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 25, 2014

Chainless electric bike folds up to fit under your desk, doesn't look dorky


By Derek Markham, March 25, 2014

JiveBike folding electric bike

A new brand of electric bike is about to hit the market, offering a full-sized stylish frame that folds into thirds and is light enough to carry with you.

Bicycles can be the perfect vehicle for daily commutes and running errands, and when combined with an electric assist feature, could be just what's needed to get more people in the saddle and out of the driver's seat. But for those who also use public transportation for part of the journey, and may not have secure bike parking nearby, a full-sized bike (electric or otherwise) can pose a few logistical issues along the way, which may keep some people from riding them.

We've seen a few recent innovations that address the issue of portability and storage of personal transportation options, including a tiny electric scooter, a half-bike, and even a portable electric motor that fits on share bikes, but this latest electric bike could be a good solution for the bike commuter with limited storage space, both at home and at work.

The JiveBike offers full-sized electric bike performance and a normal upright riding style in a sleek and stylish frame that can fold up to about a third of its size for carrying along on a bus, train, or in the trunk of a car, or even for storing under your desk while at work.

This electric bike features a 20 mile range (in assisted-pedaling mode), a top speed of about 15 MPH, and can fully recharge in about two hours from a standard outlet. The JiveBike can also be manually pedaled, so a dead battery won't leave you stranded, or used in fully-electric mode for a low-effort commute. Riders can mount their smartphone on the handlebar and sync it with the JiveBike via Bluetooth, either for use with the accompanying app for keeping an eye on the charge level of the battery to see the estimated range they can expect, or to use a map app for directions.

Another appealing feature of this e-bike is its fully-enclosed chainless drivetrain, which is said to be virtually maintenance-free (a once-a-year lubrication is all that's required), and which will keep grease from staining clothes or furniture. The mechanical drivetrain is located inside the bike's frame, and it works in tandem with the integrated fenders to promise a "clean cycling experience," which may hold a lot of appeal to those who don't want to have to carry a separate set of clothes with them.

The biggest obvious weak point to this folding electric bike, which is expected to be available this summer, is its price, as climbing on the saddle of this e-bike will cost you about £1400 (~ $2300 USD). If you're interested in this sleek electric bike, a fully-refundable £99 (~$160 USD) down-payment will secure your place in line to get one of the first models. Get the full scoop at JiveBike.

Video by Joe Cano: NO710 El Sereno Comics

Metro looking for riders, non-riders and other stakeholders to take online surveys


By Steve Hymon, March 25, 2014

Have an opinion about Metro service? Here is a chance to be heard! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

 Have an opinion about Metro service? Here is a chance to be heard! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

I know that many readers of this blog have strong opinions about Metro and the agency’s transit service and highway programs. That’s great. It’s your taxes and fares that keep Metro rolling.

With that in mind, I wanted to give everybody a heads up that Metro’s Research department is in the midst of creating a group of riders, stakeholders and non-riders who would be willing to take occasional online surveys about specific issues facing the agency (fare changes, route changes, TAP, projects in the works, etc).

If you’re interested, please click here. The survey is also available in Spanish. And, if at any time, you want to leave Metro’s survey panel, simply send an email to research@metro.net with “Remove from Survey Panel” in the email’s subject line.

I think this is a very good opportunity to have your voices heard. Leaving comments here is great, too — and I regularly pass along comments to Metro staff. But the blog comment board is hardly scientific and the new online surveys also hold the promise of being easier to conduct than expensive, time-consuming surveys done over the phone.

Please check it out if you’re interested. As far as I’m concerned, the more public participation the better.

Truck carrying 42,000 pounds of honey overturns on 605 Freeway


March 24, 2014

This might get sticky.

The California Highway Patrol reported that a truck carrying 42,000 pounds of honey overturned on the 605 Freeway near Valley Boulevard.

Four lanes on the northbound side of the freeway are closed, and the CHP is urging people to avoid the area.

Traffic was backing up.

Officials don't know when the scene will be cleaned up.

Siemens wins US high-speed train contract, outbids rivals Caterpillar, GE

German conglomerate Siemens has won a multi-million-dollar US contract to build high-speed locomotives. Siemens outbid major US rivals in a tender aimed at establishing the first high-speed train services in the US. 


 March 18, 2014

Siemens and US engine maker Cummins had been awarded a $226-million (162-million-euro) contract to build 32 diesel locomotives for the US market, the German industrial conglomerate announced March 19.

