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

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The L.A. 2020 Report Declaring "City in Decline" is a Complete Mess


By Gene Maddaus, January 8, 2014


 L.A. City Hall

After many months of silence, the L.A. 2020 Commission has at last issued its report on the state of L.A.'s finances. The commission is made up of leaders from the city's business and labor communities. Its report, "A Time for Truth," is supposed to kick-start a conversation about City Hall's finances.

Unfortunately, the report reads like a Chamber of Commerce op-ed stretched out to 20 pages with a bunch of charts and filler quotes and a big font size. It recycles talking points that have been circulating in the business community for years, without bringing any fresh analysis to the city's problems.

Where to begin with this thing. How about with the fact that there's no executive summary. That's a tipoff that this report is not coherent enough to summarize. But here at least is the opening paragraph:

Los Angeles is barely treading water while the rest of the world is moving forward. We risk falling further behind in adapting to the realities of the 21st century and becoming a City in decline.
Sounds bleak. And the report goes on to cite various measures by which the city is falling behind - fewer Fortune 500 companies, a high unemployment rate and so on. But then there's this:
We are strangled by traffic...
First off, we're starting to mix metaphors - the city is either drowning or being strangled, but not both. But second, this is actually the opposite problem from the one described up until now. If traffic is bad, that's a sign of economic health. If the economy improves even more, traffic will worsen. That's not to say it's not an issue. It's just a totally unrelated issue. For this report to be helpful at all, it has to focus - not throw together a bunch of unrelated issues and put it all under the heading of "decline." Which brings us to...
Our public school system is failing our children... 
Another unrelated issue. Lots of serious people spend all of their time thinking only about this. But why not radically oversimplify it and compress it into a bullet point in order to pad out this report.

It goes on in this meandering way, until we get to the big summary paragraph:
Los Angeles suffers from a crisis in leadership and direction. The old adage, "The same level of thought which created the problem, is not likely to solve it," can be applied to the City.
By this point, it's clear that this report is suffering from a crisis in leadership and direction, as it bogs down in the same old thinking. Whether this condition also applies to the city's leaders is impossible to know, as the report does not analyze, address or acknowledge anything that any particular city leader has done about any of these issues.

You would think that a report about the state of the city's finances might include the words "Villaraigosa" or "Garcetti." This one is too polite to do that.

Instead, it drifts from one unrelated gripe to the next, faulting the city's police overtime bank, its handling of the BNSF terminal project, fire department response times and low voter turnout - none of which constitutes new information. After 19 pages of this, it's time for the big finish:
Where do we go from here?
Is the author addressing the reader or himself? It's clear he's just flailing, like a candidate at Boys State who lost his speech notes.
It's going to take leadership willing and able to make change. Leadership willing to be transparent and held accountable. It's going to take thoughtful reforms and a rational approach to promote these values.
It's probably also going to take someone willing to stand up and tell the hard truths. Truths such as:
The same spirit of candor reflected in this report will also recognize that most of the issues raised in this report are not new. One only has to read the report of the Los Angeles 2000 Commission presented to Mayor Bradley in 1988.
So now we know why this report has nothing new to add. Basically the whole thing - right down to the name - was ripped off from a report that was written 26 years ago. Where did you find it? Freetermpapers.com?

The people behind this commission - Mickey Kantor, Austin Beutner and others - are thoughtful, substantive people, so it's disappointing that this is what they've come up with. Maybe it's the consultants' fault.

Anyway, back to the most pressing question facing us today:
How do we renew the job engine in Los Angeles?
How about more commissions?

Gov. Brown wants to tap cap-and-trade funds for bullet train

Environmental groups oppose the plan to dip into hundreds of millions of dollars in fees from businesses whose carbon dioxide emissions exceed state limits.


By Ralph Vartabedian and Chris Megerian, January 7, 2014

Bullet train

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to provide urgently needed new funding for California's bullet train project from corporate fees on greenhouse gases melds two of his political passions: building the nation's first, truly high-speed rail system and putting the state at the forefront of the battle against global warming.

