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

Thursday, February 5, 2015

5 surprising electric car Meccas


By Liz Core, February 4, 2015


Last month, Kansas City, Mo. shocked the nation by launching an ambitious plan to install over 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations within its city limits, leaving traditional EV-lovers on the coast in a cloud of carbon monoxide-free dust. Kansas City’s plan will increase its public charging stations by 2,400 percent, up from 40 stations that are currently available.

Just to put this news into perspective: There are only 9,019 registered public electric charging stations in the entire country — and most EV-friendly cities are located in the Pacific Northwest, in California, and on the East Coast — y’know, all the regions you’d most expect to have a fleet of matching sea foam green Nissan Leafs lined up neatly in the co-op parking lot. But while we still tip our hats to California, the state currently operates 2,000 public charging stations, a number that is now shadowed by one city’s plan to install half as many. For perspective: California has one station for every 19,000 residents, whereas Kansas City would have one per 467.

Kansas City’s move toward emissions reductions left us wondering what other electric vehicle meccas are out there in the oft-overlooked Midwestern states. We found a number of powerhouse cities that are quietly leading the charge for plug-in autos, and whittled them down to a list of four other surprising EVtopias:

Chicago City Escape
Chicago City Escape
1.  Starting first with the Second City, Chicago, and the surrounding area: In November, Governor Pat Quinn announced a plan to invest $1 million in a network of charging stations along Illinois’ famous Route 66. Governor Quinn, along with a number of local government leaders, want to make the Illinois portion of the storied highway into an “Electric Corridor,” between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River. They’re installing seven charging stations to be finished by the summer of 2015. Imagine taking to the open road with your best friend in an bright red electric convertible — zooming down Route 66, stopping to charge up the beast while you survey the beauty of the wide-open plains. It’s like a 21st century Thelma and Louise, but hopefully with a happier ending.

St. Paul, MN
St. Paul, MN
2. In a move the Pope would be proud ofSt. Paul, Minn. recently committed to “be a leader in the deployment of electric vehicles” by planning to reduce the city’s CO2 emissions by 2020. The city has already installed 23 public electric charging stations, and is moving toward installing [x??] additional stations [this year??]. In St. Paul’s twin city, Minneapolis, there are currently 39 charging stations in downtown parking ramps. The state is already home to more than 2,000 electric vehicle owners, so charging stations in higher demand. Looks like all those above-average children in Lake Wobegon are making the right decisions about car ownership.

Madison, WI
Madison, WI
3. Madison, Wisc. is home to more than cheese-headed football fans and spirited debates among liberal-minded college students — the city currently has 27 public charging stations and is on track to reduce Wisconsin’s oil consumption by 1,773,492 gallons per year with the implementation of plug-in vehicles. The stations were funded with the help of a $5.5 million stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy back in 2009. Onward, Wisconsin!

Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis, IN
4. Last but not least, we give you the alliterative wonder that is Indianapolis, Ind. Mayor Greg Ballard announced a plan to gift the city a “Freedom Fleet” of 425 energy efficient plug-in sedans by 2016. The vehicles will cost approximately $32 million, but will save the city an estimated 2.2 million gallons of gas over the next decade. In addition, the city’s car-sharing program will — with the help of French ride-sharing experts The BollorĂ© Group — provide 1,000 plug-in cars at sites across the city, which residents can rent for as little as 15 minutes. But hey, as the home of the Indy 500, we’re not surprised that this city is zooming ahead in the national race towards carbon reductions.

So, Midwest, we’re pretty damn pumped for you — even if the gas stations won’t be.

More Money Won’t Fix U.S. Infrastructure If We Don’t Change How It’s Spent


By Angie Schmitt, February 5, 2015

 Milwaukee's Marquette Interchange, which cost $810 million to construct, sits practically empty during daylight hours.

 Milwaukee’s Marquette Interchange is a beast that cost $810 million to build. If this is how state DOTs spend their money, existing infrastructure will continue to crumble.

“America’s infrastructure is slowly falling apart” went the headline of a recent Vice Magazine story that epitomizes a certain line of thinking about how to fix the nation’s “infrastructure crisis.” The post showed a series of structurally deficient bridges and traffic-clogged interchanges intended to jolt readers into thinking we need to spend more on infrastructure.

The idea that decrepit roads are caused by a lack of money is widespread. Vox‘s Matt Yglesias recently argued that the nation should borrow a bunch of money at low interest rates now and invest in an “infrastructure surge” that would help put idled construction workers back to work. Liberal crusader Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill in the Senate to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure over the next five years.

