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

Friday, November 20, 2015

Pearl-grasping and the Reason Foundation’s Regional Mobility Plan for Southern California


By Lisa Schweitzer, November 19, 2015

It seems that the required response to the Reason Foundation’s Mobility Plan for Southern California is to grasp our pearls and get all sniffy about how bad it is, but folks, you gotta understand: I’ve been doing this a long time, and just about all plans with a strong point of view also usually have aspects that are politically, economically, or physically not very likely. I’ve sat through presentations about hovering pod cars and harvest-your-own locavore restaurants on high speed rail. Plans are supposed to have vision, and sometimes, vision shows us the impractical as well as the practical. The plan seems to have been authored by Baruch Feigenbaum. This is, on its face, odd: planners like me usually assume a plan is going to be produced not by single individuals, but via a process, and I am pretty sure that if I authored a plan on my own there would be some pretty outre parts to it, too. I don’t know Mr. Feigenbaum, btw, so I have neither animus nor affection.

Conceptually, I like how the plan addresses one, single issue with a cost-benefit perspective. I think the intellectual backlash on cost-benefit assessment has been well-deserved, but agencies have continued to use cost-benefit language, weakly and not very convincingly, because so many of the projects being schilled tout assumed benefits from climate change to obesity prevention. But here we have an explicit touting up of envisioned toll revenues and project costs. I have my problems with the assumptions on the cost side, but I usually do. At least when these are stated, and connected to a price that people would be expected to pay, we get some clarity on the balance sheet. Now, I do agree that cost-benefit isn’t everything, but it also should not be *discounted* when we look at making public investments simply because it might not make the rail projects we love so much look as shiny as we want them to look. If we don’t think about the balance sheet at least some, our investments are likely to disappoint.

I also think that we could be doing a bit more with express buses and BRT in southern California. I question the use of the BRT label for parts of the proposed network; I doubt we’d necessarily need BRT in the strictest sense on the freeway lengths where it is outlined, but I think the intent is simply to suggest the sort of dedicated lane suburban busways we find in Toronto. I’d actually like to see about a year’s serious experimentation with the idea before I got all “This is stupid” over it. Right now, people in those locations can either carpool, drive alone, or take Metrolink, and that’s not much of a choice set. Yes, Metro already has some of these ideas in their plans, but what of it? New plans always include things from existing plans if either the former or the latter are any good.

Further, southern California could do, in theory, a lot more with corridor management than it does. This plan emphasizes managed arterials, and by managed, we should think managed and priced. I am less sanguine about the prospect of pricing arterials than I am about pricing freeways. I’d like to see people get used freeway pricing first. The general theory is the same: replace unpredictable congestion costs with explicit prices as way to a) help people decide whether they value a trip enough to pay for it and b) generate revenue to pay for the system. I’m just a little worried that it’s much easier to Waze your way around arterials where you have to pay and get on streets not really designed for high traffic volumes, and while I have no sympathy for West siders pissed that they might have to deal in their backyards with traffic when they, themselves, drive constantly, displacing traffic from roads with higher design standards to lower design standards might present a safety loss. It might be, in theory, that the arterial was managed so well with prices (and other improvements) that it would take traffic off those streets onto the managed arterials because the value for money would be so good, but theory isn’t decisive here. It is an empirical question.

That said, the reason we do not have as much corridor management as I would like isn’t that local area professionals are not smart enough to see the advantages, but as usual, disparate jurisdictions and interests within those jurisdictions disagree on the ends for corridor management. For residents, the ends are to slow traffic down and get it to go elsewhere. That’s hardly a congestion solution. From a regional perspective, the idea is to increase throughput overall. And because those two are irreconcilable in one mode (the auto), we have…bike lanes, transit, and walking proposal galore that may, or may not, improve congestion.

