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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Finding balanced solutions: A conversation with State Assembly candidate Ed Chau


By Kyle Garcia, October 23, 2014

 Facebook comment: Assemblyman Edwin “Ed” Chau (D-Monterey Park) is running to represent the 49th Assembly District, which includes Alhambra and a large portion of the west San Gabriel Valley, in the California State Assembly. He support the 710 tunnel. Second question in the article, and he seems to have the facts regarding the 710 tunnel wrong.

 Assemblyman Ed Chau reads to students. | Photos courtesy of EdChau.com

 Assemblyman Ed Chau reads to students.

Assemblyman Edwin “Ed” Chau (D-Monterey Park) is running to represent the 49th Assembly District, which includes Alhambra and a large portion of the west San Gabriel Valley, in the California State Assembly. The Monterey Park resident opened a law firm in Alhambra nearly 20 years ago, and prior to being elected to State Assembly in 2012, was a member of the Montebello Unified School District Board of Education.

Chau is facing off against Esthela Torres Siegrist on Nov. 4. In an email to Alhambra Source, Chau answered questions about development, the 710, and how he hopes to serve the San Gabriel Valley if re-elected. Read his responses below.

Assemblyman Ed Chau  Assemblyman Ed Chau
If elected in November, what do you hope to accomplish in your next term as assemblyman?

I am proud of my work to stabilize school funding and give parents greater control over how district funding is utilized. The bottom line is good schools create good jobs. Our focus has to be to give every high school student the opportunity to find a career or go to college. We must improve academic standards and performance, make college more accessible, and create more job training and educational programs so students can compete in the 21st century economy.

I will also continue focusing on providing local governments with the tools they need to accommodate the housing needs of all residents in our state, on being part of the conversation around meeting our greenhouse gas reduction targets through transportation and clean technology solutions, and on ensuring access to affordable quality healthcare for all. Bottom line, I will continue working to find balanced solutions to the challenges facing my district and our state.

The city of Alhambra officially supports closing the 710 Freeway gap with a tunnel. Where do you stand on the issue?

I absolutely support the tunnel as the best alternative to closing the 710 North gap. A tunnel will not cause more pollution or disrupt life for local residents. In fact, it will do the opposite. Currently, with the 710 gap, drivers of roughly 200,000 vehicles have no choice but to use major traffic arteries. So the gap already disrupts life in Alhambra and southeast Los Angeles. A tunnel will relieve much of the pollution from idling vehicles. In fact, closing the 710 gap will remove about 2,200 pounds of air pollutants each day.

A tunnel will also reduce both arterial and freeway congestion by 20 percent. It will remove more than 75,000 daily trips from local streets and reduce regional cut-through traffic. Plus it will eliminate congestion at 22 percent of the intersections studied. The facts are pretty clear: a tunnel will reduce pollution and improve mobility.

Many of our readers have said that they feel Alhambra is overdeveloped. What is your stand on development in the San Gabriel Valley?

I tend to analyze projects on a case-by-case basis, because I am interested in the specific impacts of a particular project and the effect it will have on the community. Common sense says we need to continue to grow and develop to create jobs, but manage the process with an eye toward maintaining the feel and flavor of our communities and protecting our cherished parks, schools, landmarks, main streets, and local sensibilities.

Chau speaking at a press conference regarding his 2014 bills on Oct. 6. | Photo by Kyle GarciaChau speaking at an Oct. 7 press conference on his 2014 bills.
Five cities in the San Gabriel Valley are adopting a regional bike plan, and Alhambra may be a gap in that infrastructure. You recently introduced a bill to add an additional bike rack to transit buses. Do you think improving biking infrastructure is important? How would you like to see biking improve in your district?

I think the biking movement is a great shift in thinking in our state and I’m happy to support it. Families want to be able to live, work, and play in communities that are walkable and bicycle friendly. We must integrate biking into our transportation planning processes, especially because of the direct impact on our ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I understand that biking isn’t a traffic panacea, but every bit helps. Drivers need to respect cyclists and cyclists need to do their part to be responsible on our roads as well.

Recent studies have shown that minority voters, such as Latino and Asian American voters, have a lower turnout rate than other groups. How have you worked to increase civic engagement in the diverse Assembly District 49?

