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

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The War Against the 710

For almost half a century, the threat of a planned freeway extension has been slicing through the heart of the San Gabriel Valley. Is a happy ending even possible any more?


By Matthew Fleischer,  January/February 2014 issue


It’s rush hour at the intersection of Pasadena and Fremont Avenues in South Pasadena, and neighborhood resident Rick Madden stands on the sidewalk in front of a beautiful Craftsman that has run into disrepair. A line of traffic creeps slowly at his back.

“That used to be Julia Child’s house,” he says over the din of startlingly noisy street traffic, pointing to the now-abandoned childhood home of the legendary chef. “No one has lived there for over a decade. It’s a tear-down now. All because people have been afraid to put any work into these homes.”

The fear Madden is referring to has loomed like a shadow over this historic, tree-lined neighborhood for more than four decades: the knowledge that at any given moment, the entire area could be bulldozed. Since 1965, California’s state transportation agency, Caltrans, has planned to level the entire neighborhood to make room for a surface freeway connector linking the 710 in Alhambra to the 210 in Pasadena. And throughout those four and a half decades, South Pasadena has fought the project-often putting itself at odds with the state and with the larger San Gabriel Valley political structure. A clear majority of nearby city governments see the 710 extension as an invaluable regional transit facilitator, capable of easing traffic on their car-choked surface streets.

Despite the odds that seemed initially stacked against them, South Pas and its allies in the neighboring cities of La Cañada Flintridge and Glendale have so far managed to fight off the development. As the years have passed, the civic battle has taken on the contours of a slow, grinding, permanent war. Generations of area residents have grown up staring at protest signs against the 710. Any public meeting on the subject of the freeway connector can expect a raucous presence from the opposition to the project. Arguably no development in the history of Southern California has been more contentious than the 710, pitting city against city, community against community. Even with recent developments that have seemingly taken the surface connector option off the table, the future is anything but clear.

Madden, though late to the fight, now finds himself in the center of it all-a pawn in a high stakes regional transit game. He and his wife, Jen, bought the house next door to Child’s old haunt in 2008, at a time when the 710 freeway project seemed all but dead.

“When we bought here, it was in the middle of the financial collapse and there was an injunction stopping the 710 project,” he says. “There were public statements saying it was done. So we figured it was done.”

A year after the Maddens purchased their home and fixed it up, however, the rumblings started anew. And this time, the potential impact spread even further. After unsuccessfully battling South Pasadena for years, Metro and Caltrans decided that the lower-income neighborhoods of Northeast Los Angeles-Glassell Park, the flats of Mount Washington, Highland Park, Eagle Rock and El Sereno-might make a suitable freeway path, even though the route through those population-dense areas would raze swaths of homes and be circuitous at best. Anti-710 meetings and signs quickly became part of the fabric of life in Northeast L.A., as well.

Suddenly, for people like Madden, a victory in the fight against the freeway would mean it would potentially land in his poorer neighbors’ backyards. “You definitely had to deal with a pit in your stomach,” he says.

On October 1, Madden and thousands like him in the proposed bulldozer zones received what looked like a reprieve. California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB-416 into law, which sped up the sale of state-owned land long earmarked for the 710’s northward spread. The bill essentially killed all plans for a surface freeway connector that would have plowed through South Pasadena’s downtown and wiped out homes in its path-Madden’s included.

L.A. County Metro, for its part, insists that the plan is dead. “There is no surface route being studied,” Metro spokesperson Helen Ortiz-Gilstrap says. “That is off the table.”

Instead, Caltrans and Metro are currently debating whether or not to put the entire freeway connection underground via a 6.3 mile, four-lane tunnel, which would connect the end of the 710 freeway in Alhambra with the 210 freeway in Pasadena. The tunnel option would preserve the homes on the chopping block and, in Caltrans and Metro’s view, ensure that the sights and sounds of the freeway stay underground.

So that’s that, right? Homes and neighborhoods have been saved and decades of struggle resolved in a neat, tidy package?


Days before speaking with Madden I met with South Pasadena resident Joanne Nuckols and Pasadena resident Claire Bogaard, leaders in the No 710 Action Committee, on an overpass overlooking the terminus of the 210 freeway in Pasadena.

“That is where the boring machine will reach its deepest point,” Nuckols explains, pointing to a scrubby patch of land on the hills near Huntington Hospital. “Up until that point, the freeway will be all cut and cover. This entire area will be a construction site for the next decade.”

Combined, Bogaard and Nuckols, who tools around town in a black Volvo with a license plate that reads “NO 710,” have spent sixty-five years fighting against the 710 North extension. Despite the apparent death of the surface option, they say, they plan on fighting another sixty-five if they have to.
“If anything, we’re even more organized against the tunnel,” said Nuckols. “I don’t think there’s anything that can get us to change our minds at this point.”

The women’s greatest fear is that the armada of trucks leaving the Port of Long Beach each day will use the 710 connector as a shortcut to Las Vegas-spewing diesel fumes out at both ends of the tunnel.
“This freeway plan is an environmental catastrophe in the making,” says Bogaard, who happens to be the wife of Pasadena mayor Bill Bogaard. “The only vents for the exhaust for this tunnel will be at either end. So there are going to be noxious fumes spilling out over all of Old Town if this tunnel gets built.”

