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 27, 2014

Bicycle traffic deaths soar; California leads nation


Dubai: Gold prizes offered for public transport users


October 24, 2014

 A traffic jam in Dubai

 Win gold on public transport, or sit in a traffic jam like this.

Commuters in Dubai are being offered the chance to win lavish prizes if they take public transport, it's reported.

The emirate's transport authority is giving away 4kg (8.8lb) of gold as part of celebrations for Public Transport Day on 1 November, to try and lure people out of their cars and into mass transit, the Gulf News website reports. The prizes will be handed out through "raffle draws and other surprises" over the course of a week, it says. The event is aimed at encouraging people to "shun reliance on private vehicles and switch to using public transport," says Dr Yousuf Al Ali of the Roads and Transport Authority. Car ownership rates in Dubai are among the highest in the world, with an average of 2.3 cars per family, Gulf News reported in September, while only 13% of people use public transport.

It's not just precious metal up for grabs in the bonanza. In total, prizes worth one million dirham ($272,000; £170,000) will be handed out, including at a street-ball tournament where the first prize is 10,000 dirham ($2,700; £1,700). There's even a celebrity guest; retired basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar will be in attendance during a basketball match at a bus station. But only those committed to using public transport are in with a chance, because commuters have to own a Dubai travel card to enter the competitions.

Moving Forward with America's High-Speed Rail Projects

A status report on proposed lines in California, Texas, and the Northeast.


By Eric Jaffe, October 27, 2014


A nationwide roll-out of high-speed rail may never materialize in the United States, but that hasn't stopped local plans from moving forward at their own pace. The past few weeks have brought intriguing—and in some cases, very encouraging—updates on bullet train projects in California, Texas, and the Northeast. Let's check in on the latest.


When we last left California's proposed high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, the project had identified a much-needed long-term funding mechanism in the form of state cap-and-trade revenue. Earlier this month, project supporters got a legal boost to accompany that financial one. The state Supreme Court decided not to hear an appeal from project opponents, which means that a previous ruling, allowing construction to proceed despite claims that the project had changed too much from original voter intentions, will stand.

The new decision may not end the project's legal battles, but it's a major win for high-speed rail advocates nonetheless. The line could get another victory next week if Governor Jerry Brown, one of the project's biggest supporters, wins reelection. The latest polls show Brown holding a 16-point lead over his main challenger, Neel Kashkari, who refers to the high-speed rail line as a "crazy train" and, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, has "promised to cancel it on his first day in office if he is elected."


The Texas plan to build a high-speed line between Dallas and Houston using private funds has reached a new phase in its development, too. The project began holding public meetings this month to get community feedback as it prepares an environmental impact statement for federal review. It also released new documents—via a new website—showing potential routes for the line, as well as possible station locations in the two main cities.
The leading proposed routes for Dallas-Houston high-speed rail. (Dallas Houston High-Speed Rail)
The station sites will no doubt be a major source of debate among Dallas and Houston residents in the months and years ahead. The early plans do show potential placements in downtown areas of Dallas (perhaps at Union Station in the southwest part of the city) and Houston, though there are options for stations just outside these cities, too. It's far too early to say for sure where the lines will end up, but running the train from one city center to another would reduce overall travel times, facilitate connections to local transit, and generally boost downtown areas. That should be the idea to beat.

The Northeast

Amtrak's $151 billion vision to upgrade high-speed travel in the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston is no longer the only plan in town. Last week, the New York Times and other media outlets reported that a private company—backed by a number of political big shots—wants to build a maglev train in the region. The Northeast Maglev group has $5 billion in backing from the Japanese government, which wants to showcase the new technology in the United States to jumpstart an export market.

The hypothetical line would surely benefit travel (the trip from New York to Washington would only take an hour, compared to nearly three on existing Acela service) and talk of private money always turns heads. But rail advocates have questioned the wisdom of starting with a short test line between Baltimore and Washington, given that maglev's major benefits over traditional high-speed rail occur at longer distances. For now, it's hard to see how a private proposal would gain momentum on Amtrak's own turf. If the idea keeps people talking about rail upgrades in the corridor, though, that's progress in its own right.

