To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

$100 billion needed for fed transit program, APTA says


March 11, 2014

At its Legislative Conference, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) called on Congress to authorize a $100.4 billion federal transit program over six years, which would grow the current $10.7 billion annual program to $22.2 billion by 2020.

Additionally, APTA’s plan calls for a number of policy changes in the program that will ensure that the industry provides effective and efficient public transportation.

“The industry has come together and developed a consensus recommendation that creates American jobs and addresses the growing demand for public transportation,” said Peter Varga, chair of APTA and CEO of the Rapid in Grand Rapid Michigan. “Our future is riding on public transportation and we are moving forward to work with Congress to implement this plan that will help our local communities grow.”

The return on investment of its recommendations will result in an additional 1.1 million jobs created or sustained annually; $66 billion in business sales generated yearly; and $9.5 billion in local, state and federal tax revenue generated each year, according to APTA.

“This multi-modal plan we are recommending fosters community growth by driving economic development and revitalizes neighborhoods,” said APTA President/CEO Michael Melaniphy. “Increasing investment in public transportation and roads is essential for growing our economy in the U.S. and remaining competitive in a global economy.”

Some highlights of the APTA recommendations for authorization of the federal transportation funding bill includes:
  • Authorize a public transportation program that provides strong funding for no less than six years.
  • Establish a new dedicated Trust Fund funding mechanism that supplements existing dedicated revenues for the Highway Trust Fund and the Mass Transit Account.
  • Restore the bus and bus facilities program to pre-MAP 21 levels in two years.
  • Increase and balance federal capital investments in programs for formula funding, New Starts and extensions, state of good repair, and bus and bus facilities.
  • Ensure existing public transportation infrastructure and facilities are maintained and updated through major capital investments in current and future projects.
  • Enact a robust and long-term program for investment in high-speed and intercity passenger rail.
In support of its recommendations to Congress, the association also launched a new nationwide integrated outreach campaign called “Where Public Transportation Goes, Communities Grow.” It features research based advertising, public relations and social media as well as a digital grassroots outreach initiative.

Mass transit ridership grows from pathetically low to just low


By Ben Adler, March 10, 2014

 crowded subway

The media was impressed by a piece of good news on Monday: Last year, the number of trips Americans took on mass transit reached its highest point since 1956, according to a report from the American Public Transportation Association. Unfortunately, stories on the subject are leaving out an important statistic: How many Americans were there in 1956?

The answer, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is 168.9 million. In 2013, the population was 314.1 million. Keep that in mind when you read articles about transit ridership’s rebound.

The New York Times, for example, devoted 651 words to its story on the new report. It listed the well-established reasons that transit use is rising: Gas prices are going up and younger people are less addicted to driving. And it notes the relevant fact that mass transit ridership is rising faster than population growth. So it is rising in relative terms.

But the Times neglects to point out the larger relative term: Compared to 60 years ago (when mass transit systems were actually less comfortable; the New York City subway wasn’t even air-conditioned), transit ridership is way down. The important number, after all, isn’t total transit trips taken, it’s total transit trips divided by population. Since our population has nearly doubled since 1956, that means our transit use has been cut in half.

Americans made a series of disastrous decisions in the 1950s through roughly 2005, moving us heavily toward suburban sprawl and driving. And we kept on making them even in the face of gathering evidence that they were contributing to the environmental catastrophe of climate change. A shift back toward a better system is worth celebrating, but keep the champagne corked until we’ve actually increased the percentage of Americans taking mass transit, not just improved slightly from a terrible low point.

Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Grant to Fund Bike Path in City

Assemblyman Holden and SoPas Council member Cacciotti Make it Happen


March 11, 2014


Assemblymember Chris Holden, a member of the Governing Board of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, announced on Thursday that the City of South Pasadena has been awarded a $410,000 grant from the SMMC to help fund the Arroyo Seco Bike Trail.

“I see this project as a great opportunity to connect people from various neighborhoods along the Arroyo Seco. The bike path will enhance trail accessibility for residents of South Pasadena, Pasadena and Los Angeles” explained Holden. “It’s a project first proposed by South Pasadena Councilmember Michael Cacciotti and we’ve been working closely with him and the city to make it a reality.”

The news is just what Cacciotti wanted to hear.

“The award of this nearly half-million dollar grant by the SMMC brings this project one step closer to providing a bicycle/pedestrian connection between the San Gabriel Valley and the city of Los Angeles along the historic Arroyo Seco,” he said. “For the first time in over half a century, bicyclists and hikers of all ages will soon have an accessible and safe path to recreate and enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife of the Arroyo Seco watershed, thanks, in no small measure, to the efforts of Assemblymember Chris Holden and his staff.”

The Arroyo Seco Trail will stretch from the intersection of Lohman Lane at Stoney Drive, heading southwest to the South Pasadena city limits. It will travel along the South Pasadena Woodland Nature Park, and the Golf Course, through the parking lots and along the tennis courts ending in Arroyo Park. The trail will have interpretative signage, bird houses, benches, water fountains with pet attachments, and other amenities.


With Ridership on the Rise, Will Congress Step Up and Invest in Transit?


By Tanya Snyder, March 11, 2014

Yesterday the American Public Transportation Association reported that Americans made more transit trips in 2013 than in any other year since 1956. Of course, per capita ridership is still low compared to the 1950s, and we’re nowhere near the ridership peaks of the 1940s. But when transit trips increase 1.1 percent while population rises 0.7 percent, you know change is afoot.

