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, June 16, 2014

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, June 16, 2014

Another relatively light week. That either means I’m missing something or everyone was planning on being wiped out for the Lakers victory parade this week and didn’t schedule anything. What? The parade isn’t for the Lakers?
  • Today – It’s the Kings’ victory parade. LAist has the details.
  • Today – Remember today is the last day to get your questions in for James Pocrass, partner at Pocrass and De Los Reyes LLC, personal injury attorneys. You can use social media @streetsblogla or our Facebook page, or leave a comment here. We got some good ones already.
  • Today - The City of Los Angeles – Wilshire BRT Construction Team will host a construction update briefing on the evening of June 16, 2014, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wilshire BRT construction on Wilshire Blvd between St Andrews and San Vicente will be discussed. Parking will not be validated.
  • Wednesday, Thursday – The highlight of this month’s Metro Board of Directors meetings isn’t the transit stuff, it’s the CicLAvia everywhere stuff. Exciting. Get all the committee agendas, here.
  • Thursday – Thursday is “Dump the Pump” Day. Usually, we see a lot of press releases and such around this, but all I’ve seen so far is this notice of free rides on Culver City Transit tweeted by Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells. If we see more, we’ll announce on our social media.
  • Saturday - C.I.C.L.E. and Bike Odyssey LA, will lead a theatrical community bicycle event, “The Pedal Powered Street Theater Ride.” As we pedal along, riders will be immersed in stories from Homer’s The Odyssey, reimagined in modern Los Angeles County. Audiences will ride through Angeleno history transformed into Greek legends of craftiness and pride; replete with all the monsters, epic poetry, and sacrificial vegetables you could ask for. Get more details, here.
  • Sunday – Pre-CicLAvia, this was the largest permitted bike ride in Los Angeles. Now everything is permitted. We’ve come so far. But I digress…the LACBC’s biggest fundraiser is the River Ride this weekend. Come out, ride for awhile, and raise money for our bike advocates. Get more details, here.

Seattle tunnel contractor releases detailed plan for repairing Bertha


By Josh Kerns, June 16, 2014

The contractor building the new Seattle tunnel has released details for its plan to repair the SR 99 tunneling machine known as Bertha and get the world's biggest boring machine moving again.

The plan by Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) and manufacturer Hitachi Zosen calls for a number of steps to access Bertha 60-feet below the Seattle waterfront, remove its massive cutter head and repair the machine.

The work plan calls for four major repair elements as well as a series of enhancements, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. Crews will replace the damaged seal system with a more robust system, replace the main bearing, install enhanced monitoring systems, and add steel to strengthen the machine and accommodate the new seal system.

Crews will access Bertha through a 120-foot-deep circular pit to be dug in front of the drilling machine from above. Work has been underway since May, with STP installing 73 concrete columns and other reinforcements before the walls of the pit are constructed. Excavation work is scheduled to begin in August.

Once the pit is completed, a huge crane rising above the Alaskan Way Viaduct will be erected, providing access to the drilling machine. Crews will disassemble the cutter head and use the crane to lift the cutter head, drive axle and bearing in one piece — some 2,000 tons altogether — and set the massive pieces on the surface. The plan calls for that work to take place in October.

The proposed schedule calls for repair work to be completed by the end of the year, with testing to get underway in February 2015. Officials say drilling on the Seattle Tunnel is scheduled to resume in March 2015.

Along with the repairs, the plan calls for STP to widen the openings at the center of the cutterhead, improve the soil conditioning injection system, install bit- and wear-resistant steel on the cutterhead, and extend the length of what are called the agitator arms in the mixing chamber that handle soil dug by the machine.

WSDOT says the contract with STP requires the tunnel contractor prove, through tests and detailed analyses, that the repaired machine can stand up to all of the loads from the surrounding ground and operation and can handle the rest of the project before it can resume drilling next year.

Report urges new light-rail station, circulator train for LAX travel


By Laura J. Nelson, June 16, 2014

Train to LAX

 A station map shows the route of the Metro Green Line, which stops 2.5 miles short of Los Angeles International Airport.

