Weekly Transit eNewsletter
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Volume 2, Issue 10

Welcome to The Transit Coalition weekly newsletter! Our organization participates in meetings with key decision makers and community leaders and our goal is to keep you informed on the latest developments in the transportation scene across Southern California.

Even as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger defended the Strategic Growth Plan during a recent Meet the Press interview, his bond proposal is suffering from stalled negotiations. Most believe the Strategic Growth Plan will not be ready by this Friday to qualify for the June ballot. Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters fears that the infrastructure bond measures are quickly succumbing to political tinkering and pork-barrel politics, despite the potential to address the needs of a growing population and the strong backing of voters according to a recent poll. Metro Investment Report interviewed two private infrastructure financers on how the bond measure can help fuel public-private investment in California. The Report also published the speech given by U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) at a recent Mobility 21 Coalition meeting regarding the urgency of pursuing federal funding to accompany these bonds.

There were other things to groan about, too. Jock O'Connell, member of the state Economic Strategy Panel's Technical Advisory Group, feared that focusing on projects that facilitate the import of goods instead of exports would worsen the national trade deficit. A San Gabriel Valley Tribune editorial warned against using bonds to fuel development, alluding to the push by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others to include affordable housing in the bond measure. RailPAC President Paul Dyson attacked the bond measure in a letter to the Los Angeles Times regarding the lack of a true public transportation and intercity rail policy.

Opinions are coming in from near and far regarding the resurgence of rail transit in Los Angeles. Ed Drass of the Toronto Metro News gave high marks to our growing system, though he did knock a few points off for TransitTV bus screens not advising passengers of bus delays. A second article from Drass dealt with the importance of fare increases to offset service cuts. A letter printed in the Los Angeles Times expressed elation at the possibility of having turnstiles at Red Line subway stations. The New York Times discusses proposals to improve transportation in general, as well as the difficulty of enticing people in sprawling Los Angeles to use public transportation.

Indeed, the only people who have low opinions of our growing rail system are Southern Californians themselves. The Long Beach Press-Telegram published a pejorative op-ed using the fledgling Gold Line ridership numbers as "proof" that transit users do not want to use rail lines and, instead, would prefer "Virtual Exclusive Busways." Transit Coalition Vice-President Jerard Wright responded with a letter detailing workable solutions to the problem. Walter Moore wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Daily News claiming that lacing the streets with more buses would be a better transportation fix than building rail lines. Fortunately, SO.CA.TA Public Affairs Director Kymberleigh Richards (under " Extending the Subway") and Transit Coalition member Alexander Friedman (under " Buses Fail Miserably") wrote letters countering his assertions.

However, a commentary by E Magazine columnist Jim Motavalli challenged assertions made by regular rail critic Randal O'Toole that victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were stranded by their dependence on mass transit. (The Center for Transportation Excellence previously published a critique of O'Toole's assertions on other points regarding public transportation.)

Agencies across the region announced a spate of transit tinkerings. Foothill Transit will introduce a new Silver Streak service for Line 480 from Downtown L.A. to Montclair in March 2007. The City of San Fernando is working to bring trolley bus service to the northeast San Fernando Valley. The Riverside Transit Agency will roll out a new $13 weekly pass in May. The San Diego Association of Governments released a plan to simplify bus and train fares in San Diego County. However, a replacement of a bus route with a dial-a-ride service in the Antelope Valley is stirring some controversy. Omnitrans plans to eliminate a segment service of a Redlands trolley bus altogether due to low ridership.

Burbank, Glendale, and Pasadena have come up with $90,000 to study a possible transit link between the North Hollywood Red Line and the Pasadena Gold Line. A Glendale councilmember and a La Cañada Flintridge councilmember are vying for a seat on the Metro Board, which will be vacated by Board Member Frank Roberts, who will retire from the agency in mid-April. The two hope to place this corridor into the Metro Long Range Transportation Plan.

