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, October 1, 2014

Transportation solutions on the table at CityLab


Posted by Anthony Foxx (United States Secretary of Transportation), October 1, 2014

America's cities face a number of transportation challenges, not the least of which is anticipated population growth over the next two decades and endangered federal investment in the transportation necessary to move those new residents and the goods they will need. For the last three days, however, a group of more than 300 innovative leaders gathered in Los Angeles to help chart a course toward meeting those challenges.

Now in its second year, CityLab --sponsored by The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies-- brings together mayors, urban experts, city planners, writers, technologists, economists, and designers from around the world in a constructive dialog about creating scalable solutions for city leaders to share with their communities.

Photo of Secretary Foxx meeting construction workers on LA Downtown Regional Connector project

It was fitting to have this year's conference in town on the same day that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority was breaking ground on its Downtown Regional Connector, which will allow the Blue, Gold, and Expo rail lines to run through the city's urban core and finally provide a connection between these disjointed lines in downtown L.A.

Right now, some of L.A.'s transit commuters lose hours every week waiting to transfer to another bus or train just to keep heading in the same direction. Imagine losing several hours each week in transfer time on top of putting in your hours of hard work and coming home to cook dinner and raise your kids.

With this "one-seat" connector, passengers will --for the first time-- be able to travel from Long Beach to Azusa, or East Los Angeles to Santa Monica, without changing trains. Suddenly, jobs that were once literally out of reach will be more viable.

As I've said here in the Fast Lane before, it's a simple equation: greater access equals greater opportunity.

 (See website for the video "Metro Regional Connector Transit Project Groundbreaking Ceremony.")

At CityLab, I saw and heard a host of different visions of tomorrow's transportation. And, I'm proud to say that DOT is part of the community working to make some of those visions a reality.

We've had Fast Lane posts about Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) Communication. Those are real technologies that are around the corner.

Photo of Secretary Foxx at CityLab

Then there are the other technologies. You've all heard about driverless cars. Express shippers are thinking about delivery drones. And who knows what kind of apps will be available tomorrow on what kinds of devices?

But one thing we do know is that we can't have communities within the same metropolitan region working at cross-purposes to serve the same residents. We need more cooperation.
That's a principle we've used to select our TIGER projects since 2009. And it's a key part of the GROW AMERICA legislative proposal we sent to Congress earlier this year.

GROW AMERICA is a four-year, fully-funded, $302 billion surface transportation bill. And beyond the proposed funding levels designed to help us catch our transportation network up to the 21st century, GROW AMERICA also proposes policies better suited to the realities of today.

It promotes regional development, gives Metropolitan Planning Organizations and communities more say in what they build, and streamlines the permitting process so we can get projects done faster and cheaper. For the LA County MTA, that would significantly reduce the paperwork burden they faced preparing and submitting nearly 1,000 permits to get shovels into the ground for the Downtown Regional Connector we celebrated yesterday.

GROW AMERICA is exactly the transportation policy the leaders gathered at CityLab this week will need as they continue to work on solutions to our cities' challenges.

'Safe' pollution levels not so safe: QUT researcher


By Cameron Atfield, October 1, 2014

 The description of pollution levels when approving infrastructure projects across Australia, are misleading, says a Queensland expert.
 The description of pollution levels when approving infrastructure projects across Australia, are misleading, says a Queensland expert.

Increased pollution levels still classified as "safe" will kill 6000 Australians, a Queensland pollution expert has warned.

Queensland University of Technology Associate Professor Adrian Barnett said the description of potential pollution levels as "safe", which were used to approve infrastructure projects across Australia, were misleading.

Professor Barnett said an increase in pollution levels to just below the National Environment Protection Measures (NEPM) standards would cause an additional 6000 deaths a year.

Those included 2600 in both Sydney and Melbourne and 800 in Brisbane.

"The increase would hospitalise a further 20,700 people per year across those cities," Professor Barnett said.

"Study after study has shown there simply is no safe level of air pollution. Health problems in the population rise in line with increases in average pollution levels.

"It's understandable that the public could misinterpret the NEPM standards to mean anything below those levels is safe, but it's inexcusable for authorities to use this safe-or-dangerous interpretation.

"I have lost count of the number of government-commissioned environmental reports that have used this fallacy. This practice should have ended years ago."

Professor Barnett, whose commentary was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health on Wednesday, said recent environmental reports for coal trains in Queensland and Melbourne's planned East-West road link predicted "safe" levels of pollution increases.

