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 29, 2014

Madrid to Eliminate Cars from City Center


September 2014


Starting January, the City of Madrid will close off 190 hectares of its central core to traffic, expanding its restricted vehicular areas to 352 hectares. Vehicles not belonging to residents within the city’s four most central barrios will be restricted to large avenues. If a vehicle enters the car-less zone, and does not have access to one of the 13 official parking lots, the owner will be automatically ticketed €90 ($115 U.S). The new legislation is part of a larger goal to completely pedestrianization central Madrid by 2020. 

At the moment, the goal is to reduces vehicular traffic by more than a third in restricted areas. As Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón describes: ”The main objective is to reduce traffic passing through neighborhoods and looking for parking agitation, while increasing parking spaces for residents.”

Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct: King of the Highway Boondoggles


By Phineas Baxandall and Jeff Inglis, September 26, 2014

The Alaskan Way Viaduct, damaged decades ago, will be rebuilt as a double-decker highway, even though a transit-heavy alternative would have been at least as effective at reducing congestion. Photo: Rootology/##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaskan_Way_Viaduct#mediaviewer/File:The_Alaskan_Way_Viaduct.jpg##Wikimedia##

 The Alaskan Way Viaduct, damaged decades ago, will be rebuilt as a double-decker highway, even though a transit-heavy alternative would have been at least as effective at reducing congestion.

A recent report by U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group, “Highway Boondoggles: Wasted Money and America’s Transportation Future,” examines 11 of the most wasteful, least justifiable road projects underway in America right now. Here’s the latest installment in our series profiling the various bad decisions that funnel so much money to infrastructure that does no good. 

Seattle’s aging Alaskan Way Viaduct is a crumbling and seismically vulnerable elevated highway along the city’s downtown waterfront. After an earthquake damaged the structure in 2001, state engineers decided that the highway needed to come down, but the question of how (and whether) to replace it sparked nearly a decade of heated debate. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) rejected calls to replace the viaduct with a combination of surface street and transit improvements, choosing instead an option that would result in more capacity: boring a mammoth tunnel underneath the city’s urban core. At 57 feet in diameter, it would be the widest bored tunnel ever attempted, with the full project carrying an estimated cost of at least $3.1 billion and perhaps as much as $4.1 billion.

Digging a double-decker tunnel was always the riskiest option for replacing the viaduct. The tunnel carried a high risk of going over even its exorbitant budget. In 2010, WSDOT acknowledged a 40 percent chance of a cost overrun, with a 5 percent risk that overruns could top $415 million.

With Bertha trapped underground, cost overruns could go into Big Dig territory. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group
With Bertha trapped underground, cost overruns could go into Big Dig territory. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group

Shortfalls from tunnel tolls represent an additional financial risk: Soon after settling on the tunnel, the state cut its tolling revenue projections in half. State officials later suggested that further reductions in estimated revenue might be forthcoming. Together with other potential revenue shortfalls, some estimates projected that the funding gap could reach $700 million.

Since 2010, the financial risks of the project have only increased. “Bertha,” touted as the world’s largest tunneling machine, got stuck underground in December 2013 and is not expected to be able to resume work until March 2015 — and then only if precarious on-site repairs can be successfully completed. The project is also stuck in disputes over whether taxpayers or the project’s contractor must pay the estimated $125 million to repair the giant boring machine to get it going again, and in a lawsuit about whether the rescue operation should even be undertaken.

The expensive tunnel is not projected to improve traffic significantly compared with the rejected streets-and-transit hybrid alternative, a combination of a four-lane urban-scaled street on the waterfront, one additional lane on a nearby interstate highway, and hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements to city streets and area bus service.

WSDOT’s own statistics show that the tunnel, if completed, would likely increase traffic delays downtown compared with the rejected streets-and-transit plan. At best, the tunnel was projected to reduce traffic delays in the surrounding four-county region by only about 1 percent, compared with the rejected alternative; and those delays could have been further reduced by expanding transit service under the hybrid plan.

