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

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Long-Contested 710 Battle Continues

Key Announcement Expected Soon


By Camille Endacott, January 7, 2015

Environmental Impact Report [to be] Released in February



“Do you want to see my war room?” says 83-year-old freeway fighter Maryanne Parada. She shuffles toward her back porch, leaning on her cane as she leads the way past framed pictures of Pope John Paul II and “NO 710” protest signs. She stops at two giant file cabinets and opens a drawer, rifling through tabbed newspaper clippings, highlighted geographical surveys, and old transportation reports. “I’ve been fighting the freeway since the 1960s. This is a fight for our very lives.”

Vowed to Protect Home

Parada has dedicated the last 50 years of her life to protecting her quiet town nestled in the Los Angeles suburbs. Parada was nine years old when she was uprooted from her childhood home near Chavez Ravine, which was demolished to make way for construction of Dodger Stadium. Fast forward to 1963, when Parada was a young mother who had recently moved to from Highland Park to South Pasadena with her husband and six children. When she heard that Caltrans planned to build a freeway straight through the center of the 3.4 square mile town, Parada vowed this time to protect her home.

South Pasadena’s fight against the 710 freeway surface extension, which was designed to bridge the current gap between the freeway’s off-ramp in Alhambra and on-ramp in Pasadena, has spanned decades. Parada has participated every step of the way. “I would go to transportation meetings with my rosary,” said Parada, touching the beads around her neck. “I would say it quietly. People rolled their eyes at first, but as we kept fighting they said ‘Bring your rosary!’”

After countless city council meetings, citizen petitions, and organized protests, Parada’s prayers were answered in 2013 when Governor Jerry Brown signed an injunction on any above-ground freeway extension along the 710 corridor. Caltrans-owned homes long empty were released for sale, and South Pasadena’s town center was saved from demolishment.

The battle of South Pasadena was over. The fight over the fate of the 710 freeway, however, was just beginning.

“It’s been a war since day one,” said Alhambra City Councilmember Barbara Messina. “This project has been studied for 40 years. I don’t think there’s a project that has been studied as much as this one. You can’t argue facts with people against this project because they don’t want to admit they’re not right.”

War Since Day One

Messina, who served as a council member in 1986 and was re-elected in 2010 and 2014, has spent much of her time in office studying the 710 freeway and has been advocating to close the gap for years.

“It’s not just about Alhambra and South Pasadena having issues with each other,” said Messina. “It’s a regional problem.”

Messina said the congestion at the 710 off-ramp not only inconveniences the community but seriously harms it.

“We have three elementary schools that are right on the arterial streets where all the traffic sits in the morning and evening,” said Messina. “These kids are breathing in all of the congestion from the cars that are just idling. Our streets and our neighborhoods are getting pounded.”

After the surface plan through South Pasadena was scrapped, Caltrans and Metro were forced to consider other solutions to the congestion that plagued Alhambra streets. With plans for a surface route vetoed, another solution emerged: to go underground.

“There are five alternatives that are being studied, one of them being the tunnel,” said Messina. “The tunnel is the only one that will be selected for all the right reasons, the main reason being that it is the only one with financing attached to it.”

Measure R Funding

According to a 2013 Alternatives Analysis Report conducted by Metro, a tunnel connecting the 710 would be “a viable solution that warrants more detailed evaluation.” The tunnel would receive funding from Measure R, which passed at 68% in L.A. County in 2008. According to Metro’s expenditure plan, Measure R implemented a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements, 85% of which they said would be allocated for bus and rail projects. The revenue, though, will be directed to fund the tunnel option should Metro and Caltrans be cleared to build it.

To move ahead with the project, Metro and Caltrans are currently conducting an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that will be released in February 2015.

In these next few months before the study is released, passionate advocates from both camps are planning their strategy. For long-involved advocates like Messina and Parada as well as zealous new campaigners, this is the calm before the storm. Like contenders before a match, both sides are shadow-boxing as they compile the artillery of their battle: facts.

Boxing in the anti-freeway corner, is the woman Parada calls the freeway guru: the city of La Canada’s Jan Soohoo.

Soohoo, who received her master’s degree in biology from USC, said she didn’t start studying transportation until a neighbor asked her to attend meetings of a La Canada grass-roots group called the No 710 Action Committee in 2010. Since her first involvement in the committee, Soohoo has applied her natural research and analytical capabilities previously used to study ocean currents towards freeways.

