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 22, 2014

China lowballs MBTA bid

Critics cite raw deal for U.S. companies


By Chris Cassidy, October 22, 2014


 EXPRESS TRAIN: Gov. Deval Patrick announces yesterday that CNR MA Corp., the Chinese bidder, plans to build Orange and Red line subway cars for the MBTA at a new factory it will build in Springfield.

The controversial train manufacturer run by the repressive Chinese government submitted an extraordinarily low bid to make new Orange and Red line subway cars that was hundreds of millions of dollars lower than its rivals, records show.

But while that may be a coup for the Patrick Administration, angry human rights and labor activists say it’s a raw deal for Chinese workers forced to toil on the cheap by their totalitarian overlords — and U.S. companies that have to compete against them.

“This happens every day,” said Charles Kernaghan of the Institute for Global 
Labour and Human Rights. “If those bids are so wildly apart, we can imagine these trains (will be) made with cheap labor in the manufacturing part of China. ... China doesn’t play on a level playing field. It has no respect for its own workers. They have zero rights. ... It’s really a rotten deal.”

The MassDOT Board of Directors is expected to vote today on whether to award China CNR Corp. the $566.6 million deal in what would be the first rail contract the company has landed­ in the United States. Other bidders included Hyundai Rotem at $720.6 million, Kawasaki at $904.9 million and Bombardier at $1.08 billion.

The Alliance for American Manufacturers — a national labor group — blasted the deal in a letter yesterday to Gov. Deval Patrick, warning that he will put other companies across the country at a competitive disadvantage in future contracts if the China contract is signed.

“By making CNR’s entry into the U.S. market possible, this procurement opens the door to unfair, state-owned competition on other rail and transit procurements throughout the United States,” executive director Scott Paul wrote. “Government-backed entities are able to undercut market prices that privately owned businesses are able to offer. It is cheating, plain and simple, and should not be rewarded using taxpayer dollars.”

MBTA officials yesterday insisted their own investigation “revealed no record of violations of human rights against workers by China CNR Corporation Limited,” known as CNR MA Corp. in the Bay State subway deal.

State officials claim the project will be an economic boon for Springfield, creating 250 new manufacturing and construction jobs at a new 150,000-square-foot factory. CNR MA will invest $60 million of its own money in the facility, said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

State officials have issued conflicting figures about the deal over the past year. Patrick told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last October that the project was a “$1.3 billion procurement to replace decades-old Orange and Red Line trains with new and modern equipment.”
Even the T’s own press 
release last year referred to it as a “$1.3 billion procurement to replace ... Red Line cars and ... Orange Line cars.”
But Pesaturo yesterday walked back the cost of the subway cars, saying the $1.3 billion figure also includes necessary upgrades to subway signal systems and an expansion to maintenance 
facilities in Medford and South Boston.

Experts discuss technology’s role in future of transportation


By Ashley Halsey III, October 21, 2014

 Vice President Biden delivers the keynote remarks at a conference of transportation experts put on by The Washington Post.

Ask a transportation expert what America needs right now and you’ll get a fairly simple answer: better roads and bridges, enhanced public transit and improved rail lines, ports and airports. Ask a transportation expert how Americans will get from place to place in 20 years, and often the answer is a lot less certain.

If that seems like a disconnect — surely what we need today will be in use for a couple of decades — there is a one-word explanation for the quiver in experts’ voices when they talk about transportation’s future:


It has revolutionized transportation just as it has forever changed most other aspects of life, and in the years to come it promises to take transportation to a dozen forks in the road.

That was one aspect made clear at a wide-ranging conference of transportation experts brought together in downtown Washington on Tuesday by The Washington Post.

The conference attendees heard from mayors, past and present U.S. secretaries of transportation, Vice President Biden and a bevy of fellow experts, most with their own vision of the future.

The central theme for most was the critical importance of investing in the nation’s tattered infrastructure to keep the United States competitive in the global market. Finding the funding to do that as revenue from the traditional gas tax dwindles was a subset of that conversation, with several suggesting a move to a mileage-based fee or tolling on interstate highways.

When it comes to a vision for the future that lies just over the horizon, there were many ideas tossed out that made certainty a bit elusive.

Technology has spread so rapidly through virtually all modes of transportation that the challenge is in determining how it will continue to transform the future. At few times in history has the pace of change come so quickly.

Questions that arose — without firm answers — from the presentations Tuesday included:

●If autonomous vehicles — driverless cars — are just over the horizon, will drivers who no longer drive still need insurance? Or will vehicles and their manufacturers be covered by product-liability policies?

●Will highways of the future need things such as road signs or guardrails, since the cars know where they are going and will stay between the white lines?

