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

Monday, January 6, 2014

New Starts: Shanghai Metro World’s Longest, Panama Canal Drama, Japan’s Maglev


By Stephen J. Smith, January 6, 2014


Shanghai’s Metro Becomes the World’s Longest

China’s largest city, Shanghai, is now home to the world’s longest metro system. The Shanghai Metro opened parts of Lines 12 and 16 on December 29 — the rest will follow in 2014 — and now measures 567 kilometers, or 352 miles, in length, edging out Seoul for the world’s top spot. Shanghai’s subway network is probably the fastest growing on earth, with a few new lines and extensions opening each year and many more in planning.

Shanghai does not, however, have the most comprehensive urban rapid transit network. That honor belongs to Tokyo, whose railway network makes every other city’s look puny by comparison. While Shanghai has concentrated all of its investment in subways, Tokyo’s network evolved largely through the upgrading of existing railways. Formally, Tokyo has barely more than 300 kilometers of metro lines between its two subway companies. But it also has a sprawling network of private suburban railways that provide service indistinguishable from that of a subway and which carry many times the number of commuters. In many cases, suburban trains become subways as they run straight onto either Tokyo Metro or Toei Subway tracks to reach the city center, further blurring the line between what’s a subway and what’s a commuter railway.

Drama in Panama

The Panama Canal is growing, but not without a fight. In 2009, a consortium led by Spanish construction firm Sacyr won a $3.1 billion contract to build a third set of locks for the transcontinental canal, to allow larger ships to pass through. But now the contractors are engaging in a high-stakes game of chicken with the Panama Canal Authority over a cost overrun of $1.63 billion, a little more than half the value of the contract. Sacyr and its partners said on Thursday that they will abandon the work unless the authority agrees to cover the overrun. The authority responded yesterday: “The notice of intent to suspend work is not valid and the arguments raised by the contractor in the note lack legal basis and are not clear.”

The problems were foreseen years ago when, according to a leaked U.S. State Department memo, Panama’s vice president and foreign minister privately complained the Sacyr-led consortium was “very weak” and that he had “real doubts” about their ability to perform. He said on a different occasion:
You don’t mess around with something as important as the Canal. When one of the bidders makes a bid that is a billion dollars below the next competitor, then something is seriously wrong. Of course I hope for the best, but I’m afraid that [Canal administrator] Alberto [Aleman] has made a big mistake.
Everybody knows the canal expansion will happen — it’s already mostly complete, and many billions of dollars in ship orders are on the line, as are dredging projects in ports across the eastern seaboard to handle a new influx of ships. Who will shoulder the cost, however, remains to be seen. Spain’s Minister of Public Works, Ana Pastor, flew to Panama and has meetings on Monday with the country’s president and others to try to find a solution.

Maglev Construction Starts in the Fall

The world’s most audacious railway project is about to begin. The Central Japan Railway Company, or JR Central, is set to start construction on its maglev project in the fall, according to Kyodo News. The Chūō Shinkansen, as the line is called, will eventually relieve the Tokaido Shinkansen, the world’s busiest high-speed rail line between Tokyo and Osaka. The first segment of the 505 km/h (311 mph) line will extend from Tokyo to Nagoya, reducing the 100-minute journey to just 40 minutes. JR Central hopes to have permits in hand by the summer, and may even offer paid test rides to the public.

Due to the loud noise that such a train makes as well as the need for very straight tracks, the maglev line will run underground for most of its length. In Tokyo, it will go as deep as 100 meters, or about 30 stories, below the ground.

Polluted Air Far More Mutagenic Than Thought


By Oregon State University, June 6, 2014

Image: Oregon State Univ.
Researchers at Oregon State Univ. have discovered novel compounds produced by certain types of chemical reactions — such as those found in vehicle exhaust or grilling meat — that are hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds, carcinogens.

These compounds were not previously known to exist, and raise additional concerns about the health impacts of heavily-polluted urban air or dietary exposure. It’s not yet been determined in what level the compounds might be present, and no health standards now exist for them.

The findings were published in Environmental Science and Technology.

The compounds were identified in laboratory experiments that mimic the type of conditions which might be found from the combustion and exhaust in cars and trucks, or the grilling of meat over a flame.

“Some of the compounds that we’ve discovered are far more mutagenic than we previously understood, and may exist in the environment as a result of heavy air pollution from vehicles or some types of food preparation,” says Staci Simonich, a professor of chemistry and toxicology in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences.

“We don’t know at this point what levels may be present, and will explore that in continued research,” she says.

The parent compounds involved in this research are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, formed naturally as the result of almost any type of combustion, from a wood stove to an automobile engine, cigarette or a coal-fired power plant. Many PAHs, such as benzopyrene, are known to be carcinogenic, believed to be more of a health concern that has been appreciated in the past, and are the subject of extensive research at OSU and elsewhere around the world.