Invested Much of Her Time

Soohoo has invested much of her time in investigating the potential safety dangers posed by the tunnel. The tunnel, which will be approximately 5 miles in length, will have no exiting ramps for vehicles. There will be emergency exits for commuters to flee the tunnel should a crisis occur, but individuals would have to walk to the nearest exit and up two flights of stairs to reach ground-level. Soohoo noted that if an explosion were to occur in the tunnel, the buildings above it (and those inside of them) would be in serious danger.

Also concerning is the research that suggests the tunnel won’t actually decrease traffic. One Metro-sponsored study found that 76% of the cars that currently exit the 710 in Alhambra aren’t even trying to reach Pasadena. The 23% of drivers who are heading to Pasadena might not even use the tunnel. 

Because of the project’s huge cost, Caltrans and Metro will partner with a private investor, necessitating that the extension will be a toll road to cover the investor’s overhead contribution. Soohoo read one study that found commuters show a 35% toll avoidance rate and fears that the toll road will force even more drivers out onto surface streets, increasing the current gridlock.

“The fact is that Caltrans understands what a horrible project this is, and that it won’t solve the traffic woes for the region,” said Soohoo. “It will increase pollution and health care costs for everyone in the 210 corridor, east and west of Pasadena, and from a fiscal standpoint it is irresponsible.”

Tunnel Faces Huge Cost

Margaret Lin, the principal management analyst for South Pasadena’s Freeway and Transportation Commission, also questioned the tunnel’s effectiveness in light of its huge cost.

“The initial estimate for the tunnel is $5.6 billion, and we see in other tunnel projects, the cost tends to go up,” said Lin. “We believe the money could be better spent on improving infrastructure, expanding travel networks, and creating something that’s more sustainable and actually meets the state’s need in term of air quality improvements.”

Both the city of South Pasadena and the No 710 Action Committee support a multi-modal approach, or a combination of measures, as the community preferred alternative to the tunnel. This would consist maximizing current infrastructure without construction, such as measures improving stoplight timing or alternating one-way streets. The groups also suggest the creation of a light-rail rapid transit system that actually connects existing stations. Though Metro is considering a light-rail option as one of the five alternatives, the proposed plan would force commuters travelling between Los Angeles and Pasadena to walk blocks to connecting rail stations.

“The devil’s in the details,” said Soohoo. “We try to deal with facts, not emotions, and we try to educate people based on what really is happening.”

The battle for facts hinges on the findings of the Environmental Impact Report, which is funded by Caltrans and Metro. Metro Senior Media Relations Officer Paul Gonzales believes that the report will help the public understand the implications of the freeway from an objective perspective.

EIR is Comprehensive

“The EIR is comprehensive, it’s factual, and it’s unbiased,” said Gonzales. “We encourage people to read it and to learn the facts for themselves.”

According to Gonzales, traffic delays from the existing gap cost motorists and business $1 billion annually. Additionally, the SR-710 is considered to be one of the most congested areas by Caltrans and results in 50,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide emissions daily.

“These emissions blow wherever the wind takes them: north, south, east, and west,” said Gonzales. “Children from all over the area are suffering asthma and other health problems due to inactivity on this issue.”

The effect of air pollution on children has seemed to be an integral component of pro-freeway rhetoric, in that redirecting surface street traffic could alleviate emissions near schools and parks. El Sereno resident Sylvia Perez, though expressed concern for an elementary school in her area that would be removed to make way for the tunnel.

Pushes for Light Rail

“My main concern with the tunnel is the impact on the elementary school,” said Perez. “I think a bus or rail option would be so much better than taking schools out.”

Lobbyists for and against the extension are trying to win over citizens like Perez: those who are skeptical of the plans but who aren’t passionately involved or informed about the review process. For Cleavon Govan, who worked for Caltrans for 41 years and now consults as a Senior Environmental Specialist at Metro, though, there are no easy answers.

“Different communities want different things. I wish I was Solomon and could offer some wisdom on what alternative will be built, but I can’t,” said Govan. “I’ve seen the anguish and animosity on both sides of the issue, and this is a real textbook case of a controversial project. You can’t please everyone.”

Govan also thinks it’s crucial to remind the public that Metro and Caltrans will consider all five alternatives equally.

“We’re neutral, we’re being fair, and we’re just looking at the facts,” said Govan. “We at Metro are believers in multi-modal systems too, in bicycles and other low-impact alternatives. I live a multi-modal lifestyle — I still run marathons.”

Comment Period for EIR

Govan stressed that Metro and Caltrans will not make any decisions until the EIR is released in February and the public has had ample opportunity to comment on it. Alhambra and South Pasadena will continue, though, to clamor for pull in what Govan calls “the 710 conversation.”