Finally, I think the plan highlights points where the problems of auto congestion really are severe. We discuss the TTI report about overall levels of congestion every year, and we all sigh when LA comes out on top…and we all drive in the region all the time, and then go to places, like Washington DC, and then figure out that David Levinson is actually right: congestion is much worse in those regions than it really is on a day-to-day basis in Los Angeles. Yes, you get more delay in the aggregate when you cause 10 million people 10 minutes of delay than you do when you cause 1 million people 30 minutes of delay, but qualitatively, those are very different experiences. To wit, LA has some bad bottlenecks that generate quite significant delays as a part of the total, and we just physically are not going to get more out of the infrastructure that is there, even with better management, and in those places, the Reason plan puts in tunnels. Now, I don’t think these are feasible, but I also would point out: if you don’t like those, then what’s your idea? Those are places where, if this were a different plan produced by different people, the map would have little red links decrying these as “problem zones.” Treating those problem zones as problems strikes me as a useful idea, even when the alternative offered may not be, and even though we know these are problem areas already.

We could decide, as UCLA’s Brian Taylor has urged us, to just say that congestion isn’t a problem to solve, but a condition of urban life. I’m willing to go there to some degree, but my urban economist hat notes that if you really hate sprawl, those problem zones actually do represent a problem because they note areas where there are strong economic incentives to move activity to the other side of the bottleneck–maybe not in the next 10 years, but in the next 20 to 30.

I think a lot of pearl-grasping is just that the people who think of themselves as the legitimate commentators/experts on LA transport are pissed because their favorite thing, rail rail rail and more rail, isn’t a feature of this plan, and/or because they think Reason is trying to advocate for more freeways using pricing as cover and/or they themselves get a lot of political mileage out of the fact that the freeway system is hardly optimal. Yes, the plan includes new infrastructure, but the 710, for example, has been on every map everybody who doesn’t live in South Pass has produced for 50 years. I never hear this kind of flouncing around when some architect produces a Tokyo-style train map for LA that would cost so much money we would have no money left for anything else and would also be empty for large portions of the network because it puts the same amount of investment in places that have acre lots as in places where we have good, rail-supporting densities. Instead, these are greeted with rapturous sighs about how wonderful that would be because that’s an awesome vision. And I generally don’t mind, and even like those kinds of visions, too, even though I don’t tend to get poetic about them.

My point is, simply, that good ideas come from lots of places; sometimes good ideas are mixed all up with silly ones, even, and I guess I am disappointed in the response. Reason hardly needs me to speak up for it, but I would prefer we discuss rather than screech or belittle, even when presented with visions and concepts that run counter to our own.

Here's the Bonkers, $700-Billion Libertarian Plan to Fix Los Angeles Traffic


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The future of transportation in Los Angeles is getting a lot of much-deserved attention lately, as the sustainability of the city's model has city planners looking at major changes in the way LA gets around town. Mobility Plan 2035, the city's long-term transportation plan seeks to finally get many Angelenos out of their cars with workable public transportation and an improved network of bike lanes. Not everyone agrees that that's the way to go, though. The Libertarian Reason Foundation says bikes and buses are not the solution to traffic congestion—making more room for cars is. They have proposed a $700-billion plan to build an extensive network of new tunnels and expressways that they say would help free up some of the city's most congested areas of traffic.

That $700-billion pricetag is pretty steep (In comparison, the LA-to-San Francisco high-speed rail is only supposed to cost $67.8 billion), but don't worry. Reason says only $352 billion will come from taxpayers—the rest would come from a dramatic increase in toll roads. In fact, under their plan, every expressway in town would have its high-occupancy vehicle lane replaced by a tolled express lane (like the ones already on stretches of the 10 and the 110), which would help to pay for six megaprojects throughout the Southland.

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Moreover, Reason proposes a system of managed arterials (roads that bypass streetlights altogether via tolled overpasses and underpasses) on surface roads, effectively allowing people to pay to never see a red light again. With more than half of the funding coming from express lane tolls, and the extensive use of tolling for use of the completed tunnels, it appears Reason wants to create a system of VIP driving. Express tunnels would be available for those who can pay, and crumbling surface roads would have to suffice for the rest.

