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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Obama administration's highway fix could mean more tolls


By Gregory Korte, September 9, 2014


WASHINGTON — With a short-term fix papering over a shortfall in the highway trust fund, the Obama administration is looking for more creative ways to build and fix the nations's roads and bridges.

For many drivers, that could mean more tolls.

The Treasury and Transportation departments convened an "infrastructure summit" in Washington Tuesday to bring together investors, philanthropists, construction firms and state and government agencies.

President Obama called for the summit in July while appearing at the I-495 bridge in Wilmington, Del., asking his Cabinet to get more involved in finding creative financing for those projects because Congress has not passed a long-term extension of the gas tax.

The $10.8 billion highway bill Obama signed in August keeps the highway trust fund solvent for 10 months by using a budgetary maneuver called pension smoothing, which indirectly takes the money from corporate pension funds.

Officials estimate that the nation will need $1 trillion to maintain its transportation, water, and electricity systems between now and 2020.

Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said the Treasury Department is launching a study that will try to identify the planned transportation and water projects that will provide the biggest economic boost. .

Lew said budget shortfalls at all levels of government "make it all the more important to come up with fresh, innovative ways to unlock capital and get more projects underway. That means we have to work more closely with the private sector and channel more private investment into infrastructure projects."

For many motorists, that could mean that future new lanes on congested interstates could be financed by tolls. Drivers would have a choice between the slower free lanes and the faster toll lanes.
Transportation officials at the summit were bullish on these public-provate partnerships, but are worried about "tolling fatigue."

"Most of the time, a toll road provides an alternative," said James Bass, chief financial officer of the Texas Department of Transportation. "As it kind of grows and grows, we may find ourselves where it's not an alternative. It may be the only solution in some areas."

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced three projects Tuesday that he held out as examples of what the Obama administration was trying to encourage:

• A $950 million to Florida for the I-4 project, a 21.1 mile roadway through Orlando, that will add four express toll lanes and replace or improve 15 interchanges and 71 bridges. The public-private project is the largest loan ever approved under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

• An allocation of $1.2 billion in federal bonds to help Pennsylvania engage in an ambitious plan to replace 600 bridges in 42 months. By bundling the projects together, the administration says it can streamline financing and environmental reviews.

• A $20 million grant program for planning commercial and residential developments near mass transit hubs.

"We're putting two feet into this effort already," Foxx said.

Can Waving Orange Flags Really Make Pedestrians Safer?

More cities are trying to make crossing the street less deadly by handing out low-tech flags. But does this just make walkers seem weird?


By Sarah Goodyear, September 9, 2014


Florida is a lousy place to walk. Life-threatening, even. Four of the 10 metro areas where pedestrians are most likely to be killed by drivers are in the Sunshine State, according to rankings released earlier this year by Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition.

Fort Lauderdale was one of the cities on that miserable list, and city leaders have said they are committed to improving conditions for people on foot using a number of strategies. One of which is asking them to carry an orange flag when crossing a particularly busy boulevard in the heart of the city.

Fort Lauderdale officials say that they’re putting out the bright orange flags as just one part of a vision of the city’s transportation future [PDF] in which “the pedestrian is first.” They’ve got a long way to go. During a 2012 telephone town meeting, only 10 percent of Fort Lauderdale residents said the city was “very pedestrian friendly,” while 54 percent said it “needs lots of improvement.” Sixty percent of respondents to a survey said they thought more bikeable and walkable streets should be among the city’s top priorities for capital investment.

The flags aren’t costing much, only about $60 for 15 of the orange banners (although some have already been stolen). “The idea of adding the flags was to add another element of safety, and it’s a minimal cost to the city,” Vice Mayor Romney Rogers told the Miami Herald. “It’s all part of the process of changing people’s ideas about transportation.”

But are flags the right way to do that? What message are they really sending?

Pedestrian flags, with their relatively cheap, low-tech appeal, are nothing new. They are reportedly common in Japan, especially around schools. They’ve been deployed by neighborhood activists trying to improve street safety in Hawaii. Kirkland, Washington, has had a flag program since the mid-1990s, which a study found to be “moderately effective.” [PDF]

Berkeley and Seattle both tried the flags, too, before giving them up as a waste of resources. According to Berkeley’s study of the program, “the use of the flags did not have a noticeable effect upon driver behavior,” and many flags were stolen, leading to high replacement costs. (Also, this being Berkeley, “Many of those who picked up the flags used them for purposes other than for which they were intended.”)