"Locals concerned about the potential health effects have found it difficult to get past the argument that the increases are below the standards and therefore everything is fine," he said.

"But any new project that increases air pollution will always mean an increase in illness."

Professor Barnett, a health statistician, said deaths from pollution were already a reality.

His analysis of death rates in the Victorian town of Morwell following the 45-day Hazelwood coal fire showed a 15 per cent increase in the local death rate, which he said translated to between 11 and 14 premature deaths.

California Transportation Commission will meet in Glendale on Wed. Oct. 8th.

From Sylvia Plummer, October 1, 2014

As reported previously, the CTC will meet in Glendale on Wed., Oct. 8.  According to the agenda (attached), the meeting will convene at 12:30 p.m.

Emerald Salon
Embassy Suites Los Angeles Glendale
800 N. Central Avenue
Glendale, CA 

According to hotel staff, there is an on-site parking structure. The representative I spoke to was uncertain about the cost for parking on that day, but suggested it should be about $7.

The SR-710 is not on the agenda (http://www.slideshare.net/peggydrouet/100814ctcagenda), but it is very important that we attend and continue our dialogue with the commissioners.  Our comments will have to be made during the Public Comment period.  The No 710 Action committee suggests that your comments focus on two issues:

A.  Getting the support of the CTC in asking Caltrans/Metro to increase the public review period for the draft EIR/EIS from the current 90 days. 

B.  Informing the CTC that the number of public hearings planned (only 2)  during the review period is inadequate and unfair -- especially since there have been 4 public hearings held during the past week for the recently-released Eastside Transit Corridor Phase 2 DEIR/EIS. The study area for the East Side Transit Corridor Phase 2 EIR/EIS 80 square miles and has a population of 720,850.  The study area for the SR-710 North EIR/EIS is 100 square miles with a population of 1.18 million (2008 census).  These numbers clearly demonstrate the inequity in the opportunities afforded the public. 

If you attend, be prepared to wait while the commission addresses the items on the agenda -- it can be a lengthy process.  Public comment, as you can see from the agenda, is usually held at the end.

High Desert Corridor draft environmental study is released


By Steve Hymon, October 1, 2014


 Caltrans and Metro today released the long-awaited draft environmental study for the High Desert Corridor project, which contemplates a new 63-mile freeway between Palmdale in Los Angeles County and the town of Apple Valley in San Bernardino County — along with a possible high-speed rail line, bikeway and green energy transmission corridor. The study also considers the legally-required No Build alternative.

The draft study can be viewed by clicking here.

The High Desert Corridor sits north of the San Gabriel Mountains, traditionally the divide between the heavily populated Los Angeles Basin and the rural Mojave Desert. In recent years, however, desert cities such as Palmdale, Lancaster, Adelanto, Hesperia, Victorville and Apple Valley have grown tremendously and now have a combined population near 700,000. The study predicts more growth — and more traffic — in coming decades.

Transportation, however, has remained a challenge in the High Desert with Highway 138 remaining the primary east-west option. Highway 138 is narrow — two or four lanes, often with no center divider — and long ago earned a reputation for its safety issues.

As with other transportation projects, funding for the High Desert Corridor project will remain a challenge. At this time, the project is not funded, although Measure R helped provide money for the project’s environmental studies. Among the alternatives studied is a toll road that could raise funding needed to help finance the project.

(See website for the news release from Caltrans.) 

From Sylvia Plummer, October 1, 2014

High Desert Corridor Draft EIR/EIS is Released

Caltrans and Metro today released the long-awaited draft environmental study for the High Desert Corridor project, which contemplates a new 63-mile freeway between Palmdale in Los Angeles County and the town of Apple Valley in San Bernardino County -- along with a possible high-speed rail line, bikeway and green energy transmission corridor. The study also considers the legally-required No Build alternative.

Tom Williams comments that this is an important project for us to study as he hopes it will give truck traffic for SR-14 which will travel back to the I-5 and 210 AND 710N and 710S Freeways.  Tom also pointed out that this is the segment with the highest revenue generation from incremental property tax revenue.

This project is definitely one which we must consider in our discussion of cumulative impacts.

You can find the Draft EIR/EIS for the High Desert Corridor Project at:  http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist07/HDC/HDC_Draft_EIR-EIS/

Car Commuting Still Rules, But New Census Data Reveals Important Shifts


By Adie Tomer and Joseph Kane, September 30, 2014

 Metropolitan Share of Non-Car Commuters, 2007 to 2013

 Source: Brookings analysis of American Community Survey data

Driving to work has been a staple in the American commute for decades, but it appears the country’s love affair with cars is stalling in many places. After years of sustained growth, driving levels are flat-lining, while more young people are opting for alternative transportation modes.
Newly released Census data from the 2013 American Community Survey offers additional insight into the shifting nature of our daily commutes.

