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

Monday, March 3, 2014

Face Masks Provide False Hope Against Pollution


By Emily Sohn, February 28, 2014

 Tourists wearing face masks visit Tiananmen Square in heavy smog in Beijing on Feb. 25, 2014. Northern China is braced for more days of hazardous air quality following a week of toxic smog in Beijing that has consistently averaged more than 16 times the World Health Organization's recommended upper limit.

Exorbitantly high levels of air pollution in Beijing have caused a run on face masks as people look for ways to protect themselves from the smog. Demand is so high that, according to news reports, masks are now in short supply in China’s capital.

But, experts said, a closer look at the kinds of masks people get, the way they wear them and the hazards they’re facing suggests that the masks are unlikely to help much.

In fact, images of masked citizens navigating the stress of Beijing highlight the false confidence that people put in face masks in all sorts of situations, including flu outbreaks and operating rooms.

“For so long, people have worn these and believed they are effective,” said Lisa Brosseau, a certified industrial hygienist at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Public Health. “But I believe they give people a false sense of protecting themselves when they are really not getting much protection.” 
The simplest types of face masks available over the counter are surgical masks, much like the ones that doctors wear while operating on patients.

Surgical masks were designed to protect open wounds from germs in the droplets of mucus that come out of doctors’ mouths when they cough, sneeze and breathe. Masks were never intended to protect the people wearing them, though research shows they may help slow the spread of illnesses, at least a little bit.

In a study published last year in the journal PLOS Pathogens, for example, face masks reduced the amount of influenza virus shed into the air by more than two-thirds.

 That might be enough to lower the chances of giving the flu to others, said study author Donald Milton, a specialist in occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

But wearing a surgical mask is not going to eliminate the risk of inhaling unwanted viruses and air pollution. Besides the particles that get through the mask’s filter, surgical masks tend to be loose fitting, allowing contaminated air to flow in around the sides.

 In Beijing, where levels of pollution have spiked above 750 micrograms per cubic meter this week, wearing a mask that actually reduced the concentration of inhaled particles by half would still expose people to 10 times more than exposure levels deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

 Scientists are also still debating whether masks actually protect patients from doctors’ germs. Despite being used by surgeons for decades, masks have been tested in only a few clinical trials, Brosseau said. And results showed that rates of wound infection in patients were the same, whether their doctors wore masks or not.

 For a step up in protection, consumers can buy a category of mask known technically as N95 respirators, which are generally available at hardware stores. These facemasks are often used in industrial workplace situations to protect against things like lead dust and welding fumes, and they are certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to trap 95 percent of particles sent through them in testing situations. N99 and N100 masks are also available.

In order to perform to those standards, though, respirators need to be professionally fitted to each person’s individual face to make sure there is a tight seal with no leaks. They don’t work for men with beards. And if they truly fit right, they are uncomfortable to wear.

“If it’s going to work, it has to fit your face,” Milton said. “If you buy a box of these things at the hardware store, it’s not clear you’re getting anything that’s going to work for you.”

Even when masks are fitted correctly, Milton added, studies have shown that they’re very good at trapping relatively large and extremely small particles, but midsize fine particles are the most likely to slip through. Both viruses and components of air pollution fit into that size category. And it’s that size of particle that seems to get stuck in human lungs and cause health problems.

 Overall, experts said, studies suggest that the best way to protect people against pollution and epidemics is not to encourage mask wearing but to address underlying problems, like excessive coal burning or poor health habits.

“We don’t want people to put on these masks and think they don’t need to get vaccinated or wash their hands or do other routine things like cough into their sleeves,” said Pritish Tosh, an infectious diseases physician and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “If someone chooses to put on a mask, it’s up to them. But it’s important to do other things first.”

Lobbyists ride the streetcar wave


By Byron Tau and Andrea Drusch, February 12, 2014

 An American-made prototype streetcar is unveiled in Portland, Ore. | AP Photo

 Patton Boggs worked with Portland to secure the first modern federal streetcar grant.