States have been shirking their maintenance responsibilities in favor of building expensive new projects. Image: Smart Growth America
States have been shirking their maintenance responsibilities in favor of building expensive new projects. Graphic: Smart Growth America

It’s true that a surge of investment could be very helpful in building modern, high-capacity transit systems in American cities, or in constructing high-speed rail links between major metros. It’s also true that the federal gas tax has been eroded by inflation for more than 20 years, so tens of billions of dollars in general fund revenue has been diverted to transportation spending since 2008.

But throwing more money at the problem overlooks the fatal flaw in American transportation infrastructure policy: The system is set up to funnel the vast majority of spending through state departments of transportation, and those agencies have an absolutely terrible track record when it comes to making smart long-term decisions. As long as state DOTs retain unfettered control of the money, potholed roads and decrepit bridges will remain the norm.

That’s because the sorry state of American transportation infrastructure is mainly the result of wasteful spending choices, not a lack of funding.

State DOTs’ lack of fiscal discipline is nothing short of criminal. The chart on the right, courtesy of Smart Growth America, shows how states divided spending between new construction and maintenance from 2004 to 2008. States used most of their money — 57 percent — on new construction (projects like that massive but oddly empty interchange in Milwaukee, above, don’t come cheap). Meanwhile, states used the 43 percent left over to maintain the remaining 98.7 percent of road infrastructure. This is a recipe for ruin.

If you think that states have felt chastised in the last few years, think again. Here’s a chart from the Minneapolis Star Tribune showing how Minnesota DOT divides its money between maintenance and new construction:

The state of Minnesota's transportation spending is unsustainable, not because of the sheer amount but because of the way it's being spent.
The state of Minnesota’s transportation spending is unsustainable, and not because the state lacks revenue.

Doubling federal transportation spending wouldn’t solve this problem. Pumping billions of additional dollars into state DOTs without reforming the current system could actually make it worse — giving agencies license to spend lavishly on new projects that serve only to increase their massive maintenance backlogs.

new report from the Center for American Progress finds that 50 percent of existing roads don’t carry enough traffic to generate gas taxes sufficient to pay for their own maintenance. While raising the gas tax might change the equation for some of these roads, the level of subsidy is disturbing. The last thing we need is more money-losing roads to maintain.

The Vice story — the one that’s supposed to scare us into approving funding for transportation — is actually a catalog of tremendous waste. The magazine cites Seattle’s dangerously destabilized Alaskan Way Viaduct — an elevated highway — as an example of decay, then notes that at least $2 billion has been dumped into building the most expensive possible solution to that problem: an underground highway.

Seattle and the state of Washington could have selected a much cheaper alternative — tearing down the aging elevated highway, replacing it with an at-grade boulevard and better transit options. Studies by the city actually found the surface transit solution would have moved as many people as the tunnel at a fraction of the price. But the region’s politicians and transportation authorities chose the high-cost, high-risk path, and they may end up with nothing to show for it.

Vice also points to Cincinnati’s aging Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River. But is money the answer, or does Ohio just need to make better use of the funds at its disposal? Elsewhere in the Cincinnati region, Ohio DOT has insisted on building a $1.4 billion highway to the eastern suburbs despite widespread opposition from the communities it’s supposed to serve.

There are similar stories in most states — DOTs willing to break the bank on gold-plated highway flyovers designed to shave 40 seconds off a half-hour commute, while neglecting important bridges and other assets that present real risks.

One voice of reason has been civil engineer Chuck Marohn, who’s had to dodge threats from his peers because he challenged the orthodoxy that more infrastructure is always the answer. As he put it in a recent post on his Strong Towns blog: ”American prosperity is not simply a function of how many roads, pipes and hunks of metal we can construct. Our infrastructure investments must work to support the American people, not the other way around.”

STP wins first round of Seattle DRB claims


By Peter Kenyon, February 4, 2015

An Alaskan Way Dispute Review Board (DRB) ruling that differing site conditions (DSCs) were encountered during construction of the TBM launch pit clears the way for a claim of up to US$20 million in compensation for the SR99 tunnel design-build contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP). So far a total of US$162 million in claims has been referred to the DRB for adjudication, with another US$48 million under review by the project owner, WSDOT.

Seattle Alaskan Way TBM launch pit
Seattle Alaskan Way TBM launch pit
In the first of what are likely to be many judgments over the coming months, the DRB accepts a DSC claim initially lodged with the owner in November 2012 by the Dragados/Tutor Perini construction joint venture; and rejects the counter claim by the project owner, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), that no DSC existed. Both parties referred the unresolved matter to the DRB in September 2014 after failing to reach agreement between themselves.