The city of Alhambra hired an outside public relations firm to market the 710 freeway to their community, and held the first annual “710 Day” in July of last year. The firm also conducted a push poll of residents and reported that 85% of those surveyed approve of the freeway, a fact now proudly displayed on a bright orange banner hanging over Alhambra’s congested Fremont Street.

“The campaign has worked incredibly wonderfully,” said Messina. “They’ve done a great job. We’ve still got a lot of work to do though.”

Freeway Fighter Weighs in

South Pasadena resident Joanne Nuckols, who opposed the 710 surface route in the 1990s and continues to fight against the tunnel option, called the findings of the poll a certain choice word. After conversations with participants in the poll, Nuckols said that the questions were cleverly worded to confuse respondents into declaring support for the freeway.

“Some of our people got the call, and they said if they didn’t know better, they would have thought the freeway was a good idea,” said Nuckols.

For No 710 activists, it comes down to information and their group’s ability to mobilize the public by educating them about the freeway’s impact. For 710 opponents like Nuckols, the fight against the freeway is more than just a continuation of South Pasadena’s traditional involvement. Though cities like South Pasadena and La Canada are often accused of being elitist and selfish for trying to keep the freeway out of their traditionally affluent neighborhoods, Nuckols said her reason for involvement was simple.

South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez insists the tunnel would be a tolled freeway commanding between $8-12 each direction. He also stressed that a determination hasn’t been made if trucks would be allowed to use the underground freeway. “Shouldn’t elected officials and those that may be crazy enough to use it, know before billions are spent?” he said. “There’s no money to pay for it. Lastly, outreach on this project in part by Metro has been a failure. Although Metro staff will quote how many public outreach meetings they’ve held, the fact of the matter is, every single decision narrowing the best alternatives down from 112 to now 5, has been made by Metro Staff and their paid consultants. Nothing has changed as a result of public input. In fact, their outreach to underserved communities like El Sereno has been dismal. Never mine that everyone already knows that this project has already been predetermined. If you throw more than $40 million of precious taxpayer dollars to pay for an unbiased study, it’s funny how it will magically come down to a freeway tunnel as the preferred alternative…a result proponents have been pushing for decades. Taxpayers deserve better processes but more importantly far better transportation solutions.” 

30 hurt after bus, big rig crash on 60 Freeway


By Veronica Rocha and Joseph Serna, January 7, 2015

Thirty people were injured when a charter bus and a big rig crashed Wednesday morning on the 60 Freeway in Hacienda Heights.
Of the 30 injured, 20 people suffered minor injuries and 10 others did not need immediate medical attention, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

A SigAlert was issued after the crash forced the closure of four lanes; only one lane remains open.
The crash was reported about 9:38 a.m. on the eastbound 60 Freeway at the East Seventh Avenue off-ramp, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Details about the crash were not immediately available.

Tour bus collides with big rig, truck on 60 East in Hacienda Heights


November 7, 2015


Dozens of people were injured after a tour bus collided with a big rig and a truck on the eastbound 60 Freeway at 7th Avenue in Hacienda Heights on Wednesday.

The crash occurred shortly before 10 a.m. At least 30 people were injured, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and of those, 13 people were taken to area hospitals.

A charter bus crashed into a semi-truck on the eastbound 60 Freeway near 7th Avenue in Hacienda Heights on Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015.

Most of the victims have minor to moderate injuries. Fire officials described them as "walking wounded."

No fuel spill was reported. The cause of the accident has not been determined at this time.

Ambulances were staged on the eastbound 60 Freeway at Crossroads Parkway. Only one eastbound lane was open to traffic. Drivers were advised to use the 10 Freeway instead.
PHOTOS: Bus crash on 60 Freeway in Hacienda Heights

Most of the victims have minor to moderate injuries. Fire officials described them as "walking wounded."

Just How Many More Car Crashes Are There in LA When it Rains?


By Bianca Barragan, January 6, 2015

If it's raining outside, Los Angeles drivers know to leave earlier for work and to expect to see some appalling driving on the road. Is it really any worse than usual though? Yes! Data from 11 years of reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, plus numbers on car crashes from California's Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System suggest that more accidents do happen when it's rainy (duh). The visualization below (via CityLab) shows that dry weather crashes (red lines) usually top out around 10 per hour, even during rush hour. But rainy weather crashes (blue lines) far surpass those numbers, coming close to 15 crashes in the three o'clock hour. Yikes!

rain crashes.jpg
[Image by Noah Deneau via CityLab]

Popular explanations from Reddit, where the graphic was first posted, as summarized by CityLab, include: "Californians tailgate too much; they're so used to drought they've forgotten how to drive in rain; [and] the state's arid weather causes copious build-ups of roadway oil, creating slippery, hazardous surfaces when the drops start falling." Those are all logical-sounding and may even be true, but there isn't a chart yet for cities that are famously soaked, like Seattle or Portland, or even a sort of middle ground city (any place not in the middle of a megadrought would do) to compare LA's increased crash rate to.

