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, February 5, 2014

Self-driving cars are coming, and they could change everything we know about cities


By Nat Bottingheimer, February 4, 2014

Autonomous, self-driving vehicles are getting more attention from the media, but little from transportation planners. Given the technology's potential impacts on our transportation network, it's time for planners to start thinking about it. 

As the technology advances, mainstream media now treat self-driving cars with seriousness and respect, as do business advisors like KPMG. Developers are designing self-driving car use into future retirement communities, while carmakers like Mercedes advertise passive "self-driving" safety features. Analysts predict that completely autonomous cars will be on sale by 2020.

Self-driving cars have the potential to reduce both car crashes and traffic congestion, and to use wasted time driving for work or entertainment. These are benefits usually attributed to transit; as a result, autonomous vehicles could strengthen arguments for designing for more cars in our cities and suburbs, instead of more pedestrians, cyclists, and placemaking.

Transportation planners aren't talking publicly about driverless cars
By contrast, online searches for "transportation planning" and "self-driving cars" turn up thoughtful, if skeptical reviews by urbanists Todd Litman and Jarrett Walker; a sober, academic summary of key issues by the Eno Center for Transportation; and a thorough debate from 2011 on the issue here on GGW; and an article from Governing Magazine that exemplifies the public preoccupation with regulating driverless cars rather than planning and policy issues.

There isn't a lot of evidence of transportation planners at public agencies giving serious attention to the matter, at least not publicly. A recent blog entry from Bacon's Rebellion also concludes that transportation planners are not paying attention. Though, to be fair, the topic was covered at a recent Florida Department of Transportation conference and the Transportation Research Board a few weeks ago.

Self-driving cars address many of the safety and travel efficiency objections that Smart Growth advocates often make about road expansion, or the use of limited street space. As a result, planners and placemaking advocates will need to step up their game.

They need to better define in what environments bike- and pedestrian-oriented designs are still appropriate even when we can solve our congestion problems with self-driving cars. They need to promote street and intersection that can work for bikes and pedestrians as well as for self-driving cars; and to make a strong cases for Smart Growth and TOD that are based on diverse benefits, not just on the ability to move people.

Capital planning decisions last for thirty years and beyond. The officials responsible for parking lot and garage building, transit system growth, bike lane construction, intersection expansions, sidewalk improvements, and road widenings need to analyze quantitatively how self-driving cars could affect their plans, and to prepare alternatives in case things change.

How could self-driving cars disrupt the planning process?
Here are two examples of situations where planners may need to adapt to self-driving cars:
Self-driving cars coupled with "smart intersections" that communicate with vehicles to let them pass without traditional stoplight timing could result in less congestion, but may speed up cars in places where cyclists and pedestrians are competing for space. The cars will be faster, but also safer to be around. The question is whether a more efficient auto network outweighs the negative impacts to other parts of the urban environment.

They may also make car use more competitive with bus transit in low-density settings and may erode the demand and need for transit (and paratransit). On the other hand, changed transit economics resulting from driverless buses could mean that extending transit into new areas will make more economic sense in the future than it makes today.

Ways to prepare for self-driving cars
So, what could the region's planners do now to anticipate the potentially sweeping changes that self-driving cars will cause? How can planners today insure that scarce infrastructure dollars are spent on things that might be less needed in the near future?

For example, if intersections can handle more vehicles per hour with self-driving cars than with human-driven cars, they may not need to be widened. Or if transit commuters can get to the station in a self-driving car, park-and-rides may not be necessary, because the car will just drive itself back home.

First, land use, highway, and transit planners should simply acknowledge the issue. They should begin to define how large different impacts may be, when those impacts are likely to occur, what the range of public responses will need to include, and when those public responses may have to start occurring.

Self-driving cars will change patterns of car ownership and travel. Planners need to examine how travel forecasting tools that are based on current patterns of car ownership and use will need to change to adapt to new statistical relationships between population, car ownership, trip-making, car-sharing, and travel patterns.

Because cars that can drive themselves won't stay parked all day, builders and regulators should think about how new parking structures should be designed for adaptive reuse if future parking demand declines.

