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, February 18, 2014

Another Reason For California To Be Scared Shitless: Earthquake Storms


By Alissa Walker, February 18, 2014

Peggy Drouet: Note that the Raymond Fault is mentioned in the article. This is one of the faults that the 710 tunnel would cross. 


 Another Reason For California To Be Scared Shitless: Earthquake Storms

  A 3D rendering of the San Andreas Fault by NASA/JPL

Worrying about the Big One is so passé. What you should really be worried about are the Big ONES. Yep: chances are, it won't be a single large earthquake that takes California out, it will be multiple, large earthquakes. Or perhaps you'd prefer to use the official Sharknado-esque term: "earthquake storms."

This is the terrifying reality outlined in the new book Earthquake Storms: An Unauthorized
Here is a plot befitting a Michael Bay movie in development: A quake on the San Andreas Fault could trigger a domino-like effect that will unleash the power of SEVERAL MORE EARTHQUAKES on SEVERAL DIFFERENT FAULTS as multiple paths of destruction ripple their way toward dozens of densely populated metropolitan areas. 


A half-century ago, it was Stanford professor Amos Nur who first noticed the evidence of a phenomenon he called "stress transfer" when studying ancient earthquakes. Here's one way Dvorak says to visualize it:
Imagine that a giant zipper is holding together two tectonic plates. As the two plates tug against each other, a segment of the zipper suddenly slides open, but, as a zipper is apt to do, it snags occasionally. As the tugging continues, the zipper again slides, then snags again. Each time, the sliding zipper represents an earthquake and the tugging of the plates becomes concentrated at another place along the zipper.

Or consider another example—one that Nur prefers. Take a wide rubber band and cut a few short slits in it. As the band is stretched, each slit in turn opens up and the ends of the slits lengthen. The sequence that the slits open and by how much depends on how the stress pattern gets transferred and concentrated at new locations across the rubber band.
Instead of the single, catastrophic event followed by the period of relative stability that we usually think of when our tectonic plates let off some steam, Nur started looking for evidence of series of earthquakes traveling along a fault over a period of decades. He first found it in the ancient city of Mycenae, where this kind of earthquake storm might have been responsible for the abandonment of several Mediterranean societies, triggering the end of the Bronze Age. 

There was even more contemporary evidence in Turkey: a series of seven earthquakes erupting one after another along a 600-mile-long segment of the North Anatolian Fault:
In 1939, after two centuries of quiescence, the North Anatolian Fault, which runs across northern Turkey roughly parallel to the coastline of the Black Sea and which is a boundary between the African and Eurasian plates, came to life. By 1999, 13 major earthquakes had occurred. What is even more remarkable, 7 of the 13 ruptured the North Anatolian Fault in a systematic way: Each successive earthquake ruptured a segment of the fault that was immediately west of the previous earthquake.
Nur saw the same types of patterns in Italy and China: Seismic activity released along a network of faults, over time. But there's one area that is currently of most concern to seismologists when it comes to potential earthquake storms. Due to both the size and the geography of California's San Andreas Fault—which is widely considered to be the most overdue for some serious slippage—a single earthquake on that one fault could actually start a chain-reaction of devastation up and down the coast:
In particular, in southern California, the Cucamonga Fault, which runs west from Cajon Pass and along the southern base of the San Gabriel Mountains, could rupture simultaneously with or soon after a major earthquake along the San Andreas Fault. And that would lead to stress changes along the Raymond Fault—which is at the western end of the Cucamonga Fault—and from that to other faults in the Los Angeles region.

In northern California, the Calaveras Fault splits off the main strand of the San Andreas just south of San Juan Bautista. So a rupture of the northern San Andreas Fault could lead to a rupture of the Calaveras—or the Hayward or the Greenville or the San Gregorio Fault.