Why Los Angeles Uber Drivers Say It Sucks to Be Them


By Bianca Barragan, October 24, 2014



Uber drives organized their first protest this week in Los Angeles over what sound like some pretty raw working conditions. A new union of Uber drivers (California App-Based Drivers Association) has just joined a Teamsters chapter and is speaking out against new fare reductions (which now make Uber cheaper than LA's buses), a huge increase in the commissions taken out by Uber, a "misleading tipping policy," and the company's rating system, which gives all the weight to reviews from riders, regardless of how horrible they may be, reports Neon Tommy. Here's a list of working conditions the Uber drivers want to change:

· "Uber used to take only a 5 percent commission from drivers' total fares. That number has now risen to 25 percent," says Joseph De Wolf, an Uber Black driver who is also also cofounder and executive committee member of the new union. (Uber also takes a dollar off the top of every ride as a "safe ride fee.")

· That is pretty nuts on its own, but it's also been coupled with a hefty fare cut. According to DeWolf, in December 2013, UberX (the least expensive Uber service) charged $2.40 a mile, with a base rate of $4; now the rate's just $1.10 a mile, with a base rate of eight cents.

· That's especially painful considering that, as independent contractors, drivers have to pay for their own gas and car-related expenses. Eighty cents of gas is not going to get anyone anywhere.

· The company's rating system, which has riders rate drivers, uses one- to five-star grading. Drivers whose average dips below 4.7 stars get a warning email and are deactivated until they take a class about improving their rating; if their rating goes below a 4.4 after the class, they're permanently deactivated, which amounts to being fired.

· This is probably a well-intentioned attempt to hold drivers to high standards, but the effect is often that drivers who are asked to do potentially unsafe things (like, say, fit eight people into a car) are worried that if they don't do what their fare wants, it could result in them being fired.

· Drivers also take serious issue with the impression that Uber gives users about tipping. As one Uber driver put it, the company "brainwashes the public, saying the tip is included. It's never been included."

Uber, for its part, says it's reducing fares for a really good reason. "We just want to be the biggest company in the world, whatever we need to do to find more clients," a general manager with Uber West Coast tells NT.


WaPo Transpo Forum: America’s Mayors Aren’t Waiting for Washington


By Tanya Snyder, October 24, 2014

Atlanta’s BeltLine of bike and pedestrian trails is raising property values in every place it touches. Denver’s new rail line will create a much-needed link between Union Station downtown and the airport, 23 miles away. Miami is building 500 miles of bike paths and trails. Los Angeles is breaking new ground with everything from rail expansion to traffic light synchronization. And Salt Lake City’s mayor bikes to work and, by increasing investment in bike infrastructure, is encouraging a lot of others to join him.

At this week’s Washington Post forum on transportation, five mayors from this diverse set of cities spoke of the challenges and opportunities they face as they try to improve transportation options without much help or guidance from the federal government.

Speaking of the feds:

Mayor Kasim Reed of Atlanta is tired of Congress not doing its job. “Cities don’t get to kick the can,” he said. And even if the feds aren’t ready to make big investments, private and foreign investors are reportedly itching to get a crack at U.S. infrastructure, but there’s been no good process for doing so. Reed wants the federal government to play a convening role, bringing mayors together with private investors they can pitch projects to.

And either way, he said, if the federal government is providing less funding to cities for transportation, “we think they need to have a little less say” — except when it comes to safety. But Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says there’s an upside to the gridlock in Washington: “Cities are being more creative.” And Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker says the Obama administration has been a great partner — pointing especially to the TIGER program and the HUD/DOT/EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

New projects:

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is excited about intelligent transportation technology, like the traffic signal synchronization his predecessor, Antonio Villaraigosa, pioneered. And LA’s Expo line — which he dubbed the Beach-to-Bars line — opens soon, turning a two-hour slog through traffic into a 45-minute pleasure cruise. He says it’ll open up access to the Philharmonic and sports venues that, these days, are often avoided because the trip is too hellish.

