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

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Atlanta getting variable speed limits this fall


By Richard Read, June 26, 2014


Computers have brought us many great things. Online shopping. Streaming movies. Minecraft. And, lest we forget, variable speed limits.

If you're not familiar with variable speed limits, they're exactly what you'd think: traffic systems designed to change speed limits in a given area, based on weather, traffic, and other factors. Variable speed limits have been used in parts of the U.S. for over 50 years, with Michigan rolling out one of the country's first programs in 1962 (PDF).

 But of course, other systems now deploy an array of sensors to assess weather, traffic, and other factors when changing speed limits. That's the kind of system that's headed to Atlanta, Georgia -- arguably, one of the most congested cities in the country.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation website, I-285 is a trouble spot -- specifically a 36-mile stretch of it, located to the north of the I-20 interchanges. This section, called the "Top End", is where variable speed limits will be introduced this September. The DOT says that it hopes the system will make I-285 safer and less congested.

The DOT says that it'll accomplish that task by keeping traffic moving at the same speed. While speeding itself can cause accidents, a major cause of collisions is "speed variance", or travelers moving at vastly different velocities. The new system in Atlanta aims to mitigate the possibility for differences by ratcheting down (or up) the speed limit from a maximum of 65 mph down to 35 mph, using a network of 176 digital signs. Though traveling down an interstate at 35 mph is no one's idea of fun, the DOT says that it's safer and more efficient for drivers to slow and move at the same pace than to keep a higher speed limit, which encourages stop-and-go traffic. 

And for those who think that police are always looking for ways to write more traffic tickets (not a stretch, since many cities depend on revenue from citations), Georgia's DOT states very clearly, "Our ability to remotely change the speed limit on the corridor is not intended to create speed traps. Rather, the changing speed limits are designed to create safer travel by preventing accidents and stop-and-go conditions."

Georgia officials say that the new system is inexpensive and easy to roll out, with a strong return on investment. They hope to see results similar to those of a variable speed limit system deployed in Washington state, which curbed collisions by 13 percent and injuries from collisions by 10 percent.
For additional details about Atlanta's new variable speed limit system, check out the DOT video, embedded above.

OC toll road drivers given grace period to pay


June 24, 2014

Cash toll booths on Orange County's toll roads have been closed since May 14, 2014.
Drivers on Orange County toll roads are getting a 30-day grace period if they forget to pay, officials announced Monday.

Those who use the 73, 133, 241 and 261 toll roads without paying first will have their penalties waived through the Labor Day holiday as long as tolls are paid within 30 days. Only first-time violators may take advantage of the moratorium.

The Transportation Corridor Agencies, the organization that operates the 51-mile toll road network, stopped collecting cash at its toll booths on May 14. The grace period is meant to inform drivers of the electronic payment options.

Drivers can create a prepaid FasTrak account to receive a transponder that can be used on every toll road in California; establish an ExpressAccount that charges each toll to a credit card, prepaid account or sends a monthly invoice; or pay within 48 hours online or through a mobile app.

"Hopefully, this additional time will help riders understand the toll changes so they can choose the personal payment method that works best for them," said Todd Spitzer, a county supervisor and Transportation Corridor Agencies board member.

About 250,000 people use Orange County's toll roads every day to avoid traffic. About 87 percent pay with a FasTrak or Express Account.

The new cashless system will save TCA more than $13 million over five years, according to officials.

Community Meeting for Desiderio Park

The community meeting for Desiderio Park will take place Wednesday, June 25 from 6:30PM-8:00PM. This meeting will provide the opportunity for constituents to give their input to the Public Works staff and review conceptual plans.


How LA Can Finally Solve Its Freeway Gridlock … and Become a World Leader


Bob Gelfand, June 24, 2014


GELFAND’S WORLD-For our biggest traffic frustration, the daily freeway commute, there is now a potential solution. It's new, and it won't require increased taxes or twenty years of construction. It's a bit like something out of Disneyland and a bit of The Jetsons. The technology is being tested right now in California, England, Poland, Korea, and Israel. 
So what's this solution to our commuting woes? 

It's a whole new generation of a technology that has been in existence in various forms for half a century. It has the unwieldy name Personal Rapid Transit (PRT), but it's a whole lot more. It carries you in privacy and comfort along an elevated guideway, without intermediate stops and starts. 