Transit expansions, like LA's expo line, which opened in 2012, helped boost transit ridership to levels not seen in 57 years. But will the federal funding crisis keep transit from flourishing? Photo: ##http://thesource.metro.net/tag/expo-line-testing/##The Source##
Transit expansions, like LA’s expo line, which opened in 2012, have helped boost transit ridership to levels not seen in 57 years. But will the federal funding crisis keep transit from flourishing?

APTA, which is meeting in Washington this week for its legislative conference, has some ideas about how to keep the momentum going in the right direction.

It goes a little something like this: Pass a transportation bill. Make it a six-year bill — not a measly two years like the current MAP-21 bill. Raise the gas tax, pass a VMT fee, do whatever you need to do to provide a steady funding source. And then invest $100.4 billion over the next six years in transit.

This year, transit got $8.6 billion from the Highway Trust Fund and another $2.1 billion from the general fund — mostly for New Starts capital grants — for a combined total of $10.7 billion. APTA wants to see that number grow to $12.1 billion in 2015 and $22.2 billion in 2020.

While APTA’s proposal would mark a major improvement, it’s not as big a jump as President Obama envisions. The White House budget proposal would bring transit funding up to $17.6 billion in 2015 — which APTA doesn’t call for until 2018. APTA would have funding grow more incrementally over time, while Obama envisions a big increase next year and then stability.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced yesterday that the administration would submit a transportation bill proposal to Congress, which it has not done previously.

While APTA is pushing for a six-year bill, the administration has rolled out a four-year bill, because that’s what its proposed funding method will support. Foxx told transit agency officials assembled for the APTA conference yesterday that he empathized with the need for long-term legislation.

“We as a nation have got to have a stable and predictable funding and policy,” Foxx said. “When you go from year to year off of continuing resolutions — or even MAP-21, which was politically a huge lift but a two-year bill — what happens to transit systems, what happens to our entire transportation system, is that folks don’t know how to plan. You don’t know whether to go forward with that engineering study because you’re not sure what’s going to happen down the road.”

After Foxx spoke, local leaders from around the country highlighted the importance of federal funding. Although the cumbersome federal process adds time and expense to projects, said Arizona State Senator Steve Farley, local money will never be sufficient to fund projects like the Tucson streetcar.

And forget state assistance. The current transportation chair of the Arizona statehouse is a Tea Partier more interested in holding hearings to investigate Agenda 21 than in funding mobility options for her constituents.

“As you might expect,” Farley said, “the Arizona legislature hasn’t been entirely helpful when it comes to moving our state forward in transportation projects.” So it’s a good thing the federal government stepped in and awarded a $63 million TIGER grant to the Tucson streetcar in 2012 — the largest award the program had ever made.

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman had the same story about the notoriously anti-transit governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker. “On every front where there is an opportunity to expand or improve public transit,” Bauman said, “the state is active — active — in its opposition.” The Milwaukee streetcar is being funded with about 85 percent federal funds.

And while Virginia just increased transportation spending, Alexandria Mayor William Euille said it’s often a better idea to approach the Federal Transit Administration, rather than the state, when looking for transit money.

While some places, like Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, have recently been able to raise more local funds to pay for transit expansions, these testimonials highlight how the FTA provides a crucial pipeline for transit funding that would disappear in many states if the federal transportation program went bankrupt.

The question now is whether Congress will respond to the upward trend in ridership growth by devoting more resources to transit.

“Will the record increase in public transit ridership finally convince Congress our nation must meet this growing demand?” said Larry Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union in a statement responding to the APTA ridership report. “Despite more and more people riding transit, more young people forgoing cars and growing urban populations, commuters all over the country are waiting longer for crowded buses and trains, if they come at all, and paying higher fares in many places. If we fail to deal with this continuing record growth in ridership, there will be an even more serious national crisis facing our nation’s already overcrowded and cash-strapped transit systems.”

What is the Future of the 210 Freeway? - A Crescenta Valley Perspective


By Susan Bolan, February 28, 2014

No doubt, if you have lived along the Foothills for some time, you have seen many changes with our freeways in the northeast.  I can remember clearly as a kid, driving down to Glendale via the college route of Cañada or Verdugo Blvds.  It was a beautiful drive.  There were no I-210 or SR-2 at that time.  In 1972, the 210 Freeway cut through our valley and many homes were taken, some that weren’t even needed for the roadway.  Later, when the segment of the 210 that runs from Lowell to Sunland Blvd. was constructed, my friend and I tried out the “new freeway.”  I remember thinking that the hills of La Tuna Canyon looked pretty cool from that vantage point but I doubted I would ever use that stretch for travel; Foothill Blvd. worked just fine.

For the next twenty-five years, I grew to depend on the 210 Freeway, taking me to school in the San Fernando Valley via the 118 and to work.  I didn’t really notice how the Crescenta Valley was starting to change.  The freeway “gap closure” in Claremont in 2002 and the building boom in Valencia and Santa Clarita, had forever altered the traffic patterns and thrown a substantial number of new cars and trucks onto the 210 Freeway.  The area near Lopez Canyon became more industrialized and trucks soon lined the edges of our rolling hills above Sylmar.  We had traffic for the first time.

The soft hum that at first sounded like a gentle river had turned to a loud “whoosh” at all hours of the day and night with intermittent “da-da-da-da” of Jake brakes from trucks.  This noise was echoed loudly by our bowl-shaped valley between the San Gabriel and Verdugo mountains.  The communities started to notice deterioration of the freeway surfaces from the heavy traffic and more big rig accidents than ever before.  In 2008, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) installed 1,000 meters at all onramps and 9 freeway-to-freeway connectors on the 210 from the San Bernardino county line to Sylmar.  They called it the I-210 “Congestion Relief” project but residents all along the corridor saw a worsening of traffic from this effort.  At that point, I realized that we have a problem.