But Garcetti is already on to the next thing. To him, that thing is autonomous cars. He thinks LA will be a natural home for those. In fact, he openly acknowledges that his push to build BRT lanes is all in the interest of turning them into autonomous vehicle lanes a few years down the road. That’s right — despite the visionary strategic plan LA just released, Garcetti wants to turn road space over from efficient modes to less efficient ones.

And he does think driverless cars are just a few years away — he estimates that one in every 100 cars will be self-driving in 10 years, and five years after that they’ll be “absolutely mainstream.”

Denver’s Mayor Hancock is especially excited about the “Corridor of Opportunity” between the airport and Union Station because he lives out by the airport — one block inside the city limits, just enough to run for mayor, he admits. He currently drives to work, but he says he’s excited for the chance to take the train instead. “What we’ve decided to do is Denver is create a more multimodal approach to our transportation challenges,” he said. “Not only do you need to plan transit, but you need to plan for bicycles, you need to plan for pedestrian-friendly communities.” (And more lanes on the highway.)

Carlos Gimenez, mayor of Miami-Dade County, says they don’t really have a rail transit “system” at all, just one line (with a little detour to the airport). They’re still waiting for a rail link to the beach. The county’s new 10-year transportation plan has been lambasted by advocates as “complete fluff with no substance, future transit vision, or measurable goals.”

Once these projects get going, they have a way of multiplying. Salt Lake City has built 140 miles of urban rail in 15 years, and Mayor Becker says that even the skeptics wanted a light rail line of their own the minute the first line opened. What they still need to do, Becker said, is flesh out the bus system — “we invested in rail to the detriment of a really strong bus system,” he said — and fill in the gaps in the bike trail network.

On financing:

When asked about the single thing he’s done as mayor that’s made a difference in reducing traffic congestion in Atlanta, Reed said, “We haven’t done it yet, because we failed.” He said losing the T-SPLOST transportation referendum was “the biggest failure of my political career.” He took heart, though, knowing that it took Denver multiple tries, too, before they managed to pass a 0.4 percent sales tax for FasTracks. Hancock said it wasn’t until 41 regional mayors came together to support it that it finally passed.

Reed is determined to take another crack at it. “I’m not going to let the folks who don’t want it prevent us from having it,” he said. “The city of Atlanta voted overwhelmingly for it” while the suburbs voted it down. Next time, the city’s going to pair up with a few neighboring progressive counties to see if they can pass a smaller package.

On affordability:

“We need to make sure people don’t have to leave the urban core to live in the area,” said Hancock. “The housing market is skyrocketing in metro Denver.”

On bikes:

Atlanta’s BeltLine is remaking the auto-oriented city into a mecca for walkers and bicyclists. Mayor Reed said it’s like New York’s High Line, only “cuter.” The city won a smart growth award for it, and is quickly moving up in walkability rankings.

Miami is hoping to build a 10-mile bike/pedestrian path along and underneath its rail line — they’re calling it “the underline.” And Denver’s Hancock touted a bike lane they’re building next to a highway. The lane along U.S. 36 doesn’t actually reach Denver, but it’s still an exciting project in the region.

Interestingly, Hancock differed with Salt Lake City’s Ralph Becker (and just about everybody else who’s ever written or seen a transportation budget) by saying bike lanes were expensive — “a new expense most cities never had before” — but maintained that the congestion reduction benefits bring a “long-term return.” Becker, himself a bike commuter, insists bike infrastructure is cheap. “Putting lines on the street is a lot cheaper than building a street,” he said.