  Streetcars are all the rage in urban planning circles. And K Street has taken notice.
A renaissance for the vintage mass-transit option has spawned a new niche area for lobbying — a rare growth spot in an otherwise difficult business environment. Driven by the hunt for federal transportation dollars, a handful of downtown firms is seeing an influx of municipalities, states or private development organizations lobbying for grants and transit projects.
 “It is a growth area because cities have come to the realization that streetcars are incredibly powerful catalysts for economic development and urban revitalization,” said Jared Fleisher, a lobbyist and attorney with Patton Boggs who works on transit and municipal government issues.
(Sign up for POLITICO’s Morning Transportation tip sheet)

Patton Boggs worked with Portland, Ore., to secure the first modern federal grant for a streetcar system in 2009. That system, which opened in 2001 and later expanded with federal assistance, helped spark a renewed nationwide interest in streetcars, which also got a boost when the Obama administration tweaked its transportation funding criteria to advance “livability” and transit-oriented development.

Four cities — including Washington — are set to open new streetcar lines this year. A dozen more lines are in the construction phase in cities like Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale and Oklahoma City. Across the country, about two dozen streetcar projects are in the planning process.
In Portland, more than $2 billion in commercial and residential development has been attributed to the city’s 7.2-mile streetcar system.

“The modern streetcar can do a lot of things,” said David Goldberg, communications director for group Transportation for America. “First, it’s a transportation mode, sure, but it also has been an essential element to redevelopment for some of the older industrial areas and downtown areas by connecting these people to the population centers or the activity centers that already existed and strengthening both in the process.

(Also on POLITICO: Full transportation and infrastructure policy coverage)

“So it’s a trigger for development and redevelopment as much as it has been a transportation mode,” he said. “I think that’s why so many cities are interested to see if they can replicate that success.”

A consulting firm hired by Washington estimated that the city’s proposed 37-mile system would spur between $5 billion and $8 billion in development. Washington’s first line is due to open in the coming months — a line that planners hope will someday run through the median of K Street N.W. before ending in Georgetown or Arlington, Va.

Law firms and lobbying shops are most often brought on board to help cities and transit agencies navigate the complications of the federal grant process and put the best possible face on their Federal Transit Administration applications.

“A lot of cities are looking at streetcar projects right now,” Patton Boggs’s Victoria Cram said. But “there is a very arduous process at FTA to get federal funding.”

(From POLITICO Magazine: Jerry Brown's train obsession)

Patton Boggs represents several clients on streetcar issues, including New Orleans, Portland and Riverside, Calif. Other firms have also carved out similar niches. Holland & Knight had three clients with streetcar issues in 2013 and has represented others in the past. The Ferguson Group, CapitalEdge Strategies, FaegreBD Consulting, The Livingston Group and others lobbied on streetcar issues in 2013.

Last year, 13 active lobbying contracts listed streetcars as an issue — mostly from cities or transit agencies looking for help in Washington to get or keep federal funding. Another nine organizations listed light-rail projects or issues on their federal lobbying records in 2013. Those clients include cities like Tucson, Minneapolis, Charlotte, West Sacramento and others with proposed or active streetcar lines.

Obama turns to light rail to salvage transit legacy


By Keith Laing, March 1, 2014

Republicans have been largely successful in stymieing President Obama's plans to leave behind a legacy of high-speed railways, but Obama's second term c
ould end up being remembered for a boon in light rail and streetcar construction.

Obama spoke frequently in his first term about developing a nationwide network of high-speed railways that could eventually grow to rival the interstate highway system. He included $8 billion in his 2009 economic stimulus package for high-speed rail lines, but Republican governors in states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida rejected the money.

However, while the GOP was training its focus on halting high-speed railways, several cities began constructing light rail and streetcar systems with the help of Obama's transportation department.Obama touted one such DOT-assisted light rail expansion during a trip to St. Paul, Minn. this week to push for a new round of congressional transportation spending.

“I just had a chance to take a look at some of those spiffy new trains,” he said of the expansion of Minneapolis’ Metro light rail system to St. Paul, which is scheduled to open in June.

“They are nice and they’re energy efficient,” Obama said of the Minneapolis light rail cars. “They’re going to be reliable. You can get from one downtown to the other in a little over 30 minutes instead of when it’s snowing being in traffic for two hours."

Light railways and streetcars emerged in the 1980's and 1990's as a cost-effective alternative to building "heavy rail" subway systems like Washington, D.C.'s Metrorail. Light railways are generally operated aboveground, unlike subway systems that require tunnels, and they usually run shorter trains.

