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

Friday, March 14, 2014

Paris pollution hits life-threatening level

Jumps in use of car-sharing and bike-sharing services


By Thomson Reuters, March 14, 2014

 A pigeon is perched at the Saint Vincent de Paul church as smog cloaks Paris.

 A pigeon is perched at the Saint Vincent de Paul church as smog cloaks Paris.

Air pollution in Paris has hit health-threatening levels over 80 per cent higher than in London and Berlin as a sunny spell reaches western Europe, prompting the city to curb road speeds and offer free public transport.

Charges were also waived for the city's pioneering cycle and electric car-sharing schemes this week as a visible haze hung over the streets of the French capital.
European Environment Agency (EEA) figures for Thursday showed there was 147 microgrammes of particulate matter (PM) per cubic metre of air in Paris compared with 114 in Brussels, 104 in Amsterdam, 81 in Berlin and 79.7 in London.

Background pollution — the outdoor air quality experienced by the average citizen — topped the 100 maximum measurable index level in Paris on Thursday, data from pollution watchdog airqualitynow.eu showed, making the French capital the only European capital in the "very high" level zone. The index stood at 81 in London, 76 in Berlin and 61 in Madrid.

France Pollution

Bike-sharing services, buses, underground trains and other forms of transport will remain free over the weekend. 

Paris is traditionally more susceptible to poor air quality than other main western European capitals, with only Athens scoring worse according to World Health Organization (WHO) annual averages collected in 2008.

Fiscal support for diesel over gasoline in motor vehicles and heavy private vehicle traffic have been cited as causes.

The near-absence of wind and temperatures about 10 degrees Celsius above seasonal averages were also a factor this time, according to Meteo France data.

'Pollution causes deaths'

EU environment officials noted that pollution hot spots elsewhere in the world are far worse.
"While the current levels in Europe do pose a significant risk to health, peak levels can be up to 4-5 times higher in Asian cities like Beijing," an EEA spokesman told Reuters.

"Nevertheless, the levels of PM pollution encountered in the currently affected European regions would also be classified as pollution episodes in Asian cities," he said.
Three environmental groups worried over the recurring spikes in French air pollution this week filed a lawsuit "against x" - where the person or body deemed responsible is difficult to ascertain - for "endangering the lives of others."

"We know pollution causes deaths. Emergency departments are full of people with breathing problems, that's why we decided to file a complaint," said Nadir Saifi, a member of Ecology Without Borders, one of the groups filing the suit.

Rush to bikes, car-sharing

City of Paris officials argue the situation would be much worse had the government not introduced the popular bike- and car-sharing schemes now being replicated in cities such as London.
 The use of Autolib cars had jumped by 46 per cent on Thursday compared to the week before, Paris transport councillor Julien Bargeton said, while Velib cycle use had risen by 72 per cent.
Charges for these services and buses, underground trains and other forms of transport will remain free over the weekend.

Speed limits were also reduced by 20 kilometres an hour and authorities in the Ile-de-France region around Paris took all but the most essential public vehicles off the roads.

Warnings from authorities to avoid physical exertions did not deter Parisians from enjoying the warm weather, however.

"My lungs are already polluted by cigarettes, so I don't really care," Sophie Boisseau, 29, told Reuters at the terrace of the Biscornu cafe near the stock exchange in central Paris.

Should we continue with Bertha?


By Andrew Smith, March 7, 2014

Here’s what we know so far about the SR-99 tunnelling project:

Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry analysed traffic data from the Alaskan way viaduct and noted this precipitous drop. Image from Sightline. Click for more information.
  1. Bertha, the tunnel boring machine (TBM) has been more or less completely blocked since early December.
  2. The TBM was damaged in part by a metal pipe WSDOT installed to study this tunnel project’s feasibility.[1]
  3. The tunneling won’t start again until the end of the summer, with the tunnelling contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) hoping it will begin by Sept. 1st at the earliest.
  4. The TBM had problems early on, during testing after construction in Japan.
  5. Internal reports from the STP and WSDOT show that there are more problems with coordination and oversight. It also shows that the tunnelling was never on track, even before the current stoppage.
Here’s what we know about the traffic and funding for the tunnelling:
  1. Viaduct traffic is down 40% in the past three years.
  2. In order to raise the needed tolls to help pay for the tunnel, more trips would need to go through the tunnel than currently travel the viaduct. It’s worth noting the viaduct serves more locations[2] than the tunnel would.
  3. WSDOT’s traffic projections have been off, as traffic as been declining on all roads, rather than increasing.
  4. There’s also confusion over who will pay for the now-certain cost-overruns.
All of these bullet points are new bits of information since we last voted on the tunnel, back in 2011. Take a look at this map here.

Bertha progress graphic from WSDOT.

Bertha is stuck fairly early on, which is extremely fortunate; contractors are able to build vertical tunnels down to where Bertha is to work on it, since there are no buildings over the tunnel there. Now look at the rest of the tunnel route. It goes under Pioneer Square, the Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market, etc. If the tunnel had become stuck there, it would have been much more difficult to create those channels, as vertical tunnelling would involve tearing out important civic institutions.

If these bearing seals have been bad twice, are we 100% sure they won’t be bad again? Are we sure there are no other old bits of rubbish and debris lying under downtown Seattle? Are we willing to risk digging under Pike Place Market to find out?

How many problems does a project need to have before we re-think its necessity? The risk is just far too great for the little use this tunnel is going to have. I think it’s time to pull the plug on Bertha and this tunnel.

[1]  That pipe was put in place in 2002, and was used as recently as 2010. It was also noted on maps and materials provided to the STP.

[2] You know, just downtown, Belltown, the cruise-ship terminal, and Denny Way.

Californians grow less reliant on cars, survey finds

Caltrans study shows walking, biking and transit use are up as auto trips fall. More young people don't have driver's licenses.


By Laura J. Nelson, March 13, 2014

 Switch from cars

 Bicycle riders gather to begin their ride at 1st and Spring streets in downtown Los Angeles in a CicLAvia event. A Caltrans study finds that Californians are using their cars less.

 Californians aren't depending quite as heavily on cars for commutes and errands as they did a decade ago, according to a new survey by Caltrans.

Although driving is still by far the most dominant mode of transportation across the state, accounting for about three-quarters of daily trips, researchers say a decrease in car usage and a rise in walking, biking and taking transit indicate that Californians' daily habits could be slowly changing.

What is happening in California mirrors a nationwide decline in driving, experts say: The number of car miles driven annually peaked about a decade ago, and the percentage of people in their teens, 20s and 30s without driver's licenses continues to grow.

Researchers said the Caltrans findings could help cash-strapped agencies decide how better to allot their transportation dollars.

It is "a shift with real benefits for public health that also cuts greenhouse gases and smog-forming pollution," Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, said in a prepared statement.

From 2010 to 2012, researchers working for the California Department of Transportation asked about 110,000 people in more than 42,000 households to record the duration and distance of every trip they took during a random day, including running errands, going out to eat, and commuting to work or school.

In the decade since the survey was last conducted, in 2001, the rate of Californians walking, biking or taking transit on a typical day doubled to 22%, according to the data. During the same time period, the rate of Californians driving on any given day fell by about 12 percentage points.

From 2010 to 2012, more than 16% of daily trips were made on foot, the study said, taking an average of 10 minutes and covering one-third of a mile.

The average car trip in California was about 5.6 miles and took a little more than 18 minutes.

Daily trips on bicycles increased from 0.8% to 1.5% compared with the decade before, the data said, and the average trip spanned 1.5 miles and 18 minutes.
The average commuter rail trip, including data from Los Angeles County residents who rode the Metro Red and Purple Lines, was just under 10 miles and took nearly 24 minutes. 
Nearly 8% of residents surveyed did not own a car. Statewide, households owned an average of 1.8 vehicles.