On the bikelash:

When SLC motorists accuse Becker of “messing with” their streets — taking out parking or a lane of traffic — he likes to remind people, “Hey, we want different ways to get around. That doesn’t happen without disrupting a street.” His philosophy, which guides his approach to transportation, is summed up like this: “Drive if you must, or you want to, but let’s not make that necessarily the easiest way to get around.”

On safety:

They’re not always popular with the motoring public but Hancock said red light cameras have improved safety in Denver. “We have seen a tremendous decrease, as much as a 60 percent decrease, in the number of traffic [crashes] at those intersections,” he said.

On public-private partnerships:

LA’s Garcetti says the U.S. has failed on P3s. “Much more liberal or socialistic countries do a better job engaging the private sector — whether it’s Europe, whether it’s Canada — than here, where the free market is supposed to be an advantage to our system,” he said. He’s looking to build up the capacity in LA.

All Aboard Florida will be the first new rail line completed in Florida in 100 years, it will go 110 mph, and it’s entirely privately funded. Public money will then pay to take advantage of those tracks to build commuter rail on the northeast side of Miami-Dade county. And Becker says Salt Lake’s bike-share was 70 percent privately funded.

On Uber:

Calling Miami’s ban on Uber “antiquated legislation,” Gimenez said he uses Uber in other cities and wishes he could do so in his own city. He called its legalization in Miami “inevitable” since the young people like it. Traditional taxi companies might disagree with his assertion that Uber and Lyft are “almost self regulating.”

Parting thoughts: 

Eric Garcetti had this to say at his meeting, as part of the “class of 2013” mayors, with President Obama and Vice President Biden:
If this was 40 years ago, people had given up on America’s cities, and America’s cities were burning, and we came to Washington saying, “Washington, save America’s cities.” Now it’s a little bit inverted. We were here as America’s cities to save Washington.
Because Washington feels like it’s burning, and we’re here to say, “There is hope.”
Just as people gave up on us and never thought that these urban centers would be revitalized by mayors like Mayor [Anthony] Foxx, when he was mayor [of Charlotte]; like what we’re trying to do in Los Angeles, and seeing it come back. I believe American politics can be regenerated in the same way.
It will require innovation. It will require cross-cutting allegiances. And it will require us to stop repeating what we repeat in our bad planning, in our uni-modal thinking on transportation, and embrace the way people actually live now. People are ahead of the government and it’s time that Washington caught up.

Is the U.S. Ready for Seniors Who Want to Stop Driving?


By Angie Schmitt, October 27, 2014

A recent New York Times article urged baby boomers preparing for retirement to consider their future transportation needs. The average American woman is living 10 years beyond the point when she is physically able to drive, and the average man is living seven years longer, the Times reported.

Why is it so hard to create senior housing in walkable locations? Photo: Brett VA via Flickr
It’s time to plan for seniors who want walkable housing.

But as important and practical as it is for older Americans to seek housing in walkable, transit friendly locations, it’s not always easy. The article featured a couple in San Diego who were considering a cross-country move to find the right mix of amenities.

Dave Alden has been digging into walkable senior housing at Network blog Vibrant Bay Area. Today he offers an example of one development that fell through. The 200-unit project, planned for “an attractive parcel of land, near a viable and active downtown,” was to include a walkable boulevard, with development costs shared by the local government.

I thought the proposal was exceptional. The city appeared to agree and offered to help facilitate the project. First, they agreed to help secure the land rights for the boulevard, some of which were still privately held. Second, in exchange for a concession by the developer on a related land-use issue, they agreed to an expedited entitlement process as permitted under state law.

And then, it all came unwound. After a year of delay, and long after the developer’s concession had been banked, the city withdrew their promise of expedited entitlement.
After an unexpected staff shakeup, the city ceased assisting with land acquisition for the boulevard. Relieved of the city’s jawboning, one property owner promptly increased his asking price by a factor of fifty. The land was never acquired.

