To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Stuck in Seattle: The Aggravating Adventures of a Gigantic Tunnel Drill


710 Freeway Tunnel Debate at CalState L.A

Opposing Views Shared About Proposed Route Under SoPas


By Sally Kilby, March 31, 2015

 A two-hour debate on extending the SR 710 North was held next door to the 710 freeway stub at Cal State LA on Monday night.

Sponsored by the university and its Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs in partnership with the League of Women Voters Pasadena area, the event featured two known opponents and two known proponents of the extension.

It was moderated by Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Brown Institute, who said that since the longstanding battle over extending the 710 was relatively new to him, he could serve as an unbiased moderator. He had learned, however, that every word in the 710 issue has meaning, and he refused to call the noncontiguous 710 a “gap.”

Traveling to the event highlighted the major issue that the 710 options are supposed to resolve: getting from place to place along the 710 corridor. Freeway extension opponents and proponents alike were stuck in traffic along Fremont at rush hour, most probably driving solo.

Anyone traveling from the north along Fremont drove under large Alhambra-sponsored banners urging drivers experiencing the “Fremont Freeway” to voice their opinions at numerous public hearings. And then, some 200 meeting attendees converged on the hilltop campus of 27,000 students on the first day of the new quarter. The parking lot adjacent to the destination Golden Eagle building was a mad unsafe mashup of cars and pedestrians. The Brown Institute, predicting the parking nightmare, instructed all attendees to park at a nearby court and take a special shuttle to the event. However, many rejected this direction and happily claimed spots in student lots close to the building. Amazingly, resident and freeway fighter Sam Burgess purposefully walked from South Pasadena to Cal State LA, arriving before many motorists.

Panel members supporting the 710 extension with a tunnel were Barbara Messina, an Alhambra City Councilmember since 1986 who said she has worked on the 710 issue for 30 years; and John Fasana, a Duarte City Councilmember since 1987 and a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (Metro) board. Opponents were South Pasadena Councilmember Michael Cacciotti, a councilmember since 2001 and a member of the South Coast Air Quality Management District board; and Ara Najarian, a Glendale City Councilmember since 2005 and a member of the Metro board. Written questions were solicited from attendees by League of Women Voters volunteers, and Dr. Sonenshein posed his own questions along with those submitted by the audience.

The debate was timely in that a voluminous environmental impact report (EIR/EIS) had been released in March. This was the first debate in recent history held by a neutral party, and Councilmember Najarian said, “It was a long time coming.”

n response to a question about which of the five transportation alternatives studied in the report each favored, Messina replied, “I definitely support the tunnel because the tunnel is the only alternative that addresses what the EIR is looking for … mobility, air quality, and congestion.” She also said that the tunnel is the only alternative with identified funding. Fasana agreed that the tunnel, along with traffic changes, is the option “that we should be looking at seriously” to “make the system work more effectively.”

Cacciotti took a broad historical view of the transportation needs of the exploding population in the region, advocating for light rail in all four directions to transport workers, 100,000 college students, and others to and from schools, jobs, airports, shopping, and entertainment. Why waste money on a small project, he said, “when a number of light-rail projects can reach people in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties?” Najarian said a combination of methods like light rail and bicycles, not a freeway tunnel, will resolve issues of gridlock, bottleneck, and congestion. “We want a transportation system that will get people to jobs, make the quality of our lives better, and provide economic vitality,” he said.

Panelists’ responses elicited a number of audible reactions from supporters and opponents, causing Dr. Sonenshein to remind the audience on several occasions to refrain from making comments. “This is not a political rally,” he said. Prior to entering the large ballroom, attendees were screened for any visible signs of their political position on the issue, e.g., buttons, clothing signage. For the most part, the large audience, comprised of many with strongly held positions, restrained itself. The panelists were similarly civil to each other, while at the same time challenging opponents’ claims.

