Transportation headlines, Monday, April 7

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ART OF TRANSIT: Looking north to the San Gabriel Mountains from the bridge that will carry the Gold Line Foothill Extension over Foothill Boulevard in Azusa. Awesome photo by Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

ART OF TRANSIT: Looking north to the San Gabriel Mountains from the bridge that will carry the Gold Line Foothill Extension over Foothill Boulevard in Azusa. Awesome photo by Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

Move LA’s Measure R 2 proposal, including their rail fantasy map (Streetsblog L.A.) 

A look at the activist group’s “strawman proposal” for a half-cent sales tax increase they would like to see on the Nov. 2016 ballot; please note that Metro hasn’t decided to pursue such a tax yet although is surveying cities about their own desired projects. In any case, Move LA wants to see a 45-year sales tax increase with 30 percent of the funds dedicated to new rail and bus rapid transit projects — which they say would raise $27 billion over the life of the tax.

As Streetsblog notes, Move LA says their proposal is intended only to spur discussion and they include some projects for potential funding. Some are projects receiving seed money from the present Measure R (Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, South Bay Green Line Extension) while others are new such as converting the Orange Line to a rail line, extending the Green Line to a junction with Metrolink in Norwalk, extending the Gold Line to San Bernardino County, extending the Crenshaw/LAX Line to Wilshire Boulevard, extending the Purple Line to Santa Monica from its future terminus at the West LA VA Hospital and extending the Eastside Gold Line Extension to both South El Monte and Whittier instead of just one of those.

If such a tax goes forward it will certainly be interesting to see how much is allocated to paying for new transit projects and which projects. As Move LA’s list shows, there are certainly some worthy candidates out there that would travel through many different parts of the county. And there are certainly parts of the transit network with holes in it. Stay tuned!

The real reason that mass transit fares are rising across the U.S. (The Atlantic Cities) 

Writer Eric Jaffe points out that several large agencies in the U.S. are currently pursuing fare increases (including Metro). And that’s not surprising: using data from a new federal report, Jaffe says that most agencies have seen the cost of providing bus and rail service rise substantially since 2000 while allowing fares to lag behind — often for good reasons (affordability, mobility, etc.). A lot of the cost appears not to come from employee salaries but rather the cost of employee benefits, which I’m guessing really means health care. It’s a national problem, Jaffe writes, and there doesn’t appear to be a neat solution on the near horizon outside of fare increases.

Dan Walters: bullet train faces withering set of issues (Sacramento Bee)

The political columnist concludes his column by asking whether construction should even begin on a project this year that may never have the funds to complete a link between L.A. and San Francisco or even the San Joaquin Valley. He also neatly lays out some of the current issues on the table, many involving legal challenges as to whether the project fulfills requirements in a 2008 bill that allowed the bond measure to go to state voters. Obviously this bears watching with one interesting but little publicized side issue: if the bullet train project hits more obstacles what happens to the part of the state bonds to help local projects connect with the bullet train? Both L.A. and San Francisco are using some of that money to fund local projects (the Regional Connector, to be specific).

What the Internet thinks of the world’s subways (Mashable) 

Fun pros and cons of 10 big subway systems around the globe (Los Angeles’ is not included) as gleamed from online reviews. Warning: the language used is not always delicate.

Transportation headlines, Friday, March 28

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Bullet train won’t meet targeted travel time, lawmakers told (L.A. Times) 

The High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group told legislators in Sacramento that it’s very unlikely a bullet train will be able to provide regular service between Los Angeles and San Francisco in two hours, 40 minutes — as voters were promised in 2008 before approving the sale of $10 billion in bonds to pay for the project. I count this one as the non-shocker of the day as those kind of travel times never sounded terribly plausible at any kind of realistic price-tag. Whether the Peer Review Group’s statements impact the project remains to be seen.

Apple’s new texting idea means never having to look up from your phone again (The Atlantic Cities) 

The lede says it all:

Apple has filed a patent for “transparent texting” technology, which would be a handy new mobile service that will replace a text message’s white background with a live feed of the things literally happening right in front of your face.