All this is to emphasize an important point: The exact sequence of future ruptures, and hence major earthquakes, along the San Andreas and its many adjacent faults cannot be predicted—which is why Jordan and others issued probabilities in their reports. The series of quakes would not disseminate out in a necessarily coherent direction.
But one thing is certain: The last 100 years in California—which happen to correspond to a period of rapid urban growth—have been a period of seismic calm. That cannot continue.
The idea of stress transfer makes sense—of course earthquakes could trigger other quakes since they, like, move the earth—but these theories could change the way we can think about safety. The idea that it likely won't be the San Andreas that will cause the most damage, but a "local" fault in your own neighborhood, could help create awareness and change development. 

I imagine something like a city-wide campaign to get to know your nearest fault and learn how it might react. Plus, exploring the behavior of earthquake storms could aid us in one possibly helpful way: It could help cities see patterns and try to predict (somewhat) where and when more earthquakes are coming. 

The entire story is fascinating and makes me want to pick up the book—not to mention double the size of my earthquake preparedness kit. [Salon]
Biography of the San Andreas Fault by John Dvorak, that's been excerpted over at Salon.

Maybe This Is How You Sell Electric Cars to 'Real America'


By Sarah Goodyear, February 18, 2014

If you've been watching the Olympics at all, you've probably caught the new ad for the 2014 Cadillac ELR. It's the one with the crisp, arrogant guy striding around his fabulous modernist house somewhere in Southern California. As the camera follows him through his deluxe environment, complete with attractive, industrious children, the guy (well-played by actor Neal McDonough) delivers a monologue about American exceptionalism with a snappy smugness that you'll likely find either repellent or refreshing.

The ad's ideological core is not only pro-American, it's anti-foreign, an explicit rejection of the downright European notion that life takes place not only at work, but also at home, and in the places in between.

We have all these fabulous things, our hero tells us – the palm trees, the sprawling private home, the pool, the pristine white interiors, the Cadillac – because we're not distracted by things other frivolous cultures fritter away their time on, like coffee. And walking. And vacations.

"Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stroll by the café, they take August off. Off." He raises an eyebrow. "Why aren't you like that? Why aren't we like that? Because we're crazy hard-working driven believers, that's why. Those other countries think we're nuts. Whatever."

This guy doesn’t need to stop at a freaking café. He doesn’t even need to stop to make eye contact with his wife and children, who seem just as happy to ignore him as well. He's got better things to do, just like the Wright Brothers and Muhammad Ali. He's the proud member of a nation, he tells us, that went up to the moon and then left because it got bored.

"As for all the stuff," he says as he fires up his $75,000 electric vehicle, "that's the upside to only taking two weeks off in August. N’est-ce pas?" That last line delivered with a proudly smarmy wink.

You have to give Cadillac credit. The ad is a shrewdly self-aware, beautifully produced entry in a tradition of French-bashing that goes back to Shakespearian times and has been revived repeatedly by U.S. politicians who want to make sure their constituents understand the dark side of croissants and universal, humane health care. Luxury electric vehicles may be a novelty, but disdaining the French for enjoying life too much? Plus ça change.

Obama takes next step in fuel efficiency drive


February 18, 2014



Obama takes next step in fuel efficiency drive


Washington (CNN) – President Barack Obama took the next step on Tuesday in his administration's effort to cut emissions and reduce oil use through better fuel economy on the nation's highways.
Speaking at a Safeway distribution center in Maryland, Obama instructed environmental and transportation agencies to get to work on the next round of gas mileage requirements for big trucks.

"Five years ago, we set out to break our dependence on foreign oil," Obama said. "Today, America is closer to energy independence and we have been in decades.

"For the first time in nearly 20 years, America produces more oil here at home than we buy from other countries. Our levels of dangerous carbon pollution, that contributes to climate change, have actually gone down even as our production has gone up," he said.

Obama's plan builds on a 2011 regulation that set the first-ever fuel standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks for model years 2014-18. It aims to save some 530 million barrels of oil and cut emissions by roughly 270 million metric tons.

Now, the Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency - as planned - must develop the next phase of targets for those vehicles for post-2018 model years.
Obama wants them in place by March 2015.

"What we were clear about what was, if you set a rule, a clear goal, we would give our companies the certainty that they needed to innovate and out-build the rest of the world," he said. "They could figure out if they had a goal that they were trying to reach, and thanks to their ingenuity and our work, we're going to meet that goal."

