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

Monday, April 7, 2014

A 10% Sales Tax: Are You Kidding?


By Jack Humphreville, April 8, 2014

LA WATCHDOG-The City and the County are both considering ballot measures that, if approved by two-thirds of the voters, will raise our City’s sales tax to 10%, the highest rate in the nation.  
This 10% sales tax will confirm to job creating employers that LA is a hostile work zone and that our fiscally irresponsible City Council has no respect for our wallets. 

On March 17, the City announced that it was considering placing a measure on the November 2014 ballot that would raise our sales tax by a half a cent to 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country.   
This tax increase is projected to raise $4.5 billion over the next 15 years.  These funds will be used to repair our failed streets and cracked sidewalks that have been neglected over the past decade by the City Council in order to provide funds for increases in salaries, pensions, and benefits for our City’s workers.  

On March 28, Move LA, the politically powerful transportation advocacy organization, unveiled its proposal to place on the November 2016 ballot a measure that will increase the County’s sales tax by half a cent. 

The County’s tax hike is expected to raise $90 billion over the next 45 years.  These funds will be used to expand rail transit (30%), to provide transit operating funds (20%), and to invest in the “Clean Highway System” (20%).  

In addition, 15% of the haul will be returned to local governments for transportation related projects, resulting in a $5 billion windfall for the City of Los Angeles. 

These funds would be in addition to those raised pursuant to Measure R (the Traffic Relief and Rail Expansion Ordinance), the 30 year, half cent increase in the County’s sales tax that was approved by more than two-thirds of the voters in November 2008. 

There is no doubt that a 10% sales tax would have a devastating impact on the City’s already business unfriendly reputation and its economy, scaring away employers and much needed investment.  But this is just more of the same old stuff in LA (SOS-LA) as a recent UCLA report indicated that our City has actually lost jobs over the last two decades while our population has increased by over 10%. 

Before proceeding, the City and its voters need a better understanding of the County’s plans to fund its transportation needs, especially given that we approved Measure R in 2008.  Otherwise, the already long odds of the City’s $4.5 billion Street Tax winning the approval of two-thirds of the City’s voters will be greatly diminished by the prospect of an additional bump in the sales tax in two years.  

And this does not even take into consideration the multibillion Stormwater Tax that is being pushed by the County’s Flood Control District.

We should also be asking the candidates for County Supervisor about whether they support the City’s Street Tax and the proposed increase in the County’s sales tax. 

The City’s Street Tax proposal also needs additional clarification, especially as it relates to the condition of our streets after 20 years since everyday maintenance is not part of the program and appears to be underfunded by almost $800 million. 

But rather than proceed with a contentious ballot measure, the City should finance the 20 year, $4.5 billion Street Repair program with long term bonds serviced with the incremental proceeds from the 20% tax on incremental revenues from the Power System of our Department of Water and Power. 

But this alternative that does not require a direct tax increase is not popular with the City Council who wants to divert the incremental funds from DWP to fund their pet projects and increases in salaries, pensions, and benefits for the City’s employees.  

However, are City residents able to afford another $4.5 billion in taxes when they are facing an onslaught of new fees and taxes, ranging from their $1 billion share of the federal and state increases in transportation taxes; a 25%, $1 billion bump in our DWP rates over the next four years: untold billions to fund the County’s Stormwater Master Plan: and billions to pay for the unfunded pension liabilities of the City, County, and State? 

But this is not a real concern for our fiscally irresponsible City Council.  After all, it is all about them, not us, the poor slobs paying the bills for their misguided policies.  

So ask yourself, do you trust the Herb Wesson lead City Council enough to approve a $4.5 billion, half cent increase in our sales tax to a job killing 9½%, one of the highest rates in the country, especially when there is another half cent increase just over the horizon?

Problem With Save Our Streets Tax: Who Can You Trust?


By Paul Hatfield, April 8, 2014


PERSPECTIVE: Council Members Buscaino and Englander are making the rounds pitching their latest version of Save Our Streets, this one calling for a half-cent bump in the sales tax for the next fifteen years. 
The price tag has risen since their failed attempt last year. It has gone from $3 billion to $4.5 billion and includes around $600 million for sidewalk repairs. 

It is worth noting that a $1.5 billion street repair tax proposal by Tony Cardenas and Greig Smith in 2006 never made it to the ballot due to a lukewarm reception by residents and competition from other bond measures on that year’s ballot.  

Nothing much has changed since then. There are other measures on the horizon including a County half-cent sales tax boost for transportation projects (probably on the 2015 ballot). It will weigh heavily on the minds of the likely voters in 2014, making the required two-thirds share of the votes for approval of the SOS tax a tough sell. 

If both SOS and the County increases were approved, our sales tax would jump to 10%. It would be worth buying your big-screen TV and computer system in adjacent Ventura and Orange Counties. If you have access to a van or pickup truck, it might pay to buy home furnishings at stores outside of Los Angeles County, especially if you live fairly close to the county lines. 

Also looming in the future is a 15-cent-per-gallon fuel tax being pushed by State Senator Darrell Steinberg. It probably stands a zero chance of being approved in 2014, but do not rule it out in future years. 

A few cents here; a few cents there, and before you know it, we will be paying an insidious penalty for making everyday purchases. We already do, but it will get worse. 