The technology is designed to be used to protect texting pedestrians, allowing them to walk and text without bumping into things like lampposts or moving cars. In describing the need for such game-changing technology, the patent describes the “rather unique predicament” of the text message-ers:

“A user who is walking while participating in a text messaging session may inadvertently collide with or stumble over objects in his path because his attention was focused on his device’s display instead of the path that he was traversing. Even if a user remains stationary while participating in a text messaging session, that user may expose himself to some amount of danger or potential embarrassment if he is so engaged in his device’s display that he becomes oblivious to changes in his surrounding environment.”

 

Sounds awful.

Washington Metro Board approves fare increases (Washington Post) 

A typical rail fare will be $2.90 while on the bus side the fare was set at $1.75, with the surcharge eliminated for those who use cash. Transfers from bus to bus are free for two hours for riders who use electronic fare cards similar to Metro’s TAP cards.

Reminder: public hearing is tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. for Metro’s fare change proposal. More info here

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Transportation headlines, Monday, February 24

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It may be Monday, but maybe you’re already thinking of Friday. Take it away, Bruce Springsteen…

Beverly Hills using petty bureaucracy to hold up Purple Line work (Curbed LA)

Some excerpts:

The city council decided last August that all permit requests from Metro related to the subway extension’s first phase—which is nowhere near the disputed Century City station or the much-fretted-about Beverly Hills High School—must be passed by the full council instead of just getting a staff approval, which is the normal procedure; staff work five days a week and the city council only gathers monthly or, at most, twice a month. That move is already proving to be a problem as Metro is waiting on two permits related to pre-construction activities (like utility relocation and groundwater and gas sampling). The council refused to grant the permits in January and asked for Metro to come back and provide more explanation on traffic and parking issues related to the construction. Metro did, but by then the council’s February agenda was already too full to add a vote on the permits, so maybethey’ll grant them at their March 4 meeting.

[snip]

It doesn’t seem like a coincidence, though, that Beverly Hills ands its school district have four lawsuits pending over the placement of the Purple Line’s Century City station, which requires tunneling under Beverly Hills High. There are officials like Councilmember Nancy Krasne, who makes no bones that she’s sticking it to Metro just to be petty (she’s also the one that thought terrorists would use the subway tunnel to blow up BHHS), but you can’t heap all the blame on the politicians—they’re beholden to their constituents, many of whom read the histrionics and half-truths in the Beverly Hills Courier every day (Metro’s The Source blog has to correct them nearly every time they publish a story on the line).

[snip]

Bryan Pennington, Metro’s executive director of engineering and construction, says that even if Beverly Hills approves the permits, the process could be very bad news for Purple Line construction:

“We are continuing to work with the City of Beverly Hills to obtain these two outstanding permits. We believe that we have provided the information they are seeking while we continue working to deliver this much needed project as it has been promised to the taxpayers and commuters of greater Los Angeles. Up until last August, we were able to work with Beverly Hills city staff for the permits we needed for street work. We have cooperative agreements with the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles that allow us to handle permit requests at the staff level. If Beverly Hills continues to require review of all permits by their Council, it could extend the construction schedule.

I recommend reading the entire Curbed post. There is a lot of additional information and important context I didn’t excerpt. Also, here is a recent Source post about the construction timeline for the Wilshire/La Cienega station. And here is a post from last fall about the construction timeline for the entire project and the importance of master cooperative agreements with cities along the subway’s route.

Four key executives leaving in shakeup of Metro’s leadership (L.A. Times) 

The departures are part of a reorganization effort designed to make Metro less top-heavy and reduce the number of executives reporting to the CEO’s office. The restructuring was recommended in an outside audit of Metro obtained by the Times. As the story points out, the changes come amid a project building boom but with the agency facing a budget deficit within a couple of years.

