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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Say it Ain't So: More Toll Lanes Could Be Coming to L.A. Freeways


By Dennis Romero, November 14, 2014


Despite an independent study that found the relatively new toll lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways in L.A. didn't improve traffic flow much, county transportation officials are looking to expand the tolls to other stretches of your favorite parking lots.

The lanes have brought in $18 million to county transportation coffers since they first took the "free" out of freeways in L.A. in 2012. That figure surpassed a $10 million goal, says the office of county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

See also: Ready To Pay $1.40 A Mile For Faster Lanes On The 110 Freeway?

Metro board members Ridley-Thomas, Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, and John Fasana, Duarte councilman, this week asked for a study that would look into expanding the pay-to-drive program.

Earlier this year a study prepared for federal transportation officials concluded that the 10 and 110 freeway toll lanes, which essentially allow paying motorists to use what were once carpool lanes, didn't really affect traffic flow that much.

In some cases the lanes actually moved slower than they did as carpool lanes. Metro's own summary said the analysis found "degradation in travel times" ... "on some portions of the 10 and 110."

However, during certain times of the day, such as the morning peak time, travel times decreased "marginally" on the 110, Metro said.

And Metro public transportation ridership in the area increased by as much as 27 percent, officials said. That's a good thing because it generally means fewer cars are on the roads.

Ridley-Thomas' office says 259,524 transponders, necessary to use the toll lanes, have been issued since 2012, far surpassing a goal of 100,000.

Although the toll lanes comprised a pilot program, in September legislators gave Metro the okay to move forward indefinitely with the pay-to-drive programs across L.A. county.

The toll lanes, with charges that rise and fall depending on traffic, haven't been entirely popular with the populace, and it's hard for us to get our head around paying for something—a public road—we already paid to build.

See also: 110 Freeway Toll Road Evasion Tickets: Is This Extortion?

But they're better than stupid carpool lanes, which nobody but tourists and Prius drivers seemed to use. Ridley-Thomas:
Nobody likes traffic. But with these toll lanes we are seeing some positive results that benefit residents. This is one critical tool in our attempts to reduce congestion and pollution.
We'll see.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Armed with a fleet of Teslas, Shift takes aim at Uber, public transit


By Greg Ferenstein, November 7, 2014

 Shift wants to change the way we get around cities.

A new transportation start-up, Shift, is creating its own intelligent mass private transit system. Moving around a city would be far less complicated if every bike, car, and bus was connected to an intelligent system that could automatically decide which mode of transit was the quickest for pedestrians to get from point A to point B. But upgrading every piece of transit equipment is too ambitious for a city government.

 So, with $13 million in funding and legal playground in the tiny metro of downtown Las Vegas, Shift is creating a 21st century transit system from the ground up. The company made headlines after it purchased 100 Teslas for the core of its fleet, but has since been silent about how exactly the company planned to tackle both Uber and public transit. For the first time, Shift has provided the Washington Post with a demo of how it will work.

 The Basics and a demo


Shift’s guiding philosophy is that most city dwellers don’t care much about the vehicle that gets them from point A to point B, as long as they can get to their destination cheaply and quickly.

To that end, Shift has designed to take the thinking out of transit. A fleet of private bicycles, tiny smart cars, Teslas, shuttles and on-call valets are scattered throughout a city’s downtown “urban core.” The company guarantees that users can be on their way with the most efficient transportation means within five minutes of summoning the app.

In the demo video above at their downtown Vegas headquarters, Jamie Schieber, customer service director, shows us what happens when I tell Shift that I want to go the local watering hole, the Golden Nugget, a few miles away.

Shift’s algorithm searches through its inventory of transit options and eventually selects a Tesla; an electric car was chosen because the company has a few reserved parking spots near the bar and it’s far enough away that an car is quicker than a bike.

“It’s basically a math calculation. Where you are + where you want to go + how you want to go (drive/ride/bike) = the mode we match you to,” explains chief executive Zach Ware in an e-mail.

“That decision is based on factors including the distance we predict your trip to be, your past patterns of movement or our predictions on what the system balance needs might be during your trip.”

After a decision is made, an electronic key reader automatically opens up the car, and the user is asked to answer a few basic questions about the condition of the car before they zip off.

At the moment, Shift is just piloting in the small downtown Vegas core and prices aren’t public. Ware tells me that he wants it to be affordable, with lowest tier as low around $25 for bike-only access; pricing gets more expensive at $250 for 20-30 trips, and $500 for frequent travelers.

Each package will contain a set of self-driving and valet options. If a user never wanted to drive a car again, they could splurge for an unlimited set of Shift “Valet+” drivers, but the company expects that most users will want to use a health mix of all transportation options.

Shift: We’re not Uber.

“Our biggest competitor is your car,” says Ware, who adamantly argues that he’s not trying to tackle the rising car-sharing behemoth, Uber. Instead, Shift has two missions: eliminate the need to own a car and make it easier for commuters to live outside of downtown metros.

Still, even if everyone took an Uber to work, cities would still be crowded with noise and air-polluting cars. “I was a huge Uber fan when it launched,” says Ware. However, “long term, when we look at platform plays like Lyft and Uber, they’re encouraging more cars to be on the road.” Uber has an incentive to pack as many cars on the road as possible to minimize wait times for each pickup request.

In fairness, Uber has added a carpooling feature to ease congestion, but Ware doubts carpooling can ever truly solve the problem of less cars on the road.

Users don’t want to be bothered with deciding whether it’s worth $15 to take an Uber or dealing with the erratic schedule of public buses. The subscription takes the hassle out of deciding, and users can just focus on what they want to do at a location, rather than dealing with how to get there.

Unlike Uber, Shift is a membership company; everyday the company has to impress its customers if it wants them moving up the tiered pricing structure. It’s partly why it splurged on Teslas.

“It’s the primary vehicle behind our Valet+ program. We wanted to provide a premium ride experience for our members but needed a vehicle with range similar to a gas powered car,” explains Ware.

And, perhaps most importantly, all Valet+ chauffeurs are full-time employees. In contrast, Uber employes an army of contract workers, who have to service and buy their own vehicle. Uber’s hands-off approach has seen strikes around the country, with picketing drivers angry over lack of benefits, a stable income, and abrupt pricing changes.

Shift employees, instead, perform every function within the company, from cleaning cars to chauffeuring users. If a car breaks down, an employee is immediately dispatched to pick up the wayward consumer and whisk them off to their location. It’s a white-glove approach to a car service that aims for deepening relationships with its user base. It also believes that happier employees will treat consumers better than a disinterested taxi driver.

Shift is even constructing a “drunk bus” for busy weekend nights to pick up the hoards of inebriated users stumbling around downtown Vegas. But it’s more of a party bus than a shuttle. Ware imagines that the bus will greet tipsy users with a cocktail as music blares in the background.

If more than one bus is needed, Shift could connect to users Facebook graph and construct an entire drunk bus of friends, so that they are officially the most fun transit option in the area.

Shift has set an ambitious goal of attempting to “relieve the pressure” on overcrowded cities, where residents would rather pay sky-high rents for a tin-can apartment than commuting every day from a cheaper outlying suburb. To accomplish this Shift plans on expanding parked vehicles into multi-family housing units and around the suburbs ringing city cores. Eventually it wants “dynamically routed” shuttles that pick up commuters in the most efficient way possible. Kind of like a UPS truck delivering human commuters.

