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

Monday, November 9, 2015

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


By Joel Kotkin, November 6, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

Downtown connection 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just How Bad Is the Final House Transportation Bill?


By Angie Schmitt, November 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


By Peter Daut, November 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police said they also uncovered several syringes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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