a children’s toy … or really virtually any consumer or industrial good, there’s a strong chance that a giant ship ferried it from or through China. China, dubbed “the world’s factory” for pumping out so much of the world’s consumables, now boasts seven of the world’s top 10 busiest trading ports. Strung up and down its densely populated eastern coast, China’s 10 biggest ports handle nearly 30 percent of the world’s containers each year.

These mega-ports — Shanghai’s is the planet’s busiest — helped China become the biggest trader in the world, eclipsing the U.S. in 2012. China has also become the world’s second largest consumer market — meaning that more and more ships are unloading wares in the country’s ports, not just loading up.

But there’s a big downside for the planet in all that trade, according to a report released Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a U.S.-based environmental advocacy group with offices in Beijing. When the country’s brutal smog and worsening air crisis make international headlines, as it did earlier this month after runners in the Beijing marathon donned air masks, coal burning and China’s grid-locked streets get most of the attention. But emissions from China’s vast shipping industry have so far been “very much overlooked” by Chinese leaders, says Barbara Finamore, an author of the report and NRDC’s Asia director.
“Last September, the central government issued a national air
control plan and it only mentioned this in passing,” she said in a phone interview from Beijing.

Finamore’s report argues that poor regulation in China means that in a single day one container ship can pollute as much as half a million trucks:

That’s because regulations allow China’s oceangoing ships to burn fuel with sulfur levels that are 100 to 3,500 times higher than those permitted for road vehicles, according to the report. This so-called “bunker oil” is extremely dirty and spews toxic exhaust into the air, including harmful diesel particulates, and nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide that cause smog. Those chemicals are known to lead to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses. Shipping is not a small contributor: Two thirds of the sulfur pollution in the Chinese megacity of Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, comes from the shipping industry, says Finamore.

The exhaust not only pollutes the air locally, but also carries a powerful climate toll: A portion of the exhaust is “black carbon,” a fine particulate that, after CO2, is the second largest contributor to global warming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is particularly potent in melting Arctic sea ice. As more ships take polar routes made more hospitable by warming, the black carbon they leave behind may accelerate melting, potentially further opening up once ice-bound lanes for more shipping. “It’s a vicious cycle,” says Finamore.

The report finds that 70 percent of emissions from major shipping routes occur within 400 km (about 250 miles) of a coastline, and that emissions can travel hundreds of miles inland. Stricter rules in North America (especially in California) and Europe mandate cleaner fuel when coming into port, and China is working to implement similar standards. In July, Hong Kong became the first city in China to regulate shipping emissions; other Chinese port cities and coastal regions have begun to introduce other control measures.

What works? According to the NRDC, there are three areas that could help clean up the industry, including moving to natural gas, using cleaner fuels, and powering down ships in ports:

In a country where ambient air pollution contributed to an estimated 1.2 million premature deaths in 2010, Finamore says leaders are “scrambling” for solutions.

It’s this kind of pollution — and the public discontent it causes — that has gotten attention from the highest levels of government. Vice Premier Li Keqiang, the second-ranking Chinese official, formally declared a “war on pollution” earlier this year. Another Chinese leader gave a speech at the September U.N. climate talks in New York pledging that China would reach a peak in emissions “as soon as possible” — an unprecedented promise.

“They are taking it seriously,” Finamore says. “They are doing more than ever before to examine the environmental issues of various plans and sources of energy.”

But in China, she says, “implementation is always a problem.”

L.A. area has many freeways that stayed on the drawing board


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Hidden Gas Tax That Doesn’t Exist


By Melanie Curry, October 27, 2014


You may have seen the ads on Facebook or somewhere else online. Maybe you saw one of the roving billboards being pulled by a gasoline-powered truck. They warned darkly of a coming “hidden tax” on fuel that was so hidden nobody in the media was talking about it. You may have wondered what it meant, even as the ads urged you to sign a petition today.

Last week, the oil-industry-backed effort to get people riled up about the “coming hidden gas tax” delivered its petition [PDF] to the California Air Resources Board’s monthly meeting in Diamond Bar.
After months of trolling for signatures, the California Drivers Alliance gathered a whopping 115,000 signatures, and “dozens” of people showed up to deliver it. It urges the Air Resources Board to delay its “plan to increase fuel prices next year” and charges that the agency has been “unresponsive” and “has not even put this far-reaching policy on its agenda for public discussion.”

