Purpose

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, November 23, 2015

Metro officials get a tongue-lashing for $132M rail connector project overrun

http://www.scpr.org/news/2015/11/19/55761/metro-officials-get-a-tongue-lashing-for-132m-rail/

November 19, 2015

A committee of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted reluctantly Thursday to increase the budget for a downtown project connecting several rail lines by about $132 million, a move that will take away from yet unspecified future projects.

The additional funding, which is subject to the full Metro board's approval next week, would bring the total cost of the rail connector project to more than $1.5 billion.

"This is nuts, this is out of control," exclaimed Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, who chairs the committee. "It puts us in a very bad situation."

The Regional Connector project is seen by Metro as an important component in connecting transit lines for the region. The Blue, Gold and Expo light rail lines will be linked via a 1.9 mile tunnel through downtown Los Angeles. Metro anticipates trains will carry about 90,000 riders a day through the corridor.

Last week, an internal Metro report surfaced revealing the project had already eaten through about half of a $93 million reserve fund. The report cited unforeseen delays in relocating aging underground utility lines where the tunnel will run.

Due to the age and density of the downtown neighborhood, many utilities are uncharted and crumbling, necessitating more exploration and repair than construction projects located elsewhere.

To get back on schedule for a 2021 opening, a timetable required to receive federal funds for the construction, Metro's staff recommended infusing the extra $132 million into the project by moving dollars from among different funding sources.

Metro CEO Phil Washington assured the committee the agency had learned valuable lessons from the budget overrun. He said the agency has already begun applying the lessons to construction on the Purple Line subway extension that will run under Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood.

"It's definitely no fun for us to bring this forward," Washington said. "But we also know we have to push forward with this project as well."

About half the budget for the Regional Connector is made up of federal grants and loans that were promised on the condition the line be operating by May 2021. Due to the construction problems, Metro's staff said the project needs the additional millions to meet the deadline.

Supervisor Knabe said he would hold his nose and vote “yes,” and the rest of the committee followed suit.
 
The full Metro board is expected to take a final vote on the extra funding when it meets next month.

If approved, the funds will be shuffled between projects and ultimately borrowed from future sales tax revenues that would have been earmarked for other transit or freeway projects.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Pearl-grasping and the Reason Foundation’s Regional Mobility Plan for Southern California

http://lisaschweitzer.com/2015/11/19/pearl-grasping-and-the-reason-foundations-regional-mobility-plan-for-southern-california/

By Lisa Schweitzer, November 19, 2015


It seems that the required response to the Reason Foundation’s Mobility Plan for Southern California is to grasp our pearls and get all sniffy about how bad it is, but folks, you gotta understand: I’ve been doing this a long time, and just about all plans with a strong point of view also usually have aspects that are politically, economically, or physically not very likely. I’ve sat through presentations about hovering pod cars and harvest-your-own locavore restaurants on high speed rail. Plans are supposed to have vision, and sometimes, vision shows us the impractical as well as the practical. The plan seems to have been authored by Baruch Feigenbaum. This is, on its face, odd: planners like me usually assume a plan is going to be produced not by single individuals, but via a process, and I am pretty sure that if I authored a plan on my own there would be some pretty outre parts to it, too. I don’t know Mr. Feigenbaum, btw, so I have neither animus nor affection.

Conceptually, I like how the plan addresses one, single issue with a cost-benefit perspective. I think the intellectual backlash on cost-benefit assessment has been well-deserved, but agencies have continued to use cost-benefit language, weakly and not very convincingly, because so many of the projects being schilled tout assumed benefits from climate change to obesity prevention. But here we have an explicit touting up of envisioned toll revenues and project costs. I have my problems with the assumptions on the cost side, but I usually do. At least when these are stated, and connected to a price that people would be expected to pay, we get some clarity on the balance sheet. Now, I do agree that cost-benefit isn’t everything, but it also should not be *discounted* when we look at making public investments simply because it might not make the rail projects we love so much look as shiny as we want them to look. If we don’t think about the balance sheet at least some, our investments are likely to disappoint.

I also think that we could be doing a bit more with express buses and BRT in southern California. I question the use of the BRT label for parts of the proposed network; I doubt we’d necessarily need BRT in the strictest sense on the freeway lengths where it is outlined, but I think the intent is simply to suggest the sort of dedicated lane suburban busways we find in Toronto. I’d actually like to see about a year’s serious experimentation with the idea before I got all “This is stupid” over it. Right now, people in those locations can either carpool, drive alone, or take Metrolink, and that’s not much of a choice set. Yes, Metro already has some of these ideas in their plans, but what of it? New plans always include things from existing plans if either the former or the latter are any good.

Further, southern California could do, in theory, a lot more with corridor management than it does. This plan emphasizes managed arterials, and by managed, we should think managed and priced. I am less sanguine about the prospect of pricing arterials than I am about pricing freeways. I’d like to see people get used freeway pricing first. The general theory is the same: replace unpredictable congestion costs with explicit prices as way to a) help people decide whether they value a trip enough to pay for it and b) generate revenue to pay for the system. I’m just a little worried that it’s much easier to Waze your way around arterials where you have to pay and get on streets not really designed for high traffic volumes, and while I have no sympathy for West siders pissed that they might have to deal in their backyards with traffic when they, themselves, drive constantly, displacing traffic from roads with higher design standards to lower design standards might present a safety loss. It might be, in theory, that the arterial was managed so well with prices (and other improvements) that it would take traffic off those streets onto the managed arterials because the value for money would be so good, but theory isn’t decisive here. It is an empirical question.

That said, the reason we do not have as much corridor management as I would like isn’t that local area professionals are not smart enough to see the advantages, but as usual, disparate jurisdictions and interests within those jurisdictions disagree on the ends for corridor management. For residents, the ends are to slow traffic down and get it to go elsewhere. That’s hardly a congestion solution. From a regional perspective, the idea is to increase throughput overall. And because those two are irreconcilable in one mode (the auto), we have…bike lanes, transit, and walking proposal galore that may, or may not, improve congestion.

Finally, I think the plan highlights points where the problems of auto congestion really are severe. We discuss the TTI report about overall levels of congestion every year, and we all sigh when LA comes out on top…and we all drive in the region all the time, and then go to places, like Washington DC, and then figure out that David Levinson is actually right: congestion is much worse in those regions than it really is on a day-to-day basis in Los Angeles. Yes, you get more delay in the aggregate when you cause 10 million people 10 minutes of delay than you do when you cause 1 million people 30 minutes of delay, but qualitatively, those are very different experiences. To wit, LA has some bad bottlenecks that generate quite significant delays as a part of the total, and we just physically are not going to get more out of the infrastructure that is there, even with better management, and in those places, the Reason plan puts in tunnels. Now, I don’t think these are feasible, but I also would point out: if you don’t like those, then what’s your idea? Those are places where, if this were a different plan produced by different people, the map would have little red links decrying these as “problem zones.” Treating those problem zones as problems strikes me as a useful idea, even when the alternative offered may not be, and even though we know these are problem areas already.

