Transportation headlines, Friday, December 6

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ART OF TRANSIT: From our Instagram feed.

Metro hopes to stop public urination near the Orange Line (L.A. Times) 

Well that’s certainly a no-nonsense headline! The article is about the motion approved by the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday to study ways to stem complaints about public urination near the Pierce College station. That includes possibly building restrooms at Pierce College and other Metro stations. Excerpt:

The Orange Line opened in 2005; urinating in public has been illegal in Los Angeles since 2003. But a patchwork of jurisdictions has made enforcing the law near the Orange Line more difficult, Lewis said. Metro owns the busway, which is patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. But the surrounding area, including the alleys, is the purview of the Los Angeles Police Department.

“If you gotta go, you gotta go,” Lewis said. “But it sure would be nice if you could plan ahead a little better and go a few hundred yards to the south.”

Even if a portable toilet is installed, Lewis said, education will be another issue. If riders don’t know where to look for a bathroom, the solution will be ineffective.

I didn’t realize public urination was legal in L.A. until 2003 — or to put it another way, legal urination in L.A. actually made it into the 21st century. Here’s the story on that.

Gold Line basket bridge over 210 freeway gets record fifth award (San Gabriel Valley Tribune) 

The bridge over the eastbound 210 in Arcadia that was built for the Foothill Extension project has picked up another award, this time from Engineering News-Record, a trade journal. The bridge’s design and construction was overseen by the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, the agency that is building the project.

I think the bridge looks great — and will look even better once there are trains upon it. At this point, Metro is forecasting an early 2016 opening for the extension that will bring the Gold Line to Arcadia, Monrovia, Duarte, Irwindale, Azusa and within a few feet of Glendora.

San Antonio can’t decide if it’s building light rail or a streetcar (The Atlantic Cities)

The top of the story:

In 2004, San Antonio residents overwhelmingly approved a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for local transportation projects. The money could be used for any number of purposes — from road upgrades to “advanced transit services” — with the exception of light rail. Voters shot down a light rail project several years earlier, and VIA Metropolitan Transit, the agency in charge of the funds, promised not to pursue another one.

Fast-forward a decade. That decision is at the heart of a bewildering debate over whether “streetcars” and “light rail” are the same thing. VIA has planned a 5-mile streetcar system for downtown San Antonio that’s scheduled to open by 2017. Opponents contend that none of the sales tax funds (known as Advanced Transportation District funds) should help pay for it under the original “light rail” stipulation.

Surprise, surprise: the issue has landed in court, preventing the local transit agency from selling bonds to fund the streetcar project.

There’s probably a good, larger story here about the newfound popularity of streetcar projects and how controversial they are in many quarters. Los Angeles, of course, is trying to figure out how much a streetcar would cost here while Cincinnati just halted construction because of money concerns. I bet there are other similar tales out there as American cities try anything to continue reviving their urban cores.

Transportation headlines, Thursday, December 5

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Opinion: inching down L.A.’s freeways in the dark (Daily News)

Good column by Mariel Garza, who often finds herself on the region’s roads visiting the Los Angeles Newspaper Group’s various offices. That has made her reliant on the Sigalert app in order to avoid the worst of the area’s traffic jams.

Not so fast. Take it away, Mariel…

Not only has it not sigalerted me to terrible traffic snarls, but in some cases it leads me right into them with promises of traffic flowing like a Sierra stream in the springtime.

Here’s an example from Sunday: Everyone who escaped to the desert for the holiday weekend, it seemed, tried to get through the Interstate 10 Whitewater-Cabazon pass at the same time. This is not unusual, and not wholly unexpected. And it was an epic traffic jam visible to anyone in it.

But it simply didn’t exist to my app, no matter how many times I refreshed it. In fact, it indicated that heavy traffic on the westbound 10 loosened up — going from red to green — at the Highway 62 junction, where I was getting on. But that’s where the worst jam actually started, as the cars, trucks and RVs from Joshua Tree and other high-desert vacation spots emptied into the heavy flow of the 10. Stop and go — mostly stop — all the way west to Banning. Not that I could have avoided this particular snarl without getting off the freeway and trying to find out how to get across to the frontage road. But I was still surprised my Sigalert app couldn’t pick it up. Also, it would have been helpful to know where it ended. I had dinner plans in L.A.