The effort does not require congressional approval.

Obama has facilitated aggressive increases in auto and truck fuel efficiency since taking office. Industry in most cases has responded with cleaner-burning engines, lighter and more aerodynamic designs and models that appeal to consumers hungry for fuel savings.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, praised the latest announcement.

"Strong heavy truck efficiency standards will not only cut carbon pollution that fuels climate change, but also save consumers money every time they go to a store and save truckers money at the pump," Beinecke said.

Trucking industry leaders supported the latest proposal as well.

Congressional Republicans called the announcement old news, and urged Obama to join them in working on legislation that would create jobs.

"Surely in the past 20 days, the President could have found time to pick up his pen and respond to Congress," said Rory Cooper, communications director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. "It's abundantly clear that President Obama is not interested in working with Congress to solve the problems facing working middle class families."

In his State of the Union address, Obama promised that 2014 would be a "Year of Action" and he would take steps through executive action in various policy areas that do not need congressional backing.

In Maryland, he touted actions he's taken since that speech in January, including raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, ordering a review of job training programs and creating a new way for low-wage workers to save for retirement.

Heavy-duty vehicles, including trucks, buses and vans, rank behind cars in the production of greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, according to the Transportation Department.
Obama chose to make the latest announcement at Safeway because the company "has been a leader in improving trucking efficiency," a White House official said, adding that it has invested in "cleaner" technologies, improved aerodynamics, more efficient tires and larger capacity trailers.

This little green laser could save bicyclists’ lives


By Holly Richmond, February 18, 2014


It’s a little counterintuitive, but turning isn’t as dangerous for cyclists as going straight. In nearly 80 percent of car-bike accidents, the cyclist was simply traveling straight ahead when a driver turned into the cyclist’s path or crossed the bike lane when pulling out of a side street.

British student Emily Brooke didn’t merely stop at the “Oh shit” part of learning this factoid — she actually created a bike light to fix things. (That’s more than we can say.) The Blaze Laserlight is a front LED headlight that also shines a neon green bike symbol onto the ground 16 feet in front of the bicyclist. That way, drivers know someone’s in their blind spot and hopefully won’t turn into a cyclist’s path.

The Blaze Laserlight raised more than double its goal on Kickstarter in December 2012, and the light just started shipping worldwide. At $200 a pop, they aren’t cheap, but they’re well made, rechargeable, and hand-assembled in the U.K. And they could save your life.

Editorial: Make the Ventura Freeway safe for mountain lions too

The big cats essentially live on an island — hemmed in by freeways and the ocean — and their isolation imperils their long-term survival. A wildlife crossing is needed.


February 18, 2014
 Mountain lion kitten
 P-32 is one of three mountain lion kittens born in the Santa Monica Mountains in December that appear to be the result of inbreeding.

Los Angeles may be densely inhabited and full of traffic, but residents here are lucky to live near wild open spaces large enough to sustain mountain lions. About a dozen adult mountain lions live, mate and hunt deer and small prey on a patchwork of public and private land in the Santa Monica Mountains stretching from Point Mugu to the Sepulveda Pass. But these big cats essentially live on an island — hemmed in by freeways and the ocean — and their isolation imperils their long-term survival.
Over a decade, the National Park Service has put GPS collars on about 30 mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, giving biologists new insight into how the area's last large carnivores survive on the urban edges. The research has shown that L.A.'s roads and sprawl not only make it nearly impossible for young male cats to move into new terrain to avoid clashes with larger males, but also that they lead to inbreeding.

Indeed, three kittens born in the Santa Monica Mountains in December were the result of inbreeding. Of the six litters tracked by the Park Service in recent years, half were produced by the father mating with his offspring. Inbreeding over time can lead to heart problems and defective sperm, and threaten the viability of the local population. Last fall, a mountain lion from the north that could have introduced new genetic material was struck by a car and killed while trying to cross the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills. In the last decade, biologists have tracked just one mountain lion that was able to make it across the 101. The road is considered the biggest barrier to restoring the genetic diversity that the mountain lions need.