Proponents of SOS whine that street maintenance has been hampered by a decline in gasoline tax revenue as a result of more fuel-efficient cars on the road. They point out that other sources from the federal government and county bonds will be declining. 

I would be more sympathetic to their complaints, but street maintenance funding has been an issue since the 1950s. This 1997 article from the Los Angeles Times is interesting reading. Our streets were already in dire straits back then.  

You would think that a group of fifteen adults serving on the City Council would have by now arranged the spending priorities to address core needs instead of giving city employees a free ride on health care. 

We are going through a process of what I refer to as virtual bankruptcy: services are cut rather than dealing with the structural deficit fed by overly generous and unsustainable employee compensation. Unless our elected officials are willing to come to grips with this problem, we should be reluctant to open our checkbooks.
Having said that, we must also be realistic. 

We are in such a deep hole as far as reducing the street and sidewalk repair backlog, additional funding above and beyond offsets in the general fund will be needed to close the gap. 

Whether the funding comes in the form of a bond or tax, we need to ask this very important question: are you willing to trust a government that has failed to manage its obligations for at least half a century with a $4.5 billion commitment over the next fifteen years? 

It would be like Clark Griswold giving his ne’re-do-well cousin Eddie a pile of money so he can reinvigorate his worm farm 

$4.5 billion is out of the question. In 15 or 20 years we could be right where we are today…considering yet another increase in sales tax to pay for neglect. 

But what if we scale it back with some caveats? 

Try this out for size: a bond or tax which would generate $500 million to be used over a three-year period. If the city could show a meaningful reduction in the repair backlog while maintaining the status quo with the rest of the streets, then we could consider an extension of the funding. 

This plan would require locking down the condition of the streets at the beginning of the program and a re-evaluation after three years. 

The Micro Paver technology used by the city would enable the city to measure the street conditions at roughly two periods in time (obviously, it would not be possible to evaluate all the streets at any one time).   

This approach might even dovetail with a performance-based budgeting program under consideration by the city. 

It would certainly be easier to sell than the “trust me” proposal by Englander and Buscaino … and their cousin Eddie.

Street Repair Tax More About Cultural Choices


By Odysseus Bostick, April 8, 2014


BOSTICK REPORT-It was once said to me that the incremental changes are the ones most capable of causing major shifts. This is the process of moving mountains. The wind kisses little corners of jagged rock, each breeze stealing away with a grain of sand, and the gale of years has the power to strip granite. 
Imagine you were a politician. You know that people don’t typically enjoy new taxes as much as they pretend to enjoy new taxes. Everybody complains to your office about traffic and the crummy state of the roads only gets magnified by each moment stuck in traffic. 

There are two things you need: better roads and a better transportation system. The easy way to demonstrate your efficacy is to get a road crew out there and patch up the offending potholes. 

Flighty electeds can always lower the heat in their districts with short-term fixes that will “solve” the problems of a constituency because filling the pothole validates the individual’s complaint. It represents a responsive elected official who listens to the populace. It also caters to Los Angeles’s history as a car culture. 

By removing the Red Line, an infrastructure change, government officials incited a cultural transition from a mass transit community to a car community. As the mode of transportation shifted, the demographics of our populace evolved. Or devolved, depending on your opinion of a car culture. 

Now revisit your life as that politician with all the calls about traffic and transportation. What’s easier for you? To respond to the complaints about traffic and bad roads with a pothole fill-spree or to initiate a long term conversation about rebuilding a public transportation network – something that will most certainly take years of construction, a massive paradigm shift in the way our roads work, and a certain temporary continuation of traffic misery until new rail lines are completed? 

No brainer. You go for the short-term solution with a quickness … and it worked! People were happy. You found that every filled pothole resulted in another happy voter. So you filled more. And more. And your success became more dependent upon the car culture.  

Then the money ran out. And the roads got worse. And worse. And worse. You heard less music coming from the car culture and more horn honking. Your streets became choked in traffic and pocked with holes. 

In the meantime, a resurgence in mass transit faith sprung up from the corners of your city. Weirdo, New Yorker-wannabes started getting together and demanding an exit from the car culture. Groups became political and convinced the right politicians to join them until eventually they restarted a move to rebuild mass transit in your city. But, it’s only halfway done. 

This is Los Angeles today. A sprawling network of neighborhoods ranging across a huge swath of land. Partly reconnected by rail and bus, partly mired in the morass of a car culture. 

So, you face two options, both incremental increases in sales taxes, each divergent in its support of cultural mores. One drags us further towards mass transit and the other further cements us into the car culture. No one in their right mind would, as CityWatch columnist Ken Alpern recently alluded, support both tax increases because placed together, they would amount to more than an incremental increase. The passage of one will most certainly capsize the passage of the second. 

Taking the long view, these are cultural choices as in, what kind of a culture do you want to support in your city? 

The car culture is centered on the individual. Powered by gasoline, built for comfort, and inherently less physical for the driver, the car culture is the mode of transportation for the obesity epidemic. It has catered to the development of the fast food industry and convenience foods scientifically engineered to live “fresh” on the shelf until you shove them down your pie hole en route to the office. 

The car culture people have been found to be more depressed, less satisfied, more divorced, and generally unhealthy. They drink solitary. They die sooner and are subjected to more morning drive-time banter on the radio.  God help them. 

The mass transit culture focuses on moving people, not cars. It is inherently more social, whether you want it or not. More often than not, the social classes will mix – if not in conversation, then at least in jockeying for elbow-room. This results in less social strife and equalizes the sense of opportunity, if not the actual reality of economic mobility. 