The PAHs can become even more of a problem when they chemically interact with nitrogen to become “nitrated,” or NPAHs, scientists say. The newly-discovered compounds are NPAHs that were unknown to this point.

This study found that the direct mutagenicity of the NPAHs with one nitrogen group can increase six to 432 times more than the parent compound. NPAHs based on two nitrogen groups can be 272 to 467 times more mutagenic. Mutagens are chemicals that can cause DNA damage in cells that in turn can cause cancer.

For technical reasons based on how the mutagenic assays are conducted, the researchers says these numbers may actually understate the increase in toxicity – it could be even higher.

These discoveries are an outgrowth of research on PAHs that was done by Simonich at the Beijing Summer Olympic Games in 2008, when extensive studies of urban air quality were conducted, in part, based on concerns about impacts on athletes and visitors to the games.

Beijing, like some other cities in Asia, has significant problems with air quality, and may be 10-50 times more polluted than some major urban areas in the U.S. with air concerns, such as the Los Angeles basin.

An agency of the World Health Organization announced last fall that it now considers outdoor air pollution, especially particulate matter, to be carcinogenic, and cause other health problems as well. PAHs are one of the types of pollutants found on particulate matter in air pollution that are of special concern.

A Look at the Year Ahead for Transit Expansion


By Angie Schmitt, January 6, 2014


At The Transport Politic, Yonah Freemark has made it a tradition to catalog new transit projects every year. He reports that 2014 will see a significant expansion of rail and bus rapid transit lines.

“Virtually every metropolitan region in the United States and Canada is investing millions of dollars in new transit expansion projects,” he writes:
This year, dozens of new lines will open to the public, including light rail lines in Houston, Minneapolis, Edmonton, Dallas, Calgary; heavy rail lines in New York City and outside Washington; and streetcars in Tucson, Atlanta, Seattle, and Washington, among many others. Bus rapid transit — or some variety of it — will see its coming out, with new lines opening in Chicago, Fort Collins, San Diego, Orlando, Los Angeles, and outside Toronto.

In addition, dozens of projects will enter the construction phase, including three rail lines in Los Angeles; bus rapid transit projects in New York City, Oakland, Fresno, and El Paso; streetcars in Fort Lauderdale and Tempe, and more. Other regions, from Honolulu to Portland, will continue work on projects that have already started but won’t be ready for completion this year. It’s a veritable circus of construction activity, almost everywhere. In total, 737 miles of new lines or line extensions, in addition to 10 new stations or major station renovations, will be either complete or under construction in 2014, accounting for a total of $80.7 billion in programmed funding.

A note of caution: This frenzy of construction activity may not be everlasting. The federal government, though much-maligned, remains a primary funder of most major transit expansion projects, through its New Starts/Small Starts capital programs, the TIGER discretionary grant program, or other sources. Yet the freeze on federal funding that has cut resources from Washington tremendously since 2010 will likely have long-term consequences when it comes to paying for new lines.
Elsewhere on the Network today: The Green Lane Project blog says too many bike lanes around the United States are being designed like “black diamond” ski hills — for experts only. City Block explains that, whether rational or not, people almost everywhere fear the concept of “hyper-density.” And This Big City reports on how Facebook user data can helps us understand migration patterns.

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, January 6, 2013

We’re back! And just in time, as there is all sorts of big stuff happening this week.
  • Monday – There’s a rally down at Cal State Long Beach calling on Governor Brown and state regulators to out-and-out ban fracking. details on the event and how to sign a petition for the 99% of us that can’t make it this afternoon can be found here.
  • Tuesday – The City of Santa Monica has a cool plan to create a neighborhood greenway to calm traffic and promote transportation options on Michigan Avenue near a school. Everyone is trying to play cool, but there a couple community members who are very opposed. The last public meeting before a February City Council vote is Tuesday at 7. If you can make it, it would help. Get details here, copied from an announcement from Santa Monica Spoke.
  • Wednesday – A bunch of the top transportation reform and community groups are holding a gigantic meeting to strategize how to focus elected officials on the Metro Board of Directors to embrace a complete streets policy. The conference is over-booked, but if you didn’t know this was happening, you should. It’s going to be one of the big topics of the year. More details are available here, copied from the Safe Routes to School National Partnership.
  • Wednesday – The City Council Transportation Committee meets at 2 pm to talk about the Streetcar, fixing Lincoln Boulevard, and a host of other fun stuff. You can read the agenda here and the special agenda (which is really just part II of the agenda) here.
  • Wednesday - Do you bike, walk, or drive through the Beverly Hills portion of Santa Monica Blvd.? If so, then you know how fast cars drive and how difficult it is to walk and bike along this portion. Help make Santa Monica Blvd. safer and more people-oriented by coming to Wednesday evening’s meeting or filling out an online comment form. It seems that Beverly Hills wants to do the right thing, let’s make it easier for them. Get the meeting details, here.
  • Saturday - Saturday January 11th we will undertake a trip that will have several purposes: explore bus and rail services for San Bernardino and environs, visit the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum at the historic Santa Fe Depot plus have lunch at Molly’s, a 50s style café. The two departure options from Union Station on the San Bernardino Metrolink route are 9 a.m. and 10:35 a.m. Get the details, here.

