Transportation headlines, Monday, March 30

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Today’s profile of a Metro rider by Zocalo Public Square: My life goal is to travel, Portola Plaza to Katella Avenue

Metro light rail crash near USC renews debate on light rail safety (L.A. Times) 

The accident between an Expo Line train and a motorist who apparently made an illegal left turn in front of the train spurs a story that looks at why some Metro Rail crossings are grade separated or have crossing gates and why some are only controlled by traffic and train signals (such as the one where the accident occurred Saturday). The LAT reports that the crash was at least the 18th between a car and a train in the past year.

Interviewed are Najmedin Meshkati, a USC engineering professor who has been critical of Expo Line street crossings, and Metro spokesman Marc Littman. Meshkati argues that Metro needs to make rail-street crossings as “foolproof” as possible to prevent accidents, whereas Littman argues that light rail lines along streets operate largely without incident in cities around the world, including parts of L.A.

This will likely be an ongoing debate as the rail system expands in the coming decades and officials must grapple with the best way to treat street rail-crossings. Completely separating tracks from streets usually adds expense to projects — at a time when funds are often in short supply.

A Valley first: protected bike lanes (Daily News) 

About a mile of Reseda Boulevard near CSUN will get bike lanes in which the parking lane sits between traffic and the curb, thereby providing a barrier of sorts for cyclists. The stretch of road between Plummer and Parthenia is a commercial stretch of Reseda that’s just west of campus. Sounds like good news.

Donald Shoup, an appreciation (Streetsblog LA) 

Nice piece on the UCLA professor Donald Shoup, who recently announced his impending retirement. Shoup is best known for authoring groundbreaking work on automobile parking and how cities often manage parking wrong. This short excerpt sums it up nicely:

Perhaps the best tribute to Shoup’s work is that once communities try these recommendations, they rarely go back. From Argentina, where the nation’s largest city recently removed all minimum parking requirements, to the variably-priced parking meters outside my window here in San Francisco, professor Shoup’s recommendations are taking hold, and making cities better. 

Commutes are getting longer, study says (L.A. Times)

In a lot of places, yes. But not in the Inland Empire and parts of Ventura County. Perhaps interesting.

The U.S. Postal Service’s existential problem (Brookings Institute)

Credit: U.S. Postal Service.

Credit: U.S. Postal Service.

Driving to every person’s home and delivering mail continues to cost a lot of money even as the Postal Service is facing huge costs, such as replacing its aging fleet of vehicles. This post, too, makes the argument that the USPS serves vastly more business mail now than personal correspondence.

Of course, ‘personal’ letters and parcels still get mailed and many people refuse (perhaps wisely) to pay bills on the internet given that so many firms have seen their sites hacked. And voting by mail is a big deal, as is serving those who live in rural areas. Good read, important public policy debate.

Fun fact: the U.S. Postal Service has more than 211,000 vehicles! More fun facts here.

Carbon capture: how climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation (New Yorker) 

Good post by the novelist and bird enthusiast Jonathan Franzen on his fear that apocalyptic predictions of the impact of climate change will prevent people from doing good conservation work in the present. Key excerpt:

There’s no doubt that the coming century will be a tough one for wild animals. But, for countless species, including almost all of North America’s birds, the threat is not direct. The responses of birds to acute climatic stress are not well studied, but birds have been adapting to such stresses for tens of millions of years, and they’re surprising us all the time—emperor penguins relocating their breeding grounds as the Antarctic ice melts, tundra swans leaving the water and learning to glean grains from agricultural fields.

Not every species will manage to adapt. But the larger and healthier and more diverse our bird populations are, the greater the chances that many species will survive, even thrive. To prevent extinctions in the future, it’s not enough to curb our carbon emissions. We also have to keep a whole lot of wild birds alive right now.

We need to combat the extinctions that are threatened in the present, work to reduce the many hazards that are decimating North American bird populations, and invest in large-scale, intelligently conceived conservation efforts, particularly those designed to allow for climate change. These aren’t the only things that people who care about birds should be doing. But it only makes sense not to do them if the problem of global warming demands the full resources of every single nature-loving group.

This is a long post — much like a long Franzen book. Those who read “Freedom” know that birdwatching and conservation play a big part in the plot. And attentive readers here know that the transportation sector is certainly responsible for its share of greenhouse gases that are causing the Earth to warm. Taking transit is often cited as a way to reduce your carbon footprint as transit — although it often uses fossil fuels — can move a lot of people more efficiently.

Glacier Point Road reopens in Yosemite (Associated Press) 

This is the earliest opening in at least 20 years — and made possible by the lack of snowfall in the area. Glacier Point is hugely popular and offers one of the great (and redundant) views of Half Dome and Vernal and Nevada falls:

Photo: Steve Hymon.

Photo: Steve Hymon.