The solution is to build a wildlife crossing at the Ventura Freeway, which would benefit many kinds of animals but especially mountain lions. For years, the Park Service has pushed for a $10-million, 13-by-13-foot tunnel at Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills. This is the rare stretch where there is parkland on both the north and south sides of the freeway, which is required for a wildlife crossing. But the agency's applications for federal funds have been rejected in favor of other projects. Now, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy will consider next week whether to provide $200,000 for Caltrans to study the options for a crossing in Agoura Hills, which could include a tunnel or a more expensive path over the freeway.

Whether over or under, it's clear that a crossing is needed to help the mountain lions survive and thrive. One of Los Angeles' greatest assets is its proximity to nature, and it's amazing that large predators can still roam the hillsides of the nation's second-largest city. State and local leaders need to invest the money to ensure that mountain lions remain in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, February 18, 2014

Short week. There’s some highlights, including BIKE PROM!
  • Wednesday -Community of Friends invites you to a meeting to learn about Lorena Plaza, a proposed mixed-use development that will be comprised of affordable housing and commercial/retail. The development would be constructed on the northeast corner of 1st Street and Lorena Street, in Boyle Heights. The meeting will be held in English and Spanish. For more information, click here.
  • Wednesday, Thursday – Metro Board of Directors Committee meetings are where sausage are made. Mmmm. Sausage. Last month, I said the agendas looked dull. They weren’t. I was totally wrong! This month the agendas seem less exciting than last month’s with highlights including more fare gate motions, changes in public comment and, my favorite, a motion to modernize online access to Metro forms and meetings. Read the agendas, here.
  • Thursday - Artists June Edmonds and Jose Lozano worked with 22 youth and several youth mentors to collect community stories about health and visions for Health in South LA.  They created this series of four murals on canvas. This project was funded by the USC Good Neighbors Program and by the California Endowment and Building Healthy Communities South LA. The four murals are part of a series of 17 murals installed throughout South L.A.  For more information, click here.
  • Saturday –  That was the year “My Heart Will Go On” (and various remixes) flooded the airwaves, Google began helping us find what we were looking for, and Bill Clinton denied some stuff. 1998 also marks the birth of LACBC, making 2014 the year that we celebrate our Sweet 16! Join the LACBC for one of their biggest fundraisers of the year at BIKE PROM. For more information, click here.
  • Sunday - Please join LACBC’s West Bike Ambassadors Kevin and John on a leisurely bike ride through the Venice and Mar Vista neighborhoods of Los Angeles! The ride will be approximately 8 to 10 miles and we will meet and end at the Mar Vista Farmer’s Market. For more information, click here.
  • Mark Your Calendars! On February 25, LongBeachize is hosting a mayoral forum for the top four candidates for mayor. On March 15, Streetsblog L.A. is holding a party celebrating the Streetsie win of Paul Backstrom.

Metro’s hardest seat to get


February 13, 2014


 Despite a city-owned public toilet, Metro gets complaints of public urination at Pershing Square station.

As the saying goes, “When you gotta go, you gotta go.” That’s true whether you’re in a restaurant, a concert hall or riding a subway. But, despite public demand, installing restrooms at Metro stations is no easy business, according to the transportation agency, which recently undertook a study of the issue.

“We want to ensure that our customers have a great riding experience and have resources when a need arises, but there are a lot of elements that have to be factored in,” says Debra Johnson, Metro’s interim chief operating officer.

Although the agency has been grappling with the issue of public restrooms for years, Metro’s Board of Directors ordered a new look in November after residents near the Pierce College Station of the Orange Line busway in the San Fernando Valley complained that some riders were urinating in public. Among other things, Metro installed a video camera and monitored the area for 30 days, but couldn’t corroborate those complaints.

At the same time, the agency also was asked to take a look at the potential need for publicly-accessible restrooms at subway, light rail and bus rapid transit line stations throughout the system. The bottom line, according to a report that will be presented to the board later this month: Increasing the number of restrooms would not only be costly but could create crime problems unless security is enhanced at each location.

