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 29, 2014

Metro Fare Increase Postponed, Will Take Effect September 15th


By Joe Linton, July 29, 2014

New Metro fares effective September 15 2014. Image from Metro Briefing Document

In a change that’s more procedural than policy-driven, Metro has slightly postponed its fare increase that had been approved for September 1. The new fares will take effect on Monday September 15th.
The fare increase was approved at Metro’s May board meeting. Base bus/train fare will increase 17 percent, going from $1.50 to $1.75. Senior fares and all daily/montly/weekly passes also increase 25-40 percent. With the new fares, Metro is instituting a new 2-hour free transfer window, though it only applies to customers paying via TAP card.

The new September 15th implementation date has not been publicized yet – though Metro will be getting the word widely by mid-August. Streetsblog learned of it via this Metro briefing document which was publicized by Twitter user @Calwatch.
Metro spokesperson Rick Jager confirmed the new date, and explained the change as follows:
In approving the new fares, it was always noted on public hearing notices and press releases that the new fare changes could be implemented on Sept. 1, 2014 or later. Staff chose the Sept. 15th date as to not impact sales of the EZ Monthly Pass which is sold to customers beginning on the 25th of the month through the 10th of the following month. (Meaning that some customers would pay one price when purchased at the end of the month vs. another price in the beginning of the month).
Also in May, the Metro board deferred raising student fares, freezing them at $1.00 pending further study. In what seems like an adherence to the letter of the law more than the spirit of the law, the Metro briefing document makes it clear that the new 2-hour free transfer will not apply to students paying the reduced fare.

Congestion Pricing Questions


July 28, 2014

Congestion pricing for freeway capacity is a hot topic. The basic implementation of price-managed lanes known as high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes has been rolled out in many cities, including the new lanes on the Capitol Beltway in Virginia and the retrofit of existing HOV lanes on the 110 and the 10. These lanes operate on a simple principle: when traffic increases in the lane, prices (tolls) are increased to decrease the number of people using the lane and prevent congestion.

Beyond that, though, a wide range of people have called for congestion pricing on all lanes of freeways. This ranges from libertarians who favor user fees, like Randal O’Toole, to urbanists that want to decrease the amount of driving by increasing costs, to cities and states that see potential revenues.

Theoretically, it is easy to extend the concept of HOT lanes to the entire freeway. However, it seems to me that to do so, you have to make a major simplifying assumption about your freeway network – that there are no capacity mismatches. What does that mean? It’s probably easiest to show by way of a few examples. Note that traffic jams on freeways do not necessarily indicate there’s a problem on the road at that location; rather, they are often acting as a queue of cars, pointing towards a downstream bottleneck. There are also questions for long distance trips.

The Off-Ramp Strangler: The 10 at Cloverfield

On weekday mornings, the 10 westbound into Santa Monica backs up starting at the Cloverfield/26th off-ramp. There’s a lot of employment in the area around the future Olympic/26th Expo Line station, and the local streets can’t handle the traffic volumes at peak times. The off-ramp acts as storage for cars waiting to distribute themselves on the local street network, and when the off-ramp gets full, cars start queuing up on the mainline of the freeway.


If you’re managing an HOT lane, it’s pretty easy to keep that lane flowing at a reasonable speed. You’d just charge a higher toll for the lane up to Cloverfield, and then a lower toll beyond that. The general purpose lanes act as a spillway, soaking up whatever traffic comes out of the HOT lane.

What would happen in practice if the whole freeway was tolled? Some people will try to change their travel patterns by leaving earlier or later, which is the real intent of congestion pricing. However, some people will just hop out onto the free local street network. If you charge an arm and a leg to get from Bundy to Cloverfield, maybe I decide to get off at National, Overland, or Bundy. That moves the queue of cars trying to get to office parks in Santa Monica off of the freeway and onto the arterial grid.

Disastrous Lane Drop: The 5 at Norwalk Narrows

Everyone in LA has probably experienced this at some point: you’re cruising north on the 5 in Orange County, enjoying some of the world’s finest freeway engineering, and then boom! You pass the 91 and you slam (figuratively, we hope) into gridlock on the three-lane section of the 5 through Santa Fe Springs and Norwalk. This is one of the last unreconstructed 1950s-era freeways in LA. It’s being widened as we speak, but it’s a great example of a capacity mismatch between adjacent sections of a freeway mainline.


If you’ve got a managed HOT lane here (and the Orange County section is clearly designed for that possibility), you can keep it flowing by charging a punitive toll through the Norwalk Narrows. If the entire freeway is tolled, you’d have to charge very high tolls to keep things moving on the three-lane section – so high, that you might not be able to charge anything on the five-lane section to the south. That results in a very cheap section leading into a very expensive section.
Again, the incentive is going to be for people to use the cheap section of the freeway, and then bail out onto the free local arterial grid.

Alternatives with Issues: The 405 vs North-South Arterials

This one isn’t quite so much about a freeway capacity mismatch as it is about the amount of existing congestion on local arterials.