About these tunnels: talk about a minefield of potential delays, cost overruns, sour public opinion, and government intervention. Just ask Boston if they want to go through another Big Dig, let alone six of them at once. It can take years just to find a route that satisfies environmental and seismic concerns. Then there are the NIMBYS. No project of this magnitude could possible avoid stirring up that sleeping beast. That's not even to mention the hurdles anyone would have to jump over to start digging through state park land, as several of these projects propose.

They're cute plans, but only a fool would run this bureaucratic marathon for a transit plan that looks backwards to cars instead of forwards to mass transit and fossil-fuel-free options.

Here are Reason's tunnel proposals:

710 Extension Tunnel
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Talk about lofty goals right out of the gate, Reason plans on doing the impossible—finally closing that damn gap in the 710 Freeway. Four and a half miles separate the end of the 710 Freeway and the 210 in Pasadena, and Reason aims to connect the two. Good luck. That's been a thorn in the side of Caltrans since 1965.

710 Tunnel.png

They want to close that gap with two 50-foot tunnels, one double-decker for cars and another separate tunnel for trucks. Reason estimates traffic of 179,000 vehicles per day if no toll is collected, and 119,000 vehicles per day at a $2.00 toll. Total cost of the project would be $6.3 billion. Tolls would bring in $7.4 billion in revenue over 40 years.
Cross Mountain Tunnel
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No less ambitious than solving the 710 gap debacle would be this plan to tunnel from LA's westside up north to the San Fernando Valley. There are three proposed routes, all of them linking the 10 Freeway with the 101 as it crosses the valley. The ideal route Reason offers would travel from Santa Monica, underneath Topanga State Park, to Tarzana. If they have trouble tunneling through a state park land (spoiler alert: they will), there are two alternatives—one tunnels under the 405 (more 405 construction, although this is at least a feasible plan under consideration) and the other under Laurel Canyon. If built, a six-lane tunnel would carry an estimated 109,000 cars per day to and from the valley, producing $9.7 billion in revenue over 40 years.

Downtown Bypass Tunnel
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This tunnel would link the 110 near USC with the entrance to SR-2 (Sunset Boulevard) just north of Echo Park. Six lanes of underground traffic would carry 151,000 cars per day at a toll of $1.00 a mile. Over 40 years, the tunnel would bring in about $13.6 billion.

Glendale to Palmdale Tunnel

The Reason Group sees big things in Palmdale's future. They're expecting a massive increase in traffic north of the San Gabriel Mountains, so that will definitely need a tunnel. This one would link SR-14 near Palmdale with SR-2 just north of Glendale. Twin tubes, both 47 feet in diameter, would house a six-lane, double-decker expressway for light cars and a two-lane expressway for trucks, respectively. At a toll of $0.90 per mile, an estimated 53,137 cars would make the 21.1 mile trek each day, says Reason, and over 40 years the tunnel would bring in $28.4 billion in revenue.

It should be noted this planned tunnel is just a few short miles away from the proposed high-speed rail tunnel now under review by the United States Forest Service. The region may be experiencing tunnel fatigue by the end of that drama, so Palmdale commuters may be out of luck.

High Desert Corridor
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Unfortunately, there are no plans for tunnels in the High Desert. Reason instead proposes a boring old surface expressway (yawn) to connect the 37 miles of land between Palmdale and the I-15 in Victorville. At a cost of $9.8 billion, a six-lane tollway would be constructed across the two cities, with tolls set at about $0.45 a mile. An estimated 53,985 cars would travel on the road daily, bringing in a total revenue of $22.2 billion over 40 years.

Riverside to Orange County Corridor
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There are two options Reason proposes for linking Riverside County to Orange County, and thankfully one of them is a tunnel. The non-tunnel option (boo!) would simply be two elevated toll lanes that travel parallel to SR-91 from SR-241 near Yorba Linda to I-15 in Corona. Thankfully, Reason is pushing for the other option ... the tunnel option.