We could decide, as UCLA’s Brian Taylor has urged us, to just say that congestion isn’t a problem to solve, but a condition of urban life. I’m willing to go there to some degree, but my urban economist hat notes that if you really hate sprawl, those problem zones actually do represent a problem because they note areas where there are strong economic incentives to move activity to the other side of the bottleneck–maybe not in the next 10 years, but in the next 20 to 30.

I think a lot of pearl-grasping is just that the people who think of themselves as the legitimate commentators/experts on LA transport are pissed because their favorite thing, rail rail rail and more rail, isn’t a feature of this plan, and/or because they think Reason is trying to advocate for more freeways using pricing as cover and/or they themselves get a lot of political mileage out of the fact that the freeway system is hardly optimal. Yes, the plan includes new infrastructure, but the 710, for example, has been on every map everybody who doesn’t live in South Pass has produced for 50 years. I never hear this kind of flouncing around when some architect produces a Tokyo-style train map for LA that would cost so much money we would have no money left for anything else and would also be empty for large portions of the network because it puts the same amount of investment in places that have acre lots as in places where we have good, rail-supporting densities. Instead, these are greeted with rapturous sighs about how wonderful that would be because that’s an awesome vision. And I generally don’t mind, and even like those kinds of visions, too, even though I don’t tend to get poetic about them.

My point is, simply, that good ideas come from lots of places; sometimes good ideas are mixed all up with silly ones, even, and I guess I am disappointed in the response. Reason hardly needs me to speak up for it, but I would prefer we discuss rather than screech or belittle, even when presented with visions and concepts that run counter to our own.

Here's the Bonkers, $700-Billion Libertarian Plan to Fix Los Angeles Traffic

http://la.curbed.com/archives/2015/11/reason_libertarian_los_angeles_traffic_tunnels.php

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 1.57.52 PM.png

The future of transportation in Los Angeles is getting a lot of much-deserved attention lately, as the sustainability of the city's model has city planners looking at major changes in the way LA gets around town. Mobility Plan 2035, the city's long-term transportation plan seeks to finally get many Angelenos out of their cars with workable public transportation and an improved network of bike lanes. Not everyone agrees that that's the way to go, though. The Libertarian Reason Foundation says bikes and buses are not the solution to traffic congestion—making more room for cars is. They have proposed a $700-billion plan to build an extensive network of new tunnels and expressways that they say would help free up some of the city's most congested areas of traffic.

That $700-billion pricetag is pretty steep (In comparison, the LA-to-San Francisco high-speed rail is only supposed to cost $67.8 billion), but don't worry. Reason says only $352 billion will come from taxpayers—the rest would come from a dramatic increase in toll roads. In fact, under their plan, every expressway in town would have its high-occupancy vehicle lane replaced by a tolled express lane (like the ones already on stretches of the 10 and the 110), which would help to pay for six megaprojects throughout the Southland.

Arterial underpasses.png

Moreover, Reason proposes a system of managed arterials (roads that bypass streetlights altogether via tolled overpasses and underpasses) on surface roads, effectively allowing people to pay to never see a red light again. With more than half of the funding coming from express lane tolls, and the extensive use of tolling for use of the completed tunnels, it appears Reason wants to create a system of VIP driving. Express tunnels would be available for those who can pay, and crumbling surface roads would have to suffice for the rest.

About these tunnels: talk about a minefield of potential delays, cost overruns, sour public opinion, and government intervention. Just ask Boston if they want to go through another Big Dig, let alone six of them at once. It can take years just to find a route that satisfies environmental and seismic concerns. Then there are the NIMBYS. No project of this magnitude could possible avoid stirring up that sleeping beast. That's not even to mention the hurdles anyone would have to jump over to start digging through state park land, as several of these projects propose.

They're cute plans, but only a fool would run this bureaucratic marathon for a transit plan that looks backwards to cars instead of forwards to mass transit and fossil-fuel-free options.

Here are Reason's tunnel proposals:

710 Extension Tunnel
710 extension.png

Talk about lofty goals right out of the gate, Reason plans on doing the impossible—finally closing that damn gap in the 710 Freeway. Four and a half miles separate the end of the 710 Freeway and the 210 in Pasadena, and Reason aims to connect the two. Good luck. That's been a thorn in the side of Caltrans since 1965.

710 Tunnel.png

They want to close that gap with two 50-foot tunnels, one double-decker for cars and another separate tunnel for trucks. Reason estimates traffic of 179,000 vehicles per day if no toll is collected, and 119,000 vehicles per day at a $2.00 toll. Total cost of the project would be $6.3 billion. Tolls would bring in $7.4 billion in revenue over 40 years.
Cross Mountain Tunnel
 
Santa Monica mountains.png

No less ambitious than solving the 710 gap debacle would be this plan to tunnel from LA's westside up north to the San Fernando Valley. There are three proposed routes, all of them linking the 10 Freeway with the 101 as it crosses the valley. The ideal route Reason offers would travel from Santa Monica, underneath Topanga State Park, to Tarzana. If they have trouble tunneling through a state park land (spoiler alert: they will), there are two alternatives—one tunnels under the 405 (more 405 construction, although this is at least a feasible plan under consideration) and the other under Laurel Canyon. If built, a six-lane tunnel would carry an estimated 109,000 cars per day to and from the valley, producing $9.7 billion in revenue over 40 years.

Downtown Bypass Tunnel
Downtown Bypass.png

This tunnel would link the 110 near USC with the entrance to SR-2 (Sunset Boulevard) just north of Echo Park. Six lanes of underground traffic would carry 151,000 cars per day at a toll of $1.00 a mile. Over 40 years, the tunnel would bring in about $13.6 billion.

Glendale to Palmdale Tunnel
Palmdale:Glendale.png

The Reason Group sees big things in Palmdale's future. They're expecting a massive increase in traffic north of the San Gabriel Mountains, so that will definitely need a tunnel. This one would link SR-14 near Palmdale with SR-2 just north of Glendale. Twin tubes, both 47 feet in diameter, would house a six-lane, double-decker expressway for light cars and a two-lane expressway for trucks, respectively. At a toll of $0.90 per mile, an estimated 53,137 cars would make the 21.1 mile trek each day, says Reason, and over 40 years the tunnel would bring in $28.4 billion in revenue.