To be sure, the car is still king for the United States as a whole. Based on the new Census estimates, over 85 percent of all workers still get to their jobs by private automobile. That amounts to over 122 million commuters, the vast majority of whom travel alone rather than in a carpool. It’s also relatively consistent with our commuting patterns from 1980, when nearly the same percentage of workers commuted by car.

But those long-term trends mask real changes over the past few years. The share of national commuters traveling by private vehicle is edging down for the first time in decades — from 86.5 percent in 2007 to 85.8 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, other transportation modes have grown in relative importance. Public transportation, which just recorded the most passenger trips since 1956, saw its share jump to over 5 percent, reaching levels not seen since 1990. The share of those bicycling and walking to work also continued to rise, now representing nearly 4 percent of all commuters. The biggest gain, however, came from those workers who didn’t technically commute at all. With the help of burgeoning broadband coverage, nearly as many people now work from home as ride public transportation to their jobs.

Leading these national trends are the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.* Over two-thirds of these places experienced driving declines between 2007 and 2013, while also simultaneously seeing a rise in commuters walking, bicycling or working at home.

Metropolitan Share of Non-Car Commuters, 2007 to 2013

From Los Angeles and Seattle to Boston and Miami, this shift in commuting patterns is taking place all across the country, even in traditionally car-centric locations. Large metros like New York and San Francisco grew their transit shares, but so did Tucson and Albany. Similar shares of people now bike or walk to work in Columbia, South Carolina, as they do in Portland, Oregon.

Over time, these evolving commuting habits will help influence — and be shaped by — the built environment of our communities. The proliferation of pedestrian-scaled developments, for instance, represents one way in which many metropolitan areas are stitching together their urban fabric and responding to a new geography of innovation. As more individuals work from home, stroll to their office, or even engage in widespread bike sharing and car sharing, metropolitan areas will need to consider a range of plans and policies that further address these multimodal needs.

* Due to changing metropolitan definitions and limited county-level data, we can only compare 69 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas between 2007 and 2013. For a more thorough technical explanation, see Elizabeth Kneebone and Natalie Holmes’ report on the same data issues.

The Outrageous, Unjust Rule That Lets New York Drivers Who Hit Pedestrians off the Hook

If the city is serious about street safety, it must replace a terrible old precedent with a strong new one.


By Eric Jaffe, October 1, 2014


Earlier this year, a 9-year-old boy named Cooper Stock was struck and killed by a New York City taxi cab while crossing the street with his father. They were in the crosswalk and had the walk signal at the time; Cooper was holding his father's hand. It was a tragedy of the worst proportions—and became one degree still worse when it emerged that the driver wouldn't face any severe charges such as manslaughter or criminal negligence, but would receive only a traffic violation and a small fine.

Local officials have tried to turn the terrible incident into social progress by enacting Cooper's Law, which allows the city to revoke the license of a cab driver who hits pedestrians who have the right of way. (Unfathomable as it seems, such a law did not already exist.) But Cooper's mother, Dana Lerner, isn't sure much good will come of her family's misfortune. Writing in the New York Times this week, Lerner brought attention to the outrageous, unjust legal precedent that makes it hard to prosecute drivers like the one who hit her son:
A New York State case law precedent known as the "rule of two" stipulates that there must be two misdemeanors for a charge of criminal negligence to be brought against a driver who kills. …

This artificial and arbitrary threshold discourages law enforcement from properly investigating, charging, and prosecuting drivers who kill.
The "rule of two" operates on the presumption that drivers who are violating two traffic laws at the time of a fatal crash are being criminally negligent behind the wheel. So if you're going 20 miles per hour over the speed limit and zipping through red lights when you hit someone, you probably knew you were being irresponsible and risking a crash. On the flip side, drivers who merely hit a pedestrian or cyclist—even hopping the curb in the process—aren't necessarily being reckless enough to face criminal charges if that's the only thing they've done wrong.

Regardless of the fact that drivers do honestly lose control of a car sometimes, the list of problems with the "rule of two" is a long one. For starters, it should be reiterated that this is not an actual law but rather a legal precedent. (Dana Lerner writes that she wanted Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, to use her son's case to challenge the "rule of two," but he refused.) Nor is the rule applied uniformly; Brad Aaron of Streetsblog has reported that many New York drivers who exceed the two-violation threshold still aren't charged. So the "rule of two" isn't just arbitrary, it's biased against the victim.