Let's start by listing a few things we would want a new transportation technology to have, and show how the new technology satisfies them. 
  • First, it has to be built without a tax increase, or any tax dollars for that matter. 
  • Second, it has to be accomplished soon -- let's say 3 or 4 years. 
  • Third, it has to give you a quick, private, inexpensive ride all the way across town to downtown LA, or to Westwood, or to LAX, or to the valley. 
  • Fourth, it has to carry you in one continuous ride, without lots of jarring, uncomfortable stops, the kind of interruptions you have on a bus or a subway. 
  • Fifth, it has to be built in a style that doesn't take up much ground space, or interfere with cars or with pedestrians. 
  • Sixth, it has to be quiet, nonpolluting, and highly energy efficient. 
When you are driving the freeway and you see red tail lights start to fill the road in front of you, what do you feel? Remind yourself of that feeling, and now consider the fact that we can actually do something about it. 

What is this techno-fix that can make your lives easier, if only we can develop the political will to get it done? 

We know that the solution is not to build another set of freeways. It would take too long, and cost too much, even if we were able to double-deck what we have now. Likewise, we can't build new freeways alongside the old ones in the LA basin, because there isn't the open ground to construct them. 

So there is nowhere to build except above the ground or down below it. The down-below version is to build tunnels in which we run trains. These are righteous projects which we should be supporting, but they have a limited utility in terms of the overall problem, at least over the next twenty or twenty-five years. 

Light rail is also very expensive. By the time you do the planning and the construction, you are looking at spending at least one-hundred million dollars for every mile you complete. The other problem is that the process, from start to finish, is measured in decades rather than months or years. Because tunneling is such a lengthy, expensive process (in excess of $450 million a mile), much of our new light rail will be above ground, which complicates life for those who live along the route. 
So what is this new idea we are talking about? 

It's basically similar to the simple monorail or elevated gondola idea, but updated using today’s more robust technology. Think of a narrow elevated rail, or guideway, from which your passenger pod hangs, and along which the pod moves at high speed. Another variant of this idea involves building a narrow elevated track or roadway atop which a passenger vehicle moves under the control of a centralized computer. 

Now think about a small station near where you live, where a private passenger pod comes to meet you. You click an icon on your cell phone, telling the system your destination, and you are whisked away in comfort and silence. The pod takes you directly to the stop where you want to go. No stopping and starting at every intermediate station, because you go right past them. 

Physically, the system involves putting up poles about the size of ordinary light poles. A rail is hung from pole to pole, and carries the passenger pods. 

Why haven't we seen this type of system sooner? Largely, the answer is that it has taken a confluence of several technologies to make the potential into reality. Modern computer systems and sensing devices mean that pod movements are run by electronic controls that leave the driving to the control system. This means that you don't have to hit the accelerator and the brake. You can play on your computer, or listen to music, or read a book, or just sightsee. 

Current prognostications are that construction costs will be about ten million dollars a mile, enormously cheaper than the hundreds of millions of dollars that it costs to dig tunnels for full-scale subways and ten times cheaper than putting rail above ground. That means that a PRT system can be built using private investment capital rather than tax funds. The cost of taking a ride on the PRT is going to be around the same price you would pay to take the bus, and probably will be considerably cheaper than what it currently costs you in gasoline. 

This kind of system is also much quicker to build. A truck pulls up to the site of a planned support pole, drills a hole in the ground, and another truck comes along and pours some concrete into a mold. A few days later, a third truck arrives and inserts the support pole. Do this every couple of hundred feet along a road (more or less like you would do for lighting poles), attach the guide rail, and you're done. Arrange to have stations for getting on and off at convenient intervals. Stations can even be situated in buildings. All you need is an entrance and exit at the second or third story level, and there you have it. 

Now think about getting on a passenger pod at LA International Airport and riding without stopping, all the way to downtown LA, or to the valley, or to Westwood. 

Imagine creating a PRT system that will connect up Santa Monica with West LA and downtown. Think about the city of Los Angeles being able to move thirty or forty thousand people an hour using PRT lines. It's the equivalent of adding two or three brand new freeways. 

Imagine being able to carry ten thousand people an hour into and out of LAX. It's the quicker, more intelligent version of park and ride. 

Los Angeles has taken on a brave experiment in light rail construction. We can't help but be pleased that this is finally taking place. But there are limits to light rail. There are only so many routes we can afford to build using this technology. In addition, the process is going to take time. Figure another few billion dollars and another ten or twenty years to get the whole system put up. 