It should be noted this planned tunnel is just a few short miles away from the proposed high-speed rail tunnel now under review by the United States Forest Service. The region may be experiencing tunnel fatigue by the end of that drama, so Palmdale commuters may be out of luck.

High Desert Corridor
Desert bypass.png

Unfortunately, there are no plans for tunnels in the High Desert. Reason instead proposes a boring old surface expressway (yawn) to connect the 37 miles of land between Palmdale and the I-15 in Victorville. At a cost of $9.8 billion, a six-lane tollway would be constructed across the two cities, with tolls set at about $0.45 a mile. An estimated 53,985 cars would travel on the road daily, bringing in a total revenue of $22.2 billion over 40 years.

Riverside to Orange County Corridor
Riverside OC bypass.png

There are two options Reason proposes for linking Riverside County to Orange County, and thankfully one of them is a tunnel. The non-tunnel option (boo!) would simply be two elevated toll lanes that travel parallel to SR-91 from SR-241 near Yorba Linda to I-15 in Corona. Thankfully, Reason is pushing for the other option ... the tunnel option.

Riverside OC tunnel.png

A tunnel would travel from the I-15, just south of El Cerrito, underneath the hills, and link up with SR-241 near Irvine. Inside the tunnel would be a tube 48 feet in diameter housing a double-decker, four-lane, tolled expressway. An estimated 48,200 cars would make the 14-mile trip each day at a toll of $0.70 per mile, says Reason, bringing in a total revenue of $11.7 billion over 40 years.

Chart.png

· Increasing Mobility in Southern California: A New Approach [Reason Group Report]
· Here's the Big Plan to Make it Way Easier to Get Around Los Angeles Over the Next 20 Years [Curbed LA]

Bertha: The big risks may lie ahead

http://crosscut.com/2015/11/bertha-the-big-risks-may-lie-ahead/

By Knute Berger, November 18, 2015


We’re coming up on the second anniversary of Bertha’s big break down. The tunnel diggers hope to have her boring again on Dec. 23. If she works, that would be a nice, albeit expensive, Christmas gift for the city.
Still, the problems of the last two years have turned us all into spectators, perhaps cynical ones. The big questions that loom: Will a refurbished Bertha make it to the end, or die underground again in an even more problematic location? And if she does break down again, what is Plan B?

None of us yet knows the answer, but one man predicted we’d be in this fix. Boston-based consultant Thomas Neff, who knows his tunnels and megaprojects, warned the city of Seattle in 2010 that Bertha was a high-risk project: The machine was of unprecedented size, the soil conditions were highly problematic, and the water pressure a major complication.

While some dismissed Neff’s findings as fitting all too well with Mayor Mike McGinn’s opposition to the tunnel, all those concerns have turned out to be major issues. And none of them have changed in the last two years that Bertha has been idled. The machine’s size, the soil and water conditions would still rate highly on Neff’s risk scale.

There have been other complications as well: The repair pit might have caused the damage to water mains on First and Western Avenues, requiring a major replacement. The time delay has set back work on the planned waterfront makeover, and the time frame for disruptions there and in Pioneer Square have been lengthened by years. Also, new measurements show the Alaskan Way Viaduct continues to sink and crack.

The idea of removing the Viaduct came about principally because of damage from the Nisqually quake and the risk of collapse in a quake. Unfortunately, by choosing to keep it standing during tunnel boring, not only must it totter longer than expected, but it also might be reaching its expiration date more quickly. For now, WSDOT insists it’s safe to drive.
He points to new challenges for the tunnel machine and its operators ahead: As Bertha presses forward, it must make a turn and dig even deeper. It also has to go under the Viaduct. Water pressure issues will likely get worse before they get better. If there’s some new problem that requires reaching the tunnel boring machine, extraction becomes more difficult once it’s under downtown. It doesn’t get much easier for a while.

In a recent column for ENR: Engineering News-Record, Neff reiterated his skepticism about a refurbished Bertha completing its assignment. “Given the evidence to date, my opinion is that Bertha will not finish the tunnel, but that some other machine, or process might. The project will likely not be complete in early 2018, and much more money will be required.”
In his article, he turns to Game Theory and says we’re trapped in the classic so-called “Prisoner’s Dilemma” where the tunnel builders and the taxpayers will have to shift from getting an optimal outcome and cooperate to accept a bad outcome in order to avoid “a VERY BAD” outcome.
The tunnel situation “reminds me of the famous quote from Italo Calvino’s 1979 novel, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, ‘You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst.’ In this case, the worst outcome would be two completed portals, no connecting tunnel, and a very long court battle,” writes Neff.

Pessimism? Realism? Neff tells it like he sees it, and his credibility should be enhanced by his 2010 warnings. Some might dismiss him as a Cassandra, the prophetess from Greek mythology who was cursed not to be believed. Today the term Cassandra is often synonymous with “naysayer,” but people often forget this part of the myth: Cassandra was right.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Glendale-to-Palmdale and 710-to-210 tunnels in Reason Foundation traffic plan

http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/general-news/20151117/glendale-to-palmdale-and-710-to-210-tunnels-in-reason-foundation-traffic-plan

November 17, 2015


 The Reason Foundation suggests six “mega projects” to improve traffic flow in Southern California



LOS ANGELES — A tunnel from Glendale to Palmdale, an expressway/tunnel connecting Riverside and Orange counties, and an extensive network of toll lanes connecting all major freeways in Southern California are among the proposals included in a $700 billion congestion-reduction plan released today by a nonprofit think tank.

The Reason Foundation proposal calls for variably priced toll lanes on all major highways and expressways, along with tolled overpasses and underpasses at bottleneck interchanges and a dramatic increase in bus rapid transit and express bus service.

• FULL REPORT: Read the Reason Foundation’s full Southern California Mobility Plan (PDF)
It also outlines six “mega-projects” to close what it calls major gaps in the Southland transportation network. The projects are:

• a 710 Freeway extension tunnel connecting with the Foothill (210) Freeway in Pasadena
• a tunnel extending north from the Glendale (2) Freeway in Glendale, connecting with the Antelope Valley (14) Freeway south of Palmdale
• a downtown bypass tunnel extending the 2 Freeway south through Los Angeles to the Harbor (110) Freeway
• an Irvine-Corona Freeway, including an expressway and tunnel between Riverside and Orange counties
• a “cross-mountain” expressway and tunnel between the Ventura (101) Freeway in the San Fernando Valley and Santa Monica (10) Freeway in Los Angeles
• a high-desert corridor expressway between the 14 Freeway in Palmdale and 15 Freeway in Victorville.