With the tunnel now stymied, some elements of the hybrid plan have been temporarily put into place to relieve congestion caused by the construction, and have even been extended to accommodate the construction delays. (Their ability to help is, however, hampered by the fact that other transit services in the community are on the chopping block.) According to WSDOT’s 2013 Annual Traffic Report data, traffic at one end of the Alaskan Way Viaduct was on the decline before tunnel construction began, and has since declined even more.

Even WSDOT acknowledges that the viaduct won't even carry as much traffic as the road is carrying now, while under construction. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group
Even WSDOT acknowledges that the Viaduct won’t even carry as much traffic as the road is carrying now, while under construction. Image: U.S. PIRG and Frontier Group
In the region, average daily traffic has dropped 23 percent, and transit ridership has leapt 42 percent.
If the tunnel is ever finished, and if a proposal to charge tolls on the tunnel goes through, the project will have spent billions of taxpayer dollars to attract fewer drivers than are using the existing roadways right now. Traffic projections for even the cheapest tolls are at least 8 percent and perhaps as much as 35 percent below what the traffic volume has become during construction.

While the money spent on the tunneling project thus far may never be recouped, state officials have an opportunity to revisit the scope of the project and select options that are less likely to cause financial and traffic turmoil.

No, Carmaggedon Is Not Inevitable

From Peak Time Tolls to Smarter Parking Meters, Some Ideas That Could Get Angelenos Moving


 September 27, 2014


It makes sense now that the first movie ever filmed in Los Angeles was of nothing but traffic. The 30 seconds of shaky film, shot downtown on Spring Street in 1898, reveal the origin of an enduring issue for the city. L.A. is defined by its traffic, which is universally understood to move very, very slowly.
Today, drivers armed with smartphones use apps like Waze, darting on and off freeways to cut commute times by minutes. And this year, L.A. became the world’s first major city to synchronize all of its traffic lights. Yet in 2013, Angelenos still spent an average of 90 hours stuck in traffic. Could a recent infusion of $32 million for transit improvements in the city help recover this lost time? In advance of the Zócalo/Metro event “What Could Speed Up L.A. Traffic?”, we asked transportation experts the following question: What innovations have other cities implemented that could teach L.A. how to speed up traffic?

Matthew Turner

The price of fixing congestion

When a bakery in the former Soviet Union opened in the morning, it gave bread to the first person in line, and then the next, until all the bread was gone. Everyone still in line had to wait for the next batch. This meant that if you were going to get your bread for breakfast, you had to get there early. So there were long lines for bread (like this one).

We do something similar to allocate access to roads. The government builds roads and every morning, the people who want to use them line up. If you are early, there is lots of capacity for you, and you have a speedy trip. If you come a bit later, the capacity is all used up, and you need to wait for road capacity to become available (like cars on this on-ramp).

The Soviet bakery had a line-up problem because bread was handed out free to the first in line. But what if we could price access to roads, just like we price access to bread today? If that were the case, queuing would no longer occur.

In a number of cities around the world–London, Singapore, Stockholm, and even a few highways in L.A.–local authorities make drivers pay to access roads at peak times (but not at other times). In response to a peak hour toll, drivers rearrange their travel schedules. As a result, driving speeds increase and travel times decrease. By constructing a system of tolls, or prices, that are higher for congested roads and times than for uncongested roads and times, we can fix the traffic congestion problem.

The price of reducing traffic congestion is pricing access to roads.

Matthew Turner is professor in the department of economics at Brown University. His research focuses on the economics of land use and transportation. Current projects investigate the relationship between public transit and the growth of cities, whether and how smart growth type development affects individual driving behavior.

Francie Stefan

Streets are a limited resource

Our streets are a limited resource, like water or energy. We can use this resource more efficiently by reducing the need for car trips or by making trips on modes that take up less space. To find a few tools that boost streets’ efficiency, Angelenos can follow the lead of the city of Santa Monica.

Since 40 percent of trips in L.A. County are less than two miles, we know that there are opportunities to convert some vehicle trips to walking, biking, and active transportation. In Santa Monica, basic street restriping was able to convert excess lane width (without reducing car lanes) into over 40 miles of new bike facilities. In only two years, biking increased by over 50 percent.