The chart was also made with the assumption that there are the same amount of cars on the road in wet weather as there are in dry weather. But it's possible that there are more cars on the road in the rain, as people who otherwise would have walked, biked, or taken public transit decide to drive instead. The guy who made the graphic has been contacted by an employee of the NOAA who said that the organization is working on rolling out a similar analysis of the relationship between rain and traffic collisions, so there's still a chance this LA stereotype can be put to rest (or definitively confirmed).

· Proof that California's Drivers Can't Handle the Rain [CityLab]

Congestion isn't just a Westside problem anymore


By Steve Lopez, January 7, 2015

Los Angeles traffic congestion
 Traffic jams the 110 Freeway and downtown streets as commuters make their weekend and Christmas holiday getaway on Dec. 20, 2013.

I have a confession to make to the entire Westside of Los Angeles.

For years, I've been telling people in private that I could never live there, even though I love being near the water if not in it. And it's not the residents I have a problem with, so don't take this personally, 90064, or 90024 or 90404.

It's the traffic.

But now I can't be as smug as I used to be because Westside traffic has moved east. No matter which way I turn in and around Silver Lake, there are routine tie-ups where there used to be relatively clear sailing.

So what's going on out there?

When the school year began, a fellow carpool parent told me about Waze, the crowd-sourced mobile app that helps drivers find the quickest route from here to there. Sometimes that route is along residential streets rather than highways or thoroughfares, as my colleague Laura J. Nelson reported Tuesday, so there's traffic where it never used to be.

I heard last year from an Encino woman who told me her physician husband was thinking of retiring early, thanks to Waze. She claimed his commute time to the L.A. Basin had doubled thanks to new patterns of gridlock.

But it's not just mobile apps that are making things worse.

 The price of gas has plummeted. The economy has picked up. Bike lanes have replaced vehicle lanes. High-density living is all the rage. And the kind of gentrification that swept through Silver Lake and Echo Park, making them all the more like Westside communities, has spread to many other neighborhoods.

There is, by the way, an upside to the misery of sitting through three traffic signals.

"All of the most exciting places in the world that we want to go to on vacation, like Paris and London, are highly congested," said Martin Wachs, a Rand Corp. traffic expert. "Do you want to go to Duluth for vacation? There's very little traffic there."
A hundred years ago, Wachs said, people in Los Angeles and other cities complained about streets overrun with pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages. The solution was to reduce density by building the suburbs. Today, one popular solution to transportation problems is the exact opposite — to increase density with mixed-use inner-city developments near mass transit.
And how's that going?

It depends on where you live and how you look at it. According to Wachs, there's increased walking, cycling and use of public transit in those developments. But more people are driving to such places because they've become cultural and commercial destinations, so traffic congestion is getting worse.

Brian Taylor, of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies, is in the midst of studying that very thing. People with higher incomes make more trips in a day than those with lower incomes, Taylor said, whether it's to go to the store, a movie, school or work. And they're drawn, "in spite of the congestion," to developments in West Hollywood, Santa Monica, the San Fernando Valley and Newport Beach, among other destinations.

With more than 6 million vehicles, we can't help ourselves. Build a pedestrian-friendly environment, and we drive to it.

Regionally, traffic could be eased a bit by launching a significantly larger investment in public transit while making it more expensive to use a single-occupant vehicle, but neither is likely to happen. And in fact, traffic is more likely to get worse than better.

"If the economy starts booming, you're going to see severe congestion problems in Los Angeles," Taylor said.

Going to see?

It's already beyond severe for my dentist, Dr. David Kitada, and his wife, Jocelyn, who runs his West L.A. office. When all the cavities are filled, they drive home to South Pasadena, and the commute time has grown by about 45 minutes in the last couple of years.

"Sometimes it takes two hours," said Jocelyn, who told me their back-street escape route is now clogged with suspected Waze users.

If you want the advice of a professional driver, Bryson Strauss, of the delivery service Schlep & Fetch, says the journey isn't so bad if you're lucky enough to travel in that ever-shrinking window of off-peak hours.