Though 710 project officials have mulled banning trucks from the proposed tunnel, no such assurances have been made.

Both Bogaard and Nuckols cite other environmental concerns, including groundwater contamination and potential dangers from earthquakes. Ultimately, however, their objection to the project may just boil down to what kind of community they would like to live in. At a time of ever-rising concern about carbon levels and global warming, how much should we destroy in order to support a driving-heavy lifestyle?

“We don’t see why we should have to suffer so a few people can get to where they’re going five minutes faster,” as Nuckols puts it.

Instead of a multi-billion dollar freeway, the 710 opposition movement wants to expand rail and bus infrastructure, as well as improve surface-street signaling in the region.

“We should be getting people out of their cars,” says Nuckols, “not making it easier for them to drive.”

It’s hard to fault that argument. Los Angeles County has spent billions on light rail projects like the Gold Line and the Expo Line in the past decade, trying to build a functional regional public transit infrastructure capable of weaning L.A. off its smog-inducing car culture. Viewed in the context of that effort, a monumental new freeway project seems schizophrenic.

Yet 710 tunnel supporters aren’t car-crazed throwbacks to a 20th-century reactionary school of urban planning. In fact, there is a perfectly modern rationale for building a new freeway extension. Despite its path through tony South Pas, the proposed 710 tunnel route isn’t currently a bucolic field of daisies. According to Metro, more than 110,000 cars travel on surface streets through the area every day-mostly up Fremont Avenue as well as Fair Oaks Avenue to and from I-10. During rush hour, these streets turn into a traffic-snarled mess, alternating between high-speed current and bumper-to-bumper parking lot.

When you talk to officials in Alhambra, the tunnel option might even seem like a downright enlightened solution to that city’s smog problem. “We have so much traffic on our arterial streets, especially on Fremont,” says Alhambra city councilwoman Barbara Messina, a major supporter of the tunnel. “If this tunnel is built, the pollution and the air quality will improve unbelievably. We have elementary schools whose playgrounds are on those streets. We have kids out there all hours of the day on those playgrounds inhaling this exhaust.”

Count Madden’s two kids among those whose quality of life has been compromised by ever-present cars.

“I see at least one major accident in front of my house every month,” he says. “No way are my kids allowed to play in the front yard. It’s backyard only for them. I feel for the people in Alhambra. I’m dealing with the same issue.”

As of now, the tunnel option is purely hypothetical. Metro is in the midst of compiling a draft environmental impact report (EIR) for what can be done to improve traffic flow in the existing 710 North corridor. Five options are currently being considered: the contentious freeway tunnel; improved light-rail commuter options; new rapid bus lines; improving surface-street signaling to help smooth commuter traffic; or doing absolutely nothing at all.

“No decisions have been made,” says Ortiz-Gilstrap. “We are looking at all five alternatives equally.”

On that score, she has a lot of convincing to do. It’s costing $780 million to complete the environmental study. One can only imagine the taxpayer wrath that would rain down should that kind of cash be spent on a study that concludes that no work should be done in the 710 corridor. In all likelihood something is going to get done, and Nuckols and her No on 710 compatriots feel the fix is in for the tunnel option.

“They’re stacking the deck for this plan,” she insists. “Despite the fact that no one in the affected communities wants this thing.”

That, as Alhambra’s Messina demonstrates, isn’t exactly true. And, though Nuckols can largely count the Pasadena City Council and Mayor Bogaard on her side, in 2001 Pasadena voters passed Measure A, declaring the city to be officially pro-freeway connector, by a margin of fifty-eight to forty-two percent. The resolution cannot, by law, be changed or repealed without a public vote.

Messina, meanwhile, notes that twenty-eight of the thirty-one cities in the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments have announced their support for the freeway connector. “South Pasadena and La Cañada feel they are God’s chosen people,” Messina says. “The ridiculous part is that the surface route is no longer a threat. And the tunnel will help their traffic, which is as bad as everyone else’s. We have to think regionally on this issue, not individually, because individually you get nothing done.”

Nuckols agrees to disagree. If the 710 EIR comes back in support of the tunnel option, she and her compatriots plan to file enough lawsuits to wallpaper the entire tunnel.

Strangely enough, perhaps, should that day come, Nuckols and the 710 opposition can count Madden on their side.

“It’s tough, as someone directly affected,” he says. “It seems natural to get behind the tunnel. Your house will be safe. If you block the tunnel you bring back the specter of the surface route. But neither is the right answer. You’re degrading the overall quality of life in Pasadena- and, frankly, so people can live too far away from where they work.”

That’s right-even the man who won’t let his kids play in the front yard for fear of traffic accidents and who believes his home could face the wrecking ball should the tunnel plan fail doesn’t support the tunnel’s construction. When it comes to the 710 North extension, one thing, and perhaps only one thing, is clear: No matter what decision gets made-tunnel or no tunnel, rail upgrades or surface freeway-expect a massive fight.

How Windshield Perspective Shapes the Way We See the World


By Angie Schmitt, January 7, 2014

Via Shane Phillips at Planetizen: A new study published in the Transportation Research Record confirms that windshield perspective is all-too real. Observing the world from behind the wheel, it turns out, has a powerful influence on our judgments about places and even people.