Northbound congestion on the 405 has several causes. For one, the prolonged steep grade approaching Sepulveda Pass degrades vehicle performance, resulting in some vehicles slowing down. At the top of the pass, you have an intense weaving section leading up to the busiest interchange in the country, the 405 and the 101. Further upstream, you simply have a lot of traffic from Westside employment centers entering the freeway between the 10 and Wilshire to head home to the Valley.


Contrary to popular conceptions of LA, the north-south arterials on the Westside are significantly underpowered. Sepulveda is the only true through arterial between Lincoln and Robertson; the rest – Bundy-Centinella, Sawtelle, Barrington-McLaughlin, Westwood-Overland, Beverly-Beverwil-Castle Heights – are Frankenroads, incomplete, cobbled together from various parts, and not even two lanes in each direction. This contributes to a major lack of north-south mobility on the Westside.

If the 405 were tolled to maintain higher speeds, some traffic would shift to this free ragtag network of north-south arterials. Again, this might be an undesired side effect of tolling all freeway capacity.

Long-Distance Trips

Existing HOT lanes, like the express lanes on the 110 and the 10, are managed dynamically: prices are adjusted to respond to real-time traffic conditions. If the lane starts to get congested, prices are increased to reduce the number of drivers that decide to enter. Pricing information is conveyed to drivers using variable message signs. If you’re already in the lane, the price you saw when you entered is honored for your destination.

This works well for a managed HOT lane in isolation; no one knows what the toll will be when they enter the freeway, so the general purpose lanes just soak up whatever traffic doesn’t want to use the HOT lane. With a network of HOT lanes, this will still work pretty well. The number of destinations you can reasonably indicate on a VMS sign is limited, but you’d always have the option to leave when you reach the next tolling section. Let’s say you’re in the HOT lane on the 10 east and you hop on the 5 south to go visit the mouse, and you don’t like the prices. No problem, you just take the free lanes.

If the entire freeway is dynamically tolled, this starts to fall apart. What do I do if I get on a freeway and I’m not willing to pay the going price? For short trips, you could check before you leave, but for long trips, it would be an issue. If you get on the 101 in Woodland Hills and you’re going to Anaheim, what happens if you get on the 5 and the toll is more than you’re willing to pay? Do you take arterials? Do you just get off and park somewhere, waiting for prices to go down?

Private Parts

Now, you may have been chomping at the bit as you read this post, thinking that there are technological solutions to these problems: use congestion pricing on the arterials as well as the freeways, and quote people a price for their entire trip before they start it.
Those ideas are certainly theoretically possible. However, they may prove politically impossible, for some very good reasons.

Tolling arterial capacity, using existing electronic tolling methods, would prove unreasonably costly. It would more or less require turning every traffic light into a tolling location. It would require trying to communicate toll rates on a block by block basis. Both of these would be impractical. You could do it without any roadside equipment by requiring every vehicle to be equipped with GPS, and having the vehicle’s on-board equipment report the GPS data to a central facility for calculation of tolls.

Getting a price quote for a trip before you take it is something we’re all familiar with for things like flying, ferries, tours, and so on. In the case of flying, the details of your travel are reported to the government in advance. However, flying is something most people do rarely. Requiring advance requests for auto travel fees would bring that level of oversight into people’s everyday lives.

To be blunt, I don’t think many people would be comfortable with having to tell the government where they’re going before they leave, and I don’t think many people want their movements being tracked by GPS. If you don’t like the NSA recording your phone calls and reading your emails, you should be worried about the prospect of having the government follow your whereabouts. While this would obviously still leave walking, biking, and transit as options for anonymous travel, it would be an imposition on people’s right to freedom of movement.


This isn’t to say we should give up on the idea of tolling highway capacity. I would be curious to see research on detailed modeling of a real road network (freeways and arterials) under these scenarios. For example, what would happen on the Westside if the 405 and the 10 were dynamically tolled but the arterials were still free? Regarding privacy, would people be more comfortable if the advance price was obtained through a third-party intermediary (such a car-sharing service) that could make the reservation with the system in the corporation’s name?

In the meantime, a more realistic option than real-time dynamic pricing might be managing freeway capacity the way that street parking is managed in downtown LA. In that model, utilization of street parking is monitored, and then prices at different times of day are adjusted up or down to try to optimize utilization. For freeways, a schedule of prices could be published and updated every month, so that users would be able to determine prices before they leave.  For example, say that in August 2014 it costs $0.25 to go from La Cienega to Robertson on the 10 on weekdays at 12:30pm, and the level of congestion is still too high. The rate for September would be increased to $0.30 or $0.35.

In the case of capacity mismatches, it might be desirable to deliberately underprice freeway capacity so that the amount of traffic diverted to arterials isn’t too large. Many people would rather have a queue of cars on the freeway, leaving arterials a little less congested and available for things like local trips and emergency vehicles.

Congestion pricing has great potential to improve mobility in urban regions. But the devil’s in the details, and we don’t have them worked out just yet.

Does Anybody Really Know What Steve Scauzillo Is Going On About?


July 29, 2014

 All we are saying ...