I have worked to increase civic engagement by encouraging participation in town hall forums to better inform my constituents about a particular policy issue. For example, in 2013 I hosted an informational town hall to inform and answer questions on obtaining affordable healthcare through Covered California.

Another way I engage my constituents is by partnering with others on important issues at press conferences, forums, and workshops. For example, I have participated in press conferences on mental health issues and senior scam seminars, a pet adoption event, and import and export business opportunities workshops. I also use online communications, such as e-alerts and newsletters, in an effort to inform and solicit opinions on policy issues from my constituents.

Some Alhambra residents have urged City Council to adopt a historic preservation ordinance to protect the historic resources in Alhambra. Do you think local leaders should prioritize historic preservation?

Yes. Growth and change are going to happen whether we like it or not. Our charge is to manage that growth responsibly. Part of honoring those that have come before us is securing the local history of communities so that future generations can understand our heritage, our history, and the shared values that bind us together.

Chau (R) with Congresswoman Judy ChuChau (R) with Congresswoman Judy Chu
Why should an Alhambra resident vote for you?

I’m particularly proud of the laws I have authored to allocate money to groundwater cleanup projects in the San Gabriel Valley, protect seniors from financial elder abuse, prioritize funding for supportive housing programs, and enhance privacy protections, among others. I have made great strides to ensure that my constituents and all Californians have the resources they need to take control of the issues affecting their daily lives.

I am honored to represent the San Gabriel Valley. I would be honored to earn your vote.

basics: the math of park-and-ride


By Jarrett Walker, October 23, 2014


In the Los Angeles Times, Laura J. Nelson worries about inadequate free Park-and-Ride on the Los Angeles rapid transit network.  As usual, the headline is far more misleading than the article: "Lack of parking drives many away from mass transit"
This is a good time for a post about the basic math of Park-and-Ride.
  • Really great transit generates high land value around stations.  
  • Free parking presumes low land value around stations.  
It's a contradiction.  

When a transit agency provides free or underpriced parking at a station where the land value signals that there is a higher use, it is subsidizing motorists in two ways.  First, it is forcing a low-value land use to prevail over a high value land use, and second it is making a much bigger investment in access by motorists than it makes in access by people who get to the station in other ways.  I am using the word subsidy in exactly the same sense that any other artificial limit on price is a subsidy.

Obviously the problem is much worse where the rapid transit is of the highest utility and quality and where the ambient land value is therefore higher.  This is why free Park-and-Ride is much harder to justify on high-frequency metro systems than on infrequent outer-suburban commuter rail in most metro areas.

Low-cost Park-and-Ride can make great sense where a station area is undevelopable (floodplains etc).  There's also an important role for distributed, small-scale Park-and-Ride created by sharing existing spaces.  Transit agencies often make deals to share parking with land uses that peak on weekends and evenings, such as houses of worship and entertainment venues. These are great ways of providing some car access at very little cost to the public.  

But the law of supply and demand generates some facts about free Park-and-Ride that many people don't want to hear, but that we really can't protect them from:
  • Free parking at a high-utility rapid transit station is a price subsidy, exactly the way the Soviet Union's caps on retail prices were.  It has the same effect, which is to cause problems of supply: Empty shelves in Soviet grocery stores, Park-and-Rides that fill up at 7 AM. If a commodity is priced too low in a condition of high demand, its supply will be exhausted, making it unavailable.
  • A Park-and-Ride that fills up at 7 AM is effectively one that doesn't exist over much of the time period when it's supposedly needed.  This loss of utility for people who travel later is a direct consequence of the price subsidy, as the artificially low price prevents the transit agency and its customers from reaching a market equilibrium where supply and demand of parking are in balance.  (This equilibrium, of course, would be optimal for both ridership and revenue.  Parking that fills up too soon drives away riders as effectively as no parking would.)
  • The claim that Park-and-Ride is needed to attract riders is true only in the earliest phases of development, or on transit services with limited utility like peak-only express service.   Once land value rises in response to transit access, the highest source of ridership is also the economically highest use of the land: dense, transit-oriented development around the station combined with good provision for the space-efficient forms of access (i.e. everything but Park-and-Ride).  This is why Park-and-Ride is often a logical interim use of land, but not one that you should plan on having forever.  Once a city has grown in around a transit system, there may be little Park-and-Ride left at rail stations, and only massive, distorting subsidies will make it free.
  • Preventing high-value dense development on naturally expensive station-area land forces that development to locate away from the rapid transit system instead, creating a less sustainable urban structure in which more people and businesses lack excellent transit options.
  • People who take buses or bikes or their feet or Kiss-and-Ride to a rail station are being mathematically correct (and fiscally conservative) when they object to free Park-and-Ride at high-demand stations, especially if the agency is not offering a corresponding subsidy to their own preferred modes of access, which all use scarce space more efficiently.
  • All of these problems around Park-and-Ride can be resolved only by charging a fair market price for the rental of expensive, publicly owned real estate.  Once parking is priced that way, it can remain the best use of valuable land.  As always, the problem is not parking, per se.  The problem is the market distortion arising from the subsidy. 
It's easy to feel entitled to a free Park-and-Ride space.  But nobody can repeal the law of supply and demand, and that's what we're dealing with here.