The best transportation plan is a good land use plan. Santa Monica is focusing housing and jobs near bus and rail networks, taking advantage of L.A. County’s historic streetcar routes and the walkable streets that grew from them. And Santa Monica is building strong first-mile/last-mile walking, biking, and transit connections to future Expo Light Rail stops.

Private industry plays an important role too. New businesses, employers, and residential buildings can help sustain trip reduction strategies by providing commuter incentives, facilities for active commuters (like bicycle stations featuring showers and racks), transit pass subsidies, shared parking, and telecommuting options. These amenities reduce household transportation costs as well as demand on the transportation network.

These strategies will provide a more holistic management of our street resources and “speed up traffic” by moving people in more ways, reducing the bottlenecks for everyone.

Francie Stefan is the transportation & strategic planning manager for the city of Santa Monica, which has set a target of no net new trips for evening peak periods to support more sustainable street function, encourage wellness through active living, and reduce GHG emissions. 

Donald Shoup

Tax foreigners living abroad

Most people view parking meters as a necessary evil, or perhaps just evil. Meters can manage curb parking efficiently and provide public revenue, but they are a tough sell to voters. A new kind of meter, however, can change the politics of parking–and reduce traffic–by allowing cities to give price discounts for residents.

In Miami Beach, residents pay only $1 an hour at meters in areas where nonresidents pay $1.75 an hour. Some British cities give the first half hour at meters free to residents. Annapolis, Maryland, and Monterey, California, give residents the first two hours free in municipal parking lots and garages.
Pay-by-license-plate technology can automatically give discounts to all cars with license plates registered in a city. Cities link payment information to license plate numbers to show enforcement officers which cars have paid or not paid. Pay-by-plate meters are common in Europe, and several U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, now use them.

Like hotel taxes, parking meters with resident discounts can generate substantial local revenue without unduly burdening local voters. The price break for city plates should please merchants because it will give residents a new incentive to shop locally. In big cities, the discounts can be limited to each neighborhood’s residents. More shopping closer to home might then reduce total vehicle travel in the region.

Parking meters with resident discounts come close to the most popular way to raise public revenue: tax foreigners living abroad. More money and less traffic will help any city.

Donald Shoup is distinguished professor of urban planning at UCLA, where he has served as chair of the department of urban planning and director of the Institute of Transportation Studies. His book, The High Cost of Free Parking, explains how better parking policies can improve cities, the economy, and the environment.

Doris Tarchópulos

Reimagining the suburbs

Each city has its own urban characteristics. The dimensions of the streets, the block size, the shapes of the lots, and the type of housing all differ depending on the city and its origins. North American cities are very different from Latin American cities, but they also have common features. From the mid-20th century, Americans in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres have left the core of the city and gone to the suburbs, which has caused car dependency and a crisis of mobility.

In Bogotá, Colombia, we are working on research to create a mix between the current suburbs and human-scale neighborhoods that can be traversed by walking and bicycling. We are thinking of repurposing suburbs gradually, introducing commercial strips along the main roads within neighborhoods, using parking lots or streets to foster vibrant community life, and at the same time, moving people back to the old quarters of the city center.

These ideas are easy to write about but difficult to implement. Reshaping cities demands political will and public conscience. But we also need new definitions of a city model based on a reimagined mobility system. Los Angeles has long been a traffic-clogged city, but given enough time and public support, the way people get around it could be transformed.

Doris Tarchópulos is an architect, associate professor, and director of the master in urban and regional planning at the architecture school of Javeriana University.  She has published several award-winning books and scientific articles on housing and urban planning.

Beverly Hills Claims The Purple Line Will Encourage ISIS To Kill Their Children


 By Janet Bennett Rylah, September 26, 2014


 Beverly Hills High School

 Beverly Hills has come up with a new reason as to why we shouldn't expand the Purple Line through their dainty city: ISIS will murder their children.

