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, July 8, 2014

Caltrans to place homes in the path of 710 Freeway up for sale


By Lauren Gold, July 8, 2014

SOUTH PASADENA>> Caltrans revealed the addresses of 53 state-owned properties in the path of the 710 Freeway that can be sold starting as early as fall.

Forty-two of the 53 lots contain homes, which range from full-sized mansions to modest ranch-style affairs. All are among more than 500 that have been off the Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Pasadena property tax rolls for decades.

They would have been demolished had a long-debated design extension of 710 Freeway from Alhambra to Pasadena gone forward.

For many who have been living in the path of the now-dead surface freeway plan, the notice came as welcome news.

“For us it’s a great opportunity,” said Gloria Contreras, who has lived in her house on Prospect Avenue in South Pasadena for three years. “Hopefully now the dream can come true of buying the house.”

For others, it’s a bit nerve-wracking. Joel Alvarez said he’s excited about the possibility of owning the home he’s lived in for almost three years but he wasn’t necessarily saving up for a down payment.

“I would love to buy but it’s happening so fast so I do have concerns,” Alvarez said. “I’ll give it my best try to buy it. We love the area and I don’t want to move. We’re excited and scared at the same time.”

Charles Purnell, 95, said he’s not sure what he’ll do. He’s too old to buy the house he’s lived in for more than 40 years, so he may have to move.

“I’d like to stay here,” Purnell said. “I don’t know how long Caltrans is going to keep me here.”
The 53 properties were selected for sale and listed online on July 3 because they fall outside the “footprint” of the five remaining options that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Caltrans are studying to complete the freeway. The options are “no build,” traffic management solutions, light rail, bus or a freeway tunnel. A draft environmental report is due to be released in February, with a final project to be selected in 2016.

Once the environmental report is released, remaining homes can slowly be sold off.

Eleven of the properties that are vacant lots can be sold right away. They will be offered to the cities of Pasadena and South Pasadena first, then opened up for auction.

South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez said the city has reserved $750,000 in next year’s budget to buy the vacant properties to be used as parks, affordable housing or other beneficial uses for local residents.
“We certainly want t
o be able to determine or help determine what happens to these vacant properties. Some may be ideal for pocket parks or community gardens, some may not. At least we want to have some control,” Gonzalez said. “What it presents is opportunities and options for the city council.”

According to a draft set of rules Caltrans released last month for the sale of the houses, tenants who owned the house before Caltrans bought it through eminent domain will get the first shot. They will be asked to pay a fair market value.

Next in line will be current tenants who have lived in the house for more than two years and qualify as having low to moderate income. Then come tenants who have lived in the house for five years and do not earn more than 150 percent of the area median income, which is $64,800, according to the federal government.

Both of those situations would have the tenant purchase the home at an affordable rate or the “as is” fair market value, which is derived from the comparative home sales.

After that, a public or private affordable housing organization could purchase the home at a reasonable price. Then the current tenant — if they make more than 150 percent of median income or have lived in the house less than 2 years — can buy at fair market value. Last in line are former tenants at fair market value. After that, if the house is still on the market, it will go up for auction for anyone to buy.
 The draft regulations are available for public comment until July 31. Public hearings will be held at Cal State Los Angeles and the Pasadena Convention Center next week.
Caltrans spokeswoman Lauren Wonder said the regulations will be finali
zed in the fall and then the first 20 homes, which are not historic and have no community impact, can be sold.

Once an environmental impact report has been completed in 2015 for the remaining 22 houses, they can also be sold.

“We want to make sure we do this properly and legally, so we are trying to be very careful and very transparent,” Wonder said.
Pasadena realtor Ramiro Riva
s, of the John Aaroe Group, said he thinks the return of the houses to private owners will be a positive step for the neighborhoods, especially in filling houses that have been vacant for many years.
“Overall, it will actually give a
 good positive impact to the neighborhood because you can see the houses have just been completely just let go and nothing has happened to them because they are owned by Caltrans,” Rivas said. “Also, the whole question of are these homes going to get knocked down will be phased out, so it will increase buyer confidence in that neighborhood, which has been ... a little cloud that has been hovering over that neighborhood for many years.”

For more information and property list or to submit comments, visit www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/business/710sales.

Photos: Fifty-Three Caltrans property that were on possible 710 freeway extension now up for sale


July 8, 2014

Fifty-three properties owned by Caltrans have gone back on the market after years of being state-owned rentals. The properties were once reserved to be demolished for the possible 710 freeway extension, but Caltrans now says they are outside the footprint of the five remaining options being studied by the agency to complete the freeway. Caltrans was also prompted to sell the homes by a state law passed last year.

