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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

San Fernando Valley Prioritizes Freeways, Then Bemoans Lack of Transit


By Joe Linton, December 23, 2014

 The Daily News cites a dearth of "major Measure R projects" in the San Fernando Valley. Does Measure R's portion of the $1.3 billion-dollar 5 Freeway widening projects count as a major project? Image via Caltrans

 The Daily News says there are no “major Measure R projects” in the San Fernando Valley, other than the Orange Line Extension. Does Measure R’s portion of the $1.3 billion-dollar 5 Freeway widening projects count as a major project? Nearly $1 billion goes to improvements in the SFV. Image via Caltrans brochure [PDF]

This seems to be the week that the news is that nothing happened in the San Fernando Valley. Last Thursday, SBLA reported that Metro Orange Line speed improvements aren’t happening yet. On Sunday, the Daily News ran a piece by Dakota Smith entitled, Lack of new San Fernando Valley rail lines draws complaints. Here’s an excerpt:
“The Valley clearly has been shortchanged by Measure R,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian, who represents parts of the Valley and serves on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board.

Narrowly approved by voters, Measure R launched a flurry of construction projects and helped raise federal dollars to pay for new rail lines. The sales tax is expected to raise about $38 billion over 30 years.

With the exception of a new Orange Line busway extension, which opened in 2012, no major Measure R projects have broken ground in the Valley. Instead, studies are being conducted on a rail or bus line along Van Nuys Boulevard. A new Sepulveda Pass transit line is in the early planning stages.

Metro's $B capital program, including Valley freeway improvements. Image via Metro
Metro’s $14 billion capital program, including Valley freeway improvements. Image via Metro

Clearly the article is about transit investment, but I’d like to debunk this “[Except for the Orange Line,] no major Measure R projects have broken ground in the Valley” a bit. Perhaps the editors removed the word “transit,” making the sentence inaccurate?

Measure R has a reputation for being money for rail construction but, as many SBLA readers know, Metro rail capital is only 35 percent of the overall estimated $40 billion. Wholly 20 percent of Measure R goes to freeways. Metro is providing $1.5 billion to pay for 5 Freeway widening in L.A. County. Specifically, in the San Fernando Valley, according to Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero, Measure R contributes $271.5 million for the 5 Freeway improvements from the 134 to the 170, which total over $700 million.

According to Sotero, in addition to that $271.5 million, Measure R provides $90.8 million for the $161 million project improving the to the interchange between the 5 and 14 freeways.
Measure R is building transportation infrastructure in the Valley, just not so much transit infrastructure. 

While there are not so many major Valley transit groundbreakings, there are quite a few significant ways that Measure R funding serves the San Fernando Valley (see Metro Measure R Fact Sheet [PDF]):
  • Orange Line extension: The Orange Line, which the Daily News does mention, busway and bikeway were extended from Canoga Park to Chatsworth. This project was approved to get $182 million from Measure R, but Metro instead secured state funding. That $182 million remains available to be allocated by the Metro Board, which, theoretically, should keep the money programmed in the Valley.
  • Van Nuys transit corridor project: Metro is currently evaluating various options for the “East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor,” which has $68.5 million in Measure R funding.
  • Sepulveda Pass transit corridor project: Metro has $1 billion from Measure R to put toward a likely mega-tunnel connecting the Valley and the Westside, anticipated to cost “$6 billion to $8 billion… or maybe $20 billion.”
  • Bus service improvements on Van Nuys, Sepulveda, Reseda, and Lankershim, expected 2016-2018. 
  • Various other miscellaneous Measure R funding going to Valley transportation: Metrolink rail capital improvements, bus capital and operations, and Red Line subway train capital and operations. The Valley also receives a portion of other countywide expenditures, including freeway soundwall funding, and “local return” spent by the cities of Los Angeles, Burbank, San Fernando, and others.
Additional sales tax and other Metro funding have gone to various Valley transit projects including more parking and a new tunnel at North Hollywood, and a new bridge at Universal City. These projects are not Measure R funded, so in many ways, Measure R isn’t the whole story. As with the Orange Line extension, Metro, Metro’s board, and other electeds seek and obtain outside funding through various federal and state programs. Sometimes Measure R funding is offset by other monies; sometimes Measure R funding acts a local match seed for securing additional state and federal dollars.