●If electric cars are a major part of the future — Tesla was represented at the conference — will there still be a need for a gas station every few blocks?

●With autonomous cars able to toddle off and park themselves, will there be a need for vast acres of underground parking garages in downtown areas such as the District’s where land is at a premium?

●When the last parking meters wear out and disappear, and cars begin to park themselves and pay for the space electronically, will parking tickets become a thing of the past? And what will replace the ticket revenue that cities have come to count on?

●Will public transit be less popular when autonomous cars can deliver their passengers that “last mile” from the transit stop to the front door?

●Will magnetic levitation trains running through tunnels deep underground carry passengers at 300 mph?

●And will cars fly?

A prototype of a flying car sat on 14th Street NW outside the conference.

“Hopefully we can use these technologies we’ve talked about here at the conference and change some things,” said flying-car developer Carl Dietrich, head of Terrafugia, whose Web site says that it “intends to lead the creation of a new flying car industry.”

 In an allusion to the prospect that packages may be delivered to homes by unmanned drones, Dietrich asked: “How many years will it take of seeing your packages flying above you before we say, ‘Hey, we could be up there?’ ”

Washington State Traffic Forecast Finally Recognizes Reality

Does Washington's new road forecast spell the end of "build now, pay later"?


By Clark Williams-Derry, October 21, 2014

This is far and away the most responsible official traffic forecast I’ve seen from any government agency, ever:
It’s from a new transportation revenue forecast (pdf link, see p. 27) recently published by the Washington State Office of Financial Management. Their forecast from last September, in pink, assumed that traffic would grow endlessly, much as it did during the 1950s through 1990s. But the new forecast, in blue, assumes that the modest traffic growth of the past decade will continue, and will then be followed by a slight decline.

There are two reasons why this forecast is such a refreshing change. First, it reflects the growing empirical evidence of a long-term slowdown in the growth of vehicle travel, evident on major roads in Washington, for Washington State roads as a whole, for the US, and for much of the industrialized world.

Second, even if the forecast is wrong, assuming that traffic won’t grow much is the most fiscally prudent way to plan a transportation budget.

For far too long, “build now, pay later” has been the transportation budgeter’s mantra. In the 2000s, for example, Washington committed itself to massive road projects that it didn’t have the money to build. So the state floated bonds, assuming that revenue from gas taxes would show up to pay them off.

That hasn’t worked out so well. Traffic didn’t grow as expected, and gasoline and tolling revenue has gone AWOL as a result. Gradually, planners have come to realize that debt service will swallow up most of the state’s gas tax receipts, crowding out everything else. As the chart below shows, WSDOT predicts that within a few years three-quarters of the state’s gas tax receipts will pay for old projects.
And because so much of the state’s gas revenue is going to pay off old debts, state and local governments simply don’t have the money to keep existing streets and roads in good repair—let alone complete projects, such as the SR-520 bridge, that we’ve already started. And there’s even less money left for the transportation priorities where demand is actually growing, such as walking, transit, and biking.

When you find yourself in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. And that’s exactly what this new forecast does: it helps transportation policymakers stop digging all of us deeper into highway-fueled debt. By undermining both the rationale for new roads and the belief that we’ll be able to pay for them, a forecast of flat traffic should help inject a needed dose of reality into the state’s transportation debates.

Of course, there’s no telling whether this forecast will be right. As Yogi Berra allegedly said, predictions are hard, especially about the future. But if it turns out that this
forecast underestimates traffic growth, budgeters won’t find it such an unpleasant surprise, since more traffic will bring more revenue from drivers. And at this point, finding a bit of extra revenue to deal with emerging problems beats what we’ve got now: not having enough money to pay for expensive solutions to problems that never really showed up.

(Hat tip to Ben Serrurier for pointing this chart out!)

Times, ABC7, and Metro Parking Stories Are Wrong and Misleading


By Joe Linton, October 22, 2014

Yesterday, the L.A. Times ran Lack of Parking Drives Many Away from Mass Transit, an article by Laura Nelson.

The Times starts with the example of a San Fernando Valley Metro Red Line commuter nearly missing grabbing a parking space. This leads to assertions of “parking shortages” on “L.A.’s light-rail system [sic - Red Line is heavy rail].” The article goes on to quote various Metro representatives, then parking expert UCLA professor Don Shoup. Ultimately, Nelson characterizes Metro parking as a “key policy question.”

Vid capture of
Screen/video capture from ABC7′s misleading L.A. Metro parking story. Alex Gonzales of Anaheim, a city not even in Los Angeles County, says “If you can’t park, then why would you take the train?”

Like a sad game of telephone, ABC7 (KABC-TV) picked up the Times’ assertions and stretched them to near absurdity.