“Southern California is facing crucial transportation decisions,” said Baruch Feigenbaum, author of the Reason Foundation report. “The region’s current long-range mobility plans admit that traffic congestion will only get worse, even after taxpayers spend over $600 billion on transportation. By focusing on reducing congestion and replacing expensive, ineffective rail proposals with cost-effective buses, Reason’s plan improves mobility for drivers and transit users. And it does so without tax increases.”

According to the report, the use of toll roads would generate about $362 billion to fully cover the costs of construction, while another $352 billion in “taxpayer resources” would be needed -- compared to $606 billion for the existing Southern California Association of Governments’ Long Range Transportation Plan.

“As a result, our plan can be constructed with current resources, no tax increase is needed,” Feigenbaum wrote in an online summary of the report.

Mary Peters, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said Southern California drivers spend 80 hours sitting in stalled traffic each year, equating to two work weeks worth of lost productivity.

 “The Reason Foundation report offers solid solutions to these challenges that do not require tax increases and would improve mobility options for all users in the region,” Peters said. “I commend the innovative solutions proposed in it.”

Monday, November 16, 2015

This Week In Livable Streets

http://la.streetsblog.org/2015/11/16/this-week-in-livable-streets-28/

By Joe Linton, November 16, 2015

Many meetings this week: sidewalks, Metro, High Speed Rail, plus Gabe Klein, a long long long walk, a car-free chat, and more!
  • Monday 11/16 – Today at 2 p.m. the Los Angeles City Council Budget and Public Works committees deliberate on a proposed “fix and release” sidewalk repair plan. See SBLA’s explainer article here and meeting agenda here.
  • Monday 11/16 – The California High Speed Rail Authority continues a series of three meetings on the future HSR route between Burbank and downtown L.A. Tonight’s meeting takes place from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Glendale Adult Recreation Center at 201 E Colorado Street in Glendale. An identical meeting follows in Cypress Park on Thursday. Additional details on flier [PDF].
  • Tuesday 11/17 – Los Angeles Eco-Village hosts a “Carfree Chat” with CicLAvia founder Adonia Lugo and SBLA Editor Joe Linton. The free event includes an overview of livable transportation issues and activism, and plenty of questions and answers. It takes place from 7:30-9 p.m. at L.A. Eco-Village at 117 Bimini Place in Koreatown. More details at Facebook event.
  • Wednesday-Thursday 11/18-19 – The Metro Board of Directors committees will work out business in advance of their December 3 full board meeting. The agendas include bike-share pricing and more. See Metro website for agendas.
  • Thursday 11/19 – The California High Speed Rail Authority hosts the last of three L.A. County meetings on the future HSR route between Burbank and downtown L.A. Thursday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the L.A. River Center and Gardens at 570 W. Avenue 26 in Cypress Park. Additional details on flier [PDF].
  • Thursday 11/19 – Kick-ass livable transportation leader, innovator, and author Gabe Klein speaks at UCLA’s Luskin Center at 6 p.m. Talk is free, but RSVP and details here.
  • Friday 11/20 – The documentary Bikes Vs. Cars opens at Laemmle Monica movie theaters. (This is per a press release – couldn’t confirm on Laemmle website – will update as I get more information.)
  • Saturday 11/21 – The Great Los Angeles Walk will proceed down Olympic Boulevard from downtown L.A. to the Pacific Ocean. Departs from Clifton’s Cafeteria at 9 a.m. More details at Great L.A. Walk and Facebook event.
  • Sunday 11/22 – Climate Action Santa Monica hosts a free public forum “What a Way to Go – Bike, Bus Expo” featuring keynote by SM City Manager Rick Cole. The event takes place from 12 noon to 4 p.m. at the Church in Ocean Park at 235 Hill Street in Santa Monica. More details at Facebook event.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Mobility Plan 2035: A Road to Hell Paved with Good Intentions

http://citywatchla.com/lead-stories-hidden/9932-mobility-plan-2035-a-road-to-hell-paved-with-good-intentions

By Dick Platkin, November 13, 2015




PLATKIN ON PLANNING-In general, the public pays little attention to the City of LA’s legally required General Plan, including its mandatory and optional Elements. But the required Circulation Element, called the Mobility Plan or MP 2035, is different, at least among that small minority of Angelenos who care about local government. This might be why the Los Angeles Times and KPCC have regularly reported on the Mobility Plan.

I find this new General Plan Element problematic, but not for the reasons presented publicly and privately by the Element’s critics, including those who have filed a lawsuit to overturn it.
To understand why MP 2035 is problematic, let’s take a broad look at LA’s transportation realities:
  • The city’s built environment heavily favors automobile driving through its road system and its auto-centric buildings. 
  • Even though LA is an ideal urban area for bicycling because of its wide, flat roads and balmy climate, most bicyclists are reluctant to take to the streets because of potholes, the lack of protected bike lanes, and missing bicycle infrastructure at public and private buildings. 
  • The City of Los Angeles is subject to numerous statewide laws and regulations in California regarding planning. In particular, the Complete Streets Act requires each city to plan for all transportation modes (options), not just cars. In addition, the State’s far-reaching climate change legislation and regulations also shape local transportation planning. 
  • People’s transportation behavior invariably reflects a city’s built environment. It not only shapes everyone’s realistic transportation options, but it forms our personal habits. As a result, most Angelenos rely on private cars for the bulk of their local trips. The exceptions are the transit dependent (disabled, elderly, students, and poor), as well as the early adapters, those who have consciously moved to Downtown LA or the Wilshire Corridor to use subways, busses, and their feet. 
Debate over the Mobility Plan: I have followed the debate over the Mobility Plan closely, and have yet to hear what the critics propose as an alternative plan, other than an implicit call for more-of-the-same. Since more-of-the-same was considered in the Mobility Element’s EIR as Alternatives 1 and possibly 2, we can predict their consequences. They would perpetuate a city in which the existing street system and auto-centric buildings promote endless automobile driving, reinforced by beat-up sidewalks, expensive and reduced bus service, and few truly safe bike lanes. As a consequence, Angelenos would continue to suffer from toxic air, industrial strength traffic congestion, and high accident rates, especially for pedestrians.

If we look at other criticisms of the Mobility Element, nearly all of them deal with complaints about bureaucratic procedure, not substance based on the most basic transportation question of all:  Is the purpose of LA’s transportation system to move cars or to move people? 

Other complaints are peripheral, such as objections to the addition of a bicycle lane to specific streets, such as 6th Street in the Miracle Mile, Westwood Boulevard in West LA, or Central Avenue in South LA.

And, other complaints are just plain mindless, such as the charge that an elitist minority of bicycle riders have imposed their youthful lifestyle of the rest of Angelenos, whose choice to drive their car is, by now, a life-ling habit. Really? In reality the car still reins supreme in Los Angeles, whether one looks at streets or buildings.

