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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Los Angeles Is Officially America's City of the Future


By Dennis Romero, February 20, 2014


From the Department of Stuff You Already Know we have this amazing story for you.

Los Angeles is No. 1 on a new list of "Best Cities of the Future in the United States." That, at least, is according to credit card comparison website CreditDonkey.

Is it because we were way ahead in the Latino (re-) conquest of America? Is it because we have the best university in the world? Is it because Angelenos are just so aesthetically pleasing? No, no, no:

The Donkey says it looked at cities' Census and other data to determine if people wanted to stay put, how old the housing stock is, how modern the infrastructure is, how many space travel–oriented businesses there are (we have Elon Musk's SpaceX) and, most importantly, how many Back to the Future–esque DeLorean cars are for sale (really).

Los Angeles topped the list, beating out No. 2 Bakersfield (Bakersfield?!), No. 3 Seattle (WarGames!), No. 4 Orlando (Disney World!), and No. 5 Denver (marijuana!). The full list is here.

L.A.'s DeLorean score (two for sale) was beat only by Miami's (three). Here's what else, according to the Donkey:

The area has the highest number of FAA-recognized space transport companies and planned spaceports in the country. The do-it-yourself method of future-building is also big in California — if you have about $20,000, there's a 1981 DeLorean nearby with your name on it.

... Most of Back to the Future was filmed in Pasadena, Burbank and other parts of the Los Angeles metro area.
Yeah, most of everything was filmed in the Los Angeles metro area. But still, we're proud of this distinction.

Doctors push for curbs on traffic pollution


By Tim Devaney, February 20, 2014

A group of doctors is urging the Obama administration to push through rules that would reduce traffic pollution in an effort to prevent lung disease, asthma attacks and other cardiovascular problems.

In a letter to the White House, the American Lung Association asked the Obama administration to adopt the stronger gasoline and vehicle emissions standards that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been considering for nearly a year.

More than 500 doctors and other health professionals from the American Lung Association signed the letter. They said the rules would save thousands of lives each year.

"Unhealthy air imposes the risk of serious health impacts on millions of Americans," the American Lung Association wrote in the letter, sent Wednesday. "We see those impacts on our patients' health, in public health, and in our research."

The EPA estimates that such a rule would cost industry nearly $2 billion in compliance costs by 2017, with that amount ticking up to $3.4 billion by 2025.

The agency proposed Tier 3 Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Standards in May 2013, but has yet to issue the final rule as it waits for approval from the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The requirements would lower the level of sulfur in gasoline and reduce tailpipe emissions for passenger cars, pickup trucks and some heavy-duty vehicles.

The proposed rule would go into effect in 2017 and be gradually phased in through 2025, but doctors are urging the Obama administration to enact the standards as soon as possible.

Doctors say the health benefits of reducing air pollution outweigh the costs. The EPA said the rule would benefit more than 158 million people who are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution on a consistent basis.

"We know the burden of air pollution is not equal," the American Lung Association wrote. "Children, whose lungs continue to grow into adolescence, face a higher risk from the effects of air pollution. Adults 65 and older, whose bodies are less able to defend against the effects of air pollution, are placed under greater strain."
The group said low-income families and minorities are affected disproportionately by air pollution because they are more likely to live near busy roadways.

"Cleaner gasoline will reduce emissions equal to removing the emissions from 33 million cars off the road, or about as many cars as there are in Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington," the American Lung Association wrote. 

Is California’s Congestion Management Program at the End of the Road?


February 12, 2014

Metro’s Board authorized a multi-year re-evaluation of LA County’s Congestion Management Program more than three years ago, a program that requires that every county designate a congestion management agency, which in turn would designate a regional roadway network for monitoring purposes and would develop a plan to address deficiencies in levels of service on the network. Jurisdictions that failed to comply with CMP requirements lose their state gasoline tax revenues.

In 1990, the California Legislature enacted the Congestion Management Program (CMP) to implement Proposition 111, a state-wide transportation funding proposal that required local governments to implement mitigation measures to offset the impacts from new development on the regional transportation system. The goal was to link land use, transportation, and air quality decisions at the regional and local level. The program required, among other things, that every county designate a congestion management agency, which in turn would designate a regional roadway network for monitoring purposes and develop a deficiency plan to address deficiencies in levels of service on the network. The legislation also provided that jurisdictions that fail to comply with the CMP requirements will lose their state gasoline tax revenues.