If Shift is successful, company executives imagine solving the plague of sky-high city rents by allowing residents a quick and comfortable commute from the spacious suburban real-estate outside overcrowded cities.

For now, Shift has its eye on medium-size cities, which are experiencing the same pocket-busting rent spikes as New York or San Francisco, but with a population small enough that a successful start-up could significantly influence enough residents to move to orbiting suburbs.

Is Shift an Uber Killer?

Over the long-haul, it’s difficult to imagine a world where both Uber and Shift co-exist in peaceful capitalistic harmony. Shift’s subscription service seems like a delightfully convenient alternative for young urban dwellers who want to ditch their car. Indeed, I sold my car when I first moved to San Francisco, in large part because I knew I could rely on Uber when I really needed to get somewhere quick.

In practice, I often find myself taking public transportation more than expected, because I’m more fickle in the moment when I have a choice between a $2 bus and a $15 chauffeur experience. For San Franciscans who don’t like public transit, Shift may be the very excuse people need to finally get rid of their cars.

In the short-term, Uber may be compelled to copy Shift’s membership model, just as it adopted UberX from Lyft, the companies primary ride-sharing competitor, who originally popularized drivers who use their own cars as taxis.

Since Shift is aiming to fundamentally change transportation behavior, it’s hard to say what will happen. Already in their downtown pilot, Ware tells me that “the average trip length is a lot shorter than we anticipated. People are moving a lot and they are moving quickly.” Unlike Uber, Shift is giving pedestrians a completely new set of options to move around a city. If it continues to discover latent desires, the entire ridesharing industry could adapt to their findings.

“If mobility were completely frictionless and free of cost per use, your psychology of what you could do in a day could fundamentally change,” Ware said.

The Long, Elusive Path to That Westside-Valley Transit Project


By Ken Alpern, November 14, 2014


GETTING THERE FROM HERE-One of the problems facing those who long for better transportation options, such as a new freeway, rail line, sidewalk or bicycle path is that so many things compete for prioritization. 
Ditto for infrastructure associated with water, power, sewage, energy, the Internet or cable. And as someone who's longed for a Westside-Valley (or Valley-Westside) transit project, I suggest you consider the following:  it's not going to happen anytime soon. 

Which is a pity, and certainly not a suggestion that this project, which would link the San Fernando Valley to the Westside (and vice versa) and offer commuters traveling across the Sepulveda Pass another option to the mega-congested I-405 freeway, is a low-priority project or one that isn't important. 

It's just that there are so many other big projects already prioritizing rail construction resources--the Expo Line, the Foothill Gold Line, the Downtown Light Rail Connector, the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Wilshire Subway make up 5 projects that will create long east-west and north-south projects that will link the entire county to Downtown and LAX. 

So where does the Westside-Valley (or Sepulveda Pass) Transit Project exist in the grand scheme of things? 

A victim of geography and lack of consensus, unfortunately--and a BIG price-tag, to boot, as the growing awareness that this project will likely exist as another subway permeates its way through the hopes and dreams of planners everywhere.  

Just as the idea of light rail to the various regions of the county (such as the South Bay) have to take a back seat to connecting MetroRail to LAX, the Wilshire Subway, which just broke ground, will have to reach the 405 freeway before it can be connected north to the Valley with a Sepulveda Pass Line. 

And when would that happen?  2025?  2030?  2035?  Hard to say--the costs and legal issues surrounding the Purple Line aren't going away, despite the desire of many to build the Wilshire Subway (also known a the Metro Purple Line). 

Furthermore, the price tag of converting the Orange Line Busway ($2 billion or more) to a light rail line, and bring the San Fernando Valley up the same transit standards as the rest of the county, pales before the cost of this Sepulveda Pass project, which could easily be $4-6 billion or more...so the SF Valley will probably first create an Orange Light Rail Line. 

Not hard to conclude that--despite the Measure R-funded $1 billion for the Sepulveda Pass project--the goal of establishing both ends of the future Westside-Valley rail project (the Orange and Purple Lines, perhaps the Orange and Expo Lines) has to come first.

Yet other unanswered questions abound--would this be a rail project only, or a combined "Big Dig" to create an underground freeway toll project to enhance freeway capacity while also creating a light rail line?  

Would a heavy-rail project to be compatible with the Wilshire Subway be chosen?  Would a light-rail project to be compatible with the Green, Crenshaw and Expo Lines be chosen? 

Regardless of how these questions are answered, until a Major Investment Study is commenced we won't be able to know what will be built.  That $1 billion from Measure R could simply create a fleet of buses and some bus/rail interface stations to utilize the new carpool/HOV lanes that just opened...and that's all we'll see for now. 

(And for those wanting the Wilshire Subway to proceed west beyond the I-405 freeway to go to the ocean...well, you REALLY will have to wait!) 

Which--to repeat my opening sentiments--doesn't mean that this project is unimportant.  It's just a victim of geography, priority, costs and lack of consensus.  But it's not a project that's going away.  

Not long ago, the Expo and Wilshire rail lines were science fiction, and look where they're at now.

So...try to focus on what we can do, and what we are doing, and try to remember that the big battles for traffic relief and improvement do NOT involve what rail lines or freeway projects we're building.  

They involve the tendency to overplan and overbuild our commercial and residential developments.  Because no matter what we build, unsustainable overdevelopment will trump every new transportation project--no matter how beneficial, and no matter what helpful effects are associated with it--every time.
le Lines, perhaps the Orange and Expo Lines) has to come first.

Big Businesses Thumb Their Noses at Hurting Port Truck Drivers …Everybody Loses


By Rosemary Jenkins, November 14, 2014

JUST SAYIN’-Wage suppression, wage theft, unpaid sick leave—the three prongs of the devil’s trident.  The devil, you ask?  Under-regulated big businesses thumbing their noses at the very workers who make their enormous profits possible. 
The desperate working conditions of truck drivers (who work out of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach) have been an ongoing concern.  

A number of organizations (like the LA County Federation of Labor, LAANE, La Causa, and others) are grappling with these challenges on behalf of these previously voiceless workers and are diligently trying to convince our City lawmakers that these injustices can no longer be tolerated.  At minimum, the effort is to accomplish the following: 

1)    Eliminate the misclassification of drayage workers
2)    Raise the minimum wage as quickly as possible to at least $15 an hour
3)    Allow unionization among workers who desire it
4)    Prevent wage theft
5)    Mandate 5 paid sick days per year
6)    Provide driver safety and well-being 

These drivers load a broad variety of goods which are brought in by ships from around the world.  The cargo is taken to warehouses which dot our landscape and are then reloaded for distribution to the stores from which we buy our consumables.  The business paradigm is to minimize cost by keeping driver pay at the lowest possible level (but not a living wage) for those on whom we depend to maintain our respective standards of living. 

To make matters worse, on the heels of the recent port demonstration on November 7, 2014, the Los Angeles and Long Beach Trucking Association is in the process of asking for an exemption from the federally mandated 34 consecutive-hour rest period for drivers.  

The rationale is to keep the yards open seven days a week (Sundays are now closed) in order to move cargo whose deliveries have been delayed due to heavy congestion on the yards.  Customers have complained vociferously about the unreliable arrival times of the goods they need to conduct business.  Hence, the requested exception. 