In the bigger picture, I find it a bit disingenuous for Valley interests to now say they were shortchanged. The way I see it, the Valley has received modest transit investments, because the Valley really prioritized its transportation investment toward car infrastructure.

When Measure R was negotiated, Valley politicians held firm on money for Valley highways. Not so much on funding for San Fernando Valley transit infrastructure. The same was true when local politicians sought and obtained $1.1 billion in Federal transportation funding to widen the 405 Freeway. Valley electeds have made highway spending a priority. Freeway money, lots of it, is what they got. 

In some cases, Valley leaders actively worked against Valley transit infrastructure, including state legislators banning subway tunneling and banning rail on the Orange Line right-of-way. The Orange Line rail ban was overturned in July 2014, long after Measure R was passed.

It is good to see Councilmember Krekorian now making Valley transit investment a priority. Valley transit riders need champions who will fight to bring the Valley’s transit system into the 21st Century.

I’ll close with a point from Yonah Freemark’s study on why U.S. light rail investments failed to shift higher percentages of people to riding transit. One of the things Freemark cites as being behind transit shortfalls is that cities building light rail also invested heavily in highways. The question I have for Valley leadership, including Councilmember Paul Krekorian and newly elected County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, whom I anticipate will serve for a long time on the Metro board: Are you willing to prioritize Valley transit investment even when if it means less funding for Valley freeways and roads?

The case for tearing down urban freeways


By Timothy B. Lee, December 22, 2014

Seattle and Washington state are pouring millions of dollars into this pit.

Back in the 1950s, the nation's transportation planners had a bad idea. They tore down buildings along urban waterfronts — which in many cities were right downtown — to make room for freeways that would help mostly-suburban drivers get around more quickly.

Now, a half-century later, many of these freeways are falling apart. Transportation planners have to decide whether to rebuild them. But in many cities, replacing them with ordinary surface streets is a better bet.

Cities work best when people can easily walk from one place to another. But freeways aren't pedestrian-friendly, so they can cut different parts of the city off from one another. The noise and pollution tends to depress property values near the freeway, leading to under-development. And freeways that run along the waterfront represent a huge missed opportunity, because it's not nearly as nice to spend time on the waterfront if you're in the shadow of a freeway.

Seattle's tunnel boondoggle

Workers construct part of the SR-99 tunnel in November. (WSDOT)

Right now, Seattle is trying to replace one of its elevated freeways with a tunnel, and it's not going well. The Alaskan Way Viaduct is an elevated freeway that cuts downtown Seattle off from the city's waterfront. It's in a bad state of disrepair and needs to be replaced. A few years ago, city officials had to decide whether to rebuild it, replace it with an expensive tunnel, or convert it into an ordinary boulevard.

As David Roberts explains, city and state officials went with the tunnel option — despite warnings from experts that the project could turn into a boondoggle. The results haven't been pretty. The tunnel-boring machine got stuck last year, and engineers are now digging a giant hole to try to reach the machine and perform repairs. As they pump water out of the hole, they seem to be damaging the foundations of surrounding buildings.

Politicians in Seattle and Washington State are spending billions of dollars on this project because they believe the city's streets will be clogged with traffic if they simply scrapped the freeway. But that's not necessarily true. When a city tears down an urban freeway, some cars will be diverted to other roads. But many other drivers will respond to the lower capacity in other ways.

Some will shift to taking transit to work. Others will shift their commutes earlier or later in the day to avoid periods of peak congestion. Still others will move closer to downtown, or take jobs that are closer to where they work.

So taking out an urban freeway won't generate as much traffic on other roads as naive projections might suggest. Moreover, for the last couple of decades, transportation planners have consistently overestimated the amount people would be driving.

The benefits of freeway removal

The destruction of the Embarcadero Freeway aided the revitalization of the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, demolishing freeways and replacing them with surface streets have large benefits for people who live nearby. In Seattle, it would make the city's waterfront more attractive to people downtown, raising property values and increasing economic activity there.