On the horizon for the 210 Freeway, are three projects that will affect our lives for years to come.  The first, which has already begun, is the work on the 210 in La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Sunland-Tujunga and Lake View Terrace.  Caltrans is resurfacing the roadway pavement and adding sound walls; the work is expected to be completed in the spring of 2016.  In addition, is the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (DPW) project for sediment removal just north of the Devil’s Gate Reservoir, in the Hahamongna Watershed Park.  The proposed plan could move up to 4 million cubic yards of debris by truck for approximately 5 years.  That would amount to 425 truck trips a day, eastbound on the 210 during the excavation season from April to December.  And finally, the single-most destructive project to the region, being studied right now is the SR-710 Tunnel.  This massive project is projected to bring 180,000 vehicles each day to the 210 Freeway by way of two 4.9-mile tunnels.  The tunnel project would be the longest roadway tunnel in the U.S. and the widest, equal to the new Alaskan Way Tunnel in Seattle.  And, it will be tolled.  Construction is projected to take a full decade with 5 million cubic yards or 294,000 truckloads of dirt being excavated and trucked out, then back in via the 210 and 10 Freeways.  The draft environmental impact report (DEIR) is scheduled to be released this spring.  I encourage everyone who has concerns about this project to address them during the DEIR comment period.  More information and the petition against the tunnel can be found at no710.com.

So what exactly is the future of the 210 Freeway?  Unfortunately, only time will tell.  Keep informed and tell your elected officials that the quality of life in the 210 corridor is important to you.

Susan Bolan is a member of the No 710 Action Committee and a La Crescenta resident.

Big Senate Climate Caucus Live On The Internet (6 BLOGS) | PlanetSave

Big Senate Climate Caucus Live On The Internet (6 BLOGS) | PlanetSave

Kickstart a coloring book about electric cars


By Margaret Badore, March 10, 2014

eletric cehicle coloring book

 Ayumi Kim, who works for an electric vehicle maker in Los Angeles, gets a lot of odd questions. Questions like, "Can I plug my chainsaw into the cigarette lighter?"

She's teamed up with an artist friend, Sarah W-R, to create a fun way to get these questions answered. The two are Kickstarting a coloring book, which promises to be an entertaining way for kids and adults to learn about electric vehicles. Kim writes:
"I initially wanted to start the project because I got quite a laugh from the wide range of questions that I was being asked on a daily basis. I thought why not make it into a book that other people could also enjoy and learn from?"

  See the website for a video.

 AutoBlogGreen reports that Kim works for Tesla, but the coloring book project is not associated with the company.

DMV mulls how to regulate ‘driverless cars’


By Justin Pritchard, March 11, 2014

LOS ANGELES — California’s Department of Motor Vehicles is wading into the complex question of how to regulate the use of cars that rely on computers — not people — to drive them.

Though they sound like something from the future, “driverless cars” could be commercially available by decade’s end.

On Tuesday, the DMV is hearing ideas on how to integrate the cars onto public roads. Questions range from data privacy and security — to whether a person will have to be in the driver’s seat at all.

The DMV already has drafted rules governing how companies can test the technology. That was a reaction to the fact that Google had been testing on highways and in neighborhoods well before the Legislature decided to regulate.

Op-Ed: A Freeway-Divided Neighborhood Fights for Better Transit Connections


By Dominique Navarro, March 10, 2014

 Rendering of a bus station to be built in City Heights, San Diego.

Imagine that an infrastructure project promised to your community 30 years ago is finally coming to fruition. You’ve had decades to picture what could have been. Would you be frustrated about the wait? Excited about the result? This is how residents of San Diego’s City Heights neighborhood feel now, after a long-awaited transportation project recently received the funding needed to go forward.

In the 1980s, Caltrans — the state agency responsible for development and maintenance of highways, bridges and railways — split the City Heights community in half with the construction of a new freeway, Interstate 15. To compensate the neighborhood, officials promised a rapid bus line, known as the Centerline, which would end up costing $45 million. It took until last year for the remaining funds to be identified.

“We went through a lot,” said City Heights advocate Maria Cortez. “I’ve been on this since 1985. We want them to know we need our transit, we need it to improve… and we need the Centerline to go onboard.”

City Heights, which covers part of southeastern San Diego, has been a fast-growing community since the 1960s, when many of the neighborhood’s original single-family homes were replaced with multifamily apartment complexes. This increase in density aimed to fulfill new housing demands throughout the area. As the population grew, so did the proportion of low-income residents. The city decreased investment in the neighborhood as a result, and crime rates increased. Businesses began closing their doors.

Two decades later, Caltrans approached the community with what seemed like a good deal: If residents supported the construction of a new freeway through the middle of their neighborhood, Caltrans would work with the City Heights Community Development Corporation to establish a plan for compensating the community. Known as the Visions Project, the proposal submitted to Caltrans called for an eight-block cover over the freeway. The development was to include a town square with shops, restaurants, markets, a library and a community center.

The 1980s redevelopment plans also promised an express bus lane that would run parallel to the new freeway, connecting City Heights to job centers across the San Diego area. The community’s rate of transit ridership is four times the national average, so the Centerline was set to become an important tool for economic development and expansion.

 Caltrans rejected the freeway cover but agreed to fund the Centerline, recognizing how it would improve the regional transportation network. More than 20 years later, the agency has finally found the funds to give the Centerline the green light, with expected completion in 2015.