Not a word of which is true.

There is no “hidden gas tax” that will suddenly come into being in January. The Air Resources Board has no “plan to increase fuel prices,” nor could it do so. The only change coming is that transportation fuels will become subject to California’s cap-and-trade system.

That means that transporters and producers of fuels must either 1) comply with requirements to produce no more than a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions (the “cap” on emissions), or 2) buy enough “pollution credits” from the state to “meet” the cap. This is the “trade” part of the system.
The EPA estimates that transportation contributes a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

To adopt the industry’s tactic of endless repetition: “There is no ‘hidden tax,’ or any other tax associated with [California climate change law A.B. 32] programs,” according to a written statement from Dave Clegern of the Air Resources Board. “There is simply a market mechanism, which industry preferred, to allow businesses to spread their emission reductions between now and 2020 . . . instead of having to make those greenhouse gas reductions all at once.”

The Air Resources Board knows that the industry prefers this method because it has said so. “The oil industry and dealers were at the table through this whole process, and have been aware this coverage was coming for at least five years,” wrote Clegern.

In official comments submitted to the Board in 2011, the industry’s trade group, the Western States Petroleum Association, wrote: “WSPA reiterates its support for the Cap and Trade program and a market-based approach to implementing AB 32.” [PDF]

Of course WSPA has fought hard against A.B. 32 and against many details of its programs, including the schedule for gradually decreasing the emissions cap and the timing of bringing transportation fuels into the system. At one point, WSPA recommended not doing that “until there are widespread cap-and-trade programs that include fuels throughout the U.S. and the world.” [PDF]

That could put it off as long as infinity, which would probably be just fine with the oil companies.
Meanwhile, despite what the billboards want people to believe, there is no reason for a sudden jump in fuel prices in January.

The Air Resources Board “has no control over fuel prices, so if there is an increase January 1, it is because the oil industry has decided that should happen,” wrote Clegern.

More to the point, oil companies have already been buying pollution credits under the cap and trade. This is partly because stationary sources of emissions–including oil refiners–have been subject to the cap since 2013.

While the Air Resources Board can’t say who has purchased allowances, there is a public record on which companies have been bidding in the auctions, and many fuel companies are on the list [PDF]. “It would certainly be prudent for a business with five years’ notice of this program to do so while the cost of allowances is quite low,” wrote Clegern.

“We know that there have been millions and millions of credits that have been purchased that can’t be used for another three years,” said Tim O’Connor of the Environmental Defense Fund. “So we know many of these market participants have been buying them. Oil companies have had this expectation of compliance for years.”

Since they’ve been buying credits, it’s logical to assume they are already passing the cost on to consumers.

Have they? Who can say?

There are two things that one can say with certainty about fuel prices: they have risen over time and will continue to do so, and they do so in anything but a straight line. The reasons for fuel price fluctuations are not clear, and they make predicting future gas prices a very imprecise science.
Since 2005, the price of gas in California has fluctuated by an average of $1.16 per gallon–not just gone up, but up and down and up and down.

Here is a chart showing changes in gas prices in California over just the last twelve months.

source: GasBuddy.com
source: GasBuddy.com

O’Connor has a name for the way prices fluctuate: rockets and feathers. “Year after year, prices at the pump shoot up – yielding significant additional profits for fuel suppliers – then casually drift down back to a point higher than where they started.”

“[The California Drivers Alliance's] story is that cap and trade raises prices,” said O’Connor. “But they avoid any discussion of a whole litany of information that shows that it isn’t necessarily true.”
“For example, with fuel diversification—moving away from a transportation system based solely on gas and diesel—you can decrease prices at the pump just by shifting demand. With more choices for fuels, demand for gas and diesel will lessen, and prices can go down. Also, providing more choices for mobility [so not everyone depends on driving] will also lower prices. And increasing diversification can decrease price volatility, making fuel prices much more stable and reliable.”

You can sign a petition in support of “the timely implementation of California’s pioneering clean air and clean energy standards (A.B. 32), along with setting clear, comprehensive, and ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals to extend the benefits of the law beyond 2020” here.

[NOTE: This story was updated to clarify the way cap and trade works]

Are LA’s Walkable Neighborhoods and Bike Lanes Only for the Creative Class?


