Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Something Scary for Halloween

Photo courtesy of LA Times
Another day, another truck disaster on LA's Highways. The horror story here isn't that there was an accident yesterday, nor that a decent person died in a senseless accident. It's that truck traffic is going to double in CA in the coming decades. The more trucks we have, the more of these kind of accidents we're all going to see and the more dangerous our roads will become.
To me, thats much scarier than any ghost, wizard, or goblin.

What are (aren't) our Senators doing about Transportation Funding

Yesterday, we discussed the transportation funding crisis that is looming in Washington, D.C. Today, we’ll take a quick look at what California’s representatives in the U.S. Senate are doing about this.

Barbara Boxer, the Chair of the Senate’s Infrastructure and the Environment Committee, recognizes the need to raise more revenue for transportation, but doesn’t want to see an increase in the gas tax. I’m not sure what mix of transportation funding options are available that will produce the trillions of dollars needed to maintain our highway network while expanding the transit network, but I do know its going to be nigh impossible without an increase in the gas tax.

For Diane Feinstein, the record isn’t as clear. A search of her Senate website doesn’t bring up any quotes, releases, statements, etc...where she addresses transportation debt at all. A search of the greater Internet reveals a quote off a GOP website from 2000 opposing decreasing the gas tax and a very detailed article entitled, "Trilateral Globalists Call For Gas Tax Hike."

Feinstein has been an outspoken supporter of reducing Greenhouse gasses, but doesn’t include either a gas tax, or reducing automobile dependence in her list of changes that need to be made. Any bill on Greenhouse Gasses has to go through the committee Boxer chairs, and she has spoken out in support of legislation which would seek to reduce U.S. emissions by 63% between 2005 and 2050.

Sunset Limited Line Survives Senate Vote

DOT’s administrator cautions L.A., Long Beach ports on changes

Diesel-fueled Trucks Drive Up Air Pollution Exposure For Commuters

Big-rig crash kills 1, snarls the 405,1,1401548.story?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=1&cset=true

Morning Report: Two killed in crash on Highway 126


Thanks to the SF Bay Guardian

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our Friend, The Transportation Engineer

I once read a book about the history of transportation engineers as the arch enemy of the transportation reformer. While it is true that the idea that we can build highways until congestion went away can be traced back to many of the top transportation engineers during the Eisenhower Presidency, but that was half a century ago. Today, many engineers are also reformers and there’s a lot we can work together on.

For example, transportation engineers can be hugely important allies when pushing a Fix-It-First agenda. The most recent edition of ASCE News, the American Society for Civil Engineering’s monthly publication, has reprinted the testimony of two of their members, Andrew Hermann and Kevin Womack, on the state of America’s infrastructure.

Some highlights of their testimony:

"To provide orderly, predictable, and sufficient allocations to meet current and future demand. By fiscal year 2009, the fund (Federal Transportation Trust Fund) may be overdrawn by as much as $4.3 billion."
"Investments to improve the condition and functionality of the nation’s bridges will reduce the required investment in the future."

In other words, we need a lot more money just to repair our highway system, and by investing in repair now (perhaps instead of expansion?), we can reduce that future need.

Womack’s testimony focused more on the how-to’s of bridge inspection, but he still noted that the federal government needs to step up its funding to keep a repeat of the Minneapolis disaster from happening.

ASCE released a report card in 2005 looking at the state of our infrastructure. You can read it here.

Surgeon General's Warning: Driving May Be...

The good folks back east at Streetsblog pick up on a story about the EU considering some truth in advertising when it comes to car commercials. For the full story, go here.

So.CA.TA. Calls for Lobbying for 'Subway to the Sea'

At a joint meeting of Metro and the Southern California Transit Advocates, both groups pleaded for greater involvement by the community in the "Subway to the Sea" (officially called Westside Extension Transit Corridor Study) transit extension. The meeting took place at El Rey theatre on Wilshire Blvd, and attracted roughly two dozen activists and residents.

For Metro, the plea was for people to comment on what kind of new transit people would want to see, and whether or not it should run along Wilshire Boulevard. The two proposed lines both begin in Santa Monica but head in different directions at Wilshire Blvd. One route heads east down Wilshire until Koreatown. The other continues North into West Hollywood before heading east. Metro also sought comments on where to place subway stops and what mode of transit (heavy rail, light rail, Bus Rapid Transit) the project should take.

The first round of hearings for the project were completed in October, and comments are due by the close of business on November 1. For more on how to officially comment, click here.

Meanwhile, So.CA.TA called for the public to go beyond just contacting Metro. Noting that the project had $0 dedicated to its construction and that public funds would be needed from federal and state government. Easels bearing maps of legislative and congressional districts adorned the back of the theatre.

Following a presentation by Anthony Loui, the project manager for Subway to the Sea, the floor was opened to questions and comments. Most comments were supportive of the project. Discussion of whether or not the Westside Extension should connect to Phase II of the Expo project, whether the Westside Study should be merged with a North-South Crenshaw Study, and whether or not there should be a stop at Crenshaw Blvd were all discussed.

There was one objecting comment. Douglas, owner of the East Gallery on Wilshire asked why monorail wasn't being studied as an alternative. He argued that asking commuters to go into tunnels in today's society was ridiculous. Transit advocates argued that monorail was a non-starter with the local business community and was limited in how many passengers it would carry. Douglas, a twenty year business owner along Wishire, was unimpressed with these claims.