Located at freeway level, the Centerline bus would load City Heights passengers from two stops linked to the neighborhood by elevators. According to the City Heights CDC, the Centerline will have a huge effect on work commutes, decreasing travel times and increasing job options available to residents.

“City Heights is the San Diego region’s most walking-, biking- and transit-dependent community. It has the lowest automobile ownership and the highest transit ridership,” said Randy Van Vleck, transportation manager for the CDC. “This is an enormous accomplishment for the community.”

Today the City Heights and the CDC can breathe a sigh of relief. Yet for some neighborhood advocates, the Centerline is just the first of many accomplishments to come. Community members will now focus on incorporating the work of local artists into the design of the Centerline stops. They will also advocate for the extension of the San Diego trolley to one of the Centerline stops, further increasing the neighborhood accessibility.

“They told us that we were going to have the trolley,” said Cortez, the community advocate. “Then all of a sudden they said it wouldn’t be feasible for City Heights to use the trolley, so they told us no.” She explained that many residents “stayed together and fought and argued and determined that yes, we need the trolley.”

This determination to fight for better local infrastructure is once again paying dividends. According to Cortez, “the trolley is back on the drawing board again.”

The Center on Policy Initiatives, a grantee of the Surdna Foundation, is a nonprofit research and action institute dedicated to advancing economic equity for working people and diverse communities throughout the San Diego region.

Viaduct inspection reveals new and widening cracks

Washington State Department of Transportation will close the viaduct on March 22, to take a closer look at damage near Seneca and Spring streets.


By Bill Lucia, March 10, 2014

 Cracks in the viaduct, but don't panic yet.
  Cracks in the viaduct, but don't panic yet.

During a recent inspection of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, Washington State Department of Transportation engineers found that new cracks had formed and existing cracks had widened on the 61-year-old overpass.

The cracks, near Seneca Street and Spring Street, were discovered on March 1. WSDOT will close the double-decked bridge for one day on Saturday, March 22 to conduct further inspections and tests and to install equipment to monitor the size of the cracks.

“They're really small hairline cracks,” said WSDOT spokesperson Travis Phelps. “When I say widen I don't mean big gaping holes you can put your hand in. The viaduct is safe or we wouldn't have reopened it after inspection.”

Since the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, WSDOT has observed similar cracks on other segments of the viaduct. During the next inspection, Phelps said, engineers will try to determine whether a spot repair will keep the bridge sound, or if more “robust improvements” are required. The department could inject an epoxy into the cracks to prevent them from spreading or widening.

One of the tests that engineers will conduct during the closure will involve driving a truck loaded with gravel over the cracked areas to see how the structure reacts. WSDOT has said that it is unlikely the cracks are related to construction work on the Highway 99 Tunnel. The machine digging the tunnel is currently stopped, awaiting repairs, a little less than a half mile from Spring Street.

The structure has hundreds of cracks that are millimeters in width, Matt Preedy, deputy program administrator for the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project, said during a recent press conference. The cracks are mapped, and monitored with gauges and photographs. To strengthen other damaged sections of the viaduct, WSDOT has wrapped portions of the structure with carbon fiber.

If too much cracking takes place on the viaduct’s concrete, weight could be transferred to the structure’s steel, causing it to lose strength. The most sensitive section of the viaduct, said Preedy, is between S. Main Street and Columbia Street. “It’s safe for everyday use,” he said. “If we have a big earthquake, that’s the one thing that can take the bridge out of service.”

The Highway 99 Tunnel is designed to replace the viaduct. The new stretch of underground roadway was scheduled to open around December 2015. But an expert panel recently estimated that repairs to the boring machine digging the tunnel would delay the project's completion until summer or fall of 2016.

Vehicle Automation versus Connectivity, and What it Might Mean for Traffic


By Juan Matute, March 10, 2014


 The U.S. Department of Transportation’s depiction of connected vehicles on a controlled-access highway.

 ed’s note: This week, we’re featuring a short series of articles from our board member Juan Matute on what he’s thinking about technology and transportation.

I have the opportunity to be involved in a lot of interesting research as the Associate Director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies. Over the past year, I’ve been involved with our study of policy, behavioral, and market research to better understand opportunities and challenges for connected vehicles implementation.

The study’s formal title is NeTS:Large: Collaborative Research: Closing the loop between traffic/pollution sensing and vehicle route control using traffic lights and navigators, so we call it Green City Transportation Architecture. It’s funded by the National Science Foundation and is more exploratory than applied. Don’t expect to see the research project’s results become commercialized in the near term.

We’ve supported a team of computer scientists looking to optimize vehicle traffic flow within cities and regions through the use of connected “smart” traffic signals, a central navigation server (think Waze Plus), and a dynamic congestion charge.  Implementing such a system requires vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity, which is the focus of this article.

Vehicles must be aware of their environment in order to respond to it. Automated but unconnected vehicles are limited to one-way line-of-sight scanning to assess their environment. Connected vehicles use data connectivity to communicate with infrastructure and other vehicles, including those outside the line-of-sight, either around curves or more than one vehicle ahead.  Connectivity enables data communication for an activity that’s largely dependent on visual communication (presence of vehicles, stop signs, lane paint, etc.), aural communication (honking), and a set of rules of the road. We’ve already seen the possibilities of data communication between vehicles (or their occupants’ smartphones) and central servers, but there are much greater possibilities from vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity.