In a slight advancement of the decades-long debate over how to bring rail to Los Angeles International Airport, transportation officials Monday voiced their support for a project they said could solve one of Southern California’s most vexing and infamous planning dilemmas.

 In a report made public Monday, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority staff members called for a $1.7-billion project that would include a train and a new light-rail station 1.5 miles to the east of LAX’s passenger terminals.

The $200-million station at 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard would connect to the Green Line, the Crenshaw Line and a so-called "people-mover," which would likely resemble San Francisco International Airport's circulator train. Although airport officials have not finalized a route, the circulator train could connect Metro rail to a consolidated rental car facility, a planned ground transportation hub and LAX's passenger terminals.

The recommendation comes after decades of discussion over how to connect rail to LAX. Los Angeles will soon have two light-rail lines that stop less than three miles from the terminals of the country's third-busiest airport. Even if Metro votes on the 96th Street project immediately and moves to build it fast, it probably would not be done before the Crenshaw line, which is supposed to open in 2019.

Metro’s Board of Directors will weigh the proposal at their June 26 board meeting. Board members could approve the recommendation, or vote to study other options.

The Board of Airport Commissioners, which governs LAX, must also green-light the recommendation. If they don't, Metro staff will try to connect an existing light-rail station at Aviation and Century boulevards to the people-mover, the report said.

A spokeswoman for LAX said airport officials had not seen the Metro report.

In an emailed statement, Los Angeles World Airports spokeswoman Nancy Castles said the agency will work with Metro “regardless of whatever option” is selected.

The 96th Street station would be built about a half-mile north of an existing Green Line station at Aviation and Century boulevards, but each station would serve "an independent purpose," staff said.
Measure R, the half-cent sales tax county voters approved in 2008, secured $330 million for the airport connector. But it is yet to be determined who will pay for the remainder of the project, which Metro staff said will cost more than $1.5 billion regardless of which option is chosen.

The option Metro has backed is significantly cheaper than others, including building light-rail directly into the terminal area. Metro directors ruled out a direct rail link earlier this year, citing the high cost and difficulty of tunneling under the terminal area.

In project renderings, Los Angeles World Airports staff have indicated they would prefer that Metro rail connect directly to a planned ground transportation hub at Airport Boulevard and 96th Street. That would cost about $3.1 billion: $1.7 billion for the rail link, and $1.4 billion for the circulator train.

Connecting rail directly to a ground transportation hub or to the terminal area would "marginally improve transit ridership," but would come at a "very high cost," staff wrote in the report.

Despite growing pressure from the public and elected officials to close the LAX rail gap, just 1-2% of airport trips are projected to be made on Metro rail and buses by 2035, according to the Metro analysis. About 57% of trips will be made in cars, 33% in taxis, limos and shuttles and 8% by FlyAway bus.

Could Tolls End the I-95 Traffic Nightmare Through Connecticut?


By Patrick Skahill, June 12, 2014

 A picture of the high-speed tolling system on CityLink, a network of tolled urban Freeways in Melbourne, Australia.

Highway tolls are again being discussed in Connecticut as part of an 18-month study conducted by the state Department of Transportation. It's got road planners asking an interesting question, can one type of toll actually reduce traffic?

It's called congestion pricing. "The idea is that when it's very congested, when there's lots of demand, the price goes up in order to encourage some number of drivers to either postpone their trip, carpool, or figure out some way to not be on the lanes at that very expensive time," said Asha Weinstein Agrawal, a transportation scholar at San José State University.

Weinstein Agrawal said the idea hinges on giving drivers a choice. For example, travel on a highway for free during "off-peak" hours or pay a toll during rush hour to travel in a less-jammed-up "express" lane. "The way congestion builds up on the road, you don't actually have to get everybody off to remove the congestion. There's usually a fairly small tipping point," she said.

