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, May 23, 2014

'Swoop and Squat': Staged car accidents, insurance fraud rise in L.A.


By Charles Fleming, Nay 23, 2014

The Swoop and Squat is a classic staged accident
 The driver in the small sedan next to the van is about to find himself in a staged accident, when the white Escalade slams on his brakes and causes a pileup.

Staged car accidents and insurance fraud are on the rise in Southern California, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Los Angeles Police Department are fighting back.

They made a movie.

Together they have produced four new high-definition videos presenting reenactments of typical car accident scams -- including one called "Swoop and Squat."

The NICB says the staged accidents are conducted by organized groups -- working in teams and often using multiple vehicles and drivers at a time -- to entrap unwitting motorists into forking over cash to pay for damage, and to defraud insurance companies by filing bogus injury claims resulting from the phony fender-benders.

"These illegal accidents are not only illegal and costly, but they also present a real danger to innocent drivers," said Joe Wehrle, the NICB's president and chief executive. "And without knowing what to look for, these innocent victims may not realize they were targeted."

 The problem is particularly chronic in Los Angeles, which is "the staged auto accident capital of the U.S.," said Nancy Kincaid of the California Department of Insurance. "Because of the sheer volume of cars, and the density of the traffic, this is ground zero."

The LAPD-produced videos present four scenarios in which the targeted victim is made to look responsible for a rear-end or side-swipe collision. The teams of scammers may include multiple drivers in multiple cars, as well as "witnesses" on the sidewalk.

LAPD Det. Gary Guevara, who works in the auto fraud unit of the department's commercial crimes division, says the criminals prey on a certain kind of victim -- middle-aged, well-dressed, employed and driving a nice car that is likely to be insured.

Two bad guys in separate cars will pull into a lane in front of the victim. A third driver will pull up into the lane next to the victim.

The first driver will slam on his brakes, causing the second driver to slam on his brakes too. Meanwhile, the third driver will pull in close to the victim, cutting off his escape route.

The victim slams into the back of the second car. The first driver, who started the whole thing, speeds off. The third driver acts as witness. The victim, of course, doesn't know that the three drivers were working together.

The scam can also involve the collusion of auto repair shops, doctors, chiropractors and lawyers who are all participating. The car that the victim hits may be filled with passengers recruited to get "injured" and file claims.

In other cases, the criminal is working alone or with only a small team. Often the amount of the claim is so small that it's really not worth the insurance company's trouble to investigate.

In one new wrinkle, Guevara said, young Latino men on bicycles in the San Fernando Valley are throwing themselves in front of passing automobiles, then demanding small amounts of cash from the drivers.

"These guys are actually getting hit," Guevara said. "And the driver really thinks it's his fault. And since it's only $200, the average Joe is always going to pay the money and get out of there."

Guevara said police are also seeing an increase in staged accidents on area freeways, where higher speeds can make the practice deadly.

Why freeways? "No cameras," Guevara said. "These days, there's cameras on every street corner -- in the liquor store, outside the marijuana dispensary. That makes it easier to get tape that shows fraud. On the freeway, there's no tape."

The videos were produced at the LAPD's Emergency Vehicle Operations Center in Granada Hills.

Why bikers should live by the same laws as everyone else


By Ben Adler, May 22, 2014

 cyclists and peds on city street

All of us who ride bikes know the feeling of not wanting to stop completely at an intersection when there’s no one coming. It’s an understandable impulse. Far more often, though, I’ve been legally walking across a street and had a bike roll through the crosswalk, forcing me to freeze in mid-intersection as it breaks the law and crosses my path. Sometimes, it zips frighteningly close.
But some cycling advocates argue that we should make it legal for bikes to go through a red light, after stopping to check that there are no oncoming cars and pedestrians. This is called the “Idaho stop.” Legal only in Idaho and a few towns in Colorado, it also allows bikes to roll slowly through stop signs, treating them essentially as yield signs.