Reading the Newspapers So You Don't Have To

Expo Line gets second look

Locals want red light on Expo

Hillside residents adapting slowly to red flag parking restrictions,1,6810363.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california

Feds oppose new truck plan

UC top green public system

Monday, October 29, 2007

Americans prefer Smart Growth to New Roads...

A new poll by Smart Growth America shows that nationwide the tide is turning against road widening projects and other forms of highway capacity enhancement. Just over one in five respondents thought that the best way to fight congestion was to add more lanes, while 3/4 of the respondents preferred more funding for transit and development patterns that favored walking and biking.

The survey, done annually by SGA and the National Realtor's Association, also showed growing concern about climate change and growing support for new ways to reduce greenhouse gasses. Just about 90% of respondents want to see communities built so people can walk more and drive less; cars, homes and buildings should be required to be more energy efficient; and public transportation should be improved and made more available.

Americans aren't completely ready to turn in their automobiles yet...84 percent voted against the idea of raising gasoline taxes to discourage driving.

For more, see the press release, graphs and tables, or questionnaire.

A safe Halloween

A pre-Halloween note at streetsblog last week had a list of safety tips prepared by NYCDOT for costumed kiddees and drivers on the holiday. Curiosity raised, I checked to see if LADOT had a similar list. If they do, I can't find it anywhere...maybe because I'm planning on going as Clark Kent for the second straight year, they decided to hide it from me as a form of protest of my unoriginality.

I did find safety tips from the fire department, police department, and a program from 2005 where Mayor Villaraigosa tried to get drivers to pledge to slow down. There are some transportation related tips on all the links above, but for safety's sake, here's what NYC DOT came up with:

For Kids

1. Kids 10 and under should trick-or-treat with a trusted adult
2. Only trick-or-treat in familiar areas that are well lit
3. Cross streets at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks
4. Look left, right and left again when crossing; always walk, don't run, when crossing streets
5. Make eye contact with drivers and watch for cars that are turning or backing up
6. Walk on sidewalks or paths; if there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible
7. Never dart out into the street or cross in between parked cars
8. Wear light-colored, flame-retardant, costumes decorated with retro-reflective tape or stickers
9. Wear well-fitting, sturdy shoes to prevent trips and falls
10. Carry a flashlight or glow stick to increase visibility to drivers
11. Wear face paint and makeup; a mask can restrict a child's vision

For Motorists
12. Be especially alert in residential neighborhoods
13. Drive more slowly and anticipate heavy pedestrian traffic on and near the road
14. Be sure to drive with your full headlights on so you can spot children from greater distances
15. Take extra time to actively look for kids at intersections, on medians and on curbs
16. Remember that costumes can limit children's visibility and they may not be able to see your vehicle
17. Enter and exit driveways and alleys slowly and carefully
18. Remember that children are excited on this night and may move in unpredictable ways
19. Remember that popular trick-or-treating hours are during the typical rush-hour period, between 5:30-9:30 p.m.
20. Reduce any distractions inside your car so you can concentrate on the road and pedestrians

Reading the Newspapers So You Don't Have To

Port group may cut out early shift

Driver, 18, arrested in crash that kills 1 on 710 Freeway

Bringing Back Broadway, Again
California on short end of federal spending

Man killed in crash at intersection

A Forward Thinking Transportation Solution

Friday, October 26, 2007

National Safety Stats on Light Rail

Often, when NIMBY forces are pushing against a proposed transit project, there is usually one argument that the rail opponents rally around. Many times these arguments are red herrings, but every now and then the opposition is on to something.

In the case of the Expo Line, the local opposition has rallied around the idea that light rail is a dangerous form of transportation, especially for local students around schools other intersections. Opponents to the Expo Line argue they have the stats to back up the idea that light rail would be a literal killer in the community. Supporters of the argue that the stats say the opposite.

So what do the stats say?

At first glance, it appears the opposition has a point. The USDOT’s Bureau of statistics shows that in 2004 (the most recent reporting year) light rail related fatalities occur at double the rate as commuter rail and almost 10 times as much as bus related deaths. In 2004, there were 22.4 fatalities caused by accidents related to light rail for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled in America. There were only 14 recorded light rail related fatalities, but there were less than 100 million VMT’s, which is a federal standard for measuring VMT, for light rail! There were 2.6 deaths per 100 million miles for bus and 10.1 deaths per 100 million miles for commuter rail.
But, as Mark Twain had long ago noted, statistics can lie.

First off, suicide by light rail seems a popular way for someone to end their lives. If there are federal statistics that remove suicides from the total number of fatalities "caused" by light rail I haven’t seen them for recent years.

A quick google search shows that of the fourteen light rail related fatalities several were suicides.

(July 23rd article, one light rail related death a suicide)

(one suicide in San Francisco area)

As a matter of fact, the Federal Transit Agency didn’t count suicides in death counts until 2002. Not surprisingly, fatality rates jumped from 2002-2004 from 8 fatalities to 14. From 2000 to 2002 light rail related fatalities had dropped from 22 to 8.

Secondly, the popular usage of fatalities divided by vehicle miles traveled is a poor equation to compare the safety of various transit modes. Light rail, unlike other forms of rail and bus service, runs near exclusively in urban areas. These areas have the densest populations and are most likely to have accidents occur. To do a better comparison, one would have to look at only the fatalities caused in bus or heavy and commuting rail in urban areas with only the urban VMT’s.