Bus Spotting: Like Trainspotting, But Weirder


By Emily Badger, January 6, 2014

 Bus Spotting: Like Trainspotting, But Weirder

We know a lot of bus lovers at Atlantic Cities, people who research buses, people who play with bus data just for kicks, people who commute by bus as a civic statement. But this one is new to us: people who capture and collect photos of buses spotted in the urban wild as if they were some exotic or celebrity species.

This is apparently an actual thing done by hundreds of people in Hong Kong (according to the headcount of the 800-member strong BusFanWorld.org). The Wall Street Journal just published a delightful piece about the quirky hobby:
While bus fans express their love of a good ride in different ways, for many, the real purpose is to show off their artwork—thousands of pictures of buses, head on, turning, in profile and occasionally from above. The problem is there are a limited number of models roaming the city's streets and only so many ways to shoot a bus.

To make their portraits stand out, the bus fans plan their shots with the precision of wildlife photographers shooting a lion hunt. They seek out the ideal location and wait for the light to be just right, occasionally bolting into traffic to capture the perfect moment.
The pastime sounds sort of like trainspotting, if you remove all the romance and engineering marvel of trains. For many of these enthusiasts, the point seems to be to spot all of the models of a given double-decker make, or all of the wrap-around ads that redecorate a single vehicle. Bonus points for optimal lighting, full-frame shots and rare sightings ("In one photograph that he especially prizes, [Philip Chan] was able to capture a bus with a Nikon ad featuring pop star Joey Yung juxtaposed against a billboard at a bus stop featuring the same advertisement").

If you're interested in following this insight down a fascinating Internet wormhole on a Monday morning, we also recommend the Wikipedia page for "bus spotting," these YouTube videos of said buses in action, and the Chinese-language magazine Bus Focus (includes "articles about bus routes history, bus gossips, bus fans’ special interests").

Have We Reached Peak Road?


By Eric Jaffe, January 6, 2014

 Have We Reached Peak Road?

We know about peak car and peak travel. The best recent data strongly suggest that per capita vehicles registered and vehicle-miles traveled topped out sometime in the mid-2000s. These twin transportation peaks may soon add a third to their gang: peak road.

Consider the numbers. At his Transportationist blog last week, University of Minnesota scholar David Levinson pointed out that Department of Transportation estimates of public roads and street mileage in the United States — paved and unpaved alike — leveled off between 2008 and 2011 (the latest year given, with data missing for 2009 and 2010). Levinson charted the plateau (the y-axis mileage is in thousands):

Via Transportationist.org

Like vehicle miles traveled, paved road mileage steadily increased for decades, from roughly 1.23 million miles in 1960 to 2.6 million in 2011. (Unpaved roads followed the opposite trend, declining over time as many became paved.) The paved peak might have occurred in 2008, when mileage reached above 2.7 million. The 2011 mileage, meanwhile, is about the same as that of 2005.

Given that the statistical peak coincided with the Great Recession, it's probably too early to call things. It's also important to keep in mind that there are multiple ways to measure a road. There is its end-to-end length (known as "centerline miles") and there is also its total capacity (known as "lane miles") — the latter calculated by multiplying the length by the number of lanes.

In that sense, even if centerline mileage has peaked, lane miles will no doubt continue to grow as highways and interstates are widened. This lateral growth may be needed in some under-developed parts of the country to keep up with population. But in many if not most U.S. metro areas the road network is already overbuilt; new lane miles won't add great economic value (since they don't create new access routes) and will only temporarily relieve congestion (since they ultimately encourage new cars onto the road).

Levinson thinks the following factors will guide whatever subsequent shifts occur in centerline and lane miles: rural gravelization (converting paved roads into unpaved ones to reduce maintenance costs), tearing down urban freeways, designing complete streets and implementing road diets, and converting general lanes into exclusive bus lanes. Even further ahead, autonomous cars should enable cars to use the existing roadway far more efficiently.

For good measure, Levinson adds flying cars in there, too, which will be here by 2015, according to "Back to the Future." (Take it away, Doc Brown.)

Whether we've reached peak road or are merely approaching it, the challenge moving forward is figuring out how to use our existing road space more efficiently. That could mean making lanes reversible rather than building new lanes, or tolling lanes to encourage carpooling and redistribute traffic flows, or running buses on shoulders to maximize capacity, or creating bus toll lanes to prioritize rapid transit vehicles that carry many times more travelers than a car does. As a general rule, it's time to enhance urban roads, not expand them.