"At this minute," he said early Tuesday afternoon, "if you want to go from midtown to Santa Monica, you can get there in 20 minutes. But when the gridlock happens, it's way worse now than it used to be."

Koreatown is "almost impossible now," Strauss said, and he moved to the West Adams district two years ago because it's still got character and affordability but isn't yet overrun. Traffic follows money, he said, so "whenever we try to get up to Echo Park or Silver Lake, it's horrible."

Strauss said he advises clients not to order any deliveries around peak commute times, especially on the Westside. If they insist, he charges a premium because his drivers will be idling for hours.
"In the Sepulveda area around the 405, it's a lost cause," Strauss said. "And if you're trapped on Santa Monica Boulevard at 3 o'clock, you can't get to the east side anymore."

Sad but true, and I happen to like Minnesota. So I thought I'd look into Duluth, as Marty Wachs suggested.

At 3 p.m. L.A. time Tuesday, the temperature in Duluth was 3 degrees.

The forecast high for Wednesday was minus 1 degree.

Yes, the HIGH. Not the low.

Did I say the traffic was a problem here?

Automakers on the road to self-driving cars at Consumer Electronics Show


By David Undercoffler, January 7, 2014

Mercedes CEO Dieter Zetsche

Forget 80-inch televisions or Wi-Fi-connected blenders. At the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it's the automakers who are dominating the conversation.

Brands like Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and Toyota used the annual show — expected to draw around 160,000 people this week — to highlight the rapidly approaching self-driving car, as well as in-car apps and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

"CES is a place where automakers can reach an entire new audience of consumers who are looking for what's next," said Costantine Samaras, a professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. "Even if it's just at the concept level, there's a lot of spillover for technology up and down an automaker's supply chain."
The concept car was exactly what Mercedes-Benz brought to this year's event. Mercedes Chief Executive Dieter Zetsche on Monday unveiled a radical self-driving concept dubbed the F 015 Luxury in Motion.

The low-slung oddity highlights what Mercedes thinks its cars could look like — and how they could function — just 15 years in the future. The large sedan holds four people, who can sit facing one another in lounge-style seating while the car drives itself.

"Think about it: Most cool gadgets here at CES actually consume your time," Zetsche said. "This car actually gives you more time and more space."

Toyota — which used last year's CES to show off a self-driving prototype — used this year's show to talk hydrogen. The company announced that 5,600 of its patents related to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and refueling stations will be free to any competitor that wants to use them.
"The first-generation hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, launched between 2015 and 2020, will be critical, requiring a concerted effort and unconventional collaboration," Toyota Senior Vice President Bob Carter said. Toyota will bring the hydrogen-powered Mirai sedan to the U.S. market in October.
Other automakers used CES to offer a look at the near future of autonomous cars.

Audi was the first automaker to get a permit from the state of California to test self-driving cars on public roads in 2014. Like an eager 16-year-old, the automaker used this new permit to drive autonomously from Silicon Valley to Las Vegas in a prototype A7.
Per current law, the car drove the 560-mile journey with a specially licensed person in the driver and passenger seats. Despite driving at night and in heavy rain at speeds up to 70 mph on public roads, the trip was trouble-free, Audi said.

Mercedes and other automakers — especially the high-dollar luxury brands — already sell cars that have basic self-driving functions built in. Cars today can parallel-park themselves, brake automatically before a collision, and stay inside a lane and a set distance behind other cars on the freeway.

"The technology of the self-driving car is rapidly moving forward," Zetsche said. "And customers gain trust based on their positive experience with assistance systems."

BMW showed off a self-parking feature on a concept version of its tidy i3 electric car: four laser systems that scan 360 degrees around the car to find a space, locking itself closed once it has parked itself.

Drivers summon the car via a smart watch for pickup, and the i3 meets the driver at the entrance of the parking garage, ready to go. The company hopes for such a feature by 2020.
Luxury automakers in particular will face a challenge as self-driving cars become mainstream. When they do, automakers and analysts alike expect fewer traffic jams, safety improvements and reduced greenhouse gases.

But self-driving cars are likely to begin a transition from a product owned by an individual to an on-demand, subscription-based service.

"Once you get to the self-driving car, you get this issue with a luxury brand like Mercedes or BMW's 'ultimate driving machine,'" said Egil Juliussen, director of research for autonomous vehicles at IHS Automotive. "How do you translate that? They still want to sell the car as a product, not a service."