Besides its immediate goal of providing some respite to freeway gridlock, PRT can also provide the remaining links in a comprehensive system that will include rail, freeways, and public streets. It will start by taking a huge load off of the freeways that serve the commuter and which become such a nightmare during our rush hours. Our recent experience is that the major freeways serving commuters -- the 405, the 10, the 101, and the 110 -- are becoming clogged at almost every waking hour. Even weekends are finding these freeways jammed at inopportune times. 

Imagine that we build a PRT to serve the 405 corridor. The engineering is straightforward, the cost is minimal, and the need is painfully obvious. 

This is why City Councilman Paul Koretz has been supportive of the PRT concept. His constituents, like so many of the rest of us, have been crying out for a solution to our transportation misery. 
There is lots more to talk about, including the several companies that are developing competing systems, any one of which might work in Los Angeles. 

The Skytran corporation, located in California, has just signed a deal to build a demonstration PRT that will be located in Tel Aviv, using an innovative system of magnetic levitation and electric propulsion that promises to move people in near silence, and at much reduced energy cost. Skytran will compete with other American companies such as Jpods. Vectus is applying Swedish technology to a PRT project in Suncheon Bay, South Korea. Any or all of these companies may be competitive in the Los Angeles market. 

As mentioned in the desired specifications listed above, a PRT system, correctly designed and engineered, can probably be installed using private investment funding, rather than tax dollars. There is no need to add to the sales tax in order to install PRT in Los Angeles. 

The political landscape 

A group of volunteers has been working on educating the public and the transportation community. (Disclosure: I am part of that group, and although I don't have any economic interest in PRT at this time, it is a field I would love to become involved in. We are currently talking about creating a nonprofit educational arm of our group in order to do public education.) That volunteer group includes an engineer who formerly worked on the design of the Space Station and interplanetary probes. It also includes people who originally met each other through the neighborhood council system. We hope to explain the idea of PRT to additional community groups and neighborhood councils over the next few months. 

Here is the link to the PRT Task Force website.  If you look carefully, you will find that different companies are taking different approaches. One is to run the PRT cars above an elevated roadway. You can see that in the Vectus approach, for example. The other way is to hang the pods from a narrow guide rail, as Skytran is doing. This approach has an advantage in terms of taking up very little space at street level, and can be installed pretty much anywhere, including crowded city avenues. 

The major lesson is that we can supplement commuter travel without building new freeways, and without breaking the bank. 

There is lots more to be said. The most important, for you the reader, is to visit the PRT website and, if you are somewhat convinced that we should start to think about this approach, then we invite you to sign the petition.  

The Economic Impact of building a whole new export industry 

One last word. Los Angeles was, at one time, the transportation leader for the world. The Douglas DC3 was invented and built here. The DC6 became the workhorse of civil aviation. The Space Shuttle was built here, as were multiple generations of top line fighter aircraft. 

We've lost a lot of that lead, but this is a chance to take it back. Los Angeles, should it decide to invite the construction of a PRT system here, will get manufacturing businesses and construction jobs. Along the way, we will improve our air quality through the installation of an all-electric system of commuter transport. There is a certain urgency in getting started, because other countries would like to compete for the business of building and exporting PRT.

How Denver Is Becoming the Most Advanced Transit City in the West

But the key question remains: Will metro residents give up their cars?


By Taras Grescoe, June 24, 2014


 Union Station is the centerpiece of Denver's FasTracks expansion program.

DENVER—It's a vision straight out of a transportation planner's fondest dream.

In the center of the metropolis, the Beaux-Arts façade of a grand old railway terminus, finished in robin egg-hued terracotta stone, is cradled by the daring swoop of a canopy of brilliant white Teflon. On one of eight tracks, a double-decked passenger train has stopped to refuel. A few hundred yards away, German-built light rail vehicles arrive from distant parts of the city, pulling into a downtown of soaring condo towers and multifamily apartment complexes. Beneath the feet of rushing commuters, express buses pull out of the bays of an underground concourse, and articulated buses shuttle straphangers through the central business district free of charge. A businessman, after swinging his briefcase into a basket, detaches the last remaining bicycle from a bike-share stand next to the light rail stop, completing the final leg of his journey-to-work on two wheels.

An out-of-towner could be forgiven for thinking she'd arrived in Strasbourg, Copenhagen, or another global poster child for up-to-the-minute urbanism. The patch of sky framed in the white oval of the Union Station platform canopy, however, is purest prairie blue. This is Denver, a city that, until recently, most people would have pegged as an all-too-typical casualty of frontier-town, car-centric thinking.