Under the terms of its design-build contract with WSDOT, STP is entitled to make claims for compensation for extra or remedial work that lies outside the scope of the original contract, and which arises from differing site conditions to those outlined in the owner-supplied Geotechnical Baseline Report (GBR) upon which original bid proposals were made prior to award of contract in January 2011.

The DRB made recommendations on two matters brought before it by STP, both of which relate to complications that arose during construction of the TBM launch pit at the south portal. The potential $20 million claim went in favor of STP; while a separate $5.5 million claim relating to necessary reinforcement work to the viaduct in the vicinity of the launch pit excavations went in favor of WSDOT.

TBM Bertha ready to start tunneling
TBM Bertha ready to start tunneling

The $20 million figure, at this stage, remains a ceiling value on possible compensation for this particular item. In the conclusion to its 15 January (2015) report, the DRB said: “[We] consider that a DSC was encountered in the glacial soils and that STP is entitled to relief as it pertains to the impacts on dewatering of these soils within this southern area [of the TBM launch pit footprint]. The DRB, however, is not sufficiently knowledgeable at this time on the 25 particulars of what efforts were expended, as compared to what was planned, to accomplish the necessary dewatering of these soils to provide much in the way of guidelines on what compensation in time or cost that STP is entitled to. As noted earlier in the referral of this dispute to the DRB, issues related to the time and money impacts of the alleged DSC are outside the scope of this hearing.”

Briefly, the $20 million claim relates to whether the presence of water-bearing sands and gravels (so-called ESU 5 soils) in the footprint of the TBM launch pit constituted a site condition different to that outlined in the owner’s GBR. In countering the claim WSDOT took three positions; first, that because the pit was excavated in a different location to that originally outlined in the owner’s concept design, the GBR could not be applicable to the new location, and that therefore no DSC could exist.

This defensive position was taken by WSDOT despite the fact that the Alternative Technical Concepts (ATC2 and ATC 5) that it accepted as part of STP’s successful bid proposal resulted in significant savings to the bid price. Second, WSDOT took the position that “the presence of sand within the ESU 4 and ESU 7 units in the launch pit [did] not constitute a DSC because the GBR disclose[d] the presence of layers and lenses of cohesionless sand within the ESU 4 and ESU 7 soils”; and third, that STP, by delaying its claim by nearly two years, had not provided “timely notice” of a potential DSC and had therefore by default waived its right to compensation.

The DRB review process

The Dispute Review Board (DRB) is a panel of three experienced and impartial reviewers organized before construction begins. Under the terms of the Alaskan Way contract STP and WSDOT agreed in advance on the board’s three constituent members from a total of eight candidates put forward for the role, four each. Mutual agreement was also reached upon who should be Chairman.

DRBF Practices and Procedures
DRBF Practices and Procedures
All three members of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program DRB are members of the DRB Foundation (DRBF), the organization which arranges training for would-be panelists and which publishes the DBRF Practices and Procedures Manual that guides the process.

Although the recommendations of the DRB are not binding on either party, the Alaskan Way contract follows DRBF guidelines stating that the language used should make it clear that the board’s findings are to be included in any subsequent litigation between the disputing parties. The relevant clause in the Alaskan Way contract (Section 24.2.4 (e)) states: “In the event the DRB’s recommendations do not lead to resolution of the dispute, all DRB records and written recommendations, including any minority reports, will be admissible as evidence in any subsequent arbitration or litigation.”

WSDOT refused to supply TunnelTalk with a detailed breakdown of the nature and value of the individual disputes that are due to be presented to the DRB in the coming weeks and months, but a Public Record Request has been lodged for disclosure of this information.

Secant piles clearly visible in the SR99 launch pit
Secant piles clearly visible in the SR99 launch pit
With regard to WSDOT’s claim that the presence of cohesionless water-bearing sands was implied (if not explicitly stated) in its GBR, and that as such no DSC could exist in relation to the additional dewatering costs incurred as a result of excavating a deeper launch pit than had originally been intended, the DRB found in favor of the owner in relation to the saturated “upper soils above the glacial boundary” (which were “highly variable and normally consolidated, as pointed out in the GBR”). However, in the glacial soils themselves the DRB judged that a DSC did exist; and, furthermore that WSDOT’s defensive strategy in this regard made a mockery of GBR profiling and the whole intent of the GBR approach.

Regarding WSDOT’s assertion that STP’s claim was not “timely”, the DRB disagreed – thereby supporting the STP “proof of the pudding is in the eating” position that until dewatering operations actually started in October 2012 there had been insufficient information upon which to make a concrete DSC claim any earlier.