Drivers are exposed to less information about the places they travel through than walkers and bikers. Image: ##http://foodtruckroadtrip.blogspot.com/2012/09/day-3-effort-pa-and-day-4-nyc-and.html## Food Truck Road Trip##
Driving cuts people off from information about their surroundings, unlike walking and biking.

Researchers found that people driving a car tend to view unfamiliar, less-affluent neighborhoods more negatively than people who were walking, biking or taking transit. In affluent neighborhoods, the inverse effect took hold, and drivers had a more positive view of the surrounding area than other people did.

The study found drivers, pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists even perceived the same event — two children fighting over a piece of paper — differently, reports Eric Horowitz in the Pacific Standard:
The researchers found that participants who saw the video from the perspective of a car rated the actors higher on negative characteristics (threatening, unpleasant) than participants in the other three conditions. Participants who saw the video from the perspective of the pedestrian rated the actors higher on positive characteristics (considerate, well-educated) than those in the car condition.
The research team, from the University of Surrey, also found that, compared to people who aren’t driving, motorists tend to have more negative attitudes toward young people.

Researchers speculate that the gap in perception stems from the fact that drivers are exposed to less information than walkers, bikers, and transit riders. Because they are insulated from the environment around them, they are more likely to make snap judgements that confirm superficial biases.

Horowitz says the findings could help explain why people who live in cities for a while tend to remain in them. Meanwhile, Phillips sees it as a potential factor in negative attitudes toward cities among rural or suburban dwellers.

Why Minnesota Might Be Planning Too Much Road Expansion


By Joe Loveland, January 6, 2014


Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) released a new 20-year plan in December 2013 – the Minnesota State Highway Investment Plan (MnSHIP).  Spoiler alert:  MnSHIP says we need more money to build more road capacity.

MnSHIP says much more than that, but adding road capacity is a central theme, as has been the case for many years with such long-range plans.  At first blush,  the call for increased road capacity seems like the most unassailable part of the plan.  After all, Minnesota’s population is expected to increase over the next 20 years.

But the call for additional road capacity could ultimately turn out to be the most flawed part of the plan.   Here’s why:  One term you won’t see in MnSHIP is “driverless car.”

Are Driverless Cars Feasible?

When I was a lad, the science fiction cartoon The Jetsons offered  the dream of flying personal vehicles, which, alas, have not materialized.  That has made many of us skeptical about subsequent predictions about revolutionary transportation technology, such as Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) and driverless vehicles.

But driverless cars are far less speculative that flying cars.  Google, one of the wealthiest corporations on the planet, has been investing heavily in a driverless car.  Their test vehicle has logged over half a million miles, and it has never had an accident while the computer was driving.

Based on their tests to date, Google founder Sergey Brin predicts that Google will have autonomous cars available for the general public by 2017.   Again, this isn’t some penniless, garage-based tinkerer expressing his utopian pipe dream.  This is the founder of a company bringing in almost $15 billion in revenue per year.  This is someone who has already produced a prototype that is successfully operating on the streets and has been legalized for use in California, Florida and Nevada.

Beyond Google, just about every major auto manufacturer is engaged in developing this technology.  If Google doesn’t nail the driverless car assignment, one of their well-resourced and experienced competitors might.

Ignoring driverless cars in a 20-year transportation plan beginning in 2013 plan may turn out to be akin to ignoring horseless carriages in a 20-year transportation plan written in 1903.  Ford Motor Company was founded in 1903, and by 1923 Ford was flooding 2,000,000 Model T cars per year onto an overwhelmed infrastructure.
Consumer Buy-In?

But will consumers really surrender control of their vehicles to a computer?  In 2017, the first year Google predicts that driverless cars will be available to consumers, we won’t see mass consumer buy-in.  It will take time for the skeptical masses to observe the early adaptors.  But within the 20-year sweep of the MnSHIP era, broader consumer buy-in is certainly a distinct possibility.


Safety Advantages.   Driverless vehicles could offer consumers significant advantages.  Any life insurance underwriter can tell you that driving is one of the most dangerous tasks any of us regularly undertake, and driverless vehicles offer the hope of vastly improved safety.    Though human egos makes us skeptical of this truth, computer drivers have the capacity to be much more attentive, reliable and quick to react to danger than even the most skilled human drivers.  In this way, the computers have the potential to keep us safer than human drivers can.

Time-Saving Advantages.  Driverless cars also can offer us more of life’s most precious and limited commodity — time.  Distance sensors and computers allow computer-driven vehicles to safely follow each other at much closer distances and higher speeds than human-driven cars, making for shorter, less congested and less stressful trips.

If driverless cars can supply Americans with more time, less stress, lower insurance rates, and less death and suffering, consumers will demand it.  If policymakers further stimulate such consumer demand with incentives, such as tax breaks or dedicated lanes that offer faster and safer service, the revolution could happen even more quickly.

“Game Changer”

At first blush, the dawn of the driverless car era doesn’t seem to have implications for a transportation plan like MnSHIP.  After all, we would still need roads for those driverless vehicles, right?

While we would still need roads in the era of driverless cars, we might need much less road capacity, and different kinds of road capacity.

