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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Metro voted Best of Downtown 2014 in public transportation category


By Anna Chen, July 21, 2014

metro best of dt winner

A big thank you to all those who voted for us!

Protected Bike Lanes Grow in CA as Cities Face Down Old Concerns


By Melanie Curry, July 21, 2014

 A protected bike lane in Long Beach, California.

More and more California cities are looking to bring protected bike lanes to their streets, and a growing body of research showing the benefits they provide are giving city leaders a stronger case in the face of opposition to change.

The demand to make streets better for walking and biking is clear: local jurisdictions in California applied for more than $1 billion in funds from the state’s Active Transportation Program to build bike and pedestrian projects, triple the amount of funding available for the program.

Protected bike lanes, also known as protected bikeways or “cycletracks,” are lanes set aside for people on bikes, separated from motor traffic by physical barriers such as curbs, planters, or parked cars.

A bill currently in the California legislature, A.B, 1193, would remove some state-imposed barriers to building protected bike lanes by requiring Caltrans to establish design guidelines for them, which currently don’t exist. But even without Caltrans guidance, several cities are already building protected lanes, including Long Beach, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles , and even smaller cities including Alameda and Temple City.

To earn approval from Caltrans, some of these projects have been legally categorized as “experiments,” built with easily-removable materials. This has also given planners some leeway when faced with objections from people who fear the street design changes.

A year after Long Beach installed protected bike lanes on the one-way couplet of Broadway and Third Streets, the city published a study [PDF] that found numerous benefits from the project. Crash rates decreased for all street users, bicycling and walking increased, and vehicle traffic slowed down. There was no increase in congestion, even with the removal of a traffic lane.

These findings are in line with a recent landmark study of protected bike lanes around the country, which provided new statistics showing that wherever they are implemented, they make nearly everyone on bikes and on foot feel safer and increase bicycling. In San Francisco, protected bike lanes on Market and Fell streets contributed to big jumps in bicycling; cyclist counts were up 43 percent and 50 percent on those streets, respectively, in the year after the lanes went in.

But since protected bikeways often remove a traffic lane and/or parking, cities still meet resistance from residents and merchants who fear that removing parking will hurt businesses, and that removing a traffic lane will worsen car congestion.

In San Diego, a proposal for protected bike lanes on University Avenue is going through the public planning process. Although there is strong support for the bike lanes, Sam Ollinger of BikeSD said some of the interactions at public meetings range from “ugly to unpleasant.” Local businesses have objected to the loss of some on-street parking along one narrow section of the street, even though planners have bent over backwards to replace that parking nearby.

Similar objections were raised in Oakland when planners proposed protected bike lanes along Telegraph Avenue. The street is currently a four-lane roadway that works well for no one except drivers speeding through. Although a striped bike lane exists along most of the street’s length, it is placed between parked cars and moving cars, and even that basic facility disappears at a few crucial points.

The proposed plans for Telegraph could replace the striped lanes with parking-protected bike lanes, but they would still disappear where they are needed most, at the complex intersection with 51st Street. Instead, planners have proposed either removing parking from one side of the street to create room for a striped, unprotected bike lane, or leaving the configuration as is and simply painting sharrows. Business owners have objected strenuously to removing car parking, but bicyclists counter that ditching the lanes at the intersection won’t work.

The same story has played out in San Francisco, where plans to add protected bike lanes on Polk Street met resistance from local business owners. Although its current iteration still has some protected lanes, the plan was watered down and now includes standard bike lanes and sharrows along most of the street, with much of the on-street parking preserved.

A growing body of research has debunked concerns that businesses in urban neighborhoods rely heavily on parking spaces. Studies in LA and the Bay Area have consistently found that merchants tend to underestimate the number of customers that arrive without a car, and that customers who do arrive by car spend less than others on a weekly basis. Studies have been conducted in areas including the East Bay’s San Pablo Avenue, LA’s Santa Monica Boulevard, and Oakland’s Temescal and SF’s Polk Street:
  • In Oakland, a city study [PDF] of the Temescal neighborhood showed that 38 percent of land in the area is devoted to car storage. Another report [PDF] found that parking is heavily underutilized, with occupancy peaking at 65 percent between noon and 2 p.m. on weekends.

  • In San Francisco, a survey conducted on Polk found that almost 85 percent of people arrive without a car, and that people who do come by car visit less often and spend less money overall than customers who bike, walk, or take transit.
The Alliance for Biking and Walking, among others, has published findings [PDF] that protected bikeways contribute to economic growth. Temple City in LA cited those benefits as a reason for building its protected bike lanes along Rosemead Boulevard, promoting them as an economic development project that would help attract shoppers. In Portland, Oregon, business owners are lobbying for protected bike lanes on their street, even with some parking removal.

For Long Beach, its effort to install protected bike lanes on Broadway and Third was part of the city’s quest to become “the most bike-friendly city in America.” Charlie Gandy, then the mobility coordinator for the city, said that keeping that goal in mind was key when listening to arguments against changing the status quo.