One big problem is that the app pulls traffic data from the 27,000 sensors embedded in freeways in California – and a third of which no longer work. Mariel has an idea: perhaps it’s time to spend some Measure R data to install new sensors and help motorists avoid traffic.

Editorial: high-speed rail proceeds in fits and starts (Sacramento Bee)

The editorial says that there’s no sugar-coating that two recent court rulings were a setback for the state’s high-speed rail project that is initially seeking to Los Angeles and San Francisco. But the rulings are more likely to result in delays issuing bonds and are not likely to kill the project as a few die-hard opponents are trying to do, the Bee says.

Here’s what you need to know: at their core, the rulings involve when the state can issue the voter-approved bonds that will help pay the state’s share of the first segment, as well as work on the bookends of the project in L.A. and S.F. The California High-Speed Rail Authority had wanted to sell all the bonds — $8.6 billion worth — at once but the court rulings make that difficult.

The Bee suggests instead that $4.7 billion in bonds be issued, which would provide money for the first segment of the project as well as work in L.A. and S.F. — which includes some money for the Regional Connector project.

Cincinnati Council pauses streetcar but battle will continue (Cincinnati Enquirer)

Work on the Cincy Streetcar project in front of Music Hall. Photo by David Cole.

Work on the Cincy Streetcar project in front of Music Hall. Photo by David Cole.

At the urging of a newly elected mayor and Council members, the City Council voted 5 to 4 on Wednesday to suspend construction of a streetcar project intended to tie together downtown neighborhoods. Proponents of the project have argued that stopping work will actually cost more than to continue building the streetcar while opponents say there simply is not enough funds to operate it. In the meantime, the Federal Transit Administration has put on hold a $45-million grant to help fund the $147.8-million project.

The story caught my eye for several reasons. I happen to be from Cincinnati and lived there until 1990. Also, and more important, it’s unusual for a project to begin construction and then have work halted while elected officials continue to argue over whether the project should have been built in the first place.

Continue reading

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, December 4

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ART OF TRANSIT: Now that’s a well composed photo!

Silver Line coming to Tysons but don’t look for lots of new parking (Washington Post)

A garage at the Washington Metro's College Park station. Photo by Bossi, via Flickr creative commons.

A garage at the Washington Metro’s College Park station. Photo by Bossi, via Flickr creative commons.

The story is about the lack of giant parking garages at four new Washington Metro Silver Lane stations opening soon in Fairfax County, Virginia. Excerpt:

Parking garages — and the large surface parking lots that have long dominated the Tysons landscape and suburban Metro stations elsewhere — don’t fit with the new vision of an area seeking to swap its congested, car-centric image for that of an urban, pedestrian-friendly enclave.

And so Fairfax officials did not include parking garages at the four Silver Line stations in Tysons.

That decision has been cheered by “smart growth” advocates, but some residents are concerned that their streets will become de facto Metro parking lots. And some potential Silver Line riders — accustomed to driving to Metro stations to board their trains — wonder how they’ll get to the new rail line if they can’t drive.

“The plan did not originally include parking because there were advocates that claimed that having parking garages would draw cars into Tysons,” Fairfax County Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) said. “In my opinion, those cars are coming anyway, and they’re going to be driving around looking for a place to park.”

We discussed the issue of parking at transit stations in a post yesterday about a motion to study expanding parking at the Red Line’s NoHo and Universal City stations.

Detroit to study removing freeway in favor of walkable street (Detroit Free Press)

The 375 freeway in Detroit. Photo by gab482 via Flickr creative commons.

The 375 freeway in Detroit. Photo by gab482 via Flickr creative commons.

The mile-long 375 freeway, which sits in a trench, would be converted to a surface street and sit at the same level of surrounding roads and buildings. The idea is to better connect neighborhoods to downtown Detroit but the plan may anger suburbanites who use the freeway to quickly zip into and out of Detroit proper.

Madrid’s big plan to swear off cars (The Atlantic Cities)

Traffic in Madrid in a photo taken last month. Photo by Grey World, via Flickr creative commons.