Streetcars often use similar train cars to light railways, but they usually operate in existing traffic lanes, so they do not require as many land acquisitions to build.

Both light railways and streetcars are typically powered by overhead power lines instead of electrified third rails on train tracks like subways.

In addition to Minneapolis and St. Paul, cities such as Charlotte, Dallas and Los Angeles are currently building new light rail lines. Washington, D.C. and Atlanta are additionally planning new streetcar lines, as is Charlotte.

Obama's transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx, was a member of Charlotte’s city council when that city opened its light rail line in 2007, and he pushed to expand the system as mayor.

Foxx regularly touts the success of Charlotte's LYNX light railway when he is arguing now for increasing transportation funding.

The DOT chief maintains that the Obama administration has not given up on high-speed rail though. 

"2014 is shaping up to be our busiest construction year since our high-performance rail program began," Foxx said in a speech to the U.S. High Speed Rail Association this week.

"Right now, 47 projects representing $4.4 billion are either under construction or are about to be," Foxx continued. 

Foxx said funding from the Obama administration helped pay for doubling the amount of railways in U.S. that can operate at speeds between 90 and 125 miles-per-hour, though Republicans have disputed the definition of trains that run that fast as high-speed.

The GOP argues that true high-speed rails are capable of running over 200 miles-per-hour, citing popular fast trains in European nations.  Republicans have also sought to cut off funding for a proposed high-speed railway in California for which the Obama administration has contributed more than $3 billion, expressing doubt about cost and ridership estimates.

Despite the GOP’s objections to its high-speed rail plans, Foxx said the Obama administration has drastically increased the availability of faster trains in the U.S.

“Over the past five years, we’ve invested more than $12 billion in high-performance rail," Foxx said. "Our High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail program is the largest grant program for passenger rail in our nation’s history. Compared to 2009, over 24 million more Americans – a population about as big as Texas’ – now have access to upgraded rail service – or soon will."

Eno Center for Transportation President Joshua Schank said the development of light railways under Obama has been less contentious because they are generally cheaper to build. 

“The reason they’re able to do this is that it’s not very much money, compared to high-speed rail,” Schank said. “Trolleys [and streetcars] don’t even have their own right-of-way. That’s the most expensive thing about transportation projects. High-speed railways are hugely expensive.”

Schank added that many cities’ light rail proposals are able to qualify for the Transportation Department’s "new starts" program that allows local governments to apply for matching funds to get new projects off of the ground quickly because their construction costs are lower than other types of railways.
Schank said the "new starts" development began before Obama first took office.

But he said the Obama administration’s push for light rails and streetcars has been quietly effective, however.

“It’s really interesting how they’ve kind of snuck it under the radar,” he said. “They cobbled together some existing funds and got some trolleys going.” 

In his speech touting the new Minneapolis-to-St. Paul light railway this week, Obama said he was for expanded public transportation access in whatever form is possible.

“More Americans should have access to the kind of efficient, affordable transit you’re going to have with the Green Line,” Obama said during his appearance at St. Paul’s Union Depot train station.

“There’s no faster way or better way for Congress to create jobs right now and to grow our economy right now, and have a positive impact on our economy for decades, than if we start more projects and finish more projects like this one,” Obama said.

8 Secrets You Learn Being an Uber Driver in Los Angeles


By Bianca Barragan, February 28, 2014


  Like it wasn't bad enough being driven around by out-of-work actors, now douchey GQ writers are driving for UberX, which (like Lyft, with the mustaches) is just like a cab, but without the strict regulations or high costs involved (riders use an app to hail drivers, who use their own cars; Uber takes a cut). A GQ writer recently signed up as a driver and spent a week finding out what it's like to be a not-cabbie in Los Angeles (his epiphany moment came when a woman decided to go home with her date). Here are some things he learned:

-- You get a special Uber iPhone that comes loaded up with the Uber app, which is used to take 20 percent of your money each time you drive.
-- Even so, it seems to be wildly popular with drivers: "the day I picked up my phone I saw a good 300 people doing the same thing."
-- And the app has a a hotspot map: "Staring at the heat map is like being connected to the Matrix; you can see where shit is going down. Late on a Tuesday night? Culver City and south. On weekends, Venice."
-- It's kind of sexy? "I'd be lying if I said there wasn't something sexual about the whole thing, too. Early one morning, I picked up a guy in West Hollywood and drove him to his hotel. We made eye contact in the rearview more times than could be called accidental, and when I pulled up to the lobby, I thought for a moment that he was going to ask me in. 'It's been a long week,' he said. It sounded like an invitation. ($14.)"
-- How are you supposed to know that 4100 is a bar on Sunset without any context at all? You just are. People will just get in your car (after making you wait fifteen minutes for them), say a number to you, and expect you to interpret that number correctly.
-- Riders will expect you to turn a blind eye to their shenanigans (like when they recommend a coke dealer to a friend while riding with you) and they will conform to neighborhood stereotypes (Silver Lake riders will be fashionable, bandana-sporting young people).
-- The fun of solving the mystery of where your fares are going is addictive, but beware: the just-one-more attitude could have you driving a guy from Beverly Hills all the way to Malibu at 1 am.
-- In a week of driving (24 rides), you'll only make $312 once Uber's taken its cut.
· Uber Cab Confessions [GQ]

Be Evil: Driving While Using Google Glass Should Be Legal, Says Google


By Angie Schmitt, February 28, 2014

 A San Diego woman had her distracted driving ticket overturned last month because a judge rules police couldn't prove her Google Glasses were on while she was driving. Photo: San Diego Union Tribune

 A San Diego woman had her distracted driving ticket overturned last month because a judge ruled police couldn’t prove her Google Glass device was on while she was driving.

Google Glass: Buying one will set you back $1,500. It makes even the most attractive people look ridiculous. It may or may not be the future of mobile technology.

A handful of states are trying to get out ahead of any risk this product might present to public safety. Bills are bubbling up in eight states would ban the use of Google Glass while driving.

Meanwhile, Google (corporate motto: “Don’t be evil“) is actively lobbying against such legislation in Illinois, Delaware, and Missouri. In Illinois, according to Reuters, Google has hired Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former political director, John Borovicka, to try to defeat the measure. The Illinois legislature is expected to vote on it this spring.

California courts have already seen a case involving Google Glass. Last month a San Diego woman’s distracted driving ticket was overturned because a judge ruled that police couldn’t prove the device was on at the time.

Google has been arguing that legislation preventing the use of the technology while driving would be premature, since there are a limited number in circulation, Reuters reports. There are about 10,000 Google Glass devices being tested nationwide and they will likely start being sold to the general public sometime this year.

But regardless of how many Google Glass units are out there, the science on distracted driving is clear. Thousands of people are killed each year in the U.S. because of distracted drivers. People can’t safely use hands-free devices while driving — the human brain just isn’t wired for multi-tasking. So why should states put lives at risk by letting people use internet-enabled eyewear while they’re behind the wheel of a multi-ton machine?

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, March 3, 2014

There’s a full week of advocacy opportunities ahead, but I’m probably most excited about the Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash. If I were going I would be even more excited, but it starts like 5 hours after I’m asleep.
  • Tuesday - Come help the pedestrian superheroes of Los Angeles Walks protect pedestrians at busy intersections. The meet is at the northwest corner or Alameda and Los Angeles st at the Placita de Dolores. Volunteer training begins every hour. The fun starts at 4. Get the details, here.
  • Tuesday –  With bike lanes in West Hollywood and Los Angeles on Santa Monica, the missing gap along this important east/west corridor is Beverly Hills. A Blue Ribbon Committee has officially recommended to council that they widen Santa Monica and stripe in bike lanes, but the council may still need convincing as detractors have been attending meetings in the past. Get the details, here.
  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday –  Each year, the City of Los Angeles receives federal grant funds to assist businesses to create jobs; provide job training for adults and youth; improve neighborhoods through projects that eliminate slum and blight; affordable housing, services for Domestic Violence Shelters , and fair housing. These public hearings, starting at 6 pm in The Valley, Central L.A. and South L.A. respectively, will help the city create a priority list to submit to the feds. Get the details, here.
  • Wednesday – Councilmember Huizar is sponsoring “Complete Streets Day” at City Hall during the City Council meeting. I honestly have no idea what that means, but we’ll be there. 10 am at City Hall. If you get it, it will be broadcast live on Channel 35.
  • Wednesday – Expect there to be a lot said about Metro’s fare proposal,teh one that would both raise base fares and eliniate the cost of transfers, over the next month. The public hearing the the Metro Board Room is March 29. The first chance to officially weigh-in comes Tuesday night at the San Fernando Valley Service Sector meeting. Read the meeting’s agenda, here. And you can read about Metro’s fare proposal, here.
  • Thursday – Cyclists ride to the trial for the hit and run driver that killed Andy Garcia. Come out and support a fallen rider(s) and support his family as the jury trial begins. Read more on Facebook.
  • Sunday – Remember when the Marathon Crash Race, brought to you by Wolfpack Hustle, was the largest bicycle event in the city? Ahhh, life pre-CicLAvia. But that doesn’t mean this event isn’t an amazing bicycling event. Meet at 3. Ride starts at 4. I would register ahead of time. Get the details, here.

Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: U.S. DOT Fails to Get Travel Forecasting Right


By Phineas Baxandall and Tony Dutzik, March 3, 2014

The U.S. Department of Transportation seems to be stuck in a bizarre time warp.  For nine years in a row Americans have decreased their average driving miles. Yet U.S. DOT’s most recent biennial report to Congress on the state of the nation’s transportation system, released last Friday, forecasts that total vehicle miles will increase between 1.36 percent to 1.85 percent each year through 2030.

Times have changed. Why hasn't DOT gotten the memo? Image: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/x-ray_delta_one/5124536635/##Flickr/James Vaughan##
Times have changed. Why hasn’t DOT gotten the memo?

Just how out of whack is that forecast? Consider the following:
  • Vehicle travel hasn’t increased by even 1 percent in any year since 2004. Yet the U.S. DOT assumes that driving will increase at a rate significantly faster than that every year on average through 2030.
  • The new report uses for one of its two scenarios the same flawed forecasting model that has overestimated vehicle travel 61 times out of 61 since 1999.
  • In a particularly absurd twist, the U.S. DOT forecast doesn’t even get the past right. The report “projects” (based on 2010 data) that Americans drove 5 percent more miles in 2012 than they actually did. To hit the DOT forecast for 2014, Americans would need to increase their driving by 9 percent this year alone.
Why should we care about all this? With transportation funds increasingly scarce — and especially with Congress due to reauthorize the nation’s transportation law — policy-makers need good guidance about where to invest. A sensible approach, especially given the recent decline in driving and increasing demand for transit, would be to plow a greater share of those limited resources into expanding access to public transportation and active transportation modes while focusing highway spending on fixing our existing roads and bridges.

Instead, the U.S. DOT’s travel forecast is used as justification to propose a dramatic increase in highway spending to fund all the new and expanded highways that the DOT presumes we’ll need to accommodate all of those imagined new cars and drivers. The agency asserts that the nation would need to spend between $124 billion and $146 billion each year to maintain and improve the highway system — numbers that are sure to find their way immediately into highway lobby press releases and be repeatedly cited in congressional hearings.

What makes the DOT forecast so bewildering is that the agency — elsewhere in the very same document — acknowledges the strong possibility that many of the factors that have caused the recent drop in driving may be long-lasting. The report states:

[A] number of indicators point toward saturation in vehicle trips and vehicle miles of travel per person, with the peak of most per-person and per-household statistics occurring in 1995. Several factors could be possible explanations for this apparent saturation, such as the desire to limit the time spent in travel and replacing physical trips with electronic communication or online shopping.
In addition, the report cites changing travel trends among Millennials, who have reduced their driving more than any other age group over the past decade. “Youth,” the U.S. DOT report tells us, “prefer to live in high-density areas where there are more modal options and shorter trip lengths,” while “youth concerns for the environment play a role in their travel decisions.”

In other words, the U.S. DOT report acknowledges much of the evidence that Americans’ transportation needs and desires are changing, but it fails to do so in the one place with dollars-and-cents implications: its forecast of future funding needs.