While VMT is a popular way to measure safety, we can get a different picture by looking at fatalities per passenger mile traveled. See the following chart by the National Transit Database.

The chart doesn't only show that light rail isn't always the "most fatal" form of transit, but also that the fatality per PMT rate was plummeting before the FTA decided to count suicides the same as other accidents.

A last problem is small sample size. Because we’re dealing with such a small number of fatalities (14 people died in light rail related incidents in 2004 versus a population of over 300 million people), the data isn’t reliable because of a small sample size.

Because the data isn’t as reliable as we would like, I suggest that instead of focusing on light rail as a mode in and of itself, that the safety debate be put on hold until after we have a final design to analyze.

Reminder:Subway to the Sea Meeting on Monday

Since I don't have a calendar section....,com_events/task,view_detail/agid,1099/year,2007/month,10/day,29/Itemid,95/

Monday, October 29 2007, 6:00pm - 8:00pm

Southern California Transit Advocates is sponsoring a series of public
meetings in the Wilshire Corridor regarding the proposal to extend the subway
(also known as the Purple Line) west to Westwood and eventually Santa Monica via
the Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills and Century City. Learn about the status of the
proposal and the public's role in its progress, and how to engage in effective
advocacy by contacting elected officials.

Location: El Rey Theatre, 5515 Wilshire Blvd. (4 blocks west of LaBrea)
Contact: (213) 388-2364

Transit access via Metro 20 and DASH Fairfax

Live and Learn Part II

Darrell Clarke from Friend's for Expo wrote with a few corrections to the story on Wednesday's meeting. Since the errors were more of me being a newbie and things being different out here than anything else, I decided to re-print his comments with an occasional explanation from me.

Stuff from the original post in black, Darrell's comments in green, my comments in red.
Final decisions for where to place grade crossings are usually part of the Environmental Impact Statement, but the presentation given on the alternatives hints that a light rail line running parallel to the street is the most likely design for the route.

Not sure what you mean by "running parallel to the street". Proposed grade separations based on the MTA's Grade Crossing Policy will be announced soon.

I meant that it seemed to me that it was most likely that the tracks were going to run at grade with the street. Bad word choice on my part. I felt that way because of some of the comments in the official presentation about the cost of the project
He pointed out that bother nationally (Chicago, D.C., New York) and Internationally (London, Paris, etc....) that world class, urban transit systems are either above ground or below ground to separate them from auto gridlock.

Light Rail is mostly at-grade in many other U.S. cities (see for Western examples), as are trams in most European cities. As I said in the meeting, the city of Santa Monica is seeking a street-level approach into downtown as more pedestrian-oriented than an aerial structure.

I should have mentioned the difference between light and heavy rail to put the comments in perspective. However, I believe the commenter was trying to make a case that heavy rail was a better option.
Assuming the board approves of the alternatives, they will all undergo a complete study in an Environmental Impact Statement to determine the preferred route.

It's the Expo Construction Authority, not the MTA, which will make the decision on Nov. 1 of what alternatives will be studied in the Draft EIS/EIR (combined federal Environmental Impact Statement and California Environmental Impact Report). Following release of the Draft EIS/EIR and public comment, the Construction Authority will decide next summer what options will be chosen for the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA) that will actually be built. The project will then go into its Final EIS/EIR and Preliminary Engineering stage.

On the major new rail projects I worked on back east, we didn't have Construction Authority's that were separate from NJ Transit. Thats where my confusion came from.
This option is projected to attract the most riders (41,000) has the highest rating by the FTA, had the second lowest cost per mile of the three transit construction options (being beaten by the Bus Rapid Transit alignment) and had a low impact on the natural environment.

A technicality, but I presume the FTA hasn't rated it yet, rather the consultants have calculated how it would score on the FTA's criteria. These are also preliminary ratings, to be refined in the Draft EIS/EIR.

Point taken.

Reading the Newspapers So You Don't Have To

Story of the Day

Official pushes for L.A. toll lanes,1,7915096.story?coll=la-headlines-california


Many Views Aired at Expo Line Meeting

State air regulators adopt new global warming regulations

Unpaid fares may cost MTA millions,1,5546373.story?coll=la-headlines-california

5% are riding the MTA rails for free

Costco to bring parking in bulk?

Funding keeps high-speed rail project alive,1,4532603.story?coll=la-news-environment

The downside of upscale growth

Train struck disabled truck as CHP was on way to scene

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Councilman Bill Rosendahl...not an east coast politician...

...and that, is a good thing.

East Coast politicians are terrified of thinking outside the box to come up with ways to fund transportation projects. Toll hikes, gas taxes, and pretty much anything else that isn't a fare increase is usually off the table when the budget looks a little (or a lot) short. There are a few notable exceptions, but overall the rule is: its ok to raise transit fares and bad to raise anything else.

Which is why I nearly fell out of my chair last night when Councilman Rosendahl (who spoke fourth, not first as an elected official would have in New Jersey or New York) mentioned a gas tax as a way to raise funds for the Expo Line and other transit projects. A gas tax? Why just mentioning such a thing would get you thrown out of office on the east coast. Even with all transportation funds bonded for the next thirty years, only one of 120 state legislators in New Jersey was willing to advocate for such a risky proposal. (editor's note: New Jersey has the second lowest gas tax in the country.)