State and local DOTs should measure how smart intersections could increase the number of vehicles that can use an intersection per hour, and how to design roads and intersections that work for self-driving cars, as well as pedestrians, bicyclists, and the creation of public spaces.

Finally, the region's transit agencies should study how driverless operations could affect operating costs for bus, rail, and paratransit services, and should update their long-range capital and operating needs forecasts to reflect what they learn.

Many aspects of the self-driving car world remain in doubt. That is not, however, a reason to avoid thinking about how to benefit from the capabilities that self-driving vehicles offer. Even if planners are only able to do general studies rather than detailed forecasts, that would still be a useful exercise. Understanding how to adapt our communities for the benefits and challenges of self-driving cars would be a huge step forward.

Light-sensitive buildings to reduce air pollution


February 5, 2014

Improving air quality is a major challenge facing all European countries, both in order to combat climate change as well as to minimise the direct effects of breathing polluted air on human health.
The European Union (EU)-funded research project LIGHT2CAT is investigating one technology which could help combat air pollution more effectively than previously possible. The technology involves making buildings and other built structures light-sensitive, mimicking the processes of plants.  

The basic idea is to mix titanium dioxide (TiO2) into the concrete used. TiO2 is a semiconductor which acts as a photocatalyst. “It is similar to the chlorophyll in plants,” explains LIGHT2CAT’s Project Coordinator, Dr Andrea Folli, of the Concrete Centre of the Danish Technological Institute. “TiO2 harvests sunlight, specifically the ultraviolet component. Once it is activated by light, TiO2 catalyses reactions involving atmospheric oxygen and water resulting in the degradation of hazardous chemicals that come into contact with it. So, for example, nitrogen oxides, a hazardous component in vehicle emissions, are oxidised into harmless nitrates just like those commonly found in water or soil,” explains Dr Folli.

Although this technique is not entirely new - it has been in use for some years – it has until now been subject to an important limitation: TiO2 is only activated by UV light and therefore latitude and geographical position highly influence its overall efficiency. “In southern Europe,” says Dr Folli, “the use of TiO2 could result in nitrogen oxide reduction as high as 40%. In the duller conditions of northern Europe, that figure drops to 15% - 25%.” The aim of LIGHT2CAT was to find a way to modify TiO2 in order to develop a material responsive to visible light rather than just UV light. This would help the implementation of the technology in less sunny climates and would also allow for indoor use, for example to provide antibacterial surfaces in hospitals, in an economically viable way without requiring UV lamps.

Currently just over halfway through its project duration, LIGHT2CAT has made promising progress in developing a modified TiO2 catalyst. “We now have five or six good candidates that we have tested in the lab. We know they are visible-light-responsive and we have submitted a patent application to protect them,” comments Dr Folli. “The next stage of the project will be to test them out in specially-built large concrete structures, mostly in Scandinavia.”

One key guiding principle of the LIGHT2CAT project is the need to ensure not just that the new catalysts work effectively, but also that the solution is cost effective. This is especially important because concrete itself is very cheap – which means that any material added to it could, in relative terms, have a massive cost implication. For this reason, the project team has worked to set up a ‘double-casting’ system in which the catalyst is added only to a 5mm surface layer of concrete, which is laid over a normal concrete sub-layer, thus minimising the additional cost.

Still with an eye to economic viability, the research team has also carried out tests on the lifetime effectiveness of the catalyst. “These early tests indicate that the lifetime of the catalyst, based on its use in a 5mm surface layer, is comparable to the expected lifetime of the structure itself, whether this is the surface of a building, a paving block, or other built structure,” says Dr Folli.

With a range of partners that include a major global producer of TiO2  as well as end-users in the cement industry and research institutions, LIGHT2CAT is expected to make important advances towards the goal of having our built environment act, in effect, as a giant air purifier. Engineered to mimic the effects of plants, the ‘concrete jungle’ could well turn out to have more in common with real vegetation than the original creators of that phrase could have ever imagined.

London hit by travel chaos as Tube staff goes on strike


By Julia Fioretti, February 5, 2014

LONDON (Reuters) - Millions of Londoners were caught up in commuting chaos on Wednesday, as Underground workers began the first in a series of strikes that Prime Minister David Cameron branded as "shameful."