In fact, City Hall only has a few employees who deal with bicycle lanes and bicycle infrastructure. This for a simple reason. The City budget ignores bicycling, while the lion’s share of public resources are devoted to maintaining 6,500 miles of roadway, with the goal moving cars as fast as possible.
Despite all the hoopla, Los Angeles only has about 500 miles of bike lanes, most of which are just a line painted on the street, not the protected lanes that are already common in New York and other bicycle-friendly cities.

Lurking behind many of the procedural and anecdotal charges about the Mobility Element is the belief, I think, that the bicycle, pedestrian, and transit advocates who strongly support the Element are unwitting proxies for developers. Since the Element endorses Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and since these advocates of alternative transportation modes support the Mobility Element, they are, whether they know it or not, the cheerleaders for real estate speculation.

This suspicion, however, is baseless for several reasons. First, for the past 20 years adopted public policy in Los Angeles called for Transit Oriented Development (TOD). When it has appeared, however, it is not because of a few pages in the General Plan Framework’s Transportation Chapter, but because a real estate speculator saw a financial opportunity. Second, when their projects needed discretionary zoning approvals, they were granted to them reflexively at a “business-friendly” City Hall, not because the Framework had a TOD policy.

The Mobility Element’s Real Problems:  If the objections to the new Mobility Plan are largely based on anecdote and procedure, rather than substance, what, then, is so problematic about this Plan, which otherwise seems to be so well-intentioned and consistent with the principles of sustainable city planning?

The answer is that in Los Angeles the General Plan is nothing more than a legal requirement imposed by the State of California and repeated in the City Charter. It is not taken seriously by any branch of City government, whether the Executive or Legislative, as evidenced by the following:
  • The General Plan is not kept up to date. As one looks through its seven required elements, as well as optional elements, such as the General Plan Framework, they have different base years and different horizon years. To their credit, though, they often have overlapping policies.  This means that the very policies that irked the Mobility Plan’s critics, such as Transit Oriented Districts, as expanded in the Framework’s Transportation Improvement and Mitigation Program (TIMP), have been on the books for years in other General Plan Elements. These precursors of the Mobility Element have quietly gathered dust, to the point that both professional planners and neighborhood planning activists pay no heed to them. 
  • The City of Los Angeles’s budgeting process is entirely separate from the planning process.  The vast array of policies and programs presented in the General Plan’s elements, including the new Mobility Element, are totally ignored when the City Administrative Office, the Mayor’s Office, and the City Council divide up the pie. 
  • Likewise the City’s legislative process is totally disconnected from the General Plan, other than tacking on voluminous ordinances to up-zone and up-plan swaths of LA through Community Plans Updates. 
  • The land use approval process in Los Angeles also proceeds on a parallel track, independent of adopted General Plan policies. Nearly every application for an entitlement is “Approved with conditions.” While these approvals require a finding of consistency with the General Plan, this finding is nothing more than boilerplate language habitually copied from one approval to another. 
  • Despite the State of California’s general plan guidelines, elaborate monitoring programs detailed in the General Plan Framework and its EIR, and several law suits, the City has no way to determine if any Mobility Element programs will have been implemented or if any of its policy goals will have been achieved. This is because the monitoring program does not exist
What these gross deficiencies mean is that the new Mobility Element is a stand-alone shelf document.

Its only implementing ordinance addresses street standards. It has no attached budget allocations or departmental work programs, and there is no systematic way to know if any of its programs are implemented or the Mobility Element’s goals have been achieved.

Will it make walking, biking, and driving safer? Will people switch transportation modes when they are offered better options?  Will congestion go up or down in different neighborhoods? Will emergency vehicles be hemmed in by worsening traffic jams?  Will air quality improve? Other than by anecdote, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, these will be, “Unknown unknowns.”

Both the doom and gloom predicted by the Element’s critics, as well as the important safety features, enhanced transportation options, and sustainable behavior foreseen by the Element’s supporters will remain speculation. Like budget allocations, implementing ordinances, and work programs, the data and supporting analysis will not be there.

This is the real problem facing the Mobility Element and the other General Plan elements in Los Angeles. They are totally oblique to a planning process that is entirely driven by market forces and delivered to City Hall by well-paid and, in turn, generous land use attorneys, lobbyists, and expediters.

No ticket, no driver: Police stop Google self-driving car

http://www.scpr.org/news/2015/11/13/55633/no-ticket-no-driver-police-stop-google-self-drivin/

November 13, 2015

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 A Google self-driving car maneuvers through the streets of in Washington, D.C. in this May 14, 2012 file photo. Mountain View police said in a statement that an officer pulled over a Google self-driving car that was being tested on local roads Thursday. There was no one behind the wheel and no ticket given.




A California police officer made a traffic stop, but wrote no ticket. There was no driver to give it to anyway.

Mountain View police said in a statement that an officer pulled over a Google self-driving car that was being tested on local roads Thursday.

The officer noticed the car going a road-clogging 24 mph in a 35 mph zone and realized it was a Google Autonomous Vehicle. He stopped the car and contacted its operators to let them know it was impeding traffic, but no citation was given.

A person is required to sit behind the wheel of self-driving cars.

The Google project responded in a blog post, saying it's never received a ticket and adding, "Driving too slowly? Bet humans don't get pulled over for that too often."

Animation Explains How Bad Planning Makes Car Ownership Compulsory

http://usa.streetsblog.org/2015/11/12/animation-explains-how-bad-planning-makes-car-ownership-compulsory/

By Angie Schmitt, November 12, 2015






This is a pretty great animation explaining how American cities were undermined by a slavish dedication to storing and moving cars. It’s by comedian Adam Conover from TruTV’s “Adam Ruins Everything,” who also made this great video explaining the screwed up origin of the word “jaywalking.”

The best part may be the animated version of parking guru Donald Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking.”

Television comedians preaching urbanism? We hope this is part of a trend.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

America’s Top Transit Systems Face a $102 Billion Repair Backlog

Rising ridership plus aging infrastructure minus federal funding is a formula for crisis.

 http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/11/americas-top-transit-systems-face-a-102-billion-repair-backlog/415590/

By Eric Jaffe, November 12, 2015


America’s highway are in terrible shape, but when it comes to this maintenance crisis its aging transit systems can give U.S. roads a run for their money. A run worth about $102 billion, to be precise. That’s the estimated repair backlog facing nine of the country’s largest (and oldest) transit providers, according to a new report by the Regional Plan Association.

