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, January 12, 2015

Can We Talk Rationally About the Big Dig Yet?


By Justine Hofherr, January 5, 2015


Ten years ago, the dwarf planet Eris was discovered. It is the largest of the dwarf planets – just a little bigger than Pluto. What does this have to do with the Big Dig? Absolutely nothing. But it seemed that an anniversary of some sort was necessary to introduce such a touchy topic.

Though it’s been about 32 years since planning first started for “The Big Dig,” construction ended just seven years ago. Mention the project, and you’re sure to see longtime Boston residents shake their heads in dismay.

 During one of the most difficult highway projects in the history of the United States, tunnels leaked, costs were overrun, and a falling ceiling tile killed a woman on her way to Logan Airport.

Enough time has passed that hopefully, we can re-examine what happened and the city can learn from its mistakes moving forward.

Or we can talk more about planets – it’s up to you.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the project, the $14.8 billion plan replaced Boston’s six-lane elevated Central Artery (I-93) that ran through the center of downtown with an underground eight to ten-lane highway, and added two new bridges over the Charles River. It also extended I-90 to Logan International Airport and created Route 1A, connecting downtown Boston to the waterfront, according to MassDOT.

There were some huge pros to the Big Dig: submerging the interstate cleared up some horrific traffic congestion (vehicles used to crawl for 10 hours a day), opened up 300 acres of land, and jumpstarted the Innovation District.

But the numerous snafus that occurred tend to overshadow the project’s benefits in the public’s mind.

The cost of the project was far more than initially stated. As Roger Warburton, associate professor of administrative sciences at Boston University, noted in an article for BU’s Metropolitan Magazine, original project estimates hovered around $2.4 billion, but the Big Dig ended up costing well over $14 billion.

Warburton said that engineers knew the original projections were far too low, but politicians covered up their actual estimates: “But the truth is that engineers in the late 1980s already knew it was a $12 to $14 billion project. They told everybody who would listen—including the politicians—and those people kept it quiet.”

Oh, and in case you were wondering—we’re still paying for the Big Dig. With interest, the project could ultimately cost around $24 billion, finally getting paid off in 2038.

Besides creating a financial nightmare, the Big Dig was plagued by huge constructional flaws – which obviously added fuel to the fiscal firestorm.

In 2004, failure to adequately clear construction debris from concrete walls caused water to start pouring through a portion of the I-93 tunnel under downtown Boston. Hundreds of other leaks were found after investigation.

May 2006 saw six employees of a concrete supplier charged with fraudulently concealing that some concrete used in the Big Dig tunnels was of shoddy quality. Aggregate Industries would later pay a $50 million penalty to the state for its role in providing 5,700 truckloads of substandard concrete.
And though four workers were killed over the course of working on the project, the tragedy that garnered the most attention occurred in July 2006, when a 38-year-old woman from Jamaica Plain was crushed to death in her car by four concrete slabs that fell from the ceiling of a Big Dig tunnel.

The tragedy led to the firing of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman, a criminal investigation, and eventually, a $26 million settlement from the largest contractor on the Big Dig and a bolt distribution company, for damages resulting from the collapse.

Overall, federal and state authorities negotiated $534 million in settlements on the project.
All of that is in the past, but what are the project’s lasting effects on Boston?

Fiscally, Boston learned hard lessons about the nature of public/private relationships, and how to manage cost containment issues. It also learned that partnerships are hard.

Because the project was such a behemoth, The Big Dig was largely a joint effort between US construction and management companies Bechtel Infrastructure Corporation and Parsons Brinckerhoff. Though the Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff joint management firm had all criminal charges dropped, they had to pay more than $407 million to resolve the civil and criminal liabilities in connection with project defects. Woof.

When partnering with private firms for huge public works projects, state officials should closely monitor construction. Both parties should work together to carefully calculate a project’s cost, and continuously monitor and adjust it as construction continues.

The Big Dig both helped and hurt the environment, as complicated public works projects often do. Automobile exhaust causes air pollution and health problems, and is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. The Big Dig helped prevent traffic pile-ups, cutting the amount of cars that would have idled for hours. Boston’s carbon monoxide levels dropped 12 percent citywide due to the highway project, according to MassDOT.

The lengthy project, however, caused temporary levels of increased traffic and pollution, so the Massachusetts’ Conservation Law Foundation forced the commonwealth to expand and modernize its public transportation system—including the MBTA Green Line expansion to Somerville and Medford, “with cleaner buses and new commuter rail and subways,” according to their website. 