By Julian Agyeman and Stephen Zavestoski, October 28, 2014

WHO WE ARE-The “Complete Streets” concept in urban planning and design has been hailed as nothing less than a revolution. “North America is on the verge of a new paradigm,” writes Mobility magazine. “At the forefront of the ‘street revolution’ is the concept of Complete Streets.” 
The concept, which focuses on making streets safe and accessible to everyone, is supposed to challenge both our auto-dominated mindset and our sprawling urban form by reimagining “streets for people.” The promised result: cities that are more walkable, cyclable, livable—and more sustainable. 
It’s not just the environmentalists who are pushing the idea. Realtors proudly tout the “Walk Score” of their properties, a 0-100 numerical index based on the ease of access to local services on foot.

Local businesses talk up the benefit of increased foot traffic in walkable neighborhoods where customers have no parking woes. Houston Mayor Annise Parker has argued that Complete Streets, by emphasizing accessibility, will help her city meet its diversity goals. And public health experts are in love. 

The New York chapter of the American Association of Family Physicians has proclaimed the health benefits of Complete Streets: “The pedestrian plazas, car-free spaces, neighborhood bike networks and world-class bicycle lanes [of New York City] are vital to the public health of our city. 
These changes help pave the way for a city that breathes cleaner air and is in better physical condition.” 

But there are real questions about whether, in embracing Complete Streets, cities are examining all of their policies, and being inclusive enough. People already using the streets are sometimes excluded. 

Take Los Angeles and its diverse collection of street food vendors you can find selling the tastes of distant homelands along the sides of streets, or bags of oranges and ready-to-drink coconuts from street medians. Though prevalent, sidewalk vending is illegal in LA—and yet the city is about to enact Complete Streets policies. How can the city not see the vendors as part of a vibrant, multicultural street ecology, whose absence would render the street incomplete? 

Streets should not be thought of as merely physical spaces, amenable to neat and cookie cutter redesigns around walkability or cyclability for the middle classes. Streets are so much more than that—they are symbolic, social, and multicultural spaces with many possible functions. When the narratives of those already using the streets, particularly those in diverse communities, are missing from the discourse and practice of Complete Streets, the result is actually incomplete streets. 

The ways in which Complete Streets narratives, policies, and plans are currently envisioned by the middle and creative classes, and implemented by urban designers, is incomplete. The current approach is systematically reproducing many of the urban spatial and social inequalities that have characterized our cities for the last century or more. Cities need planning and design processes that include those whose perspectives haven’t been included in the past—and that approach streets as dynamic, fluid, and social places reflective of local cultures and communities.

In Denver, lowrider cruisers were once part of the cultural landscape on the Northside, but have been delegitimized by the city through anti-cruising municipal codes and urban design. You can see the impact in Sloan’s Lake Park, on Denver’s northwest side, where urban designers transformed the internal south loop of the road system by incorporating it into a lake-encircling walking path. In effect, they promoted walking, jogging, and cycling—normalized in mainstream middle-class cultural and spatial practice—while frustrating fans of lowrider cruising. 

In New Orleans, urban planners state that Claiborne Avenue, especially the sections in the Treme and the 7th Ward, will become the “most complete street in the world,” a “corridor of culture.” But they’ve ignored the vivid street culture already practiced there—and the strong feelings among some African-American residents—about displacement and gentrification. “Completeness” in the redevelopment of New Orleans’ black core is not all that complete; the city is being reimagined and remade for a specific group of citizens while it is being dismantled for others.

California Commute: As economy improves, L.A. and O.C. rise in traffic congestion rankings


How Can We Invest in Infrastructure Without Raising Taxes?


By Odysseus Bostick, October 28, 2014

For a video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTbElIgLh8o

Our roads are swiss cheese, our sidewalks are like a broken fault line, our bridges are sagging, and our cars are still the most convenient way to get through the mess.

We’ve gotten to the point where our infrastructure problems are so large in scope and the cost to change this is so high that we really can’t pass enough taxes or bonds to cover all of our needs. That’s not to say that passing specific bonds isn’t necessary.

Upcoming ballot measures within the County of Los Angeles aimed at extending Measure R are not just merited, but crucial to ensuring that all the money we’ve already spent on building a basic network of light isn’t wasted. And finishing our rail lines is just Phase One.

The basic structure of a rail transportation system won’t be the cure-all because logistics prevent even a vast network of rail lines from actually getting people to the places they need to go. Clearly, we need micro-networks to cover areas that rail doesn’t reach.