"Denver is a car town," says Phil Washington, who has been general manager of the Regional Transportation District, metro Denver's rail provider, since 2009. Originally from Chicago, Washington joined the transit authority after a 24-year career in the military. "You've got to remember, not so long ago, this was the Wild West. Historically, everybody had their own frickin' horse. They'd strap them up on a pole outside the saloon. Folks feel the same way about their cars." (Washington notes that even the RTD headquarters — conjoined brick buildings in what is now rapidly gentrifying LoDo, Lower Downtown — was once a notorious brothel, located a convenient stroll from Union Station.)

But in a state that recently voted to legalize the retail sale of marijuana, change is clearly in the wind. Ten years ago, Denver's new mayor (and current Colorado governor) John Hickenlooper began to ramp up a campaign to convince voters to approve an ambitious expansion of the region's embryonic light rail network. A similar plan — fuzzy on such key details as routes and cost — had been defeated in a 1997 referendum. In 2004, the region's voters approved $4.7 billion of new debt for the FasTracks program. The plan, to add 121 miles of new commuter and light-rail tracks to the region, 18 miles of bus rapid transit lanes, 57 new rapid transit stations, and 21,000 park-and-ride spots, was approved 58-to-42, precisely reversing the results of the '97 referendum. (The pricetag has since risen to $7.8 billion.)

Washington attributes the approval of FasTracks, in part, to growing frustration with traffic congestion. An earlier program called T-REX (for Transportation Expansion) built not only a light rail line to the city's southeast, but also widened Interstate 25, the region's main north-south axis. Following the apparently immutable laws of induced demand, increased road supply led to increased traffic. Within a year, I-25 was just as congested as it had ever been. Voters, Washington believes, came to the conclusion that transit offered a better path.

Another key factor in the referendum's success, Washington insists, was a concerted public relations campaign. RTD, supported by the Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Denver Regional Congress of Governments (DRCOG), launched a communications blitz which had them doing presentations in schools and city halls across most of the region's 60 municipalities.

"From the start, we made it clear we weren't competing with the car," says Washington. "And we explained, to the average Joe, that for only four cents on most ten dollar purchases, he'd be getting a whole lot of new transportation."
•       •       •       •       •
Washington traces the progress of FasTracks on a poster-sized map clipped to a whiteboard. Light rail trains, on a track that branches south of downtown, already offer service to Littleton and Lincoln; extensions will see new miles of tracks penetrating even deeper into the southern exurbs. Last year saw the opening of the first FasTracks project, the West Rail line, running through some of Denver's lowest income neighborhoods to its terminus at the headquarters of Jefferson County. By 2016, the Gold Line to Arvada will offer further service to the west, and the East Rail line will carry passengers to the airport; both lines will run heavy-duty commuter trains powered by overhead catenary wires. A rail line along Interstate 225 will create a loop east of downtown, which Washington hopes will one day become a true circle line.

Only the Northwest Rail Line, says Washington, remains a question mark. Intended to bring commuters from downtown to Boulder and Longmont, along 41 miles of track, it follows a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad freight corridor.
A rendering of the Westminster Station on the Northwest Rail Line.
By 2016, a bus-rapid transit system will offer service to Boulder, home to a university and cluster of tech companies that make it a major employment hub. The BRT along U.S. 36 will be more than just a stopgap; plans call for it to continue to run in tandem with commuter rail. Washington concedes that the line will be something less than full BRT. The buses currently on order have only one door, significantly slowing boarding and unloading, and will run in regular highway lanes, rather than dedicated busways.

By 2018, when all but one of the ten FasTracks lines should be completed, a metropolitan area with a projected population of 3 million, spread out over 2,340 square miles, will be served by nine rail lines, 18 miles of bus rapid transit, and 95 stations. Many argue it will turn Denver into the west's most advanced transit city, vaulting it beyond better-known peers Portland, Los Angeles, and Vancouver, British Columbia.

"We're witnessing the transformation of a North American city through transportation infrastructure investment," says Washington. He foresees a not-too-distant future when Denverites will be able to access not only light and commuter rail but also RTD buses, B-Cycle bicycles, and car-share vehicles using a single stored-value fare card.

"You'll wheel your suitcase out of Denver International Airport, ride the train to Union Station, and hop a Car2Go — or even a B-Cycle if you're traveling light — to your house or hotel. All using one card."