 Description of . Charles Purnell 95, has lived in his home for more than 40 years and may have to move if Caltrans sells his home at 540 Prospect in South Pasadena. Fifty-three properties owned by Caltrans have gone back on the market after years of being state-owned rentals. The properties were once reserved to be demolished for the possible 710 freeway extension, but Caltrans now says they are outside the footprint of the five remaining options being studied by the agency to complete the freeway. Caltrans was also prompted to sell the homes by a state law passed last year.(Photo by Walt Mancini/Pasadena Star-News)

 Charles Purnell 95, has lived in his home for more than 40 years and may have to move if Caltrans sells his home at 540 Prospect in South Pasadena. Fifty-three properties owned by Caltrans have gone back on the market after years of being state-owned rentals. The properties were once reserved to be demolished for the possible 710 freeway extension, but Caltrans now says they are outside the footprint of the five remaining options being studied by the agency to complete the freeway. Caltrans was also prompted to sell the homes by a state law passed last year.

 Description of . A property in the 500 block of Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena is one of 53 properties owned by Caltrans have gone back on the market after years of being state-owned rentals. The properties were once reserved to be demolished for the possible 710 freeway extension, but Caltrans now says they are outside the footprint of the five remaining options being studied by the agency to complete the freeway. Caltrans was also prompted to sell the homes by a state law passed last year.(Photo by Walt Mancini/Pasadena Star-News)

 A property in the 500 block of Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena is one of 53 properties owned by Caltrans have gone back on the market after years of being state-owned rentals. 

 Description of . Joel Alvarez standing in front of a Caltrans home that he has rented for three years at 532 Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena.  Alvarez who like the City of South Pasadena and its excellent schools is looking forward to having the opportunity to  purchase that home from Caltrans Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Fifty-three properties owned by Caltrans have gone back on the market after years of being state-owned rentals. The properties were once reserved to be demolished for the possible 710 freeway extension, but Caltrans now says they are outside the footprint of the five remaining options being studied by the agency to complete the freeway. Caltrans was also prompted to sell the homes by a state law passed last year.(Photo by Walt Mancini/Pasadena Star-News)

 Joel Alvarez standing in front of a Caltrans home that he has rented for three years at 532 Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena. Alvarez who like the City of South Pasadena and its excellent schools is looking forward to having the opportunity to purchase that home from Caltrans.

Description of . Gloria Contreras in front of a Caltrans home at 533 Prospect Avenue in South Pasadena Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Gloria and her husband are very happy that they will finally have a possible opportunity to purchase the home that they have rented from Caltrans for 3 years. Fifty-three properties owned by Caltrans have gone back on the market after years of being state-owned rentals. The properties were once reserved to be demolished for the possible 710 freeway extension, but Caltrans now says they are outside the footprint of the five remaining options being studied by the agency to complete the freeway. Caltrans was also prompted to sell the homes by a state law passed last year.(Photo by Walt Mancini/Pasadena Star-News)

Glorida Contreras in front of a Caltrans home at 533 Prospect Avenue in South Pasadena Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Gloria and her husband are very happy that they will finally have a possible opportunity to purchase the home that they have rented from Caltrans for 3 years.


Alhambra-Geddon: 710 Day Traffic Jam.

Posted by Joe Cano on Facebook, July 8, 2014

Get ready for it because here it comes again like a bad migraine headache. Alhambra will once again try to solve the traffic problem by creating one big massive one on 710 Day. Everyone can thank Barbara Messina, Steve Placido & Luis Ayala from the Alhambra City Council for this, the other council members are too dimwitted & clueless, they are just going along to get along. Can't really blame the dumb ones for wanting to belong to the click.

 Warn your respective cities of the coming backup from the south.


 1:45PM Mission westbound.


 1:50PM Fremont & Mission ahead.


 1:50PM Fremont & Mission ahead.


 2:00PM 7/8/2014


 2:15PM 7/8/2014


 2:20PM 7/8/2014


  2:30PM 7/8/2014 Fremont Ave southbound.


  2:30PM 7/8/2014 Fremont Ave southbound.


 2:35PM 7/8/2014 Fremont Ave southbound.

2:40PM 7/8/2014 Valley Blvd eastbound.


2:45PM/8/2014 Valley Blvd eastbound.

 2:50PM 7/8/2014 Valley Blvd eastbound.


 Parking next to the event site On Shorb will be restricted. Even if your are a resident you are getting screwed by the Alhambra City council.


Why cars remain so appealing even in cities with decent public transit


By Emily Bader, July 7, 2014

I keep stumbling across a great transportation visualization project from the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab, most recently in this Washington City Paper post. In a series of interactive maps, covering a dozen cities, the Media Lab has mapped the most efficient mode of transportation — by car, bike, foot or transit — between any two points in a city.