But it doesn't end there, a quick google search shows he's also spoken out for increased tolls, bus only lanes, local transit projects (see below,) and against development proposals that would add traffic to local streets.

Not what I expected from a Councilman from the Car Driving Capital of the World.

(And of course, he gets some cool points for having a blog.)

Debate Over Grade Crossings Highlights Expo Meeting

(Note: For more on potential designs and teh history of the project go to the official site here, the Wikipedia site here or Friends 4 Expo Transit's site here .)

Debate concerning the safety of at-level (street level) grade crossings highlighted last night’s public meeting on the proposed alternatives for Phase II of the Expo Line. Some residents complained that a light rail line running next to schools would be unsafe for students and that national safety statistics supported their concerns. Final decisions for where to place grade crossings are usually part of the Environmental Impact Statement, but the presentation given on the alternatives hints that a light rail line running parallel to the street is the most likely design for the route.

At least for one night, the opponents were outnumbered by advocates. Bart Reed, Executive Director of the Transit Coalition, claimed that national statistics showed that light rail was the safest way for people to commute both for riders and for other commuters sharing the road with it. (For tomorrow, StreetHeat will grab the national safety stats for light rail and examine who is right.)

Others claimed that construction of any transit route with at grade crossings would be a mistake for congestion reasons. Kelley Willis, of the Venice Neighborhood Council, argued that putting a light rail line at the street level unnecessarily places it at the mercy of already-congested traffic patterns. He pointed out that bother nationally (Chicago, D.C., New York) and Internationally (London, Paris, etc....) that world class, urban transit systems are either above ground or below ground to separate them from auto gridlock.

The original purpose of the meeting was to unveil the proposed alternatives that will be studied in the Environmental Impact Statement (i.e., one of these proposals will be the final one.) The one hour and forty five minute meeting featured a presentation by Stephen Polechronis of DMJM Harris followed by a question and comment period. The alternatives presented last night will be voted on by the MTA Board at their 11/1 meeting. Assuming the board approves of the alternatives, they will all undergo a complete study in an Environmental Impact Statement to determine the preferred route.

Many options to increase transit along the corridor were discarded because of either connectivity (goodbye Personal Rapid Transit and Monorail), community disruption (goodbye LRT Web, Branch Routes and Venice to Lincoln Blvd. routes) and cost effectiveness (last stop for light rail to Venice Beach). The three alternatives that remain are Light Rail on the Exposition Right-of-Way, Light Rail on Venice and Sepulveda and Bus Rapid Transit on the Exposition Right of Way. These options will be examined along with a no-build alternative and a Transportation Systems Management approach (new signals, better bus queuing, etc...)

The early favorite appears to be the first option, new light rail service on an abandoned transit route still owned by the MTA. The first route boaster both better numbers than the others and the support of most of the people in the room. This option is projected to attract the most riders (41,000) has the highest rating by the FTA, had the second lowest cost per mile of the three transit construction options (being beaten by the Bus Rapid Transit alignment) and had a low impact on the natural environment.

Speakers that promoted the LRT on Exposition Right-Of-Way alignment included representatives of The Transit Coalition, the Green Party and Light Rail for Cheviot as well as City Councilman Bill Rosendahl (more on him later today.)

Other concerns that were addressed by speakers included:
1) What noise mitigation efforts will be done? (Answer: there’s a lot of different things that can be done, but it will depend on the alignment and construction)
2) Why not study taking a lane off of Venice Blvd. So the project doesn’t require any property takings? (Answer: It was looked in to and discarded because of the impact on auto traffic congestion)
3) Will there be safe crossings for bikes? (Answer: yes)
4) Will there be bike access and storage areas for the stations? (Answer: Access is part of the EIS)
5) Will people be allowed to bring bikes on the light rail cars? (Answer: That is up to Metro)

REMINDER: There’s one more chance to see Metro’s presentation and make your opinion heard before the MTA board meeting next week. The last public meeting on the screening process will be held tonight at Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, 3200 Motor Ave.

Editor’s note: For those of you who saw me taking pictures last night, and wondering where they had been so long since I last used a non-digital camera that I opened the back without rewinding the film. Pictures will have to wait for the board meeting.

Thanks Again Ventura County Star

Following up on a great editorial last week, the Star follows up the only sensible way it could, by printing an LTE by me.

Driving the problem

Re: your Oct. 19 editorial, "Ride the rails into the future":

The editorial was absolutely correct. If Southern California is ever going to find its way out of perpetual gridlock, it's going to be by getting more people out of their cars, not by continually finding more ways to encourage driving.

On the East Coast, its somewhat older infrastructure has fallen into a state of disrepair while Department of Transportation officials tried to build their way out of congestion. Now, these governments are spending more and more money on maintenance with funds needed, and originally dedicated to, upgrading transit and local roads.

Hopefully, our elected officials will remember the lesson of Oct. 15 next time they're
tempted to take funds dedicated to expanding transit and using them to balance
the general fund. If not, we'll find ourselves in the same position as our
friends to the east — unable even to maintain the transit system that we have as
congestion and commuting times continue to rise.