“We had support from bicyclists, from small business owners, and from residents along the streets,” Gandy explained. “We never had complete agreement, but what we didn’t do was allow the loudest voice, or the most curmudgeonly, to hold sway.”

Classifying the protected bike lanes as a removable pilot project placated some of the initial objectors. “Those that were opposed to it observed that what they expected to happen didn’t happen, and their basic concerns went away,” said Gandy.

Gandy told a story of one man who originally opposed the lanes, but later stopped in the street to tell him what a difference it made for his family to be able to ride their bikes to the beach, rather than feeling it was so dangerous that they had to drive instead.

“It’s important to move forward deliberately and not gnash teeth endlessly,” Gandy advised. “These things have a rhythm. It’s also important to look at fact-based concerns rather than fear-based concerns.”
With the pr
otected lanes on the ground, Long Beach has shown that implementing safer street designs makes negotiating traffic easier for everyone.

“Particularly among young people,” said Gandy, “it’s changed the conversation about Long Beach.”

Answers to Your Top 6 Questions About Obama’s New Infrastructure Initiative


By Tanya Snyder, July 21, 2014

Last week, President Obama announced that amid Congressional dysfunction around transportation funding, he was taking action to foster infrastructure investment and economic growth. The Build America Investment Initiative will provide technical assistance to communities looking for guidance on how to leverage private dollars to build public works. But the initiative doesn’t actually provide any dollars itself.

Here’s the scoop.
President Obama announced his new infrastructure investment initiative in Delaware last week. It doesn't solve the funding problem, but it could be helpful.
President Obama announced his new infrastructure investment initiative in Delaware last week. Screenshot from video of announcement.

What’s the idea? Public-private partnerships, or P3s, have become a hot trend in infrastructure investment, but they get talked about a lot more than they get done. The allure is clear: Private industry can help build needed infrastructure projects when the public money is inadequate, as it is now, with Congress refusing to increase investment. The U.S. hasn’t done a good job providing a platform for the private sector to get involved, and Obama is trying to focus some federal resources on changing that.

Is it actually helpful? P3s are a way to finance infrastructure projects, but they’re no substitute for public funding. So this initiative doesn’t really speak to ongoing efforts to backfill the Highway Trust Fund for a few more months and perhaps someday even pass a long-term bill with a sustainable funding source. This is a solution to a whole different problem. That said, Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution says without reservation that the White House’s initiative does serve an important purpose. “There is a real problem of lack of expertise on the public side to begin to negotiate these kinds of deals, to explore what it means to engage in public-private partnerships,” he told Streetsblog. The local and state officials being tasked with figuring out P3s, as a way to try to make up for the lack of federal funding, aren’t necessarily schooled in the finer points of contractual arrangements or up to date with the latest new ways of sharing risks and rewards. A go-to place for guidance at the federal level could be a big help.

Is this “investment initiative” an infrastructure bank? I got confused myself last week when Michael Likosky, who’s written a book encouraging Obama to create an infrastructure bank, sent an email declaring, “Obama Creates Infrastructure Bank by Executive Order” and generally patting himself on the back for it. But no, Obama’s “one-stop shop” for P3s is in no way an infrastructure bank. It doesn’t have any money of its own and it’s not processing loans.

Is this initiative just going to help build more toll roads? It shouldn’t. Sustainable transportation modes can make great candidates for P3s. Passenger rail advocates have long looked to the private sector to help build new high-speed lines. Bike-share and car-share systems are public-private innovations. There are lots of great projects that could get built if communities use the new Build America Transportation Investment Center to find partners to help them meet their transportation goals.

Is Obama just trying to look like he’s doing something? Undoubtedly there’s a lot of political posturing going on here. Obama is trotting out his “I won’t wait for Congress” line and creating this new initiative by executive order, when in fact he has been distinctly unhelpful in the whole transportation funding question. By unequivocally rejecting both a gas tax and a miles-driven fee, Obama has shut the door on the two most viable avenues for raising revenues. In recent months, some have read White House officials’ remarks as indicating a slight softening of the anti-gas tax rhetoric, but it’s still a far cry from support.

Is this just more government bureaucracy? More bureaucrats, maybe, but not more bureaucracy. It doesn’t add red tape, it’s just a place that officials can go — if they want — for guidance. For better or for worse, it doesn’t create any new programs. Puentes said it’s been “mis-framed as a big federal initiative” when really it’s just “flipped the pyramid — the federal government is not going to be on top raining P3 projects down all over the place.” The administration recognizes that the innovation at the local level and the capital in the private sector are having trouble finding each other, and it’s just trying to help bridge that gap.

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, July 21, 2014

A mix of a hugely important Metro Board meeting, some great bike events, a Streetsie party and some news from some other Westside cities.


Monday – Does a Pacoima Pedestrian Plaza qualify as “P3″? Attend and give your input for the planned People Street Bradley Avenue Plaza. Meeting tonight! Get the details, here.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – The Big Blue Bus continues to plan for the arrival of the Expo Line. This week, they’re holding three meetings to get feedback on how they should alter the existing routes when the line opens in less than a year and a half. Get the details, here.