The idea has been picking up steam for the last few years in local blogs from San Francisco to New York, thanks partly to this oddly popular video. In a recent, widely read article in Vox, Joseph Stromberg compellingly laid out the case, drawing on the authority of physics: “So many cyclists do these things … because they make sense, in terms of the energy expended by a cyclist as he or she rides. Unlike a car, getting a bike started from a standstill requires a lot of energy from the rider. Once it’s going, the bike’s own momentum carries it forward, so it requires much less energy.” (Of course, if we made traffic laws primarily about physical efficiency instead of safety, we’d all be roadkill.)
Jeff Miller, president of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, argues that because bicyclists can more easily see and hear pedestrians than drivers can, rules designed for cars should not necessarily apply to bikes. “We don’t perceive any concern or threat on the part of pedestrians” from the Idaho stop, he says.

But bicycle advocacy groups are split on the issue. Miller’s coalition has not taken a position on the Idaho stop; many of its member organizations support it, but other leading cycling organizations don’t.

Even if the Idaho stop is good for bike riders, it’s not good for cities.

Advocates never put it in these terms, but Idaho stops essentially allow bikers to impose on pedestrians’ green lights and rights-of-way. Bikers would be prohibited from going if a pedestrian is in the intersection, but if a biker gets there first, a pedestrian would have to wait at the corner until the bike passes, possibly running out of time to cross. Do we really want to create a mad dash to be first at an intersection and claim right-of-way? As our population ages, and empty nesters return to cities, this would have a particularly negative effect on the elderly.

Idaho stops favor bikes instead human beings on two feet. But pedestrians are the lifeblood of a vibrant city.

Traffic lights and signs are how we organize urban movement, so that it can proceed safely. If we were going to exempt one group from these rules, the logical one would be pedestrians, who are the least dangerous group to other users, not people going much faster on metal contraptions. No pedestrian has ever killed a bicyclist by running into him, but the opposite does happen.

Stromberg invokes pedestrians to make his argument, writing, “Like bikes, pedestrians don’t need to come to a complete stop to avoid accidents at intersections, which is why you don’t see them weirdly freezing in place when they arrive at one.” You don’t? I see them do it, and I do it myself, every time I walk to a corner with a red light or stop sign. Even hordes of reveling Seahawks fans weirdly freeze in place at intersections.

Pedestrians cannot legally jaywalk, and responsible parents still teach their kids not to. Of course people do, and they rarely get ticketed.

And that provides a good model for bikes. Idaho stops, like jaywalking, should not be legalized; they should be winked at, with the law going unenforced except in truly egregious cases. Insofar as Idaho-stop advocates are complaining that police ticket cyclists for running lights when no one is coming, their complaint is valid. Enforcement efforts should be targeted at the worst traffic offenders, which are mostly cars because they are much bigger, faster, and more dangerous than bikes, and their behavior is often just as bad. In New York City, for example, cars routinely block the crosswalk, making street crossings unsafe for pedestrians.

But officially allowing bikes to steal a pedestrian’s right-of-way would go too far. It might encourage even worse behavior: If most people, using any mode of transportation, will tend to go a little further than the law allows, looser laws would make cyclists more inclined than they are already to blow through reds without stopping and through stop signs without slowing down.

Indeed, some prominent urban bicycle advocacy organizations, which are already battling cyclists’ outlaw image, don’t think it would be helpful to legalize the Idaho stop. “Bike Minnesota does not agree that bicyclists should be able to roll through stop signs. It would especially be a problem in cities,” says Dorian Grilley, executive director at the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. “There is plenty of data out there that shows that bicyclists are regarded as scofflaws. That is a reputation BikeMN is working to change.”

Transportation Alternatives (TA), the leading bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group in New York City, agrees. “In New York City, the reality is that our intersections are the where the majority of crashes occur,” says Caroline Samponaro, TA’s senior director of campaigns and organizing. “Signals, and people obeying them, is how we can create predictability and work together to make sure that everyone is safe. We think that everyone should obey the signals.”