Federal authorities give state more time to raise cash for bullet train project (L.A. Times)

The feds have given the California High-Speed Rail Authority three more months to start spending on the project, meaning the state has to find the money given that bond sales — the planned source of funding for the project — are tied up in court.

Now what? City fears flameout after the games (New York Times) 

The Rosa Khotor ski area map. Looks fun but will anyone be skiing there in the future?

The Rosa Khotor ski area map. Looks fun but will anyone be skiing there in the future?

Most of the transit lines in the above map are new. Source: Sochi2014 website.

Most of the transit lines in the above map are new. Source: Sochi2014 website.

The Russian government isn’t saying exactly what was spent on bringing the Winter Olympics to the Black Sea resort town of Sochi but one media report puts the figure at $51 billion. The rough part: there is no apparent plan on how many facilities or improvements in the area — including a new rail line and new highway to new ski resorts — will be used in the future or how Sochi will see long-term benefit from the Winter Olympics.

Hmm. My first thought: I hope the ski resort helps introduce more Russians and other people who live in the region to the skiing sports. Russia — given its climate (at least for now) — should be good at skiing. It’s not, based on Olympic and World Cup results.

My second big thought is that we’re now three-and-a-half years away from the International Olympic Committee’s decision in 2017 on where to put the 2024 Summer Olympics. Los Angeles officials have said they will seek the Summer Games, meaning L.A. first has to earn the right to be America’s bidder from the U.S. Olympic Committee. IOC President Thomas Bach told NBC’s Bob Costas that an American bid would be welcome, given that in 2024 it will have been 22 years since the Games were in the U.S. (Salt Lake City in 2002).

I would love, love, love to see L.A. go for a three-peat when it comes to hosting the Games. And I hope the bid here, if it does emerge, is a rebuttal of sorts to the IOC’s love affair with demanding that Olympic host cities build new facilities and spend billions on the Games (exactly what the IOC loved about Sochi, according to the NYT). The strength of our bid could be that ongoing improvements here are being done anyway and will make it possible, and even easy, for the region to seamlessly host the Games without breaking the bank. And, of course, setting an example for future host cities.

Transit improvements, of course, could be a big part of our region’s pitch. Transit already serves or is near many existing facilities (Staples Center, Coliseum, Rose Bowl, Honda Center, Santa Anita Park, Long Beach Marina, East L.A. College, entire list of venues here) and ongoing projects are expanding the existing transit network. The two big projects to watch are the Airport Metro Connector, which is still in the planning stages and not scheduled to be complete until the late 2020s under Measure R. Same goes with the Purple Line Extension to Westwood, which wouldn’t reach there until 2036. Serving LAX and getting the UCLA campus (with several sports facilities and potential athlete housing) connected to rail would almost certainly be important for the Olympics.

The lovely thing about are ongoing transit expansion is that we’re doing it anyway, Olympics or no Olympics. The same goes in Denver, another city that could — and probably should — look to host the Winter Olympics, given its ongoing rail expansion and proximity to the Rockies.

And let me toss one other thought out there: given that the last two Winter Olympics took place in temperate climates (Vancouver and Sochi) along the coast, why not put the Winter Games in L.A. with the alpine events in the Sierra? (I’m not sure betting on big snow at the local resorts is a good idea given what happened to Vancouver). It would be different and challenging in that the Sierra ski resorts tend not to have the kind of terrain suited to modern alpine ski courses. But could it be done….

Transportation headlines, Wednesday, February 19

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A CyclingSavvy instructor explains her objections to bike lanes (Biking in LA)

Karen Karabell, of St. Louis, makes a thoughtful, cogent argument against bike lanes, saying that she believes it’s safer for cyclists to be in traffic lanes — where motorists see them sooner and better — than in a narrow lane that is often ignored by many motorists. I agree with her on the issue of sight lines. But I still don’t want to ride in traffic lanes unless I must — I see this as a post for bigger, wider and better designed bike lanes.