Currently, Metro maintains public toilet facilities at Union Station, the El Monte Bus Terminal and the Harbor/Gateway Transit Center—transportation “hubs” where staffers are present at all times. According to employee observations, restrooms in the busy Union Station were used consistently throughout the day. At the El Monte facility, five or fewer customers lined up during peak hours to use the free-standing automated public toilet, with less use at the Harbor/Gateway center.

The report notes that Metro employee restrooms are in place at Red Line subway stations but are opened to the public only in emergencies, as determined by Metro personnel.  Generally, the report said, “customers are informed no public toilets are available,” even though it’s not uncommon for Red Line riders at the large 7th Street station to ask about the availability of public restrooms.

The agency, in its report, acknowledged the unpleasant realities that confront customers at some stations.

“Metro’s custodial staff report on-going issues with public urination and defecation at several of the rail stations as well as inside many of the station elevators,” the report said, adding that “other areas of public urination include the top side of subway station entrances such as Pershing Square, where loitering is common.”

But the agency pointed to the complexities of opening new restrooms with a cautionary tale of what happened when The W Hotel, located above the Hollywood and Vine Red Line station, agreed to provide a street-level public toilet as part of their contract with Metro.

According to Metro, the facility “became a magnet for the area’s homeless population which impacted the use by Metro’s customers. While open, the hotel developer was expending an average of $250 per day on paper products and had to replace three sinks, three mirrors and five toilet seats due to damage.” The restroom was labeled a public nuisance and was shuttered less than 4 months after its opening.

Johnson, Metro’s interim operations chief, notes that these kinds of problems are not limited to Metro operations.  “It’s something that plagues us in today’s society considering the amount of people who don’t have access to facilities,” she said. “You could be walking around a city street and step around a puddle of urine. Collectively, I think there is an issue that needs to be addressed holistically.”

There’s also the price to consider. According to her department’s report, individual hard-wall toilets cost up to $700,000 to install and require regular stocking, maintenance and cleaning. In December, Robin Blair, the agency’s planning director, estimated that it would cost $70 million annually to maintain restrooms at every station. The agency estimates that the free-standing automatic public toilets would cost about $600,000 for two units, plus considerable custodial costs.

Then there are the public safety issues that come with adding restrooms to the system, thus creating a venue for illegal activity. “If you go anywhere in the world where people have tried this,” Blair said, “all of your problems are in the restrooms—crime, muggings, shooting up—all sorts of human degradation.”

“It’s up to the Board [of Directors] to decide what direction to take,” Johnson said. “For staff, our first and foremost mission is to ensure a safe environment for the riding public.”

No rider, of course, would argue with that goal. But a good number of them, like Renee Briddle, 38, who commutes 2 hours from Long Beach through downtown Los Angeles on the Blue and Red lines, think the status quo stinks.

Briddle was standing next to a small pool of urine the other day in a Civic Center station elevator. “It smells like that all the time,” she said, adding that such conditions are not uncommon, as Metro itself admits. One time, Briddle confided, she herself had an accident during one of her long commutes. “We need bathrooms,” she said, before hurrying on her way.

How Vancouver's Olympic Legacy Is Shaping the Future of Transit


By Frances Bula, February 18, 2014

How Vancouver's Olympic Legacy Is Shaping the Future of Transit

VANCOUVER, Canada — If the $50 billion Sochi Olympics have raised the specter of runaway public spending on infrastructure, this Canadian city offers an alternative.

One of the legacies of the Olympic Games held here four years ago is a light rail line that has become something of an international model in transit circles. The sleek Canada Line runs from the suburb of Richmond into the heart of Vancouver, with a spur to the airport. Since it opened in 2009, it’s picked up more riders than expected — 112,000 per day or about 40 million per year. The Canada Line also has come with predictable costs, thanks to the innovative financing scheme that built it and continues to sustain it today.

The Canada Line was the first transit project in North America to use a public-private partnership, or "P3," in almost every way these partnerships are possible. A private firm was responsible for designing, building and partially financing the 12 mile line. The firm also is responsible for maintaining the infrastructure and operating the service until 2040.