Lastly, the economy softened, further undermining finances that were already precarious. Eventually the project faltered and then failed. The developer had funded his entitlement expenses by mortgaging the property, so the bank assumed ownership.

In the years since the foreclosure, several buyers have approached the bank.  But none have wanted to resurrect the previous project.  Instead, they approached the city with various alternatives for eliminating the boulevard, dropping the transit, and converting the entire project into senior housing without the sidewalk retail, effectively transforming the site into a standard drivable suburban senior facility that happened to be a few blocks from downtown, but without a real connection to downtown.

To their credit, the city has thus far refused to consider the changes.  But the only result is that the property remains vacant, a reminder of a failed plan to strengthen the urban core and to bring seniors into a walkable setting.
Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Cincy has an interview with parking guru Donald Shoup. The Bike League explains its stance on the case of Cherokee Schill, a Kentucky woman who was arrested for biking in the street. And Urban ATL explains what’s at stake for Atlanta’s transit system, MARTA, on November 4.

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, October 27, 2014

This week gets off to a slow start, but Thursday night is one of the biggest parties of the year, the First LACBC Firefly Ball. Be safe this weekend!
  • Wednesday - Celebrating the award-winning opera one year after it encompassed Union Station and transfixed Los Angeles, this free acoustic concert performance of the opera reunites the original cast of Invisible Cities. Composer and librettist Christopher Cerrone was nominated for a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for his adaptation of Italo Calvino’s beloved novel. Get more details, here.
  • Thursday - Named for its timing with the seasonal launch of Operation Firefly, an education and bike light distribution program of LACBC, the Firefly Ball is a light-filled evening of art, music, food and drink. Celebrate with us as we honor community members doing good bike work while raising much needed funds for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Get more details, here.
  • Friday – It’s the celebration of the first Livable Streets Holiday…Halloween. Have fun out there. On top of everything, there’s Critical Mass. Critical Mass meets at Wilshire/Western at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday - Celebrate life (and death) with Metro on a special Day of the Dead themed art tour on Sunday, Nov. 2. The free, one-night-only tour will explore artworks in the Metro system through the lens of artist Consuelo Flores.The tour will depart at 4:30 p.m. from the Metro Gold Line East LA Civic Center Station and end at 6 p.m. at Self Help Graphics’ 41st Annual Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Celebration. Get more details, here.

New ranks L.A. metro area 3rd in U.S. in connecting people to jobs via transit


By Steve Hymon, October 27, 2014



 The darker the shade of orange and red, the more jobs that can be reached within 30 minutes using transit. Click above to see larger. Source: University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies.


Los Angeles
Earlier this month, the University of Minnesota released a study that found that the Los Angeles metro area ranks third behind New York and San Francisco when it comes to the number of jobs reachable by transit within an hour’s time. The study looked at 46 of the 50 largest metro areas in the United States and Metro scored better than some older cities with established transit systems — places such as Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.

Here’s the top 10 according to the study through January 2014:
  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Washington
  5. Chicago
  6. Boston
  7. Philadelphia
  8. Seattle
  9. Denver
  10. San Jose
I wasn’t surprised that the Los Angeles area was in the top 10. After all, we live in the nation’s second-largest metropolis and our region — despite is reputation for traffic — boasts a considerable amount of transit. Metro, for example, runs the nation’s second-largest bus system in terms of ridership behind only New York. That said, I was mildly surprised to see that our metro area ranked third.

I asked study co-author Andrew Owen, the director of the Accessibility Observatory for the University of Minnesota, if the results surprised him. The answer: not really. His main points were:

•The Los Angeles region has a ton of jobs — vastly more than many other metro areas in the U.S.

•Because of geography — i.e., mountains and oceans — we’re actually more densely populated across the metro area than (for example) a place such as Chicago, which
doesn’t have anything to constrain its sprawl.

•The Los Angeles region actually has a lot of transit (particularly buses) although that is often overlooked because of the region’s reputation for traffic. On that note, I’ll add this: Metro is just one of many bus providers in our region and Metro’s bus ridership alone is the second highest in the nation behind only New York City.