There is an obvious conundrum here for both owners and workers, but granting the request would also create a slippery slope.  My husband, being a truck driver by profession, has shared with me many horror stories of drivers who have fallen asleep on the road—teamsters (not to be confused with unionized Teamsters with shop steward representatives) who have caused accidents, often deadly, not from actual negligence but as a consequence of sleep deprivation. 

Yes, many drivers are eager for the overtime to help pay the bills, but the laws are in place for the health and safety of those very drivers whose well-being affects the rest of us as well.  The reality is, Allow this first step now and open the door to an even shorter rest period the next time. 
How about this easy solution?  Hire more truck drivers and provide more chassis to haul the cargo containers!  A win-win for everyone! 

Companies, like Green Fleet (the “poster child of wage theft”), Pace Carter, Inc., Pacific 9 Transportation, and Total Transportation Services, are among the worst perpetrators of worksite intimidation and retaliation!  

What are many of the grievances that have been reported over time? 
  • Unspeakable ill-treatment for those workers who question policy or file grievances 
  • Misclassifying drivers (to put it kindly) as independent contractors which “can save a company about $4000 a year per infraction” but can cost the workers thousands of dollars during the same period 
Under such classification, these workers are then required (at their own, out-of-pocket expense) to provide (among other obligations) maintenance and repair for “their” trucks, pay for gasoline and insurance, and cover toll road costs.  Such outlays can easily add to about half of their income! 
  • Wage theft is an overwhelming reality, not only for these truck drivers but for workers in other establishments, such as in big box retail stores (like Walmart), tip staff in many restaurants, and sub-contractors at many hair salons. 
  • What of the lack of paid sick leave?  It seems to me that it is unconscionable to “make” ill employees work (or lose their pay) when they ought to be home, taking care of themselves instead of transmitting their illnesses to those with whom they come into contact at work. 
  • Many employees (in order to keep their jobs) are literally forced to work off the clock and, thus must work hours for which they are not paid at all.  Others are taxed unfairly through a disingenuous accounting system.  Often tip equivalency is stolen by management when figuring out pay warrants.   
Port drivers are frequently denied their rightful pay from companies which break labor laws with impunity.  By being classified as independent contractors, drivers become burdened with a minimum wage that is not a living age, and overtime rules that are flagrantly violated.  Profit for the company—unbearable debt for the laborer.  

Drivers, like Mateo Mares and Amicar Cardona who had the audacity to stand up to their bosses about their ill-treatment and untenable working conditions, were fired for their efforts.  In fact, “one anti-union Green Fleet driver who has been acting as an agent of the company made death threats against pro-union drivers and helped management retaliate against them.”  

This kind of behavior is not atypical of what transpires at many other companies, such as El Super (where I have personally observed intimidating behavior during a recent demonstration at one of the markets—right in full view of management, participants, and even the police).

Matters had gotten so bad at the docks that a Federal court had to be brought in to decide on how to handle the many grievances.  Its ruling in favor of the plaintiff workers was soon upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Thus came the appreciative response:  “The invisible class of contract workers that keeps the American retail economy running smoothly has won a significant courtroom victory in their long-running campaign to end a systematic violation of their labor rights.” 

As Julie Gutman Dickinson, a Teamster attorney in this matter, indicated unequivocally that “misclassified independent contractors are, in fact, employees that are entitled to choose union representation and cannot be fired for their union activities or for filing claims for wage theft.”  Thus, the Ninth Circuit ruling.

One set of grievances that had been filed against Green Fleet reflects a broader, systemic breach of established labor laws.  These complaints have included the following: 
  • Some employees were encouraged to harass and intimidate union sympathizers in the hope that a fight would break out, thus “justifying” employment termination for the victim. The “scabs” would often take pictures of workers, who were promoting union contracts, to justify firing the activist employees. 
  • Often management would attempt to trick employees into signing anti-union petitions (whose wording was kept out of sight).  We have seen this same behavior at El Super. 
It is certainly comforting to know, however, that City and Port executives seem to be uniformly in support of rectifying the plight and promoting the legal rights of the port drivers, many of whom are presently taking home negative paychecks (due to the illegal costs that these companies are forcing them to cover). 

In the meantime, because of the court ruling, complainants Mares and Almicar (in just the last few days) have been returned to work in good standing.  Green Fleet has been ordered to cease and desist all unlawful labor practices or suffer consequential legal repercussions.  

The impact of the court ruling will be considerable:  A result of one portion of the decision will mandate compensating all complainants in this suit with the back wages (plus penalties) which they are owed—an amount which could come close to a million dollars.  The question remains, Will Green Fleet and similar companies comply or risk further consequences?  What will their bean counters recommend? 

It should be obvious, then, that we must continue to draw attention to the crimes against the working poor—the results of which dramatically affect all of us!  Expect further mobilization to get drayage owners to comply:  Beginning on November 13, 2014, and continuing for a week, there will be around-the-clock picketing (in 8-hour shifts) to put an end to wage theft and other indefensible violations.  

I certainly encourage participation in the picketing by all who are in a position to commit their time.  In the meantime, it is not too late:  word-of-mouth is a great way to spread the word. 

According to Teamster boss, James P. Hoffa, “Justice for port drivers means justice for all American workers!”  Thus, these rulings should be interpreted as supporting a new-and-improved version of the “trickle down” theory:  Justice for the “least” of us will bring justice for all of us!  
Just sayin’.
ent, participants, and even the police).

Metro Postpones Approving ENA for Mariachi Plaza, Gets Blasted for Having it on Agenda in First Place


By Sahra Sulaiman, November 13, 2014

 Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it's a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

 Recognize this place? Me, neither. But it’s a rendering of the potential future of Mariachi Plaza. (Source: Metro)

“Injustice. [...] Lack of accountability. Lack of outreach in our community,” a frustrated Teresa Marquez, president of the Boyle Heights Stakeholders Association, told the Metro Board of Directors this morning. “Nobody’s talking to us!”

She was right.

Metro had apparently reneged on promises in 2012 that, “prior to seeking Metro Board approval [for a project at Mariachi Plaza], staff will be conducting a meeting to update the community regarding the development site.

Instead, only a handful of people were made aware of the plans for an 8-story parking garage with medical offices and a 3-story retail and fitness center adjacent to the plaza, the motion before the Planning Committee last Tuesday to grant developer Primestor an 18-month Exclusive Negotiation Agreement and Planning Document (ENA) for the site, or the motions to grant ENAs to two other affordable housing projects slated for Cesar Chavez/Soto and 1st/Soto.

The firestorm the Mariachi Plaza plans and the lack of community outreach ignited (not even the neighborhood councils had been advised of the plans) prompted the Board to pull the item and the two linked to affordable housing from the consent agenda. All three were postponed until February of 2015 in order to give the developers time to engage the community in the planning process. *(The extension of the ENA for the 1st/Lorena site, which some hoped to also see postponed, was granted to A Community of Friends.)

It was a move that Primestor CEO and Co-founder Arturo Sneider said he applauded.
During the public comment period, he spoke of Metro’s Request for Proposals (RFP) process as keeping them from being able to do extensive community engagement.