It's a beautiful vision, if one undermined by an uncomfortable truth. Denver's mode share for transit — the proportion of people who use buses or light rail to commute — is only about 6 percent. Contrast this with the Canadian city of Calgary, where a similarly sized bus and light-rail fleet operating in a similarly dispersed landscape draws in a mode share of nearly 17 percent. Even epically sprawled Atlanta and automobile-mad Los Angeles manage to achieve almost twice Denver's per capita transit ridership.
In spite of all the inducements, Denverites, like eight in ten Americans, continue to get to school or work the same old way: driving alone.

Will FasTracks make an appreciable number of people in Denver give up their horses — or their contemporary equivalent, private automobiles? The RTD is betting heavily that the answer will be yes. To achieve the transition, they're planning on changing not only the commuting habits of Denverites, but also the DNA of Denver itself, making it into a far denser city.

It's a multi-billion-dollar gamble not only on the future of transportation, but also on the future of the American metropolis — one whose outcome other cities will be watching very closely.
•       •       •       •       •
A trip to Denver, "The Queen City of the Plains," once meant arriving in one of the continent's great railroad towns. In its heyday, 80 trains a day passed through Union Station — trains like the Pioneer Zephyr, a kinetic sculpture of wraparound windows and streamlined stainless steel, whose record-breaking, 13-hour run to Chicago, in which it topped out at 112 miles an hour, earned it the nickname the "Silver Streak."

Union Station, with its eight-foot-tall chandeliers and plaster arches lined with carved Columbine flowers, announced Denver as an oasis of urbanity in the American West. Emerging from the Wynkoop Street entrance, travellers were met by the six-story high Welcome Arch, illuminated with 2,194 incandescent light bulbs. Incongruously, the arch was emblazoned with the Hebrew word "MIZPAH," meaning "God watch over you while we are apart." (Denverites liked to kid newcomers that it was the Native American word for "Howdy, Partner.")
The grand opening of Union Station took place May 9, 2014.
The fate of Union Station mirrors the fate of rail in much of North America. The Welcome Arch, which came to be seen as a traffic hazard, was torn down in 1931. Private interurban lines that linked downtown to Boulder in the north and Golden to the west disappeared with the coming of freeways. In 1958, a bright red sign entreating Denverites to "Travel by Train" was erected on the façade of the station. Air travel had begun to outpace rail, and Stapleton Airport had become the new gateway to the city. The streets around Union Station became Denver's skid row, the stomping ground for Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, whose epic cross-country road trips were usually made by car, not train. By the 1970s, many of downtown's most elegant buildings, which went up at the height of the City Beautiful movement, had been replaced by oceans of surface parking.

Change came with the new century. In 2001, RTD partnered with DRCOG to purchase the station and the surrounding acreage for $49 million. Union Station, currently a construction site, will once again become the centrepiece of a renewed Lower Downtown, now rebranded "LoDo." The station will continue to welcome Amtrak trains bound for Chicago and San Francisco, but will also be home to the Crawford Hotel, a 112-room luxury property, set to open in July 2014, with "Pullman" style rooms and suites starting at $252. Cranes currently pivot over residential condo towers, the tallest of them 21 stories. On the north side of the station, adjacent to the light-rail stop, a whole new residential neighborhood, Confluence Park, has sprouted up on what used to be weed-ridden, trash-strewn rail yards. An elementary school has opened its doors in a high-rise tower, and the local supermarket chain, King Soopers, has staked a LoDo branch (there are rumors a Whole Foods will follow). All told, the station redevelopment has spurred $1.8 billion in private investment.

"RTD is one of the largest property owners in Colorado," says Bill Sirois, the authority's manager of transit-oriented development. He describes dozens of developments going up around FasTracks stations. On the East Rail Line, the Urban Land Conservancy, a non-profit that purchases land to serve community interests, has bought nine acres of land around the 40th and Colorado station, where it's building 156 units of affordable housing. An eight-story housing complex for seniors is going up next to the 10th and Osage station. On the Central Rail Line, 275 new apartments are going up to on a transit plaza adjacent to Alameda Station. All of these new developments will be within a half-mile of a FasTracks line, well within walking distance of a station.

The biggest success story remains downtown, whose residential population has reached 17,500, a 142 percent increase since 2000. All told, FasTracks investment has brought seven million square feet of new office space, 5.5 million square feet of new retail, and 27,000 new residential units. Driving demand for TOD, says Sirois, is Denver's changing demographics.

"We have a huge population of empty nesters," he says. "More and more, they're ditching their suburban homes and moving downtown."