This is why Mercedes CEO Zetsche made it clear that his company expects to become an indispensable luxury when cars are self-driving. "The autonomous car grants access to the single most important luxury good of the 21st century: private space and quality time," Zetsche said.
It's not just high-dollar automakers with an eye on self-driving cars. During his keynote address Tuesday, Ford CEO Mark Fields made it clear that an autonomous Ford was a certainty in the future. But he said his company would take its time and make sure that the technology was approachable for everyone.

Technology is hardly the only hurdle for self-driving cars. There are knotty regulatory challenges (test vehicles are currently allowed on public roads in just four states); data privacy issues, since these cars accumulate massive amounts of information about how they're used and where they go; and ethical issues like how to program a car to react when a collision is unavoidable.

"We're in the Wild West of autonomous vehicle law and policy," said Samaras of Carnegie Mellon University. "The danger is a 50-states strategy where every one is different and automakers are locked into a less progressive path."

Despite transportation policy traditionally moving very slowly, Samaras says he's optimistic that automakers' rapid development of self-driving cars will speed up policy change.

"These are surmountable challenges," he said.

Ford, meantime, is conducting 25 experiments around the globe on how transportation is evolving with technology. Fields said there's an on-demand, minute-by-minute car-sharing program in London; a partnership with an organization in Africa that maintains a fleet of vehicles used to deliver doctors and medical care to remote villages while simultaneously mapping the area; and a cloud-based system in Atlanta that uses sensors already on many new Fords to gather data on open parking spaces.

Such a discussion is exactly why Ford has been coming to CES for the last eight years, Fields said.

"For us, it's a way to showcase our innovations," he said. "We want to be viewed as part of this community."

Breathing Uneasy: Living Along the 710 Freeway Corridor


By Sarah Parvini, May 6, 2014

This is part of a series examining the 710 Corridor and its impact in the surrounding communities, produced in partnership with the California Endowment.

 The I-710 and 60 Freeways.

 The I-710 and 60 Freeways.

Angelo Logan remembers growing up playing baseball in his neighborhood park as semi-trucks grumbled overhead, dropping plumes of exhaust onto the field. A Commerce native, he would ride bikes with his friends up and down the congested streets and "navigate among the big rigs."
For him, the harsh health impacts of living along the freeway were an everyday reality.

"At a particular time there was a slew of cancer on the street I lived on. We called it Cancer Alley," said Logan, who lives in Long Beach along the 18-mile stretch of the 710 corridor. "And on this street it was constantly, 'Oh did you hear? This person has been diagnosed with cancer. This person passed away from cancer.' And some of these people had never smoked a day in their lives."

Now co-director of the East Yard Communities For Environmental Justice, a community organization that fights for a healthier environment for Southeast Los Angeles County residents, Logan is advocating for a 710 freeway expansion alternative that would better serve the communities living along the corridor.

The I-710 Corridor Project is a massive infrastructure overhaul that seeks to update the freeway spanning from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to the 60 Freeway. As the local economy expands -- last month, shipments through the Port of L.A. jumped to the highest levels since 2007, according to the port -- the impacts of truck traffic on an aging freeway continue to grow.

The 3 Alternatives

Alt 1: Enhanced goods movement by rail; clean trucks program; expanded night gate operations at Ports; traffic signal coordination. This is a no build alternative.

Alt 5C: Improvements to freeway; adding a general purpose lane in each direction; modernizing interchanges and making freeway improvements and having a truck by-pass lane at the 405/710 interchange.

Alt 7: A 710 freight corridor from the southern end of the freeway to Commerce; improvements and enhancements to freeway and interchanges.

There are three versions of the 710 project currently being considered that would address congestion and safety issues related to traffic between the ports and the Pomona Freeway. The proposals, also called alternatives, include widening the freeway and including a four-lane, zero-emission "Freight Corridor" for trucks only.

While construction on the 710 is slated to begin in 2020, Logan says the current expansion options don't keep the neighboring communities in mind.

"The communities have been bearing the brunt of industries that use the 710 as a Walmart super highway," Logan said. "They get to the shelves of Walmarts while the people see no benefit, and all they get is the negative impact."

The South Coast Air Basin, which includes the 710 corridor communities, has been designated as an extreme ozone non-attainment area and a non-attainment area for small airborne particulate matter, according to a June 2012 environmental impact report (EIR) on the corridor project. That means the area doesn't meet national air quality standards.

Data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District also shows high levels of air toxins along the 710 that have been linked to various health problems, such as decreased lung function, asthma, increased lung and heart disease symptoms and chronic bronchitis, the report says.