Both because of fewer crashes and  vehicles that can follow each other more closely at higher speeds, we might need much less road capacity to serve travel demand.   How much less?  Patcharinee Tientrakool of Columbia University estimates that autonomous vehicles could improve capacity by 43%.  Driverless vehicles that can coordinate with other driverless vehicles would increase capacity by 273%.

Adeel Lari, a transportation expert and former MnDOT leader who is now at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, points out that in the 1960s traffic engineers were taught that highway capacity maxed out at around 2,000 vehicles per lane per hour.  With improved traffic management methods and technology, Lari and his MnDOT colleagues later found they could briefly push capacity as high as 2,600 vehicles per lane per hour.

Temporarily moving from 2,000 to 2,600 vehicles per lane per hour was a huge improvement.  But driverless cars could push capacity to a jaw-dropping 6,000 vehicles per lane per hour or higher, which Lari calls a “game changer.”

Transportation Planning Implications

For MnDOT, here’s how “the game” could rapidly change:
  • Less Road Capacity?  Minnesotans might need much less road capacity at a much lower taxpayer cost.
  • Narrower Lanes?  We also might be able to use narrower lanes, since driverless cars could reliably navigate tight spaces, and squeeze more vehicles through choke points in the process.
  • Dedicated Lanes?   In the interim period when both human drivers and computer drivers are sharing the roads, it might make sense to have dedicated lanes for driverless vehicles, to keep them safe from more erratic and less skilled human drivers.
  • More sprawl?  If driverless cars allow for shorter and less stressful trips,  people may  feel free to move further away from their jobs and other destinations.  If they do, the increased sprawl would impact infrastructure needs.
  • Gas Tax Alternative?  Safer driverless vehicles might be able to be much lighter, and therefore be more fuel efficient.  Additionally, less stop-and-go traffic would also save fuel.  While these changes would be good for the environment and energy security, they also would mean less gas tax revenue available for maintaining and retrofitting the transportation infrastructure.
These are just a few of the kinds of issues transportation leaders should be analyzing. Land use planners have their own set of issues to analyze.

MnDOT, and its MnSHIP collaborators at the Met Council, are wise not to construct MnSHIP on an assumption that mass use of driverless vehicles is imminent.  I’m not naive about all the variables that could delay or stop the successful development and deployment of this technology, or the public acceptance of it.

But in a 20-year plan, it is an oversight to ignore the potential implications of an issue as distinctly possible as driverless vehicles.  MnSHIP should call on MnDOT and Met Council leaders to closely monitor and analyze the pace of driverless vehicle development, and consumer buy-in, so they could, if necessary, swiftly adjust their plans to fit a newly emerging reality.   After all, the transition to driverless cars will be no time for vision-less planning.

Change a Traffic Signal, Save a Life


By Angie Schmitt, January 7, 2014

In San Rafael, California, a woman is dead and a man is in critical condition after a dump truck driver, who claimed not to see them as they were crossing the street, turned left and ran them over in the crosswalk last week. It’s just one of countless similar tragedies playing out in the U.S. In this case, writes David Edmondson at the Greater Marin, simply giving people a walk signal before turning drivers get a green light could have prevented the loss of life:

This is the spot where Olga Rodriguez was killed while trying to cross the street last week. Image: ##http://thegreatermarin.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/an-entirely-preventable-death-in-san-rafael/## The Greater Marin##
This is the spot where Olga Rodriguez was killed while trying to cross the street last week.
The fix is fairly straightforward: give pedestrians a head start when crossing (something known as a Leading Pedestrian Interval, or LPI). After the light on Heatherton turns red to southbound traffic, pedestrians crossing Heatherton would get a walk sign but Third Street would stay red. Three or four seconds later, Third Street would turn green.

Whether or not the truck driver could have seen Olga or her companion before he hit them, they would have been much harder to miss had they had a short head start. As well, rather than trust drivers to give pedestrians priority, the structure of the intersection gives priority to pedestrians instead.

The LPI isn’t just window dressing. A study by Michael King in New York City found that a pedestrian head start leads to a 12 percent reduction in crashes over the baseline or 28 percent reduction compared to unmodified intersections, which saw crashes increase by 17 percent over the course of the study. While crashes did still occur, their severity declined 55 percent overall and 68 percent in comparison to unmodified intersections.
Elsewhere on the Network today: The Raleigh Connoisseur reports that the city is going to turn a $1.1 million air quality grant into 27 miles of bike infrastructure. UrbanReviewSTL says the near south side of St. Louis has become less of a food desert with the recent influx of new grocers. And Streets.mn argues that the arrival of self-driving cars will make Minnesota’s road expansion plans look even more foolish.

Bike Signals Get the Green Light From Engineering Establishment


By Angie Schmitt, January 6, 2014

hink of it as a Christmas gift: On December 24, the gatekeepers who determine which street treatments should become standard tools for American engineers decided to add bike signals to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, sometimes called “the bible of traffic engineering.”

Cities will no longer have to undergo expensive additional engineering studies to install bike signals. Image: ##http://bikeportland.org/2011/12/27/on-january-1-bike-traffic-signals-get-the-green-light-in-oregon-64283## Bike Portland##
Cities will no longer have to perform expensive engineering studies to install bike signals.