Some of these solutions are small in scope – like bike share programs, walkable/bikeable design, and the like. Others are larger in scope than that, like a streetcar.

The problem is that bonds and tax increases only go so far and funding the build out of our rail network will consume most of those big scope revenue increases. So we are posed with the question of how to fund the smaller scale, “end of the line” public transportation ecosystems so that a user has access to the nooks and crannies not conveniently located at the base of the train station platform?

Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

Reality is, though many of us might be “hard core” enough to walk that last mile or two, most people will just go back to their car at that point, thus rendering the investments we’ve made in rail a bust. Correspondingly, political reality limits the scope of new bonds or taxes and passing an extension to Measure R will be a Battle Royale.

This mandates that we find creative investment streams to complement the full build out of a truly functional infrastructure network. These can’t all be new revenue streams. Some must be reallocated streams.

One really exciting model I think deserves far more consideration partners government infrastructure investments with public pension plan portfolio allocations to identify portions of the retirement portfolio that could be dedicated to infrastructure projects.

The advantages of this model are many, but my two favorites are the synchronicity of efforts and timelines.

In efforts, you’re looking to support livable retirements while investing in infrastructure improvements that build quality of life and foster economic growth in the private sector, which in turn, adds to the general fund in increased tax revenue to build more robust city services and yes, help fund the retirement plans. It’s also synchronous in the sense that your public labor force is investing not just a career in their city, but also their retirement security in a well-run city. That mutually beneficial relationship paves the way for a collaborative effort by taxpayers and their public employees.

In timelines, both pension plans and government infrastructure investments of large scope work because they can leverage longer periods of time than a private investment stream. That’s why bonds work to fund large scope infrastructure projects (like the transcontinental railroad) and why private capital for those “public good” projects is not relied on. Simply put, private capital needs shorter term profits whereas pension funds and government investments can wait longer to see profit.

This kind of partnership, however, doesn’t work for every kind of project mainly because the pension fund does need a quantifiable and reliable profit to be paid at some point. An example of a bad project would be sidewalks. How do you easily identify the kind of profits needed to make a pension pay out when that fund is investing $4.5 billion in road or sidewalk repair? It’s tough to quantify the benefit to the pension payout. It’s possible that some creative economist may one day develop a mechanism to do such a thing. All you creative economists listening out there, get to work.

In the meantime, there are infrastructure investment projects in public transportation where you have a quantifiable profit in fares collected.

One project I can’t seem to shut up about is a streetcar running down Lincoln and up Venice Blvd to connect the Expo station in Santa Monica with the Expo station in Culver City. That would be a $250 million project with quantifiable investment returns. Partnering with a pension fund like LACERS (operating an $11.4 billion portfolio) would be a win-win for building out a fully integrated infrastructure network, repairing an injured relationship between the city, taxpayers, and our municipal employees, and ensuring that investments by the taxpayers are maximizing public good for the city. The pension fund would, obviously, be a partner in the fare profits in order to ensure the security of the fund.
And I would add that c
ost efficiencies in running such a streetcar by these public employees would be higher than in a project whose success was not tied directly to their pensions.

While shifting the approach of investments as long range as pension funds takes time, I believe this approach merits strong consideration. The pensions must be funded no matter what, meaning that taxpayers here in the city (and county) must pay for them. It would be intelligent policy if those costs could benefit the taxpayers even more than ensuring a secure retirement for our public sector labor force. It would be great if that investment provided multi-dimensional benefits that foster the growth of our economy as well while ensuring that the tax increases from Measure R are not wasted because we failed to connect riders from the train stations to the places they really wanted to go.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bicycle traffic deaths soar; California leads nation


Dubai: Gold prizes offered for public transport users


October 24, 2014

 A traffic jam in Dubai

 Win gold on public transport, or sit in a traffic jam like this.

Commuters in Dubai are being offered the chance to win lavish prizes if they take public transport, it's reported.

The emirate's transport authority is giving away 4kg (8.8lb) of gold as part of celebrations for Public Transport Day on 1 November, to try and lure people out of their cars and into mass transit, the Gulf News website reports. The prizes will be handed out through "raffle draws and other surprises" over the course of a week, it says. The event is aimed at encouraging people to "shun reliance on private vehicles and switch to using public transport," says Dr Yousuf Al Ali of the Roads and Transport Authority. Car ownership rates in Dubai are among the highest in the world, with an average of 2.3 cars per family, Gulf News reported in September, while only 13% of people use public transport.