The mass transit people walk to and from stations, frequently stand during their ride, and read more during their commute to work. They see the plight of their fellow man and cannot escape the misery of their city’s less fortunate. This is good if only for the fact that they are more aware of the misery around them. 

Mass transit people are healthier, live longer, have less work to do when they get home, see more of their city, and are generally more social drinkers. By riding mass transit together, they also increase their chances of meeting people outside their social circle of work. Best of all, they are less afflicted by drive-time banter on the radio. God bless them. 

These two different cultures are created by incremental changes. Both require sacrifices. One is the short view and one requires a longer view, but they are equal in the sense that they are infrastructure choices that drive the evolution of our culture. 

These are the divergent paths we face here in Los Angeles and we have a massive opportunity to participate in a public discussion on the merits of both pathways through the debate over two ballot measures to raise the area sales tax. 

One measure pushed by fairly conservative city council members comes in the form of a massive road bond. Its main focus is repairing our roads and sidewalks, thus perpetuating our current car culture. 

The second, more ambitious measure, is pushed by public transit advocates and would be an extension of Measure R, the sales tax bump passed to fund the re-creation of a robust, functional public transit system. 

We owe it to ourselves to demand that these two measures, both potentially to be placed on the ballot but on separate election cycles, be discussed simultaneously. The advocacy for each is an advocacy for the evolution of our culture in divergent directions. The passage of each represents the pathway of our local culture. That much is at stake.

Diesel ‘deadlier than petrol’


By Seibik Bugri, April 6, 2014

A hydrogen fuel cell Taxi Defra’s report says the nitrogen dioxide emissions generated by the typical diesel vehicle, such as a London black taxi, have risen steadily over the past 10-15 years

YEARS of official efforts to encourage motorists to switch to diesel cars have backfired spectacularly, according to new evidence from government scientists. They have found that the engines are responsible for most of the pollution that is causing 29,000 premature deaths a year in Britain and which has left the country facing legal action by the European Commission.

The scientists have told ministers in a report that the only solution is a wholesale move back to petrol vehicles.

The report, commissioned by Defra, the environment ministry, says the nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions generated by the typical diesel vehicle have risen steadily over the past 10-15 years and there is no prospect of reversing the trend. There are also serious problems with diesel particulates, the tiny toxic particles that pass through the lungs to enter every organ of the body. Both pollutants raise the risk of heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks, the actual causes of mortality in most the 29,000 premature deaths.

Separate research into the long-term impacts show that children exposed to diesel particulates have an elevated risk of developing autism and schizophrenia, while older adults may experience accelerated cognitive decline and depression. The Defra report, from scientists on the government’s air quality expert group, tells ministers that cleaning up diesels would take so long that it would be better to promote a wholesale switch to petrol.

“What we are seeing is a complete failure of the emissions regulatory system,” said David Carslaw, of King’s College London, a co-author.

“The policy on cutting pollution over the past two decades has been based on the idea that technological improvements could cut the emissions produced by diesel vehicles — but this has not happened. Nitrogen dioxide emissions per vehicle have actually risen.

“The key failure is that the European testing regime is too lenient and does not measure how vehicles perform when driven on real roads. They all pass the test but our research shows that when driven on real roads they typically emit 4-5 times more than the tests suggest.

“It might be possible to fix this but it would take many years so, for now, the reality is that switching to petrol is the best idea for light vehicles like cars, vans and taxis.” Such a move would have huge policy implications because about a third of Britain’s 29m private cars are diesel powered, as are about 95% of its 3.3m vans. The proportion is also rising — in 2012 about half of the 2m new cars registered were diesel. In London, Birmingham, Manchester and many other cities diesel engines also power almost all the taxis and buses.

The new report is the third to recommend getting rid of diesels. The first two ended up in Defra’s archives with no action taken. In the first report, in 2011, Carslaw and his colleagues said: “We found that in diesel cars and light goods vehicles emissions of nitrogen dioxide have not decreased for the past 15–20 years.”

For their second study in 2012 they used smog sensing camera traps, in which beams of infrared and ultraviolet light were shone across a busy road to analyze the exhaust plume of passing vehicles, simultaneously photographing their number plates, to measure emissions.

The system showed that NO2 emissions for almost every type of diesel vehicle were several times higher than implied by the European Union test results. The latest study uses the same technology to look at buses and other large vehicles and is expected to draw similarly powerful conclusions.
The scale of the failure is illustrated by recent pollution levels in Oxford Street, central London, one of the capital’s most popular shopping and tourist areas.

The EU limit for nitrogen dioxide is 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air averaged over a year. In Oxford Street it seldom fell below this and sometimes went far above — briefly reaching 800mcg on one occasion last August and often exceding 400mcg. Last year it was above 200mcg for 1,500 hours; 18 hours is the maximum allowed for that level.

Carslaw said: “That is the highest long-term concentration anywhere in Europe and could make it the most polluted place in the world, above even Mexico City or Beijing. ”

Ian Mudway, a respiratory toxicologist at Kings College London, who recently coauthored a World Health Organisation (WHO) report on European air pollution, said: “This is not just about vulnerable groups like asthmatics and people with heart conditions.