The DRB panelists

The Chairman of the Alaskan Way panel is Daniel F. Meyer, a past President of the DBRF and a serving member of its board of directors. He has sat on 70 DRBs for a total value of associated projects of US$15 billion, including both design-build and design-bid-build projects. His experience encompasses rail and mass transit; subways and light rail; heavy cut and cover structures; underground work including tunnels and shafts; and foundation work including piling, caissons and slurry walls.
The other panel members are Russell Clough, who as of 2013 had sat on 64 DRBs, 27 as Chairman; and Peter Douglass, a former DRBF President (2006-7) who has sat on 40 DRBs on major tunneling projects throughout the USA and Canada. Douglass is a former winner of the Foundation’s annual Al Mathews award that recognizes exemplary service in advancing the DRB concept and the DBRF; and is one of the four authors of the organization’s Practices and Procedures Manual. He is a registered engineer and engineering geologist with advanced degrees in both geology and civil engineering and has spent the last 35 years of his career working primarily on underground tunnel projects in soil and rock.

The recommendations of the DRB as to whether a DSC has been proven, and therefore whether contractual liability for extra compensation payment exists, is not legally binding. WSDOT is now considering its position in relation to the potential $20 million claim. A spokesman said: “As we review the board’s recommendations on the differing site condition in the launch pit and determine our next steps, we will use the terms in the contract to reach the best possible outcome for taxpayers as we continue to build this critical safety project. We will not be offering our opinions of the board’s recommendations or speculating on next steps until our analysis is complete.”

This is just the start of what will be lengthy disputes before the DRB. So far compensation claims totaling $210 million have been lodged by the contractor joint venture, of which $162 million has been rejected by WSDOT and will be referred to the DRB. The outstanding $48 million is under review by WSDOT. The review board is to meet in March to consider the largest claims: those related to the circumstances in which the TBM suffered main bearing seal failure.

TBM Bertha’s trailing gear in the launch pit
TBM Bertha’s trailing gear in the launch pit
The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement design-build contract is structured to provide a contingency fund of up to $40 million that the contractor can claim from if it can prove that differing site conditions have contributed to the incurring of additional costs. However, in the event of construction difficulties being experienced, this provision is slewed against STP since under the terms of the contract 75% of what remains in the fund at completion is payable to the contractor as an “incentive” payment. In other words, if the contractor were to successfully make $40 million worth of DSC claims against the fund it would effectively be “losing” its entitlement to $30 million worth of “incentive”, while the owner would be “losing” only $10 million since a no-DSC claim position at the end of construction would “cost” the owner (WSDOT) $30 million in incentive payments anyway.

 (Video: Addressing the Bertha bearing seal issues. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYmpBNZcXhY )

However, it is unlikely that the $40 million DSC contingency fund will be anywhere near large enough if STP is able to substantiate what is almost certain to be its largest claim – that the known existence in the ground of old steel pipework contributed to the TBM breakdown, and that such knowledge was not transmitted to the contractor by WSDOT.

This allegation is hotly contested, and it is not yet even confirmed whether such an obstruction played any material part in causing Bertha’s ruptured bearing seal and possible (though as yet undetermined) damage to the main bearing itself.

Once STP and its TBM manufacturer, Hitachi-Zosen, are able to access and inspect the bearing assembly the exact cause of the breakdown is likely to become clearer, but whatever the outcome hundreds of millions of dollars in extra costs are potentially at stake. The contractor does, however, have some redress against Hitachi-Zosen should its DSC claim against WSDOT fail, and for the moment at least the manufacturer is bearing the costs related to repair of the $80 million machine under the terms of its staggered payment contract with STP which stipulates that the machine is not fully accepted until it successfully reaches 200 rings (1,300ft). It is currently 50 rings short of this.

At this stage it is remains uncertain who will pick up the tab for hiring a third party contractor to excavate the 120ft x 80ft recovery shaft; lifting the cutterhead with specialist equipment; dismantling the main bearing assembly and replacing it with a new one; reinforcing the cutterhead for greater rigidity; and reassembling and testing the machine; not to mention the potentially huge financial penalties associated with late contract delivery. For every day beyond a November 13, 2016, completion date STP is contractually obliged to pay $100,000 in compensation on a project that it pledged to complete by December 31 this year (2015) in its successful bid proposal.

All the Ways Germany Is Less Car-Reliant Than the U.S., in 1 Chart

There are rather a lot of ways, as it turns out.


By Eric Jaffe, February 4, 2015

Image James-In-Transit / Flickr

Two light rail trains wait for passengers in Stuttgart, Germany. 