This is what such a map looks like in Washington, D.C., if, say, you're beginning your trip from Capitol Hill, inside the green block:

Leaving from that part of town, more than half of Washington is reached faster by bike (yellow) than any other mode of transportation. The same is true of less than 1 percent of the city by transit (in blue). Here's the lab's method of figuring this out:
To make this map, we gridded up the city at the block-group level, and then computed the time using each mode of transport from the centroid of the source block group to the centroid of the destination block group using the Google Maps API. For driving, we added a buffer time for parking and walking, and then we compared the four resulting times and colored the block-group based on the minimum.
As a tool for planning your travel routes, or even picking a neighborhood to live in, this is a fascinating platform (albeit a limited one: yes, it doesn't touch on comparative costs, the existence of bike lanes, or the impact of road congestion at different times of day). But beyond personal applications, this type of map has some policy implications, too.

Two things are particularly striking about the above picture: Cycling is a much more efficient mode of transportation than many people realize. And transit is startlingly not so. Seldom will it get you farther, faster, than a bike will. Here's a picture of your transit prospects from the other side of the Anacostia:

Very little of the city — just one tiny patch of it — is accessed fastest by transit. This picture would no doubt look different if we removed bikes from the calculation entirely and simply compared cars and transit. But even then, the city would still look more broadly accessible to you from behind the wheel of a car. The same is true even if you live on a transit line:

Look across the other cities in the collection, and transit appears equally inefficient, relative to both cars and bikes. Here's a sample from Philadelphia:

From Chicago:

From San Francisco:

You can look at these maps and conclude that more people would be better off biking, and that cities should invest in the infrastructure that encourages them to do so. This is true. But, when about half of one percent of all commuters nationwide currently cycle to work, it's probably unrealistic to expect that most people in those yellow blotches will regularly travel that way.

Another takeaway is that these maps illustrate why people make rational calculations to drive so much of the time, even in cities where decent transit does exist. The total financial cost per trip of driving somewhere is likely higher than taking transit (or biking), once you factor in car payments, insurance, and maintenance. But we tend to treat those as sunk costs. And so we often make travel decisions with a time budget in mind, not a financial one. By that metric, it's clear here why people who can afford to drive often chose to. It's also clear on these maps that people who can't afford a car pay a steep penalty in time to get around.

Transit advocates spend a lot of time worrying about the lack of appeal of transit for "choice riders," or commuters who have other options for getting around. It's important to recognize that the decisions they make are often weighed in time.

That means that a big part of the challenge here for cities is to make transit a more efficient travel mode, relative to cars, for more people. The balance between the two options is notably different in Manhattan:

But outside of New York — with its extensive subway system — this is an extremely difficult task, particularly given that most of these maps reflect the fact that we've built cities to be traveled by cars (by, for instance, routing highways through them). But it's possible to increase the relative efficiency of transit by creating dedicated lanes and signal priority for buses at stoplights, or increasing forms of express transit service. Transit networks could even compress what feels like the time cost of riding transit by adding cell service and WiFi that enable passengers to use time spent commuting productively — and in ways that aren't possible from the driver's seat of a car.

It's also possible to increase the number of people for whom transit is an efficient option if we add housing and offices to those parts of any city where transit already exists. More density wouldn't change the shape of these maps. But it would change the number of people who stand to benefit from the parts of the map that are blue.

So Where the %&*# Is The Expo Line Parking?


By Ken Alpern, July 8, 2014


GETTING THERE FROM HERE-This will bear repeating, both to the cities and the county of Los Angeles:  while I can only speak for myself, I very strongly doubt that I'm the only person in favor of a "Measure R-2", which would help fund more operational transit/transportation funds as well as create a Metro Rail/LAX connection, extend the Green and Foothill Gold Lines, and create north-south transit lines that connect the SF Valley to the Westside and Hollywood to LAX. 
But I also doubt I'm the only person who will OPPOSE Measure R-2 if we don't have better parking and transit access for those of us who are paying for our growing transit network.  

Because we really do NOT have to pass a Measure R-2 if the first Measure R isn't implemented appropriately. 

That means slapping away the clutching, grasping and law-breaking developers who are creating oversized projects which will make our traffic worse, and which are NOT transit-oriented (to say nothing of providing barriers to transit stations and paying a woefully- insufficient amount of mitigation expenses to enhance transit access). 

That means making doggone sure we've got bicycle, pedestrian and bus access to our transit stations, including key transportation centers with bus bays, restaurants, restrooms and covered/comfortable stations at key sites such as the future Exposition/Sepulveda rail station, and at/near the future Century/Aviation rail station. 

...and that ALSO means creating enough parking spaces so that the residents of our far-flung city and county of Los Angeles could access the Expo Line and other lines (even Rapid Bus Lines, in certain locations) to which car commuters really don't have a good choice of accessing. 

For those of us who remember when the Red Line accessed Universal City and North Hollywood, and learned that the parking (especially at North Hollywood) was rapidly filled early in the morning, that was an automatic message of "Success!" and which should have been followed up with some more parking lots (even if it was a private/public partnership arrangement). 

