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, March 6, 2014

Blind man survives being run over by Metro train


By Laura J. Nelson, March 6, 2014

 Metro Red Line

 Riders stand back as a train arrives at the Universal City Red Line station.

 A blind man who fell off the edge of a subway platform Thursday afternoon and into the path of an oncoming Metro train survived the accident mostly unharmed, officials said.

"It really is a miracle," Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokeman Paul Gonzales told The Times. "It's something you only see on TV."

The man, an unidentified 47-year-old Los Angeles resident, had been using a cane to feel his way toward the edge of Metro's Wilshire/Vermont subway platform, Gonzales said.

The operator of the incoming Red Line train saw the man and honked to warn him that he was about to reach the edge of the platform, but it was too late: The man fell and tumbled into the track bed as the train approached.

When the eastbound Red Line train slowed to a stop, the man was trapped underneath, Gonzales said.
The Los Angeles Fire Department rescued him about 20 minutes later, shaken but largely unhurt.
Gonzales said the train passed directly over the man, who fell into the track bed between the rail and the base of the subway platform.

A Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman said he may have fallen under a small overhang near the base of the platform.

The man was transported to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where he was listed in fair condition, Main said.

He is expected to make a full recovery.

[Updated 7:15 p.m. March 6: Graham Purvis of Santa Monica was in the second car of the Red Line train when it pulled into the station. He said when the train stopped, the doors didn't open.
The operator walked through the train, telling passengers that something was pressed up against the doors and that they would have to be opened manually.

As passengers finally exited, Purvis said the operator and a Metro employee on the platform told them not to look under the train because someone was caught underneath. They weren't told whether the victim had survived.

"I got sort of a sick feeling," Purvis said. "I wanted to look, but also didn't."

Another passenger peered under the train, he said, and indicated that the man might have survived.
"But we didn't know for sure," Purvis said. "The whole thing - I was quite shocked."

Purvis said it was the first time he'd taken the Metro. Though dramatic, he said the experience was otherwise fine, and has no plans to stop riding the train.]

Caltrans on the Hot Seat: Assembly Looks at State, Local Planning Tensions


By Melanie Curry, March 5, 2014

It was the California State Assembly’s turn to review the recent State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) report on Caltrans at a Transportation Committee hearing Monday.

Chair Bonnie Lowenthal addresses the Transportation Committee (find a video of the hearing here)

The discussion played out along the same lines as the Senate Transportation Committee hearing last month, where Professor Joel Rogers, who led the team that produced the report for the California Transportation Agency (CalSTA), presented his findings on the dysfunction at Caltrans.

Rogers drew questions from committee members when he cited the lack of coordination between local transportation planning agencies and Caltrans. 

Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) was defensive of local planning. “Locals need a strong voice in the planning process,” she said. “I don’t see how the state has the resources or ability to do that kind of planning on the local level.”

Rogers was compelled to clarify himself several times. “I do not mean to imply that local control is a bad thing,” he said, but the report was “quite critical that the self-help counties build projects and then push all the maintenance onto Caltrans without doing anything like a lifecycle accounting on the actual costs.”

Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee
Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee

“We just don’t think local control has been well managed,” he said. “Caltrans needs to give locals the flexibility they need. What we heard over and over in our interviews was, ‘It’s such a drag dealing with Caltrans, we just try to go around them.’ As a state agency you don’t want a system that is deliberately at war with itself.”

Rogers skewered both Caltrans and the legislature in much the same words he used in the recent Senate hearing, where he criticized Caltrans for its “hypertrophic aversion to risk” that prevents it from being an effective partner. This time he evoked an appreciative, if sheepish, laugh from the committee members when he remarked that they had a hand in making Caltrans the dysfunctional organization it is today.

Two committee members, Assemblymembers Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) and Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), seemed eager to move reforms along. ”What’s our plan of action? How can we be involved?” asked Daly.

“This needs to be taken care of on a much higher level than the local level,” Achadjian said. “Let’s not let this end up on a shelf. We need a follow up.”

CalSTA undersecretary Brian Annis promised that follow-up. Within two weeks,  a vision statement will be completed for Caltrans, he said. This is the first step in the report’s  Early Action Plan, a set of recommendations from the SSTI team for short-term actions to get reform moving.

CalSTA is also moving forward on the second step, forming eight teams to develop performance measures and action plans. Each team will be headed up by a CalSTA staffer, although team compositions have not yet been finalized. The eight areas of focus are: Performance-Based Management, Smart Investment, Design Manuals and Guidance, Strategic Partnership, Innovation and Risk, Human Resources, and Communication.