When asked which of the five alternatives voters would choose if on the ballot today, Cacciotti and Najarian said light rail. Messina said the tunnel. Regarding the issue of trucks using the proposed tunnel, Najarian, representing the Metro Board, said that goods movement transporters will be the only ones willing to pay the tolls (currently estimated at $14 per trip he said). Fasana, also on the Metro Board, said he opposed allowing trucks to use the tunnel. All agreed that trucks should be diverted east, not traveling north on the 710.

Sonenshein, who grew up using the Lincoln Tunnel between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan, asked panelists to comment on the good and bad features of tunnels. Messina said, “To say a tunnel is dangerous is very, very lame.” Najarian said he would caution members of his family, “Never enter a five-mile tunnel with no exits used by trucks.” Fasana admitted that the issue of trucks adds to the safety issue but said the technology is improving. Cacciotti opposed allowing trucks, stating that he had seen numerous tunnel accidents while working for Caltrans.

Each response to subsequent questions was predictable. The two tunnel opponents argued that light rail and other non-tunnel alternatives would provide the most efficient transportation option, improve economic vitality, create jobs, and reduce environmental and health impacts from traffic. Proponents said the tunnel would do the same.

Cars Don’t Shop


March 31, 2015


TRANSIT TALK-"Cars don't shop" and "If you want a better city, build bike lanes. It's an economic development strategy." 

Those were two of the takeaways from last night at the Hammer Museum in transit-friendly Westwood. The evening at  the Hammer's Billy Wilder Theater featured former New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Los Angeles Department of Transportation's (LADOT's) new General Manager Seleta Reynolds. 

In a lively conversation, the two transportation leaders spent the night riffing on how the streets and public spaces revolution happened in New York and elsewhere and what might be in store for Los Angeles on Reynolds' watch. 

For those of us who care about this stuff, last night was Hammer Time for LA's streets. But as anyone who has been in Los Angeles for more than a New York minute knows, Reynolds has her work cut out for her in transforming Los Angeles into a city of complete streets, or Great Streets, as LA is calling them. Complete streets are safe streets amenable to pedestrians, bikers and transit riders as well as drivers. 

Thankfully, a lot of the groundwork laid by Sadik-Khan and others will help Angelenos envision the possibilities. 

The chemistry between these two well-regarded transportation chiefs is strong and last night both speakers deftly shared their visions for their respective cities. They also shared a good deal about the transportation myths that haunt us in pushing the transportation status quo. 

Sadik-Khan got things rolling describing the widespread resistance she encountered in New York. In sum, the myth is that, "All of those projects you are talking about will just make traffic worse." Or, as Reynolds put it, "What idiot came up with this plan?" 

But, as Sadik-Khan explained, the reality is, "It's not the end of days." And during the evening she repeatedly drove home the need for data because, "In the absence of data, anecdotes rule." 

Those new metrics will need to look beyond car counts and traffic speeds to pedestrian and bike improvements, safer crosswalks and more business for shops along the street. Residential and commercial rents and gentrification may be other meaningful metrics as an audience member, a former downtown resident who can't afford to live there anymore, pointed out. 

In a city where affordable housing presents one of our biggest challenges, achieving more complete streets without pricing out the working and middle class will be a challenge. Unless, as LA's Deputy Mayor for Budget & Innovation Rick Cole said last month in The Planning Report "...revitalization was so widespread across Los Angeles that attractive neighborhoods were not a scarce commodity? 

In other words, what if the supply of attractive areas was increased to meet the demand? Second, what if rising wages and business activity allowed existing residents and local businesses to prosper in an improving neighborhood? Targeting both these missing factors could significantly reduce displacement." 

I like the sound of that. I also like what Reynolds had to say about her vision that different streets play different roles in the city. Talking about San Francisco from which she hails most recently, Reynolds described how Valencia in the Mission is now a bike boulevard with street lights timed for bikers, while Mission is a transit-focused street thanks to its BART stations. Given the size of LA and its diversity, LADOT can experiment with different strategies for different areas as it has done on Broadway in downtown LA. 