Although Metro had released the RFP almost a year ago, Primestor could do no outreach during the “blackout period” while its proposal was being considered. And since Metro had only conducted the final interviews in September and decided upon the winning proposals some time after that, there really had been no time for a community process. (The same had been true with the proposals for housing at 1st/Soto and Cesar Chavez/Soto)

Sneider reassured Metro that Primestor was committed to community engagement and local hiring, and was looking forward to beginning that process.

It was not enough to reassure those present to protest the project. While they were pleased that Metro had (finally) listened to the community, they were frustrated at their sense they were never seen as a partner in development and that their voices only tended to be heard when there was a massive outcry in the eleventh hour.

Many of the speakers wanted to make it clear that community engagement was not only important for a productive planning process, but also essential to ensure that current residents would be able to reap the benefits of any investments in the area.

One gentleman declared he was “appalled” at Metro’s failure to create an advisory committee for the project at Mariachi Plaza and its consistent shutting out of his community from discussions about “what [Boyle Heights] could become.” People were eager to be part of that conversation, he argued, and making them a part of it would result in a “win-win situation” for everybody.

When there is some mystery around development, agreed Boyle Heights Neighborhood Councilmember (BHNC) Mynor Godoy, it never ends well for the community.

Foregoing outreach and relying on data to make decisions about what Boyle Heights needed, concluded planning student Edber Macedo, would not work either. Planning needed to be inclusive and community-driven to be successful.

The belief that respect for the community and inclusivity were paramount underlay comments from a number of speakers that took the Board, Metro, and even Mayor Eric Garcetti to task for the costs they felt they had incurred when the Gold Line was pushed through.

A business owner from Chinatown spoke of how the train and the focus on large-scale transit-oriented development projects had hurt long-standing small businesses in his community. He warned those in Boyle Heights the same could happen to them and asked that Metro find ways to make development benefit the local entrepreneurs.

Railing against housing and a grocery store that had been demolished to make way for the train, resident Imelda Alvarez said in Spanish, You must return what you took [from us].

Carmen Fuentes agreed, saying, “[Housing and grocery markets] are the things that we need. Metro has a responsibility to bring those things back.”

What they did not need, Fuentes, Alvarez, and a chorus of residents that had come with the East L.A. Community Corporation to support affordable housing and transit-oriented development believed, was for both Garcetti and Metro to “contradict [themselves]” and “go against your own transit goals” by potentially allowing for a retail and parking structure project — especially one that did not fit the community’s needs — to go forward.

If you were going to support parking, Alvarez asked, why did you build the train? 

But perhaps the most poignant testimony came from Arturo Ramirez, head of the Organization of United Mariachis of Los Angeles, who feared mariachis would soon find themselves unwelcome at Mariachi Plaza.

Speaking in Spanish he said that, while stakeholders had been told Primestor had designed their project to both enhance the plaza and help the mariachis, We were not told how that was supposed to happen.

Demolishing the buildings hosting small businesses and important community murals, he felt, could not possibly result in anything other than the loss of what he called the “cultural beauty” of the area.

And the time that it took complete construction could result in a significant loss of revenue for the mariachis, just as the construction of the Metro Line had.

Worse still, he worried, the new retailers might see the mariachis as a nuisance, resulting in their displacement from the very place that had long been defined by their presence.

“A change of that magnitude [at Mariachi Plaza],” concluded resident Leticia Andrade, following on Ramirez’ comments, “will change the community.”

This Dutch City Built a Glowing 'Van Gogh' Bike Path for Psychedelic Cyclists

The luminescent path is modeled after the painter's "The Starry Night."


By John Metcalfe, November 14, 2014


Psychonauts seeking a two-wheeled spirit quest should head to northern Europe, where the Dutch have just unveiled a dreamy bike path that makes it seem like you're riding atop the Milky Way.
The "Van Gogh-Roosegaarde" cycle avenue debuted this week just outside of Eindhoven, the design capital of the southern Netherlands. It's a collaboration between construction firm Heijmans and Daan Roosegaarde, the same duo who built a nearby glow-in-the-dark highway. The path's swirling, spectral patterns are meant to recall "The Starry Night," the delirious masterpiece that Dutch native son Vincent van Gogh painted while locked in an asylum.


The path's supernatural aura comes from thousands of embedded nuggets that suck up solar energy and release it as light at night. The project cost about $870,000 and is part of a larger effort to make the region a laboratory for sustainable infrastructure. Roosegaarde says he hopes it will feel like "techno-poetry" that "people will experience in a special way" (perhaps with the assistance of certain locally popular substances?).

Turn off the lights and take a test drive:

The 10 Biggest Factors Changing Millennial Driving Habits

A chart-filled data dive on one of mobility's most important trends.


By Eric Jaffe, November 14, 2014

The only thing everyone agrees on about Millennial driving habits is that they're on the decline. As you'll see in the chart below, every American age group drove less in 2009 than in 2001, but the gaps were strikingly high in the 20- to 40-year-old segments of the population. There's no arguing with these numbers:

Where things get polarized is why these shifts have occurred, because answering that question would help predict how these patterns will hold up in the future—and thus what policies we should adopt in the present. So we see cities claiming victory over Millennials. And we see suburbs making similarly compelling cases. We see claims that technology is changing Millennial behavior. And counter-claims that economics are at the root of this shift. It's a tug-of-war for America's young adults.

Here's the thing: it's very unlikely any single factor will emerge as the overriding reason why Millennials aren't driving as much as their parents did. Life just isn't that clean. To that end, Steven Polzin of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida and colleagues do the debate a huge service with an objective data dive into the 10 biggest factors changing Millennial driving behavior, based on a 2009 national travel survey. Let's follow them inside the numbers:

1. Place of residence. Cities and suburbs each lay claim on Millennial living preferences, but as both places become more friendly to alternative travel modes, a more telling divide may come between metro and rural areas. The share of 18- to 30-year-olds in cities today is pretty close to what it was for Boomers: 32 to 28 percent, respectively, according to Polzin and company. But for towns and rural areas the share today is 14 percent, compared with 26 percent for Boomers. Given how much more driving occurs in non-metro areas, the shift into metros alone likely explains much of the overall decline.

2. Race/ethnicity. White Americans tend to drive more than other races and ethnicities do. But Millennials appear to be more diverse along these lines than young adults were in previous generations. There were 10 million fewer whites aged 20-to-39 in 2009 than in 1990, according to Polzin's team—a 16 percent change. If that diversity continues to grow, driving habits might continue to drop.

3. Education. Millennials are very well-educated, especially compared with Baby Boomers, and well-educated people tend to drive more than those who aren't. As 20- to 39-year-olds complete their education and enter the work force—assuming they can enter the work force—vehicle mileage among this group might increase. Of course, that also assumes they can pay down their enormous student loan debts and still have money left over for a home or a car.

4. Income. Money is certainly a huge factor in Millennial driving patterns. That's largely because people who make more tend to drive more, and right now Millennials just aren't making very much. What's very striking about the per-capita figures collected by Polzin et al, is that Millennials making a lot of money don't seem to be driving much more than those making very little. The over $100,000 category is the same as the $50-54,000 range, which isn't much higher than the $30-34,000 (i.e. intern) range. That said, the very low end of the scale shows a clear drop-off.