The passenger locomotives would be delivered to five US states, including California, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri and Washington, which were developing high-speed rail routes with US rail operator Amtrak, Siemens said.

The locomotives would be delivered between autumn 2016 and summer 2017, with the order including an option to build an additional 225 locomotives.

"For Siemens, this order constitutes the entry into the US market for high-speed diesel-driven locomotives," Siemens Rail Systems Executive Jochen Eickholt said in a statement.

In the public tender, Siemens outbid rival offers from US-based Caterpillar and General Electric Transportation. According to The Wall Street Journal, Siemens submitted the winning bid of $226 million, while Caterpillar bid $260 million, just slightly lower than the $260.9 million offer of General Electric.

Earlier this month, Caterpillar protested the Siemens contract, claiming the company's locomotives didn't meet the required speed of 125 miles per hour (201 kilometers per hour). However, the Illinois Department of Transportation, which handled the bidding process, rejected the protest last week. Nevertheless, Caterpillar has filed a second appeal against the decision.

Siemens Rail System Executive Eickholt said he was confident the protest would again be rejected, saying the order had been officially cleared and Siemens possessed a legally binding contract.

Siemens will assemble the diesel locomotives at its plant in Sacramento, California, while Cummins will build the engines in Seymour, Indiana. Funding for the high-speed train project is partly coming from the 2009 federal stimulus program. The endeavor represents the first attempt in the United States at replicating similar high-speed train services in Europe and Asia.

This augmented reality bus shelter is both awesome and terrifying


By Holly Richmond, March 25, 2014

Just about the last thing any weary, precaffeinated morning commuter needs is to think a meteor is smashing into her. And yet that’s what the geniuses at Pepsi thought would be huh-LARIOUS.
To promote one of their random new drinks, the beverage company installed an augmented reality panel on a bus shelter in London. Commuters saw a video feed of the sidewalk, but with several surprising overlays: UFOs, a tiger, and that giant meteor crashing down within startle-worthy proximity. Here’s the video:

 The parallel to liquid sugar is unclear. Perhaps soda companies’ unending parade of barely distinguishable variations of their core products is a meteor-like assault on our patience? Or Pepsi’s ingredient list includes UFOs – Unidentifiable Fructose Offenders?

In any case, this would’ve been way cooler had it not been an ad, but just a cool stunt to entertain commuters. Then again, more interactive (or intrusive) bus ads seem to be A Thing at the moment.

Southern California freeways smoother than 2 years ago, study says

But nearly a quarter of lane miles are still in poor condition, the highest percentage of any California region, the study says.


By Laura Nelson, March 24, 2014


Heavy equipment

About 22% of the 6,295 freeway miles in Los Angeles and Ventura counties have major potholes, severe cracks or are otherwise in bad condition. Above, bulldozers clear a mudslide off the 5 Freeway.

Southern California freeways are smoother than they were two years ago, but nearly a quarter of lane miles are still in poor condition — the highest percentage of any California region, according to a new pavement quality study.

About 22% of the 6,295 freeway miles in Los Angeles and Ventura counties have major potholes, severe cracks or are otherwise in bad condition, according to a statewide Caltrans survey of pavement conditions from 2011 to 2013. That figure is a dramatic improvement from two years ago, the study said, when about one-third of area freeway miles were in poor condition.

Statewide, 9% of highway miles are in poor condition, better than the 16% found in 2011.
"We just made some great strides," said Caltrans spokesman Matt Rocco. "But we need to maintain this."

Some of the most badly damaged pavement can't be repaired. It's instead torn out and repoured, which costs 10 times more per mile than standard maintenance. To defray those expenses, Caltrans used two one-time sources of funding: the 2009 Recovery Act and a state transportation bond that voters approved in 2006, Rocco said.

State revenue from gas taxes peaked at about $2.1 billion in 2006 and has fallen every year since as Californians drive less and buy more fuel-efficient cars. Continuing to patch more than 750 miles of pavement annually, as crews did in the last two years, isn't sustainable, Rocco said, unless Caltrans can find new ways to fund highway repairs.

The agency projects that properly maintaining all of California's freeways would cost about $2.8 billion over the next 10 years. Right now, about 23% of that funding, or $685 million, will be available, the study said. Without more money, needed repairs could double to 34% in the next decade, the report said.