Many of the benefits that people associate with vehicle automation actually come from vehicle connectivity. Adaptive cruise control, where a trailing vehicle automatically speeds up or slows down to maintain separation from the vehicle in front of it, is a vehicle automation feature. However, the biggest increase in vehicle throughput only comes from adaptive cruise control with multi-car platoons, which requires vehicle connectivity.

The benefits from vehicle automation accrue primarily to drivers. At higher levels of full vehicle automation, drivers can give less focus to the driving task, enabling them to focus on other tasks. With partial vehicle automation, features such as automated cruise control, lane maintenance, automatic overtaking, and parallel parking are primarily for driver convenience. The driver is expected to maintain focus on the driving task and be capable of retaking control of the vehicle at any time.

A few researchers are looking into whether or not drivers maintain focus on the driving task as they yield more control to the vehicle’s automated features. If drivers of the first partially-automated vehicles are less focused on the driving task, it’s probable that early experience with partial vehicle automation will show higher-than-expected rates of accidents. I’m told that the most difficult task for full vehicle automation is driving in a complex urban environment complete with pedestrians and cyclists – a dynamic which could bring a new dimension to active transportation advocacy in the future.

Selling drivers partial or full automation is easier than selling vehicle connectivity. New car buyers already see adaptive cruise control and automatic parallel parking as amenities that they can benefit from. It’s harder for a new car buyer to see benefits in vehicle connectivity if infrastructure and other vehicles are not yet connected. Governments need substantial funding in order to roll out connected infrastructure, especially connected stoplights that broadcast phase data so that a vehicle knows a light will soon turn green. Many of the system-wide throughput increases that come from a high saturation of connected vehicles will not be experienced in the near-term, as unconnected vehicles will remain on the streets for at least 20 years.

So what may happen if individual benefits accrue to drivers, as they buy partially-automated vehicles in the short-run, but capacity increases only come from major investments in vehicle connectivity in the long run?  That sounds like a recipe for more traffic congestion.  This result would be especially true if drivers in congested areas seek out the lane maintenance and adaptive cruise control capabilities of newer vehicles in order to delegate more of the congested driving task over to the vehicle.  Such drivers would become less bothered by congestion (they could perform other tasks in the car that require only partial attention) and possibly respond by consuming additional congested travel.

We’ll be talking about vehicle automation at UCLA’s Digital Cities: Smarter Transportation Forum in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, March 20th.  Streetsblog Los Angeles readers can register for $129 using discount code “sbla”.

If Cleanliness is Next to Godliness, Surely it Should Also be a Component of “Complete”-ness, No?


By Sahra Sulaiman, March 10, 2014

 Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, trash grows... Olympic Blvd., Boyle Heights. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
 Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, trash grows on Olympic Blvd.

As folks were preparing to cut the cake in honor of the Complete Streets Day motion put forth by Councilmember Jose Huizar at City Hall last week, I was getting geared up to volunteer at a high school located in his district, around which many of the streets are decidedly incomplete.

I had run into Roosevelt High School teacher extraordinaire Jorge Lopez a couple of weeks prior; students from his food justice class were helping give a tour of two corner markets that had received healthy makeovers courtesy of Public Matters. When he heard I was interested in interviewing the students involved in the project, he suggested I stop in his classroom instead and assist the students in reworking their own interviews with food activists and workers in the area into articles.

Hell, yes! I thought.

Teens — besides being inspiring to work with — are often incredible, unfiltered informants about the unique dynamics of their communities and how those dynamics impact mobility, health, and access to opportunity.

When I first worked with his English class two years ago, students were writing speeches about things they would like to see improved in their neighborhood. Given the myriad challenging circumstances that the youth came from, immigrant rights, living wages, affordable housing, protection from gang activity, and access to healthy food and other health resources unsurprisingly figured prominently into their discussions.

But, I was also struck that one of the recurring themes was an inferiority complex many expressed with regard to East L.A.

It was so much cleaner, they complained.

Complete Streets should also encompass clean streets. Couch on Rivera St. (just off 1st), a frequent dumping site. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Complete Streets should also encompass clean streets. Couch on Rivera St. (just off 1st), a frequent dumping site. 

When we think of “Complete Streets,” we tend to focus on ways to facilitate mobility by “design[ing] and operat[ing streets] to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.”

But, for these students, it was clear that having streets that looked clean, inviting, and safe was important for mobility and access, too.

In comparing their neighborhoods to East L.A., many voiced a belief that people in East L.A. took more pride in their community because the sidewalks and streets there were well taken care of. Boyle Heights streets’, they said, felt run down and forgotten.

It was something that bothered them a lot.

They were writing the speeches just as their school was getting ready for the East L.A. Classic, the homecoming football game between their school and Garfield (in East L.A.). And, they were tired, they said, of feeling like people from East L.A. were looking down on them because their streets were so dirty.

Many of the problems they named then continue to plague the area today.
Like dumping, for instance.

Dumping on corners.

More dumping under the "no dumping" sign at 6th and Breed. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Dumping happens regularly under the “Dump No Rubbish” sign at 6th and Breed this past Saturday.

Dumping in front of homes.
A mattress is left on a lot in front of a home. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
A mattress is left on a lot in front of a home. 

And, dumping in combination with scraggly-looking parkway grass and curb areas that make it look like the street is in a perpetual state of disrepair.

And yet more sidewalk dumping. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Yet more sidewalk dumping along Chicago St.

Trash accumulating along vacant spaces, along sidewalks and curbs, or along underpasses is also a problem.

Trash accumulates in a vacant lot where dumping is discouraged by a sign. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Trash accumulates in a vacant lot where dumping is discouraged by a sign along Lorena (just south of 1st).