For two Western powers with comparable wealth, democratic governments, legacy car companies, long histories of massive highway investment, and a shared affection for David Hasselhoff, the United States and Germany have followed dramatically different trajectories when it comes to automobile reliance. In the chart below, we list the various ways the countries diverge on driving trends.

All the ways.

Compared to Americans, Germans own fewer cars, drive them shorter distances and less frequently, and walk and cycle and ride transit more often. They have slimmer waistlines to show for their active transport habits and suffer fewer traffic deaths whether in a car or not. They spend less household income on getting around even as they pay much more in driving costs. They use less energy per person on ground transport, resulting in lower carbon emissions.
So yeah. All the ways.

The data come from a recent comparison of German and U.S. planning approaches led by transport scholar Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech. Drilling down to the city level, Buehler and collaborators find more of the same driving trends in an analysis of two large metros from each country: Washington, D.C., and Stuttgart.

Both areas have similar economies, labor markets, core populations (roughly 600,000 people), regional planning organizations that outline local transport policies. Yet Stuttgart comes off as less car-reliant than D.C. on all sorts of measures. We've bulleted some of the highlights:
  • Car-ownership (per 1,000 people) — D.C.: 744, Stuttgart: 544
  • Share of all trips by car — D.C.: 81%, Stuttgart: 57%
  • Center city share of all trips by car — D.C.: 51%, Stuttgart: 44%
  • Suburban share of all trips by car — D.C.: 70-85%, Stuttgart: 60%
  • Periphery share of all trips by car — D.C.: 90%, Stuttgart: 70-75%
  • Short trips by car (<1.25 miles) — DC: ~66%, Stuttgart: <25%
What's especially notable here is that driving behavior in the remote periphery of Stuttgart is about the same as it is in the suburbs of D.C. To wit: the two most car-dependent suburbs of Stuttgart (NĂ¼rtingen and Geislingen) have shares of all trips by car roughly equivalent to the two least car-dependent suburbs of D.C. (Arlington and Alexandria): roughly 70 to 75 percent in each place.

Meanwhile, walking and cycling account for 6 percent of trips in most D.C. suburbs, while in Stuttgart's most car-oriented areas these modes still account for more than a fifth of all travel.

So the suburbs of D.C. are basically as car-oriented as the cow pastures of Stuttgart. The map below lays it out pretty clearly:
Shares of trips by car in jurisdictions of D.C. and Stuttgart. (Buehler et al, 2014, International Planning Studies)
National policy differences have clearly driven the driving gap. Germany has a tradition of coordinating transportation and land use efforts toward policy goals that stretch across levels of government, such as reducing sprawl, cutting emissions, and promoting public transit. Its narrow zoning laws are better suited to transit-oriented, mixed-use development, and in recent decades it's made a strong push at the federal level to fund transit initiatives.

The United States, meanwhile, tends to have a more fragmented approach that makes it tough to shift travel behavior at large. Policy goals are largely local in character and as a result can vary dramatically from place to place within a metro area: Arlington, Virginia, has promoted strong TOD, for instance, while nearby Fairfax County has tended to build parking lots beside rail stations. And while the D.C. metro area has done more than most in the U.S. to integrate fare payment methods across jurisdictions, it's still nowhere near as uniform as Stuttgart.

 But with all those differences in mind, Buehler and company did identify two localities in each case that have successfully reduced car-dependency in a similar manner: Arlington's Rosslyn–Ballston corridor just outside D.C., and Ostfildern's Scharnhauser Park area in Stuttgart. The researchers point to four development features common to both places:
  1. Planning goals focused on TOD. Rosslyn-Ballston targeted mixed-use, high-density "bull's eye" development around metro stations. Scharnhauser Park, meanwhile, required all settlement to be within 1,500 feet of the closest rail stop.
  2. Long-range plans. Arlington had a massive comprehensive plan to guide the way, while Scharnhauser Park followed a master plan for the corridor.
  3. Citizen involvement. The "Arlington Way" of public participation promotes "inclusive, accessible, respectful, constructive, persistent, and purposeful dialogue." Scharnhauser Park has a two-tiered public process for its land use and construction elements.
  4. Policy coordination. Rosslyn–Ballston planners encourage car alternatives through public transit, bike-ped facilities, and transport demand management programs. Scharnhauser Park does much of the same, with bike- and car-share facilities near rail stops and reduced car parking for residential and commercial development.
Given all the other planning variables across the two countries, these four matching policy elements might offer something of a universal blueprint to reducing car-dependency. Though it's a blueprint some places need to follow more closely than others.