Los Angeles streets are in even worse condition and facing similar funding problems. A city report last week recommended increasing the sales tax by a half-cent for 15 years to cover an estimated $4.5 billion in repaving and rebuilding costs for roads and sidewalks.

Insurance studies have shown that Southern California is one of the most expensive places to own a car in the country. Potholes cost the average driver more than $800 a year in additional maintenance and depreciation.

France opens criminal probe into air pollution


March 24, 2014


French prosecutors have opened a preliminary probe after an environmental group filed a criminal complaint over this month's spike in air pollution, a judicial source said Monday.

The complaint for "endangering others" was filed by green group Ecologie Sans Frontiere amid intense pollution this month that saw particulates in the air exceed safe levels for five straight days in Paris.

Paris was enveloped in a murky haze, cars with even number plates were banned from city streets and public transport was provided for free as officials sought to improve air quality.

Ecologie Sans Frontiere said it was the first time such a criminal complaint had been filed.

The complaint does not specify who could be held responsible for the pollution, but the group's vice-president, Nadir Saifi, said investigators could eventually target car manufacturers or certain government offices.

China's face mask industry under scrutiny as pollution worsens


By Grace Li, March 25, 2014

A man wearing a face mask walks through the Lujiazui financial district of Pudong on a hazy day in Shanghai, March 10, 2014. REUTERS/Aly Son

 A man wearing a face mask walks through the Lujiazui financial district of Pudong on a hazy day in Shanghai, March 10, 2014.

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese citizens are feverishly snapping up face masks as worsening air pollution fuels a multi-million dollar industry where many products fail to provide even basic protection, drawing calls for better oversight and standards.

The country's worsening air quality is at the top of the list of concerns of China's stability-obsessed leaders, anxious to douse potential unrest as a more affluent urban population turns against a growth-at-all-costs economic model that has poisoned much of the country's air, water and soil.

Authorities have invested billions in various projects to fight pollution, but none so far has solved the problems caused by cars, coal-burning power plants and outdated factories that spew millions of tons of toxins into the air.

It is estimated that air pollution in particular causes an estimated 350,000 to 500,000 premature deaths in China every year, according to an article in the medical journal "The Lancet" co-authored by China's former health minister, Chen Zhu.

Face masks have become the norm for many city residents, although only nine out of 37 types tested recently by the China Consumers Association met required standards in terms of filtering particulate matter and enabling easy breathing.

The most expensive, priced at 199 yuan ($32.15), was no better than one of the cheapest, a disposable mask that costs 1 yuan, the association said in a report on the tests.

"The vast majority of face masks on the market give no protection against PM2.5, even if the manufacturers claim they do," said Lei Limin, vice chairman of the China Textile Commerce Association, referring to the small particulates that pose the greatest risk to human health because they easily pass into the lungs.

Lei said his group is pushing for a national standard for anti-smog face masks, echoing calls last week by the China Consumers Association.

Face masks in China have traditionally been categorized as personal protective equipment mainly used for medical or industrial purposes. The country has no quality standards for face masks for personal use, despite the surge in demand.

Last year, consumers on the country's biggest online e-commerce site, Taobao, spent 870 million yuan ($140 million) on anti-smog goods like face masks and air purifiers.

Taobao, owned by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, saw a 181 percent increase in the number of people who bought face masks compared with the previous year.

"People are looking for anything that can really help them, that can help reduce any kind of health risk as a result of the pollution," said James Roy, an associate principal at Shanghai-based China Market Research Group.


Local media has recently questioned the effectiveness of some masks, with state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) targeting Dadian, a village in the eastern province of Shandong, where 300 workshops supply 80 percent of the country's ordinary face masks.

Dadian saw face mask output value more than triple from 350 million yuan in 2007 to 1.1 billion yuan in 2012, when the village produced 900 million masks.

The CCTV report said some workshops in Dadian had been producing cotton masks with filters in them. The masks were then sold to some companies that claimed they protected people against the effects of pollution. A workshop owner quoted in the report said, however, that the filters might not work.

The masks were not effective against PM2.5 particles, the CCTV report said.

Jiang Xiubin, who owns the BinHai Face Mask factory and who is head of the Dadian face mask association, said the village only produces ordinary face masks, not anti-smog ones.

Asked if the producers would consider upgrading their masks to address people's concerns about air pollution, Jiang said that was not yet part of the plan.

($1 = 6.2250 Chinese yuan)