Meanwhile, road projects across the region are moving along. Projects on Interstates 5 and 15 in San Diego are nearing completion. One project, the much-loathed northern junction of Interstates 5 and 805, will increase capacity to 23 lanes at its widest merging point when completed in Fall 2007. Caltrans will start construction in a couple of months to upgrade a particularly dangerous stretch of State Highway Route 14 north of Mojave to a four-lane expressway. The recent increase in tolls on the 91 Express Lanes will not curb their use and, in fact, traffic will increase along with revenue, which many officials hope will fund other fixes for the 91 Freeway. The San Bernardino Associated Governments (SANBAG) has opened bids to install signal synchronization on streets across San Bernardino Valley. Others continue to show frustration at the recent approval of final plans to build a toll road through San Onofre State Beach.

Concerned about hybrids with special stickers that allow them to drive in carpool lanes? You don't need to be. Caltrans recently made it clear that the increases in the number of hybrids using the lanes are not slowing down traffic, a view reiterated by the California Highway Patrol.

Regarding Smart Growth, MJW Investments is moving forward with a mixed-use project at the Sears building on Olympic and Soto in Boyle Heights. The $434 million project will reserve 20% for affordable housing. High-density, mixed-use developments are beginning to sprout in other areas across the San Gabriel Valley. A Venice community group hopes to enlist the Los Angeles City Council in opposing a mixed-use development that would rise in the soon-to-be-decommissioned Metro Bus yard. (The new West Los Angeles Transportation Facility will replace the bus yard.) Another mixed-use development at the Hollywood/Vine Red Line station is receiving similar opposition.

In the alternative fuels front, a recent study published by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory indicated that hybrid electric buses, when tested in New York City, offered up to 45 percent better fuel economy over diesel buses and 100 percent over natural gas buses. Bus drivers noted the increased torque from electric engines that can increase acceleration and help buses climb hills.

A recent LA Weekly column focused on the plight of truck drivers working at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, who have faced economic degradation since the deregulation of the trucking industry in the 1970s. Among the challenges is that truckers cannot afford new and cleaner Stage II trucks and must resort to driving antiquated Stage I trucks, which account for as many as a quarter of trucks in California and produce 90% more pollution. The situation is expected to get worse, as port truck traffic is expected to double by 2030.

Particularly shameless plug: On March 17, Palo Alto High School in, well, Palo Alto will open a musical titled Love Songs in Traffic, which deals with the polarizing issue of completing the 710 Freeway from Alhambra to Pasadena. The musical revolves around community characters with varying opinions about the project. Playwright and former Alhambra resident Mike Najar plans to pitch the musical to schools in Alhambra and South Pasadena.

You may have read about this: On Tuesday, February 21, failed video game executive and convicted counterfeiter Stefan Eriksson crashed his $1 million Ferrari Enzo along Pacific Coast Highway (State Highway Route 1). Among the many twists and turns this story has taken, it was revealed that Eriksson was an honorary deputy commissioner for the anti-terrorism unit of the heretofore-unknown San Gabriel Valley Transit Authority. According to the Los Angeles Times, "the organization is a privately run nonprofit that has agreements with Monrovia and Sierra Madre to provide bus rides for disabled residents." The website of the "authority" included an address to its headquarters, which in fact was an auto repair shop. In addition, two men at the crash scene claimed to be personnel from the Department of Homeland Security and entered the crime scene. Sheriff's officials now want to question the two individuals. Though he has so far cooperated with deputies, Eriksson could be arrested for driving under the influence and giving a false statement, and may face deportation.

Here is a list of other recent developments:

February 15: Transit advocate and UC Berkeley transportation researcher Dr. Elizabeth Deakin addressed participants in a discussion held at Metro Gateway Headquarters as part of the Pat Brown Institute California Agenda Public Policy Series. Deakin claimed that transit-oriented developments can be successful in California, but not if they fail to take account of pedestrian needs and integrate with the community that surrounds them.