Los Angeles County Metro was subsequently designated as the congestion management agency (CMA) for Los Angeles County. Metro initiated a process of outreach to local governments and the private sector, established a policy advisory committee, and after considerable effort, settled on a “debit-credit” system for determining local government compliance.  Under this framework, the local government was required to analyze new development projects to determine their impact on the regional transportation system, which would generate “debits,” and impose specific mitigation measures that would in turn generate “credits” to balance out the impacts. Metro developed a comprehensive tool box of mitigation measures and assigned uniform credit values to the measures to facilitate the analytical process. Cities were required to report their activities to Metro annually and certify that they were in compliance with the CMP requirements.

This system worked for a number of years, and was more useful in communities that were developing, but did not work particularly well in cities that were fully built-out or otherwise economically static. Over time, more and more cities ran out of mitigation measures to generate credits and risked losing their gas tax.  The CMP was increasingly perceived as a numbers game that didn’t produce meaningful reduction in congestion.  The more effective mitigation measures required dollars to implement, and sufficient funds were not being generated from project-by-project exactions or local return funds from County Prop A, Prop C, and Prop R transportation sales tax measures. The restriction that local return funds be expended within the jurisdiction also limited the number of regionally significant projects that could be funded.

This led Metro to launch a multi-year reevaluation of the CMP. Ultimately, an initial determination was made to suspend the debit-credit approach and move toward a regional traffic mitigation fee. Cambridge Systematics, a transportation planning firm, was hired to develop pilot studies which would demonstrate how a possible congestion mitigation fee (CMF) would function in each of the county’s eight subregions. Metro worked with a majority of the jurisdictions in the county to develop a comprehensive list of potential local projects and the associated costs. The list was then evaluated in a regional traffic model in order to (1) eliminate those that would not produce reductions in congestion and (2) determine the fair share of costs allocable to new development for those projects that did qualify. The qualified projects were then grouped by city and subregion to determine what the range of fees would be for each of seven land use types to fund them, assuming any committed funding for each project from other sources.

The final set of eight pilot studies, along with a recommendation to move forward with a fee, was tabled by the Metro Board in June 2013, and staff was directed to hold new stakeholder meetings to determine if the CMP was still relevant in light of more recent developments, including the greenhouse gas reduction goals set forth in AB 32, SB 375, and the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) adopted by SCAG in 2012 pursuant to SB 375. Staff was further directed to report back to the Metro Board in 2014.

The business and development community was vocal in its opposition to any type of new fee for traffic mitigation, even though 22 jurisdictions in the County currently have them in place, ranging from token amounts of $50 per unit in Baldwin Park to $17,000 plus fees on single-family residential units charged by bridge and thoroughfare districts in the Santa Clarita Valley. Private sector opposition fell into three general categories: (1) the new SB 375 coordinates land use and transportation planning in order to reduce greenhouse gasses, which renders the CMP obsolete, (2) the fee will not generate enough dollars to build mitigation projects in a timely basis, and (3) the economy can’t stand additional fees just when it’s getting back on its feet and the fee will kill the real estate recovery in Southern California.

There are compelling responses to each of these objections, but, to date, there has not been a meaningful policy debate regarding the alternatives to the CMP. Obviously one option is to return to the debit-credit approach, but its shortcomings were previously noted, and the ability to mitigate is even more limited today than when the approach was suspended.

Another approach is found in the CMP statute. Counties can choose to opt out of the program in certain circumstances.  The concern with that approach is that Federal transportation legislation now requires that every Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) include a congestion management system component, including monitoring or a regional network. SCAG’s 2012 combined RTP/SCS incorporates the current CMP program to demonstrate compliance with the Federal requirements. If the CMP is scrapped entirely, SCAG will need to start over to establish new mechanisms for satisfying the Federal requirements in order to demonstrate conformity with adopted air quality reduction goals and avoid a cutoff of Federal transportation funding for failure to comply. For example, San Diego County opted out of the CMP, but demonstrated an alternative path to compliance through imposition of a regional fee on new development.
It may be possible to modify the County sales tax measures to loosen the restriction on use of local return funds to facilitate regionally-oriented projects.  Both the legality and political viability of this approach is unknown.

Some form of regional traffic mitigation fee is still a viable option. There are dozens of such fees in place around California, including all the counties that surround Los Angeles.   The funds would be collected, programed, and spent locally, and could be combined with local return sale tax dollars to leverage other funding, such as Metro’s Call for Projects program.  This is especially attractive to local governments who have lost redevelopment revenues.

The accelerating erosion of gas tax revenues present major urgent challenge transportation funding. The Caltrans budget for construction and repairs was reduced significantly in the most recently adopted state budget. The Highway Trust Fund, the primary Federal source for state and local transportation projects, is projected to run out of funds in FY 2015 if no new revenue source is identified.  In short, the days of significant grants from larger units of government for transportation improvements are coming to an end.  The strong trend (e.g., MAP-21) is toward credit enchantments, public-private partnerships, and self-help financing mechanisms and funding sources  to encourage local governments to establish local revenue streams that can support long-term borrowing to fund infrastructure. Obtaining voter support for new revenues becomes more challenging if the public perceives that new development is not contributing to the solution.