The bullet train system suffered a series of legal blows last year that blocked $9 billion in state funding, sending Brown and his allies on a search for a new source of funds. This week, Brown plans to announce a new strategy to keep the project moving: dipping into hundreds of millions of dollars in fees collected from businesses whose carbon dioxide emissions exceed state limits.

But he may be trading one set of legal and political problems for another.

The thought of tapping those so-called cap-and-trade funds to support the $68-billion rail line is generating opposition from powerful environmental groups that have in the past allied themselves with the governor, including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Planning and Conservation League.

The electrically powered bullet train has been marketed by the state rail agency as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from California's vast transportation system. But those benefits may not be realized for many years and environmentalists would prefer the funds go to projects that can have larger immediate effects on what they consider an urgent climate crisis.

"The high-speed rail board is trying to make the best of a troubled situation, but I don't think raiding cap-and-trade is the right direction to go," said Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League.

The planned bullet train system's needs are so vast it could become a "money pit," Reznik said.
Brown's new funding plan would offer a short-term but important solution to the bullet train's financial problems but leaves many crucial, longer-term issues murky.

As part of Brown's budget proposal to the Legislature scheduled to be announced Friday, the state would use $250 million of cap-and-trade revenue for the project, according to Capitol officials with knowledge of the plan.

The state is relying on federal grants for its funding, though under current agreements it will have to begin matching that spending with state dollars sometime this year. The rail authority did not respond to a request to clarify when it will have to legally match the federal funds, though legislative sources say it could be as early as this spring. The state budget goes into effect July 1.

The state is in effect betting that court rulings would permit it to use voter-approved bond funds at a later time, and that billions of dollars in additional federal grants would become available in the future.

But there would be significant legal risks. The state law that set up the limits on greenhouse gases and the cap-and-trade system calls for investments that will reduce emissions by 2020 to the levels that existed in 1990, some experts say. The state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, noting the bullet train would not be in operation until after 2020, has questioned the legality of using the cap-and-trade funding for rail construction.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) was reserved in his response to the governor's proposal, calling for "a very robust legal analysis" of using cap-and-trade money for the bullet train.

"I've never believed you have to show definitively where every dollar is for the entire build-out," Steinberg said. "Having said that, I do think this proposal needs to be analyzed within the framework of: What is the overall strategy for the next leg?

"Within that context, cap-and-trade may or may not be the right funding source."

Environmental groups have supported the bullet train project, arguing it could reduce highway construction, allow more compact cities and help wean the public off dependence on fossil fuel. But they have objected to the route's effect on sensitive environments, as well as the governor's previous suggestion that the rail project be exempt from some requirements under state environmental law.
A spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority said the proposed use of cap-and-trade funding is not new and has been included in a list of possible projects by the state Air Resources Board.

Dave Clegern, spokesman for the air board, dismissed legal concerns.

"We have a pretty good legal department, and they vet these things very carefully," he said.

The bullet train's funding problems multiplied six weeks ago when Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled the state failed to comply with voter-approved restrictions in a 2008 bond measure. The measure required the state to produce a funding plan that identifies the sources of money to complete an initial operational segment of the rail line. Under current plans, that segment would run from Merced to the San Fernando Valley and cost $31 billion. But the state has only about $12 billion.

Separately, Kenny refused to validate the sale of the bonds, stalling the state's ability to draw on $9 billion in funding.

Dan Richard, chairman of the rail authority board, has characterized the judge's rulings as manageable setbacks.

"We believe that we have a number of different ways to satisfy the judge's concern," Richard wrote in an email last month to reporters. He hasn't indicated how his agency plans to do that.

In addition to seeking approval to use cap-and-trade money, the state could request additional changes to its federal funding agreement, pushing back the date when the state would have to begin matching federal funding.

So far, the rail agency has not run short of money.

"We continue to get paid and be assured that we will get paid in the future," said Ron Tutor, chairman of Tutor Perini Corp., the construction firm that won a $1-billion contract last year to build an initial 29-mile segment of rail. Tutor has said he expects to begin construction by July 1.

Cap-and-trade already is facing a legal challenge from the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, which argues the program is an unconstitutional tax that was not properly authorized by the Legislature.