That tipping point is hard to quantify, but it's pretty small. Some say around 5 percent of total traffic. And diverting that percentage of drivers could make a big difference in Connecticut. Take, for example, the I-95 corridor from New York to New Haven. According to the state Department of Transportation, congestion increased there by 19 percent between 2001 and 2011.

"The problems on I-95 South are extremely severe," said Tom Maziarz, chief of policy and planning at the Connecticut DOT. "You're looking at conditions out there where the traffic backup, at its peak, can get over 20 miles in length. That's on a regular basis. That's not the exception. That's the rule."
Maziarz said those backups don't last for the normal rush hour period, but for four hours both in the morning and in the afternoon, which costs money. About $670 million annually, stemming from things like delayed truck deliveries or late arrivals to work.

All-electronic tolling on the Sam Rayburn Tollway, Dallas, Texas.

Maziarz said congestion pricing has proven itself elsewhere. In Miami, for example, the DOT says commute times during their rush hour were cut by 14 minutes after congestion pricing was introduced.

Connecticut hasn't had tolls since 1989, following an accident earlier that decade that killed seven people. The DOT said it's not considering bringing the old-style toll booths back. The new system would have no gates. What the DOT is talking about are electronically monitored fast lanes. Passive systems that you drive through, which require no stopping, slowing down, or changing of lanes.
A rendition of the new toll system under consideration. It would take photographs of license plates or electronically register transponders placed by motorists in their cars. It would require no stopping or slowing down.

If you have to pay a toll to access the fast lane, is that fair to lower-income drivers? "Certainly, at face value, it is true that any kind of toll is going to be much more burdensome for low-income drivers to pay than for higher-income drivers," said Weinstein Agrawal. She said there are a lot of other factors to take into account, like the security of knowing you're not doomed to sit in a 20-mile traffic jam every rush hour.

Weinstein Agrawal said that while congestion pricing sometimes meets early resistance, surveys show people of all incomes tend to come around. "For the most part, there are not big differences in approval based on income. So lower income survey respondents, roughly at the same level as higher income respondents, say that they think the lanes are a good idea," she said.

At this point, Maziarz said the Connecticut DOT is using $1.75 million in federal money to study the feasibility of congestion pricing. It's by no means a sure bet. Pre-existing road layouts and logistical challenges mean there is no magic bullet solution for I-95's traffic problems.

Here's another wrinkle: if the state decides to implement congestion pricing, highway planners would likely need to build additional express lanes, and they'd have to figure out how to plan and pay for it. Maziarz said the results of the DOT's feasiblity study should be out early next year.
Until then, fire up a good book on tape and enjoy your wait in traffic.

Editorial: A three-phase purple money eater


June 13, 2014

Angelenos know a lot about traffic, so any project that purports to reduce traffic congestion is greeted with open arms. The latest project that claims to possess the potential to reduce traffic is the planned Purple Line extension. Unfortunately, as convenient as the Purple Line extension might be to the 49,000 riders projected by MTA to use the line, there is no reason to think that the traffic relief would be significant.

The Purple Line extension will be constructed in three phases, beginning this year. The first phase extends the subway from Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to Wilshire and La Cienega Boulevard and is slated for completion by 2023. The line will ultimately end, in 2035, at the VA hospital in Westwood.

Construction is projected to cost more than $6 billion. Most of the funding will come from county taxpayers, who approved a dedicated half-cent sales tax in 2008. A few weeks ago, the federal government affirmed a $2 billion commitment to the project, with a $1.25 billion grant and an $856 million loan. The federal funding, according to county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, will help in “bringing relief to one of our most traffic-challenged areas.”

The MTA’s own Final Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report, released in 2012, disputes this. Absent any significant congestion-relieving projects, the report suggests that the extension would not “be sufficient to significantly reduce surface traffic congestion on the Westside.”
Even the minor relief the line extension might bring would be temporary, as population growth continues to climb. The report also indicated that each phase of construction could lead to “reduced roadway traffic lanes and temporary street closures which could result in major traffic disruptions and bottlenecks.”