As tempers frayed on packed buses and the capital's streets swarmed with commuters walking, running and cycling to work through gale-force winds, Mayor Boris Johnson and powerful union leader Bob Crow traded recriminations over the latest walkout.

London's Underground rail drivers plan to stay out for two days this week and another two next week, in a row over job cuts and modernization. The action has brought new calls to curtail the rights of unions to strike in key infrastructure areas.

Some three million people use the Tube system most days. Only a lucky few could cram themselves on the handful of trains that were running on Wednesday.

Cameron said on his official Twitter feed that the strike was "shameful, bringing misery to millions of Londoners."

Speaking later in parliament, he added: "I unreservedly condemn this strike. There is absolutely no justification for a strike. We need a modernized tube line working for the millions of Londoners who use it every day."

Police were out in force at major rail stations to keep order in the long lines that began building up at bus stops shortly after dawn. Even so, there were reports of jostling as tempers frayed.

Thousands of workers took to the roads on bikes. Boat services along the River Thames were running extra trips. The more athletic used the strike as a chance to run to work from the suburbs.

Fund manager Richard Marwood was among them. "To be honest, running to work is something I like to do most weeks anyway, but travelling under your own steam is particularly handy in circumstances like this," he told Reuters.

Lauren Sweeney, 26, a legal PA, said getting to her office would take her an extra 30 minutes, on top of her usual one-hour journey. She lives in Hornchurch, in east London, and works near Liverpool Street in the City of London.

"It's a hassle," she said. "Everyone has been talking about how they are going to get in to work for days."


The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) unions called the strike to protest against job losses and plans to close manned ticket offices as part of the modernization of the 151-year-old network. A second 48-hour strike is planned for February 11 to February 14.

RMT leader Crow said the strike was "rock solid" and had reduced the network to a skeleton service. The TSSA said service had been reduced by 70 percent.

"That is simply a reflection of the staff anger at attempts to bulldoze through cuts to jobs, services and safety which would reduce the tube to a dangerous, hollowed-out shell," Crow said in a statement.

He added that the unions remained available for talks with Mayor Johnson to resolve the dispute.
Johnson - who has accused the unions of "holding a gun to the heads of Londoners" - said he respected the rights of the trade unions to represent their workers, but the modernization plans had to go ahead.

The London Chamber of Commerce said repeated strike action could hurt London's image as a modern, efficient city and affect long-term investment prospects.

Based on figures from previous strikes in 2010, the business lobby said the two 48-hour strikes could cost the financial capital over 200 million pounds ($326 million).

Turnout at the vote for the strike was only 30 percent, according to Transport for London (TfL), the body that runs the network. Johnson has said he favors new rules permitting strikes only if at least 50 percent of a union's members take part in the voting.

Cameron's spokesman said the Conservatives, the larger party in Britain's coalition government, were considering putting unspecified but related measures in their manifesto for the next election in 2015.
"They are actively looking at this area with a view to the next Conservative manifesto," the spokesman added.

Commuting by bike is an L.A. adventure

Los Angeles has more bike lanes and cyclists than ever. But there are growing pains in a plan that could transform the city. 


 By Steve Lopez, February 4, 2014
 Riding the streets of Los Angeles
A bike rider using the bike lane comes out of the 2nd Street tunnel in downtown Los Angeles.

I pedaled to work Monday morning, which I had never done before because all things considered, I'd like to go on living a while longer.

Yes, I admit it. I'm afraid to bike city streets in Los Angeles.

That's partly because I had a nasty bike accident several years ago, resulting in a head injury that erased all memory of what caused the crash. And it's partly because riding a bike on streets jammed with vehicles, many of them piloted by distracted and incompetent drivers, seems like a terrible idea. I don't swim in shark tanks, either.
In 2009, 22 cycling deaths and 3,800 collisions involving bicycles were reported in Los Angeles County. That's according to the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. On Tuesday morning, I attended a court hearing in the case of a driver charged with hitting a cyclist and leaving the scene in September in Boyle Heights. The injured cyclist died after being struck by another vehicle. So why was I on two wheels Monday morning?

Because we now have more bike lanes and cyclists than ever, and I wanted to see whether that makes pedaling a little more inviting. The city of Los Angeles added 100 miles of bike lanes in 2013, bringing the total citywide to about 350. This year, the plan is to add 40 miles, with hundreds more in years to come.

But while cyclists are thrilled, motorists are steamed, especially where the addition of bike lanes has meant the subtraction of car lanes.

I asked Michelle Mowery, the city's bike coordinator, if she'd ride with me before we talked these things over. She brought an office assistant and the three of us rode downtown from my house in Silver Lake — a 30-minute commute, or about 10 minutes longer than it takes me by car.

I'm happy to say we suffered no major injuries, but it was a little hairy on Glendale Boulevard, which has no bike lanes. When Glendale turned into 2nd Street, we had a bike lane all the way into the tunnel under Bunker Hill, where stanchions marked a welcome three-foot separation between cars and bikes.

But the tunnel also happens to be a flash point in the battle between cars and bikes. There used to be two lanes of traffic through it in each direction, but in November, it became one in each direction for vehicles, and one in each direction for bikes.

The result?

Lots of traffic jams, particularly heading west through the tunnel in the evening rush, which is no longer a rush. I've gotten tangled up in it myself. I've given up on the tunnel and tried alternative routes out of downtown, but so has everybody else, and there's no easy way out.

I've heard countless complaints along the lines of, "What were they thinking?" or, "Did they bother to do a study first?" Motorists also note that while they are stuck sitting through red lights, for the sake of accommodating cyclists, they rarely see any cyclists.

The Department of Transportation insists that it studied a number of factors before laying down the bike lanes — there and elsewhere in the city. Though perhaps not to everyone's satisfaction.

But growing pains are an expected part of the rollout, said Mowery, who promises improvements and more bikes shooting through the tunnel as soon as more bike arteries are connected. She said the goal is a network in which, no matter where you are in the city, you are within a mile of a bike lane or bike-friendly road. In one of the more ambitious projects, her staff is designing protected bikeways as part of the proposed Figueroa Street transformation between downtown and USC, but that's got some businesses carping, so it's not a sure deal.

Mowery wants bikes to be a safe, viable option for as much as 5% of commuters eventually. As it is, only 1% commute by bike, 14% by transit, 3% by walking and the rest by driving.

As I see it, 5% isn't a big enough target, and the bicycle plan isn't grand enough in a city with mostly bikeable terrain, great year-round weather and a health-conscious population.

That's not Mowery's fault. She's dealing with infrastructure limitations and all the usual political realities. Too many motorists, merchants and homeowners stand in the way of a bold transformation in a city that desperately needs one, and no public official past or present has been brave enough to stand up to them for the greater good. But do they really think we can just go on adding cars to already clogged roads?

If the goal is to get more people to consider commuting by bike, we need more than painted white lines on the road and the rare buffer like the one in the tunnel. We need fully protected bikeways, so people of all ages can go for a ride without fear of getting hit by a bus.

We have dozens of major east-west and north-south thoroughfares in the San Fernando Valley and South Los Angeles, so why can't one or two become bikeways at fixed hours?

Why can't there be a no-parking day or two on one side of Olympic or Pico Boulevards, with the space turned over to cyclists?

In other cities, bike boulevards are becoming commonplace on residential thoroughfares. Stop signs, roundabouts, speed bumps and other impediments slow down and discourage automobile traffic and make it more convenient to travel by bike. But Los Angeles is missing out on the revolution.

"A lot of routes naturally lend themselves to" bike boulevards in Los Angeles, says Herbie Huff, a bike advocate and researcher at UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies.
So will I be commuting regularly by bicycle now?

I think I'll hold off until it's a little safer. But in the meantime, when I'm riding on four wheels, I'll make sure to share the road with those much braver souls on two.

Yes to an Arts District Subway Stop


February 3, 2014

  Yes to an Arts District Subway Stop

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - When it comes to making mass transit infrastructure decisions, two criteria tend to matter the most: cost, and how the project will impact current and future congestion.