Trash collects along a vacant space on Cesar Chavez. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Trash collects along a vacant space on Cesar Chavez.

Trash accumulates under an underpass along Whittier Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Trash accumulates along an underpass along Whittier Blvd…

...And along the underpass. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
…alongside of it, and under the bridge, too.

The problem has gnawed at the community so long, in fact, that community activist and graduate student (in social work) Amanda Mejia finally got fed up and organized her own grassroots clean-up.
Dubbing her initiative “Boyle Heights Rising,” she managed to get friends, youth groups, church groups, independent do-gooder groups, and firemen (along with a yummy donation from Zamora Bros. Cantina) to come out in droves and spend their Saturday morning sweeping the sidewalks and picking up trash in the neighborhood of the Evergreen Cemetery.

She was heartened to see that there was less trash around the cemetery jogging path than there had been when they did their first clean-up a few months ago, she said, but there was still much left to be done.

Amanda Mejia (center, in shorts) and the women and girls who participated in the clean-up. The roses were donated by Raquel Zamora in honor of International Women's Day. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Amanda Mejia (center, in shorts) and the women and girls who participated in the clean-up. The roses were donated by Raquel Zamora in honor of International Women’s Day. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean that more traditional Complete Streets concerns are not also an issue here.

After leaving the clean-up, I rode up and down Lorena, a main street that cuts north-south across Boyle Heights.

Just a handful of blocks from Roosevelt High School, it is one that I have seen many students cross or walk along on their way to and from school. And, it is truly a wonder that they haven’t been killed in the process.

While there is some bike infrastructure north of 3rd, when Lorena approaches the underpass at 4th St., everything changes for the worse. Lorena narrows, the bike lane disappears, and there is no good way for a pedestrian moving along 4th (which crosses over it) to be able to connect with west side of Lorena.

First, there is no curb cut at the end of the bridge sidewalk along 4th, and the drop to the street is rather steep.

But, that is pretty minor in comparison to the absence of crosswalks on Lorena for nearly 1000 ft. south of 4th.

There are no crosswalks for almost 1000 ft. for someone heading south onto Lorena from 4th St. Sahra Sulaiman
There are no crosswalks for almost 1000 ft. and the curves and hill make visibility a challenge. 

Most looking to cross do what the woman above did, which was to cross at the peak of the hill, where cars are just starting to move up or down the hill under the bridge.

The problem (besides the obvious) is that the street is curved at such an angle that it is hard for a pedestrian or cyclist at the top of the hill to see southbound traffic coming (or vice versa). So, where she is crossing — the point at which cars are usually moving at their fastest — actually turns out to be the “safest” place to cross.

On the north side of 4th, there is a staircase a pedestrian could walk down, if they preferred to try their luck walking along under the bridge.

But, the sidewalk along the underpass, at least on the east side, is incredibly narrow.

The sidewalk on the west side is better but, again, it isn’t easy to get there. Unless, that is, you head down the stairs a block west at Bernal, and then trek your way under the bridge to Lorena, as that’s the only connection between the two streets for 1200+ ft.

All of this assumes, of course, that you can manage stairs (i.e. are not pushing a stroller or are otherwise impaired).

On the north side of 4th, a pedestrian could take the stairs and head underneath the bridge, but the sidewalk there is very narrow and there is still no way to cross to the west side once you make it under the underpass.
On the north side of 4th, a pedestrian could take the stairs and head underneath the bridge, but the sidewalk there is very narrow and there is still no way to cross to the west side once you make it out of the underpass.

Recently, Huizar nominated Lorena as a Great Streets candidate, along with Cesar Chavez Ave. (I’ve documented some problems here), East 1st St., East 4th St., Mission Rd., Olympic Blvd. (documented here), Whittier Blvd., and Soto St. And, Lorena is slated to get bike lanes between Cesar Chavez and Grande Vista (south of Olympic) at some point before 2016.

The improvements couldn’t come soon enough for neighbors in the area.

There are the abysmal sidewalks. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Maybe they could fix the sidewalk while they’re at it…The tree on the west side of Lorena is wonderful, but it has done quite a number on the sidewalk.

When they do arrive — which likely won’t be for some time, unfortunately — the improvements need to come in the form of both infrastructure and upkeep.

Each of the Great Streets candidates Huizar named, besides lacking things like sufficient pedestrian lighting, adequate crosswalks, or level sidewalks, also boast abandoned shopping carts, trash lining the curbs, dumped furniture, struggling greenery, or some combination thereof which make the streets feel even more unfriendly.

The poor conditions of the streets create a bleak environment for youth who are growing up in a community already burdened with a number of challenges.

Unsafe crossings, like those at Lorena, can present a very real danger and communicate to them, and to all residents, that the city does not care about their well-being.

Unclean streets, in addition to being unsightly and unwelcoming, serve to chip away at youths’ self-esteem while reinforcing more jaded residents’ beliefs that the unsafe crossings are not a fluke.

“You’ve wondered if the poor infrastructure meant the city really didn’t care about you,” piles of trash seem to say to residents. “We’ve sat here, festering, untouched for months, just so that you weren’t left with any doubts.”

The Numbers Behind America's Mass Transit Resurgence


By Jenny Xie, March 10, 2014

 The Numbers Behind America's Mass Transit Resurgence

So it’s official: Americans are choosing public transportation in record numbers. The American Public Transportation Association announced this morning that the U.S. made 10.7 billion mass transit trips in 2013, the highest figure in 57 years.