It is also noteworthy that most of the jurisdictions that have pursued the goals of SB 375 to their logical conclusion, either by creating local Climate Action Plans or revising their General Plans to more fully integrate land use and transportation planning, have significant traffic mitigation fees in place as one of a number of tools to reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

At the end of the day, the question remains: if the CMP is eliminated, how does the region fund the local traffic improvements necessary to reduce congestion and improve air quality?

Close the 710 Freeway gap by building the tunnel: Gloria Molina and Ed Chau


By Gloria Molina and Ed Chau, February 20, 2014

It is time to end the debate and close the gap by building the 710 Freeway tunnel. It is also time for 710 Freeway opponents to stop their misinformation campaign.

A tunnel will not cause more pollution or disrupt life for local residents. In fact, it will do the opposite.

Currently, with the 710 gap, drivers of roughly 200,000 vehicles have no choice but to use major traffic arteries in place of a completed freeway — along Valley Boulevard, Fremont Avenue, Fair Oaks Avenue, Arroyo Parkway and Sierra Madre Boulevard. This is exactly why the 710 Freeway practically grinds to a halt during rush hour well before drivers reach the Valley Boulevard exit.

So, for any commuter using the 710 Freeway, the gap already disrupts life in Alhambra and Southeast Los Angeles. Local roads in these neighborhoods already suffer severe damage due to overuse.

These residents were promised decades ago that this fix was a stop-gap measure. Opponents need to quit trying to stop the gap from being closed.

These same naysayers also erroneously claim that a tunnel will worsen air quality. They conveniently ignore how air quality is already horrendous in Southeast L.A. — especially for its children, where 12 out of every 100 children develop asthma.

There is a direct connection between asthma in Southeast L.A. and the pollution caused by cars and trucks forced to stand idle along an incomplete 710 Freeway. It’s all the more true since commuters must use the streets as de facto “streetways.”

The pollution that 710 tunnel opponents don’t want is already in the air, being breathed by Southeast L.A. families — who don’t have the extra time and resources to devote to NIMBYism.

A tunnel will include massive air filtration systems. The air emitted from these vents will be much cleaner — and strictly monitored — unlike current emissions from the nearby streetways.

Closing the 710 gap will remove about 2,200 pounds of air pollutants each day. That equals 803,000 pounds of air pollutants each year.

Perhaps that’s why 63 percent of San Gabriel Valley residents support 710 Freeway completion. So do the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Marino, Rosemead and San Gabriel, and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments.

Numerous school districts, elected officials, labor groups, and business associations from these areas all agree that we can’t wait any more for a long overdue solution to this problem. Even Pasadena residents voted in favor of closing the 710 gap!

Moreover, the residents of L.A. County have spoken. An overwhelming majority of county voters approved Measure R with the SR-710 North Tunnel as a named project.

A tunnel will reduce both arterial and freeway congestion by 20 percent. It will remove more than 75,000 daily trips from local streets and reduce regional cut-through traffic. Plus it will eliminate congestion at 22 percent of the intersections studied.

Fear mongers claim truck traffic from the ports into the San Gabriel Valley will increase if we close the 710 gap. They conveniently ignore that nearby corridors are currently being improved to accommodate existing and future heavy truck port traffic. And the tunnel approval can be conditioned to restrict trucks of certain size and weight.

When the 405 Freeway was constructed through Beverly Hills and Brentwood, residents voiced similar complaints. But could you imagine the Westside without the kind of connectivity that the 405 Freeway provides — with Sepulveda Boulevard as your only commuting option?

This is what San Gabriel Valley residents — especially in El Sereno and Alhambra — have dealt with every day, for decades.

Traffic congestion in the San Gabriel Valley is quickly rivaling the Westside. And because of the 710 Freeway intimidation campaign, help — like commuters in traffic — is stuck.

And if opponents have their way, this will never change. They’ve opposed every option before them — a freeway above ground, below ground and at street level.

The only option acceptable to the local “Party of No” is the status quo. I’d stand with them if the proposal was the one presented in the 1970s — homes seized and razed for yet another freeway.

But that is not the case today.

We will not fall prey to misinformation and intimidation. The facts are clear — a tunnel will reduce pollution and improve mobility.

Let’s stand up for what is right. Close the gap. Build the 710 Freeway tunnel.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina represents the First District. Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, represents the 49th Assembly District.