It's not just precious metal up for grabs in the bonanza. In total, prizes worth one million dirham ($272,000; £170,000) will be handed out, including at a street-ball tournament where the first prize is 10,000 dirham ($2,700; £1,700). There's even a celebrity guest; retired basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar will be in attendance during a basketball match at a bus station. But only those committed to using public transport are in with a chance, because commuters have to own a Dubai travel card to enter the competitions.

Moving Forward with America's High-Speed Rail Projects

A status report on proposed lines in California, Texas, and the Northeast.


By Eric Jaffe, October 27, 2014


A nationwide roll-out of high-speed rail may never materialize in the United States, but that hasn't stopped local plans from moving forward at their own pace. The past few weeks have brought intriguing—and in some cases, very encouraging—updates on bullet train projects in California, Texas, and the Northeast. Let's check in on the latest.


When we last left California's proposed high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the project had identified a much-needed long-term funding mechanism in the form of state cap-and-trade revenue. Earlier this month, project supporters got a legal boost to accompany that financial one. The state Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal from project opponents, which means that a previous ruling, allowing construction to proceed despite claims that the project had changed too much from original voter intentions, will stand.

The new decision may not end the project's legal battles, but it's a major win for high-speed rail advocates nonetheless. The line could get another victory next week if Governor Jerry Brown, one of the project's biggest supporters, wins reelection. The latest polls show Brown holding a 16-point lead over his main challenger, Neel Kashkari, who refers to the high-speed rail line as a "crazy train" and, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, has "promised to cancel it on his first day in office if he is elected."


The Texas plan to build a high-speed line between Dallas and Houston using private funds has reached a new phase in its development, too. The project began holding public meetings this month to get community feedback as it prepares an environmental impact statement for federal review. It also released new documents—via a new website—showing potential routes for the line, as well as possible station locations in the two main cities.
The leading proposed routes for Dallas-Houston high-speed rail. (Dallas Houston High-Speed Rail)
The station sites will no doubt be a major source of debate among Dallas and Houston residents in the months and years ahead. The early plans do show potential placements in downtown areas of Dallas (perhaps at Union Station in the southwest part of the city) and Houston, though there are options for stations just outside these cities, too. It's far too early to say for sure where the lines will end up, but running the train from one city center to another would reduce overall travel times, facilitate connections to local transit, and generally boost downtown areas. That should be the idea to beat.

The Northeast

Amtrak's $151 billion vision to upgrade high-speed travel in the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston is no longer the only plan in town. Last week, the New York Times and other media outlets reported that a private company—backed by a number of political big shots—wants to build a maglev train in the region. The Northeast Maglev group has $5 billion in backing from the Japanese government, which wants to showcase the new technology in the United States to jumpstart an export market.

The hypothetical line would surely benefit travel (the trip from New York to Washington would only take an hour, compared to nearly three on existing Acela service) and talk of private money always turns heads. But rail advocates have questioned the wisdom of starting with a short test line between Baltimore and Washington, given that maglev's major benefits over traditional high-speed rail occur at longer distances. For now, it's hard to see how a private proposal would gain momentum on Amtrak's own turf. If the idea keeps people talking about rail upgrades in the corridor, though, that's progress in its own right.

Why Los Angeles Uber Drivers Say It Sucks to Be Them


By Bianca Barragan, October 24, 2014



Uber drives organized their first protest this week in Los Angeles over what sound like some pretty raw working conditions. A new union of Uber drivers (California App-Based Drivers Association) has just joined a Teamsters chapter and is speaking out against new fare reductions (which now make Uber cheaper than LA's buses), a huge increase in the commissions taken out by Uber, a "misleading tipping policy," and the company's rating system, which gives all the weight to reviews from riders, regardless of how horrible they may be, reports Neon Tommy. Here's a list of working conditions the Uber drivers want to change:

· "Uber used to take only a 5 percent commission from drivers' total fares. That number has now risen to 25 percent," says Joseph De Wolf, an Uber Black driver who is also also cofounder and executive committee member of the new union. (Uber also takes a dollar off the top of every ride as a "safe ride fee.")

· That is pretty nuts on its own, but it's also been coupled with a hefty fare cut. According to DeWolf, in December 2013, UberX (the least expensive Uber service) charged $2.40 a mile, with a base rate of $4; now the rate's just $1.10 a mile, with a base rate of eight cents.