The story here is not of a sudden resurgence, but rather a slow, steady climb over the last decade, back toward ridership levels not seen since the 1950s. In fact, transit ridership has consistently hit over 10 billion for the past eight years in a row — in 2012, the total was 10.5 billion, and in 2011, 10.4 billion.

Hover over the blue line to see the "year" values on the chart below. These numbers come from the APTA:
Annual Public Transit Ridership in the U.S.06000120001800024000YearUnlinked passenger trips (in millions)
More tellingly, the numbers show that the public's renewed embrace of public transportation really has spread nationwide. Record ridership numbers were posted in communities large and small, ranging from Tampa, Florida, to Oakland, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan to Flagstaff, Arizona. Overall, rail ridership grew the most, at a rate of 2.8 percent. However, commuter rail appears to be gaining the most momentum — seven commuter rail systems across the country posted double-digit increases, while only three light rail systems and one heavy rail system saw double-digit increases. The biggest jump for buses was 3.45 percent, in Washington, D.C.

As Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of APTA, put it to the AP: "People are making a fundamental shift to having options” for getting around. Indeed, this increase in public transportation usage outpaced the growth of vehicle miles traveled on roads by 0.8 percent in 2013.

But of course, this growing preference for subways and buses hasn't come out of nowhere: it's come hand-in-hand with investment in public transportation. Transit systems with the biggest increases in ridership are, unsurprisingly, those that have found new ways to offer their services. For example, Miami’s rail system saw a 10.6 percent increase in passenger trips, largely due to increased frequency of trains during peak service. New Orleans’ streetcar system, which just added a new line in January 2013, saw a 28.9 percent jump. Salt Lake City’s commuter rail system saw a whopping 103.3 percent increase in ridership, thanks to a new rail line that opened in December 2012.

While public transportation is becoming more popular overall, not all cities with a wide range of transit offerings are seeing consistent ridership growth across all services. In Chicago, ridership on both the "L" and the bus system is down, while commuter rail is up. In Boston, subway ridership is up, but both commuter rail and bus ridership are down. In Washington, D.C., subway ridership is down, but bus ridership is way up. New York City, meanwhile, has managed to see increases across the board. But as even new and different commuting options — such as various ride-share and bike-share schemes — gain steam, public transportation systems must keep improving to attract more customers year after year.

The Race Is On for the Transit Ticket of Tomorrow


By Keith Barry, March 11, 2014

 The Race Is On for the Transit Ticket of Tomorrow

BOSTON—Arrive at the MBTA commuter rail station in Hanson, Massachusetts, and you might not believe the train can get you to Boston in just 43 minutes. The stop is a small concrete platform in a rural town, and it feels a world away from the city. It's nestled between cranberry bogs, acres of woods, and a row of semi-abandoned buildings that once housed Ocean Spray. There’s a deer check station just up the street.

To pay for your trip, you could buy a commuter rail ticket at the Tedeschi's convenience store a mile and a half away. Or you could pay your fare on board if you've got enough cash in your purse or wallet.

But with the mTicket app on your smartphone, you've got another choice. With a swipe of the screen, just select your destination from a list of stations, authorize a charge to your credit card, and show the conductor the time-stamped virtual ticket glowing on your phone. It doesn't cost extra to buy a single trip or pass with mTicket, and setting up the app for the first time takes only seconds.

Amid the pine trees and winding country roads, the station in Hanson offers a glimpse of how we'll pay to ride public transit in the future. From New England to Oregon, tickets are giving way to smartphones, and fare cards are starting to work more like gift cards. Eventually, bus schedules will adjust in real time to how many riders are waiting, and the train you take to work might even buy you a coffee.
•       •       •       •       •
Back in 2012, the MBTA's commuter rail became the first system in the country to let riders buy tickets on their smartphones. Josh Robin worked at the T back then and helped launch the program. Now he works for Masabi, the company that handles the MBTA's smartphone app. He says the two ways riders could pay a fare before mobile ticketing — cash on board, or a paper ticket from a convenience store or a major station — just weren't cutting it.

"You often end up paying cash on board if you're not a monthly commuter," says Robin. "And if you're a regular commuter, you do an awful lot of waiting in line on Mondays and the first day of the month."

According to Robin, it would've cost the T upwards of $70 million to install and maintain ticket vending machines on every platform — especially at stations as remote as Hanson. "Because it was so expensive, it landed on my plate," he says. So he looked into how other transit systems do ticketing and came across Masabi, a company that had launched a smartphone app for mobile fare payment in the United Kingdom, including several railways that run through London. The T didn't have $70 million, but the majority of its riders did have smartphones. Six months later, the T got mobile ticketing.
Since then, transit systems across the country have followed suit. Austin, Dallas, Long Island, and Portland have all introduced apps that let riders pay with their phones.
•       •       •       •       •
For years, transit agencies relied on a simple payment model: pay us what we want how we want it, or walk. Heck, the namesake for Boston's CharlieCard is a song about a guy who got stuck on the Green Line when he couldn’t figure out how to pay his fare. (Curiously, his wife brings him lunch, but not the nickel he'd need to exit the station.)

If a coffee shop only took exact change or tokens, customers would go elsewhere. But riders usually don't have another way of getting where they're going, and transit systems are slow to innovate. Major systems like New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., have introduced reloadable fare cards, but aside from magnetic strips and microchips, the basic premise hasn’t changed in a century.

How getting from here to there is changing forever.
See full coverage
Partially, that's by design. Transit systems need to move people through fare gates and onto buses, trains, and subways as quickly as possible. "In the transit business you've got thousands of people every day that need to rely on the experience," says Robin. "There's a good reason that it sometimes takes time for innovation to come forward."