5. Living arrangements. Traditionally, personal driving patterns have been heavily influenced by living arrangements. People who own single-family homes unsurprisingly drive a lot more than people who rent apartments, Millennials included. With lots of Millennials beginning their adult life in their parents' homes—this described about 36 percent of 18- to 31-year-olds in 2012, compared with 32 percent in 1968—where they go next will have a lot to say about how much they drive.

6. Lifecycle delay. People are marrying later in life: between 1970 and 2012, according to Polzin and company, age at marriage increased from about 23 to 29 for men and nearly 21 to 27 for women. Meanwhile, a woman's age at the time she had her first child increased from 21 to nearly 26 over the same period. Yet two-person households drive more than solos do across the board, especially when they have a young child, and these patterns are holding up for Millennials, as the figures below show. The big question is not so much whether the solos in these cohorts will drive more once they start families, but whether they'll start traditional families at all.

7. Licenses. Graduate license programs, paired with many of the economic factors mentioned above, have led to a decline in the share of licensed drivers under age 35—down from 46 percent in 1981 to 30 percent in 2012. Even if these Millennials get a license eventually, the question again becomes whether their non-driving habits will carry over into later years as a lifestyle preference.

8. Car-ownership. Whether or not you have a car has an enormous impact on how much you drive, even among Millennials, as the figures below show. At the same time, many of the economic and life-cycle factors mentioned above will make it either more difficult or less necessary for young people to make that purchase—something that has auto-makers scrambling to figure out a more attractive way to market to Millennials (i.e., the dashboard selfie). If nothing else, write Polzin et al, Millennials seem less infatuated with cars as status symbols than Boomers were.

9. Environmental values. While it's often presumed that Millennials have more respect for the environment than previous generations did, and thus a motivation to find cleaner ways of travel, that's not entirely clear in the population data. Pew surveys have shown that Millennials are actually less likely to consider themselves environmentalists, compared to other age segments. Then again, it's possible to interpret these figures to mean Millennials take environmental awareness as a given that need not be expressed.

10. Technology. It's been said (and challenged) that one reason Millennials don't drive as much is that they connect through technology rather than geography. No one doubts that technology is a native language for Millennials. The problem for transport predictions is that technology can just as easily expand car travel (think: the ease of using Uber to meet up with a friend, or the ease of ordering a delivery) as replace it.

What exactly all these factors will mean for Millennial driving habits is still anyone's guess. The charts show pretty clearly that when Millennials live like previous generations did, they drive like older Americans do. What they can't show is whether young people are merely delaying traditional lifestyles or actively changing them. Economics will certainly have a lot to do with that trajectory, but so will the strength of habits being established early on in life—something that's much harder to quantify. For now, anyone offering more certainty on the situation ahead is likely looking into the numbers and seeing not a clear future projection but their own present beliefs.

L.A. truck drivers strike as tension mounts at ports


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Metro will study adding more pay lanes to Southern California freeways


Roundup of today’s meeting of the Metro Board of Directors


By Steve Hymon, November 13, 2014

Processed with VSCOcam with x3 preset

Among the actions taken today by the Metro Board of Directors at their final meeting of 2014:

•The Board approved going forward with a technical study of two light rail alternatives for the Eastside Gold Line Transit Corridor Phase 2 study. One alternative would extend the line to South El Monte, mostly along the 60 freeway, and the other alternative would extend the line to Whittier but eliminate the Garfield Avenue section of the route (the technical study will seek to find a different route). Please see this earlier Source post for more about the project. The technical study will precede the start of the final environmental study for the project.

A motion by Board Members Diane DuBois and Don Knabe asked staff to study potential connections with the West Santa Ana Branch Corridor project, which seeks to build a transit project between downtown L.A. and Santa Ana via an old streetcar right-of-way.

•The Board approved a $44.4-million contract with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to patrol Metro trains, buses and facilities for the first six months of 2015. The extension provides Metro staff with the time needed to complete the procurement process for a new policing contract, according to the Metro staff report.

•The Board approved a request by Metro staff to begin the process of requiring 64 new vehicles for use on the Red and Purple Line subway. Earlier Source post with Metro staff report

•The Board approved a motion asking Metro to launch a study of potential new ExpressLanes corridors on Los Angeles County freeways. The Board last summer had also asked for a study of expanding the ExpressLanes to the 105 freeway between the 605 and the 405. Earlier Source post with Board motion

•The Board postponed three items on the agenda — 13, 14 and 15 — on potential new transit-oriented developments on the Eastside Gold Line, one at Mariachi Plaza and two near the Soto Station. In both the Board’s Planning Committee last week and at today’s meeting, many community members expressed concerns about the size, scale and affordability of residences in the projects. The items were postponed in order to do more community outreach, said Board Member Gloria Molina.

•The Board approved a motion by Board Members Eric Garcetti, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Jackie Dupont-Walker and Mike Bonin that would require 30 percent of the units to be affordable housing at future Metro joint developments. Thus far, about 25 percent of the 550 residential units jointly developed by Metro qualify as affordable housing. Garcetti told the Board that the increase would help residents of Los Angeles County who are struggling with soaring housing prices that could still rise higher due to the area’s improving economy. Motion

Smart Branding Attracts the Masses to Mass Transit

Agencies Devote Increasing Attention to Design,
Marketing Strategies to Lure Riders from their Cars 


By Josh Stephens, Fall 2014

This year, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) decided that a ribbon-cutting alone would not suffice. The agency announced the opening of the first phase of its long-awaited Silver Line—a heavy rail extension through the suburbs and edge cities of northern Virginia—with a singular video. In it, suburbanites are roused from their homes by an irresistible groove. They dance, in an awkward flash mob, across their lawns, down the street, up a set of stairs and right into a waiting train. Once seated, goofy smiles and toe-tapping persist.

Metro’s tagline: “Good times are ahead.”

Excited riders dance their way on to the Washington, D.C., Metro’s
Silver Line in a still frame from a recent commercial.

The distance from the District to Reston is nothing compared with the distance that transit agencies have traveled of late to enhance their appeal to customers. For the majority of the history of public transit, agencies have followed the lead of William Mulholland, who built the Los Angeles aqueduct. Upon opening the gates in 1913, he told the people of Los Angeles, “There it is. Take it.”

Of course, no one needs to be convinced to use water. Public transit, though, struggled throughout the second half of the 20th century. Ridership plunged with widespread adoption of the automobile. Nationwide, ridership had been in steady decline since the 1950s. But 2013’s 10.7 billion boardings matched a number that hadn’t been seen since 1956, although the country’s population then was 60 percent of its current size. 

Today, transit agencies are abandoning the passive approach to ridership. A confluence of design technologies, communication technologies, new trends in urban development and—perhaps most importantly—a cultural shift among young, smartphone-wielding city-dwellers has led to a new, more sanguine approach to the promotion of transit.

The notion of “branding”—which often encompasses or is accompanied by marketing, advertising, and communications (both internal and external) is famously vague. In the “Mad Men” era, features like packaging and slogans were used to differentiate between otherwise identical products, such as laundry detergent. Identifying the type of customer who would purchase Tide over Cheer was at least as important as describing the products themselves.

In transit terms, branding covers a wildly diverse array of components. It includes everything from the name and logo of the agency itself to signage, documents, electronic media, rolling stock, livery, drivers’ uniforms, and, of course, advertisements.