· That's especially painful considering that, as independent contractors, drivers have to pay for their own gas and car-related expenses. Eighty cents of gas is not going to get anyone anywhere.

· The company's rating system, which has riders rate drivers, uses one- to five-star grading. Drivers whose average dips below 4.7 stars get a warning email and are deactivated until they take a class about improving their rating; if their rating goes below a 4.4 after the class, they're permanently deactivated, which amounts to being fired.

· This is probably a well-intentioned attempt to hold drivers to high standards, but the effect is often that drivers who are asked to do potentially unsafe things (like, say, fit eight people into a car) are worried that if they don't do what their fare wants, it could result in them being fired.

· Drivers also take serious issue with the impression that Uber gives users about tipping. As one Uber driver put it, the company "brainwashes the public, saying the tip is included. It's never been included."

Uber, for its part, says it's reducing fares for a really good reason. "We just want to be the biggest company in the world, whatever we need to do to find more clients," a general manager with Uber West Coast tells NT.


WaPo Transpo Forum: America’s Mayors Aren’t Waiting for Washington


By Tanya Snyder, October 24, 2014

Atlanta’s BeltLine of bike and pedestrian trails is raising property values in every place it touches. Denver’s new rail line will create a much-needed link between Union Station downtown and the airport, 23 miles away. Miami is building 500 miles of bike paths and trails. Los Angeles is breaking new ground with everything from rail expansion to traffic light synchronization. And Salt Lake City’s mayor bikes to work and, by increasing investment in bike infrastructure, is encouraging a lot of others to join him.

At this week’s Washington Post forum on transportation, five mayors from this diverse set of cities spoke of the challenges and opportunities they face as they try to improve transportation options without much help or guidance from the federal government.

Speaking of the feds:

Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta is tired of Congress not doing its job. “Cities don’t get to kick the can,” he said. And even if the feds aren’t ready to make big investments, private and foreign investors are reportedly itching to get a crack at U.S. infrastructure, but there’s been no good process for doing so. Reed wants the federal government to play a convening role, bringing mayors together with private investors they can pitch projects to.

And either way, he said, if the federal government is providing less funding to cities for transportation, “we think they need to have a little less say” — except when it comes to safety. But Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says there’s an upside to the gridlock in Washington: “Cities are being more creative.” And Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker says the Obama administration has been a great partner — pointing especially to the TIGER program and the HUD/DOT/EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

New projects:

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is excited about intelligent transportation technology, like the traffic signal synchronization his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, pioneered. And LA’s Expo line — which he dubbed the Beach-to-Bars line — opens soon, turning a two-hour slog through traffic into a 45-minute pleasure cruise. He says it’ll open up access to the Philharmonic and sports venues that, these days, are often avoided because the trip is too hellish.

But Garcetti is already on to the next thing. To him, that thing is autonomous cars. He thinks LA will be a natural home for those. In fact, he openly acknowledges that his push to build BRT lanes is all in the interest of turning them into autonomous vehicle lanes a few years down the road. That’s right — despite the visionary strategic plan LA just released, Garcetti wants to turn road space over from efficient modes to less efficient ones.

And he does think driverless cars are just a few years away — he estimates that one in every 100 cars will be self-driving in 10 years, and five years after that they’ll be “absolutely mainstream.”

Denver’s Mayor Hancock is especially excited about the “Corridor of Opportunity” between the airport and Union Station because he lives out by the airport — one block inside the city limits, just enough to run for mayor, he admits. He currently drives to work, but he says he’s excited for the chance to take the train instead. “What we’ve decided to do is Denver is create a more multimodal approach to our transportation challenges,” he said. “Not only do you need to plan transit, but you need to plan for bicycles, you need to plan for pedestrian-friendly communities.” (And more lanes on the highway.)

Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami-Dade County, says they don’t really have a rail transit “system” at all, just one line (with a little detour to the airport). They’re still waiting for a rail link to the beach. The county’s new 10-year transportation plan has been lambasted by advocates as “complete fluff with no substance, future transit vision, or measurable goals.”

Once these projects get going, they have a way of multiplying. Salt Lake City has built 140 miles of urban rail in 15 years, and Mayor Becker says that even the skeptics wanted a light rail line of their own the minute the first line opened. What they still need to do, Becker said, is flesh out the bus system — “we invested in rail to the detriment of a really strong bus system,” he said — and fill in the gaps in the bike trail network.