The decision should lead to more widespread use of bike signals, which can be used to reduce conflicts between people on bikes and turning drivers, give cyclists a head start at intersections, or create a separate phase entirely for bicycle traffic. They are often used in tandem with protected bike lanes.

Prior to the Christmas Eve vote by the committee that updates the MUTCD, bike signals were considered “experimental.” Communities seeking to install them first had to fund expensive engineering studies.

But no longer. In a memo regarding the approval, Federal Highway Administration officials noted that bike signals have been shown to improve safety outcomes as well as compliance with traffic rules by cyclists. Crash rates involving cyclists have been reduced as much as 45 percent following the installation of bike signals, FHWA reports.

Michael Andersen at People for Bikes’ Green Lane Project notes that bike signals reduce the risk to cyclists at intersections, which are where most collisions occur.

The Rise of Open Streets


By Clarence Eckerson, Jr., January 7, 2014

For a video:


Streetfilms has been documenting the open streets movement for over seven years, beginning with our landmark film in 2007 on Bogota's Ciclovia, currently the most viewed Streetfilm of all time.

The next year, Mike Lydon of The Street Plans Collaborative decided to get an open streets event going in Miami, which led to his research for The Open Streets Project, a joint project with the Alliance for Biking & Walking.

Miami wasn't alone. In 2008, there were new open streets events in more than a dozen cities, including San Francisco, Portland and New York. All told, open streets events have increased tenfold since 2006.

"The Rise of Open Streets" examines the open streets movement from myriad perspectives -- how it began, how events are run, how they shape people's perceptions of their streets, and how creating car-free space, even temporarily, benefits people's lives. And it looks not only at big cities like Los Angeles, but smaller ones like Fargo, Berkeley, and Lexington.

We've interviewed some of the most important people in the movement, including former NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and former Chicago DOT Commissioner Gabe Klein, as well as former Bogota Parks Commissioner Gil Penalosa and Enrique Jacoby, from the Pan American Health Organization.

We were proud to partner with The Street Plans Collaborative and the Alliance for Biking & Walking to produce this film, which we hope will encourage even more open streets events throughout the world. Funding for "The Rise of Open Streets" was graciously provided by the Fund for the Environment & Urban Life.

A Tie That Can Help You Navigate the Subway


By Jenny Xie, January 6, 2014

 A Tie That Can Help You Navigate the Subway

Japanese tie-maker ARA has come up with a clever way to navigate the subway like a champ. Their new ties include a map of the entire Tokyo subway system on the back -- no fumbling on smartphones required.

The ties are 100 percent silk and currently sell for 6,090 yen (about $58) online. Another version for Osaka and Kyoto is also available. 

Europe's Most Congested City Contemplates Going Car-Free


By Feargus O'Sullivan, January 7, 2014

Europe's Most Congested City Contemplates Going Car-Free

If the city’s new mayor gets his way, Central Brussels will soon be essentially car-free. Socialist Party mayor Yvan Mayeur, sworn in last month as mayor of the Brussels City district, wants to turn the Belgian capital's central axis into a pedestrian zone.

The move would transform a handsome but car-snarled four-lane boulevard and a string of squares into a long, café-filled promenade.  This new zone will join up with an existing pedestrian zone in the narrow streets around the city's Grand Place and Rue Neuve, turning Brussels’ core into a spacious, rambling open-air living room.

The change is long overdue. No European capital has been quite so ruined by motor vehicles as Brussels, which even last year was scorned by the French as a "sewer for cars." And the new plan is going over well with locals, meaning Brussels might finally gain its deserved place as a likeable European city.

If it does so, it will be in the face of decades of poor planning from which the city is still recovering. Though they were following international fashion, it's rare that a city's elite messes up redevelopment so badly that it succeeds in coining its own anti-planning slur.  Brussels managed this in the 1960s, however, when the city’s dual process of building ugly, over-sized buildings in the place of beloved historic ones and of prioritizing cars over everything else came to be called brusselization.

From the 1958 World's Fair up until the early 1970s, Brussels authorities earned themselves international notoriety by leveling entire quarters of the city for office developments as bland as unsalted potato. Some of the city's best buildings were demolished while Brussels' inner belt of boulevards was turned into a mini highway that still alternately clogs and roars.

Place de Brouckere in Brussels.

While public protest ultimately slowed the demolitions, the city got away with these upheavals for a long time because it already had a long history of bulldozing and displacement. In the preceding century, Brussels had already flattened a neighborhood to build its grandiose Law Courts, while the boulevard strip due to be pedestrianized today was itself created by covering over Brussels' Senne River and demolishing the ancient buildings on its banks.

Thankfully, Brussels still has plenty that’s worth saving, with distinctively busy, elaborate architecture that totally belies Belgium’s reputation as the European homeland of bland. The pedestrian plan would do more than cut down on decades of grime on such buildings, though. It will also help to reunite the city's touristy but magical medieval core with the hipper area around Place Sainte-Catherine, west of the central axis, creating a seamless area from one which motor traffic previously truncated.