Damien Newton, Los Angeles

(The writer is the author of the blog "Street Heat," which can be found
at — Editor)

Reading the Newspapers So You Don't Have To


Funding keeps high-speed rail project alive (bullet train to SF),1,2127325.story?coll=la-news-politics-california

Gold Line benefits from LAX-expansion dread

L.A. port spends $3.1 million to fight suit,1,4170115.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Opponents seek to get Wal-Mart on the ballot

2 killed when big rig loses control in Malibu,1,2646738.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Police search for driver of big rig hit by Amtrak train

Ventura County Star Prints My LTE

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The I-5 Widening EIS’s Incomplete Traffic Study

By now, it’s too late to defeat the proposed widening of the I-5 between the vicinity of SR 91 and I-605 in Los Angeles County. The Final Environmental Impact Statement, which is mercifully available in English, was released this summer, meaning the chance for the public to comment officially is over. Unofficially, it’s never too late to kill a project until the spades are in the ground.

The widening would take the current 6-lane stretch of road and widen it two more lanes in each direction. One of the given reasons to complete the project is because it will reduce carbon emissions. On page 162 (172 in your pdf file) of the EIS it says:

It should be noted that although traffic volumes are expected to
increase from their existing levels, the decrease in emission factors due to
improved technology and lower ambient levels would more than offset the
increase in CO emissions from increased traffic volumes.

However, as discussed here last week, increasing lane miles will also increase the amount of traffic on the road. The EIS/EIR for this project doesn’t take into account that the widened Route 5 will attract more traffic (and thus will create more traffic for SR 91, I-605 and the 405) than an un-widened road. The traffic study assumes that a widened I-5 will see the same increase in traffic as an-unaltered road so emissions will go down as congestion goes down.
Unfortunately, we know that not to be the case.
Decades of road widening projects across the country have proven that wider roads attract more traffic, but that knowledge has yet to find its way to an environmental study on the West Coast. The hard learned lessons of the east coast are ignored by west coast engineers, dooming us to see a repeat of their mistakes.

Again, this graphic is the actual work product of a DOT engineer in New Jersey in 2005, illustrating the reality of induced demand. Lets hope we start seeing some of that thinking here before our highway system is built out.

Forbes: CA the 14th Greenest State

This week’s edition of Forbes magazine featured a profile of the "greenness" of all 50 states, ranking them from the most enviro-friendly to the least. Forbes seems surprised that California wasn’t ranked closer to the top given the state’s well-chronicled environmental policies.

Here’s what Forbes had to say about the Golden State:

CaliforniaNo. 14

Score: 37.1 out of 50
Despite the fact that California
routinely sets the bar for environmental policies, it takes a hit in our air and
water quality rankings. At least five of its metropolitan areas, including Los
Angeles, Bakersfield and Fresno--appear on the American Lung Association’s 2007
list of cities with the worst long-term smog and ozone pollution. And 69% of its
major water facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits at least
once in 2005, according to the watchdog group U.S. PIRG. That’s the 10th worst
percentage in the country.

For a listing of where every state ranks, click here.

Reading the Newspapers So You Don't Have To


New York, dozen other states, join CA's greenhouse gas lawsuit against EPA

Bus scheduling algorithm picks up the slack

AltCar Expo touts benefits of going green

Roads to get new rubberized surfaces

Amtrak train hits parked truck

Southland evacuation areas; road and school closures,1,1146275.story?coll=la-headlines-california

Experts say don't let freeway jams jangle your nerves


Living in L.A. Without a Car


Let California clean its air,0,2095994.story?coll=la-opinion-leftrail

Paying off Gloria Jeff,0,3496701.story?coll=la-news-comment-editorials

Payoffs to fired city officials mock the public interest

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Metro's goal: 5% ridership growth every year for 5

At last week’s meeting, the METRO board adopted a new five year ridership plan. Metro’s goal: to increase ridership by 5% every year for the next five. Metro also noted that even with a "restructured" fare that ridership grew by an average of 4% for each of the last three years.

5% ridership growth is a good goal for an agency that isn’t planning any major new services, like Metro. 5% growth is much greater than the 2006 growth for transit agencies in America’s two other major metropolitans, New York (at .2%) and Chicago ( at .5%.) Even my old state of New Jersey has experienced only 4% growth and it added new light rail lines in Camden and Newark in recent years.

However, this rapid growth needs to be put into greater context than just comparing the percentages in America’s three largest cities. Unfortunately, LA’s reputation as the car driving capital of the country is well deserved. According to the U.S. census bureau, LA is way behind in total number of transit trips, and percentage of commuters who ride transit.

Chicago, on the back of an extensive bus network and the famous "L" train had over a quarter (25.3%) of its commuters taking transit. New York, with its world-famous subway system continues to set the standard at 54.2%. In LA, over half of commuters drive by themselves to the office and only 11% take transit.

Metro’s goals are great, but even if it meets them, there’s a long way to go. The increase in transit riders along the I-5 corridor last (and this) week isn’t an isolated incident. LA has seen similar shifts to transit during the Olympics in the 1980's and the earthquake in the 1990's. If LA is ever going to see long-term congestion relief, its going to have to find a way to achieve this kind of mode shift on a more permanent basis.