The highest levels of estimated cancer risk in 2005 -- about 1,200 to 2,000 in a million -- also occur in that area, especially around the ports and rail yards and along the 710, the report shows. Experts say these health impacts disproportionately affect low income households.

"There is an element of environmental justice here. Many of those people have low socioeconomic means," said Ed Avol, an expert on respiratory health and air pollution at the University of Southern California. "They tend to be communities of color."

But, Avol admits, a solution marrying cleaner air and the port economy won't come easy.
"I think we have to be realistic. We can't close the ports," he said. "We need to think of public health as being a part of this, and we need to begin by thinking of how to move cargo without further deteriorating the air quality."

Logan says many locals feel their ideas for improving life along the 710 are not truly being heard -- that's why East Yard Communities has been fighting alongside the Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice to promote another option, called Community Alternative 7 (CA7).

CA7 addresses the needs of the residents, Logan says, while acknowledging the importance of the port economy in Los Angeles. The plan includes a comprehensive public transit element and a mandatory Zero Emission Corridor, as well as pedestrian and bicycle access. It also proposes leaving current general-purpose lanes the way they are.

Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a senate bill that would require Caltrans and other agencies involved in the 710 expansion to include CA7 as the new EIR is drafted, and consider it as an alternative to address the air quality, public health, and mobility impacts the project will have on neighboring communities.

"Statutorily requiring the project environmental impact report to consider specified mitigation measures that exceed the project's scope is a precedent I don't wish to establish," Brown wrote in his veto message.

When asked by KCET to write how they would improve the corridor at a film screening last week, many residents who live along the 710 pointed to a better expansion plan and working toward cleaner air as potential solutions.

"Take the expansion projects away from communities," one card response reads. "Measure pollution levels and disease rates."

"Divert traffic away from [the corridor]," another said. "The air quality is deplorable. Area residents disproportionately present with asthma. Undoubtedly, this is due to high traffic and nearby factories."
Logan echoed these concerns. The best case scenario, he said, is that Caltrans will eventually consider the community alternative as a viable option for the freeway.

"I would like to see local folks build the project so we can start to see natural assets," he said. "That way folks can use it without seeing a constant black cloud overhead."

The 8 Best Jerry Brown Lines from California's High-Speed Rail Groundbreaking

A dig at Republican critics, a kind-of dig at martini drinkers, a call for state unity, and more.


By Eric Jaffe, January 7, 2014

Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony in Fresno for California's long-awaited high-speed rail line had all the fixings of fine political ceremony. There was plenty of rhetorical back-slapping from federal and local officials (much of it deserved), and lots of comparisons to other great American infrastructure projects (the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge, to name two). There were construction workers in hard hats who wouldn't be needing them (except perhaps to guard from heavy praise). There was even a hashtag for the kids: #iwillride.

There was a labor leader referencing the Irish contribution to America's great railroads while speaking with a heavy brogue. There were fun facts: two railroad tracks can carry as many passengers in an hour as 16 lanes of freeway, according to FRA chief Joseph Szabo, and the cranes and bulldozers being used to build the line will be low-emission Tier 4 vehicles—the cleanest on the market—said EPA chief Gina McCarthy. There was the requisite hyperbole that this is the "greatest infrastructure project built in the history of this nation," and while that's not the case, it's surely one of the greatest in recent times.

Just about the only thing the groundbreaking was missing, at least so far as anyone following the live feed from across the country could tell, was the actual breaking of ground, though the dignitaries on hand did sign one of the rails.

Screenshot of California High-Speed Rail Groundbreaking Live Stream
But the man of the hour was California Governor Jerry Brown. As Dan Richard, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, rightly put it: "when future generations reflect on this great endeavor," it's Brown's name that will be remembered by history. His brief 10-minute talk was full of pointed digs at critics, intriguing hints at speeding up the project timeline, and heartfelt pride in the almost-nation-state that is California—all delivered in a charmingly casual style. We've collected our eight favorite Brown lines from the ceremony here.

"When I first was elected governor, I had some doubts about this project. ... But my wife Anne, who used to be a Republican, when she said, no, you gotta take this money and you gotta build, the fact that she was a Republican gave me a lot of confidence."

Brown opened with a well-earned shot at conservative naysayers, from the local and federal levels alike, who have doubted the project all along (and continue to do so). Of course, California became the recipient of high-speed rail money passed on by Republican governors in Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio, so he could have taken the chance to thank them, too.

"People do get pusillanimous. I wanted to use that word because that's the adjective I'm going to affix to all the critics. You can go look it up right now on your cell phone. Means weak of spirit."