Businesses along the axis are chary about losing customers, but a recent survey of 3,500 people by Belgian newspaper Le Soir found 61 percent favor the changes. It's too early to assume that the redesign will really make Brussels come out of its shell, but one of Europe’s great, underrated cities should soon be getting the center it deserves.

For those of you who made the resolution to bike more this year…


By Anna Chen, January 7, 2014

 Get ready for these upcoming Metro-sponsored bicycle rides led by CICLE! All rides are free and open to the public.

Saturday, January 18, 2014 - Tweed, Moxie and Mustache Ride: The Historic Arroyo Seco
Meet at 10:30 a.m. at the Gold Line Highland Park Station
Ride leaves promptly at 11 a.m.

Saturday, February 15, 2014 - Ride For Love: Explore the Changes of Watts
Meeting location is TBD (check back closer to the ride date for info)
Ride leaves promptly at 11 a.m.
Saturday, March 15, 2014 - The W
ay Back When Ride: La Puente
Meeting location is TBD (check back closer to the ride date for info)
Ride leaves promptly at 11 a.m.

Suburban sprawl cancels carbon footprint savings of dense urban cores


January 6, 2014

(Nanowerk News) According to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, population-dense cities contribute less greenhouse gas emissions per person than other areas of the country, but these cities' extensive suburbs essentially wipe out the climate benefits.
Dominated by emissions from cars, trucks and other forms of transportation, suburbs account for about 50 percent of all household emissions – largely carbon dioxide – in United States.
The study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Science & Technology ("Spatial Distribution of U.S. Household Carbon Footprints Reveals Suburbanization Undermines Greenhouse Gas Benefits of Urban Population Density"), uses local census, weather and other data – 37 variables in total – to approximate greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the energy, transportation, food, goods and services consumed by U.S. households, so-called household carbon footprints. Interactive carbon footprint maps for more than 31,000 U.S. zip codes in all 50 states are available online at http://coolclimate.berkeley.edu/maps.
New York City's Carbon Footprint
A CoolClimate Map of New York City's carbon footprint by zipcode tabulation area shows a pattern typical of large metropolitan areas: a small footprint in the urban core but a large footprint in surrounding suburbs. (Image: Daniel Kammen and Christopher Jones, UC Berkeley)
"The goal of the project is to help cities better understand the primary drivers of household carbon footprints in each location," said Daniel Kammen, Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy in the Energy and Resources Group and the Goldman School of Public Policy, and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory. "We hope cities will use this information to begin to create highly tailored, community-scale climate action plans."
A key finding of the UC Berkeley study is that suburbs account for half of all household greenhouse gas emissions, even though they account for less than half the population. The average carbon footprint of households living in the center of large, population-dense urban cities is about 50 percent below average, while households in distant suburbs are up to twice the average: a factor of four difference between lowest and highest locations.
"Metropolitan areas look like carbon footprint hurricanes, with dark green, low-carbon urban cores surrounded by red, high-carbon suburbs," said Christopher Jones, a doctoral student working with Kammen in the Energy and Resources Group. "Unfortunately, while the most populous metropolitan areas tend to have the lowest carbon footprint centers, they also tend to have the most extensive high carbon footprint suburbs."
Taking into account the impact of all urban and suburban residents, large metropolitan areas have a slightly higher average carbon footprint than smaller metro areas.
Developing sustainable cities
"A number of cities nationwide have developed exceptionally interesting and thoughtful sustainability plans, many of them very innovative," Kammen said. "The challenge, however, is to reduce overall emissions. Chris and I wanted to determine analytically and present in a visually striking way the impacts and interactions of our energy, transportation, land use, shopping, and other choices. Cities are not islands: they exist in a complex landscape that we need to understand better both theoretically and empirically."
The UC Berkeley researchers found that the primary drivers of carbon footprints are household income, vehicle ownership and home size, all of which are considerably higher in suburbs. Other important factors include population density, the carbon-intensity of electricity production, energy prices and weather.
"Cities need information on which actions have the highest potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their communities," explained Kammen. "There is no one-size-fits-all solution."
Efforts to increase population density, for example, appear not to be a very effective strategy locally for reducing emissions. A 10-fold increase in population density in central cities yields only a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
"That would require a really extraordinary transformation for very little benefit, and high carbon suburbanization would result as a side effect," Jones said.
Increasing population density in suburbs appears to be an even a worse strategy, he said. Surprisingly, population dense suburbs have significantly higher carbon footprints than less dense suburbs.
"Population dense suburbs also tend to create their own suburbs, which is bad news for the climate," explains Jones.
So if building more population-dense cities is not a viable solution for city planners, what is? The project website includes a tool that calculates carbon footprints for essentially every populated U.S. zip code, city, county and U.S. state (31,531 zip codes, 10,093 cities and towns, 3,124 counties, 276 metropolitan regions and 50 states) as well as an interactive online map allowing users to zoom in and out of different locations. Households and cities can calculate their own carbon footprints to see how they compare to their neighbors and create customized climate action plan from over 40 mitigation options.
In some locations, motor vehicles are the largest source of emissions, while in other locations it might be electricity, food, or goods and services. California, for example, has relatively low emissions associated with household electricity, but large emissions from transportation. The opposite is true in parts of the Midwest, where electricity is produced largely from coal.
Tailored emission lowering strategies
The real opportunity, say the authors, is tailoring climate solutions to demographically similar populations within locations.
"Suburbs are excellent candidates for a combination of solar photovoltaic systems, electric vehicles and energy-efficient technologies," said Kammen. "When you package low carbon technologies together you find real financial savings and big social and environmental benefits."
The authors argue that cities need to step out of traditional roles in planning urban infrastructure and learn how to better understand the needs of residents in order to craft policies and programs that enable the adoption of energy and carbon-efficient technologies and practices.
One example of this is the CoolCalifornia Challenge, a statewide carbon footprint reduction competition to name the "Coolest California City." The program, run by Jones and Kammen and sponsored by the California Air Resources Board and Energy Upgrade California, will be accepting applications for new cities in February. Each city creates their own, targeted strategies to reduce barriers and increase motivation to engage residents in climate action.
"People need to act within their own spheres of influence, where they feel they can make the most difference," Jones said. "We hope the information provided in these tools will help individuals, organization and cities understand what makes the most impact locally and to enable more tailored climate strategies.

