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, December 15, 2014

LA Transportation: A Matter of Common Sense


By Ken Alpern, December 12, 2014


GETTING THERE FROM HERE-Much of the reason why voters (in particular, commuting and taxpaying voters) are so fascinated by transportation is that we're all affected.  Political or other voices telling voters that their commute and travel times will be decreased, and their ears, eyes, and attention spans all are drawn to those voices...yet many of those voices have lost their credibility because they've performed too many self-inflicted wounds. 
Usually these self-inflicted wounds occur because of hidden (or not-so-hidden) agendas, but it's also because of a lack of Common Sense...and a connected lack of really trying to fix the problem: 

Fix #1:  Stop Lying (Part 1)-Whether it's the state of California or the federal government, the discussion of fixing and expanding our roads and rail systems is used to promote all sorts of other agendas that take money away from cost-effective transportation construction--only to then have most of a bond initiative, or tax initiative, go to other NON-transportation priorities. 

Affordable housing (which itself is a nebulous term that needs clarification on multiple levels). education, police/fire and other first responders, the environment, etc. are all important priorities, but when discussing roads and rail projects, they should be stand-alone and not with all the coat-tail budgetting that has NO direct ties to transportation and mobility.   

Sacramento and Washington have been entirely guilty of that coat-tailing, and the voters are often turned off by politicians who continue to claim they want new funding for transportation--but who really appear to want and advocate for something...else. 

Fix #2:  Stop Lying (Part 2)-Any initiatives for transportation at the local level (such as budgetting for street repairs, road/rail) continue to be performed frighteningly over the promised cost, and/or with insufficient features and mitigations. 

To be fair, Metro has become much better at arranging contractor agreements that hire local contractors, and with deadlines to ensure timeliness of finished products...but the lack of coordinated purchase of rail cars, the lack of explanation as to cost overruns and project delays (some are understandable and forgiveable, others aren't), and the lack of accountability to the general public still leaves Caltrans/Metro credibility in a tough spot. 

Freeways get all the bells and whistles, yet rail lines get insufficient parking, insufficient bicycle and bus commuter accommodations, and insufficient coordination with utilities (even if, as with the DWP, the utilities are the guilty party) to please the taxpayers who thought their public investment would get them more.

And our LA City network of bus stops...demeaning and dehumanizing to say the least. 

The same political leaders run City Planning as they do the LADOT and DWP and Metro--it's not fair to entirely blame the public servants...but it is fair to blame the political leadership when things happen and leave the taxpaying public feeling that they were lied to, or at least misled. 

Fix #3:  Telecommuting and staggered work schedules -Ours is a 24-7 world, with computer-based workers talking to each other throughout the day and most of the night.  Are there sufficient tax policies and other rewarding of businesses and contractors who use telecommuting as a way to reduce car commutes? 

As was shown decades ago in the 1984 Olympics, those willing to work different schedules could and did make a difference.  Are there sufficient tax policies and other rewarding of businesses and contractors who use staggered schedules to mitigate the "traditional rush hour"?  

Fix #4: Quarries-City, county and state governments do not recognize that industrial land, particularly land in which the materials for asphalt, cement and other construction elements are mined and processed, have value.  Industrial land means jobs, no matter how "ugly" or "blue collar" they might be. 

Mayor Garcetti has made some modest gains in using LA resources to make the building materials necessary for cheap roads and other public works projects, but will we ever have a mayor who can slap away developers and Planners who ignore the fact that quarries and industrial land remain precious and necessary components of a prosperous society?  
...particularly as developers scoop up every remaining bit of ind
ustrial land for more profitable residential conversion that they can, with the City Planning department as willing accomplaces?  
People have to have a place to live, but they also need a place to work. 

Fix #5: Bike Lanes-Bicycle lanes and bicyclist rights have a growing role in our society, but every road has its own ups and downs with respect to encouraging large volumes of bicyclists.  The three-foot rule is a good one to bicyclist safety, but are bicyclists being educated as are motorists on how to get along? 

Does the replacement of car lanes with bicycle lanes (a "road diet") always help bicycle traffic flow in a cost-effective, motility-enhancing manner?  Both motorists and cyclists have their role in our economy and in our society, but there is also a safety issue that must be raised without being accused of being anti-bicyclist. 

We need more bicycle lanes, and at least sharrows, whenever possible or reasonable--what we do NOT need, though, are more injured or dead bicyclists. 

Fix #6: Homeless/Veterans-The encampments of homeless and campers/RV's on our major thoroughfares isn't just urban blight--it's a transportation issue that threatens flow and mobility on our streets and sidewalks.  Being politically correct in addressing the homeless and oversized vehicles clustering on our streets will just not get the job done anymore. 

We have a sprawling West LA VA Medical Center grounds to house and care for our veterans--too often has that center been host to a variety of inappropriate land uses that do not have anything to do with our veterans.  We should not have veterans on our streets after their years of sacrifice and service, particularly since there is an obvious location to take care of them. 