The most obvious shortcoming is also the most absurd and upsetting: The act of hitting the pedestrian or cyclist with right of way doesn't count as one of the two violations. You typically need two abuses over and above the collision itself to face criminal charges.

This last problem might finally have been addressed in the eyes of the law with the recent passage of legislation called "Intro 238." The new law makes drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians and cyclists with the right of way "guilty of a traffic infraction" by the very nature of the accident—in other words, no further negligence is needed. As attorney Steve Vaccaro explains, again at Streetsblog, the law "should mean … an end to the 'rule of two.' "

Of course, for a new precedent to emerge, the old one must be challenged, and it remains to be seen how courts and cops will interpret the change. While Mayor Bill De Blasio's Vision Zero campaign to end traffic fatalities is a good start to pedestrian safety, Lerner writes that New York doesn't just need more safety laws—it needs "to hold law enforcement accountable for using the laws we have." Unfortunately, she knows what she's talking about. Let's hope the city listens.

Hey, Streetcar Critics: Stop Making 'Perfect' the Enemy of 'Good'

Even when they're not ideal, streetcar projects can still benefit cities. Here are five ways how.


By David Alpert, October 1, 2014


American streetcar projects have gotten some tough love recently. Writers who advocate for walkable, transit-oriented urban neighborhoods are questioning whether streetcar investments really enhance mobility, and whether they’re worth the money, if, as is often the case in the U.S., a new line has no dedicated lane or runs infrequently.

Matthew Yglesias wrote at Vox that streetcars aren’t worthwhile unless they have a dedicated lane. He called the streetcar on H Street in Washington, D.C. “the worst transit project in America.” Respected transit expert Jarrett Walker agrees, proclaiming that “streetcars mixed with private car traffic are overrated.”

And on this very website, Eric Jaffe pointed out that most of the newer U.S. streetcar systems, with a few exceptions, aren’t running frequently enough to meet the usual standards of good mass transit.
Still others criticize new streetcar lines that don’t seem long enough. Kriston Capps wrote here at CityLab that Washington D.C.’s H Street streetcar, 2.4 miles at first, takes people “from where they aren’t to where they don’t need to go.”

D.C.'s H Street streetcar.

Jaffe is certainly right that more frequent streetcars are better than less frequent ones. Yglesias and Capps are right that streetcars with dedicated lanes and longer routes are better than short, mixed-traffic streetcars. Both, however, omit the fact that the H Street project is the first piece of a longer line spanning the city, one that will in fact eventually have dedicated lanes downtown.

Jaffe, Walker, Yglesias, and Capps have no duty to support Team Transit no matter what. They should speak their minds. And anyone who supports mass transit expansion should want it to be as close to perfect as possible.

But streetcars also have another set of opponents: Those who simply don’t want to fund any transit at all, regardless of its specifics. They seize on any flaw to stop projects that might change their street or interfere with their driving.

So I worry about the effects of this latest trend in streetcar criticism. While streetcar projects can and should be better, many of these articles go further and either imply or outright state that a streetcar without every desirable feature is worse than nothing.

That’s not right. Perfect transit is absolutely a goal, but the perfect must not be the enemy of the good. There are plenty of reasons why a streetcar might be worth supporting, even if it isn't as long, frequent, or speedy as we might like. Here are five.

Imperfect transit can still be good for cities.

Millennials, empty nesters, and others want walkable, livable urban places. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of those in the United States, which is why they’re increasingly expensive.
There are plenty of places on the edges of cities that could become more walkable, more urban, and have more of a sense of place. To do that, they need better transit, more amenities, and more residents—which generally means more density. When such a place achieves greater walkability and urbanization, the factors making it so strengthen over time. Yet the reverse also applies, creating a self-reinforcing cycle in either direction:

(David Alpert)

It’s a momentum game, and even an expensive, sub-optimal transit solution—such as a less-frequent streetcar with no dedicated lane —can push the cycle in the right direction. If it draws population and turns car drivers into transit riders even part of the time, then it will build political support for even better transit systems down the road (more on this later).

An imperfect streetcar might be all your city can afford—for now.

Most cities that build streetcars would probably love to build a longer line with more frequent service. Unfortunately, in the United States, transit projects compete for very limited state and federal funding, and even the most worthy projects often have to cut back, then cut back again, and again and again before they ultimately get funded—if ever.