“In the long term everyone will have subclinical effects that shorten their lives. We have no choice what we breathe and if you are exposed throughout the year then there is a risk of long-term damage to your lungs and other organs.” The new warnings follow a week in which Britain has been covered by a layer of smog caused by dust blown north from the Sahara mixed with diesel particulates and other pollutants, some blown in from Europe, but much of it generated by domestic traffic.

The severe air pollution saw a surge in 999 calls from people suffering asthma, heart attacks and strokes — all of which increase when pollution rises. But the new research suggests the danger comes not just from peaks in pollution but also from long-term exposure, especially to the young. Britain has some of the highest levels of such pollutants in Europe.

There is also strong emerging evidence that diesel emissions, especially particulates, can damage the brains of children living near busy roads, altering the way they develop and raising the risk of developing schizophrenia, autism and other diseases.

Scientists in America have found that long-term exposure to the tiny particulates alters the way children’s brains grow, potentially altering their thought processes and behaviour all through life.

Some scientists have likened the impact of diesel particulates to those emitted by lead in petrol. This was banned in 1999 after scientists found that the lead additives caused brain damage in exposed children — reducing their IQ and increasing their propensity to violent and criminal behaviour. The emerging threat from particulates is summed up in a report on European air pollution by the WHO. It said: “Emerging evidence suggests possible links between long-term PM2.5 exposure [of particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter] and neurodevelopment and cognitive function … including impairment of cognitive functions in adults and children.”

Mudway said: “This is an emerging field of study but there is already strong evidence for diesel pollutants having an effect on cognitive function in kids. “Some of that research came from California, where the proportion of diesel vehicles is low. We plan to carry out a similar study in London, where it is far higher, so we expect stronger effects.”

The California research was reported last year in The Journal of the American Medical Association and involved a study of 525 children, of whom 279 had autism. It found that the pollution levels experienced by their mothers in pregnancy and by the children in their first year of life were strongly correlated with the risk of developing autism. It concluded: “Exposures to traffic-related air pollution, PM and nitrogen dioxide were associated with an increased risk of autism.”

Another study led by Jennifer Weuve, professor of internal medicine at Rush Medical College in Chicago, was based on data from 19,000 women. It found that older women who had been exposed to high levels of particulates experienced greater cognitive decline compared with other women their age.
A stu
dy by Melinda Power of the Harvard School of Public Health found the same effect in older men, with those exposed to high levels of particulates suffering reduced cognitive performance, equivalent to ageing by about two years.

Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester medical centre in New York, said: “Evidence is growing … that air pollution targets the brain. Several epidemiological studies report associations of air pollution with autism, two report associations with schizophrenia. Several others have reported cognitive deficits and even increased attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

Cory-Slechth has also used animals to try to work out how particulates affect the brain. She found that when mice were exposed to the smallest of particles soon after birth their brains developed enlarged ventricles (cavities) and the animals had problems with learning and memory.

Michelle Block, professor of neurobiology at Virginia Commonwealth University medical centre, in Richmond, Virginia, has looked even deeper, studying microglia, the brain’s immune defence cells, to see how they are affected: “We found that these cells can become reprogrammed, hijacked by air pollution, so they aberrantly cause central nervous system damage.”

Although much of the latest research is American, the United States has far less to be worried about than Britain because diesel is used mainly in buses and goods vehicles, with most US cars and light vehicles powered by petrol. Europe, by contrast, has increasingly switched to diesel in the mistaken belief that it is cleaner and greener.

In Britain in 2012 half of the 2m or so new cars bought were diesel, compared with just 18% 11 years previously. Of the 3.3m registered vans, 95% were diesel. The number of diesel vehicles is the key reason why Britain is experiencing so many pollution problems. Last week’s pollution cloud gained national attention because it was the first to be publicised under the Met Office’s new pollution prediction system, but little mention was made of two peaks that preceded it last month. Mudway said: “Neither the government nor the mayor of London said anything about those previous episodes even though people with asthma, heart disease or other conditions would have benefited from knowing.”

Alan Andrews, a lawyer with ClientEarth, an environmental law firm, is taking action against the government to force it to comply with EU legislation. He said: “The UK will breach the directive in 16 parts of the country up to 2020 and in London up to 2025.” A government spokesman said: “No one type of transport is the sole cause of air pollution and there is no single magic bullet to tackle it.

“To improve air quality we must take the full range of actions including increasing the uptake of cycling, supporting the market for ultra-low emission vehicles and helping to buy low-carbon buses. Since 2011 we have committed £2bn to reduce emissions and improve air quality around busy roads.”
It's dark, the platform is cramped, everyone is sweaty and you don't have cell service. For many of us, subway systems don't exactly sound like the most exciting tourist destination.

Nonetheless, thousands of users on networks like Yelp and TripAdvisor log on to rate and review the pros and cons of the world's metros every day. Their findings will at once disturb, humor and guide you during your next public transportation journey.

Looking at 10 of the world's largest and most well-known systems, it becomes clear that traveling communities cannot agree whether certain subways are the saving grace or utter downfall of their host city. The reviews serve as a reminder that everything has its ups and downs, and sometimes those downs involve "permanent crap stains" and rats the size of small dogs.

Check out our interactive map below and see if you agree with the public transportation enthusiasts of the Internet. (See the website for the interactive map and description of the subway sytems.)