It’s not uncommon for private companies to take some mix of those five jobs in projects such as toll roads, hospitals and jails. But to assign all five of them to a private contractor in the context of a transit project was unusual. Today, light rail projects In Edmonton, Denver and the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. are moving ahead with Vancouver as their model.

The decision to build the Canada Line in this way was controversial. Critics, especially unions, said it was a form of privatization that delivered no real benefits, financial or otherwise, to the public. Many others pooh-poohed the projections of 100,000 riders a day, saying those rosy forecasts rarely came through. Local politicians balked twice at approving the line before finally squeaking a yes vote through.

Four-plus years after railcars began to roll, most of those fears have melted away. To riders, the Canada Line is seamlessly linked to Vancouver's other two "SkyTrain" metro lines run by the regional government agency TransLink. Passes and tickets are good on any line. The trains are driverless and automated, like the other SkyTrain lines. The only visible difference is the Canada Line's cars are bigger and configured differently inside than those on the other SkyTrain lines. And Canada Line staff wear distinctive green and blue jackets not seen elsewhere on the system.

Few people seem to recognize that the Canada Line is operated by a private company, and even fewer seem to care. There have been some glitches, especially during construction. But by and large, the Canada Line has succeeded at demonstrating a new way for cash-strapped cities to add to their transit networks.

How it's structured

As is often the case in P3 deals, the private-sector partner on the Canada Line is a consortium made up of many parties. The partners are SNC-Lavalin (a Montréal-based engineering and construction company), the Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec (a credit union), and B.C. Investment Management Corporation (which manages billions in British Columbia pensions). Their consortium is called InTransitBC. A subcontractor called Protrans BC (a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin) handles ongoing maintenance and keeping the trains running on time.

InTransitBC invested $720 million Canadian dollars (about $670 million U.S.) in the deal. That’s 40 percent of the project’s total price tag of $2.05 billion ($1.87 billion U.S.). The rest of the money came from the federal, provincial and city governments, as well as TransLink and the Vancouver Airport Authority. In exchange for InTransitBC’s upfront investment, TransLink pays the consortium mortgage-type payments to cover the debt repayment along with money for operations and maintenance. Last year, that payment amounted to $104 million. It goes up slightly each year.

Canada Line trains are driverless and fully automated, like the rest of Vancouver's SkyTrain system.
Canada Line trains are driverless and fully automated, like the rest of Vancouver's SkyTrain system. (Atomic Taco/ flickr / CC / no changes) - See more at: http://citiscope.org/story/2014/how-vancouver%E2%80%99s-olympic-legacy-shaping-future-transit#sthash.1PBTpTB2.dpuf

Those payments are calculated based on InTransitBC meeting certain service performance goals. For example, 70 percent of the payment is based on successfully running about 40 trains per hour. Another 20 percent of the payment is based on maintaining general repair and cleanliness. So far, InTransit BC has hit all of its performance targets.

Service also gets good ratings from its closest observers — transit riders. In independent customer surveys, the Canada Line consistently rates higher than the other SkyTrain lines on all kinds of measures: frequency of service, feeling safe from crime, absence of graffiti and litter, and reliability. The only area it did worse was in the courteousness of staff. And although more than 50 percent of riders complained about overcrowding, that was true for the other lines as well.

When asked how Vancouver’s experience with the Canada Line is going, Doug Allen, CEO of InTransitBC, says those performance metrics are what matters. “If you’re meeting all of your targets from an operational perspective, and you’re meeting the public’s need based on their response, that’s success,” Allen says.

Risk and reward

In the P3 model, TransLink not only transfers responsibilities to InTransitBC. It also transfers risk. There’s risks involved at every step of a rail project. A design flaw can later cause cost overruns or delays at the construction phase. A construction flaw can later create difficulties with maintenance or operation. Traditionally in Canada, the public sector has owned all of those risks. Authorities were stuck with whatever system they got, often at a higher cost than expected.