Committee Chair Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) applauded Caltrans for inviting input on how it can improve its policies and practices. “Asking others to publicly critique one’s own operations certainly takes guts,” she said.

TransForm Executive Director Stuart Cohen urged the Assembly to push Caltrans to move forward on one of SSTI’s most immediately-achievable steps: relinquishing oversight of bike facilities on urban streets and endorsing the National Association of City Transportation Officials Urban Street Design Guide. ”When Caltrans first put in place this requirement that cities and states follow its Highway Design Manual’s guidance on bicycle design, it made sense,” he said. “There wasn’t good practice on rearranging intersections and how to design bike lanes. We needed a standard statewide approach.”

But since then, “We have been bypassed by the rest of the country where cities and states have allowed much more innovation and experimentation, and now it’s known how to design good bike facilities,” said Cohen.

“The legislature doesn’t need to mandate this; Caltrans can do it on their own,” he added. “But if they don’t, I think the legislature should do something that forces their hand.”

March Forth Demo Pits Super-Pedestrians vs. Giant Metal Machines


By Joe Linton, March 5, 2014

 Why did the Superhero walk across the road? To be on the safe side. photo: Joe Linton/LA Streetsblog

 Why did the Superhero walk across the road? To be on the safe side.

Superheroes were spotted late yesterday afternoon assembling across from Union Station. Could it be another X-men sequel? Nah.

Yesterday was March 4th, the only day of the year that actually forms a sentence. At least when it’s said out loud. Since that two-word sentence is an exhortation to walk, Los Angeles Walks celebrated the day by taking to the streets.

The March Forth Pedestrian Day of Action was a somewhat light-hearted way to take on some very serious issues. 

L.A. Walks has reviewed car-ped crash data and identified several areas around Metro stations where there are large numbers of both pedestrians and collisions that harm them. Last October, the organization staged superhero interventions in Hollywood and MacArthur Park areas; yesterday’s walk signal in the sky drew the heroes downtown. In downtown L.A., Recent LAPD stings of scofflaw driver behavior… never happened. Volunteers gathered at street corners outside of Union Station and later the Red/Purple Line Civic Center Station. 

L.A. Walks Steering Committee member Alexis Lantz emphasized that L.A. Walks volunteers weren’t out to stop traffic, but just to keep pedestrians safe from cars making illegal right and left turns in front of pedestrians. In addition to stunts like yesterday’s, Lantz mentioned that L.A. Walks is taking on bigger policy changes, including ending “right turn on red.”

It shouldn’t take a superhero to get across the street safely, but it looks like may take some heavy-lifting to realign local street policies and practices to value pedestrian lives over car through-put.

A few more action shots after the step, er, jump.

Keeping the crosswalk safe
Keeping the crosswalk safe from the evil Right Hook
Hulk smash line of stopped cars!
green… man… smash… line… of… stopped… cars!
Many pedestrians appeared unaware of super-beings in their midst
Some pedestrians appeared unaware of super-beings in their midst

America's Cities Are Still Too Afraid to Make Driving Unappealing


By Emily Badger, March 6, 2014

America's Cities Are Still Too Afraid to Make Driving Unappealing

The morning I wrote this I took public transportation to work. I hopped on the bus around the corner from my house, then the train for a few stops farther. I took mass transit because it was convenient, because my card was already preloaded with the cash that diverts from my paycheck, and because the ride gave me 20 minutes to start the day browsing Twitter.

Baked into this decision, however, were a number of other nearly subliminal calculations about the alternatives not taken. I did not drive the car (yes, my household has a car) because downtown Washington, D.C., is a hot mess at rush hour, and because parking near the office costs the equivalent of a fancy hamburger a day. I did not bike because it was snowing. (Again.) And I did not walk because the distance was too far.

My commuting choices — just like everyone's — are the sum of the advantages of one transportation mode weighed against the downsides of all other options. Or, more succinctly: my feelings about the bus are mediated by what I'm thinking about my car.

At a macro level, this decision-process implies that there are two ways to shift more commuters out of single-occupancy vehicles and into other modes of transportation, whether that's biking,
carpooling, walking, or transit. We can incentivize transit by making all of those other options more attractive. Or we can disincentivize driving by making it less so. What's become increasingly apparent in the United States is that we'll only get so far playing to the first strategy without incorporating the second.