Philadelphia has a similarly damaging freeway cutting Old City Philadelphia off from the Delaware River. Planners are currently discussing building a park over the freeway, but removing the freeway altogether might be a better option. A tangle of freeways cuts downtown St. Louis off from not only its waterfront on the Mississippi but also its famous arch.

Removing freeways has worked in the past. San Francisco's Embarcadero neighborhood blossomed after an elevated freeway there was torn down in the wake of the 1989 earthquake. Portland removed a waterfront freeway in the 1970s. Milwaukee did the same a decade ago.

If Seattle had followed this advice, it wouldn't be literally sinking millions of dollars into a big hole in the ground.

Call to Action: Seattle Tunnel Article

From Sylvia Plummer, December 23, 2014

Here's another opportunity to write an email to the Los Angeles Times

Seattle Tunnel Woes make front page news in the Los Angeles Times. 12/23/14

The article discusses the sinking building in Seattle caused by Bertha (the tunneling Machine).
Bertha is the same size tunneling machine that will be used to build the SR-710 tunnels.
They forgot to mention a few things.

1.  Seattle is digging a big pit above Bertha in order to reach Bertha and make repairs.
2.  Los Angeles Metro has a plan to dig a 4.9 mile, 5 story tunnel between the 10 and 210 Freeways (SR-710). 
     The tunnel would go under El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena.  Should we be concerned for their homes?

Send your email to:   letters@latimes.com

2014 Streetsies: Elected Official of the Year

Charles E. Miller on Facebook, December 23, 2014: Quick Vote Opportunity: As the New Year approaches, click to recognize a local leader who supports 710 alternatives with actions not just words. 

Please click and vote for Jose Huizar.



It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s Streetsie voting time!

This year, we’re going to spread out the Streetsie voting over a couple of weeks, with some of the voting going live today and tomorrow and some of it going live next week. Voting will close on Friday, January 2, 2015 at noon. Reader voting accounts for one-half of the scoring this year, with one-quarter going to staff voting and another one-quarter going to a board vote.

For each category, we came up with around ten first nominees with the list being paired down to the last five “finalists” with input from the staff and board.

Without further delay, here are our nominees for elected official of the year:

Jose Huizar on a cargo bike two weekends ago in Northeast L.A. Image: ##https://fbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xap1/t31.0-8/1540561_10205604011369547_7137894882523750458_o.jpg##Felicia Garcia/Facebook##
Jose Huizar on a cargo bike two weekends ago in Northeast L.A. 

Jose Huizar – Parkletsgreen buffered bike lanes, plazas, Bringing Broadway Backbike corrals, and a landmark Sixth Street Bridge coming someday… while Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar certainly has not been perfect, many of the best pilot projects in Los Angeles are somewhere in the 14th District with a concentrations in Downtown Los Angeles and NELA. Some are even looking at his electoral showdown with Gloria Molina as something of a referendum on progressive transportation issues. Oh, and there’s COMPLETE STREETS DAY!

Buscaino and Englander between meetings in D.C. last month. Photo via CD 15/Office of Joe Buscaino
Buscaino and Englander between meetings in D.C. last month. Photo via CD 15/Office of Joe Buscaino

Joe Buscaino – If there is a rival to Huizar for getting progressive infrastructure implemented in an L.A. Council District, it is Los Angeles City Councilmember Joe Buscaino. New bike lanes crisscross the district and road and sidewalk repair seem to be a higher priority than in some other districts. On the policy side, Buscaino has become a tireless crusader for street and sidewalk repair, even if nobody else on the Council besides Mitch Englander and maybe Mike Bonin share his enthusiasm. Buscaino might deserve a Streetsie solely for his YouTube channel. Our favorite is this video of what a car-free commute looks like from the councilmember’s South Bay home to his City Hall office (if for no other reason than the terrified expression on Gil Cedillo’s face in the last scene.) Other worthwhile vids defend San Pedro bike lanes against NIMBYs, honor Watts Cyclery, and show Buscaino leading a Wilmington bike tour. I mean, he even introduced a motion to clarify the city’s position on Ghost Bikes.