Reading the Newspapers So You Don't Have To


Panel to consider new truck routes

L.A. awards fired transit chief $95,000,1,6880456.story?coll=la-headlines-nation

Garcetti Wants Some Answers on unspent Parks funds

Commuters face traffic nightmare due to closures from fires

Bogotá’s Peñalosa Talks Up Livable Streets, Sans Spandex


Weekly green topic: De-car-ing

Monday, October 22, 2007

The 2nd Annual Alt Car Expo

StreetHeat took its first field trip this weekend to the 2007 Alternative Energy and Transportation Expo in Santa Monica. While I was wowed by cars that get 100 miles per gallon and bikes that do some of the pedaling for you...what was most important for this blogger was a chance to start meeting some folks in the transportation reform community and learn about which issues are hot locally.

The Southern California Transit Advocates and The Transit Coalition filled me in on Proposition 91, the Subway to the Sea, and the Expo Line. Of immediate importance, there are three public hearings this week announcing the initial results of the screening of the alternatives for the Expo Line. For more information about these hearings, click here.

Nurman Parada, the communications director for the Transit Coalition and I discussed how transit service really helped save the day along the I-5 corridor last week. He also shared with me that Metro is going to continue increased transit service through this week.

I also learned that folks with SoCATA don’t like being asked what the difference is between them and the Transit Coalition. Hey, if you guys had any idea how often I was asked whether or not I worked at TA, you wouldn’t have taken it so badly...

A quick hop over to the Los Angeles County Bike Coalition’s booth was equally helpful. One of the top issues for this group is passage of Complete Streets legislation in the California legislature. Having once tried (and failed) to get similar legislation introduced in Trenton, I know this can be a tricky bill to get passed. It certainly makes sense to design roads so that all passengers (not just auto drivers) can use it, but DOT’s don’t like to be told how to do their jobs and will pressure governors into vetoing any such legislation. And that’s assuming it moves through the legislature in the face of the automobile lobby and driver’s groups.

There is some good news for the LABC, Illinois just passed its own complete streets legislation.
StreetHeat will continue to follow these stories, and wishes all the best to any advocate of transportation reform.

Also, for some traditional media coverage...
Expo puts environment in the driver's seat,1,5914654.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california

Some pictures:

With new, high powered batteries, some entrepeneurs claim that they can make a normal hybrid get 100 miles per gallon.

Transit Coalition staff explain the proposed MetrolinkMAX service to conference attendees

Some other places to get links

There are two other great places to get transportation news online that have both been friends to StreetHeat in our first week online. First is a news clips service called, "Los Angeles Tranportation Headlines." Generally, they have a longer list of links than I do, but they also go up a little later in the morning. They can be found at

The second is a digest of national news stories sent out every weekday by Bernie Wagenblast. I’m including a copy of Friday’s links, and at the bottom is information about how to subscribe to his service. It comes in email, and he won’t spam you.

Transportation Communications Newsletter
Friday, October 19, 2007 -- ISSN 1529-1057
1) New York Congressman Calls for Hearings, Inspector General Probe on Traffic Program
Link to story in The Hill:
2) Officials Hail Satellite Rescue SystemLink to AP story:
3) Expansion of Cell Phone Service from New York City Subway Stations to Tunnels Considered
Link to story in the Queens Chronicle:
4) GPS Makes Traffic Worse
Devices route traffic over local streets making them congested.
Link to column in The Record:
5) Trucks Back Up for Hours as Port of Baltimore Terminal Computer Fails
Link to story in The Baltimore Sun:,0,4245012.story
6) GPS Experts Suggest New Approach for High-Tech Satellites
Link to story in Government Executive:
7) Tampa Bay System Keeps Its Eyes on Road
Link to story in The Tampa Tribune:
8) 55 Cameras Keep Coventry on the Move
Link to story in the Coventry Telegraph:
9) Message System Will Keep Lubbock, Texas Drivers in the Loop
Link to story in The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal:
10) Real-Time Boost for South Africa's National Traffic Information System (eNatis)
Link to story on ITWeb:
11) News from ERTICO
- Beijing Congress Boosts ITS Knowledge and Cooperation
- European Commission Releases Green Paper on Urban Mobility
- CVIS Workshop on Policy Implications
News Releases
1) FAA Expands Satellite Navigation Service into Canada and Mexico
2) Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center Establishes New Office of Corporate Research, Technology, and Innovation Management
Upcoming Events
Technologies for Critical Incident Preparedness Conference & Exposition – November 6-8 – San Francisco
Friday Bonus
The future of traffic jams.
Today in Transportation History
1917 **90th anniversary** Love Field in Dallas is named in honor of US Army Lieutenant Moss Lee Love who died in an airplane crash.
The Transportation Communications Newsletter is published electronically Monday through Friday.
To subscribe send an e-mail to:
To unsubscribe send an e-mail to:
TCN archives:
Questions, comments about the TCN? Please write the editor, Bernie Wagenblast at

Reading the Newspapers So You Don't Have To

Link of the Day:
DWP finds walking creates congestion,1,5742210.story?coll=la-news-politics-california

Activists say gov. is green, but cautious,0,5233650.story?coll=la-home-center

Expo Line plan runs into resistance,1,3152959.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california

405-to-101 interchange opens

Southern California Fires: Evacuations and Closures

7 hurt in chain-reaction crash,1,3364491.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california

Tracking the traffic - La Verne poised to receive system to monitor vehicles in new facility

Transportation Needs Top Priority in Sacramento

There Must Be Another Way South

Lobbying isn't the problem, corruption is,0,3383824.story?coll=la-opinion-center

Friday, October 19, 2007

A question on buses and trains...

