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, August 26, 2014

California Proposes Overhaul of Standards for Transportation-related Environmental Impact Analysis


By Kristina Daniel Lawson, August 25, 2014

Earlier this month Governor Jerry Brown’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) released for public review and debate a draft of proposed amendments to the California Environmental Quality Act’s implementing guidelines (CEQA Guidelines). If ultimately approved, the guidelines will fundamentally change the way transportation-related environmental impacts are analyzed and mitigated throughout California.

While the proposed amendments are currently in draft form and therefore remain subject to change or even withdrawal, if the proposal advances, automobile delay will generally no longer be considered a significant impact on the environment for CEQA purposes. Once approved, the provisions will take effect immediately in California’s transit priority areas, and then statewide in 2016, unless adopted earlier by a local community.

Today CEQA’s transportation analyses focus on the delay experienced by an individual automobile driver at a study intersection or on a roadway segment. Traffic engineers quantify this delay through a metric known as “level of service” or LOS.

Targeting the LOS standard, last year Senate Bill 743 was approved and signed into law requiring OPR to prepare revisions to the CEQA Guidelines that establishes criteria for determining the significance of transportation impacts within transit priority areas. SB 743 followed on the heels of the implementation of SB 375 and AB 32, which together placed a heightened focus on the link between land use and transportation planning decisions and greenhouse gas emissions in California. In addition to the increased need for local governments to focus on greenhouse gas emissions reductions through land use and transportation planning, the California Complete Streets Act of 2008 had required local governments to plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways for safe and convenient travel.

Taken together, these mandates present a sometimes conflicting challenge: under the traditional methods of analyzing transportation-related environmental impacts, automobile delay (expressed in LOS standards) was the key metric. Typical mitigation for automobile delay involves adding roadway capacity by increasing the size or width of intersections – a wholly automobile-focused solution which tended to disincentive increased adoption of alternate modes of transportation. SB 743, and as a result of OPR’s new proposal, seeks to eliminate this disincentive, with the legislative intent of “more appropriately balanc[ing] the needs of congestion management with statewide goals related to infill development, promotion of public health through active transportation, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.”

OPR’s proposal is not a light-read and I predict CEQA practitioners will universally agree it will not be without controversy. At 45 pages, the proposal reads more like a whitepaper than an administrative rulemaking. For the specifics, the OPR proposal includes one new CEQA Guideline and a variety of other amendments to CEQA’s appendices. The new guideline is where the rubber meets the road. In general, the proposal includes the following:
  • The amount and distance of automobile travel associated with a project will become the key metrics for CEQA transportation analyses;
  • Additional considerations in CEQA transportation analyses will include the effects of a project on transit and non-motorized travel, and the safety of all travelers;
  • Indirect transportation-related environmental effects (such as noise and air quality) must still be considered;
  • Automobile delay will no longer be considered a potentially significant environmental effect requiring mitigation.
As is always the case with any regulation, the devil is in the details, and like most of the recent CEQA proposals, this proposal includes a lot of language. To start, “…A development project that is not exempt and that results in vehicle miles traveled greater than regional average for the land use type (e.g., residential, employment, commercial) may indicate a significant impact.” This section immediately raises a variety of questions including whether “employment” is properly classified as a land use type, and how analysis or evaluation of an employment land use would differ from analysis or evaluation of a commercial land use. This lack of clarity is a red flag for future CEQA problems and litigation.

A variety of options are given for measuring the benchmark “regional average” including per capita, per employee, per trip, per person-trip, or other appropriate measures. The draft guideline is unclear as to what might occur if you choose one standard over another.

If your project results in a net decrease in vehicle miles traveled compared to existing conditions the proposed guideline tells us it may be considered to have a less than significant transportation impact. If your project is a “land use plan” that is either consistent with a sustainable communities strategy or that achieves at least an equivalent reduction in vehicle miles traveled as projected to result from the implementation of a sustainable communities strategy, then your transportation impacts may also generally be considered less than significant. Development projects that locate within one-half mile of an existing major transit stop or a stop along an existing “high-quality” transit corridor “generally may be considered to have a less than significant transportation impact.”