Then there are the costs. While the MTA insists the construction will cost just over $6 billion, MTA has a track record of cost overruns. One of the most recent examples was the construction of the Expo Line. While the first phase of the line was supposed to cost $640 million, by the time it was completed the cost had risen to $930 million. This isn’t the first time MTA has experienced this, with the construction of the Red Line plagued with cost overruns, delays and the notorious collapse of half a block of Hollywood Boulevard.

Beyond construction costs, the reality is that rail systems are very expensive to maintain. While the federal government’s assistance will ease the burden on local taxpayers for immediate construction costs, the maintenance costs will be completely placed on the backs of local taxpayers for years to come.

Then there is the reality that mass transit almost always loses money. Taxpayer subsidies per bus and rail boarding have been on the rise. A decade ago, MTA reported a subsidy of $1.40 per boarding. While fares have risen several times since then, the MTA hasn’t gotten any more efficient, and ridership hasn’t been enough to offset cost increases, with MTA projecting a subsidy of $1.96 per boarding in the coming year. Subsidies for rails are projected to exceed $2.10 per boarding in the coming year.

So what does all this mean? For one, the claim that the Purple Line extension will ease traffic requires a dramatically lower set of expectations than extension backers would like us to believe.
Next, while federal support will certainly help, in the long run it will be local taxpayers who bear the full set of costs.

Investing our hopes and tax dollars into high-cost, low-return mass transit projects might be tempting on the surface, but it seems as though we ought to be looking elsewhere for traffic relief.

Valley Coalition Formed to Advocate for Rail


By Matt Thacker, June 14, 2014

The Valley Industry & Commerce Association has launched a coalition aimed at bringing rail transit to the San Fernando Valley.

Last week, the business advocacy organization formed “Valley on Track” which supports converting the Metro Orange Line busway to light rail to ease overcrowding on the bus line. The 18-mile Orange Line runs from Chatsworth to Warner Center and then across to North Hollywood.

The group also supports creating a rail system along the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor and building the Sepulveda Pass Corridor as a rail system with a tunnel through the Santa Monica Mountains.

“We need to get people out of their cars. We need to make the freeways better, and we need to help people who are transit dependent. The best way to do that is through rail,” said VICA President Stuart Waldman.

If the San Fernando Valley was its own city, it would be the fifth largest in the United States and the only major city without a rail system, Waldman said.

VICA insists that these three projects must receive priority in future funding efforts, including ballot measures and federal funding requests, for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to maintain the Valley’s support.

“Metro is likely to place on the ballot a proposition that would fund transportation projects. We decided we need to put together a coalition of supporters and make sure whatever list of projects is put forth for the 2016 ballot measure that the Valley is well taken care of,” Waldman said.

VICA is in the early stages of “rallying the troops” and meeting with elected officials, Waldman said. In initial conversations, local officials have been supportive of their ideas, especially converting the Orange Line to rail, Waldman said.

“I don’t think we have a single Valley elected official who didn’t agree with us on the Orange Line,” he said.

The Sepulveda Pass, which connects the Valley with West Los Angeles, is one of the most congested traffic corridors in the United States.

“No mode besides rail can even begin to address the transit demands,” the coalition states on their website.

Late last month, a 10-mile northbound carpool lane opened on the 405 Freeway. The carpool lane was a major component of a $1.1 billion improvement project. Congressman Brad Sherman said the new lane will relieve some traffic through the Sepulveda Pass, but he said it is not time to celebrate.

“Now is the time to intensify the effort to build a subway through the Sepulveda Pass, from the Valley to LAX, with a connection in West Los Angeles to the Purple Line, now under construction,” Sherman said.

The voter-approved Measure R allocated $1 billion for the Sepulveda Pass Corridor, but projected completion is still 25 years away. Several options have been considered, including bus lanes on the 405 and light or heavy rail. In 2016, voters may be asked to increase the county sales tax by another half-cent to pay for this project and others.