One of the disadvantages to blogging about regional transportation while not having been an Angelino for too long is that sometimes I don’t know, or haven’t learned, something that is common knowledge to everyone else.

From Wednesday’s Live Chat with Pam O’Connor:

From E-mail: Alex Romano writes: Right now the north San Fernando Valley and
the Westside are woefully undeserved by public transit. When will the
downtown-centric focus of transit routing be revised to reflect the multi-core
reality of the Los Angeles area?

Pam O'Connor: You're right! Los Angeles County has many centers where there
is a high concentration of jobs, residents and activity. Downtown Los Angeles is
the biggest but Warner Center in the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica, Long
Beach, Pasadena, Hollywood, Century City and other centers deserve decent
transit, as well. The Expo Light Rail line now under construction to Culver City
and, then onward to Santa Monica, will help ease traffic on the I-10 Freeway and
major surface streets. And a western extension of the subway is also under
serious consideration.

In this instance, we have a person asking about improving transit from the Westside to the Downtown and the answer is that there’s light and maybe heavy rail on the way. My question to all of you, is there some reason that O’Connor didn’t mention more and better bus routing as an option to improve transit?

In my experience it’s much easier and quicker to provide bus routes than any type of rail. Nationally and locally more people commute by bus than by train and the subsidy per bus commuter is much lower. Yet, the only options being discussed here are the most expensive ones (both to build and maintain.) Am I overreacting to an innocuous question and answer session, or is there something going on here I don’t know? Is there some sort of bias against bus service, or was not mentioning bus service an oversight?

A Gold Star for Ventura

Huzzah for the Ventura County Star!

In today's paper the editorial board recognizes the silver lining from last week's truck tragedy. Monday's reduced gridlock in rush hour showed what and LA rush hour could be if more people chose transit over their cars for commuting. Just 7,000 more commuters from the I-5 Corridor choose trains over gridlock on Monday, and an expected traffic disaster never materialized.

I'll let the Star take it from here.

What Mr. Lutz was describing Monday morning was what rush-hour freeway
travel could be if Southern Californians would just abandon their cars, if only
for a couple days each week, and give public transportation a try.

It would do wonders for stress levels, not to mention cutting down on
pollution-generating car trips, saving gasoline, reducing household expenses and
time. A recent report showed Ventura County drivers each wasted nearly a full
week of work sitting in rush-hour traffic in 2005.

Imagine how many more hours would be lost, especially during rush hour,
without the Metrolink rail system. When it began in 1992, Metrolink had a daily
ridership of 2,500. Today, the system has seven lines, 54 stations and serves
more than 42,000 riders daily.

Good for them. Now if only our elected leaders would stop giving transit the short end of the stick at budget time.

Reading the Newspapers So You Don't Have To

California ready to sue EPA to enact greenhouse-gas rules
Car hits, seriously injures 3 Caltrans workers,1,2600849.story?coll=la-headlines-california (registration required)

Dodgers, Others Looking to Ease Congestion
Former King Likes Rangers Because He "Can Bike Again:

Editorial: Ride the rails into the future
Mayors on track in quest for funds
Freudian slip?

Naive Motorists

Thursday, October 18, 2007

FHWA: CA Will See Over Double Truck Traffic in 30 Years

In 2005, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign released a report showing that heavy truck traffic in New Jersey would grow by 80% by 2020. The report's numbers were based on FHWA projections based on figures from 1998.

Since 2005, the FHWA has updated their projections, so I'm not reporting projections based on figures from a decade ago. Instead, I'm they're based on figures from half a decade ago.

To anyone that's spent any time on CA's highways, the numbers in these charts aren't surprising.

In 2002, truck's transported 1,208 million tons of cargo on CA's roads. That's more than three times as much commercial cargo as rail freight, air, water, pipelines and other sources combined. In short, there are a lot of trucks on the road.

However, the federal projections by 2035 are even more eye popping. The amount of truck carried freight grows by just about 150% to 3,063 million tons on CA's highways. Even worse news, the percentage of the total freight in CA that is carried by trucks increases to 81.3%. In short again, it's not just that truck traffic is growing...its actually growing faster than all other ways of moving commercial goods.

Given the recent disaster on the I-5, these figures should be even more alarming. It's easy to say that large freight trucks are generally involved in more fatal accidents, but more difficult to picture what a disaster similar to the one last week would look like if there were twice as many trucks on the road. Such a scenario, a truck losing control in an area with twice the truck traffic that currently exists, wasn't discussed in the press or mentioned by a government official.

Sometime in the coming weeks I'll look at how CALTRANS, SCAGS, and LA spend their transportation dollars in detail. However, given these figures, I'll make the fearless prediction that not much of it is being spent on rail freight projects, warehousing close to rail transfer stations or any other freight related project that isn't a highway widening.

Some Humor at CALTRANS

I was cruising CALTRANS' District 7 Website looking for some story ideas for next week (and next week is going to be a doozy already) when I happened upon a map of future projects for the LA and Ventura County areas. (Editor's note: Don't bother looking for any bike projects).

Now the projects are what you'd expect for a city that preaches environmentalism but believes that sacred cows have four wheels (a road widening here, a bridge replacement/new truck corridor there,) but one project caught my attention. It's the one entitled Route 1 EA(98765).