The use of the word “generally” throughout the draft guideline, and the lack of defined terms is also likely to raise a lot of questions and comment.

For purposes of the proposed guideline, “region” apparently means a metropolitan planning organization or the regional transportation planning agency in which a project is located. A valid question here is how a region can be a public agency. Did OPR mean within the boundaries of a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) or Regional Transportation Planning Agency (RTPA)? The proposal makes clear that a lead agency generally should not confine its transportation impact evaluation to its own political boundary.

One of the most interesting parts of the proposal is the section that requires any transportation project that increases roadway capacity for automobiles in a congested area, or adds a new roadway to the network, to analyze whether the project will induce additional automobile travel compared to existing conditions. Under this new “traffic-inducing” analysis, if you are increasing roadway capacity by the addition of a general purpose highway or arterial land then you may have a significant impact (or you may not), unless you are a rural roadway where the primary purpose is to improve safety and where speeds are not significantly altered (in that case, the guideline doesn’t indicate what happens).

If your transportation project does not add physical roadway capacity but instead is for the purpose of improving safety or operations, that would not generally result in a significant transportation impact. The draft guideline proposes the same result for new managed lanes, short auxiliary lanes, and other projects consistent with a Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy “for which induced travel was already adequately analyzed.”

Transportation projects (including lane priority for transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects) that lead to net decreases in vehicle miles traveled, compared to existing conditions, may also be considered to have a less than significant transportation impact.

To say that OPR’s proposal is an overhaul is an understatement – if adopted, the draft guideline will fundamentally change how California thinks about transportation and traffic. Because of the sweeping nature of the proposed changes to California’s standards for transportation-related environmental impact analysis, we can expect significant comments to be received by OPR. If you wish to weigh in, do so by October 10, 2014 to CEQA.Guidelines@ceres.ca.gov.

BART’s Earthquake Early Warning System Could Have Broader Applications


By Scott Morris, August 25, 2014

BART’s Earthquake Early Warning System Could Have Broader Applications
A new earthquake early warning system in testing since 2012 has helped BART keep trains running in the event of an earthquake and could have broader applications for the public, officials said today.

The new system can give BART up to 10 seconds of notice before an earthquake, enough time to stop a train going 30 mph and significantly slow a train going 70 mph, preventing derailments, injuries and deaths, BART Director John McPartland said at a news conference at the agency’s Embarcadero station in San Francisco this afternoon.

McPartland said the system operated as intended before a 6.0-magnitude quake hit at 3:20 a.m. Sunday and caused significant destruction in Napa and Vallejo. BART trains were not running at the time of the quake, however, necessitating no action by the transit agency.

The system has applications beyond warning BART of impending earthquakes and Richard Allen of the University of California at Berkeley Seismological Laboratory called today for state or federal funding that would create a public early warning system.

Allen said that such a system could have many applications. While it could not give more than seconds of warning, it could be enough to stop motorists from driving onto a bridge, slow down traffic or even inform an eye surgeon that it’s time to stop.

He urged California residents to contact legislators to help secure funding for the system, which could alert the public through cellphones, computers or even smoke detector-like devices.
“This is a critical need here in earthquake country,” Allen said.

The state Legislature passed a bill that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last September calling for California’s Office of Emergency Services to develop an early warning system, but said funding for the system could not come from the state’s general fund and would have to come from other sources.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said in a statement today that two bills moving through Congress could send resources for an early warning system.

“An earthquake early-warning system would provide crucial time to carry out lifesaving actions,” Feinstein said. “A warning of even a handful of seconds would allow for emergency notifications to be sent; trains and traffic to be slowed or stopped; supplies of oil, gas and chemicals to be turned off; nuclear plants to be safeguarded; even elevators to be safely emptied.”

Allen said that the system can detect small amounts of energy radiating from epicenters prior from the quake. Sensors all over California stream data into the system, which can detect the energy and send an early alert.

Officials from the U.S. Geological Survey said today that the test system provided a five-second warning before Sunday’s quake hit, and within three seconds had estimated the magnitude of the quake to be 5.7.