Since the Great Recession, Denver has also become a hotspot for Millennials, knocking out such car-centric rivals as Phoenix and Atlanta. Members of Generation Y are less likely to own cars (or want to own them), and more likely to opt for transit or active transportation. They are also multi-modal by instinct: a recent survey found that 70 percent of those in the 25-to-34 age range reported using multiple forms of transportation to complete trips, several times a week.

All this bodes well for the future of FasTracks. RTD is counting not only on increased residential density around stations, but also the network effect — the synergy that happens when new transit comes on line, making more parts of a region accessible to more users — to drive ridership forward.

"The system is developing and merging," says University of Denver transportation scholar Andrew Goetz. "The opening of Union Station is a major threshold. It's the intermodal heart of the network, bringing together rail and the regional bus system. The connectivity we're going to see as a result is going to be quite impressive."

"I remember, seven years ago, I'd be driving down I-25, and it would be completely gridlocked," says Max Morrow, the owner of Max Lunch, a lunch counter next to Union Station. "A nightmare. In every car there's one person. And I'd look over at the light rail line that had just opened, and there'd be literally two people on every train. Now the trains are starting to get full. People in Denver love their cars, but they're beginning to figure out the train system, and they're using it." Morrow, who is in his forties, says he needs a car to carry supplies for work, but believes he'll be leaning heavily on FasTracks. "I'll be taking it downtown for ball games. You can sober up on the way home. As soon as the airport line's open, that's the only thing I'll use. I'll never drive out there again."

Morrow's employee, Zed Ireland, who is in his late twenties, already relies on light rail. "There's a bus stop behind my house. I take the bus to light rail. It takes about half an hour to get to work. Two forms of transit, it's not bad at all.

"When our baby is born"—Ireland and his wife are expecting their first—"we'll probably get a car. But it'll be mostly for my wife. I'll still take public transit. And if we move, it's going to be close to a light rail line."
•       •       •       •       •
There's a surprising amount of buy-in on FasTracks, even from traditional opponents of rail on either side of the political spectrum. Libertarians, who in many cities oppose rail projects as big-government "boondoggles," have been remarkably silent in Denver. (This may be because the president of the local free-market think tank, the Independence Institute, is a former chair of the RTD board.) In Los Angeles and other cities, opposition to rail has also come from groups on the left, who label it Cadillac transit for the middle class, and argue lower-income workers could be better served by improved bus service.

Construction at the 38th and Blake Station, which is targeted for transit development in the future.
"I think FasTracks is a great system," says Melinda Pollack, a founding member of Mile High Connects, a group that brings together non-profits and foundations to advocate for affordable development close to transit. "When all the lines open, it's really going to change connectivity for people. We're trying to make sure that low-income people don't get pushed away from the stations." The group's goal is to have two thousand units of affordable housing opened near stations in the next decade.

Such bipartisan support gets to a deeper truth about Denver: The region's deeply collaborative political culture has made it one of the most high-functioning metropolitan areas in the nation. In the wake of suburban tax revolts in the 1960s, central city and neighboring communities chose to cast aside rivalries, cooperating to build stadiums and a new airport that would benefit the entire region.

The RTD has also reaped the rewards of regionalism. Rather than being forced to work with a variety of smaller agencies, RTD (like Vancouver's TransLink and Portland's TriMet) has authority over a large service area, allowing it to streamline the riding experience for users.

Denver's reboot as a train town isn't based on wishful thinking, or blind nostalgia for Gilded Age choo-choo trains. The engineers of FasTracks are well aware that Denver International Airport will continue to be the true gateway to the region. But as Kevin Flynn, an RTD public communications manager who drives me out the airport terminal worksite points out, once off the plane, travellers will be able to ride escalators down to a platform to trains that will offer access to an entire region.
"I think our riders will be pleasantly surprised by our commuter rail," says Flynn "They'll be able to roll right on to our commuter rail from the terminal, with bicycles, ski bags, golf bags, wheelchairs, strollers, or whatever they're carrying."

Construction on the I-225 Rail Line, with expected completion in 2016, from May 2014.
Manufactured by Hyundai Rotem, the new low-floor trains (the next generation of the Silverliners already operating in Philadelphia) will reach maximum speeds of 79 miles per hour. Swiftness, arguably, will be a less salient feature than frequency. Unlike traditional commuter rail, which too often offers only once hourly (or worse) service outside peak periods, FasTracks trains will run with headways of as little as 10 minutes. They will also offer superior connectivity. As Flynn points out, military personnel and veterans from a seven-state area will be able to fly into Denver and ride trains to the Veterans Affairs Hospital at the Anschutz medical campus, a hub that already employs 40,000 people.