“Los Angeles has a lot of stuff — a lot of jobs and a lot of people,” Owen said. “Of course, it would be possible to have a city and a lot of people and none of them could get anywhere by transit. But look at downtown Los Angeles and the areas south and west. There are huge amounts of jobs that people can reach by transit because transit is run there. If transit wasn’t there or it wasn’t run frequently and didn’t connect people to jobs, this ranking would be far lower than it is.” 

Owen also pointed to another interesting thing captured by the numbers: while our region ranked second in the number of jobs, it ranked third in terms of transit accessibility to them. That suggests that the L.A. area has some catching up to do in terms of reaching more jobs via transit. Still, Owen said, we’re already better off than a place such as the Atlanta region that ranked ninth in the total number of jobs and 30th in terms of accessibility.

I also asked Owen if about the map at the top of this post. It’s important to understand what it shows: the areas that are darker shades of orange and red are the ones that are closest to the most jobs via a 30-minute transit ride or less (it doesn’t matter whether it’s train or bus). That’s why the areas around downtown Los Angeles and the Westside — the number one and two jobs areas in our region — are so dark. They’re near a lot of jobs and there’s enough transit to reach those jobs.

The map also suggests that the Measure R-funded transit projects that Metro is building or plans to build are serving a real purpose — better connecting our region to jobs. Look at the “Under Construction” map after the jump.

Click above to see larger version of the map.
Click above to see larger version of the map.

Now, let’s take a look at how some of the Measure R projects will help riders reach jobs.

•The Purple Line Extension will directly connect downtown Los Angeles to Westwood via Boulevard with a short detour to Century City. The project also provides a direct link between our region’s largest transit hub — Los Angeles Union Station — and the Westside.

•The Expo Line’s second phase connects Santa Monica, West L.A. and downtown L.A. via Culver City, the northern part of South L.A. and Exposition Park. In particular, it will serve the job-rich Media Gulch area, downtown Santa Monica, downtown Culver City and Exposition Park — and bring all those areas closer to downtown L.A. via rail transit.

•The Regional Connector will link the Gold Line, Blue Line and Expo Line in downtown L.A. and allow easier and faster access to and through downtown L.A. for riders on all three lines.

•The Gold Line Foothill Extension extends the Gold Line to the Azusa/Glendora border, making for easier and faster access to jobs in the Pasadena area, downtown L.A. and beyond (i.e. the Westside). Meanwhile, the second phase of the Eastside Gold Line is being studied and could potentially connect either South El Monte or Whittier to downtown L.A. via this project and the Regional Connector.

•The Crenshaw/LAX Line will serve a north-south corridor starting at the Green Line’s Redondo Beach Station and extending north to the Expo Line, including the job-rich area around the airport. The Expo Line, in turn, offers east-west access to jobs. The map also suggests that extending the Crenshaw/LAX Line north — a project in Metro’s long-range plan but unfunded at this time — would connect people to more jobs to the east and west via the Purple Line. A South Bay Green Line Extension, a project also to be funded by Measure R, could extend the Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line deeper into the South Bay.

•The map also suggests that connecting the San Fernando Valley to the Westside via the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project makes sense. The map also shows that the Warner Center area is one of the more job rich areas in the Valley, thereby suggesting that pursuing improvements to the Orange Line serves a purpose, as does connecting the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena areas by a potential bus rapid transit line. See this recent Source post for more about that.

Obviously not everyone lives and/or works close to transit and that’s a deal breaker for many who may ride transit. The Metro Board earlier this year did adopt a First Last Mile Strategic Plan to help riders get to and from stations. That along with transit expansion, I think, should bring more jobs closer to more riders and also provide our region with more transit-adjacent areas to build more jobs in the future.

As always, your thoughts? Do the results of the University of Minnesota study ring true to you? Do you think Measure R projects will help commuters?