BART’s use of the system is the first of its kind for a transit agency as it remains in testing, but BART officials said today that it is only a part of a massive seismic retrofit project that has improved earthquake safety systemwide over the last decade.

Bay Area voters approved a $980 million bond in 2004 to fund the safety improvements and today BART has completed work on 24 of the agency’s 34 stations and 70 of its 74 miles of tracks.

BART officials said today that the work has paid off—no earthquake-related disruptions were reported on BART Sunday, while Amtrak tracks through the Capitol Corridor were closed for the morning and early afternoon for track inspections and Caltrain reported delays throughout the morning.

BART Director James Fang called it a “magnificent indication” of what the nearly $1 billion bond was used for.

BART also recently completed retrofit work on the Transbay Tube including flexible seismic joints, transition structures and structural upgrades.

McPartland said today that the tube under the Bay is one of the safest places in the BART system in the event of an earthquake.

“That thing is just as solid as you can get,” he said.

7 Charts That Show How Good Mass Transit Can Make a City More Affordable

The rent can be a little damn high, so long as the ride isn't.


By Eric Jaffe, August 25, 2014


Housing costs are often the first to come to mind when we think about whether or not a city is affordable. If the rent is too damn high, the city is too damn expensive. That's largely true, but transportation costs also have a lot to do with it. HUD actually combines the two numbers into a single "location affordability" index: if those two expenses make up more than 45 percent of your income, the city isn't affordable to you.

The importance of transportation costs in this equation—and, more specifically, the role of transit in reducing these costs—comes into clear focus in a series of new reports on city affordability from the Citizens Budget Commission. Take a look at this CBC chart on average annual rent paid by residents of 22 large U.S. metro areas (New York is highlighted because it was the CBC's primary focus):

By these housing figures alone, you'd expect the cities at the top to be the least affordable, and those at the bottom to be the most. But now here's the chart of the same 22 cities ranked by location affordability:

Now we see that many of the cities with high housing costs also have the best location affordability—particularly Washington, D.C., San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Boston, and San Jose. Each of these cities is in the top ten for affordability despite also being in the top ten for highest rent. In the case of San Jose, high Silicon Valley incomes offset high local expenses. But the key for the five other cities is being among the least expensive in terms of transportation costs:

These five metros—Washington, San Francisco, New York, Seattle, and Boston—share an obvious trait: good public transportation systems. Strong transit makes it possible to reduce car ownership and all the expenses that go along with it, from purchase cost to maintenance to gas to insurance. And so we find that these same cities also rank near the top in terms of both commuter transit share and households without vehicles:

Things get more interesting when we separate location affordability by household types. For a moderate-income household (making 80 percent of the regional median), the five most affordable cities in terms of combined transportation and housing costs are Washington (34 percent of income), San Francisco (37), New York (37), Philadelphia (37), and Los Angeles (38). All five are in the top ten in terms of transportation costs, and three are in the top five:


Now let's take a look at location affordability for low-income families (defined as making half of the HUD area median). Now the top five includes San Francisco (42 percent), Washington (43), Philadelphia (46), Seattle (47), and New York (47). The pattern is clear; major cities with low transportation costs can remain relatively more affordable than others, even if they have higher housing costs:


Flipping the list, we see a reverse effect. The five worst cities in terms of location affordability for low-income families are San Antonio (71 percent), Riverside (71), Jacksonville (64), San Diego (62), and Phoenix (61)—all car-reliant places that rank poorly on annual transportation costs, transit share, and zero-vehicle households. In the case of San Antonio, the high cost of transportation is enough to make the metro area unaffordable to low-income families even though it's the cheapest in terms of annual rent.


None of this is to say that cities don't have lots of work to do when it comes to affordable housing. For low-income families, only two of the 22 cities fall below the HUD location affordability threshold of 45 percent—San Francisco and Washington—and those are right near the line. But if affordability is the ultimate goal, then reducing transportation costs is a key part of the conversation. Strong transit may not be sufficient to make a city affordable, but it's definitely necessary.