ABC7′s story, Parking Issues to Blame for Low Transit Ridership in Los Angeles, has the gall to interview a man-on-the-street from Anaheim, a suburb not even in L.A. County, who says, “if you can’t park, then why would you take the train?”

It looks like he is riding the train in Pasadena but, honestly, couldn’t ABC7 find someone who lives in L.A. County?

Sure, transportation issues cross political boundaries, but should Metro, a governmental agency with jurisdiction over L.A. County, prioritize limited funds to serve people who don’t live here?

First two general points, then responses to Times article specifics:

1. Lots of People Ride Metro, Few Use Metro Parking 

Let me first note that lots and lots of people ride Metro buses and trains. About 1.5 millon every weekdayThere’s no “low ridership” issue here. Especially during rush hour, buses and trains are standing room only.

The vast majority of these Metro riders do not park. According to Metro’s on-board surveys, more than 80 percent of transit riders arrive by walking. Fewer than 4 percent drive and park. Even when excluding buses, just looking at the Metro rail system, only about 15 percent of riders drive and park. That is roughly 1 in 7.

The system works. Mostly with most riders paying no attention to parking.

2. It Costs Metro Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Build and Maintain “Free” Parking 

Free parking is not free for Metro to build and maintain. Metro has already spent more than $200 million to build station parking. As more parking comes on line, Metro pays more and more to operate and maintain it.

Multi-million dollar investments in parking come with trade-offs. As an agency with a limited taxpayer-funded budget, Metro can choose to fund more buses, more rail, more parking, more freeways, more walkways, bike share, etc. The difficult political job of the agency is to strike a balance between these competing public goods.

Responding to Various Erroneous or Misleading Points  

The Times, ABC7, and even Metro routinely just say “parking” when they’re really referring to just “free parking.” For example, the Times (apparently repeating a Metro assertion) states:
In North Hollywood, where the Red Line subway ends, the MTA estimates that it loses as many as 1,500 riders a day because the parking lot fills up by 7:30 a.m.
Below is a photo of the North Hollywood Red Line Station parking lot at 7:30 a.m. this morning.

Metro Red Line North Hollywood Station today at 7:30am
Metro’s Red Line North Hollywood Station parking lot, which “fills up by 7:30 a.m.” wasn’t full today at 7:30 a.m. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

The North Hollywood station parking lot has 909 parking spaces. 451 are free. 425 require a paid monthly permit (currently $59, but sold out.) The free parking section is full, by about 6 a.m. The paid section never quite fills up. At 8 a.m. today there were still at least 200 empty spaces. Nonetheless that ’parking lot full by 7:30 a.m.’ myth gets repeated frequently: L.A. MagazineZev’s Blog, Metro board motions [PDF page 6], but the lot is not full. (Note: Laura Nelson responded via Twitter that “full” more-or-less meant “unavailable.”) 

How about the rest of that Times quote of Metro estimating it’s losing 1,500 riders a day? I think this figure from this Metro staff report [PDF] which reads:
Staff conducted a review of parking demand using Metro’s Regional Transportation Modeling Program for the North Hollywood and Universal City stations. The unconstrained parking demand for both stations far exceeds supply. Unconstrained parking demand is defined as the number of spaces required if there are no regulatory or financial restrictions on use of the parking. The 2014 unconstrained parking demand at North Hollywood is 3,075 spaces. Metro provides 951 [sic - actual: 909] spaces, leaving an unconstrained demand of 2,124 parking spaces.
What is this “unconstrained demand” with ”no financial restrictions”? It is meaningless nonsense. Ultimately nothing that exists on planet earth can exist in wholly “unconstrained” theoretical economic cartoon-fantasy-space. Metro needs to balance its constrained budget.

Metro dressing this mumbo-jumbo up in a scientific-sounding “Regional Transportation Modeling Program” is irresponsible.

The Times reporting that “MTA loses … 1,500 riders a day” is irresponsible.