To be fair, much of the problem with the U.S. DOT’s forecast is that it is an amalgamation of forecasts made by each of the 50 states. States have been notoriously slow to change their habit of making inflated driving predictions. They have persistently overshot, and change is only beginning to take place in a few states. Most states assume that a return to rapid increases in driving is just around the corner.
America clear
ly has large, unmet transportation funding needs.  But the U.S. DOT does no one any favors by producing wildly inflated estimates of highway spending needs based on warmed-over forecasts that have been proven wrong over and over again and that fail to reflect real – and likely lasting – changes in how Americans get around.

The time has come for a real, honest and well-informed discussion of America’s transportation needs. The U.S. DOT’s report to Congress provided a golden opportunity for the agency to share evidence of America’s changing transportation needs and help congressional leaders adapt to a new reality.

Community Message ~ El Cholo Cafe

Agency Logo
Monday March 3, 2014, 3:51 PM

LASD - Altadena Station, Los Angeles County Sheriff

Community: #Altadena Sheriff's Deputies holding Tip-A-Cop Event at El Cholo Cafe in Pasadena March 6th... Join us!

Come out and join the Altadena Sheriff's Deputies at the El Cholo Cafe, 260 E. Colorado Blvd., Suite 203, at the Paseo in Pasadena on March 6th, 2014. Simply come in to El Cholo Cafe any time during March 6th and 15% of the bill and 100% of the tip will go towards our programs all day long! Just tell your waiter you are supporting the Altadena Sheriff's Deputies.

Altadena Deputies will be serving meals between 6:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M., to raise much need funds for our Youth Programs & our Baker to Vegas Running Team.

Come on out and "Tip a Cop" as they serve your family and friends delicious dinners in uniform.

Visit the Altadena Sheriff's Station Web Page:

Why Automobile Dependence Is The First Roadblock To Building Sustainable Cities


By Corey Foster, February 28, 2014

Traffic and Urban Car Culture

In his book, “Overcoming Automobile Dependence”, environmental scientist Peter Newman makes a very interesting point. He points out that developed economies; especially countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have developed a kind of “addiction” to the use of automobiles to commute. This has given rise to an increase in the number of cars on road today. The call for wider roads and an infrastructure that can support faster travel has meant there is a gradual shift towards roads that do not have impediments like pedestrians and cyclists. 

Newman calls for drastic changes to the urban living systems and a smarter growth methodology to beat autombile dependence. This does not necessarily imply a move from cars to bicycles. The urban landscape today is vastly different from what it was a hundred years back. People have a genuine reason to travel several miles every single day that a bicycle or pedestrian driven landscape is no longer realistic. 

In some parts of the world, there is a sustained emphasis on using fuel-friendly cars. One of the biggest polluters of the world is the United States where the use of gas guzzling large cars carrying a sole passenger is not uncommon. Today, there is a movement to encourage car pooling and the use of public transport for commute by several state governments in North America. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the country could save close to 800 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions a year for every worker who avoids the car once a week. Similarly, an average car can save close to 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year simply by having a fuel efficiency that is 1 mpg better

These environmental considerations are also a reason why electric cars are now increasing in popularity. Electric cars in general are known to deliver a vastly higher mileage (nearly 6.7 times higher) compared to gasoline-driven vehicles. Electric vehicles could also save as much as 75000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year compared to fuel driven cars of the same size. 

Besides emphasis on electric driven vehicles and public transportation systems, a sustainable city also needs to accomodate living spaces that are green. New York City is one of the best examples for this. Despite being one of the most populated cities of the modern world, the NYC is still home to more than 28,000 acres of park land. More than 82% of Manhattan residents do not use cars for commuting to work. Sustainable living is a broad concept that extends right from sustainable transportation to green buildings, sustainable accomodations and sophisticated recycling of waste.

Having said that, most of these initiatives need to come from the federal governments. One area where the citizens can take the initiative directly is in their choice of transportation. By reducing automobile dependence and adopting transportation systems that are eco-friendly and sustainable, we can take the first steps towards ensuring a beautiful city for our children.

The world's worst smog cities

Beijing is covered in smog again, but the Chinese capital isn't the only big city suffering from this problem at the moment. From Asia to the Middle East to the Americas, urban dwellers are choking on bad air.