“I like to look at the brand as any touch point a customer has with anything that you have your brand name on,” said Bob Virkelyst, supervisor of marketing and service information at King County Metro, of Seattle. “That is indeed what you’re branding, whether it’s visual, audible or tactile.”

L.A. Makes Transportation ‘Cool’
Metro Rapid bus
LA metro promo

Images courtesy of Metro. ©2014 LACMTA
Top, Los Angeles Metro’s move to wrap its Rapid
line buses in deep red helped distinguish them
from local buses. Above, a series of Metro ads
associates driving with negative words and transit
with positive words. 

The revolution in transit branding began, ironically, in Los Angeles. With each mile of freeway that was constructed from the 1950s onward, the Southern California Rapid Transit District sunk deeper into irrelevance. The agency was eventually reborn as the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Metro hired Michael Lejeune in 2003 as its creative director—the first such position in the country. His charge: to wipe away all memory of RTD.

“I have one motto to myself: constantly trying to make Metro cool,” said Lejeune. “In a place like Los Angeles, if you don’t make transportation cool in some way [it won’t work].”

“I think that’s a mantra that any agency can use,” said Lejeune. “It’s particularly important here because we are the car capital and the influence of entertainment and technology. We have pretty stiff competition.”

Lejeune and his team scored a string of early victories. Graphics were updated on every bus, website, and piece of paper. For the first time, the agency invested heavily in advertisements, mainly handsome billboards with bright colors, clean graphics, and provocative catch phrases—such as “Problem” and “Solution” paired, respectively, with images of a gas pump and the Metro logo—designed to get Angelenos to change their minds about public transit. In 2005, Metro rolled out its then-revolutionary Rapid Buses in an equally revolutionary deep red design to instantly distinguish them from local buses.

“We give people interesting words and images together to think about,” said Lejeune. “It’s not that sort of bloodless transportation talk that I think a lot of agencies can fall into.”

Lejeune acknowledged that it’s almost impossible to quantify the amount of increased ridership—if any—that can be attributed to Metro’s branding efforts. And yet, he is convinced that it’s crucial. He said that the ultimate payoff was the 2008 passage of Measure R, a $30 billion funding program that had to meet California’s brutal two-thirds approval threshold for new local taxes. It passed with 67 percent of the vote. Lejeune calls that vote “our ultimate test of brand loyalty.”

Persuading New Riders

 Metro remains the nation’s most comprehensive in-house design studio. But the principles that its studio embodies are catching on.

Connect Transit of Bloomington- Normal, Illinois, recently rebranded itself, starting with its logo. The change took some community members by surprise.

“The old [logo]…was just tired. It was a white or navy blue picture of a bus driver,” said Jennifer Sorenson, media relations manager for Connect Transit. “I’ve had different people around town come up and say, ‘I didn’t know Connect Transit was here…did we get a new bus company?’ No, we just rebranded.”

From the standpoint of corporate culture, getting transit agencies to embrace innovative marketing techniques entails a serious shift of gears. For most of their history, transit agencies have focused on service and on the maddeningly complex tasks of routing, scheduling, and deployment. Managers at many transit agencies have, historically, cared more about whether buses arrive at their stops on time than about how many people get on.

“What the transit agency is rewarded for doing every day is such a fundamentally conservative thing. You’re doing the same thing over and over,” said Jarrett Walker, a transportation consultant and author of “Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Out Lives.”

Walker said that the clear conveyance of information, be it route diagrams or timetables, is crucial. “Transparent information,” he said, “is the best marketing.” Many agencies, however, stop there.
 “I still see most agencies coming up with this idea of public transportation: show the bus, show the train, show people what the route is, and people will flock to it,” said LeJeune. 

Today, the people whom transit marketers hope will get on are young professionals in their 20s and 30s known as millennials. They, many experts say, offer the best hope for transit to gain market share over the automobile.

“It’s certainly not business as usual,” said LeJeune. “That 18-35 group is particularly—and this backed up by lots of data—open to the idea of public transportation.”

Even so, it’s a demographic that has more commuting options than ever before, including the option not to commute at all. For them, the benefits of public transit must be made readily apparent.

“You can’t brow-beat people into taking transit,” said Darrin Nordhal, author of “Making Transit Fun!: How to Entice Motorists from Their Cars (and onto their feet, a bike, or bus).” Rather than appeal to the public’s sense of altruism, agencies must, he said, appeal to their sense of hedonism: “Take it because it’ll be fun. It can add joy to your life and give you time for other things that you find delightful.”

Thinking Like For-Profits

Discretionary riders—unlike those who, by virtue of poverty or disability, are transit-dependent—are the ones who can make a transit agency truly successful, by removing would-be drivers from the road and reaping the marginal benefits of less congestion and pollution. Of course, “success” is hard to define for a business that serves the public and does not live or die by a bottom line. That’s not to say, though, that transit agencies can’t give marketing the same primacy that for-profit businesses do.

“The design, signage, branding, livery can’t be an afterthought,” said Aileen Carrigan, a transportation planner and co-author of the nonprofit transit advocacy group EMBARQ’s report “From Here to There: Marketing and Branding Public Transit.” She said this is especially true for new services, such as bus rapid transit. “These decisions need to be integrated into the planning and engineering process.”

Proponents of new branding efforts warn that good branding must be an integral part of an agency’s business strategy, and that agencies must be willing to pay good money for it, even if the benefits are not directly measurable. Lejeune said that when he arrived at Metro, he convinced the agency to increase its advertising annual budget from $800,000 to $3 million.

“Whether you’re running a bus or trying to sell crackers…[marketing is] always going to be one of your biggest overhead expenses,” Nordhal said.

And, like any business, transit agencies can benefit from advertising. They can also benefit from not advertising for their competition.

“The good news with public transport is that they have real estate, they have space,” said Benoit Colin, spokesperson for EMBARQ. “The irony is that they often sell space to car companies. What other industry is selling space to their direct competitor?”

This irony is indicative of just how far many transit agencies have to go as they develop branding campaigns. Every agency, branding experts say, must undergo its own process of not only self-reflection but also of understanding the region and people that they serve. A good branding campaign can run as deep as identifying the “core values” of an agency, a task far more subtle than devising timetables.

Marketing Treated as Early Step in Process

The best marketing strategies are often those that are designed in tandem with the services to which they refer. The advertising materials should not come after the timetables. In many cases, the need to create excitement and disseminate information, to both the public and the press, can take precedence over hard-core planning elements.

That approach is working at L.A. Metro, according to Lejeune. “We now find that operations calls us,” he said. “Planning brings us in early on in any big process.”

Agencies just have to be careful. Walker highlighted the newly designed bus shelters for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, praising them for being both distinctive and easily replicable. They are in ironic contrast with new shelters in Santa Monica, California, that have been derided as insubstantial; they were designed by an architecture firm with no particular expertise in transit.

“When architects and urban designers approach transit, they’re often approaching it from the outside, not from the perspective of really understanding what transit has to do,” Walker said.

No matter how many smiling faces board the Silver Line or sit under San Francisco’s shelters, American public transit still has a long way to go before it surpasses its all-time high of 23.4 million boardings in 1947. That may seem like a tall order. Then again, the transit promoters of 1947 didn’t have smartphones and viral videos to help them do their job.