Newsom changes mind on high-speed rail (CBS) 

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom says he’s just voicing an opinion privately shared by many Democrats. Although he was ardently backed the bullet train project between Los Angeles and San Francisco, he said that too little federal or private funds have emerged to build a project with an estimated $68 billion price tag. The money, Newsom said, would be better spent on other infrastructure needs.

Obama orders new efficiencies for big rigs (New York Times) 

The President on Tuesday order the EPA to develop tougher new fuel standards for trucks, with a goal of implementing them by 2018. While trucks comprise just four percent of traffic on the nation’s roads, President Obama said they are responsible for 20 percent of the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Transportation headlines, Friday, January 17

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LukensRoadJan2014-8799

ART OF TRANSIT: The Angeles Crest Highway, at left, starts its journey into the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains above La Canada Flintridge. The view is a reminder of how wild and rugged our local mountains are. Click to see larger version. Photo by Steve Hymon.

Union Station eases policy on homeless seating in the waiting area (L.A. Times)

Metro officials told the Metro Board this week that they are working to restore seating in Union Station for Metro customers. In December, the seating area was set aside for Metrolink and Amtrak customers because of concerns about homeless people taking too many seats and causing other problems. It’s a tough issue for Metro as the agency purchased the station in 2011 for $75 million and obviously wants somewhere for its own customers to sit.

Orange Line’s dismal fare findings (ZevWeb) 

Coverage on Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky’s website of the recent fare checks on the Orange Line that found on one occasion that 22 percent of riders hadn’t paid a fare and another nine percent had valid TAP cards but weren’t tapping. The Sheriff’s Deputies have responded with more fare patrols along the line, say Metro officials. Of course, that raises the obvious question: where were they before? Here’s the Metro staff report on the issue.

Who birthed ‘Jamzilla’ on the Sepulveda Pass? (KPCC)

The segment posted the question: who comes up with names for traffic jams? Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky gets the credit for “Carmageddon” and this time around, “Jamzilla” was coined by a colleague of mine on the Metro P.R. staff. Which I love. I also saw a couple of good suggestions on Twitter the other day, among them “The Slow and the Furious” and “Carchella.” Listen here

BTW, if you haven’t heard…avoid the 405 on Presidents’ Day Weekend, Feb. 14-18, when northbound lanes will either be entirely closed overnight or mostly closed during the day for repaving. More details here.

California Congressional delegation is split on high-speed rail (KPCC)

Well, that’s hardly news. But the article makes one observation worth noting: legislators from other states — Republicans and Democrats — are surprised and perhaps delighted that California may spurn federal dollars for the state bullet train project. Most states, it seems, are attracted to federal money like lint is attracted to belly buttons. Or something like that (it’s Friday).

Transportation headlines, Thursday, January 16

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Light rail should not be built under terminal area, officials say  (L.A. Times)

Metro and Los Angeles World Airport officials narrow the options for connecting LAX to the Crenshaw/LAX and/or the Green Line and recommend not building light rail directly to the terminal area. The story does a very good job of explaining what’s on the table and what’s off. If it helps, here are maps of the alternatives that Metro and LAWA want to study further along with a staff report and handout.

Spending bill likely to give L.A. $130 million for two key rail projects (L.A. Times)

Congress is on the verge of approving a spending bill for fiscal year 2014 that includes $130 million in federal New Starts money for the Purple Line Extension and Regional Connector. The projects together are expected to receive about $1.9 billion from the New Starts program, which helps local transit agencies pay for big, expensive projects. Earlier Source post here.

California to owe feds $180 million for high-speed rail (Bakersfield Now)

The $180 million is part of matching funds that the state needs to pony up in order to federal grants for the project. Recent court rulings have prevented the state from selling bonds it needs to help pay for the project, which aims to eventually connect San Francisco and Los Angeles via a $68 billion, 200 mile per hour rail line.