James Burling, the organizations' director of litigation, said Brown's new proposal also is legally problematic.

"It's a desperate attempt by the governor to grab money for his pet project," Burling said. "It continues to demonstrate why [the cap-and-trade law] is unconstitutional and why the railroad makes no sense."

Streetsblog’s Suggested Edits to U.S. DOT’s Seven Priorities for 2014


By Tanya Snyder, January 8, 2014

Just before we went on holiday break, U.S. DOT’s Inspector General’s office released a document [PDF] detailing the department’s top challenges for the year ahead. The document calls them “management challenges” but by and large it’s just a list of seven things the Inspector General thinks DOT needs to do to meet its mission of providing a “safe and well-managed transportation system” to strengthen the U.S. economy and improve “the quality of life for the traveling public.”

For starters, let's agree that the solution to traffic congestion on roads like this isn't to build more roads like this. Photo: flickr/##http://www.flickr.com/photos/atwatervillage/842866223/##Atwater Village Newbie##
For starters, let’s agree that the solution to traffic congestion on roads like this isn’t to build more roads like this.

Here are the seven priorities the Inspector General came up with:
  1. Improving FAA’s Oversight of the Aviation Industry and the Operations of the National Airspace System
  2. Identifying and Addressing Root Causes of Problems With NextGen and Setting Investment Priorities
  3. Continuing Actions To Strengthen Highway, Transit, and Pipeline Safety
  4. Improving Oversight of Surface Infrastructure Investments and Implementing Statutory Requirements
  5. Implementing Requirements To Address the Federal Railroad Administration’s Expanded and Traditional Responsibilities
  6. Managing Acquisitions and Contracts To Achieve Results and Save Taxpayer Dollars
  7. Building a Secure and Modern Information Technology Infrastructure
All worthy goals, but we have a few more things we’d humbly submit to DOT for their 2014 to-do list:
  1. Replace Polly Trottenberg with someone exactly like her. We’d be crushed to see a new policy chief at DOT who didn’t share Trottenberg’s commitment to breaking down modal siloes, reconsidering old traffic projections and transportation plans, and protecting taxpayers from wasteful projects that perpetuate an outdated and unsustainable system. Trottenberg was an excellent replacement for Roy Kienitz, whom we also still miss. May the legacy of first-rate Under Secretaries for Policy continue. (And while we’re on the subject, may ex-FHWA chief Victor Mendez be as consistent an advocate for walking and biking as his predecessor in the Deputy Secretary position, John Porcari.)
  3. Measure congestion in a way that doesn’t create more traffic. If the problem you’re trying to solve is that people are wasting too much time behind the wheel, then it makes no sense to build roads that cause people to drive even longer distances. And yet, the traditional performance measurement for congestion leads to exactly this outcome. Instead, the metric for congestion should be based on considerations like total travel time and the diversity of transportation options, not how car commutes stack up against the impossible ideal of free-flowing traffic. Also, “system performance” should be defined more broadly than just roadway speed.

  1. Take bicycle and pedestrian safety seriously. Last year’s safety summits set a great precedent. Let’s have more of those, plus a separate safety performance measure for non-motorized transportation.
  3. Release a freight plan that respects cities. As the star-studded Freight Advisory Council meets to forge a long-overdue national freight plan, it should take into consideration the needs of cities and the unique challenges of moving large trucks in and through them without compromising walkability and safety for all users.
  5. Keep up the collaboration with HUD and EPA. Lisa Jackson has left EPA and Ray LaHood has left DOT. Congress has made the Partnership for Sustainable Communities’ budget into a blood sacrifice at the altar of deficit reduction, or at least, right-wing pandering. But we know that even if the excellent sustainability grant programs are temporarily halted, the cross-fertilization goes far beyond that. The new Location Affordability Index indicates these three agencies are still committed to policy that recognizes the inextricable link between housing and transportation. That needs to continue.
  7. Be an active player in the negotiation for a new bill. DOT laid pretty low in the lead-up to MAP-21 once Congress made it clear that without a funding stream, the president’s recommendations were dead on arrival. This time around, some members of Congress have made clear that they expect the reauthorization to address only the (exceptionally thorny) issue of money and more or less let the MAP-21 policies stand. DOT has the best vantage point from which to recommend needed changes to the arcane but important formulas that determine how funding is allocated. DOT should speak out for funding based on merit and innovation, not tired formulas that are based on politics instead of the pursuit of excellence.
  9. Address concerns about the deadline for Positive Train Control. The rail industry has spoken with one voice about the installation of new safety technology: Rail companies and transit agencies are on board with doing it despite the exorbitant cost, but it simply can’t be completed by December 15, 2015. The FRA acknowledges this, but says the deadline is out of their hands because it was set by Congress. Rather than pass the buck, the agency could work with Congress and industry to change the deadline.
(Any other 2014 tasks for U.S. DOT? Put ‘em in the comments.)