Incentives to be thrifty are a good thing. Nobody (except maybe construction contractors) wants any project to spend more than necessary. But since you can’t build a rail project without rail ties, pushing transit projects to cut costs often means buying fewer vehicles (and therefore offering less-frequent service), or starting with a much shorter line than is really appropriate.

In Minneapolis, the need to cut costs led to building light rail stops only two cars long rather than three. Initial ridership estimates said two were enough. But ridership exploded almost right away. Just five years after Minneapolis’ first light rail line opened, the city had to spend more money to lengthen its stations.

Penny-wise and pound-foolish, yes. But with fierce competition for scarce federal transit dollars, cities often have to resort to this very approach in order to get projects built. In many cases, the alternative is no project at all.

Baltimore's streetcar.

Funding won’t get redirected towards a “better” transit project.

Wondering If we had a billion dollars, how could we build the ideal transit that helps the most people? can be a useful thought experiment. However, funding rarely works like that. Transit projects vie with myriad other spending options.

For example, Virginia’s Silver Line Metro project extends from Washington D.C. to Tysons Corner and (eventually) Dulles Airport. Its funding came from state coffers, profits from the Dulles Toll Road, and an outright chunk of $900 million from the federal government for the first phase.

Theoretically, the $6.8 billion that went to the Silver Line could have been spent on a rail or BRT network all over Northern Virginia, which could have added more transit service in more communities. But that was never the tradeoff. The Silver Line’s funding was cobbled together specifically for the Silver Line, and only with great political effort across many years. Eliminate the Silver Line, and most of its funding disappears from transit’s coffers.

Or take Cincinnati, one of America’s most transit-poor large cities. It’s one of the biggest metros with zero rail service, and a bus network that carries only a tiny trickle of riders. Plans for expensive light rail or subway systems have failed repeatedly. Their short, mixed-traffic streetcar, slated to open in 2016, is a baby step that’s actually accomplishable. Still, Mayor John Cranley tried to kill the project even after it was under construction. In his 2013 campaign, he pledged to redirect the money not to better bus service or other transit, but to highway interchanges, which would have further cemented the city as a place where no one takes transit because there’s so little.

Yet the project was saved. For one thing, even with a short route and non-dedicated lanes, it’s projected to carry 10 percent of all riders in the region, enormously increasing the number of people for whom transit as an option. For another, officials discovered that the city would have to pay back substantial federal grants it had already received and spent. So much for redirected funds.

Streetcars Can Outperform Buses, Even Without Dedicated Lanes.

No doubt, a streetcar with a dedicated lane is ideal. But not having one doesn’t make a streetcar useless. In fact, in Arlington, Virginia, the streetcar will generate $2.2 to 3 billion more benefit than a bus, even though the Virginia Department of Transportation rejected options to give up a car lane for it due to the narrowness of the roads.

After all, streetcars can make up for lack of lane space with their length, since they can be much longer than buses and carry more people more efficiently. And no, that’s not the same as adding buses infinitely to a corridor. Too many buses at once can form a traffic jam, seriously reducing service efficiency. Streetcars offer a way to keep adding transit capacity in the busiest corridors, without hitting that diminishing-return scenario.
(Dan Malouff)
To say that it’s wrong to build a line without a dedicated lane is oversimplifying the situation.

Your city can make it better later, and may even plan to.

Once a city gets the first streetcar line in the ground, it’s easier to convince politicians to buy more railcars. Extensions are simpler after it starts running.

In fact, it’s even possible to create a dedicated lane once there are riders finding themselves stuck in traffic. Suddenly, they become a political constituency, willing to write legislators in support of a dedicated lane. That’s what happened in Toronto, where in 2005 the city upgraded its 512 Saint Clair streetcar route from mixed traffic to a dedicated right-of-way. The same thing happened in Baltimore, where the light rail system was originally built with only a single track in many areas, resulting in delays and limited service. Ten years later, with a transit constituency in place, Maryland went back and added a second track.

I’m not saying anyone should start cheering for infrequent, short, mixed-traffic streetcar lines. I’m pushing for dedicated lanes, high frequencies, and a complete system in my home city of D.C.
But writers who think more transit is good for cities should bear in mind that not all readers necessarily agree with that basic premise. When writers give tough love to imperfect transit, it would at least help to put things in context—say, by criticizing one of the vast number of bad, non-transit projects (highways for nobody, bridges to nowhere) that this country has also seen.