Traffic in Madrid in a photo taken last month. Photo by Grey World, via Flickr creative commons.

With much of Spain’s economy stuck in low gear, Madrid is updating its general plan to focus on revitalizing the central city. Excerpt:

So the plan calls for 24 major Madrid streets to be radically overhauled, with car lanes removed, bike lanes added and trees planted to make them cool and shady. A new hierarchy will be in place: pedestrians come first, then public transport, then bikes, then cars.

Overall, 66 percent of the affected street surface will be given over to people on foot. The irony is that before car-friendly policies reshaped central Madrid, many of these streets were just the sort of leafy, broad-sidewalked avenues the city wants, but they were remodeled to add extra motorist lanes.

Now chastened by years of fumes and grime, the city is coming full circle back to its old ways. The use of the word boulevard (“Bulevar” in Spanish) may suggest Parisian influence, but the real model seems to be La Rambla, the central pedestrian avenue in Madrid’s great rival city, Barcelona.

Will it work? As the article notes, the city’s last update didn’t really go anywhere and this one is likely to be met with skepticism and opposition. Nonetheless, can you imagine someone marching into L.A. and saying two-thirds of street surface will be given over to pedestrians — i.e. the same pedestrians who are often treated more as annoyances than as people?

Delta bumps passengers off flight and gives seats to college basketball team  (Gainesville Sun) 

When the University of Florida’s usual plane wasn’t available to them last weekend, Delta decided to use another plane. Another plane with paying passengers, who were given vouchers and booked on other flights. I know there’s a lot of good to be said for college sports, but at times — and often at its highest levels — it really just comes off as kind of a really, really skeezy enterprise.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, December 3

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ART OF TRANSIT: Canada’s holiday train.

Metro North train sped at 82 mph ahead of curve in fatal crash (New York Times) 

The speed limit on the turn in the Bronx where the commuter train crashed is 30 miles per hour. Trains aren’t allowed to go faster than 70 miles per hour anywhere on the Hudson Valley Line. Yet, for some reason, the Metro North engineer didn’t hit the brakes until six seconds before the crash that killed four passengers and injured many others. The train’s brakes appear to have been in working order.

 A subsequent Times story says that the engineer’s cell phone doesn’t seem to indicate he was using it before the crash but that investigators are also looking to see if perhaps another device was being used.

Shifting gears: commuting aboard the L.A. bike trains (NPR)

Nice segment on All Things Considered about cycling groups that get together to help newbies navigate rides to and from work. The group is the “train” and the group leader is the “conductor.”

The meaning of #BlackFridayParking (Strong Towns) 

Blogger Charles Marohn asked his Twitter followers to send photos of empty parking lots last Friday. The followers didn’t have any problems finding unoccupied asphalt and concrete. Excerpt:

We literally can’t afford all of this unproductive space. When you look at the Big K and Jimmy’s Pizza we featured in last week’s post, the major difference in the financial productivity of the properties is the amount of land devoted to parking. Storing cars is very expensive. The only thing more expensive is building parking spaces to store cars and then have them never be used. What a waste!

Can you imagine Wal-Mart building an entire row of their store and then leaving the shelves empty? It would be ridiculous. Why then do we simply accept that large swaths of their land would be built upon for a use (parking) that literally never happens? We accept it because that is the price of entry, the cost of complying with local regulations.

This is an ultra-intelligent post that you should read. The big point here is that parking requirements favor big retailers who can afford the land needed for that kind of parking. Big costs also mean a higher barrier to entry for competitors while big parking lots guarantee that these kind of stores will be built, in many places, in the darkness on the edge of town that is away from city centers.

Go for a drive through small town America and see for yourself.

High-speed rail gets yellow light (San Francisco Chronicle)

A pair of court rulings in November will likely make it more difficult for the state’s bullet train project to get off the ground. As a result, columnist Dan Walters — who has long been skeptical of the project — calls on Gov. Jerry Brown to either kill the project or go back to voters with a more realistic plan.

The original bond measure that went to state voters in 2008 included a variety of requirements for the bullet train (in particular involving speed of travel) that have proven to be extremely expensive.