Public Relations
Unfortunately, the Big Dig’s many hitches left a sour taste in some Bostonians’ mouths – there’s an impression that the government can’t “do” big projects. This feeling probably hasn’t helped move along other major projects that could greatly enhance quality of life.

The Green Line Extension Project mentioned above, which is set to add six new stations, was delayed this fall. The extension was court-mandated as part of the settlement of a lawsuit over the environmental impact of the Big Dig.

But the project has been postponed on Beacon Hill, largely due to questions about the city’s ability to handle a big, complex, very expensive (about $1.9 billion) project. Ironically, the longer the project is postponed, the more the projected cost of it will balloon.

These are obviously just a few of the many lasting impacts the Big Dig has had on different areas of the city. But current and future transportation projects should take heed from what occurred.

Timothy Love, the president of the Boston Society of Architects, said he expects the Big Dig to influence two current transportation projects – the South Station Expansion Project, and the I-90 Allston Interchange Project.

The South Station project is expected to improve the Atlantic Avenue station’s rail tracks, platforms, passenger facilities and other infrastructure to create a much more efficient rail service. The I-90 Allston Interchange Project will replace the 1965 highway structure, enhancing the safety and flow of traffic on the Massachusetts Turnpike and probably making Allston a much more attractive place to live.

Love said he thinks these two projects will see a better harmony between transportation engineers and neighborhood-makers in light of the Big Dig. Enough time has passed, he said, for people to see just how valuable the Big Dig was not just for improved transportation, but also for the beauty and accessibility of Boston’s neighborhoods – particularly in Fort Point and the North End. “I don’t think anyone fully understood what a pleasant piece of the city it would be,” Love said of Boston’s downtown since the project.

Love points to the The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, an urban park located in several downtown neighborhoods of Boston that emerged from open space created from the Big Dig’s demolition of the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway, as one of the many pros of what happened.

“When I ride my bicycle along the Greenway, I’m struck by what an amazing part of the city it is now,” Love said. “If people could have looked at a crystal ball then and seen how nice it would be, planning would have gone more smoothly.”

So was The Big Dig worth it?

Love thinks so: “From my perspective, were the complications worth the result? Absolutely. Ten-fold. The relative ease of driving my car from South Boston to Everett, and the way it’s transformed my everyday life downtown where I run a business—I’m not sure why it wasn’t worth it but that’s a personal opinion.”

Motordom Fail – The Chart that Sums It Up


January 9, 2015

Mikael at Copenhagenize has a chart that sums it all up pretty well:
Copenhagenize graph

Inslee on Seattle tunnel: “No one is more frustrated by this project than I am”


By David Roberts, January 9, 2015


On Wednesday, I went down to Olympia to chat with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) about his ambitious recent policy proposals, which include a carbon cap-and-trade system and a 10-year, $12 billion transportation plan that it would help fund.

We’ll get to that stuff later, but I wanted to start with my current obsession, the giant fustercluck currently unfolding in Seattle. (Capsule version: We’re building a huge new tunnel beneath downtown, solely for cars; the tunnel-boring machine broke just one-tenth of the way in and remains sitting there, stuck; efforts to repair it have been … fraught. Delays and cost overruns stretch as far as the eye can see.)

When I asked him about the tunnel project, Inslee expressed immense frustration. He implied that the tunnel might not have been his first choice, but he insists that there’s no other viable option now but to move ahead. He was insistent, however, that the contractor, not taxpayers, be on the hook for current repairs. Here’s the relevant exchange.

Q. Seattle is in the midst of a slow-motion fiasco. Do you have any take on the situation or any plans to intervene?

A. As you know, there was a decision made before I got here. There was a particular option, chosen after much, much debate. That’s where I start. There’s a project! It got decided before I got here.
So I think [the state’s] role is to be as appropriately protective of the public vis a vis the contractor as possible. And we are. It’s the contractor’s responsibility to give us a tunnel. It is their project and we’re going to be insistent that they owe us a tunnel. We’re the customer. We’re like the guy who’s having his house remodeled and the contractor hasn’t done any work in the past year because his buzz saw isn’t working. We’re not happy about that.