To be fair, we should all be aware of the way light rail is funded in this nation:  we fund L.A. and New York the same way we do for medium-sized cities like Salt Lake City and Portland, which are smaller and more compact and less over-developed (and with lots of free space, to boot).  This means that the federal government does NOT fund LA and New York rail line projects sufficiently ... not by a long shot. 

In contrast, our federal and other government’s funds our freeway projects just fine, such as when we build an I-405 widening project and upgrade/redo all the connecting off/onramps and overpasses.  
Our local governments therefore deserve a little bit of sympathy when they underfund rail projects, such as when Metro decided against funding parking for the Wilshire Subway in order to get the Subway extended to west of the I-405. 

Gutsy moves merit brave and decisive decisions, with the hope that the local governments and private sector will fill in the gaps later down the proverbial road.  Yet when those local governments (and we can include Sacramento, which has been derelict and distracted on funding local city/county transit projects for decades) don't come through, we have the right as taxpayers to rebel. 

So whether it's a lack of parking (with bicycle, bus and pedestrian amenities as part-and-parcel of any structure or lot) at the North Hollywood Red Line station, a lack of a Westside Regional Transit Center at Exposition/Sepulveda, or the loss of some several hundred parking spaces at the Venice/Robertson Expo Line station, it's a painful and inappropriate slap in the face of the county-wide voters who passed Measure R. 

Just as it's tough for Sacramento legislators to budget for more jail facilities for inmates and avoid overcrowding (which will remain a problem even after we've removed the nonviolent inmates to local prisons), when it comes to parking the "poormouth" approach just won't cut it. 

The voters and taxpayers will, to a very large degree, respond with a "shut up, shut up, shut up and BUILD IT") that our elected ignore at their (and our) peril. 

With respect to the loss of Expo Line parking at Culver City, it's particularly painful and certainly to be hoped that the planned Transit-Oriented Development there will create a sufficient number of replacement spaces, but it's also to be reminded that: 

1) There is a woefully-insufficient number of parking spaces at the Los Angeles and Santa Monica stations (again, to our elected leaders, please SHUT UP about the expense and come up with a solution). 

2) There's a reason why entities such as the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and Westside LA Neighborhood Councils have advocated for more Expo Line and regional transit/parking facilities, even if it means the end of free parking in Metro stations. 

3) There's no Metrolink in the Westside, so that the Expo Line is a quasi-freeway-alternative which should have rail stations to be treated like Metrolink stations (which have plenty of parking). 

Santa Monica residents want more parking, West LA residents want more parking, and Culver City residents want more parking.  Ditto for Valley and South Bay residents who will have to drive to the Expo Line.  The Expo Line was NOT to be built for regular transit users only, but was to be a fine and excellent option to attract new riders to the Metro Rail and connecting bus network. 

And for Metro to thumb its nose and come up with a lame list of excuses and distracting paradigms as a lousy response to demands for parking is the same managerial malpractice that got this region and nation into our transportation/infrastructure shortfall.

The "you should take a bicycle or bus to the train" or whatever libertarian canard fits the bill for the moment is just a bunch of hooey that almost no one but the fringes are buying. 

It's "majority rule" in this country, right? 

So build the bleepity-bleep parking and just SHUT UP with all the reasons and excuses as to why it's not being built, particularly on the Expo Line--which is supposed to be an alternative to the I-10 freeway (which people do not use bicycles on, and which has no bus-only lanes). 

ONE MORE TIME: I doubt I'm the only person who will OPPOSE Measure R-2 if we don't have better parking and transit access for those of us who are paying for our growing transit network.  
Because we really do NOT have to pass a Measure R-2 if the first Measure R isn't implemented appropriately.

Transit Projects Are About to Get Much, Much Easier in California

The state's push to end car-first street planning could ripple across the country.


By Eric Jaffe, July 8, 2014


SAN FRANCISCO—The report that Michael Schwartz sets down on the table is truly enormous. It looks like it has eaten several smaller reports and laughed as they tried to run away screaming. The document is some 700-pages long and several inches thick; that's not counting the second volume or the thousands of pages of technical supplements. Schwartz has posted a photo series showing his newborn son alongside the report on the door of his office at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. "I finished this two weeks before he was born," says Schwartz, with a look of tired pride. The baby doesn't appear markedly bigger than the document until the photo labeled "five months."

The photo series is titled "BRT Baby." It's not immediately clear whether the name refers to the child or the report. It's safe to say both required significant labor.

The tome in question is the environmental impact report for a bus-rapid transit line that will run two miles down Van Ness Avenue in downtown San Francisco. When finished, the Van Ness BRT will be a transit marvel. Passengers will board from a central median and travel in an exclusive lane with traffic-signal priority. Even now, sharing lanes with cars, buses carry a third of all trips in the corridor (roughly 16,000 riders a day), and with BRT that figure could soar. "It's sort of the first of its kind to say, we're doing full-feature BRT in a dense urban right-of-way with cross-streets," says Schwartz. All told, the line will anchor a $126 million street upgrade.