Not having been to Catholic school in several years, I have a couple of questions:

1) Is that Latin, was someone writing in tongues, or is it just jiberous?
2) If it is Latin, are we sure that "A great deal o money" is the correct translation?

Council OKs plan to ease Sepulveda tunnel traffic,1,6811219.story?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=7&cset=true

Elevated extension of 57 Freeway is 'feasible,' report says (I missed this one yesterday),1,4270458.story?coll=la-news-environment&ctrack=8&cset=true

Pulled over? Skip the line; cops have heard it all before

2 men plead not guilty in deadly road-rage crash in LA

Jet vs. Vette

Weiss helps reject free parking plan

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Live and Learn...


I hoped to provide a transcript of the live chat that Pam O'Connor, Metro Board Chair held today between noon and 1 P.M., but the chat dissappeared as soon as it was finnished. I'll contact Metro and see if they can email me a copy.

And here it is!

News Analysis: Can't We Find a Better Way to Reduce the Pollution Caused by Cars?

For example, maybe we could try to have fewer cars on the road?

In the press event on the $150 million plan to reduce congestion by improving traffic signals in LA, both Governor Schwarzenegger bragged about how the new system will reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. The press release from the Governor’s office quotes him as saying, "And, synchronizing traffic lights means we can cut greenhouse gas emissions from idling vehicles so we are protecting the environment and growing the economy at the same time."

Using modern technology to improve intersections is a proven way to reduce congestion and far less costly than road widenings. As a matter of fact, I once even worked with community groups to push back against a proposed road widening project in Newark, NJ. We argued that better signalization and pedestrian facilities would improve traffic flow and enhance the community, while a widening was a short-term solution because the widened road would attract more traffic. (The article is in the top right corner of the second page. As of this writing, there are no plans to widen the road.)

However, the idea that improving road capacity will reduce greenhouse gasses is wrong and outdated. On the east coast, after decades of widening every road they could, transportation agencies are investing state funds into transit and other projects to aimed at reducing automobile trips. The goal isn’t just to reduce congestion by increasing capacity, it’s also to decrease emissions by decreasing automobile usage.

I pinched the following figure from an NJDOT presentation explaining why it wasn’t going to widen a road that was congested. Remember, this isn’t a graphic dreamed up by a bike advocate or car hating-transit rider, it was the official work product of a government engineer.

Schwarzenegger (and Villaraigosa) deserve some credit for thinking outside of the box for a congestion reducing alternative that doesn’t involve miles of asphalt. But if he believes that California can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by increasing road capacity, he’s dreaming. That dream could doom every other effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1980 levels by 2020 to failure.

(Editor’s note: The promised story on truck traffic growth will run tomorrow. I wanted a chance to comment on this story before it was old news. I promise not to be too preachy in the "back in Jersey" sort of way in the long run, but today’s news provides a good way of letting any new readers know where I’m coming from.)

Reading the Newspapers So You Don't Have To

L.A. gets $150 million to synchronize traffic lights,1,4978675.story?coll=la-headlines-california&ctrack=1&cset=true

Governor Schwarzenegger Announces State-of-the-Art Traffic Control System in Los Angeles

Got a traffic grievance? Air it on Metro's first Live Chat Internet forum

I-5 disaster may have started outside tunnel,0,5161260.story?coll=la-home-center

I-5 commuters have several alternatives,1,395927.story?coll=la-commun-los_angeles_metro&ctrack=2&cset=true

L.A. traffic engineers must face trial,1,5780169.story?coll=la-commun-los_angeles_metro&ctrack=3&cset=true

The next commuter lane at the 405 may be for wildlife,1,1782473.story?coll=la-commun-los_angeles_metro&ctrack=4&cset=true

Left-turn signal planned for Sherman Way at Fallbrook

The bright side of the I-5 disaster,0,1754627.story?coll=la-opinion-leftrail

The Funnies:
Know What the Auto Industry Should Do?

Commuting Hell

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Opening Post

Hello everyone,

Some of you know me, if there’s any luck this blog has been passed on enough that most of you do not. My name is Damien Newton, formerly the NJ Coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and a very new resident of Los Angeles. While I’m trying to figure out how best to fit in to the transportation reform scene out west, I’m going to try some reporting and other transportation writing right here at Street Heat.

Some of you may have heard a rumor that there’s going to be an LA branch of the transportation mega-blog, Streetsblog. While I might be involved with that when it starts, this blog should not be viewed as a prequel to LA Streetsblog. Instead, its going to be a series of observations about the transportation scene in LA, SoCal, California, and the world. Some posts will be a list of the day’s news, some will be media commentary, some will be “day in the life” stories about my adventures, and some will be more investigative pieces.

Los Angeles is a fertile place to find stories. Even coverage of a major story, like the recent disaster at Route 5, still misses major points…I haven’t seen anyone mention how fears of a closed highway and increased transit helped prove that we can control driving habits by restricting highway growth. The huge increase in transit ridership along the effected corridor is proof positive that people can and will take transit if they believe it to be more convenient. Sadly, the spending priorities of our governments are focused on building more and more highways, repeating the mistakes made in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

In the meantime, I want to grow this blog and all of you locals can help. I’m building the links on the right (thanks, Ron and Gen.) If you want me to add a link to something else, want to let me know about some event or story, or just want to chat or say “hi,” just drop me an email at