Why this man is photographing every American Apparel billboard in L.A. (The Atlantic Cities) 

Thomas Alleman likes to seek out the city’s “underside” and “wrinkles” to keep him sane in an urban landscape that can be less than appealing. The juxtaposition of the billboards — with their sometimes sexy poses — and the neighborhoods they appear in are interesting and sometimes jarring. Great article, great pics.

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, January 7

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The sunrise in Chicago this morning. It's current -2 degrees there, according to the National Weather Service. Photo by Sarah Ji, via Flickr creative commons.

The sunrise in Chicago this morning. It’s current -2 degrees there courtesy of the Polar Vortex, according to the National Weather Service. Photo by Sarah Ji, via Flickr creative commons.

Loosely related to transpo news: First, I hope everyone who used the Gold Line to reach Pasadena for the parade and two football games in the past week had a good experience.

Second, how the heck do the officials miss the horse collar tackle on the Florida State player toward the end of last night’s national title game? If Auburn is penalized 15 yards, perhaps the Seminoles would have scored sooner, perhaps giving the Tigers a little more time to get in the range of a potential game-tying field goal as the clock wound down. Bad, bad non-call in an otherwise excellent football game. I hope players and fans from both teams are proud of their efforts and that student-athletes return heartily to their books, as most of them — as skilled as they are — will never play in the National Football League.

Jerry Brown eyes cap-and-trade money for high-speed rail (Sacramento Bee)

California’s governor has been a proponent of the state bullet train project and knows it will need billions of dollars to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco. As a result, his budget — due for release Friday — may propose using millions of dollars from the state’s new carbon tax to help pay for the train, which is seen by some as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because the trains may be less polluting than cars (it depends largely on type of fuels both use and, if electricity, how that power is created).

In a follow-up column to the news story, Dan Walters challenges the emissions question, pointing out that pollution from construction of the project may make it less than green for many decades. For what it’s worth, one recent UCLA study found that Metro’s Gold and Orange lines would result in lower greenhouse gas emissions even with construction factored in. Important caveat: the Gold and Orange lines were much, much smaller projects than the bullet train, which involves extensive tunneling and the building of elevated structures to completely separate the train from roads.

How to be a better Californian (Zocalo Public Square)

Great column by Joe Mathews with some suggestions on ways to improve your civic profile in 2014. Among them: using public transit and biking from time to time! As an aside, Joe also suggests everyone visits where their water comes from — a superb idea! If you live in L.A. County that’s perfect reason to visit the Sierra Nevada, which sends water into either the California Aqueduct or Los Angeles Aqueduct.

Some of the snow on Taboose Pass in the Eastern Sierra will melt and end up in the L.A. Aqueduct. Zocalo Public Square writer Joe Mathews says it's our duty to visit our water resources. If you insist! :) Photo by Steve Hymon.

Some of the snow on Taboose Pass in the Eastern Sierra will melt and end up in the L.A. Aqueduct. Zocalo Public Square writer Joe Mathews says it’s our duty to visit our water resources. If you insist! Photo by Steve Hymon.

Amtrak passengers from California trapped in Polar Vortex in Illinois (L.A. Times) 

Ice and snow from the ongoing cold snap stopped three trains, including one that originated in Los Angeles and another from San Francisco. After a night aboard the trains, passengers were rescued by buses this morning. The accompanying photo inexplicably shows a train going through the snowy Sierra near Donner Pass — 2,000 miles from the actual news. Plus, the Sierra is basically wanting for snow this year; the Southern Sierra has 27 percent of the normal amount of snow for this date, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

Why getting rid of bus stops can improve bus service (Governing)

Ah, the Ivory Tower hard at work. A study by George Mason University has found that getting rid of 43 percent of the bus stops near a college campus would result in 23 percent improvement in travel times. Shocker! The study also found that losing the stops wouldn’t result in lower ridership because students are healthy and vigorous enough to walk the extra distance to the bus stops that remain.