Transportation headlines, Monday, December 2

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Ridership discrepancy calls Metro’s estimation method into question (L.A. Times)

The article ponders the difference between Metro’s traditional way of estimating ridership and new data generated by the latched turnstiles at entrances to Red and Purple Line stations. The traditional ridership estimates have been running significantly higher than the turnstile counts since gates begun to be latched in June.

Metro officials say that the turnstile data is preliminary and not yet complete enough to serve as a substitute for ridership data. As for ridership, officials say the traditional estimates seem to be capturing trends on the subway and that the methodology behind those estimates is approved by the Federal Transit Administration.

Speed is cited as possible cause of deadly train crash in the Bronx (New York Times) 

No official word yet on the cause of the Metro North commuter train derailment just north of Manhattan on Sunday morning that killed four passengers and critically injured 11.

The speed limit along the curved stretch of track next to the Hudson River is 30 miles per hour and officials suggested Monday that the train was going faster; no one knows why. The NYT quotes an anonymous source saying the engineer told emergency workers he had to quickly apply the brakes.

Metro North’s Hudson Valley Line remains closed. It has been a difficult year for Metro North; two of its trains on the New Haven Line collided in May, injuring 70, and a railroad worker was struck and killed by a train in late spring.

More states raise taxes to pay for transportation (Kansas City Star) 

With Congress log-jammed, states and local governments are increasingly willing to raise taxes to pay for transportation improvements. Conservative groups are grumbling and may challenge some of the tax hikes, but politicians from both parties are finding that improving infrastructure is popular with voters.

In other words, the closer the politicians live to the actual people and land they govern, the more responsive they are.

Why mass transit is doomed in America: politicians don’t know people who use it (Salon) 

Race, class, fear and shame: transit barriers (KCET)

Two good semi-related articles. At KCET, long-time transit rider D.J. Waldie looks at some recent studies and articles that suggest the so-called ‘car bias’ remains strong and is preventing people from trying transit — even when transit may save them time and money. The big problem, as Waldie writes, is that new policies are encouraging denser developments near transit which may end up housing people who still won’t take the bus or train. Hmmm. No, make that a double hmmm.

At Salon, writer Alex Pareene gets grumpy on the fact that politicians in New York — which should be the most transit-friendly state in the nation owing to the Big Apple — consistently find ways to steer money away from transit.

But it’s not just a New York problem, Pareene writes before delivering a big-time spanking to Minneapolis and Atlanta. And then he finishes up his article with this eternally glorious paragraph which made the Source smile and then smile again:

Just about the only place where there seems to be hope for mass transit in America is, bizarrely enough, Los Angeles, where the system is currently in the process of growing and improving. Why there, of all places? Maybe because while Los Angeles politicians are as unlikely to ride buses and trains as politicians anywhere else, they do have a personal stake in seeing other drivers get the hell off the road.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, November 27

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ART OF TRANSIT: Again, from our Instagram feed

Tracking holiday travel misery (FlightAware)

MiseryMap

That’s a screen grab from 8:55 a.m. Looks like a good day to avoid Atlanta. Then again, it’s always a good day to avoid Atlanta, right? :)

LAX and Metro call for minor changes to future light rail station (Daily Breeze)

Forgot to post this one earlier in the week. Airport and Metro officials are working to make some minor changes to the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s Aviation/Century station that would make it easier in the future to connect the platform to future airport facilities at Manchester Square and to extend 98th Street across Aviation Boulevard. The Metro Board will consider an MOU with the airport at its meeting on Dec. 5.

Denver’s East Corridor rail line to leave Crenshaw to near LAX project in its prairie dust (L.A. Streetsblog)

A look at the 22-mile commuter rail line under construction that will link downtown Denver to Denver International Airport. The writer Roger Rudick compares the new line to the Crenshaw/LAX Line, pointing out that Denver is building a one-seat ride to its airport from downtown, whereas the trip from downtown L.A. to LAX will require more time and more transfers. He would have rather seen a project built from downtown to LAX using the old Harbor Subdivision rail right-of-way.

One quick note: Denver’s FasTraks program, funded by a sales tax increase in 2004, is a great transit program — but it has suffered cost over-runs and delays. And one quick thought: the Crenshaw/LAX Line will probably also serve a lot of people not going to the airport.