Rx for Traffic Pollution: Cleaner Gasoline and Vehicles STAT


By Patricia W. Finn, MD, and Albert A. Rizzo, MD, FCCP, FACP, February 20, 2014

As pulmonary physicians, we see patients every day who struggle to breathe. Those experiences lead us to not only treat, but to advocate for our patients with lung disease. We also speak up for the millions of infants, children, teenagers and seniors who face threats from the air they breathe.

That’s why we are so concerned about the health problems caused by air pollution – and why the organizations we represent, the American Lung Association and the American Thoracic Society, believe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must move forward as quickly as possible with new standards to clean up smog-causing gasoline and motor vehicles.

Ground level ozone, or smog, that blankets much of the United States during the summer is a powerful respiratory irritant. When inhaled, ozone damages the lung tissue much like the summer sun burns unprotected skin.

Ozone air pollution poses health risks for all who are exposed, including infants, children teenagers, adults and seniors, and it is particularly harmful to the nearly 26 million living with asthma, nearly 13 million with COPD and the millions with other lung diseases. Just as importantly, even healthy adults who work or play outdoors are at risk.

For those living near highways or other heavily used roads, the problem may be worse. Growing research reports much higher levels of pollution there. Many people who live near roadways have lower incomes, and often are at higher risk of having lung diseases
Tragically, polluted air can shorten life. For hundreds of thousands of people, polluted air means coughing, wheezing, missed school and missed work, asthma attacks and heart attacks. Far too many end up in the emergency room or the hospital. These are the patients that physicians like us see daily in the hospital and in our practices.

If we could simply write a prescription to clean up that pollution and help our patients, we’d give the White House and EPA one each that says: “Adopt Tier 3 STAT.” Tier 3 is the shortened name of new EPA standards to reduce the sulfur in gasoline and reduce emissions from new cars and SUVs. The White House is in the final stages of reviewing these standards.

Lower-sulfur gasoline would immediately make every car on the road run cleaner because sulfur poisons the performance of a car’s pollution control system. Less sulfur means less pollution, and by 2030, we’d have up to 15,000 fewer asthma attacks, more than 3 million fewer missed school and work days, and 2,500 fewer early deaths each year, as the American Lung Association estimated in a report last year.

Unlike the cost of taking a child to the ER, the cost to protect her health is pretty low. EPA says that the cleaner gasoline would cost less than one penny more per gallon.

As with many treatments, timing is critical. EPA needs to adopt these standards by the end of February to make sure we get all the benefits as soon as possible. If not, our patients and millions more remain exposed to yet another year of dangerous pollution. Remember, that can mean the loss of 2,500 lives.

For the sake of our patients and all those who live where the air threatens their health, we urge President Obama to direct EPA to adopt final standards by the end of this month so that we have cleaner, healthier air to breathe.

Tonight: Councilmember Steve Madison Conducts Town Hall on Old Pasadena, Central City Issues


February 20, 2014


Pasadena District 6 Councilmember Steve Madison is scheduled to conduct a Neighborhood Town Hall focused on Old Pasadena and Central City issues in Pasadena Convention Center Room 208 at 300 E. Green St. in downtown Pasadena at 6:30 p.m.

Presentations will be held on “The Vitality of the Downtown Area,” proposed changes for transportation, parking, parklets and street activities on Colorado Boulevard.

For questions or more information please call Madison’s field representative Takako Suzuki at (626) 744-4739. Parking is free for ninety minutes with free validation in Paseo Colorado.

Labor group claims port trucking companies treat drivers unfairly


By Dan Weikel, February 19, 2014


 Port truckers

 Truckers line up at the entrance of a cargo terminal in the Port of Long Beach. Drivers are increasingly contesting their classification as independent contractors instead of company employees.

Representatives of a labor-friendly campaign to improve the wages and working conditions of port truckers asserted Wednesday that the vast majority of drivers are victims of widespread workplace violations by trucking companies.

Instead of being treated as employees, thousands of drivers in the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and other harbors across the nation have been illegally classified as independent contractors, advocates said during a media conference call.

That designation has lowered wages, prevented drivers from unionizing and denied them the protections of state and federal labor laws, they added.

“Trucking used to be one of the backbones of the blue-collar middle class, but deunionization, deregulation and misclassification of drivers have turned port trucks into sweatshops on wheels,” said Jared Bernstein, a former chief economic advisor to Vice President Joe Biden now with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The California Trucking Assn., which represents about 2,000 trucking companies in the state, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Bernstein is coauthor of a new study that addresses the impacts of classifying port truckers as independent contractors and the growing resistance by drivers to that designation.