Replacing old systems can also cost a ton of money. Chicago just did it, and the bill was $454 million. Right now, the mTicket app costs the MBTA almost nothing, because conductors manually check phones for tickets. Masabi gets paid a percentage of each fare, and there's no infrastructure to maintain — riders carry it in their pockets. But if Boston were to upgrade every one of its buses and subway turnstiles to recognize and scan smartphone tickets instead of chip-based cards, it would be at an enormous expense.

"You have quite an infrastructure in this country and in other countries built on chip-based communication," says Martin Schroeder, chief technology officer with the American Public Transportation Association. "To have them go in and replace that would be monumental in cost."

Transit also has to remain accessible to all riders, and that means agencies will have to recognize everything from quarters to iPhone screens. "There was discussion in the early days of just using bankcards. That's not necessarily what all people will want," says Schroeder. "You can't disenfranchise them just because they don't want to use a bankcard."

And then there's the issue of future-proofing. Transit agencies don't have the cash to make frequent upgrades, so they have to be smart about how they invest. Pick the wrong transit-fare technology, and riders will have to live with it for decades.

"It's not trying to predict what's going to come next," says Dominick Tribone, the MBTA's special assistant for strategic initiatives (the guy who makes sure a very old transit system can adjust to new payment methods). "It's trying to incorporate that into the fare-collecting medium you currently have."
•       •       •       •       •
Ideally, riders would pay however it makes sense for them, just as they do anywhere else. Flexibility like that would require a shift from "closed loop" payment, in which an agency issues and controls how riders pay their fares, to "open loop," which lets riders pay with whatever's in their wallet or purse.

That shift is already happening in Portland. The city's public transit agency, TriMet, introduced smartphone ticketing in 2013. Now, it’s on track to implement an open-loop payment system by 2016.

Chris Tucker, TriMet’s director of revenue operations, says the trick is to link fare cards to user accounts. That way, riders can add money at a station, online, from a smartphone app, or in person at a third-party retailer. The money stays on an account — not on the card itself — which riders can populate using a credit card, debit card, or bank account. It's similar to a Starbucks card, but instead of a latte, it'll buy riders a trip to work or anywhere else.

Tucker explains with a hypothetical example. Say you're flying into Portland from out of town. You could download the TriMet open-loop payment app and fill your account before your plane ever takes off. You can start to ride transit as soon as you get to Portland, and if you lose your TriMet card, you don't lose the money in your account.

Better fare technology can mean a better transit experience, payment aside. TriMet is already using data from its mobile ticketing app to improve service by tracking ridership in real-time. "If there's a lot of riders in a certain area, we need to add buses,” says Mac Brown of GlobeSherpa, the company that developed TriMet’s mobile app. With more riders using account-based ticketing, TriMet will get even better data, and riders will get better service.
•       •       •       •       •
Across Europe and Asia, transit fare cards often double as an access card for an office or apartment building, or a payment card for restaurants and shops, or even personal identification. Fare card rewards programs let riders collect points and redeem them for discounts, the same way they would with a credit card.

"They treat it as a service, and transport ticketing is part of that service," says Martin Gruber, general manager for automatic fare collection at MIFARE, the technology that underpins fare collection systems from Boston to Bangkok. "It's providing an integrated approach to how people move in a city."

That integration is slowly coming to the United States. For instance, GlobeSherpa is working on a ticket design that rewards TriMet riders for taking transit. "You buy your transit ticket, you go to the Blazers game, and get 20 percent off a hamburger,” says Mac Brown.
In the longer term, Brown is also excited about inexpensive, location-
aware technology — like Apple's iBeacon — that will let bus stops recognize riders through their smartphones. Retailers already use such technology to send coupons to frequent shoppers' phones, so why can’t transit agencies do the same for frequent riders?

"We can program fare structure, merchant deals, advertising — whatever we want," says Brown. For instance, a coffee shop near a bus station may send you a coupon for a free cup, or a concert venue could offer discounted fare to encourage attendees to take public transit. A report from tech consulting firm ABI Research estimates it’ll be at least four more years before technology like iBeacon goes mainstream. But when it does, transit agencies will have a powerful new tool for recognizing riders.

Back at the Hanson commuter rail station, it's not hard to imagine a future where coupons for Tedeschi’s convenience store pop up on daily commuters' smartphones. When that day comes, they’ll be lining up for free coffee, not paper train tickets.

Overturned big rig shuts lanes on 91 East


March 11, 2014

 A big rig is shown on its side across multiple lanes of the 91 Freeway in Carson at South Main Street following an accident on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.

 A big rig is shown on its side across multiple lanes of the 91 Freeway in Carson at South Main Street following an accident on Tuesday, March 11, 2014.

An overturned big rig shut down multiple lanes on the eastbound 91 Freeway in Carson early Tuesday morning. 

According to California Highway Patrol Officer Stacy Lee, the big rig lost control while traveling northbound on the 110 Freeway onto the eastbound 91 Freeway transition. The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The incident occurred at around 2:30 a.m.

The big rig overturned, shutting down the four right eastbound lanes at South Main Street on the eastbound 91 Freeway. The 110 North transition to the 91 East was also shut down.

Lee advised commuters to take Vermont to the eastbound 91 Freeway to avoid the mess.
At about 4:30 a.m., crews had the big rig upright. The roads were estimated to reopen by approximately 7 a.m.

The big rig was carrying 37,000 pounds of cargo. The driver, described as a man in his 40s, was seen walking at the scene of the crash with a neck brace and an arm sling. He was transported to an area hospital.