Metro Updates: Rail-to-River, Complete Streets, BRT, & More


By Joe Linton, October 23, 2014

Here’s a round-up of newsworthy items from today’s Metro Board Meeting and the committee meetings that led up to it.

The tracks at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA
These South L.A. rail tracks may soon be part of a “Rail to River” bike and walk path. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

Rail-to-River Project Keeps Moving

The Metro board of directors approved $2.85 million to continue to move forward with the Rail-to-River bike and walk path project. The funds will pay for further studies, planning, and design work to prepare the project to receive capital funding in the future.

Approval Highlights: Complete Streets, Union Station, and Support for Crenshaw Businesses

Metro’s board adopted the agency’s first-ever Complete Streets Policy [PDF]. It has some flaws. The board adopted the Union Station Master Plan. Metro also approved a contract for supporting small businesses impacted by Crenshaw/LAX rail line construction.

Revenue Up, Ridership Down After September Fare Increase

Metro raised fares in mid-September. It is too early to draw conclusions about trends and what is causing them, but stats are out for that first half-month. Metro’s Chief Financial Services Officer reported that fare revenue is up 7.1 percent, comparing September 2013 ($28.68 million) to September 2014 ($30.73 million). Overall ridership declined 3.2 percent, comparing September 2013 (39,903,521) to September 2014 (38,633,928).

Purple Line Extension Groundbreaking Announced

Board chair Eric Garcetti announced that the groundbreaking ceremony for Purple Line subway construction will take place on Friday, November 7. The fully-funded extension will bring the Wilshire Boulevard subway to La Cienega Boulevard. Construction is expected to be completed in 2023.

ExpressLanes Enable Speeding Scofflaws

From this Performance Update Report [PDF]: Metro targets that toll lane “monthly average travel speeds remain above 45 mph.” For the first 19 months of ExpressLane program, the AM peak-period speed on the 110 Freeway was 62 mph, but on the 10 Freeway, that AM peak-period speed was 66 mph. That’s 66 mph where the speed limit is 65 mph. As that’s an average, certainly there must be a lot folks speeding much faster than this. When I was researching this ExpressLanes article, I found that Metro buses in the ExpressLanes act as a damper on car speed. When the (frequent) buses come through, they’re going the speed limit and each bus has a lines of cars bunched up behind it.
What I found a little surprising is how little attention this stat elicited: none. Speed kills, but it’s just kind of assumed that driving a few miles over the freeway speed limte is all OK. Can SBLA readers imagine how much grief pedestrians would get for a project designed to foster jaywalking? Or a bike project that assumed cyclists would just blow a stop sign? Hopefully, now that a clear pattern of law-breaking has been identified, Metro can work with appropriate law enforcement to slow speeds down and make this corridor safer. Don’t hold your breath.

CEO Art Leahy on Metrolink’s Importance… for Drivers

At last week’s Sustainability Committee meeting, Metro CEO Art Leahy responded to worries over “rumors about changes” for Metrolink commuter rail. Ridership is down on most lines. The L.A. Times explored why. Leahy defended the rail agency, stating [audio at 5:30] that “Metrolink will continue to be very important to L.A. County and the other counties. It helps with the 91. It helps with the I-5. It helps with the Hollywood and the 134 [freeways.]” Isn’t Metrolink important for the mobility of the people who ride it? Leahy sounds all too much a bit like the fictional L.A. Metro CEO in this Onion article.