Although the decrease in driving and uptick in other forms of transportation seems promising, the study suggests an overall drop in the number of trips that could be cause for concern, said Brian Taylor, the director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies.

"It's not better for society if we reduce auto travel by having people who are stuck home and can't afford to get out," Taylor said.

He said transportation planners aim to shift people from cars to other modes of transit without reducing the total number of trips. Typically, seeing more trips means more people are working and have money to spend on errands and entertainment.

Taylor said vehicle trips should tick back up slightly in coming years if the economy continues to recover and if some of the 3.7% of Californians who are long-term unemployed find work again.
One-quarter of survey respondents did not have anyone working in the household. Of those who weren't working, nearly four in 10 were retired and about 15% were unemployed.

BYD, electric bus builder for Long Beach, ordered to pay more than $30K in labor penalties


By Andrew Edwards, March 13, 2014

State labor officials have ordered electric bus manufacturer BYD to pay more than $30,000 in penalties after a hearing officer found the company failed to provide employees with proper rest periods or itemized paychecks.

The hearing officer working at the Office of the Labor Commissioner upheld penalties of nearly $35,000, according to a document bearing Tuesday’s date. The assessment of the penalties follows a decision made earlier this year to drop allegations that BYD failed to pay some employees a minimum wage.

BYD, which has a contract to provide electric buses to Long Beach Transit, could have had to pay nearly $100,000 in penalties if all allegations had been sustained.

BYD released a statement on Thursday declaring labor issues involving the company have been resolved. BYD described the violations as being the result of “good faith technical errors,” such as allowing employees to take a single 20-minute break period to eat breakfast in a group each morning. California law requires employees to grant their workers separate 10-minute breaks during an eight-hour shift.

The firm’s statement did not address the paycheck issue. BYD paychecks did not reflect the hours worked by employees, according to the Office of the Labor Commissioner.

The company also reported executives were pleased that the level of fines assessed was substantially lower than what was originally possible. The firm reported having to pay nearly $38,000 in fines, a level higher than what appeared to be required, according to information obtained from authorities.

 The decision closes the labor commissioner’s investigation of BYD’s treatment of the workers.
Department of Industrial Relations spokesman Peter Melton wrote in an email that BYD has the right to challenge the findings in court.

BYD and its supporters, who include prominent Washington, D.C., attorney Lanny Davis, proclaimed victory in late January when the labor commissioner dropped allegations that workers were paid at rates below the state’s minimum wage of $8 per hour.

BYD is a Chinese company that produces batteries and battery-powered vehicles. Its North American headquarters is in Los Angeles and the firm operates bus assembly and battery assembly plants in Lancaster. State officials filed the allegations against BYD after inspecting facilities in both cities in October.

About one year ago, the firm bested South Carolina-based Proterra to win a $12.1 million contract to produce 10 electric buses for Long Beach Transit.

The procurement process, however, has been complicated by the labor commissioner’s investigation and other problems. Testing of BYD’s coach model at The Altoona Bus Research and Testing Center in Pennsylvania was delayed for several months after Long Beach Transit demanded in October that tests be conducted on an American-built bus, as opposed to the Chinese-built bus that was initially subjected for evaluation. Federal transportation officials decided last month to complete testing on the original Chinese bus.

 A further complication, however, is the Federal Transportation Administration’s contention that BYD was not in compliance with federal rules intended to aid minority- and woman-owned subcontracting firms when the company won its $12.1 million contract last year. If that contention is upheld, Long Beach Transit would not be able to spend federal grant dollars on the bus contract, thus forcing the agency to spend its own money or reopen the contract to new bidding.

Long Beach Transit spokesman Kevin Lee said in an email on Thursday that the bus agency had no further comment on the federal government’s position. Lee issued a statement late last month indicating that transit officials were giving BYD time to settle its differences with the government.
BYD was in discussions with the FTA and Long Beach Transit about its eligibility for the contract, said Brendan Riley, BYD’s vice president of fleet sales, in an email Tuesday.