Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.
Carmageddon II: fun times & flawed infrastructure funding priorities (L.A. Streetsblog)
Gary Kavanaugh takes a skeptical view that Carmageddon was a complete success. He likes that many people drove less for a couple of days and instead got on their bikes or the Metro. But it’s the reason that troubles him: Gary doesn’t believe $1 billion for a bigger, wider 405 is necessarily a better 405. Excerpt:
Fun times aside however, perhaps no other project in California is burning through so much money for so little theoretical benefit. We are destroying and rebuilding multiple bridges and ramps primarily to accommodate the construction of one additional lane (on the Northbound side) for a 10 mile stretch of the 405, at a cost of just over a billion dollars.
A billion dollars invested in bike lanes, cycle tracks and off street paths could have been absolutely game changing and transformative to the quality of life across the entirety of the Los Angeles region. In short order, Greater Los Angeles could have become a world-class cycling destination if we prioritized accordingly.
Instead, Metro and Caltrans might save a fraction of peak hour 405 commuters a few minutes off their car commute. If we’re talking about a net benefit that accounts for the delay and hassle created for those same commuter during the extended destruction and construction processes of this entire project, than I’m really skeptical.
I think the counter-argument here is that there are some road projects that are justified because they help traffic flow more efficiently — the less idling cars, the better. In the case of the 405, it doesn’t make much sense to have a carpool lane on one side of the freeway but with a 10-mile hole on the other and I happen to believe the new Wilshire flyover ramps will help smooth a bottleneck that backs traffic up in both directions. That said, I can’t disagree with Gary that it wouldn’t take a billion dollars to build the kind of bike and pedestrian facilities that would be game changers.
To encourage biking, cities lose the helmets (New York Times)
Very smart trend story. Excerpt:
“Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified — in fact, cycling has many health benefits,” says Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. He studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.
He adds: “Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are lots more injuries during those activities.” The European Cyclists’ Federation says that bicyclists in its domain have the same risk of serious injury as pedestrians per mile traveled.
Yet the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that “all cyclists wear helmets, no matter where they ride,” said Dr. Jeffrey Michael, an agency official.
Tough public policy issue, in my view. Complicating things is that some folks ride at a very leisurely pace that doesn’t seem likely to cause any kind of serious injury. On the other hand, there are folks out there on road bikes riding at a good clip and any kind of fall could be very dangerous. Your views?
Hey Seattle PD, what’s the latest? (New York Times)
The Emerald City’s police department is diving deeper into social media, using Twitter to inform residents of some neighborhoods almost every crime that’s reported. Nope, it’s not a transpo story, but I’m including it here because, naturally, I’m interested in the intersection of social media and government. My hope is government can use social media to better inform people what government is up to — perhaps earning a little more trust/faith from taxpayers. Or perhaps not, judging from comments on this blog on Metro’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.
The bankruptcy-sprawl connection (L.A. Times)
Former Ventura mayor and urban planner Bill Fulton opines that sprawl has certainly not helped the coffers of many cities stuck with the tab of caring for expansive road networks. The key graph:
One California planning director calls this a cycle of addiction. Each new development project generates huge new revenues — impact fees upfront and greatly increased property taxes once the project is built. But the impact fees never cover the cost of the infrastructure and, because of Proposition 13, the buying power of property taxes declines dramatically over time. Sooner or later the new project is running a deficit instead of a surplus for taxpayers.
The only way to forestall a financial problem is to approve another sprawling development. And another. And another. Sooner or later, however, the real estate market crashes, this development Ponzi scheme collapses and taxpayers are left holding the bag. That’s what happened in California starting in 2008.
Fulton argues that more compact urban development makes more sense — not as many roads, not as many miles traveled by city vehicles, etc. But he also says it’s a panacea. I agree. Not to argue for sprawl, but I suspect that Prop 13 is the far bigger problem. Some residents pay a lot of property taxes each year, some pay very little and the bills are all over the places for commercial properties. How to solve it? Beats me. But I think it starts with elected officials willing to sacrifice their political careers in exchange for doing something positive.
One other point worth making: This is a smart opinion piece and it’s great that the L.A. Times published it — it’s certainly an important issue for Californians. But why is this topic being relegated to the opinion page? The impacts of Prop 13, both good and bad, would certainly be an interesting story, or series of story, for the Times’ news pages.