CEO Art Leahy on Rail Car Manufacturing

Responding to questions about the demise of Kinkisharyo’s Palmdale manufacturing plant, Leahy stated that rail cars needed for the soon-to-open light rail lines will not be affected, though new rail cars may be manufactured “out of state.”

Metro Call for Projects Stays More-or-Less on Track

An early draft of a motion had called for the suspension of Metro’s Call for Projects from 2017 on. The Call is Metro’s every-other-year process where the agency grants transportation dollars to cities. The motion was amended, and Metro will just study the Call processes, while the upcoming 2015 Call proceeds as planned. As SBLA reported earlier, the Call had been an important funding source for bicycle and pedestrian projects, but changes at the Federal level have shifted that process into the state Active Transportation Program.

Bus Rapid Transit Projects Gaining Momentum

Mayor Garcetti is quietly becoming a strong proponent of medium-sized cost-effective Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects. The Metro board approved a Najarian-Garcetti-Antonovich motion regarding two BRT projects: Vermont Avenue and North Hollywood to Pasadena. Metro is currently procuring consultants to analyze and plan these BRTs. The motion directs both projects be given top priorities as Metro pursues federal small start funding.

Speaking of BRT, here is one more Metro-related news bit that really deserves its own article:

Metro Orange Line BRT Signalization Changes Ready to Go

Great News! At yesterday’s Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee, representatives from the Department of Transportation (LADOT) and Metro announced some good news for Orange Line commuters. LADOT suggested that the latest motion wasn’t even needed, because Metro can unilaterally increase BRT speeds and LADOT will support Metro changes. LADOT and Metro are working together to nail down the specifics, but they estimate that BRT speeds will increase, shaving 4-8 minutes off cross-Valley rides. (There are other excellent LADOT folks working on this, but let’s speculate that the Seleta Reynolds effect could be at play here.)

By a Wide Margin, Americans Favor Transit Expansion Over New Roads


By Angie Schmitt, October 23, 2014

 It's not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending. Photo: Wikipedia

 It’s not even close. Americans prefer transit spending to road spending.

If only our nation’s spending priorities more closely tracked public opinion: A new poll [PDF] from ABC News and the Washington Post finds that when presented with the choice, Americans would rather spend transportation resources expanding transit than widening roads.

In a landline and cell phone survey that asked 1,001 randomly selected adults how they prefer “to reduce traffic congestion around

the country,” 54 percent said they would rather see government “providing more public transportation options,” compared to 41 percent who preferred “expanding and building roads.” Five percent offered no opinion on the matter. The survey had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Attitudes varied by political leaning, place of residence, and other demographic factors. Urbanites were most likely to prefer transit spending (61 percent), followed by suburbanites (52 percent), then rural residents (49 percent), indicating that transit may be preferred to roads in every setting, though the pollster’s announcement doesn’t include enough detail to say so conclusively.

Among college graduates, racial minorities, people under 40, very high earners, and political liberals and independents, majorities favor transit expansion. Meanwhile, strong conservatives, evangelical white protestants, and white men without college degrees are more likely to favor road spending.
The poll release was timed in conjunction with Tuesday’s Washington Post forum on transportation issues.

What France Can Teach U.S. Cities About Transit Design

What the French gamely call the "art of insertion" is really a multimodal understanding of streets.


By Eric Jaffe, October 22, 2014


 A tram in Strasbourg, France.

 Leave it to the French to refer to proper tram design as "the art of insertion."

It will be a long time until Americans are comfortable enough with sexual innuendo to appropriate that term. But there's an awful lot that U.S. cities should learn as soon as possible about the way the French design their transit networks. Whereas American light rail systems have had modest success and modern streetcar lines have questionable transit value, France operates 57 tram lines in 33 cities that together carry some 3 million passengers a day and create a fantastic balance of mobility options for urban and suburban residents alike—all built in the last 30 years.