There is a Steve Scauzillo column up on the Pasadena Star News site (I think it originated over at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, actually), that makes a rather odd reference to Sierra Madre. A little bit snarky actually, but in a Green kind of way. Which for some will make it OK. And never being able to stay out of anybody else's scrap, since I own my very own soapbox after all, I thought I should jump in. I mean, why not? I do have to write about something. This is a daily blog.

And for the record, I like the Pasadena Star News. There are some very dedicated people at that paper who fight the good fight, and against some rather daunting odds. So let's not get too crazy today just because they happened to print a column that you (or I for that matter) might not like very much.

Steve Scauzillo is the author of a seemingly endless series of newspaper columns called "The Green Way." And as you might guess, he is concerned about the environment and our sustainable future here on the dirt ball. As well he should be. After all, he is a stakeholder.

And look, I personally have no problem with the various Green theories about the endlessly destructive capacity of the human race. Nor do I doubt our ability to fatally trash the rather rare and beautiful place that we are dependent upon for the continued survival of our species.

Global warming, climate change, melting ice caps, rising oceans, and all the rest of that stuff, it certainly seems quite plausible to me. I buy into all of it. Science, or science fiction, who cares? We as a critter are literally hell on wheels. If the worst is possible, and we are involved, then that is what will happen. Invest now.

Where I obviously deviate from the "Green Way" is I don't really believe that fellows like Scauzillo have even remotely viable solutions for any of these really big issues. No matter how many trees they kill to explain it. The majority of so-called greens are entirely full of crap, and their endless trivial carping about the habits of those around them really aren't helping get anything done. Outside of annoying everyone else, of course.

When it comes to the question of human free will and our ability to save ourselves, I am all in with St. Augustine. The human race is a hopeless and impossible mess. There is no salvation on the planet floor.

Here's an example of what I mean. We live in the place that gave us SB 375, that rather twee state law that claims we can somehow build our way out of global warming by wedging working people into rat warrens of stacked and packed mini-condo housing situated atop bus stops and jumped up trolley lines. All of which is somehow going to make them want to stop driving their greenhouse gas emitting cars and ride the Metro.

And if that doesn't make you laugh, then perhaps you really shouldn't be reading this blog. Give somebody cheap housing in California and what is the first thing that person will do with the money he saves? Buy a car. As most Golden Staters will gladly tell you, only losers ride the bus. And does anyone here really believe condos will save the world?

I personally have been getting an earful from overweening green types since I was an impressionable lad back in the latter 1970s. And during the momentous 40 some odd years of fun and frivolity that followed I have not seen very much that indicates things are getting any better environmentally in this world.

Quite the contrary, actually. As any rain dancer will tell you, things are pretty much worse than ever.

But I have digressed. Here is the portion of Scauzillo's current column that got me agitated enough to write all of the above. This column is called "The Green Way: No drought of water-shortage emails from readers," and you can link directly to this entire Sierra Madre dissing conundrum by clicking here.

I got a flurry of electronic mail in my inbox and 140-character Twitter messages from people who wanted to comment on my stories on the severe drought in California and in particular, the one I wrote about a couple from Glendora who received a warning letter from the city for having a brown lawn.

Richard Wagoner and Jim Mihalka brought up the argument that says: Why should current homeowners have to conserve water and even be hit by fines, while cities approve new housing developments?

“We are supposed to save water ... so that the LA City Council can approve building projects including zone changes unwanted by the community,” Wagoner wrote. The rest of the email was about a proposed condominium project in San Pedro.

He suggests a $500 fine for every home added during the drought.

Mihalka wrote about a smaller townhome project in West Covina. He objected to West Covina, Covina, Glendora and Azusa approving “more than 3,000 new homes ... in the past three years” while the area faces a water shortage.

“They send me notices stating I must conserve water because there is a shortage, however the shortage must not be too bad because they continue to add homes,” wrote Mihalka, who once ran for supervisor of Los Angeles County.

These are smart readers who’ve hit on what may be the next topic in the drought: Should cities hold up development until a normal water supply is restored?

So far, holding off on new development is not part of the governor’s plan, nor is it part of the State Water Resources Control Board’s new regulations set to take effect Friday.

But having said that, there is one city nearby that has done what may make these two emailers jump for joy: Sierra Madre.

The City Council unanimously decided on July 8 to enact a mandatory 30 percent water conservation requirement for residents, and to enact building and water hookup moratoriums. The moratoriums will be reviewed on Aug. 12.

Sometimes people use the drought as a cudgel against development they don’t want. I think we need a solution, not a moratorium.

But that’s just me. I’m more solution-oriented than politically driven.

Two observations, and then I'll go.

1) Desperate people take whatever they can get. Preserving low density Sierra Madre from McMansionization is a worthy cause, and one that always seems on the verge of being lost. If the drought can be used to help in that, then why not? But you should also be able to recognize that a city living off of somebody else's water, and on a short contract no less, might want to be cautious about building a three development swathe of 6,000 square foot, 5.5 bathroom water hogs here. Cuss me out for saying this, but you might even say the impetus behind such a thing is, well, sustainability. And therefore Green. One is not necessarily separate from the other. Even for process driven stakeholders.

2) What solution, Steve? And why should yours necessarily have to involve us?