Riverside OC tunnel.png

A tunnel would travel from the I-15, just south of El Cerrito, underneath the hills, and link up with SR-241 near Irvine. Inside the tunnel would be a tube 48 feet in diameter housing a double-decker, four-lane, tolled expressway. An estimated 48,200 cars would make the 14-mile trip each day at a toll of $0.70 per mile, says Reason, bringing in a total revenue of $11.7 billion over 40 years.


· Increasing Mobility in Southern California: A New Approach [Reason Group Report]
· Here's the Big Plan to Make it Way Easier to Get Around Los Angeles Over the Next 20 Years [Curbed LA]

Bertha: The big risks may lie ahead


By Knute Berger, November 18, 2015

We’re coming up on the second anniversary of Bertha’s big break down. The tunnel diggers hope to have her boring again on Dec. 23. If she works, that would be a nice, albeit expensive, Christmas gift for the city.
Still, the problems of the last two years have turned us all into spectators, perhaps cynical ones. The big questions that loom: Will a refurbished Bertha make it to the end, or die underground again in an even more problematic location? And if she does break down again, what is Plan B?

None of us yet knows the answer, but one man predicted we’d be in this fix. Boston-based consultant Thomas Neff, who knows his tunnels and megaprojects, warned the city of Seattle in 2010 that Bertha was a high-risk project: The machine was of unprecedented size, the soil conditions were highly problematic, and the water pressure a major complication.

While some dismissed Neff’s findings as fitting all too well with Mayor Mike McGinn’s opposition to the tunnel, all those concerns have turned out to be major issues. And none of them have changed in the last two years that Bertha has been idled. The machine’s size, the soil and water conditions would still rate highly on Neff’s risk scale.

There have been other complications as well: The repair pit might have caused the damage to water mains on First and Western Avenues, requiring a major replacement. The time delay has set back work on the planned waterfront makeover, and the time frame for disruptions there and in Pioneer Square have been lengthened by years. Also, new measurements show the Alaskan Way Viaduct continues to sink and crack.

The idea of removing the Viaduct came about principally because of damage from the Nisqually quake and the risk of collapse in a quake. Unfortunately, by choosing to keep it standing during tunnel boring, not only must it totter longer than expected, but it also might be reaching its expiration date more quickly. For now, WSDOT insists it’s safe to drive.
He points to new challenges for the tunnel machine and its operators ahead: As Bertha presses forward, it must make a turn and dig even deeper. It also has to go under the Viaduct. Water pressure issues will likely get worse before they get better. If there’s some new problem that requires reaching the tunnel boring machine, extraction becomes more difficult once it’s under downtown. It doesn’t get much easier for a while.

In a recent column for ENR: Engineering News-Record, Neff reiterated his skepticism about a refurbished Bertha completing its assignment. “Given the evidence to date, my opinion is that Bertha will not finish the tunnel, but that some other machine, or process might. The project will likely not be complete in early 2018, and much more money will be required.”
In his article, he turns to Game Theory and says we’re trapped in the classic so-called “Prisoner’s Dilemma” where the tunnel builders and the taxpayers will have to shift from getting an optimal outcome and cooperate to accept a bad outcome in order to avoid “a VERY BAD” outcome.
The tunnel situation “reminds me of the famous quote from Italo Calvino’s 1979 novel, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, ‘You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst.’ In this case, the worst outcome would be two completed portals, no connecting tunnel, and a very long court battle,” writes Neff.

Pessimism? Realism? Neff tells it like he sees it, and his credibility should be enhanced by his 2010 warnings. Some might dismiss him as a Cassandra, the prophetess from Greek mythology who was cursed not to be believed. Today the term Cassandra is often synonymous with “naysayer,” but people often forget this part of the myth: Cassandra was right.