On the Canada Line, however, the private sector owns most of those risks. InTransitBC designed, built, operates and maintains the system. So there’s no one else to blame if problems occur. Matti Siemiatycki, a University of Toronto professor of geography and planning, says this is something Vancouver got right. Siemiatycki has assessed a wide range of Canadian P3s, including the Canada Line. "One of the things they did really astutely is the type of risks they transferred,” Siemiatycki says.

One risk TransLink didn’t transfer was ridership risk. InTransitBC isn’t penalized much if ridership falls or doesn’t rise as much as expected. So the operator doesn’t exert pressure on TransLink to get routes or schedules changed in order to meet ridership goals. “It means the line is extremely well integrated into the system,” Siemiatycki says.

Another key point: While InTransit BC effectively controls the Canada Line until 2040, the public sector retains ownership of the asset.

None of this was easy to negotiate. The woman who ran the setup of the project for TransLink, lawyer Jane Bird, says it's a tough job for the public sector to figure out what exactly to demand of the private partner. And it requires thinking about projects differently.

"Governments spend most of their life specifying," says Bird, who is now overseeing the renovation of Canada’s diplomatic mission in London. "All of the engineering profession is trained and culturally attuned to that, saying the chair should be green and it should be this high and it should have four legs." Instead, in a P3, government officials need to think about what they want to achieve, and leave it to the private company to figure out how to get there.

'What are we really trying to accomplish?'

For the Canada Line, Bird recalls that the government partners set out to specify details such as  how many luggage racks there should be on each train. But InTransitBC’s designers pushed back. They argued that passengers don't like luggage racks because they want to be close to their bags. So the trains were designed with cantilevered seats for under-seat bag storage, as well as large open spaces where riders can stand next to their luggage.

"It takes more time than it would appear at first blush to figure out what the goal is," Bird says. "What are we really trying to accomplish?"

One regret Bird has relates to communications during the construction phase of the project. To build a downtown tunnel, one innovation InTransitBC came up with was to use the "cut and cover" method of construction, rather than boring the whole line. It saved hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Canada Line contractor used "cut and cover" tunneling techniques, saving millions of dollars but outraging some business owners and commuters. 

But it also caused huge public outrage. Only after the bid was announced did the public become aware of the trench that would temporarily snarl city traffic. Anger over construction spurred public protests and lawsuits from businesses. Many people turned against the project, at least in the construction phase.

In retrospect, says Bird, "I would have spent more time talking to the public and elected officials about how innovation works. There were all sorts of good public reasons to do (cut and cover)."
One thing about the construction nobody complained about: It went faster than expected. The Canada Line opened three months ahead of schedule.

Value for money?

There's still some debate about whether any of this saves money. The P3 structure was sold as a way to save taxpayer dollars in the long run, offering what the industry calls "value for money." But those calculations are complex and based on debatable assumptions.

Before the project was built, a TransLink subsidiary determined that the public would save $92 million ($84 million U.S.) overall, compared to the cost of doing the project the traditional way. That assessment, however, is based on assigning $260 million to all those risks InTransitBc was assigned — risks that may or may not actually cost the company real money. Take that risk premium away, and traditional construction penciled out $141 million cheaper.

Siemiatycki notes that P3s often appear on paper to be a better value because of these risk premiums. But he says there is often "no publicly available data to determine whether such large premiums are empirically warranted." After reviewing "value for money”"reports from Vancouver and other Canadian P3s, Siemiatycki concluded that P3s "are an expensive way of delivering infrastructure." Then again, cost overruns often made traditional projects expensive, too.

It will take many more years to draw a definitive conclusion on the Canada Line. Four years in, it’s largely viewed as a success by most experts who’ve looked at it as well as the people who ride it every day. But the stations are still new, the escalators to the platforms are still young and the train cars still have their gleam. 2040 is a long time away.

One Key Thing That Sets the U.S. Apart From Other Cycling Cultures


By Sarah Goodyear, February 18, 2014

It's been a long, hard winter in the United States, and in cities like New York, even the most intrepid cold-weather cyclists have been thwarted by icy roads and piles of slush.

To psych us up for warmer days to come, Clarence Eckerson of Streetfilms combed through his extensive archive to put together a cyclist highlight reel. It includes scenes from Copenhagen. Groningen in the Netherlands, New York, Minneapolis, Hangzhou, China, Washington, D.C., and several others.