Congress has a long to-do list for 2014 too, as we see it — with items like finding a sustainable funding source for transportation, inserting policy reforms into the reauthorization, and restoring parity between tax benefits for drivers and transit riders (preferably by reducing the tax break for parking).

But these seven items are things U.S. DOT could do on its own. With any luck, Secretary Anthony Foxx will prove up to these challenges.

Is This Anti-Speeding PSA Too Real for America?


By Angie Schmitt, January 8, 2014

Wow. This public safety spot from New Zealand really brings home how decisions we casually make while driving can have grave consequences.

The PSA questions the whole idea that traffic violence is somehow unavoidable, the result of fate more than human error. In the United States the notion that traffic collisions are nothing but tragic “accidents” remains baked right into the language that most people use to describe these incidents.

We were alerted to this video by Erik Griswold, who asserted that the Federal Highway Administration and the Ad Council “would never allow” such a powerful public safety message about speeding to air here in the United States.

The Electricity-Generating Bicycle Desk That Would Power the World


By James Hamblin, January 8, 2014

Does one of your colleagues have a standing desk? Maybe even a treadmill desk? Do they talk about how it's adding years to their life, enhancing both productivity and the richness and clarity if their skin? Do they ask you about how uncomfortable it must be to sit all day? You want to wipe the smug superiority off their face once and for all? But not in a violent way. Too much at stake. This time it can't be violent.

How about beating them at their own game. Rising above is for people who can't compete. Show up at the office one day with this handmade bicycle desk that generates power — enough to run your computer or charge your phone, sure, but also enough to mill grain, churn your own butter, run an industrial sewing machine, or split a dang log. Watch it split a log.

Yes, it is loud. The designers are working on a version with rubber belts for an office setting. But then, how would people know you are splitting the office logs?

Pedal Power is a tiny start-up (two guys) based in Essex, New York. A few weeks ago, photos of their bike machine spread widely across the Internet. "With an efficiency of 97 percent, bicycle technology is nearly perfect," they wrote in their pitch. "So why do we use it only for transportation?"

Or, even more wastefully, for spin classes or SoulCycle. That is kinetic energy just floating up into ether and steam and sweaty song. It's like pouring crude oil down the drain. The Internet agreed. Last week their Kickstarter campaign reached its $10,000 goal. Today it's over $30,000. This week they begin work on open-source plans; the stated goal of the crowd-funded project.

I spoke with the co-founders of Pedal Power, Andy Wekin and Steve Blood last week. Wekin is the mechanical engineer, and Blood describes himself as "the computer programming guy" who handles most of the business side. I asked what they're going to do with all of that money.

"So, if you open source your design for the bikes," I say, "and everyone starts building their own, then you won't sell any?"

"Well, most people don't know how to weld," Blood says.

"It's an interesting business case. With a tiny little project like this, it's about getting out there. Andy and I both have inclinations toward the open-source world. Given that we're never going to be a business with a million-dollar marketing budget, we figured if we could open source the design and there were 50 or 100 people around the world who go and build it, they would all be ambassadors for us," Blood says. "So here's a way we can market this cheaply and with a lot of goodwill."

Last year a company called FitDesk kindly sent me a bicycle desk. I liked the concept and worked on it for a bit, but it was lightweight and wobbly. I could read on it for about 20 minutes before I started to get a headache.

Wekin and Blood thought of that.