Still, people keep trying it. Bridgeport, Connecticut, has a pilot flag program going on. In St. Paul, Minnesota, Macalester College introduced flags near campus recently after two students were hit and severely injured in a crosswalk in May. One car had stopped for them, but another drove through the crossing, critically injuring one of the students.

Those flags are part of a multipronged effort to improve drivers' awareness of the Minnesota law that requires them to stop for people crossing. "You still have to be cautious, but the flags give you one more tool,” a Macalester employee told the Pioneer Press. “Some drivers look at you like you're a lunatic and they blow by you, but the majority of the people stop."

Of course, it only takes one person “blowing by” to kill you.

A recent study of driver behavior in Chicago highlights just how difficult it is to change driver behavior—and offers some insight into strategies that actually work. For four years, Illinois has had a law requiring motorists to stop at a painted crosswalk to let pedestrians cross. But according to an observational study conducted by the advocacy group Active Transportation Alliance, only 18 percent of drivers on average stopped for people on foot in a marked crosswalk.

The story was markedly different, however, at crossings designated by more than just paint. At crosswalks with flashing lights, brick or stone crosswalks, signs, or raised crosswalks, the rate went up to 61 percent. Still depressingly low, and still indicative of a pedestrian-hostile environment. But far better.

What’s more, the street designs that proved effective in Chicago and its suburbs don’t require pedestrians to do something that many might feel is silly—like carrying a flag. They don’t make it seem like crossing the street is an unusual or eccentric thing to do. They weave the protections for the pedestrians into the fabric of the street itself.

Part of the reason drivers in so many parts of the country treat people on foot as if they were invisible is that the streets are designed to keep traffic moving, funneling through the maximum number of cars in the minimum amount of time. More visible crosswalks and other visual cues can help with that part.

But another very important factor is that many people in this country don’t walk very much themselves. They don’t project themselves in the pedestrian’s frame of mind when they’re driving, because they are rarely in the pedestrian’s position at any other time.

In many communities, people traveling by foot are often stigmatized as poor or mentally ill. Expecting people to carry flags so they can cross without getting killed—in the words of Kirkland’s campaign, expecting them to “Take It to Make It”—only increases the sense that being a person on foot is somehow weird or embarrassing. Cities should instead be doing everything they can to advance the radical notion that walking is a perfectly normal thing to do.

Why the People in Charge of Transit Systems Should Be Required to Actually Ride Transit

It may sound obvious, but it's a big problem in cities across the country.

By Eric Jaffe, September 10, 2014


Christof Spieler moved to downtown Houston about nine years ago and began a reverse commute to a suburban office park. He took the No. 9 Gulfton Metro bus because he liked to get things done during the ride and hated sitting in traffic, but the service left much to be desired. The bus didn't run very often (every 20 minutes or more, even at rush-hour); transfers were hard to coordinate; and the pedestrian infrastructure near the stops was terrifying (to reach the office, he braved five lanes of car traffic without a signal or a crosswalk).

"It really gave me a good feel of what the system's like," he says.

Fast-forward to today and Spieler now sits on Metro's board of directors. An engineer at Morris who also lectures at Rice, Spieler played an instrumental role in developing Metro's Reimagining plan—a dazzling redesign of the entire bus system that stresses all-day frequency and smart connections. But he couldn't have done it without his experience on Metro as a guide, which makes him Exhibit A for why the people planning America's transit systems, from board members to senior management to project designers, should be riders themselves.

"There are way too many people working on transit who don't actually ride transit," he says. "If you're going to be making decisions about transit, you really need to know what it's actually like. Not what it's like in theory, but what it's actually like. "

The problem is familiar to transit leadership across the country. In August, a San Francisco Examiner op-ed challenged the people who run Muni to "actually ride Muni." Last year, an analysis of Chicago's CTA found that the board chair rode the system only 18 times in 2012, and a Washington Post survey found many D.C. Metro board members either couldn't or wouldn't "name the exact bus lines or rail stops they used regularly." In 2008, the vice chair of New York's MTA board famously asked: "Why should I ride and inconvenience myself when I can ride in a car?"

Such a practice would be unimaginable in private industries—think of an Apple employee using a PC—and Spieler thinks the same should go for public transportation. The importance of service frequency, or rather the immense frustration of infrequency, is hard to grasp for someone whose car is always ready and waiting. The mindset that agencies should only care about customers when they're on a transit vehicle, but not during their walk to the station, is also an artifact of inexperience, he says.

Take, for instance, a pedestrian oversight that occurred during the roll-out of Houston's light rail system. When the Northline stop was under construction, recalls Spieler, the walkway from the light rail station to the adjacent bus transit center was so indirect that riders had worn a more direct path in the dirt. It was an easy fix, but the type of issue any veteran rider would have spotted in a second—as Spieler originally did while cycling by to watch the progress.

"The reason nobody had caught it was that whole thing was essentially designed by people who were used to seeing the world through the windshield of a car," he says. "If that's your point of view of the world, you do not notice that."

Today Spieler commutes on the light rail ("It's absolutely reliable," he raves, "and it's freedom"), but even his old No. 9 bus would get a modest upgrade in Metro's Reimagining plan. The proposed system expands the network of "frequent" buses that arrive every 15 minutes or better, and it reaches job centers across the city instead of only the downtown core—all for no new operating costs. Spieler says transit experience was "absolutely key" in creating the new vision, pointing out that many long-time riders (in particular, planning director Kurt Luhrsen) helped guide the concept.

Houston Metro / TEI & Asakura Robinson Co.
Metro cemented this new leadership culture by establishing a policy that required senior management to ride the system at least 40 times a month. Spieler believes all city agencies and transit boards and even design firms should self-impose similar mandates. That's not just to improve the system; it's also a credibility thing, both among lower-level staff and the public. Spieler recalls a time when he introduced himself to a bus rider and got the following response: "A board member on a bus? I thought you only did this for photo opps."

"I see a lot of our system," he says. "I see the good parts of the system. I see the bad parts of the system. And it makes it real."

Southern California transportation leaders looking toward $2 billion cap-and-trade windfall


By Steve Scauzillo, September 5, 2014


Justin Beck, of Pasadena, reads while waiting for the westbound Metro Gold Line at Lake Station in Pasadena Tuesday morning, April 26, 2011. Metro officials say 3,000 more people per day rode the Gold Line this March as compared to March 2010, a 10 percent increase as gas prices topped $4 a gallon in Los Angeles County. 

Southern California leaders are anticipating a $2 billion windfall in transportation dollars from the state’s expanding cap-and-trade program that could be used for building more pay lanes or funding the county’s growing bus and rail system.

As dollars from the gasoline tax drop, transportation planners will turn to polluters — including oil companies — who will begin to pay into the state’s cap-and-trade program in 2015 set up in a market-based exchange.

The program was part of the state’s AB 32 laws passed in 2006 to substantially reduce greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

State officials predict the cap-and-trade fund will grow from about $1 billion to $5 billion next year, when oil companies begin to pay for carbon emissions. Of that, about 40 percent would flow to transportation for everything from a rail line into LAX, to light-rail across the foothills to Claremont to pay lanes on the 105, 134, 5 and 405 freeways.

“This is huge,” said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments. “This is the only new source of transportation funding we have.” Ikhrata was part of 1,000 leaders from seven Southern California counties who came here Friday to discuss transportation solutions as part of an annual Mobility 21 Summit.

“Traffic doesn’t care about borders, so we need to work together as a region to expand our transportation options and help people get around more easily,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a guest speaker.

“The regional approach is the only way for us to move forward. Traffic has never been worse. It is probably the No. 1 concern for all of our constituents,” said Garcetti.

The group calls Southern California one of the most congested regions in the country. Motorists driving in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Orange County region waste 502 million hours each year in traffic in total, or about 61 hours per year per automobile commuter. Drivers in the Inland Empire waste 51 million hours per year or 38 hours per automobile commuter, according to the Mobility 21 group.

To address basic needs, Southern California needs $26.6 billion to repair state highways, $44.3 billion for streets and $1.8 billion for local bridge work in the next 10 years, the group estimated.

When Garcetti was asked what projects Los Angeles would apply for under new cap and trade transportation funds, he answered: “It should not just be for capital projects. I would hope it is also for operational costs.”

Garcetti, who is also chairman of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority known as Metro, was referring to the giant agency’s $36 million operating deficit. Although the board voted to raise fares effective Sept. 15, it won’t be enough to lift the agency out of the red. Some have suggested raising fares again in 2015 or 2016.

“I want to keep those fares down,” he said.

About 60 percent of cap-and-trade funds will be reserved for transportation, including 25 percent for the California high-speed rail project. The remainder can be spent on local transportation projects and 5 percent can go toward ongoing transit operations, said Brian Kelly, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, a luncheon speaker.

New monies — about $216 million — has been allotted for bicycle and pedestrian projects throughout the state, he said. Of the 148 projects funded, 82 of them were in Southern California, Kelly said.

Cap and trade remains controversial because it could translate into higher gasoline prices, many speakers said Friday. Another perhaps more touchy potential revenue source is a mileage-based tax on motorists, something Kelly said the state is exploring.

“We need a long-term funding source for California to meet our demands,” he said.