RPA’s analysis considered rail and bus systems in nine major metro areas (below) that altogether account for 27 percent of the country’s GDP and 21 percent of its population on just 2 percent of its land. Transit ridership has grown steadily in these areas for years. Together they now capture more than three-quarters of all U.S. transit rail trips, in particular.
RPA
But even as usage for these systems has soared, investment in them has lagged. All told their maintenance backlog for capital transit assets—things like tracks, storage yards, power systems, stations, and vehicles—comes to $102 billion by RPA’s calculations, plus another $13 billion a year for “normal replacement needs.” (Since these figures don’t include New Jersey Transit, the true totals are actually much higher.)
That’s a huge problem for the future; here’s RPA:
Decades, and in some cases more than a century, of heavy use
has caused significant wear-and-tear, in addition to the impact of natural elements and other weather events. … Many of their assets are now beyond their useful life and the agencies are approaching a tipping point at which unfunded capital needs will overwhelm their ability and capacity to operate high-quality transit service.
The prospects for righting the situation are equally bleak. In 2013, for instance, the transit agencies represented in RPA’s analysis only received about $7.3 billion in funding for capital expenditures, with just $6 billion of it going to system preservation instead of expansion. That’s just a fifth of the $30 million a year that RPA thinks these systems need to get back on track (so to speak), assuming a six-year funding bill.
RPA
Neither long-term surface transport plan being considered in Congress right now comes anywhere close to this figure. The House bill calls for $55 billion in transit funding over six years; the Senate bill does slightly better, escalating toward $12 billion a year. (Not that there’s money to pay for such legislation.) RPA concludes with a reminder of what’s at stake:
Inadequate levels of federal funding for transit state of good repair needs has significant consequences in terms of achieving our national transportation, economic development and sustainability goals. It also has negative impacts on the metropolitan regions where a large proportion of U.S. companies do business, and residents and workers live, including some of the most disadvantaged populations.

California's DOT Admits That More Roads Mean More Traffic

Take it from Caltrans: If you build highways, drivers will come.

 http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/11/californias-dot-admits-that-more-roads-mean-more-traffic/415245/

By Eric Jaffe, November 11, 2015


 Image Jeff Turner / Flickr





Whenever a road project gets announced, the first thing officials talk about is how it’s going to reduce traffic. Just last month, for instance, the Connecticut DOT reported that it would be widening Interstates 95 and 84, a project that would result in major economic benefits from “easing congestion”:
The analysis found that adding a lane in each direction border-to-border will save I-95 travelers well over 14 million hours of delays by the year 2040. Likewise, the widening of I-84 will save travelers over 4.7 million hours of delays during the same period.
Never mind that it’s unclear whether major highway projects actually provide an economic boost (many of the supposed new benefits are simply a relocation of existing business activity). Congestion relief itself is a dubious claim when it comes to road expansions. Transportation experts have repeatedly found that building new roads inevitably encourages more people to drive, which in turn negates any congestion savings—a phenomenon known as “induced demand.”

So it’s refreshing—and rare—to see the California DOT (aka Caltrans) link to a policy brief outlining key research findings from years of study into induced demand. The brief, titled “Increasing Highway Capacity Unlikely to Relieve Traffic Congestion,” was compiled by UC-Davis scholar Susan Handy.
Here are the highlights:

  • There’s high-quality evidence for induced demand. All the studies reviewed by Handy used time-series data, “sophisticated econometric techniques,” and controlled for outside variables such as population growth and transit service.
  • More roads means more traffic in both the short- and long-term. Adding 10 percent more road capacity leads to 3-6 percent more vehicle miles in the near term and 6-10 percent more over many years.
  • Much of the traffic is brand new. Some of the cars on a new highway lane have simply relocated from a slower alternative route. But many are entirely new. They reflect leisure trips that often go unmade in bad traffic, or drivers who once used transit or carpooled, or shifting development patterns, and so on.
What’s significant about the Caltrans acknowledgement is that induced demand creates something of a mission crisis for transportation agencies that spend most of their money on building new roads. (The same can be said for peak driving.) A 2014 assessment of Caltrans, conducted by the State Smart Transportation Initiative, specifically cited induced demand as a research finding that had yet to filter down “into the department’s thinking and decision making”:
For example, despite a rich literature on induced demand, internal interviewees frequently dismissed the phenomenon.
Ronald Milam of the transportation consultancy Fehr & Peers tells CityLab that Caltrans has recognized the shortcomings of traditional traffic models and tried to improve its analyses to better account for induced demand. In response to new state laws designed to reduce vehicle miles traveled and thus climate emissions—namely, Senate bills 375 and 743—the agency is updating and broadening that effort. New guidelines are currently in the works.

Eric Sundquist of SSTI said via email that it’s “notable” to see Caltrans link to the policy brief, but adds that some DOTs have started to address induced demand whether they call it that or not. The big question, he says, is what policies get put in place to deal with its effects. Pennsylvania’s DOT during the Ed Rendell administration, for instance, “basically stopped building new highways and diverted resources to upkeep and non-car modes,” Sundquist says.

That culture change isn’t so easy. Connecticut officials also seem to understand that expanding roads won’t resolve the state’s traffic problems. “You can’t build your way out of congestion,” Tom Maziarz, chief of planning at the state DOT, recently told the Connecticut Post. And yet the interstate widening project moves forward.

Monday, November 9, 2015

LA, ‘The Next Great Transit City’ or … How Commuters Get “Railroaded” by Transit Trends

http://citywatchla.com/lead-stories-hidden/9903-la-the-next-great-transit-city-or-how-commuters-get-railroaded-by-transit-trends

By Joel Kotkin, November 6, 2015


 


TRANSPORTATION BY THE NUMBERS-With more than $10 billion already invested, and much more on the way, some now believe that Los Angeles and Southern California are on the way to becoming, in progressive blogger Matt Yglesias’ term, “the next great transit city.” But there’s also reality, something that rarely impinges on debates about public policy in these ideologically driven times.

Let’s start with the numbers. If LA is supposedly becoming a more transit-oriented city, as boosters already suggest, a higher portion of people should be taking buses and trains. Yet, Los Angeles County – with its dense urbanization and ideal weather for walking and taking transit – has seen its share of transit commuting decline, as has the region overall.

Since 1980, before the start of subway and light-rail construction, the percentage of Angelenos taking transit has actually dropped, from 7.0 percent to 6.9 percent, while the region (including the Inland Empire and Ventura County) has seen the transit share drop from 5.1 percent to 4.7 percent. These reductions in ridership have been experienced both on the rail and bus lines.