"One of the things I keep looking at is cities like Boulder, Davis [California], and Portland — places well-known for walking and biking," says Daniel Piatkowski, a recent graduate of the design and planning doctoral program at the University of Colorado at Denver. I met him earlier this year at the Transportation Research Board annual conference, where he was presenting on what he's simply come to describe as the "carrots" and "sticks" that might be deployed to get people out of their cars.

"We're still not seeing any really significant mode shifts, despite decades of investment," he says, still talking about the cycling capitals of Portland and Boulder. "The crucial component that's missing is that we're not implementing any policies that disincentivize driving."

We can quibble over how to define "really significant" mode shifts. In Portland, the share of commuters who get to work by bike is about 6 percent, well above the national average (roughly half a percent). But Piatkowski's latter point is unquestionably true: relative to European cities, it is exceptionally hard in U.S. communities to implement real disincentives to driving.
There are ways to do it. We could reduce parking availability or raise parking rates. We could implement congestion pricing. We could roll back subsidies for gas and highways and public parking garages. We could tie auto-insurance rates or infrastructure taxes to how much people actually drive. All of these "sticks," to use Piatkowski's term, would have a real impact on how people chose to get around. And that impact would no doubt be larger than what we get from building new bike lanes, sidewalks, or bus stops.
But these are the options we almost never choose. For his research, Piatkowski looked at four cities that won grants each worth $25 million to increase biking and walking as part of a federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. Unanimously, those cities spent almost all of their money on "carrots." Piatkowski couldn't even find much literature on the impact of driving disincentives in the United States because so few are implemented.
"On a scale of getting to a place that is like Zurich or Freiberg, one of these really epic walkable, transit-friendly, bikeable places," he says. "We're just so far away from that."
•       •       •       •       •
Piatkowski and his research collaborator, Wesley Marshall, aren't arguing that cities shouldn't deploy carrots like striping bike lanes or improving bus service or paving shaded sidewalks for pedestrians. After all, driving disincentives won't be all that effective if commuters don't have viable alternatives. More likely, these would just harm low-income commuters by increasing the burdens of driving without decreasing the burdens of alternative transportation.

The question is really how far we can get down the path of least resistance, pursuing only the politically easy tactics. If the goal at the end of the day is changing behavior, how much can you really achieve by showing people a nice new bike lane?

"It's going to be marginal," says Marshall, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at UC-Denver. "You can't expect to put in a bike lane and for it to be a magical elixir in most of the country."

That's not always the case. Carrot-like improvements to transit in New York City have significantly changed behavior because disincentives to drive are already built into the environment. New York is expensive and crowded, which means that parking is costly and congestion is bad. But elsewhere — in cities where driving is systematically subsidized in so many ways — the disincentives would have to come from more explicit policy.

In the absence of such policies, Arlington County, Virginia, offers a good case study for the upper bounds of what's possible with incentives alone. The county's commuter services office runs one of the most advanced travel demand management programs in the country, just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.

 "The stuff we focus on is much more mundane, ground-level tactics," says Chris Hamilton, chief of the county's Commuter Services Bureau. "The Bike Arlington guys  are just trying to help so many adults over the hump of riding a bike for the first time again."

The county runs commuter stores and bike clinics. It teaches people how to swipe transit cards and find the bus. It works with building managers to coax them into putting bike lockers in the basement, and transit screens in the lobby. It prods local employers to subsidize transit cards and bike-share memberships.

Through all of this work, Hamilton's office calculates that 42,000 trips a day in the county that would otherwise take place in a single-occupancy vehicle now occur in other modes instead. Three-quarters of those trips are taken by mass transit. All of that has come through lowering the barriers or increasing the appeal of alternative transportation.

That's an impressive number. But when asked if he wouldn't rather the county just tax the heck out of parking, Hamilton laughs. He knows that would make his job much easier. "We wouldn't have to do any of this," he says.

A creative city might be able to make a disincentive feel like an incentive. Piatkowski points to a "parking cash-out" law in California that requires employers to give workers a cash allowance to not use parking.

"The stick then becomes missing out on the reward," Piatkowski says.

But why not just wield disincentives as what they honestly are? "Behavior change" sounds vaguely manipulative (whether we're talking about behavior involving automobiles or thermostats). But in this context, the disincentives are really about removing subsidies and distortions from the market. Parking isn't really free. Gas taxes don't actually cover the costs of maintaining our roads. So why is it so hard to disincentivize driving at the same time that we incentivize the alternatives, at least until they're in some better kind of equilibrium?

"Because we're afraid," Hamilton says. "Because we don't have the guts to pull the levers on what we want. We know that we want a walkable, bikeable, transit community. We're building it. But we're afraid to push the disincentive lever too hard."