Back at the agency's headquarters, in LoDo, Phil Washington explains that RTD is building transit for a metropolis that, though born around rail, largely grew up around the needs of the automobile.

"There are at least five major employment centers in the Denver region." Apart from downtown, the Anschutz medical center, and the airport, Boulder and the Denver Tech Center, on the Southeast Rail Line, are significant magnets for commuters. "The reverse commute we're seeing to these centers is incredible. Tons of folks."

It's a reality echoed in many decentralized cities, especially in the west and south: Only one in five jobs in Denver is located within three miles of downtown. For the time being, light and commuter rail may deliver people to what looks like a low-density landscape of office parks and park-and-rides. (Which doesn't preclude future technologies, like autonomous buses and cars, delivering people from rail stations to low-density workplaces and suburban and exurban homes.)

By building a multi-poled system, RTD is tailoring transit to the contemporary metropolis. Crucially, by building it in conjunction with high-density transit-oriented development, the agency is also scheming to change the very nature of the American metropolis.

That's why, when it comes to the future of transportation on this continent, Denver may be the city to watch.

Surveying the airport construction site, where a hard-hatted Mayor Michael Hancock was presiding over the topping out ceremony for the Westin Hotel, I played the devil's advocate and asked Kevin Flynn if spending billions on transit in what has long been a car town was really worth it.

"Before it was a car town, Denver was a train town," he told me, with a smile. "For the time being, our infrastructure hasn't caught up with our ambition. Come back in a few years, and it'll be a completely different story."

Lawsuit filed contesting plans to pay for California’s high-speed rail project with cap-and-trade funds


By Juliet Williams, June 23, 2014

SACRAMENTO >> A San Rafael-based group that opposes California’s high-speed rail project filed a lawsuit Monday contesting the state’s plan to fund it with money from a greenhouse gas emissions program, arguing that building the $68 billion bullet train would create more pollution than it would reduce for at least a decade.

The Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund filed the lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court against the California Air Resources Board, the state agency responsible for ensuring California meets the emissions reduction targets in its landmark global warming law, AB32.

The suit alleges the board downplayed the harmful effects on the environment and exaggerated the potential environmental benefits of high-speed rail in its scoping plan, allowing the state to claim the bullet train will help the state meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

The suit came just a week after the state Legislature approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to give high-speed rail $250 million from the state’s cap-and-trade pollution fees in the upcoming fiscal year and a quarter of the program’s future revenues. Some environmental groups initially opposed the plan.

The lawsuit says the scoping plan relied almost entirely on the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s “inadequate” environmental analysis “without doing its own independent analysis and evaluation of those impacts and their significance” as required under California’s strict environmental laws.

It says the board also failed to consider the pollution associated with “manufacturing the many thousands of tons of cement that would be needed for the project’s construction.”

A spokesman for the Air Resources Board, Stanley Young, said in an email that high-speed rail has been integral to the state’s AB32 plan since it was developed in 2008.

"Not only will it be constructed with net-zero emissions, but it will dramatically reduce car miles traveled in the state,” Young said.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley has called the agency’s environmental review “perhaps the most comprehensive analysis document ever prepared in California.”

The transportation group’s president, David Schonbrunn, said he submitted written and oral comments to the air board about the thousands of tons of cement that were not accounted for in the plan, but the lawsuit says ARB failed to respond as required by law.

The suit also claims the agency is required to ensure its environmental assessment considered a reasonable range of feasible alternatives to reduce the project’s carbon emissions, such as using fewer raised concrete viaducts, but it did not do so.

The group wants the court to order the ARB to rescind its inclusion of high-speed rail in the scoping plan and to invalidate funding for it from the greenhouse gas emissions reduction fund.

AB32 aims to cut California’s greenhouse gas production to 1990 levels by 2020.

Why Don't White People in L.A. Take the Bus?


By Chris Walker, June 23, 2014


You know that it's a bit uncommon for white people to take the bus in L.A. when a "how to" guide is published. In 10 Things to Know About Taking a Bus in Los Angeles, Liz Shannon Miller depicts a ride on the Los Angeles Metro bus system as an exotic and thrilling experience.