"Our first prototype was considerably more wobbly than we expected." Now the machines are substantial.

Working at my bike desk also left me sweaty. Not immediately, and even though I wasn't pedaling hard, but surreptitiously sweaty. The kind of heat that comes on slowly, and then you have a meeting and everyone is asking if you're okay.

"Could one power a laptop in a coffee shop without sweating through their shirt?"

"Yep, not a problem."

Talking more to Wekin and Blood, it becomes clear that Pedal Power isn't really about selling a lot of bikes. It's also not even really about or exercise or workplace superiority. It's about our relationship with energy.

"I would love to see Pedal Power machines in every coffee shop in every city in the country," Blood said in their Kickstarter video, "So that people who are working on their laptops, working on their iPads, are at the same time generating their own power for those devices. I want to connect people to the energy they use. I want people to understand how precious energy is, and how hard it is to come by."

"If everyone in the United States could ride on one of these things and feel what it's like to turn on the TV, or flip on the light switch, or turn on a video game," Wekin told Fast Company, "I think it would change how we use energy. We self-flagellate sometimes about our carbon footprint, but we don't even realize what that means."

Chrissy Raudonis, also of Essex, uses Pedal Power to grind soy grains for her chickens every morning. "We have it in there on a coarse setting," she explains, "because chickens can't eat the whole grain." For her there's art in keeping the blow of incoming beans apace with her pedaling.
"It's easy to want to go too fast on it," she says, "and have grain just splattering everywhere. It makes me feel different about my relationship to the work that I'm doing, and makes me feel good that I can get some exercise and produce a valuable product."

"In the desk world," Welkin says, "There are people sitting at desks all day who would like to be more active, and that's one side aspect. That's one potential market for ours. But we feel ours is also doing useful work. That's the most important function. Developing nations and people who are living off the grid; small farms and business that are trying to be energy-independent. There's one group called Maya Pedal in Guatemala that is doing great work, taking old bikes from the U.S. and turning them into machines to help pump water, blend food. It's amazing work that they're doing. We'd love to be able to get our machines out there."

Wekin said they have already been contacted by a local government official in India who is interested in using their machines to pump water for irrigation.

They have also had parents semi-jokingly talk about making their kids pedal for their video game time.

The plans will be available in the coming months. Wekin and Blood are starting work this week. They also sold eight machines during the Kickstarter. Only eight? Well, they cost $2,400, plus shipping.

"We've been a little bit surprised by the media attention," Blood says. "We're just a couple of guys who live in a small town in upstate New York."

Yes, two guys who built a bicycle desk that helps people understand their place in the world. And splits logs.

Report calls L.A. a city in decline, warns of crisis in leadership


By David Zahniser, January 8, 2013
 Los Angeles is a city in decline, strangled by traffic, weighed down by poverty and suffering from "a crisis of leadership and direction," according to a report released Wednesday by a 13-member citizen panel.

The Los Angeles 2020 Commission, convened by City Council President Herb Wesson to examine the city's economic woes, offered a harsh assessment of civic decision-making, warning that Los Angeles is heading to a future where local government can no longer afford to provide public services.

The panel, chaired by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor, said Los Angeles lacks a coherent approach to economic development and trails other major cities in job growth. City government spending is growing faster than revenue and the pension benefits of city employees are at risk, said the report, titled "A Time For Truth."

"The city where the future once came to happen has been living in the past and leaving tomorrow to sort itself out," the report said.

Wesson, who is scheduled to appear with commission members at 9 a.m. to discuss the report, asked Kantor to convene the panel and choose its members nearly a year ago. "He and others felt there was value in having an independent look at the city’s problems," said Wesson spokesman Ed Johnson.
The panel plans to offer recommendations for solving the problems it has identified later this year.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who took office partway through the group’s deliberations, offered a statement on the report that did not directly address its assertions.

“We welcome the authors' ideas as we focus on growing our economy and reforming City Hall,” said Garcetti spokesman Yusef Robb. “We appreciate this report and look forward to the next one."
When it first convened, the panel promised to review ways to create jobs, expanding Los Angeles' economy and restore the city's financial stability. But the group went further, staking out positions on traffic congestion, poverty and the state of public schools.

The report warns the Los Angeles Unified School District is "failing our children and betraying the hopes of their hardworking parents." It says Measure R, the 2008 tax hike designed to pay for new rail lines, would leave traffic essentially unchanged. And it concluded that the city's push to have 10,000 police officers -- a benchmark reached by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- is "not real" because of the way the officers have been deployed in recent years.

A key contributor to the report was Austin Beutner, a commission member who served as Villaraigosa's "jobs czar" at City Hall. Some of the commission's members have been doing business at City Hall for years -- and had interests that made their way into the 2020 report.

Part of the report criticizes city leaders for taking eight years to approve a rail yard backed by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway -- a company that was represented by Kantor, a corporate lawyer. "Competitive ports have all made major improvements, while Los Angeles bent to the will of special interest groups and NIMBYism," said the report, referring to the concept known as "Not in My Backyard."

Another passage hit city leaders for taking three years to approve a $1-billion development plan sought by USC. "Not a sensible way to treat the city's largest private employer," the report states.
Thomas Sayles, USC's senior vice president, serves on the 2020 commission.

The report also warned that the city is "dramatically underinvesting" in the harbor, the airport and the Department of Water and Power. One of the panel's members is Brian D'Arcy, who heads the DWP's powerful employee union. Sayles served on the DWP commission until last year. And Beutner ran the DWP for nearly a year.

Air pollution killing up to 500,000 people in China each year, admits former health minister


By Malcolm Moore, January 8, 2014

 Air pollution killing up to 500,000 people in China each year, admits former health minister

A couple in protective masks walk under haze in Shanghai, China, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Chen Zhu, who is also a professor of medicine and a leading molecular biologist, is the most senior government official to put a human cost on the smog that regularly clouds Chinese skies. Until recently, any mention of deaths relating to pollution was strictly censored.

The equivalent of the population of an urban metropolis dies each year in China because of air pollution, according to the country’s former health minister.

Chen Zhu, who is also a professor of medicine and a leading molecular biologist, is the most senior government official to put a human cost on the smog that regularly clouds Chinese skies. Until recently, any mention of deaths relating to pollution was strictly censored.

Chen’s claim came in a commentary in December’s issue of The Lancet, the respected medical journal, co-written with Wang Jinnan, Ma Guoxia and Zhang Yanshen from China’s ministry of environmental protection.

“Studies by the World Bank, WHO, and the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning on the effect of air pollution on health concluded that between 350,000 and 500,000 people die prematurely each year as a result of outdoor air pollution in China,” Chen and his fellow authors wrote. He added that air pollution had become “the fourth biggest threat to the health of Chinese people” — behind heart disease, dietary risk and smoking — and that lung cancer was “now the leading cause of death from malignant tumours in the country”.

Chen, who was health minister until last year and remains a senior official on the standing committee of China’s legislature, said the country “now produces the largest number of major pollutants in the world” and accounted for half the world’s coal consumption.

The estimate that the authors quoted is lower than the 2010 Global Burden of Disease Study, also published in The Lancet, which estimated that airborne particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5) caused 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010 alone.

Chen said the Chinese government had now enacted “tough measures” in order to fight the smog. He said research showed that 200,000 people would be prevented from dying prematurely each year if cities reached targets set out in newly revised air quality standards.

Between 2002 and 2011 the incidence of lung cancer in Beijing near doubled.

Nationwide, deaths from lung cancer have risen 465 per cent in the past three decades. Smoking remains the leading cause, but the number of smokers is falling while lung cancer rates are rising.
Chen’s commentary is particularly notable because in 2007 Chinese censors removed a claim that air pollution caused 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths from a joint report between the World Bank and the Chinese government.

New Speed Limit on UK's Busiest Motorway Aims to Cut Air Pollution


By Laura Sinpetru, January 7, 2014

 The UK hopes a new speed limit on M1 will help reduce air pollution

The Highways Agency in the United Kingdom has announced plans to introduce a new speed limit on a portion of the country's busiest motorway, i.e. the M1.

Information shared with the public says that the motorway stretch targeted by this initiative extends over 32 miles (51.5 kilometers).