The simple truth is that this region is just not structured to run largely on rails. We should not prioritize our transit dollars by trying to remake our region into something resembling New York, or even San Francisco, but in serving the needs, first and foremost, of those who remain dependent on public transit.
History and Legacy

The primary reason transit does not do well in Los Angeles is historical. Although Southern California arose with a strong transit base – the Pacific Electric Red Cars and the Los Angeles Transit Lines Yellow Cars – that structure began fading by the 1920s as private car use surged in the region. It’s also critical to recognize that the vast majority of Southern California’s growth – roughly 75 percent – came after World War II and also after the demise of the Red Cars.

Since early in the region’s development, our business and residential patterns reflect the dominance of automobiles, with numerous economic nodes and residential districts spread out in largely suburban communities. In terms of overall settlement patterns, only 10 percent of the LA-Orange County region – generally the area south of the Santa Monica Mountains and the San Bernardino (I-10) Freeway, north of Slauson Avenue and between Fairfax Avenue and the Long Beach (I-710) Freeway – can actually be considered urban in the traditional sense, with higher densities and a higher market share of work trips by transit.

Downtown connection 

Critically, Southern California lacks a magnetic center, with Downtown Los Angeles accounting for barely 3 percent of all employment in the region. As population and jobs continue to concentrate in the periphery, we should be wary of building a transit system to serve a geography to which relatively few commute. Downtown LA may have revived as a destination and residential area, but not as a job center.

Strong downtowns are what make rail transit work. All cities with successful transit systems, notably New York, have powerful, magnetic downtowns. Manhattan’s business district accounts for 20 percent of all jobs in the region, many times LA’s rate.

New York commuters may depart from a host of locations but head generally to Manhattan, a critical business center back when Los Angeles was little more than a glorified cow town. Cars came on the scene fairly late in the urban evolution.

But New York is not duplicable, so much so that roughly two-fifths of all U.S. train commuters live in the New York City region. Nearly 85 percent of all the transit ridership increase nationally the past decade has taken place there.

Although none comes close to equaling New York, there are several “legacy” cities that have larger-than-usual concentrations of employment in their central cores. These also include cities – Washington, D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco – that developed before the rise of the car, although not nearly to the extent of Gotham. Together, these places account for 55 percent of all transit work-trip destinations in the nation.

As for the remaining cities that have built extensive systems, it’s not a pretty picture. Even those systems that tend to get the widest praise and positive media coverage have had very limited success. Before opening its massive light-rail system in 1990, 4.3 percent of Denver’s commuters rode transit to work. With light rail, the share did rise – to 4.4 percent.

Even Portland, Ore., considered the mecca of “smart growth” strategy, actually has seen a decrease in its transit market share, from 7.9 percent before light rail to 6.4 percent in 2013. San Diego, arguably with one of the more successful light-rail systems, has seen its transit market share stagnate, from 3.3 percent in 1980 – before light rail – to 3.2 percent in 2013.

All Southern California’s Sunbelt rivals have done poorly in terms of transit share. Atlanta, which built its subway earlier than most, has seen its transit market share cut by more than half.

Or, take the Dallas light-rail system – DART – which serves growing Dallas and Collin counties, an extensive area where just 2 percent of metropolitan area employment is downtown. DART expanded its lines by approximately three quarters from 2000-14, but still lost commuting market share.

The story is similar in Houston, where the light-rail system opened in 2004. From 2003-14, the population in Harris County, which includes Houston, grew 23 percent, but transit ridership decreased 12 percent, according to American Public Transportation Association data. This means that the average Houstonian took 30 percent fewer trips on the combined bus and light-rail system in 2014 than on the bus-only system in 2003.

Finally, in each of these cities, driving alone has increased, and all of them, most recently the Los Angeles region, now have more people working at home than riding transit to work. Commuting time is a big reason. Few transit trips in most cities take less time, door-to-door, than traveling by car, not to mention the convenience of working at home. The average transit rider in Los Angeles spends 48 minutes get
21st century transit 

 In the future, we need to focus on the people, largely poor, who should benefit most from transit investment. Transit commuters in the Los Angeles metropolitan area earn approximately 60 percent less than those in the six metropolitan areas with legacy cities.

These people should be the primary concern of transit agencies. But in the planning drive to re-engineer Southern California by building much more expensive rail systems, bus lines have been cut back, which also has occurred in many other cities embracing new train systems. As one former transit agency head recently explained, in confidence, this is part of a strategy to promote high-density real estate investment along transit routes. Trains, he explained, also can attract a more affluent rider, who could also easily drive to work.

Perhaps rather than trying to recreate the transit city of the early 20th century, planners should seek solutions that make sense in the dispersed environment of this century. Ideas that promote underinvestment in roads, supposedly to encourage transit use, are akin to inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on motorists. In Los Angeles, with the nation’s second-worst roads (the Bay Area is doing even worse,) this translates to more than $1,000 in annual repair and maintenance costs per typical driver.

This cost particularly affects poorer populations, who tend to have older cars and have to steer through the most congested areas. LA Councilman Gil Cedillo, a longtime labor activist, made this point while objecting to Mayor Eric Garcetti’s gambit to expand bike lanes, reduce vehicle lanes and not invest in adding road capacity. Cedillo claims this “elitist” plan would hurt his constituents, few of whom would be using bike lanes to get to work, by assuring continual gridlock.

Rather than underspending in our road networks, perhaps more attention might be paid to making them work better for transit commuters. Rapid transit by bus could certainly be cheaper. But we also could explore using Uber-like door-to-door ride-booking services more often, with perhaps subsidies for poor riders. Such a step, or even buying cars for these low-end commuters, would greatly expand the range of jobs and locations available to them.

Further in the future, we might see the influence of autonomous, self-driving taxis and buses, which could be much cheaper, more reliable and less traffic-snarling than their current iterations.

Rather than commit our region to ever more expensive transit systems, we need to focus primarily on serving the transit-dependent population as efficiently as possible while looking to improve transportation outcomes for the vast majority of people who are likely to remain behind the wheel.
ting to work, compared with 27 minutes for people driving alone.

Just How Bad Is the Final House Transportation Bill?

http://usa.streetsblog.org/2015/11/05/just-how-bad-is-the-final-house-transportation-bill/#more-113043

By Angie Schmitt, November 5, 2015

Nobody was expecting the GOP-controlled House of Representatives to put together a transportation bill that did much for streets and transit in American cities.

Congress passed a 6-year transportation bill this morning. Yay? Image: Transportation Dems
The House passed a six-year transportation bill this morning. Yay? 

And they were right — there’s nothing to get excited about in the bill. But neither is it the total disaster for walking, biking, and transit it could have been. So how does the House bill stack up against the current law? It’s looking a little worse.

Amendments to the bill were heard earlier this week, and the final bill was passed just hours ago. Some last-minute changes made it in, but in general not the ones that would help modernize the nation’s transportation policy and reduce our dependence on driving.