And enforcement of the Idaho-stop rule would be difficult. Imagine the arguments over whether a pedestrian, car, or other bike was or wasn’t already crossing the street before the biker started doing so. “Education and interpretation would be challenging with the Idaho law,” says Grilley.

There is a larger point at issue: the mistaken focus on easing the movement of bicycles even at the expense of pedestrians. Biking is a good and important part of urban transportation. But, in any major city, there are vastly more trips made on foot than by bike. (Just look at the commuting mode share in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.) Many people — the elderly, the disabled, small children, shoppers carrying large items, the drunk, the desperately poor, people who need to wear business suits, people who hate getting sweaty — will always walk instead of bike. Their needs must be accommodated, because walking and public transit can be a backup option for bikers, but biking is not always an option for pedestrians.

Foot traffic is also the most crucial ingredient in a vibrant city streetscape. Street peddlers selling used records, carts selling food, window displays, break dancers, politicians shaking hands — they are all there to interact primarily with pedestrians, not cyclists. There’s a reason some of the world’s greatest outdoor public spaces are “pedestrianized,” not “bicyclized,” streets: closing a street to cars, and bikes, and letting pedestrians fill it, allows people to safely stand around, say, watching street performers or browsing shopping stalls.
As Felix Salmon, an avid biker himself, o
nce noted in a Reuters column, some of the world’s best cities for both biking and walking, such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen, expect bikers to obey red lights and stop signs.

It’s not coincidental that the Idaho stop was invented in Idaho and hasn’t taken off in many other places. Idaho is one of the lowest-density states in the U.S. In parts of Idaho, biking may often be the main alternative to driving because distances are too great for walking to be practical. And it may be quite rare that pedestrians must stop at the corner to let a bike pass. This would be very different in America’s great cities, where biking is growing in popularity.

None of this is an argument against the other accommodations for cyclists that we all know and love, such as protected bike lanes, public bike racks, and bike-share programs. In all of those cases, helping bikers and helping pedestrians go hand-in-hand, as people can more easily shift between walking and biking, and the traffic-calming effect makes streets safer to walk as well as bike. That’s why groups like TA support all of those measures, and more. It’s only when the two groups’ interests collide that we need to remember which is more essential to urban mobility and the urban experience.

In the 20th century, America made an epic mistake: We retrofitted our roads to accommodate machines instead of people. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

Why the Senate Transportation Bill Will Devastate Transit


By Tanya Snyder, May 22, 2014

Transit officials lined up today to make clear that holding transit spending at current levels — as the Senate’s transportation authorization bill does — will put transit systems at risk of falling further into dangerous disrepair.

Beverly Scott of the MBTA warned that current funding levels, as continued by the proposed Senate transportation bill, are "woefully insufficient."
Beverly Scott of the MBTA warned that current funding levels, as continued by the proposed Senate transportation bill, are “woefully insufficient.”

The backlog for transit maintenance and replacement stands “conservatively” at $86 billion, according to the Federal Transit Administration. That backlog is expected to keep growing at a rate of $2.5 billion each year without a significant infusion of funds.

To put it another way, the country needs to spend $2.5 billion more per year – from federal, state and local sources – just to keep the state of the nation’s transit systems from getting even worse.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was determined to expose the shortcomings of the bill Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) recently shepherded through the Environment and Public Works Committee. While the bill’s transit title hasn’t been written yet, EPW has been clear about its intentions to keep spending at current levels plus inflation. That means no help toward the $2.5 billion boost needed to keep things from getting worse.

Menendez chaired a hearing today of the Banking Committee — the very committee tasked with writing the transit title within the framework established by EPW — to demonstrate the problem with the bill’s funding levels.

“By a simple yes or no,” Menendez asked the transit officials before him, “does anyone on the panel believe that current funding levels are enough to help you achieve a state of good repair?”