The new speed limit is to be imposed between junction 28, near Matlock in Derbyshire to junction 35a, north of Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

According to Click Green, the Highways Agency wants to have the maximum speed limit on this portion of the motorway reduced from the current national standard of 70 miles per hour (112.6 kilometers per hour) to 60 miles per hour (96.5 kilometers per hour).

Drivers would have to abide by this new speed limit all seven days of the week, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., the same source details.

Interestingly enough, the Highways Agency is to impose the 60 miles per hour maximum speed limit on said stretch of the M1 motorway not due to considerations having to do with road safety, but in order to reduce the amount of air pollution caused by vehicles traveling on this road.

More precisely, the Agency believes that, thanks to the new speed limit, both vehicle congestion and emissions will be significantly reduced.

This is because, as shown by several studies, stop/start traffic causes more air pollution than a smooth flow of vehicles does.

The Highways Agency details that, since the speed limit is merely intended to improve on local air quality, it will be lifted as soon as a drop in pollution levels is reported.

“To remove the speed limit, the air quality along the corridor and in the wider area would need to improve so that the impacts of the managed motorway – all lane running schemes operating at the national speed limit are no longer significantly adverse,” it writes in a statement.

Furthermore, “As soon as those impacts reduce to an acceptable level the speed limit will be lifted. For the purposes of this consultation, it should be assumed that the speed limit will need to be in place for several years.”

By the looks of it, this is the first time when the United Kingdom has ever considered imposing new speed limits in order to reduce air pollution.

Tracing Traffic Pollution as Texas Port Expands


By Dace Fehling, January 8, 2014

 A pickup truck equipped to detect pollution is a project of Rice University and the University of Houston

A pickup truck equipped to detect pollution is a project of Rice University and the University of Houston

At Rice University in Houston, environmental engineer Rob Griffin is working on a project that uses a pollution detection device as big as a pickup truck. Actually, it is a pickup truck.

The mobile pollution lab has been roaming the streets and highways of Houston since this fall. The project won’t be done for at least another year.

“We are going to have a lot of data. This is going to be an incredibly massive project,” Griffin told StateImpact.

In particular, his team hopes to learn about particulates: the microscopic fine particulate matter that can come from power plants that burn coal or trucks that run on diesel fuel.

A Lack of Data on Tiny Particles

Rob Griffin is an environmental engineer at Rice University

Rob Griffin is an environmental engineer at Rice University

Particulate matter has received increased attention from researchers who link it to cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranks some regions like Los Angeles as having too much of it in their air.

The EPA is tightening allowable limits and Houston is right on the cusp of being listed “non-attainment” says Griffin. But he adds there’s a problem with existing data used by regulators.
“There are areas in Houston where we don’t know what the particulate matter level is at all.” The pickup-mounted pollution detector could provide far more detailed data.

“What we’ve added is the capability of measuring how many particles are in the air, how big they are, and what they’re chemically made of.”

A Bigger Port of Houston Could Mean More Diesel Pollution

That data may become more critical to Houston and Texas because they soon be dealing with far more diesel trucks on their roads. The reason: container ships that once unloaded on the West Coast soon will be able to sail through the widened Panama Canal, reaching ports along the Gulf Coast.

A diesel truck passes a school near the Port of Houston

A diesel truck passes a school near the Port of Houston

The Port of Houston — already one of the busiest in the nation —- is spending billions to accommodate what could be significantly more and bigger ships and millions of tons of container cargo.

Much of that container cargo is expected to be hauled away by truck. Already, several thousand trucks a day make trips through the Port and the expansion could mean many more.

Which is why some people think Texas should look to California for ways to reduce truck pollution.
“They’re probably about a decade ahead of us in terms of what they’re doing,” said Adrian Shelley, the executive director of the group, Air Alliance Houston. He was among a group of community activists who recently toured the Port of Los Angeles.

What Los Angeles Did

Over a decade ago, Los Angeles found that increased container cargo at its port was great for the economy but bad for the air.
“What was happening in the early 2000s was the port was growing at a double digit pace, year in, year out. It got to the point there was a lot of pollution around here. And there were health studies showing diesel particulate matter was a cancer-causing agent,” said Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles.”Many of the environmental groups here in Southern California said to us, enough is enough.”