Peggy Drouet: But the list is the following:

1. New York City Subway.
2. San Francisco BART.
3. Washington, D.C. Metrorail.
4. Moscow Metro.
5. The London Tube.
6. Stockholm Tunnelbana.
7.  Paris Metro.
8. Tokyo Metro.
9. Seoul Metropolitan Subway.
10. Madrid Metro.

I've been on nos. 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10. Of these 10, my no. 1 vote would go the Tokyo Metro for ease of use and to the Moscow Metro for its artwork. I would easily take off the Madrid Metro from the list--I was surrounded by a band of gypsies trying to pickpocket me on it and have also heard similar stories from other travelers. I would also add the Singapore Metro and the Dubai Metro--both are very modern, clean, and take you to where you want to go. I would not include the Los Angeles Metro, the one in my area. Many of its subway cars look like they haven't been washed for a lengthy time, all the platforms are open to the tracks, and though there is some good artwork at the stations, much more is needed.

Dan Walters: Bullet train faces withering series of hurdles


By Dan Walters, April 6, 2014

The California High-Speed Rail Authority plans to begin construction this year on a bullet train system that is supposed to eventually stretch 500 miles from Sacramento to San Diego.

It will be, at most, a modest beginning. The agency only has enough money – maybe – for 130 miles of non-electrified track from Madera to somewhere north of Bakersfield, dubbed “the train to nowhere” by critics.

Even if that stretch is built, laying track farther south depends on overcoming a withering array of financial, legal and political hurdles within the state and the overt hostility of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The next few months will be critical, as multiple lawsuits challenging the project’s fidelity to a 2008 voter-approved bond issue are resolved, and as the Legislature ponders Gov. Jerry Brown’s desperation-tinged proposal to use the state’s new “cap-and-trade” fees on carbon emissions.

Brown wants a $250 million injection of fee money in a few months, apparently so he can meet the looming matching mandate of a $3.5 billion federal grant. Borrowing more state bond money has been blocked by a judge’s finding – now under appeal – that the project doesn’t meet bond act requirements.

So far, the feds are allowing the state to front-load use of grant funds despite the lack of matching money and a 2011 declaration by the U.S. Department of Transportation that front-loading “is not feasible.”

 Brown also wants the bullet train to receive a third of future cap-and-trade funds, but no one knows how much will be forthcoming, or even if the fees will survive two lawsuits by business interests saying they are illegal taxes.

Moreover, there’s doubt, expressed by the Legislature’s budget analyst and others, that the fees can be legally spent on the bullet train since they are supposed to be used to reduce carbon emissions by 2020.

Nor is there certain legislative support for spending carbon fee money.

Environmental groups and Democratic legislative allies are openly leery, preferring other uses and fearing the bullet train could, if other funds are lacking, soak up all the fees.

Finally, even with fees, there’s not enough money to build the $31 billion, 300-mile “initial operating segment” from Madera to the San Fernando Valley for which, the bond law says, complete financing must be shown. That may be the pithiest issue in the legal challenges.

Counting all the bond money, all of the federal grant and all the carbon fees Brown seeks would still leave about a $15 billion gap for which CHSRA officials now have only fingers-crossed wishes.

Closing the gap, if it can be closed, is not only a legal requirement but, as the Legislature’s budget analyst says, common sense. Should work even begin on a grandiose project that has lost public favor and may never be finished?

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/04/06/6298864/dan-walters-bullet-train-faces.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/04/06/6298864/dan-walters-bullet-train-faces.html#storylink=cpy

CicLAvia Touches Down on Wilshire Boulevard


By Andrew Lopez, April 6, 2014

CicLAvia Touches Down on Wilshire Boulevard

Thousands of participants took to two wheels instead of four as the ninth CicLAvia event was held Sunday on the streets of Wilshire Boulevard.

The event, which aims to connect businesses and people through biking and alternative transportation, kicked off at 9 a.m. on the lawn at 5900 block of Wilshire Boulevard.
Aaron Paley, a co-founder of the event, said CicLAvia also helps change the way people see their city streets, public transportation, and, of course, bicyclists.

The push for more open space is expected to be made easier when a new law which will provide cyclists with a three-foot barrier away from cars goes into effect on September 16. 

Several local politicians and county officials were on hand for the event, including Assemblyman Steven Bradford, who authored the new law.

Bradford said the law is crucial in protecting bicyclists against motorists who often don't see them.
Motorists were advised that traffic would be affected on the 6-mile stretch of Wilshire during the event, with limited crossing at Alvarado Street and Vermont, Western and La Brea Avenues.

CicLAvia organizers hope to hold five events next year.