February 21: Former Amtrak CEO David Gunn spoke to attendees regarding the future of rail transportation in the United States as part of a forum held at the University of Delaware. Gunn talked about the increased demand for all means of travel, the lack of attention to physical plant, and inadequate government funding to improve transportation. Regarding Amtrak, Gunn said that even as Amtrak was set up 35 years ago to deliberately fail, passengers are increasingly using the service and states are now working to improve current service. Gunn feels this new awareness of passenger rail travel will languish if the federal government does not become a meaningful partner to fund capital improvements.

February 25: The Metrolink Board awarded a contract to Rotem, an emerging rail car manufacturing firm that has built rail cars for systems in Turkey and South Korea. The $305 million contract for 87 new cars with state-of-the-art crash energy management technology will also add capacity to the growing rail service. The Transit Coalition prepared a report on this and other events during the meeting.

February 27: The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) approved distributing $30 million to the 34 incorporated cities in Orange County. The money would be spent on studying community-oriented transit systems, which can help cities identify mobility needs and prepare to apply for funds to launch these systems. Cities such as Buena Park, Newport Beach and Orange already have ideas to work with other cities and connect themselves to Metrolink stations.

February 28: The New York Times released the results of a poll concluding that, even though Americans are generally opposed to a gasoline tax hike, they would accept such hike if it would reduce dependency on foreign oil or help curb global warming. Some showed concern that new funds from a tax hike would fund things unrelated to transportation. The current tax of 18.4 cents per gallon has not been raised since 1993.

The Public Policy Institute of California released a report indicating that Palmdale residents have some of the longest commutes in the state. According to the report, the decentralization of jobs from urban centers to suburbs has exacerbated the problem. The reported noted that public demand could be influenced by investments in transportation options.

March 1: Transit Coalition Executive Director Bart Reed participated in a meeting of bicycle advocates that featured Caltrans District 7 Director Doug Failing. The meeting discussed funding for a District 7 bicycle coordinator, an update regarding bicycle improvements on Pacific Coast Highway and lane striping and other construction Lincoln Boulevard (also State Highway Route 1), the formation of a bicycle advisory committee for District 7, and the need to install bike accommodations on the Gerald Desmond Bridge (Interstate 710) in Long Beach.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke announced that she would probably not run for reelection in March 2008. Burke would effectively retire after having served the southwest Los Angeles County in various capacities for over 40 years.

Upcoming Events: Metro Westside/Central Governance Council: Tuesday, March 7, 6:30 p.m., La Cienega Tennis Center, Sunset Room, 325 S. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills.

SCAG MagLev Task Force: Thursday, March 9, 11:00 a.m. SCAG Offices, 818 W. Seventh St., 12th floor, Los Angeles. CANCELLED: Next meeting Thursday, April 13, SCAG Offices.

SCRRA (Metrolink) Special Board Meeting: Friday, March 10, 10 a.m., SCRRA Offices, 700 S. Flower St., 25th floor, Los Angeles.

Southern California Transit Advocates: Saturday, March 11, 1 p.m., Angelus Plaza, Rm. 422, 255 S. Hill St., Los Angeles.

SCAG Goods Movement Task Force: Wednesday, March 15, 9 a.m., SCAG Offices, 818 W. Seventh St., 12th floor, Los Angeles.

Metro Committee Meetings: Wednesday, March 15 and Thursday, February 16, Board Room, Metro Headquarters, One Gateway Plaza (adjacent to Union Station), Los Angeles.

Consider attending our monthly Transit Coalition Dinner Meeting on Tuesday, March 28 - 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Philippe The Original, 1001 N. Alameda St. Los Angeles CA 90012. ( Map.) We hope to see you there!

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Contact Us:
We welcome your thoughts and comments on our new electronic newsletter. Please write us:
Bart Reed, Executive Director
Numan Parada, Communications Director

About The Transit Coalition:
The Transit Coalition is a 501[c](3) non-profit whose goal is to increase Transit Options and Mobility in Southern California by mobilizing citizens to press for sensible public policy to grow our bus and rail network.

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bart.reed@thetransitcoalition.us • The Transit Coalition