At the Hammer, Sadik-Khan underscored that there is now a totally different competition between cities for which ones can be most favorable to "people who walk and people who bike." Reynolds meanwhile spoke of the way small businesses tend to oppose changes even though "businesses are exceptionally poor judges of who shops at their stores." Citing research on Polk Street in San Francisco, Reynolds noted that some 80 percent of shoppers didn't drive to the area, walking and taking transit instead. Or as Sadik-Khan remarked, "Cars don't shop. Cars are lousy consumers." 

There is a huge body of evidence that transit riders and pedestrians spend more than those who drive to their shopping destination. Wonk alert: see Transport for London for data on that city.  
In the Q and A, Reynolds got a hard question from an audience member who pushed her on shortcomings of the LA bus system. 

On Wilshire which will someday soon see the ribbon cutting on the Metro 720 Rapid bus only lane, the audience member was right to express disappointment with our failure to create a meaningful bus rapid transit (BRT) line because of the cutouts through Beverly HIlls, the Condo Canyon and Santa Monica. Now that the bus lane has had its soft opening, the city also needs to ticket and tow drivers who flaunt the no parking signs.  

Reynolds' answer included comments about the need to tell the story of bus rapid transit in language that ensures the city embraces the Wilshire project as well as planned BRT lines along Vermont and elsewhere. 

There is cause for optimism about what lies ahead for Los Angeles. But we should also heed the leaders' reflections on the transportation myths that will stand in our way. As we have already seen in the pushback over Figueroa downtown, old myths die hard. 

LA will need to show with data, that LADOT's new approaches make sense. 

Late in the conversation, Sadik-Khan quoted Gil Peñalosa, one of the heros of the complete streets movement and the former Commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation in Bogotá, Colombia: Scientists look at the health of our rivers by counting the number of fish in a stream. We should look at the health of our cities by counting the number of women and children in our bike lanes. 

That's sound advice coming from the guy whose team initiated Ciclovia, the car-free Sundays in Bogotá that has become an internationally recognized program which sees over 1.3 million people walk, run, skate and bike along 121 kilometers of city streets. With any luck, just as Bogotá's success inspired LA's CicLAvia,   New York's achievements under Sadik-Khan's leadership will inform Reynolds' tenure at LADOT. 

Yours in transit.

$3B-$6B Tunnel Proposed In Contested 710 Freeway Extension


March 30, 2015

 EAST LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — It is clear much still needs to be discussed as to how to close the gap between Alhambra and South Pasadena.

One of the longest-running freeway debates in the city’s history continued Monday evening as sharp differences were stated and argued at an official forum.

Four local officials with differing opinions sat on the panel of the debate over whether to extend the 710 freeway all the way to South Pasadena.

The forum held at Cal State Los Angeles was announced after an environmental-impact report suggested a tunnel should be dug to extend the freeway.

Among those who argued against the idea of a tunnel to extend the freeway was South Pasadena Councilman Michael Cacciotti, who believes a light-rail and bus system would be more appropriate.

“With the same amount of money, you can build, essentially, a massive system, and there’s many more benefits from a light-rail system,” Cacciotti said.

Others, including Alhambra Councilwoman Barbara Messina, believe the light-rail system would be insufficient.

“The light-rail that (Councilman Cacciotti) is promoting does nothing to solve the problems,” Messina said. “(The tunnel) is the only alternative that makes sense, and it solves all of the problems that the environmental impact report has to address, (such as) mobility, air quality and congestion. The other alternatives do not meet those needs.”

Report estimates suggest the tunnel would take roughly five years to construct at a cost of $3 billion to $6 billion. The tunnel would connect the 710 freeway to the 210 and 134 freeway interchange in Pasadena.

The report ultimately considered five options:
  • Transporation systems/traffic management
  • Bus and rail
  • Light rail
  • Freeway tunnel
  • No construction
Additional arguments against the tunnel suggest such a project is outdated.

Two more public debates are scheduled for April on the issue.