There was some concern this week over a possible terrorist threat after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi reportedly told journalists at the UN that Iraqi intelligence had learned of an ISIS plot to attack subways in Paris and the U.S. However, government officials later said that this was not an immediate threat, and that they didn't know what al-Abadi was talking about, CNN reports.

But in Beverly Hills, the terror alert is at red, and the only thing we can do to stop it is to thwart Metro's plans to build a tunnel beneath Beverly Hills High School to the Constellation station in Century City. A fear-mongering article in the Beverly Hills Courier alleges that the Purple Line running beneath Beverly Hills High is a direct invitation to terrorists to attack.
"Add terrorism to the list of woes future Beverly Hills High School students may have to deal with if the L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority doesn't shift course on plans to run two subway tunnels beneath the City's only high school."
Think of the children! The rich children!

Superintendent Gary Woods was especially concerned, but you have to skip to page 19 'Subway Threat' to find out why. There, you'll learn it's because, as Whitney Houston told us, the children are our future. And if someone were to attack those children "then in essence, they're attacking the core of our being, of our culture."

The article went on to fearmonger a little more, while acknowledging two very valid points: the construction on the Purple Line hasn't even started in Beverly Hills, and the threat of ISIS has not been confirmed. However, Board of Education President Noah Margo says that just because neither of these things has happened, it doesn't mean they won't. The Purple Line running beneath the school is set for 2026 and the ISIS attack is set for possibly never, but we're talking about a world with infinite possibilities here.

By expanding the Purple Line beneath the high school, Margo says "we may then be eligible to join an elite group of international cities with easily accessible targets that will result in larger catastrophes. In this case, our student population."

Margo goes on to say that, "In the mind of a terrorist, placing a subway directly under a high school is like pushing a baby stroller into rush hour traffic."

BHHS has already squandered $3.1 million in voter-approved bond money trying to the fight the Purple Line. In their arguments against the Purple Line, they've brought up terrorism before, along with methane gas pockets that might explode into giant fireballs and incinerate everyone. It was a good try, Beverly Hills, trying to exploit a global threat in which a brutal terrorist group is beheading people so that you could push forth your own NIMBY agenda, but you've fooled no one.

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, September 29, 2014

A lot of big events going on in DTLA right now. This very second. Then things slow down. Then CicLAvia. Good week.
  • Monday – The Mayor’s Office, Office of Jose Huizar and a host of other Downtown interests host “Pop-Up Broadway” an extension of the already-in-place Broadway Dressed Rehearsal. This event builds upon and activates the recently transformed public space along Broadway with the principles underlying Great Streets. The interventions will take a variety of forms including local merchants, street art, live music, a bicycle zone, artist installations and nighttime projections. Get more details, here.
  • Monday, TuesdayThe Atlantic, The Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies, bring you CityLab, one of our most innovative programs of the year. The program brings together 300+ of the world’s top mayors, urban experts, city planners, writers, technologists, economists, and designers. It started yesterday and is going on right now. More details at the CityLab website.
  • Wednesday - It’s Walk to School Day! There are lots of folks organizing walks, or organize your own – with support from LADOT and others. More details here.
  • Wednesday – Former NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan speaks at UCLA. Free, but RSVP required. Details here.
  • Thursday – The Metro Board of Directors is going to meet. For real! The usual “end of September” meeting was pushed to this week. The agenda hasn’t been posted online yet, but when it is you can find it here.
  • SundayCicLAvia! Much more to come this week.

The 4 Transportation Systems You'll Meet in the Future

A new report offers a look at urban mobility circa 2030 that's both intriguing and frightening.


By Eric Jaffe, September 29, 2014


We tend to think of transportation networks as the result of large public works projects—hello, Interstate Highway System—but lately, private hands have been tinkering at the edges of urban mobility. App-based e-hail car services like Uber and Lyft are disrupting traditional city taxi programs. Smartphones are changing the way we wait for and pay for public transportation. And, of course, Google is on the verge of reshaping movement as we know it with the driverless car.

It's time to get the public sector talking again, says Anthony Townsend of New York University's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management. To start the conversation, Townsend and the Rudin Center have released Re-Programming Mobility—a report intended to provoke city officials, urban planners, and the general public into participating in the future of transportation, rather than reacting to it. Otherwise, he says, decisions made in board rooms today will impact the civic arena for decades to come.