See website for the video.

The short video amply demonstrates the universal appeal of biking. But Eckerson notes, one dramatic contrast is evident as soon as you watch just a few clips. In countries where bicycling is a routine form of transportation, with widespread, well-connected, and protected infrastructure, people rarely wear helmets. In U.S. cities, where automobiles still dominate and bike lanes are a relative novelty, the majority of people on bikes sport head protection. (There are other differences in riding style that you will see as well.)

Watching the film reminded me of a conversation I had a few years back with a Dutch friend who was living in New York for a couple of years. She told me that when she first arrived in the city, she was very perplexed to see so many people on bikes wearing helmets and wondered if the city's residents were particularly inept on two wheels. "I wanted to ask, do you all fall down a lot when you are riding?" she told me.

It didn't take long for her to figure out why so many New Yorkers are helmet users. They pedal in perpetual fear of being knocked over by the cars that speed by and constantly encroach on their space. I know, because I have ridden these streets all my life. The only place in the entire state of New York where I feel okay without a helmet is Fire Island, where no cars are allowed. My Dutch friend bought her first ever to use while she lived here.

There are several ways to crunch the numbers on Dutch cycling injury and fatality rates, and the helmet debate will likely never end. Indeed, the Dutch Road Institute for Safety makes a case for increased helmet usage, especially among children. But as it is, helmet use among everyday riders is almost nonexistent, and yet serious injuries and fatalities for cyclists in the Netherlands are very low, as are all road fatalities (total traffic-related fatalities are 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants per year, as opposed to 10.4 in the U.S.). The average Dutch person travels 2.5 kilometers per day by bike, and bicycles are used for nearly a quarter of all journeys there - and 35 percent of trip under 7.5 kilometers.

Will cities in the United States ever be a place where you can ride comfortably without protective headgear? Is that something the nation should even be aspiring to? The Danes and the Dutch sure make it look nice.

A Map of the World's Most Dangerous Countries for Drivers


By Derek Thompson, February 18, 2014

 A Map of the World's Most Dangerous Countries for Drivers

Driving a car is safer than ever for the simple reason that cars are safer than ever—thanks to features like seat belts, air bags, and electronic stability control. That's one reason why deaths per miles driven have plummeted around the developed world in the five decades since Ralph Nader published Unsafe at Any Speed. In fact, the U.S. used to be the safest country for drivers among all OECD countries in the early 1970s. By the middle of the last decade, the rest of the world had caught up.

This week, a new study (pdf) from the Transportation Research Initiative at the University of Michigan looks at global driving fatalities with up-to-date World Heath Organization data. Around the world, deaths in a fatal car crashes are 1/6th as likely as dying from a common health problem, like heart disease. In the U.S., where road crashes account for just 2 percent of deaths, individuals are 13 times more likely to die from cancer.

Here is the map of driving fatality rates per capita, with the most deadly countries (led by Namibia) in red and the safest countries (led by the Maldives) in green. The world average is 18 fatalities from a car accident per 100,000 individuals. The U.S. is just under that figure—at 14, compared to Australia (7) and the UK (5).

The study goes on to map fatality rates from cancer, which shows an opposite picture, with the lowest rates in Africa and the highest rates in Europe. In fact, 24 of the 25 countries for with the highest per capita cancer fatalities are in Europe. The ten nations with the highest rates are Hungary, Croatia, Denmark, Slovenia, Italy, San Marino, Japan, Latvia, Estonia, and the Czech Republic.

This isn't a morbid point so much as a truism: The data of death is really more like a picture of the way we live. It is lower-income and developing countries where auto fatalities post a sizable threat to individuals, compared to heart disease and cancer, whose risks rise with old age and obesity (both hallmarks of richer nations). In 21 African countries, from Namibia to Tanzania, auto fatalities account for at least 50 percent of cancer deaths. In the OECD, the U.S and South Korea are, relatively, the most dangerous countries for drivers, and cancer deaths outnumber car fatalities by at least 10-to-1.