 By Julia Vergin, March 3, 2014

Smog in Beijing

Beijing, China

The Chinese capital has been suffering again from smog this winter with residents forced to wear masks outdoors. But, according to the most recent figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), the megacity doesn't even rank among the top 10 cities for smog. Most of the worst afflicted are smaller cities across the developing world.

View of the river in Ahwaz, Iran  

Ahwaz, Iran

The city of Ahwaz ranks worst on the WHO's list when it comes to smog, making it, officially, the city with the dirtiest air in the world. The reason is the amount of heavy industry in the city, which uses oil, metals and natural gas in its production processes.

Ulan Bator, Mongolia 

Ulan Bator, Mongolia

Ulan Bator is not only one of the coldest capitals on earth, it's also the city with the second worst air pollution worldwide. During the winter months, domestic fireplaces with coal and wood contribute up to 70 percent of the smog in the city.

A cyclist cycles through smog in Lahore

Lahore, Pakistan

Air pollution is one of Pakistan's main environmental concerns at the moment. The situation is particularly dramatic in the country's second largest city, Lahore. The smog is caused primarily by the high volume of road traffic, rubbish incineration and dust from the surrounding deserts.

City traffic in New Delhi

New Delhi, India

In the nearly 10 million-strong city of New Delhi, the number of cars has increased from 180,000 to 3.5 million in the last 30 years. Still, it's the city's coal powered plants that are causing the biggest problem. They contribute to around 80 percent of the total air pollution in the city.

A sandstorm forms over Riyadh 

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Sandstorms, like here in Riyadh, can contribute to smog forming because they increase the amount of particles in the air. In a place like Saudi Arabia, the intense ultra-violet rays also transform transport and industry emissions into ozone.

Skyline in Cairo

Cairo, Egypt

The poor air quality in Cairo causes a number illnesses among city residents, like chronic respiratory problems and lung cancer. The reason for the air pollution is an increase in road traffic and the booming industrial sector.

Street scene in Dhaka

Dhaka, Bangladesh

According to a study by the Max-Planck Institute in Mainz, some 15,000 people die every year in Dhaka due to air pollution. Researchers found the world's highest concentration of sulfur dioxide there.

Smog in Moscow

Moscow, Russia

Even if it looks the same the world over, smog is different, depending on the city. Smog in Moscow, for instance, is characterized by high amounts of hydrocarbons. The westerly winds which regularly blow across Moscow mean that the western part of the city generally has better air quality.

Smog over Mexico city with volcano in the background

Mexico City, Mexico

The smog in Mexico City is made worse by the geographical location. The city is surrounded on three sides by mountains. Due to the high levels of sulfur dioxide and hydrocarbons in the air, Mexico City was long considered one of the most polluted cities in the world. The situation is now improving due to new transport policies and certain factories being shutdown.

Video: Wirral UKIP members in national day of protest over road toll fees

Campaigners joined by MEP Paul Nuttall at Wallasey Tunnel 


By Liam Murphy, March 3, 2014


 Members of the UK Independence Party protesting against how the tolls imposed by Mersey Tunnels are used across Wirral.

 Political campaigners gathered to protest at rising tunnel tolls at a bridge over Wallasey tunnel entrance.

Watch: Paul Nuttall discusses the day of protest--go to the website to view video.

The protest was part of the UK Independence Party national day of action against road tolling across the UK and the deputy leader of UKIP and north west MEP Paul Nuttall was among those at the protest in Wirral.

UKIP's Paul Nuttall, second from left, Deputy Leader of the UK Independence Party and Member of the European Parliament for the North West England, joined other members of his party in protesting against how the tolls imposed by Mersey Tunnels are used across Wirral
Photo by James Maloney
UKIP's Paul Nuttall, second from left, Deputy Leader of the UK Independence Party and Member of the European Parliament for the North West England, joined other members of his party in protesting against how the tolls imposed by Mersey Tunnels are used across Wirral.
UKIP activists and campaigners have been occupying strategic locations close to road tolls across the UK and displaying 'Scrap the Tolls' banners and placards to show their support for the  removal of tolls.

In Wirral UKIP around 10 activists were campaigning at Oakdale Road bridge, Wallasey from 7.30am this morning, holding a large banner calling for the tolls to be scrapped.

