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 17, 2014

Honolulu Is Building America's First Fully Driverless Transit System

But there are doubts about whether it will inspire other U.S. cities to follow suit.


By Amy Crawford, September 17, 2014


 A rendering of a rail canopy at a new HART station, which is scheduled to begin operations in 2017. 

Perfect weather and sandy beaches might spring to mind when a mainlander thinks of Honolulu. But this metro area of nearly 1 million people is far from paradise for those who get stuck in its notorious traffic, which competes with Los Angeles for the title of worst in the United States.

"Anybody who flies into Honolulu and drives into town—heading to Waikiki, for example—you are immediately struck by the H-1 freeway, seven lanes of traffic going in the same direction," says Dan Grabauskas, executive director and CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation ­(HART). "And if you land at rush hour, it's a standstill. It surprises people when they come here, to see how much congestion we face."

HART is working on an alternative to that miserable commute: a 20-mile elevated rail line—a first for the islands—that will whisk passengers between downtown and outlying communities in a fraction of the time it currently takes to crawl through rush hour traffic. With the first trips planned for 2017, the $5.2 billion Honolulu Rail Transit Project is expected to reduce congestion by 18 percent, taking as many as 40,000 automobiles off the road and replacing them with a fleet of four-car trains that can accommodate up to 800 riders, with racks for both bicycles and surfboards.

But surfboard storage will not be the project's only unique feature; this will also be the first fully automated wide-scale urban transit system in the United States. Instead of human drivers, a centrally-located computer system will control stops, departures, and speed, and even open and close doors. Operation will be cheaper than for manually-driven rail, says Grabauskas, and he also expects it to be safer. "There are transit systems where driver error has caused collisions or other incidents," he says. "The driverless operation we have is going to be very safe."

It should also be more reliable. Eliminating the unpredictability of human drivers will help trains stick to their schedules, and consistent acceleration and deceleration means they can safely run closer together. Over the course of a 20-hour daily schedule, system managers will also be able to increase the frequency of service in response to demand, without having to call in additional personnel. "We can make pretty nimble service changes," Grabauskas says, "almost literally with the press of a button. Driverless systems offer tremendous advantages."
HART's new trains (rendered above) will be the first truly driverless ones on a wide-scale U.S. transit system.
Despite his enthusiasm—and that of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and local business leaders—truly driverless transit has yet to catch on elsewhere in the United States. While many urban systems have some level of automation, including New York's subway and the San Francisco Bay Area's BART, right now only people-movers like the AirTrain at JFK Airport and the monorail along the Las Vegas Strip run without human operators. That's not the case elsewhere in the world. Driverless trains have become fairly common in Asia and in Europe, where Paris automated its oldest and busiest Metro line in 2012, increasing passengers per hour by 25 percent.

Honolulu's system is modeled on the Copenhagen Metro, which has been operating since 2002 and won "best subway" at the international MetroRail conference in 2008. Grabauskas reports "a tremendous amount of interest" in Honolulu's system among his mainland U.S. colleagues. But Louis Sanders, director of technical services at the American Public Transportation Association, says not to expect established systems to go driverless any time soon.

One might expect transit worker unions to be the primary obstacle—after all, a driverless system puts drivers out of work. But while unions have balked at taking drivers off automated trains in London and New York, Sanders says it isn't labor that's holding back automation. Nor is it safety questions, despite the 2009 crash of an automated (though staffed) Metro train in Washington, D.C., which killed nine people and forced the transit agency to run trains manually until the aging automatic system can be updated.
Renderings of the Airport (top) and East Kapolei stations.
"I think people will be accepting of it," says Sanders, noting that driverless trains are generally equipped with obstacle detection capabilities, closed-circuit cameras, and emergency communication systems. "People get on people-movers at airports." The big issue, he says, is that despite the potential savings down the line, it's expensive to convert existing systems into driverless ones. The technology in place for semi-autonomous transit in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco was put in place years ago and would take loads of money—and political will—to overhaul completely. "To take advantage of driverless, you have to change everything you do," Sanders says.

In Honolulu, which is starting from scratch, automation was perhaps the easiest thing about making the system a reality. The rail line was "decades in the making," says Jennifer Sabas, former chief of staff to Hawaii's Sen. Daniel Inouye, who secured $1.5 billion in federal funding for the rail line before his death in 2012. Sabas now serves as executive director of Move Oahu Forward, a business- and labor-backed non-profit organized to support the line in the face of opposition from residents and politicians who argued that the elevated tracks and stations would loom over the landscape, and that the system, which will be funded by a half-cent surcharge on the state's general excise tax in addition to the federal contribution, simply cost too much. "Since there was such an issue over whether to even build a train, the driverless aspect hasn't gotten much attention," says Sabas.
Getting car-centric Honolulu to embrace rail was a struggle, but now that construction is visibly underway, attitudes appear to be changing—especially since traffic on Oahu is only getting worse. "You have communities where people have to sit in traffic for an hour and a half," says Sabas. "Polling data shows that those who live in the most congested areas and are fighting traffic every day are the most supportive of the rail line."

But it's not just commuters who stand to benefit. Some 8 million people visit Hawaii every year, and for many of them the new driverless rail line will help set their first impression of the islands. That's something many in the local tourism industry are banking on—and it might also help make the case for driverless transit elsewhere in the United States.

Kuehl-Shriver Debate


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In a debate marked by polite jabs - and few large disagreements - former State Senator Sheila Kuehl and former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver faced off Tuesday night in Westwood to woo voters for a seat on Los Angeles County’s powerful Board of Supervisors.

Kuehl said she dealt “with the very issues that the county must face” during her 14 years in the state legislature in Sacramento - from health care to juvenile justice to housing policies. She said she'd authored 171 bills signed by three governors: two Republicans and one Democrat.

“This is not an entry level position,” she said, noting the enormity of the county - and it's problems. The line was a clear jab at Shriver's political experience as a former Santa Monica councilman and mayor.

Shriver didn't miss a beat, shooting back: “I’m not an entry level guy.”

The nephew of President John F. Kennedy, Shriver said he'd convinced Republicans in Congress to provide more funding to alleviate AIDS in Africa.

“The scoring of political points and trying to posture - as is frequently done in Sacramento - doesn't make sense” in county politics, he said.

Those were about the biggest fireworks during the debate, the first since the primary.

Kuehl, 73, and Shriver, 60, both said they agree with an increase in the minimum wage. Both also support asking voters for an extension of the half-cent sales tax to pay for county transportation projects.

Their main policy disagreements centered on the route of the purple line (Kuehl wants to move it) and business tax breaks (Shriver favors them).

The democrats are vying replace Zev Yaroslavasky on the five-member board, which oversees a $26 billion budget. Yaroslavsky is termed out of office.

The winner will represent the sprawling third district, which includes Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and most of the San Fernando Valley. Yaroslavsky has not endorsed anyone in the race, and both candidates made sure to tell the audience of about 200 at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse Tuesday they "love" the supervisor's work.

Kuehl finished above Shriver in the June primary, 36-29 percent, with 150,000 votes cast. Well over twice that number is expected to cast ballots in November and the race is expected to be close.

Perhaps the moment that best illustrated how their candidacies would change the county came when Kuehl called Nevada a “fool” for offering Tesla Motors $1.3 billion in tax incentives to build a battery plant there instead of California.

Shriver, who is endorsed by the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, disagreed.

“It's one of the greatest investment misses that I’ve seen in a long time,” Shriver said.

Kuehl, who is backed by most labor unions, asked why not create more government jobs instead of offering tax breaks to companies that re-locate.

“People say ‘oh my god government jobs.’  But they’re good middle class jobs with benefits," she said.

Kuehl also said she opposed a move by the current Board of Supervisors to require a four-fifths majority vote to increase wages for county workers. Shriver said he would be comfortable with such a requirement if it applied only between budget cycles.

The debate was sponsored by the university, the L.A. Business Council and the Century City Chamber of Commerce.

As for the new subway line, Kuehl said she would be open to changing the route of the Purple Line to avoid burrowing under Beverly Hills High School, in response to a lawsuit by the city of Beverly Hills.

“If we could get people to feel that they had just a little win," she said, "maybe we could make those cases go away and that would save a lot of money.”

Shriver countered that he's opposed to any changes. He said they could jeopardize federal funding and suggested Kuehl is buckling to pressure.

He said sticking firm to the proposed route is “a real test of political courage.”

Next Up For Brooklyn, an Urban Gondola

The East River Skyway aims to alleviate transit congestion along the Brooklyn waterfront by taking commuters off the grid.

By Kriston Capps, September 16, 2014


Certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn have earned a reputation for their whimsicality. This proposal won't help counter that stereotype one bit. But it might make it a little easier to get around New York's fastest-growing waterfront areas.

The East River Skyway is a proposal for a multi-phase urban gondola to connect the growing residential and commercial corridors between Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. The proposal calls for an aerial transit system to be built out in stages, with the first line connecting the Lower East Side and Williamsburg. Subsequent lines might include a connection between Lower Manhattan, Dumbo, and Brooklyn Navy Yard, as well as a line threading between Midtown, Roosevelt Island, Long Island City, and Williamsburg.

The Skyway is the brainchild of Daniel Levy, president of CityRealty, an online real-estate company—though it is not his idea alone, of course. The Skyway builds off the successes of the Roosevelt Island Tram, which Creative Urban Projects president (and Gondola Project evangelist) Steven Dale describes in a release as "the most reliable piece of transportation in New York."

Can that earnest but modest success be replicated across a broad swath of New York? There's not enough detail in this early-stage proposal to say for sure, but the general outline sure sounds pleasant. A cable car could convey riders from Williamsburg to Manhattan in under 4 minutes. More than 5,000 people could take the gondola in each direction in an hour, according to CityRealty.

While an urban gondola might sound rather fantastical for Brooklyn—or all too fitting, depending on your read of the place—it's a transit option that's increasingly viable. Oregon Health & Science University operates and largely funds the Portland Aerial Tram, which ferries riders from Portland's South Waterfront neighborhood to the university's Marquam Hill campus. While that's the only other urban gondola system in the U.S., Frog Design sketched up a mass-transit gondola system for Austin called the Wire two years ago.

Outside the U.S., urban gondolas are more common, especially in South America, where a few major metro areas have really taken to them. MedellĂ­n, Colombia—which kicked off the urban-gondola transit revolution in 2004—announced the construction of a third Metrocable line last week. In La Paz, Bolivia, the third and longest line of the city's gondola system, the Yellow Line, started operations yesterday. The city of Manizales, Columbia, joins Caracas and Rio de Janeiro as cities that have embraced the gondola as a form of mass transit. Santiago has one in the works.

Many more gondola systems are built in places like Squamish, British Columbia—the "Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada"—where it serves primarily as a draw for sightseers. (Though Squamish is close enough to Vancouver that the gondola is probably used by some who work in Vancouver but call Squamish home.) Whether it works for Brooklyn depends in part on how well the existing transit infrastructure can meet ridership needs, especially as new housing projects emerge at the former Domino Sugar Factory, Greenpoint Landing, and Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Levy's report notes that expanding additional infrastructure is difficult. (Some Brooklynites, especially existing homeowners, cite the strain on infrastructure as a reason to challenge new housing developments across the borough.) The CityRealty report notes that ridership at the Bedford Avenue station has increased 50 percent since 2007. If you had any question about the riders the East River Skyway gondola aims to serve, it's gentrifiers.

It's not clear that ridership in Williamsburg is close to capacity, though. As Stephen Jacob Smith reported in The New York Observer last year, the L Train boasts a maximum rush-hour capacity of 26 trains per hour. A bit more than the current capacity, and a lot more than the present load for nights and weekends.

"The L’s excess capacity is measured in the tens of thousands of riders per day, while [Domino developer] Jed Walentas is only looking to add 2,284 new apartments to the waterfront—apartments that will be as close to the Marcy Avenue stop on the J/M/Z as they are to the Bedford Avenue L," Smith writes.

Which is not to say that a gondola couldn't help matters, especially when mega-projects like Greenpoint Landing come online. The urban cable car can also prove cheaper to build than alternatives.

"Running subway lines under a city can cost about $400 million per mile," said Michael McDaniel, a designer with the firm looking to bring the gondola to Austin, in an interview with Marketplace. "Light rails systems run about $36 million per mile. But the aerial ropeways required to run gondolas cost just $3 million to $12 million to install per mile."

Building a gondola line in Dumbo, Williamsburg, or Long Island City is a different proposition than building one in Austin or Portland. Not just because the costs would be higher (though they probably would). Building a transit system that appears to benefit the most promising parcels in gentrifying New York has greater obstacles to overcome than cost.

Why Bike Lovers Should Be Happy About 'Bikelash'

Public hatred of biking culture is actually a natural part of its evolution into the mainstream.

By Sarah Goodyear, September 15, 2014


“Bikelash” is a snappy little word that names a condition quite familiar to anyone who’s been following the politics of city streets in the United States over the past few years. It describes the resistance and hostility that the increasing presence of bikes on city streets sometimes produces in people who don’t ride bikes. That hostility can take many forms: drivers who honk and throw trash at people on two wheels, talk radio hosts inveighing against “the tyranny of the bike cult,” politicians (looking at you, Rob Ford) who remove bike infrastructure to theoretically ease the way for cars.

An early (hyphenated) use of the word shows up in The New Republic atop a 2010 discussion of the push for more active transportation infrastructure by then-secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation Ray LaHood. But the term really gained traction in 2011, when New York magazine used it on a cover for a story about anti-bike sentiment in the city.

That feature focused on a lawsuit seeking to remove a protected bike lane bordering Prospect Park in Brooklyn. (The plaintiffs, a group paradoxically called Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes, are still pressing their case in the courts despite numerous defeats, an analysis by Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight showing that the lane has not caused tie-ups for car traffic, and lots of cute kids who enjoy pedaling there in safety.)

NBBL’s quixotic legal quest became emblematic of the animosity some New Yorkers felt toward a Department of Transportation, then headed by commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, that systematically took street space away from cars and gave it to bicyclists and pedestrians. In that conversation, people on bikes were monolithically cast as law-breaking, dangerous, selfish, and out of touch with ordinary New Yorkers.

The word “bikelash” caught on, like any useful meme, and since then people writing about cities as far-flung as Seattle, Philadelphia, Columbus, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., have used it. Advocates Aaron Naparstek and Doug Gordon gave a humorous presentation on “Moving Beyond Bikelash!” at the 2014 National Bike Summit this past spring. It advised those encountering bikelash to “be gracious toward your opponents.” Arrogance, the presenters suggested, is not a great tactic, nor is anti-car vitriol.

Now Clarence Eckerson of Streetfilms has made a video interviewing bike advocates from around the country at this year's Pro Walk Pro Bike Pro Place conference, held earlier this month in Pittsburgh, about their response to bikelash. The consensus seems to be that bikelash is an inevitable part of the evolution of bicycle transportation in North America, a phase that most be gotten through with patience and positivity. (I would argue this should also be done through compliance with existing traffic laws, even when they don’t always make sense for people on bikes.)

Samantha Ollinger of San Diego’s BikeSD says she often responds to people expressing anti-bike sentiment by urging them to remember riding bikes when they were kids. “Everyone has typically a very positive association with their first ride,” she says. “So once you get people in that space, when they’re thinking about what it was like to ride as a kid, you’ve got them primed and ready and willing to listen to your message.”

Kit Keller, executive director of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals, says that bikelash is part of the cycle that happens along with any big societal shift. “We say there are three stages of social change,” says Keller. “Ridicule, violent opposition, and then acceptance. And sometimes there’s a fourth stage, too, where someone who has been opposed to it from the beginning will say, ‘Oh, that was such a great idea, I was really for it from the start.’ And it makes all of us giggle and be happy, and we just go on doing good work.”

“Bikelash, I think, a little counterintuitively, is a great thing to be dealing with,” says Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists. “It’s a high-class problem to have. Because it means that we’re actually making a difference. It means we’re actually forcing difficult decisions in a good way, in a constructive way, on communities as they decide what they’re going to look like in the future.”

See webiste for a video.

School District Digs Themselves a Hole on Subway


By Joel Epstein, September 16, 2014


BEVERLY HILLS … CITY OF NO?-Is this any way to run a railroad? Or a school board? Is this any way to treat the residents of Los Angeles County and the business community? 
I write regarding the Beverly Hills Unified School District’s improper use of voter-approved school construction bond funds to pay for attorneys fighting the extension of the Wilshire Boulevard subway. Over the past six months I have taken my concerns to the Los Angeles County Attorney, the California Attorney General and the Los Angeles County District Attorney. To date, all three offices have taken the French approach to work in August in addressing my concerns.

Why my persistence? Because a subway to the Westside is decades late and no one has the right to use money earmarked by the voters for school construction to stand in its way. Poor transportation is among the leading obstacles to economic development in Los Angeles County. Collectively, commuters waste thousands of hours and gallons of gasoline driving through our infamous traffic to get to jobs on the Westside. 

The Beverly Hills School District has spent several million dollars in school construction funds battling the Metro Purple Line subway route. A recent issue of the Beverly Hills Weekly documents the board’s expenditures on lawyers and redundant environmental review. 

This spending is not authorized by voters who approved Measure E, the Beverly Hills School construction bond measure, in 2008. As Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has noted, the use of Measure E funds for something other than building and improving educational facilities, as the voters intended, “certainly raises an eyebrow.” 

It is time the Los Angeles business community joined with me in calling for an investigation to determine whether the School District should cease and desist and repay the voters of Beverly Hills the millions it has improperly wasted. Additionally, law enforcement should look into whether school board members have violated civil or criminal statutes acting as they have. Spending voter-approved school construction funds on attorneys is no different from the School Board authorizing construction funds be spent on new cars or other gifts for board members. Giving the Board carte blanche to spend voter-approved school construction funds on whatever it wants was not the intention of the voters when they approved Measure E. 

State law requires that money raised through such voter-approved school bonds be used only for the projects outlined in the approved list.  Measure E authorized $334 million worth of bonds to pay for a general list of goals, which included “safe and modernized school facilities ... necessary structural seismic safety repairs, (to) upgrade, repair and reconstruct aging classrooms, infrastructure, multi-use, gyms, libraries, science, technology and labs.” 

According to a recent performance audit, the School District had not completed construction for any major project other than the Horace Mann School auditorium renovation as of June 30, 2013. It has been nearly five years since the measure passed.

The School District is apparently operating under the guidance of a legal opinion that defends the use of the funds to fight Los Angeles Metro. This is a curious, self-serving legal opinion that may be against public policy and is certainly negatively impacting me, and hundreds of thousands of other commuters, in Los Angeles in that it is impeding extension of the subway. Even one day more is too long to wait for this critical piece of regional transit infrastructure.

As a resident of Los Angeles County and public transit rider, I am negatively impacted by the Beverly Hills School Board contravention of the law and will of the voters in their approval of Measure E. So is the region’s economic development. 

It is time the business community stood together in calling for an investigation into the actions of the Beverly Hills School Board. This is no way to build a railroad or run a school district.