What’s the “unconstrained demand” for, say, free train rides? Is Metro “losing” tens of thousands of riders a day because they actually charge a fare?  Is the 405 Freeway “losing” cars because Caltrans can’t afford to add a dozen more lanes? Is UCLA “losing” students because they charge tuition? Is the L.A. Times “losing” potential readers because they don’t give papers away free? No – all of these real-world entities have constraints. Responsible staff reports and journalism should reflect this reality.
Back to th
e Times article, which asserts:
Metro has five new rail lines under construction. Only some suburban stations will have parking [...]
I don’t know what definition of suburban is being used here. Mercifully, the Regional Connector and Purple Line subway do not add parking. Here are the “only some suburban stations” including suburban Inglewood and suburban West L.A., which will have parking:
  • Foothill Gold Line: parking at 100% of stations (6 of 6), 1,525 spaces
  • Expo Line phase 2: parking at 43% of stations (3 of 7), 580 spaces
  • Crenshaw/LAX Line: parking at 37% of stations (3 of 8), 330 spaces
The Times asserts:
One of the biggest barriers to attracting new riders to Metropolitan Transportation Authority trains is not the price of fares or the frequency of service. It’s the lack of parking.
This sentence makes it sound like “lack of parking” is a bigger barrier than “fares” or “frequency” (Ok, technically, the sentence doesn’t exclude the possibility that fares and frequency could be the biggest barriers, and parking would be third or so. It would be misleading to write “One of the five most populous cities in California is not L.A. or San Diego. It’s Fresno.” Technically it is correct; Fresno is CA’s fifth most populous city). But what’s a bigger barrier to attracting riders: fares, frequency, or parking?

Trying to compare these is a bit like apples vs. oranges — actually it is mostly-capital vs. mostly-operations. The price of fares and the frequency of service both have an impact on 100 percent of riders. On the other hand, parking is only used by one rail rider in seven, according to on-board surveys mentioned above. Even if Metro budgets could support a huge parking construction boom, it’s hard to imagine that the percentage of driver-riders would ever be a majority.

More from the Times article, quoting Metro:
“Our objective is not to make money on parking; our objective is to get people to ride the system,” said Calvin Hollis, a Metro managing executive officer.
“Not to make money on parking” sounds kind of neutral, no? If Hollis were being clear, I think he should have said something more like “Our objective is to lose hundreds of millions of dollars building parking, and for parking operations to continue to be a loss leader every year.”

Overall, transit systems, like freeways, bike paths, etc. operate at a loss. And they should, because the public has chosen to subsidize certain public goods. The balancing act is finding which mix of loss-leaders will be most cost-effective in furthering the objective of “get[ting] people to ride the system.” I’d like to see Metro study what is most effective. I think it would likely include more frequency of service, technology, walkability, bikeability, etc.

Again, the Times, again quoting Metro:
Metro officials say they are trying to encourage alternatives modes of getting to stations, including adding more bike racks and adjusting bus routes to complement rail lines.
Groan. Through awareness is perhaps growing, with Metro adopting First Last Mile and Complete Streets documents, let’s follow the money. Metro spends hundreds of millions of dollars to providing free parking, and is basically getting out of the business of funding bike and walk facilities. To date, “adjusting bus routes” has meant cutting bus lines that run anywhere near parallel to rail, to force bus riders onto the rail systems. So, when a new rail line is built, instead of keeping current bus service to allow flexibility and redundancy, bus service gets cut.

One insightful commentary on the Metro station parking policy issue arrived via The Source’s transportation headlines. Steve Hymon quotes the University of Minnesota’s Andrew Young:
You can build parking lots that [make] transit useful to those who live some distance away from stations or you can build housing and destination adjacent to that station that will be used by those in future who will work and live there.

The question is: do you want to build for an existing constituency or do you want to build for a currently nonexistent constituency that one day will live next to the station? In many places, building for the future is hard for current politicians….people like the status quo and people in the status quo are the ones who vote and it’s always hard to change that.
I would assert that today’s constituency is more like 6/7ths there, as opposed to “nonexistent,” but I think that this commentary leads to the question of what kind of spaces do we really want around our transit portals? Will people “ride the system” if it is mostly surrounded by parking craters? Or if it is in a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use area, with convenient bus stops and bike-share kiosks? And, maybe, if we still need it, some very modest parking available at a very modest fee?

Workers start digging Bertha repair pit


By Aubrey Cohen, October 20, 2014

 Seattle Tunnel Partners starts digging a pit to access and repair Bertha, the waterfront tunneling machine. Photo: Washington State Department Of Transportation
 Seattle Tunnel Partners starts digging a pit to access and repair Bertha, the waterfront tunneling machine. Photo: Washington State Department Of Transportation

Workers have started digging a pit to get at and fix Bertha, the waterfront tunneling machine, the state Department of Transportation reported Monday.

Seattle Tunnel Partners rolled an excavator in on Friday west of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, near Pier 48, where Bertha stopped after overheating last December, the DOT said. The contractor plans to dig a pit that's 80 feet wide and 120 feet deep, supported by piles.

Workers also are lowering groundwater near the pit and preparing to install a massive crane to hoist pieces of the machine to the surface for repair. The plan calls for repairs to start in later this fall, with tunneling resuming next March.

People can track progress of the pit and other tunnel work via WSDOT's construction cams.

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