"Really, what we're trying to do is provoke a far-ranging discussion that's much less one-dimensional than the kinds of futures we're hearing coming out of a lot of these companies trying to disrupt the marketplace," says Townsend.

Re-Programming Mobility conceives four fictional-but-fact-based urban-mobility scenarios set in roughly 2030. The 15-year window is far enough away for mobility to be uprooted—the U.S. interstates were largely completed between 1955 and 1970, after all—but still close enough to be reshaped by public input. While each scenario feels a bit far-fetched in its own right, together they offer plenty of food for thought to anyone concerned with the future of urban movement.
The whole report worth a read, but brief summaries of each scenario will follow here. (Full disclosure: I received an honorarium to review an early draft of the report.)

Atlanta, 2028

For years, metro Atlanta suffered terrible traffic congestion, brought on in large part by sprawl and decentralization. In response, Atlanta decided … to sprawl more. This scenario supposes that Atlanta resisted calls for transit and transit-oriented development and instead tried to "grow its way" out of traffic problems. Facilitating this shift are solar-powered roads run by Google—G-Roads—were driverless cars connect commuters to the city at 90 miles an hour. Congestion does fall in this scenario, but exurbs and edge cities expand considerably. From the report:
Atlanta had become a garden city on a once-inconceivable scale, providing millions of people access to both urban amenities and the countryside.

NYU Rudin

Los Angeles, 2030

Driverless cars have arrived in the Los Angeles of 2030, but they don't play nicely together. L.A. roads carry a mix of tiny Google pods, bigger luxury models, and low-cost Chinese knock-offs—each with varying degrees of automation and poor overall connectivity. The result is enormous congestion. (Adding to the problem, driverless cars now circle in traffic to avoid paying for parking, increasing vehicle-miles traveled by 30 percent.) Youth interest in transit has waned, because digital disengagement is just as easy in a driverless car as it was on a train. From the report:
No one had ever considered the risks of incomplete automation, and now planners everywhere are trying to figure out ways to accelerate the adoption of these technologies and avoid getting stuck in transition like LA.

(NYU Rudin)

New Jersey, 2029

Major climate events have crushed New Jersey's road network, but from the wreckage has emerged an incredibly sustainable mobility system based on bus-rapid transit corridors. Commuters can arrange a BRT trip on demand or rely on predictive schedules developed by Big Data. The suburbs have collapsed around BRT hubs situated within walkable areas near bike-share stations. Private cars still exist, but they're heavily tolled to pay for BRT upgrades, and commute time into New York has fallen considerably. The scenario concludes:
The nation’s most densely populated state, which had reached the limits of sprawl ahead of all others, was now a model of planned, transit-oriented development. By crafting a novel, uniquely American approach to mass transit, New Jersey had preserved its economy and its landscape.

(NYU Rudin)

Boston, 2032

In this scenario, Boston becomes a dense city to the extreme degree. Freed of possessions by the sharing economy, young people flock to micro-apartments just 135 to 160 square feet in size. The possessions they do own exist in local warehouses, with a system of driverless valets to pick up or drop off items on demand—a sort of "goods cloud." Autonomous bikes thrive, reducing the need for car-ownership and creating streets friendly to pedestrians by day. At night, however, driverless urban freight vehicles take over the roads to replenish and relocate the shared stream of goods. From the report:
In less than a generation, Boston had splintered into two new cities, living side-by-side but rarely touching—one of people and one of stuff, one existing by day, the other by night.

(NYU Rudin)

There's something here for everyone to like (and hate). Townsend says no scenario is intended to be a favorite or ideal, and expects the "real outcome" to be a mixture of each. "Really, the purpose of the scenarios is to try to get people to understand the messiness of the future," he says. "There's not a single technology, or a single decision, or a single economic force that's going to shape the outcome. It's actually the interplay of lots of different forces, including the policy and planning choices we make. That's what we're trying to call people's attention to."