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, April 7, 2014

CicLAvia is behind us, but there’s a full list of important hearings that cover everything from ExpressLanes to green taxis. When it’s all over, there’s a fun bike event for kids at the Foshay Learning Center.
  • Monday - Metro is looking to extend its two variable toll lanes from pilot program to permanent program, and needs to do some outreach. The last of the public hearings is tonight. Get the details, here
  • Tuesday – The City Council Budget and Finance Committee meets to discuss, amongst other things, a $10 million plan to fix some of the city’s many broken sidewalks. Joe covered the proposal in depth, here. You can read the agenda, here.
  • Wednesday – The City Council Transportation Committee meets to discuss modernizing local transit amenities, the future green taxi program and more. 2 p.m. City Hall. Details.
  • Friday – Angelenos Against Traffic is hosting a “fireside chat” with Los Angeles Councilmember Mike Bonin in Santa Monica. Expect a mix of L.A. politics, regional transportation talk (Bonin is on the Metro and Expo Boards of Directors), and even some Santa Monica-based questions. It should be fun. Get the details, here.
  • Saturday - It’s the last of the public hearings on L.A. City’s three citywide plans: mobilityhealth and zoning code. Get SBLA background at the links above; get forum details here.
  • Saturday - Together we envision an annual Earth Day event where community residents come together in a safe environment to have fun, celebrate our foods and cultures, learn about and participate in sustainable practices, and connect with each other and organizations working to make positive change in our neighborhood. Read the calendar listing for “Earth Day South L.A.”, here.
  • Sunday - To encourage safe, healthy, active lifestyles among children in South Los Angeles, LACBC, employees of USC, and Walk ‘ Rollers are partnering to host a free kids bicycle festival at the Foshay Learning Center in South Los Angeles. The family-friendly event starts at 11:00 a.m. and is designed for children ages 5-12. Get more information, and see their flyer, here.

7 Reasons U.S. Infrastructure Projects Cost Way More Than They Should


By Scott Beyer, April 7, 2014

 7 Reasons U.S. Infrastructure Projects Cost Way More Than They Should

This past February, while declaring that infrastructure shouldn't be politicized, President Obama underscored its increasingly ideological nature in the United States. "Infrastructure shouldn't be a partisan issue," he said in front of a recently renovated St. Paul, Minnesota, train station.

"Unfortunately, there have been some Republicans in Congress who refuse to act on common sense proposals."

In theory, infrastructure is not partisan, since both parties agree that it is highly necessary, and severely under-maintained. The divide is over which level of government should operate it. Since 1956, when the federal highway fund was formed, building transportation infrastructure, in particular, has been mostly a federal task, funded at 80 percent levels by the federal gas tax. But recent estimates suggest that the fund could soon run out, prompting the President that day to propose a new $300 billion plan.

Republicans, however, have long wanted to reduce Washington's role in transportation, most recently through a bill that would nearly repeal the gas tax. They argue that by collecting this revenue and redistributing it to the states, the federal government now functions as a wasteful bureaucratic top layer, and that if states could just keep the revenue, more would go towards actual construction. A closer look at existing federal policy strengthens their point.

In 2005, the Cato Institute published Gabriel Roth's paper "Liberating the Roads," which detailed some of the federal government's inefficiencies. It included a statement by former Federal Highway Administration head Robert Farris, who estimated that Washington's role in transportation adds 30 percent to costs. This figure is remarkable, since roughly $40 billion is spent annually from the highway fund, suggesting billions in waste. By Farris' tenure in the late 1980s, Washington was already imposing expensive transportation regulations, and many have since been strengthened by Obama. Here are some particularly costly ones:

1. Davis-Bacon Laws: Passed in 1931, the Davis-Bacon Act mandates that laborers for federal public works projects receive local prevailing wages. Meant to elevate the pay of carpenters and mechanics, the law today dubiously elevates costs. The Labor Department determines these wages not through comprehensive Bureau of Labor Statistics data, but a special bureaucracy called the Wage and Hour Division. It is known for conducting byzantine local pay studies that delay construction, and favor union wage scales. Thus it has, according to a study from the conservative Heartland Institute, calculated prevailing wages at 22 percent above BLS figures, forcing higher prices.

2. Project Labor Agreements: In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order mandating that contractors for federal projects exceeding $25 million sign Project Labor Agreements, which guarantee the hiring of union workers. These prearranged deals are meant to quell labor disputes, but in practice can act more as a solution in search of a problem. According to a National University System Institute study, their use on school projects has raised construction costs by 13 to 15 percent.

3. 'Buy America' Provision: For decades, this provision has discouraged projects from being built with manufactured goods made outside the U.S. Obama strengthened it in the 2009 stimulus package to include projects besides just highways. One condition for ignoring the provision is if it increases costs by 25 percent—suggesting that its inefficiencies were already recognized, but that it was passed anyway out of political favoritism.

4. Lengthy Environmental Reviews: The National Environmental Policy Act, signed by President Nixon in 1970, requires environmental impact reviews for federal projects. While these reviews address important factors like runoff and pollution, they can also be used by NIMBYs to encourage delay and litigation. NEPA studies are also sometimes redundant in light of state-level reviews, causing the approval process for some projects to extend 10 to 15 years. Last year, President Obama bypassed Congress to strengthen NEPA through executive order.

5. Transportation Alternatives Program: Everyone can agree that walking trails, complete streets, historic renovations, landscaping, and bike lanes are public goods, but should they be paid for with highway fund money? This is the current policy of the FHWA, which funds trails and bike lanes through its Transportation Alternatives Program, often making these sorts of projects conditions for approving larger projects. Reasonable people might disagree about whether or not this violates local autonomy, or strays from the fund's original mission of enhancing mobility through roads and rail. But, by accounting for 2 percent of fund revenues, TAP undoubtedly raises expenses.

6. Administrative Costs: Currently, U.S. transportation revenue is like a boomerang, going from the states to Washington and back. Naturally, this process adds bureaucratic costs. For example the FHWA, which is partly funded by the gas tax, spends over $400 million annually on administration. This is despite the fact that, by prioritizing for the Department of Transportation which projects need funding, the agency somewhat duplicates the tasks of state DOTs.
Roth estimated that since 1956, the percentage of transportation revenue spent on "administration and research" has nearly tripled, something he attributed to a stronger federal role.