San Francisco has been waiting for Van Ness BRT a long time. The line was a signature project in the half-cent sales tax referendum, Proposition K, that city voters approved in 2003. The original plan called for Van Ness to be up and running by late 2009. The latest timeline has BRT beginning operations in 2018—a full decade and a half after the Prop K vote (which itself came years after the route concept emerged). Big city infrastructure projects get pushed back for countless reasons, but in the case of Van Ness BRT, a major source of the delay was the need to produce this massive report. It didn't receive final approval until late 2013, and was part of a preparatory phase that, all told, took 6 years and cost $7.6 million.

Understanding the delay requires a quick primer on the California Environmental Quality Act, the state's environmental law. Under CEQA, major planning projects like Van Ness BRT are analyzed for their potential impact on 18 areas of life—air quality, water quality, noise, land use, traffic, and so on. If an initial analysis shows that a project will have no significant negative impact on any of these areas, its leaders can prepare a short report. If a negative impact is unavoidable, project leaders must prepare a slightly longer report explaining their plans to mitigate or offset the damage. And if a negative impact is unavoidable but can't be offset, they must prepare a full environmental report like the one on the table.

A rendering of the Van Ness BRT line, scheduled to begin operation by 2018 (SFCTA); top, the project's environmental impact report. (Eric Jaffe)
Here's the sad thing about the Van Ness BRT report: The only area where it had an unavoidable negative impact that couldn't be offset under CEQA was traffic. "So this whole document was prepared because of the traffic impact," says Schwartz, nodding at the enormous report. And here's the really sad thing about CEQA traffic impacts: They're determined using a car-friendly metric known as "level of service" that bases a project's transportation performance on driver delay. In other words, Van Ness BRT required all the trouble of preparing this massive report because, in the twisted eyes of California law, public transit is considered a greater enemy to the environment than car travel.

That's the bad news. The encouraging news is that this law is about to change. California will soon reform traffic analysis under CEQA by replacing "level of service" with another metric more in line with its environmental and urban mobility goals. So transit projects and transit-friendly development are about to get much, much easier in California cities—and some think the shift in mindset will spread across the country.

"For a project like this," says Schwartz, tapping the report, "it's huge, CEQA reform." Five-month-old baby huge.
•       •       •       •       •
Level of service was a child of the Interstate Highway era. The LOS concept was introduced in the 1965 Highway Capacity Manual, at the very moment in American history when concrete ribbons were being tied across the country, and quickly accepted as the standard measure of roadway performance. LOS is expressed as a letter grade, A through F, based on how much delay vehicles experience; a slow intersection scores worse on LOS than one where traffic zips through. Planners and traffic engineers use the metric as a barometer of congestion all over the United States.

In California, LOS has an especially high-profile. As the primary arbiter of traffic impacts under CEQA—adopted in 1970 by Governor Ronald Reagan—the metric not only determines the fate of many transportation and development projects, but has the awkward role of promoting car use within a law designed to protect the environment. "We have one section of CEQA saying we've got to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says transportation consultant Jeffrey Tumlin of Nelson\Nygaard, "and another section of CEQA saying we need to accommodate unlimited driving."

In late May, just a short walk from where that Kings arena will one day reside, I met Chris Ganson of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research to discuss which way the state was leaning. Ganson is just the person to be involved in mobility reform; in addition to being a Sacramento native and lifelong Kings fan, he has degrees in environmental science as well as planning and transportation engineering. He showed up in grad school right when An Inconvenient Truth came out. "My interests lined up nicely with the timing in the world," he says.

Ganson told me OPR was planning to recommend "vehicle-miles traveled" as the new "central metric" under CEQA. He says VMT meets all the state's major criteria for a traffic evaluator: fewer greenhouse gases, more multimodal networks and urban infill developments, a general boost to both the environment and public health. Where LOS encouraged public projects to reduce or eliminate driver delay at city intersections, VMT would encourage them to reduce or eliminate driving at all.

"If we're using delay metrics to rate our progress, we're going to look like we're doing bad, even as we're doing exactly what we're trying to do," says Ganson. "Even as we're meeting not just our environmental goals, but our goals for the fundamental purpose of transportation—providing access to destinations. Getting people places."

By passing S.B. 743 in September 2013, California made it much easier for transit and transit-oriented development projects to gain approval. (Above: the state house). (Eric Jaffe)
The most obvious advantage that VMT provides over LOS as a CEQA metric pertains to public transportation projects. In the eyes of LOS, street elements like crosswalks, bike lanes, and transit lines downgrade a project by increasing driver delay. In that sense, says Ganson, LOS mischaracterized multimodal projects as impediments to transportation rather than legitimate modes in their own right. In the eyes of VMT, projects that give street space to pedestrians, cyclists, or transit riders will score well even if—especially if—that means less room for cars.