That said, those who choose to encamp and park on our sidewalks and streets who choose NOT to get help (particularly non-veterans) really ARE breaking the law.  As a society, we have the obligation to help those in need of substance abuse, psychiatric or other counseling and related needs--but we also have the obligation and right to live in a society that asks those abusing public thoroughfares to go somewhere else if they break the law. 

Fix #7: Workforce vs. Affordable Housing-Much, perhaps most of our City "Affordable" Housing initiatives have devolved into a game of smoke and mirrors that have nothing to do with helping out low-wage workers live near where they work, and does not create a reduced need for these workers to drive or take long bus trips to their employment. 

As our City now debates on the details of Transit-Oriented Development near train stations, the need is greater than ever to figure out a strategy of working with businesses to make sure that "Affordable" Housing is replaced with "Workforce" Housing that truly has a benefit and alternative to increased car trips on our streets.  It has to start with the City in order to have that strategy enforced. 

Senior Affordable Housing and Student Affordable Housing also should be created with the plan of getting people out of their cars and using alternative transportation modes--not just a poorly-monitored rental game of getting "connected" residents (who aren't always in financial need of affordable housing) into conveniently located units. 

And families with kids being presumed to "only" use transit?  Maybe if they are too poor to own a vehicle, but otherwise common sense dictates that they will certainly use it for the many destinations that children need for their health and personal development.  That is merely Common sense. 

Common Sense is what will get the job done when it comes to transportation initiatives, such as the "Measure  R-2" being considered for 2016.  Take away that common sense, and take away the accommpanying credibility that goes aong with it, and "improving our transportation infrastructure" will no longer be something that voters and taxpayers can trust. 

After all, it's only Common Sense that tells us we can expect the voters and taxpayers to be fooled and exploited for only so long.

Brussels to file complaint against Uber


December 13, 2014

Web-based taxi company Uber risks being banned in the Belgian capital Brussels in just the latest legal challenge to its services.

Belgian authorities will back a local taxi firm which alleges unfair competition from Uber and file a complaint with the Brussels prosecutor, regional transport minister Pascal Smet told Belgian newspapers Friday.

Smet told Le Soir that an examining magistrate could order a bank investigation and find out how many drivers were taking part in the system, their identities, and determine whether they were respecting fiscal and social security laws.

"The drivers are not paying tax on income," nor do they make social security contributions, he told the newspaper.

Smet said he would ask Belgian police to monitor the Uber website and that he would write to the Apple and Google stores to try to get them to deactivate the app that connects Uber with customers on smartphones.

"This application does not respect the law here," he said.

Founded in 2009 in California, Uber has become a popular transportation alternative to traditional taxis.

Uber charges a commission for each ride, but fees charged by the service's drivers are generally lower than normal taxis.

But legal clashes and controversy have started to cloud Uber's horizon.

It has been banned from operating in Spain and received a partial ban in Thailand.

Meanwhile the city government in New Delhi banned it from operating in the Indian capital after a passenger accused one of its drivers of rape.

The service has also hit regulatory hurdles in locations from Germany and the Netherlands to the US city of San Francisco, where a driver was charged in an accident leading to the death of a six-year-old girl.

A French court on Friday rejected a bid by taxi companies to have Uber's non-professional driver service UberPop banned.

Uber defends itself against critics of surge pricing during Bay Area storm


By Jessica Kwong, December 12, 2014

  Uber prices surged up to 3.8 times the usual rate in San Francisco during the storm that hit The City on Thursday. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
 Uber prices surged up to 3.8 times the usual rate in San Francisco during the storm that hit The City on Thursday.

As if Uber hasn't been drowned in enough controversy lately with lawsuits from the San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorney's offices, a campaign by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association on Friday claimed the mobile-app-based ride service broke its word when it implemented surge pricing during Thursday's "stormageddon" in the Bay Area.

Uber customers took to Twitter on Thursday morning amid the biggest storm to hit the region in five years to complain that Uber was charging 3.8 times its normal fare rates.

But besides that high rate, Uber went against its own national policy instituted last summer, said Dave Sutton, a spokesman for the national transit association's "Who's Driving You" campaign. He referenced a blog post by Uber spokeswoman Nairi Hourdajian on July 8 announcing the ride service was instituting a policy on surge pricing for U.S. cities.

The policy included two bullet points:

-"Uber's pricing algorithms will be capped during disasters and relevant states of emergency."
-"For each market, the state of emergency price will be set after excluding the 3 highest-priced, non-emergency days of the preceding 2 months."

Sutton admitted that description was "too complicated for me to understand," but that Thursday's storm inconvenienced many residents and should have qualified for Uber's disaster surge pricing waiver.

"The company announced its policy in the summer and a lot of people in the West Coast probably weren't paying attention," Sutton said. "But when a storm actually hits, they're making money off it, which they promised they wouldn't do. It's a repeat pattern of deception. This is what [San Francisco] District Attorney George Gascón is talking about."

The San Francisco and Los Angeles district attorney's offices on Tuesday filed a complaint against Uber for alleged unlawful business practices that included a $4 surcharge for trips to and from San Francisco International Airport that was never paid to the airport.