Chart: Population and Employment at Each LA Metro Station (Ranked)


By Shane Phillips, November 12, 2014

While performing some demographic research we came up with some estimates of population and employment within 1/2-mile of Metro rail and BRT (Orange Line) stations, and we thought it’d be fun to share with the community.

The first chart shows populations and employment near each station, with stations grouped by Metro line (Expo, Gold, Red, Blue, etc.). We spotted a few interesting facts right off the bat:
  • The Red and Purple Lines have far higher population and employment density than most other stations;
  • the population/employment densities at the Orange Line are comparable to those of the Green Line, perhaps even higher;
  • while the Gold and Blue Line stations both have comparable population densities, employment density seems to be considerably higher for the Gold Line;
  • unsurprisingly, Downtown stations stand out for their high employment densities; and
  • two Green Line stations, Mariposa and El Segundo, appear to have fewer than 100 residents within a half-mile.
Here’s the first chart, and feel free to comment if you see any of your own interesting revelations in the data:


  And for those interested, here’s another version, with the stations ranked by population density:


 Note about methodology: This data was collected using Esri Business Analyst, taking 2014 data at the census tract level and adding the share of each census tract that falls within the half-mile radius of a transit station. For example, a census tract with a population of 5,000 residents that had 50% of its total area within the half-mile radius of a station would contribute 2,500 residents to the total for that station. If there were four census tracts that each had half of their area within the half-mile radius, the total estimated population within the station area would be 10,000. Densities within census tracts vary, of course, so this isn’t a perfect estimate, but we believe that it’s a relatively close approximation.

Study Links Walkable Neighborhoods to Prevention of Cognitive Decline


By Angie Schmitt, November 12, 2014

Photo: AARP

Older adults who live in walkable neighborhoods stay in better shape, physically and mentally, than those who live in car-dependent areas, according to a new study.

In a study presented last weekend to the Gerontological Society of America, University of Kansas assistant professor Amber Watts examined 26 subjects with mild Alzheimer’s Disease and 30 healthy control subjects. She tracked health outcomes over two years, controlling for home price, income, gender, and education.

Watts found that subjects living in walkable neighborhoods, from both groups, had lower body mass index, healthier metabolisms, and better memory and cognition. This was particularly true in neighborhoods that had complicated paths to destinations, she found.

“There seems to be a component of a person’s mental representation of the spatial environment, for example, the ability to picture the streets like a mental map,” Watts said in a press release. “Complex environments may require more complex mental processes to navigate. Our findings suggest that people with neighborhoods that require more mental complexity actually experience less decline in their mental functioning over time.”

Older adults are less likely to get regular exercise than the general population, but walking is one form of activity that is considered safe and healthy for people with Alzheimer’s. Neighborhood attributes like good sidewalks, generous crossing time at intersections, benches, and closely spaced parks and destinations can help encourage older people to walk for transportation, Watts said.

Lawmakers Could Finally Equalize Benefits for Transit and Parking This Year


By Tanya Snyder, November 12, 2014

It’s time to rev up the annual fight over parity between federal transit and parking benefits for commuters. Members of Congress hope this might finally be the year to get it done.

This could be the year to equalize benefits for transit riders and make it permanent. Photo: ##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RTD_Bus_%26_Light_Rail#mediaviewer/File:Denver_light_rail_train_at_16th-California_station.jpg##Wikipedia##
This could be the year to equalize benefits for transit riders and make it permanent.

This morning, Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) announced that they will, again, push to equalize the tax benefits available to transit commuters and car commuters.

Right now, people who drive to work can get up to $250 a month in tax-free earnings to pay for parking. The monthly tax-free income available to the 3 million Americans who use the transit benefit, meanwhile, is capped at $130.

With the passage of the 2009 stimulus law, parity was implemented between the parking benefit and transit benefit for a brief while. After extending the higher transit benefit a few times, however, in recent years Congress has failed to take the necessary action to do so.

At today’s press conference, Washington Metro Board Chair Tom Downs noted that Metro ridership had stagnated since transit benefits dropped. “If you’re providing a $1,500-a-year incentive to drive your car over taking transit, you’re probably going to have an impact on mode choice,” Downs said.

Increasing the transit benefit makes the law more fair, but it probably won’t make a big impact on how people get to work. Studies show that providing parking benefits always increases solo driving rates, whether or not the workplace also offers transit perks. Better to do away with all commuter benefits than to provide both [PDF]. Besides, most transit commutes cost far less than $235 a month.

A monthly New York subway pass costs $112. In DC, you’d have to travel from one end of the system to the other every day during peak hours to make use of the full $235 transit benefit Blumenauer proposes.

Though Blumenauer’s plan only cuts the parking benefit by $15, it’s deficit neutral (at worst), since so many more people drive than use transit.

“We’ve watched the system on automatic pilot start to tilt further in favor of people who drive while it cuts the benefit in half for people who take transit,” Blumenauer said. “And frankly, we’re in a situation where the auto user actually is seeing dramatic reductions in their costs because gas prices have dropped 73 cents since their peak earlier this year. But transit is taking the hit.”

In previous years, Blumenauer has included a bicycle benefit as part of similar bills, but this year he’s trying to keep it simple. “It should be [part of this],” he said, “but we don’t want to complicate things unduly.” Then he added that “it’s so much fun to bike anyway,” implying that people don’t need financial incentives to ride.

The hope is that parity for transit commuters will muster bipartisan agreement if it can be made deficit-neutral, as this bill is.

“If there ever was a no-brainer, this is it,” Rep. McGovern said. “This is something I think everybody agrees on. I haven’t heard anybody say it’s a bad idea. So if we all agree on it, let’s just do it.”

No Republicans appeared at the press event, but Rep. Michael Grimm of Staten Island has championed the idea in the past.

Recent attempts to revert to parity and make it permanent were thwarted by the effort to pass a broader tax reform package, rather than pick off items to address individually. That package didn’t pass, however, so now lawmakers plan to address some “tax extenders” during the lame duck period. This, Blumenauer says, should be one of them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mayor Garcetti On Bogus Parking Tickets Exposed By CBS2 Report: ‘I Was Pissed’


November 12, 2014

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — City leaders sounded off Wednesday in reaction to a story in which CBS2 investigative reporter David Goldstein exposed that parking enforcers were issuing bogus parking tickets throughout LA County.

In the story, which aired Tuesday night, Goldstein approached parking officers who were issuing parking tickets to vehicles parked in designated “relaxed parking” zones — or areas that are supposed to be immune to parking tickets issued due to street cleaning.

Relaxed parking zones are designated when a previously scheduled street sweeper is cancelled for that street at any given time.

The city, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, has started the process of figuring out just how many tickets were issued to LA motorists in error. The number could be hundreds or thousands.

“I was pissed. That was unacceptable,” Mayor Garcetti said of the tickets.

Safety Streets LA’s Jay Beeber, who is also a candidate for city council, stated that Goldstein’s report exposed a flawed system, in which he says the city simply doesn’t care who gets ticketed.

“If Nordstrom did this to their customers, they wouldn’t be in business for maybe two days,” Beeber said.

The relaxed parking routes were set up and shared with residents on this city website in order to alert motorists as to when the street sweepers weren’t coming.