With those factors in mind, it makes all the sense in the world to consider building one or two Red or Purple Line stations in the Arts District. Los Angeles Downtown News recently reported on the proposal, which was initiated by Metro CEO Art Leahy.

Speaking at a meeting of the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, Leahy said he has directed Metro staff to study building stops at First and Sixth streets near existing Metro tracks. His reasoning is logical: The Arts District is changing, with hundreds of millions of dollars in investment pouring into the community, and this is a chance to respond to the transformation. “We ought to be innovative and be willing to experiment,” he told Downtown News after the event. 

The proposal would appear to be feasible from a cost standpoint. As mentioned above, Metro tracks already come out of Union Station and run through the Arts District. That is why City Councilman Tom LaBonge proffered a variation on the idea four years ago. LaBonge noted that an aboveground platform that reaches the height of a railcar door could be poured. Sure, there would be some expense, but compared to securing rights of way, conducting extensive traffic studies and laying track, as occurs with new rail projects, the Arts District expenditure is relatively low.

More important, as Leahy and others mentioned, is the present and future activity in the Arts District.

The neighborhood has become one of the hottest communities in Los Angeles and is seeing a blitz of development. The 438-apartment One Santa Fe is rising east of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and Legendary Development is preparing to break ground this year on a nearby 472-unit rental complex. Other housing projects already exist throughout the area, including three buildings developed by the firm Linear City in the southern portion of the district. Being able to get these people from their homes to the center of Downtown, or other neighborhoods throughout the region, without climbing into a car has obvious benefits.

Then there is the biggest project coming to the area: In 2015, work will start on a $401 million replacement of the Sixth Street Viaduct. The project will improve connections between the Arts District and Boyle Heights, and include recreation areas on the banks of the Los Angeles River. 

All of this activity means that the district could wind up in a traffic crush. That is a serious concern, considering that stakeholders have already experienced the first pangs of congestion and parking shortages. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to be in front of a problem rather than play catch-up later?

This is why the Arts District rail station idea should be seriously considered. We’re pleased Leahy has broached the idea and we look forward to hearing the Metro staff’s report. We hope Leahy will remain a champion of the proposal.

London buses to go cashless


By Susan, February 5, 2014


Starting this summer, Transport for London (UK) will stop accepting cash fares on London buses. “Paying with Oyster or a contactless payment card is not only the cheapest option, but also speeds up boarding times at bus stops and reduces delays,” said Leon Daniels, managing director for TfL surface transport, in a statement.

Cash fares make up only 1% of bus trips; ten years ago about one in four bus riders paid with cash. The change will not affect the other 99% of bus passengers who already pay for their travel using Oyster cards, prepaid tickets, contactless payment cards, or concessionary tickets.

To address concerns raised in a series of public consultations, TfL is introducing the following measures:
  • “One more journey” feature on Oyster that will allow passengers with less than the single bus fare (currently £1.45) but who have a positive balance on their card to make one more bus trip before they have to add credit to their card
  • A review of the Oyster Ticket Stop network to see if additional locations can be identified, particularly in outer London
  • Refreshed guidance for all 24,500 London bus drivers to ensure a consistent approach when dealing with vulnerable passengers
“Paying with Oyster or a contactless payment card is not only the cheapest option, but also speeds up boarding times at bus stops and reduces delays,” Daniels said. “It costs £24 million a year to accept cash on London’s buses and by removing this option we will generate significant savings which, like all of our income, will be reinvested in improvements to the transport network.”

Overturned tanker shuts 134 East-2 South connector in Glendale


An overturned tanker closed down the eastbound 134 Freeway connector to the southbound 2 Freeway in Glendale on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014.

An overturned tanker closed down the eastbound 134 Freeway connector to the southbound 2 Freeway in Glendale early Wednesday morning. 

The incident was reported at about 3:30 a.m. According to authorities on scene, the diesel tanker on the truck remained intact, though an unknown quantity of milk spilled from the tanker as a result of the accident.

The wreck mangled some railing at the scene and reportedly knocked down a light pole.

 One lane was closed on the southbound 2 Freeway near the incident.

Officials did not give an estimated reopening time of the interchange.