7. Toll Bans: Although tolls exist along some stretches of interstate, they are generally not permitted by the federal government. This has diverted infrastructure costs away from actual users of roads, making them more widely distributed. It has also stripped the government of a key revenue source that could be used for repairs, and for cheaper borrowing.

What these policies show is that federal transportation priorities aren't solely about transportation. They address a variety of other goals, from elevating wages to increasing unionization to encouraging alternatives to lowering costs-of-living for the poor. But even those who support such goals must acknowledge that funding them through transportation policy can come at the expense of actually building or properly maintaining infrastructure.

States try to block cities’ transit plans


By Ben Adler, April 7, 2014

bus rapid transit sketch

 Will Tennessee’s Republican-controlled state legislature kill this proposed bus rapid transit line in Nashville?

As more cities come to terms with Americans’ shifting desires to get out of cars and onto mass transit, we are beginning to see bus and rail projects in some unexpected places. Mass transit isn’t just for your Europhile socialist coastal enclaves anymore. Cities in the Midwest and the Sun Belt are trying to develop well-planned transit systems such as light rail and bus rapid transit.

But there is a hitch: States tend to control both how transportation funds are raised and how they are spent. Even federal transportation dollars are mostly disbursed to states rather than localities. Many states, even liberal California and transit-rich New York, prohibit cities from levying most kinds of taxes without state permission, making it hard for metropolitan areas to raise funds for their own projects.

And, you’ll be shocked to discover, Republican state legislatures aren’t so keen on mass transit. In Indiana, for example, the counties in the Indianapolis region need state approval just to hold a referendum on whether to fund mass transit projects. And the state legislature would not give them that permission unless they dropped a light rail system from the proposal, and also dropped a corporate tax to pay for it.

The irony is that the business community itself had lobbied for the mass transit system, since they appreciate its economic value. But God forbid businesses should be asked to contribute to building the public goods they will benefit from! They lobbied against the corporate income tax that would have covered a mere 10 percent of the system’s cost, and it was removed. Conservatives, of course, then attacked the bill for shifting the cost onto taxpayers. But at least it finally passed.

Nashville may not be so lucky. The city wants to build a bus rapid transit line on one of its major, traffic-clogged corridors. The system would cut commute times, but suburbanites worry that by taking one of their precious car lanes it would cause traffic and safety problems. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers–funded anti-government advocacy organization, has rallied support for a Tennessee state Senate bill that would prohibit dedicating any lane of traffic to buses, and late last month it passed. The bill’s fate in the state House is unclear.

Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to rein in dangerous drivers to protect pedestrians and bicyclists may be thwarted by the state government. He needs Albany’s approval to post speeding cameras around the city, and the legislature did not include it in the state budget that just passed. It may be added later.

To some extent, these pro-car, anti-transit, and anti-pedestrian policies are just the natural byproduct of our bizarre federal system. In European or Asian countries with better subway systems and inter-city rail service, infrastructure policy is nationalized. National governments tend to appreciate cities and their vital economic importance. State politics, on the other hand, can be dominated by reactionary rural or suburban legislators who resent the prominence of their state’s biggest cities.

But some reforms are possible. Federal transportation dollars, for example, can go more to localities than states. President Obama has started to do this a little bit with his competitive TIGER grants program. And as more Southern and Midwestern cities push for transit, suburban and conservative resistance to it may soften. Until then, there is a lot of work to be done in statehouses.

Designed for lone commuters, this three-wheeled car gets 84 mpg


By Holly Richmond, April 7, 2014

Glancing around at nearly empty cars on the freeway, it’s sadly clear that almost 80 percent of commuters drive to and from work alone. Public transit, biking, and carpooling are both much greener, obvi, but in lieu of those, a tiny, fuel-efficient car for one would be a wee step forward.

With its 84 mpg on the highway (49 mpg in the city) fuel efficiency, The Elio can go 672 freeway miles on a full tank. It’s technically not a car without a fourth wheel, but the mini pod will still get you to the office — at up to 100 mph if you’re REALLY late. Its price tag is equally bite-size: $6,800.
If this “tiny, three-wheeled car!!!!” thing sounds familiar, it’s because others have tried but made itty-bitty death traps Americans understandably had no interest in buying. With its professed commitment to safety and more than 13,000 people in line, the Elio sounds promisingly different, but former Grister Tyler Falk is wary:

[W]e’ll hold off declaring the Elio vehicle the next big thing in personal transportation until we see some actual sales numbers. That’s because it’s not clear if a low-cost car, especially one with minimal interior space will really catch on in the United States. One company, Aptera Motors, that tried to bring three-wheeled electric vehicles to the U.S. shut down in 2011.
If you can handle a bro-y Ken Doll spokesguy, see what you think of the Elio:


It even has a backseat, if you want to join the 84 Miles (to the Gallon) High Club.


Large wall part of Seattle tunnel machine repair


April 3, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) — It seems that everything connected with the effort to dig a highway tunnel under downtown Seattle is big — from the tunneling machine that stopped working last December, to a large plywood wall planned to shield neighbors from the noise of repairing the machine.

Washington Transportation Department spokeswoman Laura Newborn said Thursday that the noise-blocking wall will be as tall as the lower deck of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The wall will soon rise out of the ground near the spot where crews will dig a 120-foot-deep pit where they will work on the machine known as Bertha.

