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, October 6, 2014

The Baby Boomers Drive Change, Again

Seventy-seven million aging baby boomers—aka the Silver Tsunami, champions of the driverless car—are about to change everything in transportation. Again.


By Chuck Salter, Fall 2014

Over the past 60 years, one group of Americans has reshaped transportation as we know it. At every life stage, the baby boomers, the largest generation in history, have placed unprecedented demands on the vehicles we drive, the roads we travel—virtually every aspect of getting from point A to point B. As children, they inspired the development of the station wagon; as parents, the mini-van. They introduced the two-car household to accommodate two working parents, boosting car ownership and expanding the highway system. They raised the median household income by 60%, triggering a travel boom.

Transportation Technology - Thumbnail | HP Matter - TrafficNow those 77 million people born between 1946 and 1964 are about to unleash another wave of changes as they enter their senior years. The transportation industry has never experienced anything like the aging of the population that has just begun. Over the next 18 years, roughly 8,000 people a day will join the ranks of the over-65 population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older. By 2050, this older cohort will number 80 million, nearly double what it is today.

“This is going to drive a rethinking of everything from airplanes and airports to cars and public transit,” says Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the MIT AgeLab. “That’s good. Because it’ll make the system safer and easier to navigate for everybody.”

The AgeLab is the first multi-disciplinary research lab exploring the impact of what Coughlin calls “the disruptive demographics” of older boomers. Founded in 1999, the lab prioritized transportation from the start, says Coughlin, because of the alarming “lack of infrastructure” for an older population. Companies such as Toyota and Nissan work with the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based researchers to better understand older people’s needs while adapting existing products or inventing new ones to address their findings.

The business opportunity is enormous, particularly for automakers. The automotive industry grew up with boomers, who have amassed about 70% of disposable income and remain the largest buyers of luxury vehicles.

Stealthy Solutions Required

A major point of focus for the AgeLab is to explore how best to adapt products to the physical changes that come with aging. Bones weaken, joints stiffen, and the spine curves. Vision and hearing dim. Reaction time slows. The solution, however, isn’t as obvious as a bigger, brighter dashboard with fewer buttons.

For boomers, a generation often defined by its age-defying sensibility, what’s required, says Coughlin, is “stealth design.” That is, technology to counteract the deficiencies of aging without pointing out those deficiencies. “This will be the hardest problem designers have had,” says Coughlin, 42. “How to design something cool but age-friendly. You can’t design an old-person’s car.”

At Toyota, the car of the future not only gives consumers more control over displays but also reduces distractions, says Chuck Gulash, director of Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its D.A.R.V. concept car (Driver Awareness Research Vehicle) eliminates distractions before a driver even gets into the vehicle. Sensors identify the driver upon approach and display information on the window, such as the weather, the day’s appointments, and directions to the nearest gas station if fuel is low. The goal is to minimize multi-tasking on the road. “We asked how to make things better so that the driver is more aware and can do the job of driving,” says Gulash.
A Car that Knows You

Once someone is behind the wheel, Toyota employs sensors to track blink rate and eye movement to detect fatigue or distraction. The technologies aren’t limited to older drivers, but they are especially relevant to this demographic. Other automakers and tech companies are testing a variety of monitors, such as U.K.-based Plessey’s ECG sensors embedded in car seats to detect heart rate. Eventually, says Coughlin, your car could emit scents that calm you down or keep you alert.

Silver Tsunami - Baby Boomers & Adapting Transportation Technology

“Imagine a car starting to become more sensitive to your health,” he says. “It would be designed to keep you in an optimal state.” The connected car could also share data with a health-care provider to monitor someone’s condition, a vital benefit for the elderly.
From driver-awareness to driver-assist systems by Mercedes-Benz and others that keep a car from veering outside its lane, a lot of things are in the works to help aging boomers. But on the whole, the transportation industry, much like the health-care sector, is far from ready for a massive elderly population. Consider the crash-test dummy that’s used to test seat belts. Modeled after a younger person, the safety device doesn’t take into account the thicker abdomen, spinal curvature, and lower bone density of an older driver. The solution: Toyota is developing the first boomer dummy, to be shared throughout the industry.