The Department of Transportation, however, says that, in some cases, they were not notified as to the cancellations, and their officers didn’t know not to issue tickets in that area, until Goldstein approached them on the issue.

“You made us aware of a flaw in the system, and we’re more than willing to look at these flaws and try to fix them,” DOT Chief Greg Savelli said.

Mayor Garcetti, meanwhile, shot down Savelli’s answer, and was more upset over the situation.
“No, this isn’t a flaw in the system,” Mayor Garcetti said. “This was a mistake that was made, and people have to own that mistake.”

DOT’s Bruce Gillman says that those who were issued parking tickets unjustly will receive a refund in the form of a check in the mail.

There are more than 600,000 to examine for the past year.

Biking and walking likely to be major issues in spring city elections


Metro Board to consider motion on studying new congestion pricing corridors


By Steve Hymon, November 12, 2014

The above motion is to be considered by the Metro Board of Directors at their meeting Thursday. With the ExpressLanes being made permanent earlier this year on the 10 and 110 freeways, the motion asks Metro to begin studying other potential freeway corridors where congestion pricing may work.

The Board this summer also voted to study expanding the ExpressLanes to the 105 freeway between the 605 and 405 freeways.

This is a ‘stay tuned’ type of item. A study to expand the ExpressLanes is a first step in a much longer process. For those who don’t use the ExpressLanes, carpoolers and motorcycles mostly can use them for free on the 10 and 110 (on the 10, vehicles with two occupants still must pay a toll between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.). The idea is to sell extra space in the carpool lanes and raise money for transportation improvements in both corridors, including transit service.

Please see the Metro ExpressLanes website for more information on the lanes and how to get the transponder needed by all cars to use them; motorcycles do not need a transponder.

A Big Hidden Subsidy for Highways That Everyone Forgets


By Angie Schmitt, November 12, 2014

Subsidies for driving in America are so numerous and layered, it can be hard to sort them out. We have general funds paying for roads, tax breaks for big oil companies, free parking nearly everywhere.

Exempting gasoline from state sales tax is a major subsidy for driving. Photo: Wikimedia
Exempting gasoline from state sales tax is a major subsidy for driving.

David Levinson at the Transportationist picks out another one that’s a lot more obscure, but still substantial:
The hidden subsidy is in states which have general sales taxes, but don’t apply them to gasoline. Thus, in Minnesota, I pay a sales tax on prepared food, but not gasoline (or clothing, or random other things). Thus relatively, spending is encouraged in those untaxed areas, which are 6.875% less taxed than other goods. This lack of a tax is not a subsidy in a state which doesn’t tax sales, and instead taxes income or property. But where sales are taxed, but gasoline is exempted, other goods are implicitly taxed more so gasoline can be explicitly taxed less.

In short, the general principal is that gasoline cannot be simultaneously be taxed with the funds dedicated to highways (thus acting as a user fee) and exempted from sales taxes without there being a subsidy that at least partially offsets the user fee.

At a $3.00/gallon price of gas, a 6.875% tax raises $0.20625 per gallon. To compare, the state gas tax is $0.286 per gallon. Thus, in Minnesota the net state user fee is only about $0.08 per gallon, not the $0.286 per gallon widely advertised.

We could similarly look at the motor vehicle sales tax (MVST), which is dedicated to transportation in Minnesota. It is 6.5%. Nothing wrong with dedicating the funds, but as a result, they cannot be counted as user fees, since sales tax revenue would otherwise go to general revenue.
Elsewhere on the Network today: The Black Urbanist describes what it’s like to be stuck in a totally car-dependent suburb for socioeconomic reasons. Mobilizing the Region says, with the election behind us, now is the time to address New Jersey’s impending transportation funding crisis. And Bill Lindeke at Twin City Sidewalks shares a personal story of biking misery.

Garcetti, City Leaders, Promise Hundreds of Repaired Streets Every Year


By Damien Newton, November 12, 2014

 Eric Garcetti discusses street reconstruction flanked by Joe Buscaino and Mike Bonin. Photo: Damien Newton
 Eric Garcetti discusses street reconstruction flanked by Joe Buscaino and Mike Bonin.

 The current state of the crossing facing west at National and Barrington. If it gets me new continental crosswalks, I'm on board.

 The current state of the crossing facing west at National and Barrington. If it gets me new continental crosswalks, I’m on board.

Flanked by elected and appointed city officials, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a handful of initiatives and reforms that would increase city revenue for road repaving by nearly $50 million a year at the “under reconstruction” corner of National and Barrington Boulevards in West Los Angeles.

“All told, we are going to pay another 200 miles of road, every year, on top of the 200 miles of road in this year’s budget,” Garcetti stated. “That’s 400 miles extra more of road paved every single year.”
Garcetti outlined plans that would allow the city to recapture and save funds in a variety of ways.

First, Garcetti pledged that the city will refurbish and upgrade its asphalt plant in South L.A. The improved plant will operate more efficiently, be able to recycle used and broken asphalt and even be better for the environment.

Later today, Counclmember Joe Buscaino will introduce legislation that will require all private parking garages to accept credit cards. 10% of revenue from private parking is supposed to be returned to the city. While he didn’t say that he thinks that parking garage operators are lieing, he did point out that there is more of a paper trail when someone swipes a card rather than when they hand over cash.

That paper trail could lead to another $20 to $25 million for the city, which Garcetti pledged would go right back into increasing the city’s road reconstruction program.

The last area that the city could improve, is the formula it uses to charge private companies when they rip up the street: usually cable or telephone companies. The city created a formula in 1996 to estimate the reimbursement a private company should pay the city. Over the years, the formula hasn’t been tweaked, and Garcetti seems anxious to make sure that L.A.’s taxpayers aren’t being charged to fix a street that was intentionally destroyed by a private interest.

The total increase in revenue could be “around $10 million.”

While the amount generated is hardly enough to address the billions of dollars needed to restore city streets to a state of good repair; Buscaino points out that the city can’t just count on new revenue from taxes and bonds to fix L.A.’s streets.

“Residents want better streets, and are willing to pay more to improve them, but only if we as a city do a better job operating efficiently and spending their money wisely,” Buscaino stated.

He followed by telling a stories of how residents would fight to get their streets repaved only to see them dug up weeks later or how streets would be repaved, but it would take weeks for the markings to be repainted.

Responding to a question from Streetsblog about road bicycle lanes and crosswalks, Garcetti responded that coordination between LADOT, Bureau of Street Services and other departments was a critical way to save both time and money.

“It slows things down when we’re not coordinated,” Garcetti. “It takes more time and it frustrates drivers.”

Don’t worry, he also promised that new streets would have the most recently approved design, including bike lanes and the improved “Continental Crosswalks.”

Speaking without prepared remarks, Mike Bonin, who represents the Westside community where the press conference took place and Chair of the City Council Transportation Committee, made the case that repaved streets are improved for all road users.

“We cannot have a robust bicycle network in this city if you are riding down a bike lane and it’s pockmarked or full of potholes that could cause you to flip and risk your life,” Bonin stated. “We cannot have walkable neighborhoods if our sidewalks are buckled and not navigable. We can do better.”

The initiatives announced today also included new avenues for community involvement, a three year moratorium on street cuts on streets after repaving, and prioritizing street resurfacing based on need. For more, read the Mayor’s press release posted on Streetsblog Lite.