Also participating in the research are the union-backed Change to Win Strategic Organizing Center and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. The report is part of a national effort on behalf of truckers by the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, which includes Justice for Port Drivers and the Teamsters union.

About 75,000 truckers serve the nation's ports, including an estimated 15,000 in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest combined harbor in the United States.

Their job is to haul the cargo containers of shippers to and from port terminals. As a critical part of the goods movement industry, they handle more than a trillion dollars of cargo annually.

Citing various court rulings and enforcement actions by state and federal labor agencies, the report states that port drivers classified as independent contractors are actually employees because of the extensive control trucking firms have over them, directing when they work, where they work, what their fees will be and who they can work for.

Many companies, they added, own the trucks, but drivers have to pay for gas, repairs and maintenance out of their own earnings, dramatically reducing their take home pay.

According to the report, the median earnings of an independent contractor is about $29,000 a year, compared with $35,000 for a trucking company employee.

"I can't drive for other companies and I have no say in setting the rates for the loads I haul," said Dennis Martinez, 28, an independent contractor at the Port of Los Angeles who has a wife and four children. "I work really hard and have almost nothing to show for it."

Martinez said he works a six-day week, eight to 14 hours a days and takes home about $200. He has lodged a wage theft complaint against his company with the state Department of Labor Standards Enforcement.

His action is among some 400 complaints that have been filed by port truckers with the state agency, which has issued 19 rulings confirming that drivers have been misclassified as independent contractors. In addition to formal complaints, a number of lawsuits are pending against California trucking companies.

Bus riders protest proposed transit system fare hikes

demonstration at the Western Avenue subway station is a response to a plan to boost bus and rail fares as much as 117% over the next eight years.


 By Laura J. Nelson, February 19, 2014


Bus riders 

MTA buses pick up commuters along Lankershim Boulevard at the North Hollywood station where the Metro Red Line and MTA Orange Line meet.

Throbbing drums and chants of "We are passengers" in Spanish blended with the rumble of buses Wednesday morning on Wilshire Boulevard as protesters loudly denounced a series of proposed transit system fare increases.

The demonstration at the Western Avenue subway station, organized by the Bus Riders' Union, was a response to a proposal to boost bus and rail fares as much as 117% over the next eight years.

Passenger advocates said the increases would be too great a burden on the system's most economically vulnerable riders, including seniors and the disabled.

"Public transit riders have already paid for the system before even getting on the bus," said Barbara Lott-Holland, co-chair of the riders' union. She was referring in part to more than $2 billion a year in Los Angeles County sales tax collections earmarked for construction and operation of the bus and rail system.

But officials with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority are warning that the agency faces a $36-million operating budget shortfall by 2016, and that could grow to $225 million in the next decade without a substantial fare increase.

Metro staffers have suggested two main fare increase options. The first would raise the basic $1.50 bus and rail fare to $1.75 in September, $2 in four years and $2.25 in 2021. Fares for seniors and the disabled would double to $1.10. A $5 day pass would increase to $9.

Under the alternative, base fares initially would remain at $1.50 during non-peak hours. During rush hour, fares would go up to $2.25 in September and would eventually more than double to $3.25 in 2021. A day pass would increase to $13 in 2021.

A fare increase would raise civil rights issues because the higher costs will disproportionately affect minorities, riders' representatives maintain. About 59% of bus riders are Latino and 20% are black, according to Metro data. The average household income of riders is $16,250, about one-third the countywide average.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who sits on the Metro board, said in an interview that he shares the "economic justice concerns" expressed by riders' advocates.

But some proposed changes involving transfers between lines could help ease the impact of the increases, he said. The current fare structure requires payments each time a passenger boards a bus or train, a policy Garcetti said penalizes riders based "on where you are, where you live, where you study." Under the proposed changes, riders would be allowed unlimited boardings for 90 minutes.

Metro's goal is to increase the ratio of operating outlays covered by fares. Ticket sales currently cover about one-quarter of bus and rail system expenses, the lowest proportion of any major U.S. transit agency. The agency hopes to boost the ratio to 33%, in part because that figure can affect the availability of federal funding.

Metro has raised fares three times since 1995, most recently in 2010. One-way fares rose from $1.25 to $1.50 and monthly passes rose from $62 to $75. But fares for seniors, students and the disabled stayed at $0.55, subsidized by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax that voters approved in 2008 for transportation projects.

To close the projected budget gap, Lott-Holland said, Metro could stop building light-rail and focus on making the bus system better. "That would put them in the black right away," she said.
The riders' union ultimately wants a no-fare bus system.

"Ideally, we'd have free transit," Garcetti said, "but we just can't afford it."

The Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to consider the fare increase in May.

Metrolink to roll out collision avoidance system

Metrolink will be the first commuter service in the nation to use positive train control, which would have prevented the deadly Chatsworth crash.


By Dan Weikel, February 19, 2014
 Chatsworth train crash
 Fire crews crawl on a derailed Metrolink car as they try to rescue victims after the Metrolink train collided head-on with a freight train in Chatsworth in 2008. Metrolink is adopting a safety system that would have prevented the Chatsworth crash. 

The Metrolink passenger railroad Thursday will become the first commuter service in the nation to roll out a sophisticated collision avoidance system designed to overcome human error.

Had so-called positive train control been in place five years ago, experts say, it would have prevented Metrolink's deadly Chatsworth crash. In that accident, an engineer missed a red stop signal while text-messaging on his cellphone and struck a Union Pacific freight train head-on. Twenty-five people died and 135 were injured.

The tragedy, however, prompted Congress to demand that the nation's freight and passenger railroads be equipped with positive train control by the end of 2015. Metrolink leaders vowed to act a year ahead of that schedule.

"This is tremendous; it's a first," said Michael DePallo, the railroad's chief executive officer. "We have been working on this for the past several years. It's a great testament to the organization and our commitment to safety."

The technology, which relies on global positioning satellites, digital radio communications and computers to track trains, is part of an ongoing effort by Metrolink to overcome its poor reputation for safety in the wake of the worst train accident in recent state history.

With its computer-assisted dispatching and monitoring capabilities, the system can detect when trains violate speed restrictions, miss signals or enter the wrong track. In an emergency, it can override the engineer and apply the brakes.

Metrolink officials say selected passenger trains will be under positive train control on tracks shared with freight trains of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co., which owns the right of way.
The routes include portions of the 91 Line from Los Angeles to Riverside, the Orange County Line between Fullerton to just east of Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and the Inland Empire-Orange County Line that runs from San Bernardino to Anaheim Canyon.

BNSF, which has worked with Metrolink to install positive train control, also has equipped some of its trains with the technology. The nation's second-largest railroad has placed the system on about 9,000 miles of its track in 21 states.

The 512-mile Metrolink network handles about 42,000 riders a day and serves six Southern California counties — Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura.
Railroad officials plan to gradually install the system on the rest of its network by the end of this year. If so, completion of the $210-million project will be well ahead of the December 2015 deadline set by the federal Rail Safety Improvement Act passed as a result of the Chatsworth crash.

"Better late than never," said Barbara Kloster of Thousand Oaks, whose son was almost cut in half in the collision. "It won't take care of what happened, but it will take care of any event in the future."

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended the use of positive train control since 1990. But powerful rail industry lobbying groups — citing the heavy cost to companies — have pushed back over the years. Even now, some lines are trying to get the deadline relaxed, arguing that the system is tricky to install and remains largely unproven in daily operations.

Metrolink plans to debut its new system Thursday at Union Station's Track 14. Guests will include DePallo, Metrolink board members, Federal Railroad Administration officials, local dignitaries and members of Congress, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who sponsored the railway safety act.

After months of testing, DePallo said that Metrolink decided Monday to make a single trial run with passengers between Union Station and Riverside while the train was protected by positive train control.

"It was flawless. Everyone was real comfortable with the way things were working," DePallo said. "This is a big deal."

Metro to accept $670-million grant for downtown rail connector


By Laura J. Nelson, February 20, 2014

 Gold Line
 A Metro Gold Line operator guides a train heading west toward downtown Los Angeles.

Local transportation officials Thursday are to accept a $670-million federal grant for a downtown rail project designed to seamlessly connect three of Los Angeles County's furthest-reaching light-rail lines.

When the Downtown Regional Connector opens, slated for 2020, the Metro Blue, Gold and Expo lines will all run between the 7th/Metro stop and Union Station. Passengers will be able to travel from Long Beach to Pasadena, or East Los Angeles to Santa Monica, without changing trains. Any end-to-end light-rail trip in Los Angeles County currently requires two transfers.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in an interview Wednesday that he was pleased that the Federal Transit Administration had signed off on the $1.36-billion project. The connector and the Westside subway extension were the two projects Garcetti discussed when he met with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in October.

Included in the project will be three new train stations in downtown Los Angeles: 1st Street and Central Avenue, 2nd Street and Broadway, and 2nd and Hope streets. The rail system will likely see other upgrades as well, including Wi-Fi and a feature telling passengers when the next train is to arrive.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials have said the quicker, less complicated trips are expected to draw more than 17,000 new riders.