Trucks entering the Port of Los Angeles

Trucks entering the Port of Los Angeles

A big culprit was old trucks: diesel engines prior to 2008 lacked pollution control equipment. So the city created a “clean air action plan” that paid truck owners to replace older, dirtier-running trucks.
“Essentially what’s happened is we’ve turned over the fleet here in about four years. We went from 16,000 dirty trucks to about 10,000 clean trucks,” Sanfield told StateImpact.

Is Houston Different than L.A.?

But will such a program be needed in Texas?  The Texas Trucking Association contends that the situation Houston might face would be different than what Los Angeles dealt with years ago.
“That problem is going away,” said John Esparza, the truck group’s president. “If you take a good hard look at what’s operating in and out of the (Houston) port, what you are going to see is the majority of those trucks are 2008 and newer engines.”

Esparza said the focus should now be on those pre-2008 trucks. Texas already has a program somewhat similar to California’s called Drive a Clean Machine.

“The state offers a program that puts money into the pockets of those individuals who are willing to change or retrofit their trucks with these newer engines. That’s what we really have to focus on: getting the remainder of those trucks out there up to newer standards.”

Your In-Car Navigation System Is Already Watching You


By Eric Jaffe, January 8, 2013

 Your In-Car Navigation System Is Already Watching You

 Oregon recently launched pay-per-mile driving, and it's only a matter of time before others follow suit. Florida and Massachusetts have discussed the idea, and Rep. Earl Blumenauer recently proposed something similar to Congress. Still, at every level and every stage, there's a common objection to the idea of government tracking personal mileage: people find it too invasive.

Now, government surveillance is an especially touchy topic at the moment, and for good reason. But whether they realize or not, many people are already using navigation devices that watch what they do on the road. And unlike what the government would (or at least, should) do with location data in a mileage-fee system, many of the companies that run these devices share that information with third-party vendors.

In a report from December, the Government Accountability Office details the data-collection practices used by the country's leading in-car navigation suppliers [PDF]. GAO spoke with representatives from six car-makers (Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota), two portable GPS makers (Garmin and TomTom), and two app developers (Google Maps and Telenav). All ten collect location data from customers; nine share that data with outside companies to provide additional services.

The basic practice works like this: GPS signals identify the customer's location, which is sent back to the company over a network. From there, the information is often diverted to a third party to provide location-based services. These services can include basic directions, traffic updates, charging station locators, stolen vehicle tracking and roadside assistance, and restaurant alerts.

This shouldn't come as a great surprise to anyone, and the situation isn't all bad. None of the companies said they sold personal location information to marketing companies or data brokers. All of them said they obtain consent to collect the data (though often via a quick click that's easy to ignore) and all offer some customer control. All 10 companies also said they're taking steps to meet some industry recommended privacy standards.

But GAO cautions that meeting some standards isn't the same as meeting them all, and that many of the current practices could blind consumers from the true privacy risks. Some of the highlights:
  • Nine in-car navigation companies gave reasons for collecting location-based data that were broad or vague, and none explicitly stated that location data aren't collected for other purposes (perhaps leaving that option open).
  • None of the companies that retained location-based data offered customers the option of deleting it.
  • Companies varied widely in terms of how long they retained location data, with some admitting they kept it "longer than necessary."
  • At the time of the GAO inquiry, one third-party developer did not encrypt data it transmitted from a navigation app, including usernames and passwords, though it later said it made an independent decision to do so in the future.
  • All companies said they protect location data shared with third parties but none disclosed how they hold themselves accountable for this protection.
So your in-car navigation system is already watching you as much or more than a mileage-tracking system should. After all, any mileage system modeled on Oregon's will offer the option of an odometer only (i.e. fully non-trackable) option. True, many drivers want their in-car navigation to collect data so they can enjoy the services that information helps provide. Many would also enjoy the good roads (and better transit) that a pay-per-mile system should help provide. The argument against it, at least on privacy grounds, deserves a long look in the rear-view mirror.