Transportation headlines, Wednesday, October 23

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ART OF TRANSIT: The view of Sees Candy from the Expo Line’s La Cienega station. Best smelling station on the line. From our Instagram feed.

Why AT&T is talking about texting and driving (New Yorker)

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An excellent analysis of why the four largest mobile phone carriers are behind this safety campaign — and why they co-released a Werner Herzog documentary (above) on the subject of cell phone use while driving.


Texting—or e-mailing, tweeting, or Web surfing—while driving causes thousands of accidents a year, though it is hard to determine a precise number. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration put the number of accidents caused by what it calls “distracted driving”—which includes talking on the phone, fiddling with the radio, putting on makeup, etc.—at three hundred and eighty-seven thousand in 2011, the most recent year for which these statistics have been compiled. Some percentage of this distraction is caused by texting; a recent study by the University of Washington that captured images at intersections found that half of distracted drivers were seen sending texts or otherwise typing on their phones.

Texting while driving is not only manifestly dangerous; in forty-one states, it is also illegal. But it is difficult to monitor, police, and punish. In study after study, an overwhelming majority of people say that they know it is irresponsible and dangerous, yet do it anyway. According to figures from a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thirty-one per cent of adults have admitted to texting and driving. (Other surveys have put that figure higher, and because of the stigma attached to it these self-reported numbers are probably low.)


I asked Marissa Shorenstein why A.T. & T. had decided to create an initiative that, at least indirectly, highlights the position of wireless companies in the problem. Had A.T. & T. been compelled by outside forces to address the issue? “There was no pressure on the company,” she said. “Wireless technology is relatively new, and we had noticed over several years that texting had become increasingly abused in terms of driving. We felt strongly that it was our responsibility as an industry leader to insure that our devices are being used safely and properly.” Shorenstein makes an important distinction: texting while driving is not a natural result of constant connectedness but a misuse of cell phones.

If you want to play with your cell phone while commuting, take the bus or train, people.

Commentary: Take a trip on Amtrak’s San Joaquin train (KVPR)

Zocalo Public Square writer Joe Mathews takes his son on a train trip from L.A. to Sacramento that involves an Amtrak bus ride from L.A. to Bakersfield, an actual train from Bakersfield to Stockton and then another Amtrak bus to Sacramento. Several delays, courtesy of the freight railroads that own the train tracks, are part of the deal. And the buses prove to be more ‘on-time’ than the train.


“That was fun, Daddy,” Ben said.

Fun, yes, but also frustrating.  Why are we still relying on single tracks owned by freight lines to move passengers on trains through the Central Valley? I’ve dumped on high-speed rail for years—for outlandish ridership projections, for its failure to attract private investment, for not starting with a connection between L.A. and San Diego—and even the idea’s backers are worried it will cost too much. But high-speed rail does provide solutions to the gaps Ben and I encountered firsthand. It would provide a proper route for rail passengers through the Tehachapis. It would provide a dedicated track for passenger rail in the Central Valley. And it would connect the state in ways that we have otherwise failed to do.

However you feel about high-speed rail (and I’m still skeptical), California is undeniably a state in need of more rail capacity. On the flight back to Burbank from Sacramento the following evening, Ben began lobbying for a second train trip, this time with his 2-year-old brother. That increased capacity can’t come soon enough.

And once again, we have someone raising the question that the big media are not: is there a way to better connect So Cal to Nor Cal by rail that improves service and is also more politically and financially viable than the current plan?

Remaking the San Fernando Valley: pedestrian-friendly and community-oriented projects underway (Daily News) 

No real specifics are mentioned in the story, but city officials and neighborhood activists want each Valley neighborhood to be anchored by a “center” — i.e. places where people can walk and shop and such. Another article looks at new zoning proposals for the Warner Center area that would allow more residential and commercial properties to be built in some areas.

3 replies

  1. The reason that the companies are behind this is: they know that if they push it, they can avoid further harsher regulation and possibly head off lawsuits related to texting while driving. While texting has the obvious ‘looking at the device’ issue, studies have shown that talking on the phone is distracting no matter if it is hands free or not.
    The brain of a person talking on a phone uses the visual processing areas, the same areas that are needed while driving. This is different that talking to a person that is in the vehicle.
    Studies regarding teen driving have shown that who the talking passenger is, is a major factor in distractedness. When the talking passenger is a non-driver or inexperienced driver, they will talk whenever. A passenger that is an experienced driver will stop talking to the driver when the driver needs more focus. Having an experienced driver as a passenger improves the driving of both teen drivers and experienced drivers.
    Driving while talking on a phone is like having a non-driver as a talking passenger, they are oblivious to the current conditions and will contiue to talk when the driver really needs to focus.

  2. A rail linking So Cal to Nor Cal really needs to be separate from freight and double tracked to provide service that runs on schedule. Anything built will last more than one hundred years. A small fraction of the cost would be for the upgrade from conventional rail to high speed rail. The planned line would do more than connect the end points in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties but would connect the cities of the central valley such as Fresno and Bakersfield in a way not now possible.

  3. Let’s not forget, a driver being concentrated on talking with passengers creates tremendous distraction too. The sign saying no unnecessary conversation with the operator is put on the bus for a reason.