Wednesday – The City Council is in summer recess so there will be no City Council Transportation Committee. However, this seems as good a place as any to congratulate Committee Chair Mike Bonin and his husband Sean Arian on their marriage this weekend. Wooot! Wooooooot!

Thursday – Active transportation, congestion pricing, short range transportation plans, poor management of the Sheriffs, it’s a full agenda for the Metro Board of Directors in their last meeting until September. Read the full agenda, here.

Friday - Critical Mass. Wilshire Western. 7:00 p.m.

Saturday - Join Walk ‘n Rollers in Culver City for a fun day learning how to bike and walk safely in your community. All ages welcome and we’ll even have bikes and helmets for those without (helmets are required on the course and group rides). More info.

Sunday – We’re having a small private party to celebrate the Streetsie Win of Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor as our 2013 Elected Leader of the Year at 2 p.m. If you’re interested in joining us, drop me a line at damien@streetsblog.org

Why Amtrak's On-Time Performance Is So Much Worse This Year

The passenger rail carrier lost its leverage with freight rail companies after a federal appeals court ruling in 2013.


By Eric Jaffe, July 18, 2014


It's not just your imagination—Amtrak really has been delayed more than usual lately. According to the passenger rail corporation's latest monthly performance report, on-time arrival stands at roughly 74 percent for fiscal 2014 (which began in October 2013). That's down nearly 12 points from fiscal 2013, when Amtrak was on-time for 85 percent of its trips.

Amtrak - May 2014

So what gives? Well, if you look closer at the above chart, you'll notice a clear dip between May and June of 2013. On-time performance fell from 83 percent to 76 percent between those months, and it's remained below the 80 percent-mark ever since.

What you're seeing is the aftermath of a U.S. Court of Appeals decision, issued July 2, 2013,* that severely damaged Amtrak's leverage with the freight rail companies whose tracks it shares. Roughly 72 percent of all miles traveled by Amtrak occurs on tracks hosted by other rail providers. In 2008, as part of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act, Congress gave Amtrak the power to penalize these providers for giving dispatch priority to freight trains using the same routes. The July 2013 decision called an end to that power, and likewise triggered the start of Amtrak's on-time performance decline.

In May 2014, for instance, host railroad delays accounted for roughly two-thirds of all Amtrak delays, according to Amtrak's performance report. Only 7 of Amtrak's 48 routes had a better on-time rate in May 2014 than in May 2013, before the ruling went into effect. Amtrak's latest report also shows that from June 2013 to May 2014, hosts have been responsible for 72 percent of Amtrak delays—with "freight train interference" the leading problem.

Amtrak - May 2014
Amtrak spokesman Craig Schultz says on-time performance is a complex issue that can't be reduced to a single problem, but that shifts in host railroad dispatching priority had a clear and immediate impact across the board. Amtrak pays the hosts for its services, and provides incentives for on-time performance. But at the end of the day, he says, trains running on host railroads are subject to decisions made by dispatchers who don't work for Amtrak.

"That's really one of the major factors: the handling of trains—certainly on the long-distance network, especially—by host railroads," says Schultz. "That's something we're actively working with them to address."
Amtrak's long-dista
nce routes rely heavily on host infrastructure and dispatching, and the latest performance figures—mapped nicely by Wonkblog's Christopher Ingraham last week—indeed show their recent struggles. Several routes failed to crack the 50 percent on-time rate in the past year. These include the Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle/Portland) at 21 percent; the Capitol Limited (Washington to Chicago) at 29 percent; the California Zephyr (Chicago to San Francisco) at 34 percent; and the Texas Eagle (Chicago to Los Angeles via San Antonio) at 45 percent.

(For the record, Amtrak varies its definition of "on-time" depending on the length of a route. Trains traveling less than 250 miles are on-time if they reach the final destination within 10 minutes of scheduled arrival, for instance, while trains traveling more than 550 miles get 30 minutes of leeway.)
Long-distance routes carry far fewer passengers than, say, trains in the busy Northeast Corridor. But even NEC trains have underperformed of late. In May 2014, Acela had an 80 percent on-time performance, down 10 points from May 2013. The Northeast Regional train, meanwhile, was at 78.5 percent in May 2014, down 9 points on the year before.

Amtrak says its new fleet of locomotives, the ACS-64, should improve reliability in the Northeast Corridor.
Host issues alone can't explain that decline. Amtrak took a beating with the long, cold winter this year; indeed, on-time performance in January and February 2014 dipped below 70 percent. Aging infrastructure in the region also causes delays on occasion. Schultz says the new fleet of electric locomotives slowly making its way onto Northeast Corridor tracks should improve reliability, among other benefits.

"Poor on-time performance is unacceptable to our passengers, to our employees, to our management," he says. "It's a major inconvenience to our customers. It impacts the business through decreased ridership, lost revenues, higher operating costs. So it's something we're really taking very seriously at all levels of the organization."

To some extent, Amtrak's ability to restore the high performance rates of 2013 may rest in the hands of the justice system. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an appeal of the 2013 decision that went against Amtrak. The high court's next session begins in October. So there's a little more waiting in store yet.