“They are insufficient,” answered Joseph Casey, general manager of Philadelphia’s SEPTA.

“Woefully insufficient,” added Beverly Scott, head of Boston’s MBTA and a nationally respected transportation visionary.

“No sir,” said Gary Thomas of Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

“And if federal funding remains flat, does anyone believe that additional state and local funding alone could cover the cost of starting to dig down the backlog?” Menendez then asked.

The answer to that was also a resounding no, although the officials made it clear that recent state action — notably the Pennsylvania transportation bill and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s reforms — got them partway there.

“We appreciate and we respect at the local level that we need to step up and do our part as well,” Scott said. “But we are definitely in great need of continued support by the federal government.”
Menendez put the question to the FTA’s Dorval Carter, too: “If federal funding remains flat in the coming years, do you believe we can make any progress toward eliminating the $86 billion backlog?”
“No sir, I do not,” Carter responded.

Indeed, flat funding does not mean a flat backlog. It means an accumulating backlog.
Carter said the biggest challenge is the nation’s rail systems, which account for about 63 percent of the state of good repair backlog.

“These deficiencies have a direct impact on riders,” he said. “They undermine the resiliency of our transit systems and they drain resources that could be better spent on timely replacement and expansion.”

“The older a system gets, the more challenging the simplest of tasks become,” Carter said. “For instance: Where do you find parts for 100-year-old equipment? No one makes them anymore; you can’t get them off the shelf. Your options are to either cannibalize existing assets or to make the parts yourself.” Carter said that when he worked at the Chicago Transit Authority, he had seen them resort to both measures.

When track deteriorates, agencies often implement “slow orders.” If you’ve ever been on a train that inexplicably slows to a crawl at a certain turn or bridge or tunnel, you know how it impacts your travel time when an agency orders trains to slow down in certain segments. Sometimes agencies impose weight limits. And sometimes they need to shut down segments altogether.

Casey of SEPTA and Scott of the T represent old systems with desperately aging infrastructure. Boston’s subway opened in 1897, making it the oldest transit system in the country, “which still operates today at crushloads.” The region’s commuter rail system was originally laid out in the 1830s. “Some of the MBTA bus facilities date to the early 20th century,” Scott testified, “having been initially designed to serve horse-drawn omnibuses.”

Like Boston, Philadelphia has a state-of-good-repair backlog of about $5 billion. Out of 103 bridges that have hit their 100th birthday, SEPTA can only address 18 in the next five years, Casey said. SEPTA has seen 50 percent ridership growth over the past 15 years on its regional rail system, and Casey said there’s great potential for significantly more growth — if he were able to invest more in capacity.

The current transportation bill has a mixed record on transit maintenance. MAP-21 created a new state of good repair grant program and increased maintenance funding for rail. And Carter praised the transit asset management requirements that were part of MAP-21, saying they would help agencies “get a more accurate picture of true need, enabling local decision-makers to allocate resources more effectively system-wide.”

But discretionary grants for buses and bus facilities became a formula program, and according to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the result has been that smaller transit districts are “buying fewer — therefore not getting group bus discounts — and they’re keeping inefficient buses that needs high levels of maintenance on routes for longer, at the detriment of the agency.”

Scott would like to see the next bill focus more on performance so that the funding system is “not rewarding bad behavior.” But what keeps her up at night, she said, is workforce development. Too many of her specialized staff are nearing retirement. And in general, she said, Congress just needs to “get out of that old thinking.”

“All this siloing: ‘This is a road dollar, this is a transit dollar, this is a ped dollar,’” she said. “We’re all talking about mobility and access. We’re all so integrated and inter-connected.”

Casey said what he’d like to see out of the next bill is just a funding solution. “The pot just has to grow.”

Connunity Open Houses Palmdale to Los Angeles Proposed Alignments Animation 2014

 California High-Speed Rail Authority, May 21, 2014

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4reh8C6gqQM

 More information: