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, September 22, 2014

O.C. agency backs 405 widening, possibly clearing way for toll lanes


Titus seeks support to revive Amtrak in Vegas


By Steve Tetreault, September 21, 2014


 Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev.

WASHINGTON — With glitzier modes of passenger rail seemingly having fallen by the track, Rep. Dina Titus says Las Vegas should look into what it might take to restore conventional Amtrak service to Southern California.

Titus said she’ll be shopping the idea to local leaders and economic development consultants this fall.
She floated the plan last week when the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved an Amtrak bill focused mostly at shoring up service along the Northeast Corridor, where government-subsidized rail makes money.

“The Southwest is getting overlooked,” the Las Vegas Democrat said in an interview. “My proposal is let’s do a study to see if it makes sense to put rail back in. You have to start somewhere.”

Amtrak dropped its Desert Wind route between Los Angeles and Ogden, Utah, via Las Vegas and Salt Lake City in 1997. Titus confessed she never boarded the Desert Wind, “but I would ride it now.”

“There have been passenger studies, ridership studies in the past but since then our population has grown and our tourist population has grown by 10 million,” she said. Titus added tourists from Europe “like to ride the train.”

Titus said she planned to meet with House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and to run the idea by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who might take some persuading.

Reid said this summer he is committed to high-speed rail, and Amtrak “is not high-speed rail.”

“It’s an antiquated system, and I’m glad we have it, but it’s not very good,” he said at an appearance in Las Vegas.

Several projects have been put on the table since Amtrak dropped Las Vegas, but none have taken hold.

A plan to employ magnetic levitation technology to whisk rail passengers between Las Vegas and Southern California was delivered a major blow after Reid in 2009 withdrew his support for it and federal money subsequently dried up.

Reid instead backed the high-speed Desert Xpress whose investors included figures in the casino industry and longtime Reid friend Sig Rogich. But the project, later renamed Xpress West, has been unable to secure a $5.5 billion federal loan.

In recent interviews, Reid insisted XPressWest is not dead and he has discussed it with high-level members of the Obama administration. Officials at the Federal Railroad Administration did not respond to a query this summer whether the project’s loan status had changed.

Another firm, Las Vegas Railway Express, said late last year it was seeking partners for a strategy to run passenger rail between Las Vegas and Southern California.

For passenger rail to advance in Southern Nevada, state and local interests would have to spearhead it, much as officials along the Gulf Coast have taken initiative in seeking to restore service between Orlando, Fla., and New Orleans that was knocked out by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of the National Association of Railroad Passengers.

Amtrak has little money beyond what it needs to maintain its current system and perhaps make small improvements to its profitable segments, Jeans-Gail said. Congress has not been ambitious about funding rail, he added.

“Amtrak, the way it is currently run, is not going to take the initiative to build a line, so it’s going to have to be a state-led process,” he said. California, which is pursuing its own long and costly high-speed rail, wouldn’t be expected to be much help, he said.

One possibility, he said: “They could approach XPressWest for a public-private partnership.”

“Its always heartening to hear people recognize the importance of rail,” Jeans-Gail said. If all funding and permissions miraculously fell in place, Las Vegas service could be restored in five years.

But he cautioned, “you shouldn’t get that excited.” The levels of support envisioned in Congress “just doesn’t provide that much funding for the states to do it.”

Medzerian: Dear MTA: I love your trains, but ...


By David Medzerian, September 18, 2014


 The 10-keyed wonder: An MTA ticket machine stands ready to do battle.

Dear Metropolitan Transportation Authority:

Before I get into anything else, let me make one thing perfectly clear: I love your trains. I take them several times a week. I can’t remember the last time I drove into Los Angeles from Long Beach. The last two times I flew from LAX, I took the train to the airport (well, almost to the airport).

But, I’m starting to think that – how I can put this nicely? – you have no idea what you are doing.

For instance:

• The fare “increase” you imposed Monday makes no sense. I understand that you need additional money – everything’s more expensive than it used to be. But if you need more money, why did you introduce free transfers on most one-way tickets?

For my trips, which usually involve two trains in each direction, I used to buy a $5 day pass (which now costs $7).

But thanks to the free transfers, now I spend only $3.50 (two $1.75 one-way trips). This week alone, I’ve spent $4.50 less than I would have under the old fares. I mean, hooray for me, but how does this help you raise much-needed money?

For folks who ride more often, the new fares also make no sense. A one-way ticket increased to $1.75 from $1.50 – a modest 16 percent hike. But day passes rose to $7 from $5 – a 40 percent jump. And monthly passes climbed to a whopping $100 from $70 – a 43 percent increase.

Folks who use the day and monthly passes are the ones who rely on your system the most. It doesn’t seem right to make them bear the brunt of the new fares, especially when occasional riders like me are paying less.

• As part of your refurbishment project, starting tomorrow, the four Blue Line stations in downtown Long Beach will close for a month. A month!

And you’re doing this five days after increasing fares? That’s rubbing salt in the wound.

Those stations had better be darned nice after they’ve been refurbished.

• The reusable TAP cards that replaced paper tickets are ridiculously confusing. If you don’t think so, stop by one of the train stations some Saturday when USC is playing a home game at the Coliseum, and watch the perplexed newbies staring blankly at the ticket machines.

“But,” you’re saying, “the TAP system is easy to use once you understand it.” Hey, quantum physics is also easy once you understand it. A transit pass system should be simple to use and easy to understand.

I was at a recent design presentation in which the speaker raved about the airport train-ticket system in Helsinki, Finland: No buttons, no screen, just a single slot that you slide your card through. I wonder what the speaker would think of your 10-keyed wonders, with buttons labeled from A to J, each having ever-changing purposes indicated on the screen (which can’t be read when the sun is shining on it).

• I’m not going to complain that the train doesn’t quite reach LAX – I know, you’re working on it. But have you ever tried taking a suitcase with you on the Green Line?

I’m not talking about a steamer trunk; I mean a nice, small carry-on that fits in the overhead bin. The turnstiles at the stations – especially Willowbrook, where the Green and Blue lines connect – seem expressly designed to do battle with luggage, the kind of thing one might normally take to an airport.

And don’t tell me that the turnstiles have to be luggage-unfriendly to prevent people from sneaking through without paying: At London’s Heathrow Airport, for instance, the turnstiles are perfectly luggage-friendly.

Well, MTA, thanks for listening. I hope maybe you can do something about these obvious issues.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a train to catch – and I have to remember how to buy a ticket.

Chinese city opens 'phone lane' for texting pedestrians

 City authorities in Chongqing have introduced a 30 metre ‘cellphone lane’ for pedestrians – is it a step too far in the name of public safety?


By Leo Benedictus, September 15, 2014

 The mobile phone lane for pedestrians in Chongqing, China.
 Mind your step: The mobile phone lane for pedestrians in Chongqing, China.

In Chongqing, China, with a degree of seriousness that has yet to be determined, the city authorities have designated a 30 metre (100ft) “cellphone lane” for people who use their phones while walking. “First mobile phone sidewalks in China,” declares a notice next to it.

In fact, the Chongqing phone lane seems to be almost a direct copy of one that was painted on to 18th Street, Washington DC, in July. The Washington version was created for an experiment into crowd behaviour by the National Geographic TV channel. Which is a clue that the seriousness of the Chinese version may be below 100%.

The scheme also raises some fairly obvious questions. How will people so distracted by their phones that they are bumping into lampposts manage to stay within the lines of the lane? Even if they do, why will they not bump into each other all the time, or walk straight into the road when the lane finishes? How, for that matter, will they even notice the existence of the lane in the first place? Casual observers of the Washington experiment suggested that many phone-users just ignored it, but perhaps annoying Chinese people will prove more law-abiding than annoying Americans.

And yet there does seem to be some pressure building behind the idea that “distracted walking”, as it is known, is a real problem. In 2012, the city of Philadelphia announced what it called an “e-lane” for smartphone users. In fact the pilot scheme turned out to be an April fool, albeit one designed to raise a serious public safety issue.

Chongqing mobile phone lane, China
Did these pedestrians in Chongqing notice the sign?
In 2013, a study at the Ohio State University found that distracted walking injuries in the US are rising fast, with 1,506 recorded in US emergency rooms in 2010, up from 256 in 2005. The young were especially likely to be affected.

Solutions, however, are less straightforward. Stanford University has displayed warning posters around campus. In 2012, the Utah Transit Authority claimed to be seeing real improvements following the introduction of a $50 fine for distracted walking in the vicinity of trains. Just last year the Guardian’s own Oliver Burkeman proposed a campaign of deliberate near misses – a kind of passive-aggressive resistance movement on the part of the well behaved.

Eventually perhaps smartwatches might deliver us from the menace of smartphones, by vibrating whenever the wearer is about to crash into something, although that day does not yet seem close. We await news from Chongqing with interest.

Cities to give plan for toll-free I-405


September 21, 2014

As the debate over placing high-occupancy toll lanes on the I-405 freeway rages on, supporters of a no-toll plan are scheduled to push for their proposal – yet again.

After facing rejection a week earlier from a committee of Orange County Transportation Authority board members, they’re set to plead their case before the full board today.

The no-toll plan was developed by a coalition of officials from cities near the freeway who oppose state plans to require drivers to pay tolls to use some lanes. The no-toll proposal calls for adding one general-purpose and one carpool lane in each direction.

Caltrans officials have enthusiastically supported the toll lanes option, saying it’s the fastest way to move people and goods on the North County section of the 405. They deny that they are backing the toll roads as a way to raise money.

A wide range of local officials and residents, meanwhile, argue that construction of the toll lanes would violate the promise to voters for Measure M2, the county’s half-percent sales tax, among other concerns.

Look, no wheels: L.A. without a car


By America Hernandez, September 20, 2014

 As a 22-year-old lifelong native of downtown Los Angeles, I’ve never driven a car.

From dance classes in Koreatown to schools in Los Feliz, and the odd Hollywood rock gig or two in between, all I ever needed was the underground Metro Red Line.

But what if you live in Sunland and want to shop at the Americana in Glendale? The Metro 90 and 91 buses both will get you there in just over an hour, and a quick hop on the 780 Rapid connects you to Paseo Colorado in Old Town Pasadena.

How about getting from Compton to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for exhibits on ancient Korean vases and African paintings of the cosmos? Taking the Blue light rail line to Seventh and Metro, followed by 25 minutes on the westbound 20 bus leaves you five minutes away on foot.

Each day, I’m one of about 2 million people who rides the buses and rails in L.A., according to the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. And it’s not just people who can’t afford cars.

“There’s a change underway, from the baby boomers to the millennials,” said Marc Littman, a spokesman for Metro. “People are fed up with traffic and want options.”

Even if you have a car but don’t want to deal with parking at the beach, Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus will take you to the pier or Venice – whether you live in Culver City or Brentwood – at L.A. Live or near Los Angeles International Airport.

Most buses in Los Angeles today are clean and air-conditioned, but packing a pair of sunglasses is always helpful if you find yourself near the window at a red light.

And don’t let the transit time dissuade you: Take a book, or better yet, keep your eyes peeled. Walking and getting to look out the window while someone else steers are the best way to learn the city and immerse yourself in its diverse cultures.

Empty-nesters are relocating to cultural centers, and yuppies and hipsters embrace the stress-free walk to work in up-and-coming neighborhoods.

“If there’s anyone who doubts Los Angeles people ride mass transit, I tell them to go to Union Station at rush hour and see the 70,000 commuters streaming out of the tunnels to and from work,” Littman said.

Los Angeles Metro is the third-largest transportation agency in the country, after New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Chicago’s Transit Authority.

One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard and experienced is that buses in this town are famously unreliable.

This can be true, but technology is here to help: A few key phone numbers, websites and applications can make sure you always know where the bus you want is in real time.


If you already know your route, Nextbus uses your location to show the nearest stops from all agencies in a scroll-down format, with two upcoming arrival times tracked live.

Moovit has both a trip-planning feature and fixed schedules updated using GPS.

For me, the simplest option is often best. Metro’s Trip Planner website lets me input starting and end points and shows me all the options, including how much walking I want to do.

Once I’m at the stop, I’ll call the number on the signpost to see whether the bus is a few minutes early or if I’ve just missed it.

Of course, for those times when I’m running late or want to head somewhere not easily accessible by bus or rail, application-based car services such as Uber let me enter my desired destination, then sit back and relax as my chauffeur does the heavy driving.

For all the talk of constraints that come along with public transit, I find knowing how to get around independently in Los Angeles truly liberating.

When The Missing Persons sang “Nobody walks in L.A.” in 1982, the group had a point. Back then, the California dream was cruising Pacific Coast Highway with the top down and the music up.

Forget that song. You don’t know this city until you’ve punched up your iPhone playlist and walked L.A.

Governor Brown Signs Protected Bike Lane Bill, Car Fee for Bike Paths


By Melanie Curry, September 22, 2014

 Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills on Saturday that will make it easier for California cities to build better bike infrastructure.

The governor approved Assembly Bill 1193, which means protected bike lanes, or cycletracks, will become an official part of Caltrans’ guidelines on bike infrastructure. Brown also signed Senate Bill 1183, which will allow local governments to use a vehicle surcharge to pay for bike paths and bike facility maintenance.

 Long Beach's cycletracks open this Saturday - all photos by Joe Linton
Governor Brown recently approved A.B. 1193, which would allow protected bike lanes, like this one on Broadway in Long Beach, CA, to be more easily implemented throughout California.

State To Create Standards Supporting Protected Bike Lanes

A.B. 1193, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), will require Caltrans to create engineering standards for protected bike lanes, which until now have been discouraged by a complex approval processes and a lack of state guidance. This new class of lane — called cycletracks, or “class IV bikeways,” in Caltrans terms — are separated from motor traffic using a physical barrier, such as curbs, planters, or parked cars.

Protected bike lanes have been shown to increase the number of people bicycling on them, to make cyclists feel safer, and to decrease the number of wrong-way and sidewalk riders on streets that have them.
The new law will also allow cities and counties to build cycletracks without consulting Caltrans, unless the facilities are built on state highways. California cities that build protected bike lanes will have the option of using the standards to be developed by Caltrans or some other generally accepted standards, sparing them from Caltrans’ arduous approval process.
Locals Can Now Pass Vehicle Fees to Build and Maintain Bikeways
S.B. 1183, from Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) allows local jurisdictions in California to propose a small vehicle registration fee (no more than $5) on their local ballot, requiring approval from at least 2/3 of local voters, to fund bike trails and paths on park district land.
Bike trails have suffered from a lack of stable funding sources, unlike roads and highways, which are funded by a combination of fuel and sales taxes. A motor vehicle surcharge could help fund maintenance and improvements for existing paths — thus creating safe, convenient routes for commuters, students, shoppers, and recreational riders.
S.B. 1183 was sponsored by the East Bay Regional Park District, which straddles Alameda and Contra Costa counties in Northern California. The park district maintains over 1,200 miles of trails that are open to bicycles, and about 100 miles of paved bicycle paths, some of which are important commute routes for bicyclists.
The park district was looking for a source of funds to help build and maintain the aging paths, and at first proposed a tax on bicycles sold in the two counties. However, administrative complications caused them to change it to a motor vehicle registration fee instead.

If So Many People Support Mass Transit, Why Do So Few Ride?

Closing the support-usage gap will be key to a strong public transportation future.


By Eric Jaffe, September 22, 2014


Every transit advocate knows this timeless Onion headline: "98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others." But the underlying truth that makes this line so funny also makes it a little concerning: enthusiasm for public transportation far, far outweighs the actual use of it. Last week, for instance, the American Public Transportation Association reported that 74 percent of people support more mass transit spending. But only 5 percent of commuters travel by mass transit. This support, in other words, is largely for others.

What's more striking about the support-usage gap is that it doesn't just exist on paper. In addition to saying they support transit funding, Americans back up that support with their own pocketbooks. Time and again at the polls, people are willing to raise local taxes to maintain or expand the transit service that so few of them actually use. According to the Center for Transportation Excellence, there were 62 transportation measures on ballots across the country in 2012—many with a considerable transit component—and nearly 80 percent of them succeeded.

Nor do these investments necessarily pay off in greater transit usage over time. Recently, transit scholars Michael Manville and Benjamin Cummins analyzed 21 local transportation funding ballots from 2001 to 2003, and found that, on average, these tax increases were approved by 63 percent of the vote. Yet a decade later, the share of commuters who drove alone in these places had fallen just 2 points, from 87 to 85 percent, while the share of transit commuters had stayed the same, at 5 percent. At best, the behavioral shifts were modest; at worst, they didn't exist.

ne of the clearest examples of the disparity comes from Los Angeles County. In 1980, about 7.5 percent of commuters used transit. That year, voters approved a permanent half-cent sales tax increase to pay for transportation initiatives, including lots of transit upgrades, but by 1990, the share of transit commuters had declined to 6.5 percent. That year, voters again approved a half-cent increase by a two-to-one margin, with nearly all the money going to transit. But the transit commute share was still at 7 percent come 2008, when yet another transportation ballot, Measure R, was passed by two-thirds of the vote.

So why do so many people support transit—not just with their voices but their wallets—when they have no intention of using it? The conclusion reached by Manville and Cummins largely echoes that of the Onion: people believe transit has collective benefits that don't require their personal usage. Maybe voters think transit will reduce traffic congestion, or improve the environment, or help low-income residents, or translate into economic development. So long as someone else uses transit right now, everyone else will win in the end.

This outcome may seem obvious, but the data behind it are truly staggering. Take a look at one analysis Manville and Cummins perform on a transportation survey conducted by the National Resources Defense Council in 2012. They found no statistical connection between respondents who supported transit funding and those who wanted to drive less, or even those willing to use transit if it were more convenient. But respondents who believed "the community would benefit" had a 700 percent increase in odds of being a pro-transit voter. The researchers write in the journal Transportation:
Put simply, Americans are more likely to see transit as a way to solve social problems than as a way to get around.
This doesn't have to be a bad thing, so long as people indefinitely keep paying for transit they don't use. Perhaps that's even a sign of societal maturity. But problems will arise if voters stop agreeing to devote their taxes to transit, because the broader benefits they've hoped for fail to materialize. Of course, the reason these benefits don't emerge is that the very people supporting transit aren't riding it: traffic congestion isn't going to get any better, after all, if every driver waits for someone else to shift to the subway or the bus.

There's an even worse outcome already happening in some places: the wrong types of transit riders get subsidized with public money. Since transit ballots must often appeal to wealthier suburban communities to gain enough support to pass, much of the subsequent funding goes toward the commuter rail serving these areas. That leaves city bus riders who need good service most with a smaller slice of the pie. Transport scholars Brian Taylor and Eric Morris recently reported that rail riders get 31 percent more public funding than bus riders, on the whole.

Total inflation-adjusted transit subsidy per unlinked trip by mode: 1995 to 2009. (Taylor & Morris, Transportation, 2014)

Where all these trends converge is the realization that truly supporting transit requires more than just voting to support transit. To make a real dent in mobility trends, cities will need to make driving more expensive at the same time that they make transit more appealing. "So long as many transit supporters prefer to drive, new transit spending may neither increase transit ridership nor reduce driving," write Manville and Cummins. "Taxing driving, in contrast, could accomplish both." But it doesn't take the wisdom of the Onion to know that's an idea far less than 98 percent of commuters will support.