The ride service detailed the policy in the blog focused on unveiling a partnership with the American Red Cross that took effect before Hurricane Arthur developed in the East Coast, and stated it is committed to donating commissions on surge trips to the charity “during disasters and relevant states of emergency.” Specifically, during those instances Uber excludes the three highest-priced,
non-emergency days in each of the preceding two months and does not charge fares over the average of the remaining days. Any money generated from that surge pricing would go to the American Red Cross.

That didn’t happen because “yesterday there was no state of emergency declared,” Eva Behrand, spokeswoman for Uber's western region, told The San Francisco Examiner on Friday.

“What we are basing this on a state of emergency, that’s how it’s written in our blog,” she said, adding that was what “disaster” referred to as well. Furthermore, Uber released a statement Friday evening saying: "The Uber app was created to ensure access to a reliable ride wherever, whenever -- making it the ride of choice for tens of thousands of riders across the Bay Area. In times of high demand, like inclement weather, dynamic pricing makes it possible for Uber to meet riders' expectations for reliable rides at the tap of a button."

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, December 15, 2014

One last big Council meeting of the year, and then things start to settle down.
  • Ongoing – Every December, Streetsblog asks for your help to continue our work going into next year. This year is no different. Pledge an ongoing commitment or make a one-time donation today. Even a $10 donation helps us be stronger in the future. Donate now and you will be entered into a drawing to win a free public bicycle.
  • Wednesday – But if you really like our sister site LongBeachIze, that publication is having a pledge drive too. And happy hours! Our winter pledge drive ends at the Blind Donkey (149 Linden Ave.) for our second happy hour in as many months. Join our editor Brian Addison, one of the co-founders of the original LongBeachIze, Baktaash Sorkhabi, and other Long Beach dignitaries to celebrate 2014 and the rebirth of Long Beach’s own independent news source for planning, open space, urban design and transportation news. The party starts at 5:30 and goes until 8:00. Drink specials, again, courtesy of New Belgium Brewing. RSVP on Facebook.
  • Saturday - Celebrate the holiday season with a free, all-ages screening of the beloved film “The Wizard of Oz!” The screening will take place inside Union Station’s majestic former ticketing hall. The screening will be preceded by a costume contest for those who want to embellish their experience and dress up as their favorite Wizard characters. Get more information, here.
  • Next week – Streetsblog Los Angeles will publish a partial day next Wednesday, the 24th, and then go dark until the next Monday. On the 29th through 31st, we’ll be publishing our Streetsie nominees and a place for the readers to vote. We’ll resume normal publication on Monday, January 5. We’ll update the calendar and be ready to go with the first “Week in Livable Streets Events” on 12/5.

Congress Trims TIGER (But Doesn’t Hack It to Pieces) in 2015 Spending Bill


By Tanya Snyder, December 15, 2014

 Transformations like this one, in Lee County, Florida, are what TIGER is all about. Images: ##http://www.leegov.com/gov/dept/sustainability/Documents/Lee%20County%20TIGER%20v%20Grant%20Narrative.pdf##Lee County##

 Transformations like this one, in Lee County, Florida, are what TIGER is all about.

The drama is over; the House and Senate have both passed the “cromnibus” spending bill [PDF] that funds government operations through the end of fiscal year 2015. And the Department of Transportation’s TIGER program survived.

While small, TIGER has proven to be a significant source of funding for local transit and active transportation projects, enabling cities, regions, and transit agencies to directly access federal support without going through state DOTs.

Back in May, Republicans proposed to cut the discretionary TIGER grant program by 83 percent and to limit TIGER grants to the GOP’s own myopic view of transportation priorities: roads, bridges, ports, and freight rail. They explicitly stated that the funds should not be used for “non-essential purposes, such as street-scaping, or bike and pedestrian paths.” As Streetsblog reported in May, they also wanted to cut eligibility for a bunch of projects related to transit, sidewalks, carpooling, safety, planning, and congestion pricing.

The final outcome is better than that but worse than 2014. TIGER got trimmed from $600 million in funding this year to $500 million in 2015, while the House didn’t get the ban on funding for active transportation projects that it wanted.

Unfortunately, the final bill cut $35 million that the Senate wanted to set aside for planning grants. ”This is surely a case of being penny wise and pound foolish,” wrote Transportation for America’s David Goldberg “because good planning can avoid costly errors while making the most of limited transportation dollars.”

Accompanying language to the bill also directs the Federal Highway Administration to establish a separate safety performance measure for non-motorized transportation [PDF] — something bicycle and pedestrian advocates have demanded for a long time. Back in March, an FHWA official hinted that this would be coming in 2015.

Here’s Goldberg’s chart on the topline numbers from the bill:

Another provision tucked into the spending bill bars the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from conducting its “National Roadside Survey” to determine how many people drive under the influence. In the 40 years the agency has been doing the test — which drivers consent to and are paid for — no one has ever been arrested for drunk driving. Still, fears of “Big Brother” and “DUI checkpoints” brought about the prohibition.

The bill also includes an amendment, introduced by Sen. Susan Collins, to suspend certain rules requiring truck drivers to get a certain amount of rest at certain times.

The president is expected to sign the omnibus spending bill in the next few days.