"I've been asked two or three times whether I'd gotten a DUI - for many, that's the only logical reason a white girl with an iPad would be taking the bus at all," she writes. Lots of L.A. people do take the bus regularly. But among 1 million daily users in L.A., most don't have Miller's skin color. Why?

U.S. Census data show that Los Angeles public transit riders are among the least-representative, demographically speaking, of the city in which they live. White people comprise 32 percent of all L.A. commuters regardless of whether they drive or ride, for example. But only 11 percent of public transit riders are white (and only 9 percent of bus riders).

  • governing.com

Yet in San Francisco, New York, and Chicago there's only a few percentage points difference between those cities' total white populations and the percentage of white people who use public transportation.

Click image to enlarge. - COURTESY GOVERNING.COM
  • Courtesy governing.com
  • Click image to enlarge.

So what's the beef with public transit, white Angelenos?

Some say it's the stigma of taking public transportation, especially the bus. Four years ago, bus rider Jacqueline Carr got a lot of attention for postings in her then-blog, Snob on a Bus. She told the Los Angeles Times:
"I felt like I was too good for the bus. ... I think there's a social understanding and a construction around that if you take the bus, you take it because you don't have money. There's a social standard. Obviously I had bought into that."
But Jarrett Walker, who has designed transportation systems in multiple cities, says stigma and social standing are not what's keeping L.A.'s white folks in their cars.

In a blog post, he points out that white residents are more likely to live in low-density areas where bus service is not common or practical. Meanwhile, the population of the area served by Metro is well over 70 percent people of color, "which means that the number of white bus riders is not far off what we should expect."

Walker tells L.A. Weekly:
"There is no reason to believe that Angelenos are irrational about their transportation choices. ... I believe a transportation system is reflective of its usefulness. The focus should be on making a more useful system. Do that, and [increased] diversity will be a side effect."
Walker argues that the way to get bigger ridership more reflective of Los Angeles is to increase density along L.A.'s transit lines: add special transit lanes for buses (as the city is currently creating on Wilshire Boulevard) and push for transit-oriented developments (TODs) that feature high-density buildings filled with offices and housing near the major transit routes.

But others doubt that creating extra density along the routes will dramatically change L.A.'s ridership demographics. Given the choice, wealthier consumers (who are disproportionately white) may not ditch their cars.

As L.A. Weekly detailed in "What's Smart About Smart Growth," during L.A.'s long rush hours, buses are stuck in the same snarled traffic that cars are, but unlike buses, your car doesn't pick you up late and ruin your chances of making your next transit connection. One cartographer using Metro data in 2011 found that many bus surface-street routes average around 10 miles per hour.

The National Complete Streets Coalition, which advocates for encouraging bicycling and getting buses moving by redesigning streets and transit stops, argues:

Buses get stuck in traffic, and their progress is further slowed by the constant need to merge back into the flow of traffic after pulling over to pick up passengers. Stop-and-go bus service discourages use, increasing traffic congestion by those who choose to drive instead.
Wendell Cox, who served for three terms on the late Mayor Tom Bradley's Transportation Commission, is among those who criticize the push now underway in Los Angeles, and led by Metro and top elected officials, to create dense new business/housing corridors that theoretically will feed those who live and work there onto the transit lines.

He agrees with Walker that race is a distraction - "It doesn't make sense to focus on the demographics" - but he also thinks that building TODs near transit stops is a waste of taxpayer money.

He says that unlike New York, San Francisco or Chicago, L.A. doesn't have job concentration in a single downtown area. It has several downtowns. So while building housing along the Gold Line between DTLA and Pasadena may help a few more professionals get downtown, there are relatively few of them to justify the costs.

"The densest area of downtown L.A. only represents 2.5 percent of the city's jobs" Cox says. So in almost all cases, it makes more sense to drive to work for those who can afford a car.

Unless residents who live in the transit-oriented developments that have been popping up along the Red Line, Gold Line, Blue Line and Expo Line have jobs in locales directly accessible by rapid transit - rail or bus - they probably will continue to drive.

"I am a proponent of public transportation where it makes sense. But Los Angeles, in most cases, is a place where you can't compete with the convenience of the automobile," says Cox.

As long as the decision comes down to what's the quickest commute, both Cox and Walker agree that most who have a car - regardless of race - will get behind the wheel.

Walker still sees great hope for getting people in L.A. to ditch their cars if the transit system is made more practical and wide-reaching.

It's worth noting that the white commuter/blogger featured in the L.A. Times piece only started taking the Metro bus when the lease on her Jetta expired.