Transportation headlines, Monday, April 6

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Metro rider Ryan Riley. Photo by Zocalo Public Square.

Metro rider Ryan Riley. Photo by Zocalo Public Square.

Today’s profile of a Metro rider by Zocalo Public Square: L.A. is literally unlike Iowa in every possible way, Bruin Walk to Clinton Street

Letter of Recommendation: Thomas Guide to Los Angeles (New York Times Magazine) 

Nice column by L.A.-based writer Meghan Daum on the once indispensable map book to Los Angeles area streets. The Thomas Guide, she writes, helped teach her the lay of the land in our area and how to get around. Smartphones and nav systems have replaced the guide, leading to this question: do the people growing up on computer-fed directions actually know how to get around without their highly-intelligent smartphones and such.

Semiautonomous driving arrives, feature by feature (New York Times) 

Car manufacturers are beginning to install features on new vehicles that allows the vehicle to take over driving for short stints. For example:

Volvo plans to introduce a version of its XC90 this spring that will essentially provide similar autopilot capabilities at lower speeds. Intended for traffic jams, its “pilot assist” system allows the sport utility vehicle to take over both the steering and throttle to follow the car in front of it at speeds up to about 35 miles per hour.

“We’re taking out the part of people’s commute that they don’t like,” said Jim Nichols, a Volvo spokesman. “Even people who normally like to drive have told us they want the autonomous part for the more boring parts of their commute. So we’re giving it to them.”

Mr. Nichols said although the car would take control, Volvo still expected drivers to stay engaged and keep their hands on the wheel.

Hmmmm. Let’s think this one through. It’s not like everyone is doing an awesome job driving in stop-and-start traffic. That’s one reason it’s stop-and-start — half the folks are out to lunch. Then again, do we really a computer to do that much better of a job especially when it may be reacting to cars driven by actual people and/or computers from other car manufacturers?

Don’t get me wrong. I like the idea of driving but not really having to drive. Just like I like the idea of me joining the E Street Band or getting to be Indiana Jones’ new sidekick (“You listen to me more, you live longer!”). Perhaps you get my drift: I remain a tad skeptical semiautonomous or all-the-way autonomous will work out without a small army of lawyers involved.

L.A.’s new parking signs are brilliant and everyone should copy them (Gizmodo) 

Concur. The signs are great. The post has a very readable lead by Alissa Walker.


Exciting transportation questions to ask West Hollywood candidates (The Pink Line) 

Dan Wetzel offers a cheat sheet for City Hall wannabes on transportation questions that he expects them to be able to answer — including how to extend Metro Rail to WeHo.

Muni Forward brings you new service and Muni Rapid (SF Muni) 

More buses running more often in San Francisco to deal with rush hour crowding, which Muni claims is the biggest service expansion in years. First sentence of the blog post: “We know you have better things to do than wait on us.” Nice. SF Muni is also re-branding its limited stop buses as “Rapid” buses and has unveiled a new map that emphasizes bus frequencies (see below; to my eye perhaps the colors are too similar). Metro, of course, has 20 different Rapid Lines (some are rush hour only) but no longer publishes a map showing bus frequencies.


Unwanted tires end up in rivers and beaches in Mexico (High Country News) 

About one million used tires are shipped from California to the Tijuana area each year. Some end up in recycling center, but many others end up being used (they’re cheap). The problem is that many of the tires are dumped after being used and then end up in the Tijuana River, which flows north back to the U.S. Appropriate perhaps.

There is some good news: One nonprofit in Tijuana is finding novel ways to use the old tires, often in conservation projects.

California drought tests history of endless growth (New York Times) 

Growth has something to do with traffic and transportation, of course, thus our interest here. The real reason to check out this story are the aerial photos of the Coachella Valley — and its lush subdivisions — by Damon Winter. As for the article, it ponders whether the ongoing drought and new water restrictions announced by Gov. Jerry Brown represents a sea change for the state — or whether the drought is just the latest hiccup.

Plenty of good drought coverage is elsewhere in the media. At LAObserved, Jon Christensen and Mark Gold dive into the details of Brown’s announcement. In particular, they ponder whether water agencies can overcome court challenges to draw up rate structures that will really provide the incentive needed for the biggest consumers to use less water.

And, in the L.A. Times, columnist George Skelton asks why famers aren’t subject to the cuts ordered by Brown. The answer: the Governor says that he doesn’t intend to regulate which crops should be grown (some are a lot more water thirsty than others, such as almonds) and that agriculture is already subject to cuts based on who has and doesn’t have senior water rights.

My three cents: one way or another, California is likely to need some new infrastructure to deal with having less water, assuming the drought continues and/or a smaller California snowpack courtesy of climate change. That could mean more gray water systems, new systems to capture urban runoff before it goes to sea and perhaps even desalination. It will be one more hard lesson that infrastructure is never free, whether it’s water, new renewable energy (another big California goal, a bullet train or transportation. You have to pay to build it, pay to maintain it, pay to replace it, pay to adapt it to a changing world. That’s life, folks.