Failed P3 Toll Projects

From Sylvia Plummer, January 7, 2014

Below is by Robert W. Poole, Jr., of the Reason Foundation (a libertarian group). It is in its transportation newsletter for December 2013:  

What to Make of Public Private Partnership (P3) Toll Road Struggles?

I've received several queries about a Nov. 21st front-page story in the Wall Street Journal about financial difficulties at a number of U.S. toll-concession projects. Besides noting the bankruptcies of the South Bay Expressway in San Diego, Virginia's Pocahontas Parkway, and American Roads (a holding company for the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and four Alabama toll roads), the article pointed to possible financial restructurings of the SH 130 toll road between Austin and San Antonio and of the Indiana Toll Road. In nearly every case the problem stems at least in part from overly optimistic traffic and revenue forecasts made prior to the start of the Great Recession in 2008. In several cases, the financial structure appears to be overly aggressive, with large payments coming due in the next year or two that exceed what is likely to be available from toll revenues and reserve funds.

Not all P3 toll roads are in such difficulties, which is hard to discern from the WSJ article. Not mentioned at all is the 91 Express Lanes in Orange County, CA—the country's first toll concession and one whose traffic and revenues remain robust (though it had been in operation nearly 13 years by the time the 2008 crunch began). Mentioned only briefly or not at all are the Chicago Skyway, the Dulles Greenway, the I-495 Express Lanes on the Beltway in northern Virginia, the Northwest Parkway in Colorado, and the 407ETR in Toronto. Several of those have less than projected traffic, but to the best of my knowledge, none is in serious distress—and the 407 in Toronto is thriving. In addition, though not a P3 concession, the Inter County Connector in Maryland recently completed its first year of tolled operations, with toll revenue almost exactly at forecast level, and 40,000 vehicles per weekday on average.

It's well-known that start-up toll roads are relatively risky endeavors, since highly accurate traffic and revenue forecasts are still more of an art than a science. And that's one reason I have long advised legislators and state DOTs against saddling taxpayers with traffic and revenue risk. One of the most important benefits of long-term toll concessions is shifting such risks (along with the risk of construction cost overruns, late completion, and operating & maintenance risks) to willing investors. I was interviewed about this issue by David Mildenberg for a Bloomberg article published on Nov. 27th, "Private Toll Road Investors Shift Revenue Risk to States." It documented the recent trend of companies that compete for mega-project concessions to push for availability-pay concessions rather than toll concessions. Both are long-term agreements in which construction, completion, and O&M risks are transferred, but in these newer concessions the company is paid by the state over the life of the agreement, with only minor variations depending on how available the lanes are 24/7 and what condition they are in. As Mildenberg's article points out, that leaves the largest risk—traffic and revenue--with the state, aka the taxpayers.

I've written about this point for several years, because one of the long-standing problems with US highway infrastructure is poorly justified projects that get approved and built more for political than for economic reasons. If a realistic projection of traffic and revenues doesn't come close to covering the capital and operating costs of a major highway or bridge, there's a serious question whether it's a wise investment. "Economic development" is usually trotted out in such cases, a kind of "field of dreams" premise. But let's face it: this country has a large and growing need for productive highway investment (such as rebuilding and modernizing the Interstates and building urban express toll networks) and a serious shortage of funding to meet those needs. Requiring such projects to pass a credible return-on-investment test is a way to separate the high-value investments from the cats and dogs.

To be sure, there are cases where, for policy reasons, not charging a toll on a new facility intended to divert traffic from other facilities can make sense (e.g., the Port of Miami Tunnel, being developed as a pure availability-pay concession). And there can be cases where a hybrid toll/availability structure is the best that can be done, due to specialized circumstances. But those should be the exceptions, not the rule. If this country shifts to a largely availability-pay model, we will lose a powerful means of ensuring the wisest allocation of inevitably limited highway investment funds.

Incidentally, Moody's early this month changed its outlook for toll roads from negative to stable. That change was based on the recovery of traffic growth, which Moody's projects as averaging 1.5% for 2014 for the toll roads it rates.