Newborn says the tunnel contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, is still finalizing a repair strategy. Plans so far call for the tunneling machine now located about 60 feet below ground to dig forward into the pit, so crews can partially disassemble Bertha and repair the seal system and main bearing.

The machine stopped working in early December about 1,000 feet into the 1.7-mile Highway 99 tunnel that will replace the viaduct.

Tunnel: Bertha gets her bearing

From Sylvia Plummer: The Seattle tunnel is the same diameter as the proposed 710 tunnel, 58 feet/5 stories tall, but 1.7 miles long.

WSDOT says the contractor digging the tunnel will likely replace the boring machine's entire main bearing 


By Bill Lucia, April 7, 2014
 Bertha's cutting head has run into troubles.
 Bertha's cutting head has run into troubles.
The repairs to Bertha, the Highway 99 Tunnel boring machine, will likely be more extensive than originally planned, a Washington State Department of Transportation official said on Thursday.

Seattle Tunnel Partners, the contractor digging the underground roadway has told WSDOT "verbally" that they are going to replace the machine's main bearing, according to Todd Trepanier, a program administrator for the department.

Until now, the contractor has only said that it would replace a set of damaged seals that protect the bearing. For weeks, Seattle Tunnel Partners has not confirmed whether the bearing itself might have been damaged by grit or water when the seals failed.

Manufactured by the German company Rothe Erde, the roughly 88-ton, 33-foot diameter bearing allows Bertha's 57.5-foot wide "cutter-head" to spin and bore through the earth. The machine's entire bearing assembly costs $5.1 million, according to project budget documents. A replacement bearing is in Japan and will be shipped by boat to Seattle along with other parts, Trepanier said. 
Some Rothe Erde bearings come equipped with monitoring systems and have measuring devices. WSDOT told Crosscut in early March that neither were installed on Bertha.

The machine is currently stopped near South Main Street, under Pioneer Square. It has barely moved in the last 117 days.

Bertha was first idled in early December after encountering increased resistance while digging. Seattle Tunnel Partners detected the bearing seal problems in late January.

The contractor has been working with the machine's manufacturer, Hitachi Zosen Corp., on plans to partially unearth and repair the tunneling rig. That operation will involve excavating an 83-foot diameter, 120-foot deep circular pit in between the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Pier 48, south of South Main Street. Before digging can begin, WSDOT and Seattle Tunnel Partners are awaiting the results of an archeological survey that is required to meet Federal Highway Administration cultural preservation guidelines.

710 Stub Alternatives

From Sylvia Plummer, April 7, 2014

This is snippet from an article by LA architect John Dutton about the 710 in 1991. The most compelling part is regarding the development of the 710 stub, he lays out the task facing us and asks the same questions we are asking now.

Indeed, if the 710 plan is abandoned, the 1.5 mile stub already built in Pasadena (just south of the 134 and west of Old Pasadena) could become one of the most coveted development parcels in the region. It is adjacent to both successful commercial areas as well as the mature and historic neighborhoods, and five minutes from the San Gabriel Mountains.
With no new freeway, the 710 stub will stand as a great urban artifact. The vast gully cradling the freeway separates two distinct sides. How does one, if at all, knit together the two sides? How can the bridges be utilized? What possibilities in section does the terrain provide? Should the land remain as open space? A new district or neighborhood? How does it connect to the rest of the City? How do the remnants of the freeway stub integrate into the future design of the site?

Mark Your Calendar: What Does Southern California Need From the 710 Freeway?

From Sylvia Plummer, April 7, 2014
In advance of Metro's release of an environmental impact report on the 710, Brian Taylor of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, Linda Adams of Clean Tech Advocates, Gary Toebben of the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, and Hasan Ikhrata of the Southern Calif. Association of Governments discuss what these proposals mean for us.

This event is sponsored by METRO, so don't think they will tell you any of the negative impacts of the Tunnel.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014 from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM


Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
250 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Parking is $9 at Walt Disney Concert Hall Garage

Interested in attending and/or carpooling?
Email Sylvia Plummer at UnitedAgainst710@gmail.com with your name, address & phone number.

If you plan to attend please register for this event at:

Note:  You must arrive before 7:15pm or your reservation will be released

New combined schedule published for Amtrak, Metrolink and Coaster trains


By Steve Hymon, April 7, 2014

Here’s the latest combined timetable for Amtrak, Metrolink and Coaster trains in Southern California — it’s effective today, April 7.  View this document on Scribd

This is also known as the LOSSAN schedule — LOSSAN stands for the rail corridors that run between San Luis Obispo in the north and San Diego in the south. From LOSSAN’s web page:
The LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency (Agency) is a joint powers authority originally formed in 1989 that works to increase ridership, revenue, capacity, reliability, coordination and safety on the coastal rail line between San Diego, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo. It is governed by a 11-member Board of Directors composed of elected officials representing rail owners, operators, and planning agencies along the rail corridor.  The LOSSAN Agency is staffed by the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Amtrak, Metrolink and Coaster trains connect with local transit at numerous locations throughout Southern California — most notably Metro buses and trains in Los Angeles County, OCTA buses in Orange County, NCTD buses and trains in northern San Diego County and the San Diego trolley and bus system in San Diego and surrounding area.

Many of the cities served by Amtrak and commuter rail area also served by their own municipal bus lines.