Transit-oriented development should benefit right alongside transit in California. LOS favors sprawl to smart growth, because the traffic generated by remote development creates little delay at any single intersection when dispersed over a full road network, especially compared to compact infill placed right at a city corner. VMT favors the reverse pattern: while a single-family development in the exurbs generates a great deal of driving mileage, a new mixed-use building near major transit lines and walkable cores should generate very little.

"People want to live in what are essentially low-VMT neighborhoods," says Ganson. "People don't want to have to get in their car and go far for everything. In a lot of ways, we're ripe for it."

Specifics of the shift are still being determined. (Legislation required a draft recommendation by July 1, but OPR has delayed its formal announcement; until then, some details are subject to change.) There will be room for technical derivatives—say, VMT per capita for a residential building, or VMT per employee for an office—and ultimately local governments set the precise parameters for CEQA metrics. In other words, cities themselves decide how many vehicle miles constitute a project failure. But if the current direction holds, a new CEQA metric with VMT at its core will be adopted sometime in 2015.

"We think it's going to really facilitate where many cities want to go," says Ganson.
•       •       •       •       •
Michael Schwartz is explaining how a BRT Baby is made. To be fair, I asked. I wanted to know how a project like Van Ness BRT might have developed in a California where VMT, and not LOS, determined traffic impacts under environmental law. I wanted to know if the same process, done sometime in the future, would have given birth to the same enormous report.

Schwartz opens the report to the traffic section. Back in 2007, as part of its preliminary CEQA analysis, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority estimated level of service grades at 139 intersections on and around Van Ness Avenue. Even without a BRT project, some of these intersections experienced LOS failures by the year 2015 simply based on city growth patterns, says Schwartz. The failures are shown on the map as partially black (for LOS E) or full black (LOS F) dots.

A diagram of Intersection LOS, from the Van Ness BRT environmental impact report, shows that four intersections will fail by 2015 even if the project doesn't get built. (EIR
Schwartz then turns the page to the LOS estimates at the same intersections assuming the Van Ness BRT project got built by 2015. Even though the BRT will claim one existing travel lane for its buses, congestion didn't get worse at many intersections, according to the analysis. In fact, car traffic found a way to disperse itself such that there were only two spots where LOS failed in ways that couldn't be avoided. The biggest failure was at Franklin and Market (below, toward bottom), where cars routing off Van Ness clogged the intersection.

A close-up of the Intersection LOS analysis for 2015 in a scenario where Van Ness BRT does get built; it's similar to the no-build scenario, except LOS also fails at Market and Franklin. (EIR)
The visuals demonstrate the limits of LOS as a traffic measure, let alone as an environmental measure, with striking clarity. Van Ness BRT would produce barely any significant car delay by 2015 in the entire 139-intersection area—to say nothing of the mobility benefits it would provide for transit riders. And yet the entire project fails under CEQA using an LOS traffic metric. (In a 2035 estimate, also required under CEQA, the project failed at several other intersections.)

That left SFCTA with two choices. One was mitigating or offsetting these failures. That would have meant widening the roads or adding turn lanes at the critical intersections, something that, if it were even physically possible, would go against both the city's transit-first policy and environmental logic. With that option off the table, there was only one way forward: a full environmental impact report.
"Not a huge difference," says Schwartz, flipping between the maps. "But this is the CEQA thing: If there's potential for any significant and unavoidable impact, where you can't mitigate it to less than significant … then you have to prepare an EIR."

Under a VMT-based metric, it's pretty safe to assume that Van Ness BRT would have performed better in its traffic analysis. (No one can tell for certain until the new metric is finalized and cities, including San Francisco, set their exact VMT failure thresholds.) The BRT project might add a bit of mileage to some car trips, in the form of drivers routing around Van Ness more than before, but the increased transit use among riders who once drove would more than make up for that. On aggregate, BRT would almost certainly pull vehicle mileage off the transportation network.

More simply put, it's hard to see how the very same project, proposed once LOS reform is in place, would have triggered the need for a full environmental report. ("We all sit here and say, I can't believe we just did all this," says Schwartz.) That doesn't mean the entire six-plus years and seven-plus million dollars spent on the Van Ness BRT report would have been saved; that process included some of the careful preliminary vetting, unrelated to CEQA, that goes into every major project. But Schwartz ballparks the savings, in this hypothetical case, as somewhere in the range of "multiple years and likely millions of dollars."

Later on, we met with Viktoriya Wise of the San Francisco Planning Department, which handles most of the CEQA preparation for city projects. Wise agrees that the planning process should speed up noticeably in a post-LOS era. "We hope—and that's the intention—that the new metric will be easier to calculate, more transparent, and faster," she says. It's rare for a project to need a full environmental report for just one CEQA failure, as was the case with traffic for Van Ness BRT, but Wise thinks planners could save several months on the initial transportation impact study—about a third of the average time. And if a project avoids a full environmental report, the time savings will be even greater.