On financing:

When asked about the single thing he’s done as mayor that’s made a difference in reducing traffic congestion in Atlanta, Reed said, “We haven’t done it yet, because we failed.” He said losing the T-SPLOST transportation referendum was “the biggest failure of my political career.” He took heart, though, knowing that it took Denver multiple tries, too, before they managed to pass a 0.4 percent sales tax for FasTracks. Hancock said it wasn’t until 41 regional mayors came together to support it that it finally passed.

Reed is determined to take another crack at it. “I’m not going to let the folks who don’t want it prevent us from having it,” he said. “The city of Atlanta voted overwhelmingly for it” while the suburbs voted it down. Next time, the city’s going to pair up with a few neighboring progressive counties to see if they can pass a smaller package.

On affordability:

“We need to make sure people don’t have to leave the urban core to live in the area,” said Hancock. “The housing market is skyrocketing in metro Denver.”

On bikes:

Atlanta’s BeltLine is remaking the auto-oriented city into a mecca for walkers and bicyclists. Mayor Reed said it’s like New York’s High Line, only “cuter.” The city won a smart growth award for it, and is quickly moving up in walkability rankings.

Miami is hoping to build a 10-mile bike/pedestrian path along and underneath its rail line — they’re calling it “the underline.” And Denver’s Hancock touted a bike lane they’re building next to a highway. The lane along U.S. 36 doesn’t actually reach Denver, but it’s still an exciting project in the region.

Interestingly, Hancock differed with Salt Lake City’s Ralph Becker (and just about everybody else who’s ever written or seen a transportation budget) by saying bike lanes were expensive — “a new expense most cities never had before” — but maintained that the congestion reduction benefits bring a “long-term return.” Becker, himself a bike commuter, insists bike infrastructure is cheap. “Putting lines on the street is a lot cheaper than building a street,” he said.

On the bikelash:

When SLC motorists accuse Becker of “messing with” their streets — taking out parking or a lane of traffic — he likes to remind people, “Hey, we want different ways to get around. That doesn’t happen without disrupting a street.” His philosophy, which guides his approach to transportation, is summed up like this: “Drive if you must, or you want to, but let’s not make that necessarily the easiest way to get around.”

On safety:

They’re not always popular with the motoring public but Hancock said red light cameras have improved safety in Denver. “We have seen a tremendous decrease, as much as a 60 percent decrease, in the number of traffic [crashes] at those intersections,” he said.

On public-private partnerships:

LA’s Garcetti says the U.S. has failed on P3s. “Much more liberal or socialistic countries do a better job engaging the private sector — whether it’s Europe, whether it’s Canada — than here, where the free market is supposed to be an advantage to our system,” he said. He’s looking to build up the capacity in LA.

All Aboard Florida will be the first new rail line completed in Florida in 100 years, it will go 110 mph, and it’s entirely privately funded. Public money will then pay to take advantage of those tracks to build commuter rail on the northeast side of Miami-Dade county. And Becker says Salt Lake’s bike-share was 70 percent privately funded.

On Uber:

Calling Miami’s ban on Uber “antiquated legislation,” Gimenez said he uses Uber in other cities and wishes he could do so in his own city. He called its legalization in Miami “inevitable” since the young people like it. Traditional taxi companies might disagree with his assertion that Uber and Lyft are “almost self regulating.”

Parting thoughts: 

Eric Garcetti had this to say at his meeting, as part of the “class of 2013” mayors, with President Obama and Vice President Biden:
If this was 40 years ago, people had given up on America’s cities, and America’s cities were burning, and we came to Washington saying, “Washington, save America’s cities.” Now it’s a little bit inverted. We were here as America’s cities to save Washington.
Because Washington feels like it’s burning, and we’re here to say, “There is hope.”
Just as people gave up on us and never thought that these urban centers would be revitalized by mayors like Mayor [Anthony] Foxx, when he was mayor [of Charlotte]; like what we’re trying to do in Los Angeles, and seeing it come back. I believe American politics can be regenerated in the same way.
It will require innovation. It will require cross-cutting allegiances. And it will require us to stop repeating what we repeat in our bad planning, in our uni-modal thinking on transportation, and embrace the way people actually live now. People are ahead of the government and it’s time that Washington caught up.