And one addendum: Denver’s airport line is using a public-private partnership to help fund part of the project. I’ve read various things about it — both good and bad — but something must be working because the project is aiming for completion in 2016.

Campus tracks cycling with first digital bike counter at a university (UCLA) 

The digital bike counter — working from sensors embedded in the roadway — allows everyone to see how many bikes are using the Strathmore Place bike lane. Very cool. The counter is apparently the first of its kind in Southern California. Might be fun to put one of these on one of the region’s new bike lanes to see how they’re doing! :)

Brisbane rail tunnel all show and no substance, says rail expert (Brisbane Times) 

Transportation officials want to build a massive tunnel under the Brisbane River that includes a rail line and roadway for buses. This article finds a skeptic to rail extensively against that plan. On our side of the Pacific, it’s interesting because one of the early options that has been explored for the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project is a tunnel that would have both a rail line and tolled lanes. That project is still in its initial planning stages with public-private financing being looked at to supplement seed money from Measure R.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, November 26: Metro responds to NBC-4 ExpressLanes violation notice story

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ART OF TRANSIT: The Green Line’s Hawthorne station, from our Instagram stream. 

Thousands of incorrect violations sent to drivers (KNBC)

The video segment reports that some motorists in Southern California have received citations for failing to pay tolls in the ExpressLanes — even though they have never driven in the ExpressLanes. It appears that in some cases, cameras are misreading license plates and, therefore, the citations are sent to the wrong owner of a vehicle.

Metro is aware of 1,700 such errors among the 1.6 million violation notices that have been mailed to vehicle owners although KNBC says there were “thousands” without citing any basis for that number. There has been about 18.5 million trips on the ExpressLanes thus far, meaning the error rate appears to be about .1 percent. Metro has and will continue to work to refine software used in order to reduce erroneous violations. 

Obviously, those kind of stats may not satisfy those who get violations, especially if more than once. “In all cases as soon as we learn of the error, we dismiss the violation,” says Metro.  The public can always contact ExpressLanes directly through many outlets including www.metroexpresslanes.net, the ExpressLanes’ Facebook page, or at www.twitter.com/expresslanes

Other ways to reach the ExpressLanes:

By phone, call call 511 and say “ExpressLanes.” If you live outside of Los Angeles, Orange or Ventura counties, please call (877) 224-6511. ExpressLanes walk-in centers:

Harbor Gateway FasTrak Walk In Center500 West 190th Street, Gardena, CA 90248

El Monte FasTrak Walk In Center 3501 Santa Anita Avenue, El Monte, CA 91731

Sacramento judge delivers setback to high-speed rail project (Sacramento Bee) 

A Superior Court judge ruled Monday that a new funding plan is needed for the state bullet train project while, in a second case, ruling that the California High-Speed Rail Authority can spend $3.4 billion in federal funding it has received for the project.

What does this mean for the ambitious project to eventually connect San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco? Hard to say and a variety of officials offer a variety of opinions (surprise!).

At this point, it appears that the first ruling will make it more difficult for the state to sell bonds it will need to build the project beyond an initial 29-mile segment between Fresno and Madera. It should be noted that this was a ruling by a Superior Court judge — and those type of rulings are frequently appealed.

The L.A. Times also has an article about the rulings that takes a more pessimistic view on the impact to the project.

Frank Gehry’s grand vision to go before project committee (L.A. Times)

Architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne takes a look at Gehry’s redesign of the long-planned Grand Avenue project across the street from Disney Hall. It sounds like Hawthorne likes most of what he sees and says the development should breathe new life (or any life!) into the intersections of 1st/Grand and 2nd/Grand.

The developer, Related Co., is now saying construction could begin in 2015 and be complete in 2019. The project, with new commercial and residential space, would be served by the existing Red/Purple Line Civic Center station and the future Regional Connector station at 2nd/Hope.

I really hope they pull it off this time — the northern end of DTLA is getting better but it’s still too often a ghost town after 6 p.m.

Crossrail: Britain’s biggest archeological dig will transform London (the Guardian) 

Photo: Crossrail.

Photo: Crossrail.