"To that end, perhaps the transportation system will look like what we plan a little bit faster than otherwise," says Wise. "At the end of the day, when I go home, that's kind of my sincere hope."
She laughs.

"That it wouldn't take seven years for BRT, basically."
•       •       •       •       •
The way it works right now, you might say public projects born into California cities grow up in a broken home. The planning profession, which looks favorably on dense mixed-use environments and multimodal networks, has long since been separated from the environmental law under LOS, which looks favorably on remote development and more road capacity. With VMT as the CEQA traffic metric, the marriage of urban planning and environmental policy should be a more harmonious one.

In addition to speedier completion, that union should have numerous indirect benefits. Take, for one, the so-called "last-in" problem that exists with LOS under CEQA. Let's say a developer wants to plan a building at an intersection that's already on the verge of an LOS failure. If the project tips the scale to failure, its leaders are on the hook for offsetting a problem largely caused by developers who came before them. The potential to trigger a last-in failure might lead a developer to water down a project, or to move it somewhere else, or to scrap it all—an invisible negative impact on a growing city.

Another rendering of the Van Ness BRT corridor. (SFCTA)
Questionable lawsuits should decline, too, say advocates of LOS reform. The most infamous example is the case of San Francisco's ambitious bike plan, which was entangled in years of litigation on the grounds that its traffic impact under CEQA should require a full environmental impact report. "All transit and bike projects get greatly delayed because of the 'dire effect' they might impose to the environment," says Tumlin, the transport consultant. Once CEQA's traffic metric and modern planning ideas fall into step, such counter-intuitive legal attacks will lack a solid standing.

It's not just that a new metric should encourage transit and transit-oriented development, it's that it should discourage car-first planning, says Amanda Eaken, deputy director of urban solutions for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who pushed strongly for S.B. 743. Projects that previously scored well under the LOS framework of CEQA—a highway expansion, say, or an exurban development—may now grade out as detriments to the environment.

And even though CEQA is unique to California, Eaken believes the spirit of LOS reform will have an effect on planners across the United States. "I think probably, if you looked, you'd see LOS as a barrier to sustainable communities in every state in the country," she says. "It's a conversation that's long overdue and I'm very pleased we're leading the way toward coming up with a replacement metric. I hope and do expect our efforts will have some traction elsewhere and help others to make similar change."

Some of the country's more progressive cities have already started to leave LOS behind. The New York City Department of Transportation has used "reliability," rather than delay per se, to evaluate some of its street performance. What matters is not so much that traffic might average 10 miles an hour, but that sometimes it travels at 20 m.p.h. and sometimes it travels at 2 m.p.h. Jamie Henson of the District Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C., says LOS can come in handy even for transit projects—intersection delay hurts buses as much as cars, after all—but that it's best seen as part of a broader toolbox of planning measures.

"I think it's a measure, as opposed to the measure," says Henson. "We're like every other place: It ends up being a central element of what we do. But we do at least try to keep it in its appropriate context."

"LOS is not a perfect measure; it doesn't cover everything," he says. "Let me know when somebody creates one that does it all."
•       •       •       •       •
As a kid, says Michael Schwartz, "I was a transit geek." He rode the elevated train around Chicago and grew obsessed with maps; later on, he quit a job in advertising to bicycle across the country. The journey took 10 weeks, traveling east to west, and when he and the group finished in San Francisco, he knew he wanted to move there. He joined SFCTA in the fall of 2008, excited to enact the big transportation ideas he'd dreamed of in his younger days. "We're actually looking at these things," says Schwartz. "We want to build BRT. We're studying congestion pricing."

Changing the CEQA metric from LOS to VMT will help put those big ideas in motion, he says. That's especially true in San Francisco, whose longstanding "transit-first" policy clashes by nature with a car-first metric like LOS. And contrary to some fears that urban planning agencies will now impose their ideology on city residents, the public feedback process means projects will always need to address local concerns, says Schwartz. If an environmental impact report is appropriate, of course planners will do one. But it will be planning for the sake of planning, not the sake of litigation.
"This is why I'm in this field," says Schwartz. "To be able to explain important concepts to people who care and get input and make this the best project it can be."

A diagram of Van Ness BRT, showing its central median alignment and exclusive lanes. (SFCTA)

One morning, I rode the No. 49 Muni bus from its origin, at North Point Street, south along Van Ness Avenue. The No. 49 was not a bad ride, as far as city bus rides go. Travelers could board from the rear door. Stop names were displayed on an overhead LED sign. The bus smelled like a bus, as one rider loudly declared upon boarding, but the seats themselves were clean.