Walking in the Elderly’s Shoes

Boomers will be the largest older generation America has ever seen and they’ll also live to be the oldest, thanks to improved health care and better nutrition. The fastest growing segment within the older population is what’s known as the “oldest old,” those over 85.

To aid designers, researchers, and executives in understanding the realities of aging, the AgeLab has created a specially designed suit that replicates what it feels like to be old. AGNES, an acronym for Age Gain Now Empathy Suit, is outfitted with leg braces, straps and arm weights to limit mobility and flexibility, creating the sensation of moving in a 75-year-old’s body. A weighted helmet forces you to bend over slightly. Goggles blur your vision. Earplugs dull your hearing. Gloves turn your hands arthritic.

HP Matter Baby Boomers Technology Transportation Trends Hero AGNES Suit.jpg

If companies can identify with what aging boomers are going through, says Coughlin, they’ll be better equipped to modify or create products and services to make these consumers more comfortable and extend their independence.

Rebels Without a Car

Wherever the boomers settle down in their later years, they’ll require changes in local transportation infrastructures. Traditionally, older Americans have lived in suburban or rural areas, where public transit is the least available. If boomers continue that pattern, they’ll demand new and easy-to-navigate services to serve them. If they rebel against traditional patterns (and that tends to be their way), the boomers will migrate to cities, following the current (and young) wave of urbanization. This shift will overwhelm public transit systems, forcing the infrastructure to expand and adapt to older riders.

These trends could speed the evolution of the driverless car: a logical solution for a population that wants to retain independence while also easing the demands of being a driver. Richard Wallace, director of transportation systems analysis at the Center for Automotive Research, predicts a rent-on-demand model will take hold. The arrangement will give consumers access to a fleet of vehicles from which to choose, depending on their taste and needs. “It’s leasing on steroids,” says Wallace. “You’ll buy a mobility package.”
In this model, driverless cars will be shared among multiple users. As Julian Thomson, director of Jaguar’s Advanced Design Studio, envisions, you’ll reserve a vehicle in the morning. It will pick you up and drive to your destination, and then, rather than sit parked and unused all day, it will simply head to the next pick-up.

Ultimately, the Silver Tsunami, as some call the aging boomers, will change more than just transportation through these innovations. They will alter how cities and communities operate and how society interacts, because transportation is about more than mere vehicles. “Transportation reflects and reinforces how you live, work, and relate to other people,” says Coughlin. “It’s the glue that connects all those big and little things that we call life.”

The trouble with toll roads in Texas


By Phineas Baxandall and Sara E. Smith, October 5, 2014

Texans aren’t so fond of toll roads.

A Texas Transportation Institute study released last month found that from a list of 15 potential ways to improve transportation in the state, building more toll roads was by far the least popular option. Over 1,000 citizens reportedly filled a public meeting last month in Rockwall to show opposition to a private tollway.

Ideally, Texas would only introduce tolls on roads when they’re the best way to collect needed transportation revenue. In states like Colorado and Virginia, toll rates are adjusted to encourage drivers to avoid rush hour and carpool more. London charges visitors who drive downtown a fee that keeps streets unclogged. These systems create public benefits that can outweigh any drawbacks.
But unfortunately, especially in Texas, tolls tend to be introduced for the wrong reasons. When elected leaders aren’t willing to fix major transportation funding problems, tolling can appear to create money out of thin air while actually wasting tax dollars and leading to poor decisions about what transportation projects to build and how to manage them.

The chief reason most toll projects get built is because the money used to build them is “off budget,” meaning it doesn’t appear on the state’s budget and revenue doesn’t come from general taxes. Politicians want to build new public works, repair infrastructure and get their picture taken at ribbon cuttings, but they also fear losing their jobs if they propose raising taxes to pay for these things. Texas lawmakers last session passed legislation that, if approved by voters in November, is expected to redirect billions of dollars over the next decade from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for transportation. But it won’t come close to fixing budget shortfalls.