SR710 - One Tunnel Option

 From Sylvia Plummer, January 7, 2013
The One Tunnel option was brought up at the last Metro Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting on 11/13/13.  Metro has added a '1 tunnel' option, with and without trucks.  Advertising it as 1/2 the cost and impact.
BUT Metro say's there will be a "second future tunnel" later.  
So, there is really no change, except to drag out the construction phase.

Above is the url for the handout from the TAC Meeting, see pages 32 and 33 for information on the 'one tunnel' option.

Metro has added a ‘raised tunnel profile option’ as well.  This option eliminates the need to rebuild the Union, Colorado and Green Street bridges.  But the tunnel will open further south near California, not Del Mar, and environmental impacts such as noise are more severe.  For more information see page 37 from the  TAC meeting handout.  

Metro has also added an option to incorporate on/off access at Del Mar.  Per Metro, this option will increase local street congestion and have a larger environmental impact.  See page 36 from the TAC meeting handout.

What If Everything You've Been Told About High Density Development In Places Like Sierra Madre and Reducing Greenhouse Gases Is Wrong?


January 7, 2013


 Mod: At the very core of state environmental law is SB 375, the bizarre edict that commands all California cities to build as much high density housing as they can possibly accommodate. The claim being the higher the density of a town, the less green house gas it produces. Locally this draconian concept is rigorously enforced by SCAG, the L.A. Based centralized planning bureaucracy responsible for those onerous RHNA numbers we are forced to accept. Something that is basically a by-product of Sacramento's seizure of local planning authority in the name of saving the planet from global warming. But what if the geniuses got it all wrong? This from The Sacramento Bee (link):

Increasing density may not work in cutting greenhouse gases

Increasing the population density of California's urban areas is a key component of the state's plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 - but it may not be the most effective strategy, new research at the University of California, Berkeley, indicates.

Although suburbs, with their relatively low densities and dependence on autos for travel, are bigger generators of carbon dioxide than urban cores, the researchers said, "a 10-fold increase in population density in central cities yields only a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions."

"That would require a really extraordinary transformation for very little benefit, and high carbon suburbanization would result as a side effect," Christopher Jones, a doctoral student in the UC-Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group and co-author of the report, said in a statement accompanying the study's release Monday.

Trying to increase population densities in suburbs, which several state strategies propose, "appears to be an even worse strategy," Jones said, because it would encourage the development of new, high energy use suburbs further away.

What Jones and his co-researcher, Dr. Daniel Kammen, suggest is that one-size-fits all strategies to reduce greenhouse gases give way to locally designed plans based on local circumstances.

"Cities are not islands," Kammen said. "They exist in a complex landscape that we need to understand better both theoretically and empirically."

Toward that end, the study includes an innovative, interactive Internet tool that allows users to calculate not only the emissions of their own households, but of their communities and breaks down the individual components of those emissions.

The average American household is responsible for 48.5 tons of CO2 each year, and the interactive tool allows users to measure themselves and their communities against that number.

Mod: The "Cool Climate Network" calculator can be linked to here. Any yes, you can look up Sierra Madre. My gripe is the assumption that if you live in a suburb, you will forever travel in a car that burns carbon producing fossil fuels and therefore will always contribute to the environmental devastation of the planet. However, in about 10 years from now won't most personal travel be in either electric or hydrogen based cars? Which are emissions free? This from Wired (link):

Toyota Will Sell You a Hydrogen-Powered Car Next Year

After decades of big promises, false starts, and meager infrastructure, the first hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will go on sale in the United States next year. It’s coming from Toyota, which promises a range of 300 miles and a fill-up time of less than five minutes — once you’ve actually found a station that stocks the stuff.

The unnamed camo-clad engineering prototype that Toyota unveiled at CES looks remarkably similar to a Toyota Corolla. The automaker, which has spent the past year flogging the car in some of the hottest and coldest places on the continent, claims the emissions-free sedan will put out more than 100 kW (over 130 horsepower) and do zero to 60 in around 10 seconds.

“We aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel; just everything necessary to make them turn,” said Bob Carter, Toyota’s senior veep of U.S. auto operations. “For years, the use of hydrogen gas to power an electric vehicle has been seen by many smart people as a foolish quest. Yes, there are significant challenges. The first is building the vehicle at a reasonable price for many people. The second is doing what we can to help kick-start the construction of convenient hydrogen refueling infrastructure.”

Just how reasonable a price remains to be seen, because so far Toyota’s not saying what the car will cost, or even what it will be called. But the automaker says that, after a decade’s work, it has dramatically reduced the cost of building a fuel cell powertrain. Toyota estimates the cost of building a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has fallen 95 percent since it built its first prototype in 2002, and according to Toyota spokeswoman Jana Hartline, Toyota will give consumers “a variety of options” when its hydrogen vehicle goes on sale. Given that the true cost of Honda’s FCX Clarity — which could only be leased, not bought — was estimated at well over $1 million, that’s a welcome reduction.

Mod: It seems that once the tipping point on no emissions personal travel is reached in around a decade and gas stations start to go the way of the dodo, the supposed need for building SB 375 high density SCAG housing will be rendered even more absurd. And that all we'll have accomplished is to construct a lot of unwanted "units" people will happily zoom past in their environmentally neutral no emissions vehicles as they drive deep into the suburbs and to their desirable single family homes.