The first massive $14.8-billion pound project to build more than 100 kilometers of new rail line across London — including 42 kilometers underground — reached a milestone with the first segment of tunneling completed. Service is planned to run 24 hours-a-day with trains 200 meters long that can carry 1,500 people each; that’s twice as long as current trains in the London Tube. The project says it will increase the entire London Tube carrying capacity by 10 percent.


Transportation headlines, Monday, November 25

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MTANov22Sunset (13 of 34)

ART OF TRANSIT: The sunset over Union Station and downtown Los Angeles on Friday as seen from the 25th floor of Metro headquarters. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: The sunset over Union Station and downtown Los Angeles on Friday as seen from the 25th floor of Metro headquarters. Can’t decide which version I like better — the bottom one was taken about three minutes after the top image. Click above to see larger. Photos by Steve Hymon/Metro.

This time it really would be a restructuring (L.A. Streetsblog)

Editor Damien Newton ruminates on different on different fare structures for Metro and what they may mean for people’s commutes. Note: there is nothing on the table officially and there won’t be until next year. At a Metro Board Committee meeting last week, Metro staff said they will be presenting the Board with several options. Please see this post from last week.

Paying for L.A. County’s transit future (L.A. Times)

The Times’ editorial board says it has “serious reservations” about any new transportation sales tax that Metro may pursue in 2014 or ’16 — in particular, the editorial says that next year is too quick to properly vet any type of proposal. Key excerpt:

In considering a new sales tax proposal, Metro leaders must consider transportation needs throughout the county, but in the end they should select the projects that deliver the greatest impact, even if they are concentrated in the city.

That’s why a 2014 ballot measure should be off the table, and 2016 would be a better target.

 

Here’s a recent Source post about a Metro staff report that looks at potential ballot measure to accelerate and/or fund new projects. Measure R was approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008 and staff are considering ways to either extend R past its expiration date of mid-2039 or possibly a new sales tax that could fund new transit projects.

Postcards from the West: Union Station bustles with film plots (L.A. Times)

A nice profile of Union Station and some of its considerable history by reporter Christopher Reynolds and photographer Mark Boster — check out Mark’s photos. Metro officials also say they’re still working to get restaurants into the old Harvey House and Union Bagel spaces, as well as add some other food offerings.

Auto correct (New Yorker) 

Very long and very good article on self-driving cars — this is a great read if you’re taking transit. Here’s the lead:

Human beings make terrible drivers. They talk on the phone and run red lights, signal to the left and turn to the right. They drink too much beer and plow into trees or veer into traffic as they swat at their kids. They have blind spots, leg cramps, seizures, and heart attacks. They rubberneck, hotdog, and take pity on turtles, cause fender benders, pileups, and head-on collisions. They nod off at the wheel, wrestle with maps, fiddle with knobs, have marital spats, take the curve too late, take the curve too hard, spill coffee in their laps, and flip over their cars. Of the ten million accidents that Americans are in every year, nine and a half million are their own damn fault.

A case in point: The driver in the lane to my right. He’s twisted halfway around in his seat, taking a picture of the Lexus that I’m riding in with an engineer named Anthony Levandowski. Both cars are heading south on Highway 880 in Oakland, going more than seventy miles an hour, yet the man takes his time. He holds his phone up to the window with both hands until the car is framed just so. Then he snaps the picture, checks it onscreen, and taps out a lengthy text message with his thumbs. By the time he puts his hands back on the wheel and glances up at the road, half a minute has passed.

The article goes on to explain the many different efforts underway to produce a self-driving car. Google seems to the most optimistic and is trying to develop the software and hardware it can sell to a traditional car manufacturer.

But that may not be easy. Many of the traditional car companies are also pursuing the technology but some — such as Mercedes — are concerned that drivers won’t buy it because they want to remain in control, particularly of vehicles marketed as performance oriented. In the meantime, some elements of self-driving have started to make their way into cars as safety features.

We recently ran a poll asking readers if they would still take transit even if they had a self-driving car. So far, 64 percent of those who responded said they wouldn’t be giving up their transit passes. Feel free to vote.