I’m not sure the world is a smarter place as a result of the study, but it raises the age-old question for transit agencies: what is the optimal number of bus stops? Hey, maybe that’s not even the big question anymore. Perhaps we should be asking what’s the best way to speed up boarding and get buses moving on streets with frequent (and uncooperative) traffic signals.  

Transportation headlines, Tuesday, December 17

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ART OF TRANSIT: Sea gull-like view of a Metro bus, courtesy of our Instagram feed.

Residents living near Expo Line reduce car use, study says (L.A. Times) 

The article builds on the USC study released Monday that found that among a sampling of households within a half-mile of the Expo Line, use of the new rail line has tripled and car use has fallen by 40 percent. Excerpt:

The Expo Line’s second phase will open to the Westside in 2016. When that happens, attorney Aryan Shommetoub expects to take the train and the Big Blue Bus from his home in Baldwin Hills to a branch courthouse in Westwood.

“It’s a treat to be able to take the line to work, when I can,” Shommetoub said. He still often drives, but takes the section of the Expo Line that opened last year when he has meetings or court appearances near downtown.

After the Expo Line opened, households living within a half-mile of the stations saw a 30% reduction in their carbon emissions, the study said. Although some people had purchased more fuel-efficient cars, Boarnet said, researchers chalked up the difference to people driving less.

It’s an interesting study, for sure — and not entirely surprising. As reporter Laura Nelson notes, perhaps the study’s most relevant findings are that stations near bus stops with frequent service and roads that aren’t overly wide also are key factors in encouraging ridership.

The first phase of the Expo Line is interesting for another reason. Many of the stations — particularly west of USC — are not in areas that are big commercial centers. A lot of the stations sit amid neighborhoods with a lot of homes and apartments, making it pretty easy for residents to reach stations.

All in all, some pretty good positives although I think there’s still room for improvement when it comes to ridership. The second phase will certainly boost those numbers — as will (hopefully) more north-south bus connections from the line.

Click here to see the entire study and the accompanying news release from USC.

Foes of bullet train are gaining momentum (L.A. Times) 

The story looks at the recent Superior Court rulings that could jeopardize the issuing of state bonds needed to fund the bullet train project’s initial segment in the San Joaquin Valley. While long-time critics of the project get their shots in (surprise!), the story also notes a potential consequence for Southern California. Excerpt:

The increased uncertainty over state funding is causing jitters among some transportation planners working on major bullet-train-related projects.

The rail authority has signed agreements with the Bay Area and Southern California agencies promising more than $1 billion for local rail improvements, to be drawn from the bond money now frozen by Kenny’s ruling.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority had planned to tap those funds to help pay for $350 million in improvements to tracks at downtown’s Union Station that could be shared by high-speed and Metrolink commuter trains.

“We have to come up with a Plan B,” said Don Sepulveda, MTA’s executive officer for regional rail.

Preserving the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (Urban Land Institute Los Angeles) 

ULI’s study on behalf of the city of Santa Monica on how best to save the old Civic Auditorium. Their recommendation: upgrade the building and develop some of the surrounding parking lots with residences, businesses, pedestrian space and other interesting uses. Sounds great — all this stuff would be near the future Expo Line station in downtown Santa Monica, the northern part of the Main Street business district, the ocean and the new and awesome Tongva Park.

Huizar plan could help activate Broadway vacancies (Downtown News)

Important story on the new city of Los Angeles planning rules announced by downtown Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar last Friday. The idea is to make it a lot easier and less expensive for businesses to redevelop the more than one million square feet in vacant space in old buildings along Broadway. This stuff is wonky but important; there’s simply no excuse for a major thoroughfare such as Broadway to look the way it does, something which Huizar recognized early in his tenure and has been trying to fix.

And remember: the Regional Connector will have a station at 2nd and Broadway!

How to screw up a street grid, Atlanta style (ATL Urbanist) 

Nice visuals show how Atlanta over the past century has made it more difficult to get around. Not a surprise. Atlanta is unofficially one of our least favorite big cities.

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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, 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.