Tolling raises revenue from the public akin to taxes or fees but uses off-budget private concessions or quasi-public agencies to collect the money and borrow against future tolls. The borrowing doesn’t count as public debt, and thus the costs seem to disappear, especially when public-private partnerships act as a middleman. It’s government accounting fiction. In reality, the private costs of financing toll roads are far more expensive than the rock-bottom interest rates the state pays when issuing tax-free public bonds.

Off-budget tolling can thus discourage public officials from confronting transportation funding questions directly, distorting public choices and enabling politicians to take credit for shiny new roads while remaining insulated from any blame.

This means lost dollars for other priorities — such as repairing Texas’ 52,000 structurally deficient bridges, investing in public transit or bike lanes, or improving roadways in places where drivers have less income to pay tolls.

Tollways in Texas also often fail to attract forecasted levels of traffic. Since the turn of the century, Texans have cut their driving miles by almost 13 percent while transit ridership is on the rise, yet the state continues to push for building unnecessary toll roads like the Dallas Trinity Parkway.
Proponents of new toll roads like to talk about introducing more choices, but toll roads often foreclose choices and impose harms. They steer future growth and traffic to and from particular places, leaving taxpayers to pay for infrastructure to accommodate that growth. New roads create pollution and require vast quantities of land for public rights of way.

Tolling can even introduce inefficiencies and public harms that wouldn’t arise from other highways. Though more efficient than collecting coins, electronic tolling still requires billing, enforcement, data protection and call centers that wouldn’t otherwise be necessary. Tolls inevitably discourage some people from using the most direct or efficient route. Studies have shown that many drivers will opt for less-efficient local roads that aren’t prepared for the traffic. Truckers are particularly sensitive to toll hikes, and diverting them onto local roads can create safety, pollution and road maintenance problems.

And these problems can be magnified when a private company operates a toll road. Private toll operators seek to maximize profits rather than public benefits. They typically seek to safeguard future toll revenue by requiring decades-long contracts that limit the public’s ability to adapt to unanticipated needs and technological opportunities. Private toll contracts reduce public transparency by, for instance, declaring basic information about their operations “proprietary business information.”

Instead of treating tolling as free money, politicians should weigh tolls against alternative ways of funding transportation. They must ensure that the money the public would pay in tolls and other potential harms get full consideration.

Editorial: Still Dawdling on Trucker Training


Tuesday Evening's City Council Special Meeting On The General Plan - A Slightly Different Perspective


October 6, 2014


 A face house

In a more perfect universe a small city such as Sierra Madre would be able to chart its own course. Be it the density of the community, the design of buildings already built or about to be built, or the amount of taxes we choose to pay.

And since it is our town, and our home as well, shouldn't we be allowed to decide how we want to run it, how things should look, and what taxes we would have to pay in order to make the magic happen?

Alas, that is not quite how things work in California anymore. Here we are told we must accommodate centralized state development schemes because Sacramento demands it. We're also told this is one of the ways the world will somehow be saved from global warming, and that if people are coerced into living in highly dense transit corridor communities they will use their cars less, and therefore will not produce as much in greenhouse gas emissions.

Rather than commuting to job centers from supposedly remote single family homes, and in convenient personal transportation, we'll stay put and not move around quite so much. And when we do, we'll take the bus.

Here is how a website called Sustainable Communities describes some of the consequences of SB 375, the state law that removes the rights of towns like ours to control local development (link):

Imposed DevelopmentHousing elements have long been a source of controversy and contention. Cities often bristle at orders imposed on them about how to accommodate growth. With SB 375 adding more coordinated oversight of local planning, cities and counties have reason to anticipate even greater centralized control and restrictions when it comes to planning their future.  

SB 375 mandates that cities must complete zoning changes to meet the RHNA within three years of the date when the city receives final comments on its housing element from HCD. The new law includes penalty provisions for governments that do not comply, including prohibiting the local government from denying or putting conditions on development projects with at least 49% of units for very low- to moderate-income families. If a local government does deny or put conditions on such a project, the applicant can sue the city. In addition, anyone may file suit against a government that has failed to rezone by the deadline. Cities that file an inadequate or late housing element update could also be subject to a four-year review cycle instead of eight years.  

A state law that helps developers sue towns like Sierra Madre over planning. Wow. Like that was necessary.