Leader of Wirral UKIP Phil Griffiths was there, along with MEP Paul Nuttall, UKIP deputy leader, who said: "Modern day motorists are fleeced by ANPR cameras and electronic tolling systems rather than by a man wearing a mask and brandishing pistols, but we should make no mistake – it is still highway robbery.”

UKIP's Paul Nuttall, Deputy Leader of the UK Independence Party and Member of the European Parliament for the North West England, joined other members of his party in protesting against how the tolls imposed by Mersey Tunnels are used across Wirral
UKIP's Paul Nuttall, Deputy Leader of the UK Independence Party and Member of the European Parliament for the North West England, joined other members of his party in protesting against how the tolls imposed by Mersey Tunnels are used across Wirral
  Earlier this month Merseytravel councillors voted overwhelmingly in favour of a tunnel toll  increase, with only four members of the 18-strong passenger transport authority voting against.

It means car drivers using the Mersey tunnels will see the toll they pay for each journey rise by 10p, to £1.70, from April 1.

It is the second year in a row that tolls have increased for users of the Birkenhead and Wallasey tunnels.

The 'Scrap the Tolls' campaign was launched by UKIP leader Nigel Farage in 2002.

He said: "Our opposition to road tolling is longstanding, and our campaign gets larger every year. Road tolls are bad for the environment, bad for traffic congestion and bad for motorists’ wallets.

"They represent nothing more than a stealth tax on motorists who already pay road tax to use the public road network in the UK."

When Traffic Congestion Is Both a Great Thing and a Terrible Thing


By Eric Jaffe, March 3, 2014

 When Traffic Congestion Is Both a Great Thing and a Terrible Thing

Daily commuters think of traffic congestion as unequivocally awful, but the people who run brick-and-mortar businesses tend to be torn. On one hand, they too hate when bad traffic prevents workers and customers from coming and going as quickly as they please. On the other, business owners recognize that heavy traffic indicates an active spot and encourages vital interactions — in short, that it's a sign of success.

Transport researcher Matthias Sweet of McMaster University has attempted to measure both the good and the bad of metro area traffic. In the Journal of Transport Geography, Sweet reports that businesses may be more likely to leave urban areas with lots of regional congestion but prefer to stay in cities with lots of local congestion. The yin and the yang of traffic continues.
Sweet's words, our emphasis:
In sum, while regional congestion appears to be a drag, local congestion appears to function as an amenity — implying that there is truth in the competing notions among engineers and economists of congestion as a diseconomy and among urban designers of congestion as an amenity.
Sweet's previous work also demonstrates the push and pull traffic has on a city's productivity. In a study of 88 congested metros from last fall, he reported that congestion initially encourages economic growth but then becomes a drag once it reaches a certain threshold — roughly 4.5 minutes per trip. Past that point, traffic stops recruiting people to an area and starts grating on quality of life for workers.

The new work looks specifically at business in the Philadelphia metro area. Sweet tracked the movements of more than 30,000 Philadelphia businesses in five industries (finance, health care, manufacturing, real estate, and wholesale trade) from 2003 to 2007 and likewise examined local and regional traffic levels during the same period. The congestion analysis compared job accessibility during free-flowing road conditions to those during peak afternoon rush-hour.

The question Sweet wanted to ask was simple (do firms flee congested areas?). The answer he found wasn't.

Sweet found that Philadelphia firms were more likely to relocate away from the metro area as regional congestion increased, but wanted to stay when there was lots of local congestion. Strangely, he found that fleeing firms (with the exception of those in the real estate industry) sought out a new site with lots of regional congestion but not one with a great deal of local traffic — a complete contrast in preference to the decision about leaving.

In aggregate, though, Sweet concluded that regional congestion was a drag while local congestion was desirable. Firms flee regional congestion more than they flock to it. They also stick to local congestion more than they shy away from it.

So in addition to the amount of metro area traffic, the location of it matters, too. While the finding focused on Philadelphia, Sweet tells Cities "it is unlikely to be unique" because it's consistent with a nuanced perspective on traffic and firm location. And it makes sense that regional congestion would hurt a business by increasing commute times while local congestion would help it by increasing personal and corporate interaction (or, in the parlance of scholars, agglomeration).

We all want to work in a buzzing activity center. We just don't always love getting there.