"We have little streetcars here that carry a thousand people a day. They have lines that carry a hundred thousand people a day," says Gregory Thompson, chair of the light rail committee for the Transportation Research Board and retired urban planning scholar at Florida State. "What's the difference?"

The difference largely comes down to what the French call "insertion," but what Americans would simply see as street design. French cities typically install (insert, if you will) tram tracks onto public right-of-ways—streets, alleys, plazas and the like—even if that means removing car lanes or street-parking spaces to do so. To accommodate trams, streets are often redesigned in full to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists and other potential transit riders. For the most part, trams get exclusive lanes that cars can't use; it's not that the French don't drive, it's that cars don't automatically monopolize city streets.

(It's necessary to pause here a moment and distinguish French trams from American forms of surface rail transit, namely light rail and streetcars. Light rail tends to operate like a train: Loads of passengers board at all doors, tracks run in dedicated lanes, stops are spaced fairly widely apart, and lines often extend well outside a city center. Downtown streetcars tend to share lanes with cars and operate more like a local bus. French trams are close to U.S. light rail systems but do incorporate some streetcar elements in the urban cores.)

In a presentation at the Rail-Volution meeting this September, Thompson and colleagues Tom Larwin and Tom Parkinson outlined five principles that French trams embrace:

  1. They tie cities together. French tram lines typically extend from urban fringe to urban fringe via the city center.
  2. They require high-performance transit vehicles. That means large capacities, all-door entry, train-style off-board fare payment, level boarding, and signal priority.
  3. They have widely spaced stops. Tram stops are spaced far enough apart to improve travel times, but they're placed at critical transfer points with feeder buses or other major lines.
  4. They reach major destinations. That's a given for good transit, of course, but French tram lines emphasize access to college campuses, office complexes, health centers, and malls, in addition to major suburbs and downtowns.
  5. They form the core of a larger transit network. Bus lines are reconfigured to serve major tram stops, and fare programs encourage easy transfers from mode to mode.
A tram in Marseille, France.
None of these lessons are especially innovative. But that's the point. The French "art of insertion" isn't some unattainable initiative that American cities can't understand (name aside). Rather, it's more like a blend of America's existing complete streets movement with some core principles of strong surface transit. That's the "main lesson" of the French method, in Thompson's mind.

"You want to figure out where you want to locate lines to serve major destinations, then you want to use the road system to get from here to there," he says. "Streets are a resource. They're a right-of-way that goes from building façade to building façade. You should not think of them as entirely just infrastructure for moving automobiles. There's lots of different claimants on the use of that space, and a major transit line can be one of those claimants. And it can be made not to be some intrusive monster but to function along with the urban fabric."

To be sure, these are differences between French and U.S. cities that complicate the international exchange of tram insertion. The French government is generally more supportive of public transportation; the country's 1996 clean air act, in particular, encourages transit development at the expensive of car travel. The public good often trumps NIMBY interests in France, preventing long battles that end with building costly transit tunnels. (The one new French tram that does run underground, in Rouen, is often seen as a mistake.) Critically, French localities have dedicated transit funding in the form of a payroll tax.

Trams arrive at stops in Bordeaux, France.
Then again, the French and U.S. patterns of transportation and land use are relatable enough. American metro areas do have lower densities and larger car-ownership rates. But the French still drive and have free parking and live in suburbs and shop at big box stores. The footprints of urban development differ most in degree: Whereas light rail lines in the United States might extend some 20 miles (as in Phoenix), French tram lines only go a fraction as far (Bordeaux's three tram lines run about 5, 9, and 13 miles).

In the mantra of the true scholar, Thompson would like to do more research before he can say for certain how successful the French tram systems have been—particularly in terms of cost. By one recent measure (found here), building a kilometer of new tram in France costs slightly less than in America: An average of $29 million for 11 recent French lines to $35 million for 7 U.S. systems. Meantime French trams return about 50 percent of operating costs through fares, while U.S. light rail returns less than 30 percent. But Thompson withholds any sweeping conclusions until a full cost-benefit analysis is done.

"The French approach seems like something that can be afforded," he says. "Whether it's worthwhile in terms of cost-effectiveness is another question. That's where we'd like to see studies done."
Call it the science of insertion. On second thought, please don't.