The reality is greenhouse gas emitting flivvers are going the way of the dinosaur, and fairly soon. Within the next two decades the personal transportation industry (Sacramento generally dislikes industries and often successfully discourages them from operating here) will reach a tipping point and mostly sell emissions-free transportation, which will solve this problem once and for all.

And all of those lumpen SCAGvilles and tacky Faux Pasadenas that dot the 210 Freeway and Gold Line corridors will sit largely ignored and uninhabited as we the people happily speed by in clean green personal automotive transportation. Well on our merry way to the bucolic locales and highly desirable single family homes the haters in our state capital decry as "sprawl."

Centrally controlled development planning in California is a direct product of what is widely regarded to be one of the most corrupt state governments in the United States (link). In this our one party de-evolutionary state most everything of value is sold off to lobbyists and anyone else who is willing to pay to play. The temple of government here is not just lousy with money-changers, it is practically all you will find there.

And one of the largest and most lucrative prizes up for sale is development. 

Sacramento law now demands that little cities such as ours accommodate more and more densely settled infill housing, and even though this town is largely built-out, their lust for money trumps all. The state basically confiscated and then sold our rights to plan and develop our town as we see fit to various construction, development and Realty interests for nothing more than money. Cold hard campaign cash to be exact.

Where else would the likes of Chris "Gold LineHolden have gotten his otherwise unproductive mitts on the $199,000 dollars required to buy his Assembly Majority Whip seat? Even though he'd only been in Sacramento for several months? Check our this little piece of wildly inappropriate political behavior by clicking here. Everything is for sale, even legislative offices.

So how does all of this fit into a discussion about updating Sierra Madre's General Plan? The answer is that these are the dark forces driving so much of what we are required by state law to accommodate and enable with this all-important document. In other words, in order to meet the lobbyist driven mandates of our corrupt state government, we need to incorporate a large level of vulnerability to over-development into what is ostensibly the twenty year blue print of our community.

Here is how our compliant city government expresses this in the agenda report for tomorrow's special City Council meeting on the General Plan. Language that, by the way, is about as opaque and meaningless as bureaucratic minds are capable of producing.

If anyone can tell me what City Hall is telling us with phrases like "integrated program of complementary and mutually reinforcing actions" I'll send you a tin of warm cookies. My guess is it means abjectly complying with everything the state tells us to do, and without giving them guff about it. Otherwise they'll take away some grants, or legally assist developers hoping to profit by suing us.

What this is really all about is development, of course. Check it out:

And then there is this little piece of prime bunkum:

If your really want to promote (not encourage) sustainability (and we are still waiting for the EENERs to define what that rather loaded term actually means), you don't build 87,392 square feet of new development in Sierra Madre. A town that is already packed out well beyond its natural limits, and doesn't even have the water required to service the houses we already have.

Here so-called "green development" is an oxymoron. The absurd notion that somehow dense pack development can be green is about as Orwellian a concept as you can find anywhere.

If you want to be truly green, then don't cram 181 new houses into a three square mile community that has no room for them.

Then again, how do you sell unpopular and frankly destructive things in California? You tell people it has to be done in order to "save the world." Apparently there is a near limitless supply of post-cosmic people in this state, and they're herbally lobotomized enough to believe it.

Perhaps it is the little green leaf pictures that gets 'em.

Fortunately, there was this rugged band of wise and courageous individuals on the General Plan Update Steering Committee. Folks that worked very hard to get as many pro-Sierra Madre advantages cooked into the General Plan as they legally could. This despite the near constant meddling of the City Manager, Mayors Josh Moran and Nancy "We will take you out" Walsh, plus the multiple consultants they demanded we hire. And at extraordinary expense to the taxpayers, I might add.

The Planning Commission has now backed up the many accomplishments of the General Plan Update Steering Committee, and even contributed a few wise additions of their own. Some of them quite good I might add.

Now this all goes to the City Council for them to chew over. You will need to keep an eye on them I'm afraid. I am not certain that all of our elected officials can be completely trusted.

Especially the one's utterly dependent upon the City Manager for clues about any of this.