Still, there was clear room for improvement. Sharing the right lane with regular traffic meant the bus often waited for cars to turn or maneuvered around those that were double-parked. By O'Farrell Street the bus had standing room only, despite the trip occurring well outside of rush hour. After a 12:02 start, we reached Market Street at 12:26, two minutes behind schedule. That's roughly 2 miles in 24 minutes—or 5 miles an hour. And that felt like a good performance.

If the Van Ness BRT performs as expected, it will do noticeably better. The route will absorb the No. 49 (as well as the No. 47) between Lombard and Market streets when it's finished. The bus stops, which are now often nothing more than a posted sign, will be high-quality shelters with rapid boarding procedures; the bus itself will get an exclusive lane and make only 9 stops. The No. 49 makes 17. Travel time in the corridor is supposed to fall by a third.

The site of a Honda dealership at the corner of Market and Van Ness has been sold to a residential developer. (Eric Jaffe)
I got off the bus at Market and Van Ness, which is set to become the final southbound stop on the BRT line. There's already a light rail station here, and a street-level trolley. Twitter's headquarters is a block away on Market, and the city's main civic area—with City Hall adjacent to a performing arts center—is a few blocks north on Van Ness. On one of the corners, there's a Honda dealership, of all things; the site was recently sold to a residential developer, and could one day house as many as 700 units.

This was Michael Schwartz's point when he talked about planning for the sake of planning: San Francisco is already moving in the direction of transit and transit-oriented development, despite all the challenges posed by an environmental law with LOS as its traffic metric. So post-LOS planning isn't going to alter the course of the city; it's going to help the city travel a course it's already on. It occurred to me that the difference between transportation planning before and after LOS reform might be a little like the difference between the No. 49 bus and BRT along Van Ness. They're both working for the same purpose, both traveling the same route, both heading toward the same place, but one will get there quicker than the other.

Sale/List of SR-710 Caltran's Homes

 From Sylvia Plummer, July 8, 2014
Caltrans has posted the list of the SR-710 Phase 1 properties on the Caltrans District 7 website.  There are 20 residential properties available for sale in Phase 1A, and 22 residential properties will be available in Phase 1B.

The list can  be viewed at:  http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/business/710sales/

Note that the 2014 list does NOT include "17" vacant lots and "39" residences, as previously advertised by Caltrans.
Instead, it includes only 11 vacant lots and 42 residences.   The list is a total of 53 properties and not 56.    
-- Public Hearings --
Caltrans District 7 has also announced the dates and locations of the Public Hearings on SR-710 Surplus Property.

July 15, 6 p.m. – 8 pm.
California State University, Los Angeles, Golden Eagle Building, Golden Eagle Ballroom, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles
July 17, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Pasadena Convention Center, Lower Level, Room 107
300 East Green Street, Pasadena
July 14 at 5 p.m. is the end of the public comment period. However, the public comment period will be reopened for these two public hearings. If you want to comment on the proposed regulations but can’t attend one of the hearings, you can submit written comments.
For more information go to:


From Sylvia Plummer, July 8, 2014

We need people to attend. 

Thursday, July 10th

4 - 7 pm - meet at the intersection of Valley Blvd. and Fremont Avenue in Alhambra 
It is critical that we reinforce opposition to the Tunnels in favor of better solutions.  Please try to attend and help get the word out about the truth behind this project.  We have information cards prepared that address facts about the project, backed by references to Metro's own reports, that we use as starting points for conversations and to distribute to Alhambrans.   
Wear red or your No 710 T-shirt, and look for those of us also wearing red/ No 710 T-Shirts. 
You can order a NO 710 T-shirt for the event by  emailing  No710store@gmail.com or call 626-354-4340.  Let them know it's for the "710 Day" event.
Background information:

The City of Alhambra has been the most vocal proponent of the Tunnels, believing that the Tunnel Alternative is the answer to the congestion on Alhambra's surface streets.  Recently, Alhambra hired the respected PR firm of Englander, Knabe and Allen (EKA) to help them promote and gain support for the Tunnels (Yes, for those of you who are wondering, the "Knabe" component of EKA is the son of Metro Board member, Don Knabe).  The recent upgrade of the proponents' website (http://www.710coalition.com/) and the hanging of pro-tunnel street banners in Alhambra are two of the products of EKA's involvement.

From the 710 Coalition's website:
"The goal (of 710 Day) is to raise awareness about the proposed 710 freeway extension from Alhambra to Pasadena, while creating a fun and informative environment where the community can learn more about the project. Various booths will be present to share information about the many benefits of completing the 710 Freeway. Learn about the 710-Corridor project and get answers to your questions at this family-friendly event!"

The majority of those present last year at Alhambra's 710 Day were City employees wearing blue "Close the Gap" T-Shirts and who knew very little about the SR-710 North Study.  Members of the No 710 Action Committee attended, walking around and talking with those in attendance about the facts.  We discovered that most did not know that the tunnels would be tolled, and that City officials had been telling their citizens that trucks would not be allowed in the tunnels -- something that has not been determined and is unlikely to be true.