Q. This contractor has been known to be legally aggressive.

A. Right, and I’ve been known not to be a pushover in the courtroom myself after 20 years of litigating.

We’re happy to have a discussion with the contractor when this project is completed about those issues. They’ve made about $185 million worth of demands already; we’ve denied, I don’t know, 90 percent of them. [*]

I don’t think the public understands this; they still think that this is a state [Department of Transportation] project. This is a project where almost all the risk is on the contractor. It was a conscious decision by the legislature to have almost a private approach to this. And the Republicans were all over this, I’m told, before I was here. They wanted to put both the benefit and the risk on the contractor; they wanted to have the efficiencies of the private sector. We’re seeing the efficiencies of the private sector right now.

So the risk has been borne by the contractor, under failure of completion. We do not see any evidence — repeat, we do not see any viable evidence — that taxpayers are responsible for the repair and reconstruction of this machine. That is the contractor’s problem.

As far as completion dates, we’re very frustrated that this will not be done as early as we would have liked, but the contract has a provision that we will be paid up to $100,000 a day for late performance from the contractor. [**]

In light of the difficulty the contractor has run into, some people say we should abandon this and go to some other option. But there is no other option that’s viable. There’s no other option other than having that viaduct sit there in an unsatisfactory position for another decade, decade and a half.

Q. You’re not convinced by the surface/transit option? Tearing [the viaduct] down and improving transit and surrounding streets?

A. Then you’ve got a billion and a half dollars that we’ve spent on something that didn’t give us any asset at all, and potential claims from the contractor. I don’t think that’s a viable option or solution to this problem.

We have looked at these issues. We’ve looked at the financial ramifications of not moving forward. We’ve considered other options on the north and south work that’s going on. There’s really no fiscally prudent course other than the course we’re on.

The situation is, the contractor has a machine that doesn’t cut it, and they’re going to have to do a very massive rebuilding on this machine to make it work. And we’re hoping that they’re successful. The good news is that these are pretty solvent companies. There’s at least a $500 million performance bond; their survival depends, in some sense, on the completion of this project. They are highly motivated to succeed here. This is not something they’re walking out the door on.

There’s a long, long line of people who are frustrated about this project. But I am first in line. No one is more frustrated by this project than I am.

Q. Maybe [Seattle Mayor] Ed Murray? I wonder what he thinks in the dark hours of the night.

A. I do think it’s important to realize that the moonshot had its problems too. Apollo 13. The launch pad fire. This is kind of a moonshot of a tunnel project; it’s the biggest one in history. That happens sometimes on moonshots.

Q. It would be nice if we had a moonshot that wasn’t devoted to moving cars around.

A. [Raises hands.] Decision made before I got here.

I asked the governor’s office about this and they sent some clarification. The contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), has to date requested $192 million in change orders. The state has rejected 80 percent of them. For example, when Bertha hit the abandoned well casing (which is probably what broke her, though that’s not been confirmed), STP requested $125 million. The state rejected it, since information about the casing was contained in the original request for proposals.
This point is covered in more detail on the WSDOT website. For each day STP completes the project before the contractually agreed-upon completion date (Nov. 1, 2016), it’s eligible to receive $100,000 a day, up to $25 million. For each day after the agreed-upon date that STP completes the project, it is liable for up to $100,000 a day in “liquidated damages,” up to a maximum of $75 million.

Zocalo Public Square to take a year-long look at your commute


By Steve Hymon, January 12, 2015

In partnership with Metro, Zocalo Public Square today is beginning a year-long series of short profiles of Metro riders. The profiles can be found here everyday: http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/mylacommute/

I think the first seven profiles posted this morning provide a nice glimpse into the many different people and the wide variety of places they go on the Metro system. Look at this first batch — of the seven, only two are commuting to downtown L.A.

It’s one thing to see a bunch of people on a bus or train, it’s another to know a little about them. It really humanizes the transit experience.

We’ll be sharing many of the photos on The Source each week and pointing readers to the Zocalo site.

Here’s the news release about the series from Metro and Zocalo:

Metro and Zócalo Public Square Join Forces to Create Innovative Program to Examine Our Commutes and Our Lives 

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and Zócalo Public Square have joined forces to launch an innovative program to examine our commutes, our lives and our region today. 

It’s a multi-faceted project that will include interviews and profiles of Metro riders (#myLA commute); bus tours into the history of Los Angeles; live, open-to-the-public events on issues connected with regional mobility and development and a series of syndicated stories about topics of national interest, including how mass transit connects communities. 