Brown got all Merriam-Webster on the crowd here. For the record, we did look up pusillanimous on our cell phone (the Dictionary.com app) and got a slightly different primary definition: "lacking courage or resolution." But his works, too.

"By the way, there will be a big price on carbon by the time these trains start rolling. That's inevitable. So there's a real competitive advantage."

Two key points here. First, higher charges on carbon emissions will indeed hit cars and planes harder than trains, giving rail a relative cost advantage. Second, the more money that California generates from carbon, the more it can fund the rail's completion and expansion. That's because Brown and the state legislature recently secured 25 percent of cap-and-trade revenue for the high-speed rail line moving forward—a sum that could eventually deliver billions of dollars a year.

"There's no anti-texting rule on the trains. So that's another reason [to ride]. If there's no other reason, it's you can use your iPhone. And enjoy it. And you can have a martini or whatever you people drink."

Well, hopefully there will be many better reasons to ride high-speed rail than the fact that you can text on your iPhone. (And will people even be texting come 2030?) But indignantly calling martini drinkers "you people" out of nowhere? That's gold, Jerry. Gold!

"There's also a really big barrier that puts a limit on how many cars—that's called congestion. You can only have so many lanes. You can't keep paving over prime agricultural land. You can't take property off the tax rolls any more than you have to."

California may be known for awful congestion, especially around Los Angeles, but it's also a national leader in terms of trying to reign in highway expansion. Its recent overhaul of environmental guidelines related to transportation should make transit projects much easier for every metro area in the state.

"Critique is the engine of the academy, of the newspaper industry, and a lot of our American culture. We need to be critiqued. Whatever the hell that word means. I don't know why they don't just say criticized. It sounds better. But we listen, and we change, and we modify. But we still can build."

Critique, via the Dictionary.com smartphone app (secondary definition): "a criticism or critical comment on some problem, subject, etc."

"It's not that expensive! We can afford it! In fact, we can not not afford it, as we look at building a future that really works."

Brown tried to put the high cost of the bullet train in perspective by explaining that the line will last 100 years and that California's economy generates over $2 trillion a year—making the $68 billion cost of high-speed rail a long-term drop in the bucket. Occasional CityLab contributor Yonah Freemark offered a more visual perspective a few years back at his Transport Politic blog, in service of a similar point (the numbers have changed but the idea holds true):

The Transport Politic
"What is important is the connection that we are rooted in our forebears and we are committed and linked to our descendants. The high-speed rail links us from the past to the future, from the south to Fresno and north. This is truly a California project bringing us together today."

And hopefully tomorrow, too.

Los Angeles County's top transit executive to step down in April


By Laura J. Nelson, January 6, 2015


MTA Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy, left, says he will resign in April. Here he consults with then MTA board member Richard Katz in 2010 as the Metrolink commuter rail unveiled new rail cars equipped with collision-absorption technology. 

The chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Tuesday that he would step down in April after six years of overseeing both high-profile failures and major milestones during the most ambitious rail expansion agenda in the agency's history.
Leahy's performance as chief executive has been under confidential review by the Metro board of directors for more than six months, and a majority of board members were ready to let his contract expire in April, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. But in an interview with The Times, Leahy, 65, said leaving Metro was his choice.

Leahy oversaw the ribbon-cuttings for the first projects funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax increase that county voters approved in 2008.

The $35 billion that tax will raise sparked a $14-billion slate of construction projects, the largest in Metro's history and the biggest of any local transit agency in the United States. Metro currently has five rail lines in various stages of construction that stretch from Santa Monica to Azusa. When open, the new lines will more than double the length of the network.
"We've achieved a lot in a period of frugality," Leahy told The Times. "I'm very happy about that."
But Leahy also drew sharp criticism for the years-long 405 Freeway widening project, which required hundreds of millions more dollars and an extra year to complete.

In a letter submitted to Metro board chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and obtained by The Times, Leahy said it was "a distinct privilege" to serve as chief executive.

In a statement, Garcetti said "millions of people will get to work and home to their loved ones faster because of his stewardship" and applauded Leahy's ability to bring federal funding to Los Angeles.
"On his watch Metro buses are more accessible, more punctual, and cleaner," Garcetti said. "Art Leahy’s impact on Southern California will be felt forever more.”

Leahy grew up in Highland Park and began his transit career as a bus driver for the Southern California Rapid Transit District in 1971.

"Los Angeles County owes a debt of gratitude to Art Leahy," said Gary Toebben, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, in a prepared statement. "He was exactly the right person to lead the cavalry charge after voters passed Measure R in 2008."