Urbanites flee China’s smog for blue skies (New York Times) 

This excerpt says it neatly:

More than two years ago, Ms. Lin, 34, and her husband gave up comfortable careers in the booming southern city of Guangzhou — she at a Norwegian risk management company, he at an advertising firm that he had founded — to join the growing number of urbanites who have decamped to rural China. One resident here calls them “environmental refugees” or “environmental immigrants.”

At a time when hundreds of millions of Chinese, many poor farmers, are leaving their country homesteads to find work and tap into the energy of China’s dynamic cities, a small number of urban dwellers have decided to make a reverse migration. Their change in lifestyle speaks volumes about anxieties over pollution, traffic, living costs, property values and the general stress found in China’s biggest coastal metropolises.

Take air quality: Levels of fine particulate matter in some Chinese cities reach 40 times the recommended exposure limit set by the World Health Organization. This month, an official Chinese news report said an 8-year-old girl near Shanghai was hospitalized with lung cancer, the youngest such victim in China. Her doctor blamed air pollution.

Check out the accompanying video; looks like some beautiful country. Any readers out there been to Dali?

Transportation headlines, Thursday, Nov. 21

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ART OF TRANSIT: Rainy day, from our Instagram feed.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti to launch new parking enforcement website (Daily News)

The website will tell residents where parking tickets WILL NOT be handed out that day due to changes in street sweeping, etc.

Unpatriotic Americans are not driving enough (Gawker)

No, we’re not relying on Gawker for our transpo news. This post sums up at Wall Street Journal article behind a paywall. The gist of it: with the amount of driving down across many parts of the country, private firms that invested in toll roads are having a hard time getting a return on their investment.

Washington Metro working on upgrading its train arrival signs (Washington Post)

Keeping up with technology has been a challenge for the Metro system in the D.C. area — in particular offering true real-time info in an easy-to-read way.

Commuting so bad in Canada it’s reshaping cities (Huffington Post)

There is some evidence that traffic congestion in Canada’s metro areas is worsening. Meanwhile, development in big cities is booming, luring some people back from the ‘burbs.

Why can’t Amtrak get its food right? (Atlantic Cities)

The national rail carrier has lost $600 million on food service since 2006 — most of it on long-distance routes.

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, November 20

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ART OF TRANSIT: Any turkey can ride the Metro, eh? And, btw, Go Metro to the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot in downtown Los Angeles. Click above for details.

ART OF TRANSIT: Any turkey can ride the Metro, eh? And, btw, Go Metro to the Thanksgiving Turkey Trot in downtown Los Angeles. Click above for details. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro. 

Proposed state ballot measure would more than double California’s car tax (Sacramento Bee) 

Transportation California and the California Alliance for Jobs have filed papers to possibly pursue a ballot measure in 2014 that would increase the vehicle license fee by one percent — it’s currently .65 percent of a vehicle’s market value. The groups say it could raise $3 billion for transportation needs across the state at a time when gas tax receipts are declining. My three cents: it’s probably (and predictably) a tough sell to state motorists given high gas prices and the license fee increase between 2009 and 2011.

Fear and loathing and cycling in L.A.: tales of a bike commuter (L.A. Times)

Nice profile of Jennifer Klausner, the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. Yes, she has a car but she still bikes often from Brentwood to pretty much anywhere, often in the wee hours. A few nice tips about getting around on the Westside and Jennifer offers a polite wag of the finger to Beverly Hills for its lack of bike infrastructure.

The U.S. cities where cycling is growing the fastest (L.A. Streetsblog)

The numbers are through 2012; Los Angeles is not in the top 10. The numbers for most cities are still small; one reason is that the Census Bureau only tracks commuting by bicycle — thereby missing a lot of bike trips. Portland remains the big kahuna, with 6.1 percent of commuting trips done by bike.

High-speed rail costs near $600 million even before construction starts (Fresno Bee) 

That’s a lot of money, for sure. But the article is incomplete and somewhat unfair; it should have mentioned that the California High-Speed Rail Authority is a very small agency, thus the reason that environmental and engineering work is contracted out. Attention reporters: there is probably a larger national story here about the rising costs of contracting out for this kind of work and who the major players are. The environmental review process has become enormously complicated and many agencies, including Metro, have to contract with firms that specialize in the work.