Bonin bus stop
Bonin gets on the bus to talk to Damien in 2013.

Mike Bonin – Bonin, as Westside L.A. City Councilmember, Metro Board Member, Council Transportation Committee Chair, and Expo Construction Authority Vice-Chair, is pretty much at the center of nearly every major transportation-related decision the city makes. Sure, he got more headlines for fighting fracking and raising the minimum wage for certain employees, but for Streetsies’ sake, nudging Metro on parking and active transportation funding, having an appropriately outraged response to car crashes, taking some of the sting out of Metro’s fare hike, and being the most consistent voice on bicycle policy and programs are even more important. We don’t have a fun video for Mike, but we did find these goofy gifs of him doing some cleanup in the district.

Assemblymember Mike Gatto looks on as Damian Kevitt testifies to the Senate Public Safety Committee
Gatto looks on as Damian Kevitt testifies to the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Mike Gatto – Assemblymember Mike Gatto has become a one-legislator army, crusading for a more just system for prosecuting hit-and-run drivers. This year Gatto introduced two new pieces of legislation, following a previously successful effort to extend the statute of limitations for hit-and-run prosecutions. One would require license suspension for hit-and-run drivers, regardless of whether someone was injured. The other would have created an AMBER-Alert-type system after a hit-and-run crash. Both pieces of legislation sailed through the legislature. Both were callously vetoed by Jerry Brown, who seems unaware that California has one of the worst records in America on hit-and-run crashes. A Streetsie win could send a message that Gatto’s legislation is vitally important to Livable Streets advocates as he readies for the next session.

Ridley-Thomas shows off the transponders for the ExpressLanes. Image: Metro
Ridley-Thomas shows off the transponders for the ExpressLanes. Image: Metro

Mark Ridley-Thomas – Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has emerged as one of the more pro-bike and pro-walk votes on the Metro Board of Directors and the County Board of Supervisors. He has championed the Rail-to-River bikeway project, one of the most exciting projects being discussed for South L.A. While many businesses along the Crenshaw Corridor are suffering during light rail construction, Ridley-Thomas led Metro’s efforts to promote the area through “Eat, Shop, Play Crenshaw” and find ways to offer assistance to those affected by the construction. But where Ridley-Thomas really shined brightest this year was his efforts to ensure that Metro’s fare structure remains as affordable as possible. While unable to stop this year’s hikes, Ridley-Thomas joined forces with Mayor Garcetti and then-Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky to put off future fare hikes until Metro produced an exhaustive report on other unexplored or under-utilized fare sources.

Honorable Mentions: retiring County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (for Metro leadership), Assemblymembers Steven Bradford and Matt Dababneh (for Give Me 3 legislation), Assemblymember Ed Chau (for 3-bike racks on buses legislation), and Long Beach and Los Angeles Mayors Robert Garcia and Eric Garcetti (so far we like what we see, but it is too early to award.)

Past Winners: Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor, Glendale Councilman Ara Najarian, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Councilmember Bill Rosendahl

Seattle unsettled by massive drill tunneling through downtown


By Maria L. La Ganga, December 23, 2014

In Seattle's Pioneer Square
 Michael Petrone, general manager of J&M Cafe in Seattle's Pioneer Square, points out a widening crack in the historic pub's basement.

Some say the pubs of Pioneer Square are haunted, that apparitions appear mysteriously in photos, that guests feel a strong hand pushing them down stairs, that ghosts lurk within some of the century-old brick buildings.

These days, the historic square's saloons are possessed by a different kind of spirit — not just the 80-proof kind. These days, the walls themselves are moving. So is the ground beneath them.

Seattle blames Bertha, a 7,000-ton drilling device — as long as a football field, as tall as a five-story building — plagued by a curse of her own.

Bertha arrived with great fanfare in July 2013, designed to bore a 2-mile tunnel beneath Seattle's downtown and allow this graceful city to tear down a clunky, 1950s-era double-decker highway that separates skyscrapers from scenic Puget Sound.

The massive machine broke down a year ago and has barely moved since. Efforts to fix it have been peppered with problems, the latest of which are the talk of the slightly scruffy historic core. Parts of Pioneer Square have sunk. Walls have split. Concerns have grown.