The downtown link is also receiving a $160-million low-interest loan, secured with the help of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. The federal spending bill President Obama signed last month included $65 million for the connector, a sum requested by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

"We are very, very lucky to have two senators on the exact right committees," Garcetti said. "To their credit, they stepped up and knew the importance of this project for California."

The combinations of grants, loans and federal appropriations will cover more than 60% of the estimated cost. The remaining funds will come from state and local sources, including Measure R, the half-cent sales tax hike Los Angeles County voters approved in 2008.

Officials said they expect to announce in coming weeks that the Purple Line extension to Westwood will receive about $1.25 billion in federal funds.

"I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch, but I'm getting good unofficial feedback,” Garcetti said.

L.A. City Council Eliminates Sidewalk Repair Permit Fees


By Joe Linton, February 19, 2014

 Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltarrrrr/6382328885/sizes/m/in/photostream/##Waltarr/Flickr##

Los Angeles took a very small step forward on the issue of sidewalk repair.

Hopefully that metaphorical step forward doesn’t too closely resemble the very real steps L.A.’s pedestrians are taking on the city’s treacherous and lawsuit-ridden buckling sidewalks. Estimates place L.A.’s broken sidewalks at more than 4,600 miles.

At its Tuesday meeting, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved Councilmember Joe Buscaino’s motion 13-0941. The Buscaino motion, one of a handful of sidewalk measures under consideration, proposed eliminating permitting fees for sidewalk repair. In the past, these permit fees have applied to property owners who fix their own sidewalks.

In addition to the cost of actual repair, a private party fixing her own sidewalk would pay permitting fees to the city. Minor construction “A-permits” for sidewalk repair cost a $265 flat fee plus 85 cents per square foot.

For sidewalk repair, the permitting fee is no longer.

This fee-elimination lowers a barrier, but it doesn’t mean that hordes of property owners will now rush to repairs. A much more comprehensive (and comprehensively funded) sidewalk maintenance system is still needed. Maybe something that resembles the systems that are in place to keep streets operating as well as they do for automobiles.

In other sidewalk repair news, the city’s proposed one-time $10 million sidewalk repair program, also shepherded by Councilmember Buscaino, will be returning to the Budget and Finance Committee soon, and then on to the full council.

Like It Or Not, Most Urban Freeways Are Here to Stay


By Earl Swift, February 20, 2014

 Like It Or Not, Most Urban Freeways Are Here to Stay


This spring — April 27, to be exact — marks the 75th birthday of the Interstate era. On that date in 1939 came the first unambiguous signal from Washington that a coast-to-coast grid of superhighways was soon to be a national priority.

The news came quietly, in a wonky and table-laden report prepared by technocrats in the federal Bureau of Public Roads. Flip through Toll Roads and Free Roads today, and its status as early blueprint of the world's greatest public works project is unmistakable. Here are maps that seem dead ringers for the overland routes the finished expressways would travel. Here are radical design details — broad and banked curves, gentle grades and wide medians — that have become ubiquitous elements of the American commute.

The report's central pitch is that the country needed superhighways more urgently to ease urban congestion than to link its far-flung cities. That bears repeating, because it runs counter to the conventional wisdom: the interstates were not conceived as long-haul roads that were then pushed into the cities, but as the reverse — they were prescribed as urban fixes first, and to venture into the countryside, second.

We'll get back to that, but for now, believe it — it's true. And the highways we got were true to that prewar vision. So it is that nearly a third of the interstate system consists of stretches through our cities, in the form of loops, spurs and freeways. So it is that American motorists drive nearly twice as many miles on urban interstates as they do the lengthier rural legs. So it is that every metropolis in the country has reorganized itself around these roads, and that they've shaped where we live and work, how we shop, what we eat, and how we pass our time.

And so it is, too, that as the system's roughly 14,000 city miles approach the end of their life expectancy, we'll figure out ways to raise the money to rebuild them, rather than tear them down. Because with precious few exceptions, our cities need their interstates the way organs need arteries.

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I realize that declaration won't go down easy among readers who question the wisdom of rebuilding interstate legs now crumbling with age. And it probably seems especially contrary in light of the debates now under way about replacing some short stretches of urban interstate. The future of I-81's elevated course through downtown Syracuse is under study. The fates of the aging viaducts carrying I-84 across central Hartford, and I-10 over the historic Treme district of New Orleans, are on the table, as well.

The same goes in Detroit, where state and city officials are studying whether to rebuild, remove or downsize I-375, the Walter P. Chrysler Freeway, a mile-long spur that ends near the city's Renaissance Center — and is now falling apart. Freeway critics in Detroit, like those elsewhere, charge that I-375 is brutalist overkill, that its broad, depressed bed wastes land and shreds the social and economic fabric of its surroundings. State officials don't necessarily disagree. They've enlisted consultants to solicit and analyze proposals from the community as to what form the future road might take.