Metro and Zócalo will seek to humanize an experience shared by millions of Angelenos every day: our commutes. We sit next to one another on mass transit; we pass by thousands of people each morning as we walk, drive or ride to work. Yet beyond complaining about traffic, we seldom talk with one another or think broadly about how our commutes affect our lives, change the way we see L.A. and provoke our curiosity and frustration, our sense of humor and of wonder.

The Metro/Zócalo partnership includes a pioneering fellowship program that directs college students and recent graduates to explore Southern California and seek out stories of how people live in and move around the region today. 

Metro/Zócalo fellows will ride Metro bus and rail lines—and car and vanpools—collecting written, spoken and visual stories from fellow passengers to be published by Zócalo at http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/mylacommute/, on The Source on Metro’s website metro.net and on KCRW.com. Zócalo, Metro and KCRW will be sharing stories and photographs widely on social media with #myLAcommute. 

The Metro/Zócalo project is part of Zócalo’s broader mission to help Angelenos tell their stories, and to create a deeper sense of place and attachment for all Southern Californians. It also represents Metro efforts to put a human face on the transit experience in hopes of fostering greater public awareness of the expanding transit system as well as vanpool, carpool and other alternatives to driving solo in the congested Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The project headquarters will be in a new Zócalo satellite office on Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, across from the Metro Gold Line Station.

Zócalo Public Square, a proud affiliate of Arizona State University, is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism. Zócalo partners with educational, cultural, and philanthropic institutions, as well as public agencies, to present free public events and conferences in cities across the U.S. and beyond, and to publish original daily journalism that is syndicated to more than 160 media outlets. Visit Zócalo at www.zocalopublicsquare.org and twitter.com/ThePublicSquare.

About Metro

Metro is a multimodal transportation agency that is really three companies in one: a major operator that transports about 1.5 million boarding passengers on an average weekday on a fleet of 2,000 clean air buses and six rail lines, a major construction agency that oversees many bus, rail, highway and other mobility related building projects, and it is the lead transportation planning and programming agency for Los Angeles County.  Overseeing one of the largest public works programs in America, Metro is, literally, changing the urban landscape of the Los Angeles region. Dozens of transit, highway and other mobility projects largely funded by Measure R are under construction or in the planning stages. These include five new rail lines, the I-5 widening and other major projects.

Stay informed by following Metro on The Source and El Pasajero at metro.net, facebook.com/losangelesmetro, twitter.com/metrolosangeles and twitter.com/metroLAalerts and instagram.com/metrolosangeles.

What Does Living 'Close' to Transit Really Mean?

New studies suggest proximity to transit is quite flexible and could extend to a mile out.


By Eric Jaffe, January 12, 2015

Image Transit Nerds / Flickr

The question of how far people will walk to reach a transit stop has a pretty significant impact on the shape of cities. American urban planners conventionally draw that line at about a half-mile. Some guidelines pull it back to a quarter-mile, while others adjust the distance for bus stops (typically a quarter-mile) and train stations (typically a half-mile), but the consensus holds that no one makes it farther than half a mile that on foot.

The impact of this thinking can be seen clearly in the planning rules a city creates for its transit-oriented development. Take two recent examples: Denver just started a fund to help finance properties built within a half-mile of light rail and a quarter-mile of good bus stops, and the town of Mamaroneck in metro New York just zoned for TOD within a quarter-mile of its commuter rail station. Even as such guidelines encourage urban growth, they also establish a hard edge for it.

New research, set to be presented Monday at the 94th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, suggests that some cities indeed might be selling their TOD footprint short. A study group led by planning scholar Arthur Nelson of the University of Arizona analyzed the impact that proximity to a light rail station had on office rents in metropolitan Dallas. They found that a quarter of the rent premium ("not a trivial amount," they submit) extended nearly a mile away from transit.
"I recommend this [a mile] as the TOD planning area for office and related land uses," Nelson tells CityLab.

As expected, Nelson and company found that rent premiums decreased farther away from a DART station. A quarter of the premium disappeared after a quarter-mile, half disappeared at about .56 miles, and 75 percent had disappeared by .93 miles (below). But that means a quarter of the rent premium extended almost a full mile away from transit—and the researchers detected evidence of a premium as far away as 1.85 miles from light rail stations.