Michael Petrone presides over the J&M Cafe and Merchant's Cafe and Saloon, troubled buildings at the beginning and end of the Pioneer Square Haunted Pub Tour. Yes, they're about 100 years old, but Petrone insists their problems are of much more recent vintage.


"We have a lot of cracks in the basement," Petrone said on a rainy Thursday at the J&M. "The bigger ones have gotten bigger. And some of the smaller ones have gotten smaller because of the shifting....  We're in the armpit of Seattle here. What happens when they get another half mile down to the Four Seasons?"

Petrone beamed his flashlight along the pub's dank basement wall, illuminating a nearly inch-wide crack that wanders down the old plaster. A sensor spans the dark line, part of an effort to monitor earth settling and building shifts in the blocks along the snake-bit tunnel's path.

"All the doors are stuck," Petrone said as he meandered below ground, pointing out canted floors and damp spots. "The building is bending and buckling. The floor was level a year ago.... There was never water coming in the basement. Now it's coming in constantly."

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct Project was envisioned as a means to move traffic underground, demolish a seismically unsound elevated roadway and revitalize Seattle's waterfront. Bertha was central to the ambitious effort.

The tunnel borer is named for Bertha Knight Landes, who was elected mayor here in 1926 and was the first woman to lead a major American city. It is unclear at this point whether she would appreciate the honor.

Seattle Tunnel Partners is the $3-billion project's contractor. In a lengthy, online FAQ, the state Department of Transportation gave a spare and optimistic explanation for its problems:

"In December 2013, Seattle Tunnel Partners stopped tunneling approximately 1,000 feet into the tunnel drive after experiencing increased temperatures in the machine. While investigating the cause of the high temperature readings, Seattle Tunnel Partners discovered damage to the machine's seal systems and contamination within the main bearing."

The company "plans to make repairs and enhancements to the machine and resume tunneling in March 2015," the explanation continued. "The tunnel is scheduled to open to drivers in 2016."

Um, not so fast.
During a briefing last week to the City Council on Bertha's bothers, Lynn Peterson, state transportation secretary, disabused the Emerald City of any such notion: "Neither myself nor anyone in the industry can provide you with a general timeline for completion."

On Monday, Peterson's agency released Seattle Tunnel Partners' latest shot in the dark: Tunneling won't resume until late April, and the project will open to traffic in August — 2017.

Many things have gotten in Bertha's way: A "mystery object" that turned out to be a simple steel pipe. A buried deposit of shells first thought to be left by Native Americans was really the detritus of white 19th century inhabitants. And now the uneven settling of Pioneer Square.

Seattle Tunnel Partners has been pumping groundwater from the area to enable workers to dig an access pit so they can get to the stalled drill and fix it. The Department of Transportation and the partnership are trying to figure out whether that groundwater pumping destabilized the area, causing the earth to settle more than an inch in some places and the viaduct to sink too.

Inspectors have surveyed about 50 buildings in the neighborhood and are continuing to monitor for movement. Excavation was stopped briefly and has since resumed.

Seattle Tunnel Partners refused to comment on Bertha's troubles, instead sending an inquiry to a Transportation Department spokeswoman, who answered questions on the state's behalf but not for the contractor.

State officials say the sinking has largely stopped and that inspectors have found minor, recent cosmetic damage in "a handful" of the Pioneer Square buildings.

Surveyors continue to monitor the area. In its Monday update, the Department of Transportation said that some of the early measurements were inaccurate and would be corrected. "We anticipate the adjustment will decrease the previously reported amount of settlement," department officials said in a statement.

But the neighborhood remains on edge, and many quibble with the official assessments. As has been the case for the last year, there are more questions about Bertha than there are answers.

"We are trying to decide if we can move forward with the work," state tunnel project manager Todd Trepanier told the City Council. "It's very important to analyze what are the impacts of the settlement. That's the next piece ... that is very important.

"There are two pieces of information that we need to know in real time," Trepanier continued. "What is the impact to the viaduct, and what is the impact to property? And so we have those efforts underway."