But these discussions, and a scattering of others, don't signal a trend. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the urban interstates needing overhaul will be overhauled. In some places, they'll be rebuilt bigger than they are. I'd bet that nationally, the coming few years will see a net increase in urban interstate lane mileage, not a decline.

In most places there simply isn't much choice. Whatever their faults, most of these roads shoulder a heavy load. Overtaxed, potholed, and ugly from every angle, they nevertheless do what they were designed to do. They move a spectacular volume of traffic. And alternatives that will relieve that load are years from reality in all but a few places, if they're realistic alternatives at all.

I-375 in Detroit. 

The highways have mutated their host cities. Sunbelt subdivisions follow their paths. Bedroom communities sprout at their exits. They've sown shopping malls and big-box stores, midwifed satellite business districts, sired factories, shipping centers, entire towns. They spawn traffic even as they relieve it, much as mountains create their own weather; over time they become utterly codependent with the territory through which they pass.

Abetted by interstates, a metro area might have two or three or even four high-rise business districts, might spill farther into the countryside than imagination allowed when sprawl reached only as far as the streetcar lines. Our daily wandering through these low-density landscapes is far less neat than our urban travels of old, far less easy to satisfy with fixed-rail transit, even bus lines. We've created a North American style of daily living that is utterly dependent on the automobile. You can lament that, and perhaps you should. But this is what we have to work with.

Which is why, in Detroit, state and local officials are eyeing I-375, and only I-375, as a candidate for redesign. Though occasionally slammed with stadium traffic, the spur carries a far lighter load than other freeways in town — and that means, says Kelby Wallace of the Michigan Department of Transportation, that "there might be some options to do things that you can't do when you're talking about hundreds of thousands of vehicles."

Elsewhere in Detroit, interstates 75, 94 and 96 are too busy, and essential to trade, to consider any reduction of capacity. As they wear out, they'll be rebuilt much as they are.          
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It might be a bitter pill for an urbanist to swallow, but the adversary here isn't officialdom, or the "automotive interests," or any other monolithic bogey man; it's the very people whose lives said urbanist seeks to improve. Americans don't drive because they lack an alternative. We drive because we love our cars, no matter the price — we cherish the individual freedom they offer over convenience, frugality, common sense.

This is hardly news. The men who wrote Toll Roads and Free Roads prescribed urban freeways because by 1939, we were already the world's preeminent car culture, were happily abandoning public transit in droves, and were strangling America's cities with our traffic. Herbert Fairbank, the Bureau of Public Roads thinker who wrote most of the report, described the gridlocked approaches to U.S. downtowns as "a fatal thrombosis."

"Some measures of relief are imperative," he wrote. "In the larger cities generally only a major operation will suffice — nothing less than the creation of a depressed or an elevated artery (the former usually to be preferred) that will convey the massed movement pressing into, and through, the heart of the city, under or over the local cross streets without interruption by their conflicting traffic."
Fairbank and his colleagues were empiricists.  They conceived the interstate system not to remake the country, but in response to a problem — "a multiplicity of short movements into and out of the city," as they put it.  (The rural stretches weren't nearly so crucial, in their judgment; out there, the report said, most of the system could be two-lane road.) Their prescription was rife with unpleasant side effects, as is inevitable when you force a four- or six-lane superhighway through a densely settled metropolis; collateral damage was extreme.

But the scars they left are now decades old, and the expressways have become essential elements of our urban machinery. Highways such as I-375 are rare exceptions in a system with few expendable parts. If other legs are to be removed, it won't be because they're ugly, or dissect neighborhoods, or disturb the peace, but because, like I-375, they're no longer necessary.

That may happen, in time. We may yet reduce demand to the point that we can refigure these behemoths into less intrusive forms, can reimagine these "integral cogs and pieces of our transportation system," as Mike Hancock, the president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, calls them. But it will take weaning American drivers off their dependence on the car, off their passion and demand for it.

This is not an easy assignment, seeing as how cars are purchases we make with our hearts, more than our heads. Logic won't convince Americans to change their ways. What will? Maybe, over time, prohibitive fuel prices and withering tolls, and, most importantly, investment in useful and convenient public transit. Only when the carrot is irresistible, and the stick stings too sharply to bear, will the shift begin, and it will take years to play out.

In the meantime, the task for the civic-minded urbanist isn't to imagine our cities without freeways, but to design ways to soften the effects of these necessary evils. To help us better live with them. Because we're stuck with them.