The findings echo a similar analysis recently conducted in the Twin Cities. For this study, two University of Minnesota scholars analyzed the values of commercial and industrial properties along the metro area's 12-mile, 19-station Hiawatha light rail line. In a 2013 paper, they reported a transit-oriented price premium that extended nearly nine-tenths of a mile from the light rail stations:
This suggests that future studies that assess property value effects should go beyond the traditional 1⁄4-mile and 1⁄2-mile buffers while imposing some form of boundary limitations. Such a refinement on the study area of transportation investment can help reconcile the differences in the size of impact area of transit voiced by various stakeholders, especially in applications for federal and state funding such as TIGER or in developing financing instruments such as TIF.
What both these studies point to is that "proximity" to transit is a rather flexible setting that's by no means limited to a quarter- or half-mile in all cases. Of course, most people prefer to walk as little as possible to reach a transit stop or station. But not all urban street networks are created equal (walking a half-mile in Manhattan doesn't feel the same as walking that far in, say, pedestrian-unfriendly Orlando) and not all riders have the same options. The recent findings at least raise the possibility that cities could increase both ridership and market opportunities by extending TOD planning at least a mile from a station.

And the impact of transit proximity bears on more than planning zones. Acceptable walking distance can inform value capture arrangements that help cities recoup real estate premiums generated by transit access. It can also influence the frequency of a transit system itself: if you assume people will walk farther to bus stops, for instance, you can set these stops farther apart, thereby reducing operating costs using the extra money on more buses.
So it's tricky to determine just how far people will walk for good transit. But doing so is hardly trivial.

The Week in Livable Streets Events


By Damien Newton, January 12, 2014

Now that the holidays are in our helmet mirror, the sausage making of transportation policy resumes with Metro Board Committee meetings. We’re also putting out save-the-dates for two Streetsblog events coming up in February.
  • This Morning - Development Agreements are one of the most powerful entitlement processes, providing more flexibility and more certainty to the applicant, the City, and the public about a proposed development project. They offer a wider array of potential on- and off-site amenities, infrastructure improvements, and community benefits than traditional use permits or other entitlements, and provide cohesive and enforceable details about timing and responsible parties for all aspects of the development once enacted. Learn how to bring Development Agreements to your community to help achieve your community’s goals. Get more details, here.
  • Tuesday - Stakeholders in the West Adams district and other areas of South L.A. will gather at 7:00 p.m. at the Holman United Methodist Church for an evening with leaders from the movement against fossil fuels, in preparation for the March for Real Climate Leadership. Many of those speaking have been active in seeking transparency with regard to drilling, both by pushing for the City Council to adopt stringent regulations around drilling and by ensuring Freeport-McMoran (who operates wells in residential areas) follows existing laws. Topics will range from regional community struggles against oil companies in L.A. County to organizing efforts for local renewable and energy efficiency solutions. Details can be found here.
  • Wednesday – The City Council Transportation Committee hearing is postponed because of a conflict with the Metro Board of Directors committee meetings. This happens once or twice a year when the first day of the month falls on a Thursday.
  • Wednesday, Thursday – The Metro Board of Directors Committees meet to decide the agenda for next week’s meeting. This also marks the Metro debuts of Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis as well as Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts, Jr. (Correction note: Mayor Butts is expected to join the board very soon, but still needs to be confirmed.) Welcome to the insanity! Read the agendas, here.
  • Thursday – The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) has scheduled a second working group meeting to present and discuss a draft of Proposed Amended Rule (PAR) 1148.1., created to determine if existing SCAQMD regulations (adopted in 2004) adequately protect public health and minimize odor nuisances during oil well and gas production activities. The SCAQMD’s goal is to amend the rule in the first half of 2015. The current draft of PAR 1148.1 is based on feedback received at Working Group Meeting #1, held on November 13, 2014. This week’s meeting will be held at the Denker Recreation Center, located at 1550 West 35th Place (90018), at 6 p.m. Background on the rule is here; the draft of the PAR is here.
  • Monday – Next Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Streetsblog Los Angeles will not be publishing.
  • Monday – Join Leimert Park Village stakeholders for a day of service as they put together garden boxes for the urban farm lab they are looking to install on their People St. Plaza at 43rd Pl. and Leimert Park Blvd. Bring your gloves, tools, something for volunteer workers to eat or drink, or make a pledge that will go to the purchase of the street furniture for the plaza. More details can be found here.
  • February 5 – Streetsblog Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and Los Angeles Walks sponsor a candidate forum for Council District Four in the race to replace the term-limited Tom LaBonge. We’ll have more information on this later today.
  • February 21 – Streetsblog L.A. hosts its first fundraiser of the year at our newest Board Member, Jon Weiss’ house in Cheviot Hills. Save the date and we’ll have more details soon!