The final House bill includes a $40 billion funding patch to cover the gas tax shortfall, which means it now has funding for six years instead of three. But the new money is very gimmicky. At the last minute, Texas Re­pub­lic­an Randy Neuge­bauer introduced an amendment to raid the Federal Reserve’s Capital Surplus Account, and it was approved overwhelmingly.

Prior to that, House leaders had not indicated (or figured out) how they intended to pay for the bill. Yesterday, they refused to even hear an amendment from Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer to raise the gas tax.

Neugebauer’s amendment allowed lawmakers to pass the long-term bill industry and government agencies have been begging for without doing the responsible (and politically courageous) thing and finding a revenue source that doesn’t amount to a desperate one-shot.


Meanwhile, funding for walking, biking, and transit didn’t gain ground — and in fact may lose some — but also avoided catastrophic cuts. Three of the most watched amendments — the Carter and Yoho Amendments, which took aim at the tiny pot of money directed to biking and walking — didn’t make it past the Rules Committee to a floor vote. Representatives were listening to the national advocates fighting against those measures (or inclined to oppose them anyway). The Bike League called it a victory, saying “sometimes the hardest work results in nothing happening.”

Stephen Lee Davis from Transportation for America, however, noted that there were some backdoor cuts to active transportation funding. The “Transportation Alternatives program,” the only pot of money dedicated to walking and biking, will be locked in at $819 million per year — it will not grow to keep pace with inflation, like other programs.

“Simply not getting axed doesn’t meet our threshold for success,” Davis said.

Other measures advocates were watching — smart reforms like expanding eligibility for federal loans to transit-oriented development projects, or allowing regions to use “congestion mitigation and air quality” funds to expand bike-share systems — were squelched in the Rules Committee or by the full House.

There is one good “fix” in the final bill, and it’s significant: restoring the flexibility to fund transit projects with multiple federal sources. The original version of the House bill would have blocked transit agencies from supplementing funds from the New Starts and Small Starts programs with other federal sources, like the TIFIA loan program, if the total federal share exceeded 50 percent of the project cost. Revoking that flexibility would have threatened projects all over the country, including Chicago’s Red and Purple Line modernization projects, according to Representative Dan Lipinski (D-Chicago).

Lipinski and Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) partially prevailed in an effort to reverse that provision. Their amendment to restore funding flexibility for transit projects survived mainly intact. However, agencies would still not be able to tap the $10 billion Surface Transportation Program (STP) to supplement funding from the federal transit grant programs beyond 50 percent of the project cost.

The passage of the House bill means House and Senate representatives will hash out a unified six-year agreement in conference committee. The Senate’s transportation bill, charmingly known as the DRIVE Act, is also, by and large, a continuation of the status quo funded by gimmicks. It does lack some of the flaws in the House bill, which may get ironed out in committee.

A spokesperson for Lipinski, who is a conferee, said that the limitations on STP funding for transit projects “will be worked on in conference committee.”

Senate transportation leaders Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) promised in a press release today to have a six-year bill in front of President Obama for signing before Thanksgiving.

Police In South Pasadena Say Gold Line May Be ‘Conduit For Criminals,’ But Metro Disagrees

http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2015/11/05/police-in-south-pasadena-say-gold-line-may-be-conduit-for-criminals-but-metro-disagrees/

By Peter Daut, November 5, 2015

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Nearly every day, roughly 45,000 people ride the Metro Gold Line.

The light rail runs 20 miles from East Los Angeles to Pasadena, serving 21 stations.

And starting next year, it will extend 12 more miles to Montclair, serving an additional six stations.
But before that happens, one woman from South Pasadena, who did not want to show her face, has a warning.

“Something bad can happen,” she said. “I found that out the hard way.”

The 83-year-old grandmother says in 2012 a man got off the Gold Line in South Pasadena, wandered into her neighborhood and broke into her home, where he robbed and brutally attacked her.

“And he just kept calling me names and hitting me,” she said. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘How many times can a person be hit in the head before they go unconscious?’ ”

That’s when she says her grandchildren arrived and the attacker took off. The woman suffered a concussion, broken nose and a perforated eardrum.

Police quickly arrested Alonzo Johnson, 52, in connection with the attack. Police said Johnson was running to get back onto the Gold Line.

Investigators said Johnson is suspected of committing at least five crimes near Gold Line stations. His ticket from downtown Los Angeles was paid for by a Skid Row charity.

“It’s easy for them to troll when they’re given that opportunity,” the woman said. “It doesn’t take them very long to get from one end of town to the other.”

Since the Gold Line began operation in 2003, police say, it has become a “conduit for criminals.”
“When they could take the bus, they could take a bicycle, but in this case right now they’re taking the train,” Cpl. Bill Earley of the South Pasadena Police Department said.

“We’ve had a huge increase of crime near the Gold Line station and in the general area since it’s opened up,” Earley said.

Police say the problem has exploded in the past year because of Proposition 47, which downgraded many theft and drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

Both South Pasadena and much larger Pasadena say they’ve seen double-digit increases in burglaries, robberies and vehicle robberies.

Both departments say easy access to the Gold Line has given easy access to criminals.

A CBS2 news crew was with police when they arrested a man suspected of stealing expensive baby formula and coffee from a South Pasadena pharmacy.

Police said they also uncovered several syringes.

Officers said they found the man on his way to the Gold Line. He, according to police, had a Metro map sticking out of his back pocket.

Police said they arrested the man on outstanding warrants for drug possession, but normally would have to let him go because of Proposition 47.

“I think we’re handcuffed more than the suspects are,” Earley said.

But Metro officials say there’s been no data that shows any increase in crime or that criminals have been taking the Gold Line into South Pasadena.

“This is not an unsafe community by any means,” said Paul Gonzales, a Metro spokesman. “There is … nothing that could support an allegation that the Metro Gold Line brings criminals to South Pasadena.”

Despite what police say, Metro says federal data shows crime has actually gone down near the South Pasadena station.

“It has had a decreasing crime rate since 2007,” Gonzales said.

Regardless, communities like Azusa, where the Gold Line will extend, are embracing it and recently held a dedication ceremony for the project.

Supporters say it provides reliable public transportation, cuts down on traffic and leads to economic development, including in South Pasadena, where numerous shops and restaurants have gone up near the station.

But the grandmother CBS2 spoke with says the Gold Line also has a dark side people need to be aware of.

“We can’t all be prisoners in our own homes, so the only thing one can do is just be careful and cautious,” she said.

The man arrested in connection with the attack on the woman in this piece is awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, Metro says police should focus their frustration on Proposition 47 and leave the public transit system out of it.